Phytonutrients in many indigenous plants are receiving a lot of attention as they are important in antimicrobial and anticancer therapies. Tropical areas, especially India, South America and Africa, are the main sources of patentable plant products and have indigenous populations with well developed traditional medicinal knowledge. Phytochemicals, including carotenoids, phenolics, alkaloids, nitrogen-containing compounds, and organosulfur compounds, are recieving much attention as they impart important health benefits. This article gives an insight into some important phytochemicals, and analyses the ethical issues on property rights of plant products. Many patent applications have been lodged, and quite a number have been granted. Pharmaceutical industries are engaging in massive speculative bioprospecting on plant based phytochemicals and products, usually resulting in conflicts with indigenous populations. More focus is given here-in to Tylosema esculentum (marama) plant, found in drier parts of Southern Africa and known to contain high quantities of essential phytochemicals. Important phytochemicals in marama include fatty acid (mainly oleic acid, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, behenic acid), protein and phenolic acid components. The marama plant has high potential as a source of medical and cosmetic products. If conflicts surrounding property rights on plant based products are resolved, phytochemicals can be a good source of income for indigenous populations in areas where such plants are found.
Keywords: Phytochemicals, patents, Tylosema esculentum, antimicrobial, anticancer, conflicts, indigenous