Many types of action can be taken in favour of the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants. Some of these are undertaken directly at the places where the plants are found, while others are less direct, such as some of those relating to commercial systems, ex situ conservation and bioprospecting. In the latter cases, actions taken will not lead to in situ conservation unless they feedback to improvements in the field. Probably the single most important role for medicinal plants in biological conservation is their ‘use’ to achieve conservation of natural habitats more generally. This stems from the special meanings that medicinal plants have to people, related to the major contributions that they make to many people's lives in terms of health support, financial income, cultural identity and livelihood security. Problems associated with biopiracy or (the other side of the coin) excessive restrictions on research have come to assume policy prominence in the general thematic area of ‘medicinal plant conservation and use’. The fair and equitable sharing of benefits from bioprospecting is required under the Convention on Biological Diversity, but it is not always easy to achieve these ideals in practice. While experience is accumulated in how this may practically be achieved, it is important, at the present time, that controls imposed on scientific research to prevent biopiracy or theft of local and indigenous intellectual property do not unduly restrict research that has little or nothing to do with these matters.