Ethnobotany is a distinct branch of natural science dealingwith various aspects such as anthropology, archaeology, botany, ecology,economics, medicine, religious, cultural and several other disciplines.Ethnobotany is usually defined as anthropological approach to botany. There areseveral methods of ethnobotanical research and those relevant to medicinalplants are archaeological search in literature, herbaria and the field studies.This term was coined by J.W. Harshberger in 1895 to indicate plants used by theaboriginals. It deals with the study and evaluation of plant-human relations inall phases and the effect of plant environment on human society. According toSchultes (1962), ethnobotany is “the study of the relationship which existsbetween people of primitive societies and their plant environment”. The term isnot new even to India, Kirtikar and Basu (1935) stated”. The ancient Hindusshould be given the credit for cultivating what is now called ethnobotany”.


          Ethnobotany, intotality, is virtually a new field of research, and if this field isinvestigated thoroughly and systematically, it will yield results of greatvalue to the ethnologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, plant-geographersand pharmacologists etc.

Though ethnobotany provides severalapproaches in plant researches, here only the resources which help in medicinalplant-research are mentioned.

Ourancient literature can also be tapped for information on medicinal plants. Itis estimated that nearly one third of about 15,000 higher plant species inIndia are used by the tribals and poor people. No authentic record of any kindexcept a few archaeological sculptures of Mohenjo-Daro is available from theprevedic period in this country. But, Rigveda and Atharvaveda, which date backto 2000 to 1000 B.C. are our oldest Vedic literature resources. They containvaluable information regarding medicinal plants of that period.

Sharma (1968-69)enlisted 248 botanical drugs which are mentioned mainly in Atharvaveda andRigveda. Singh and Chunekar (1972) published a glossary of such medicinalplants, which have been mentioned in Charak Samhita, Sushurta Samhita andAshtanga   Hridiyam.

Perhaps theoutstanding example, at least in modern times of the use of the literature isthe huge compilation of all anti-tumour plants, cited in old texts and localfolk medicine from all over the world for screening purpose at CancerChemotherapy National Service Center (CCNSC) (Hartwell, 1967).

Recently, checklists of Ayurvedic andYunani treatises have been published (Anonymous, 1963 and Tripathi et al., 1978). A list of some of theimportant Indian treatises is presented in Tables 3.1-3.10.

          Referencesto the trees and flowers are found profusely in folk song, particularly insongs of worship of plants. Folk songs in praise of Bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris Schard. ex.J.C.Wendl),  Basil (Ocimum sanctum Linn.), and Amaltas (Cassia fistula Linn.) are sung, believing these plants are theabode of several Gods and Goddess
(Agarwal, 1997).

          Religioussongs have references to offering of flowers and fruits Palas (Butea monosperma O. Kuntze.), Kachnar (Bauhinia variegata Linn.), and Mahua (Madhuca indica Gmel.) etc bear flowersand fruits which are offered to Gods and Goddess to invoke blessings for thefulfiliment of wishes (Matiyani,  1957).

          InBundelkhand, at the time of the festival of Mamulian girls decorate the spiny,green branches of Babul (Acacia arabica Willd.)  with colourful flowers. They  offer various fruits to the trees for the fulfillment of their wishes(Sankrityayan and Upadhyaya, 1960). Certain trees like Basil (Ocimum sanctum Linn.), Palas (Butea monosperma O.Kuntze.), Sandal wood (Santalumalbum Linn.) find a prominent place in songs sung in religious rites. Onauspicious occasions, such as birth of babies, thread ceremonies, marriagesand  other  religious functions,  all  have associations with  mandaps made    from  bamboo (Bambusavulgaris Schard. ex. J.C. Wendl) and plant culms, the paintings of floorswith sandal (Santalum album Linn.)and the decoration of doors with mango leaves. In thread ceremonies Palas (Butea monosperma O.Kuntze.) is an essential item (Uppadhyaya, 1960).

          Sandal(Santalum album Linn.), turmeric (Curcuma domestica Valeton.) and otherplants are used in the formation of a paste for improving the  complexion of a bride. Brides use  sandal (Santalum album Linn.), rose (Rosa damascena Mill.) to perfume theirbody. References to the use of palas(Buteamonosperma O.Kuntze.) for dyingclothes are common in folk songs, particularly  of  Kumaon. In Bengali  songs, references  are made for decorating the  walls of houses with straws of rice (Oryza sativa Linn.) and several flowers(Agarwal, 1997). 

          Thus,from the very ancient times, Indian folk life has not only been includingtrees, plants and flowers as members of their own family but has also found inthem the image of God (Jain, 1958). It is for this reason that the songs, talesand other expressions are replete with deep affection for trees and plants.