Ethnobotany is usually defined as anthropological approach to botany.
By Ashwani Kumar
| September 24th 2009 10:35 AM | Print
ETHNOBOTANICAL STUDIES ON SOME IMPORTANT HERBAL MEDICINES
Ethnobotany is a distinct branch of natural science dealing with 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 are several methods of ethnobotanical research and those relevant to medicinal plants 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 the aboriginals. It deals with the study and evaluation of plant-human relations in all phases and the effect of plant environment on human society. According to Schultes (1962), ethnobotany is “the study of the relationship which exists between people of primitive societies and their plant environment”. The term is not new even to India, Kirtikar and Basu (1935) stated”, The ancient Hindus should be given the credit for cultivating what is now called ethnobotany”.
Ethnobotany, in totality, is virtually a new field of research, and if this field is investigated thoroughly and systematically, it will yield results of great value to the ethnologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, plant-geographers and pharmacologists etc.
Though ethnobotany provides several approaches in plant researches, here only the resources which help in medicinal are plant-research mentioned.
Our ancient literature can also be tapped for information on medicinal plants. It is estimated that nearly one third of about 15,000 higher plant species in India are used by the tribals and poor people. No authentic record of any kind except a few archaeological sculptures of Mohenjo-Daro is available from the prevedic period in this country. But, Rigveda and Atharvaveda, which date back to 2000 to 1000 B.C. are our oldest Vedic literature resources. They contain valuable information regarding medicinal plants of that period.
Sharma (1968-69) enlisted 248 botanical drugs which are mentioned mainly in Atharvaveda and Rigveda. Singh and Chunekar (1972) published a glossary of such medicinal plants, which have been mentioned in Charak Samhita, Sushurta Samhita and Ashtanga Hridiyam.
Perhaps the outstanding example, at least in modern times of the use of the literature is the huge compilation of all anti-tumour plants, cited in old texts and local folk medicine from all over the world for screening purpose at Cancer Chemotherapy National Service Center (CCNSC) (Hartwell, 1967).
Recently, checklists of Ayurvedic and Yunani treatises have been published (Anonymous, 1963 and Tripathi et al., 1978). A list of some of the important Indian treatises is presented in Table 1.
References to the trees and flowers are found profusely in folk song, particularly in songs 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 the abode of several Gods and Goddess (Agarwal, 1997).