By Ashwani Kumar
| September 20th 2009 02:56 AM | Print
Wild medicinal plants in Indian Folk Life-A Historical Perspective
Plants of over 3500 wild species are used to cure ailments in man and his domesticated animals :
Plants in folk medicine of the Himalaya
The Himalayan ranges are inhabited by a large tribal population, often with their distinct way of life, traditions, dialects and cultural heritage. The Himalaya have bestowed them with vast, varied and even endemic plants. The tribals have learnt to utilize local herbs for different ailments after centuries of trials, often at the risk of loss of human life. Many tribal beliefs forbid them to unravel the virtues of the plants to outside world. But, it is also true that till recent little concerted effort had been made to document this knowledge by detailed ethnobotanical surveys.
Some folkore medicines of the region have proved efficaceous after detailed pharmacological and clinical trials. Rauvolfia serpentina roots are a classical example. Coptis teeta is another plant which has given encouraging results. The oil of seed kernel of Hydnocarpus kurzii, from upper Assam and Tripura hills, has proved useful in the treatment of leprosy and skin diseases. The roots of Nardostachys grandiflore have provided a safe sedative.
Central India : Use of plants in folk medicine by tribals
Use of plants in folk medicine is very prevalent in Central India (Jain, 1963, Jain and Tarafder, 1963). More than one hundred plants were reported to be commonly used in medicine in the district of Bastar (Jain, 1965). Some plants are used singly, whereas others are used in mixture. Similarly, certain plants were considered useful in only one disease whereas several had multiple uses.
Many medicinal uses reported by tribals of Bastar appeared to be unknown or little- known outside their community. Examples of a few such plants are given below:
M.P. : Ambikapur District
Ethno-Medico-botanical surveys of tribal area of Ambikapur distt. M.P. were conducted during 1990 and 1991 and folk-lore information on forty medicinal plants was recorded with the help of Corwa, Oraon and Pando tribes. The Tribals are living in Asad, Dindo, Kusmi, Mainpat, Janakpur, Sonhat and Rampur forests of Ambikapur district. Some noteworty plant species which are used in the treatment of various diseases are Boerhavia diffusa (Elephantiasis), Hemidesmus indicus (Stomach ulcer), Indigofera cassioides (Antifertility agent), Leea macrophylla (Chest pain). Ricinus comunis (Antifertility agent)
Some of the important plants of this region are given below :
1. Achyranthes aspera L. (Amaranthaceae) ‘CHIRCHITA’
About 50g root crushed with 10g Sonth (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) and Bach (Acorus calamus L.) half teaspoonful powder with two teaspoonful honey is prescribed for 3-4 days for leucorrhoea.
2. Asparagus racemosus Willd. (Liliaceae) “SATAWARI”
Root paste is applied locally on joint pain.
3. Boerhavia diffusa L. (Nyctaginaceae) “PUNARNAVA”
About half teaspoonful root juice taken for seven days for paralysis.
4. Calotropis procera (Ait.)R.Br. (Asclepiadaceae) “AAK”.
Latex of the plant with mustard oil is boiled and applied locally for bodyache.
5. Hemidesmus indicus (L.) R.Br. (Asclepiadaceae) “Anantmul” Fresh roots crushed with 8-10 black pepper (Piper nigrum L.) About 2g powder given orally on empty stomach for 7 days for stomach ulcer.
6. Madhuca longifolia (Koen.) Macb. (Sapotaceae) “MAHUA”
About half teaspoonful powdered root of tender plant taken for abdominal pain.
7. Ziziphus mauritiana Lam. (Rhamnaceae) “BER”
About 10 g root, 25g Kali musli (Curculigo orchioides Gaertn.) and 5g sonth (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) powdered with butter oil and made into pills; two pills given twice a day for asthma.
Bihar : Hazaribagh district
The main tribes of Hazaribagh district are : Santhal, Munda, Bedia, Karmali, Oraon, Mahali, Birhor and Khond. The district has a hilly terrain, thick forest occupy nearly 46 percent of the total area.
Hazaribagh district in Bihar was selected for ethnobotanical studies as it is within the tribal belt of India. Out of the total population of over three million, the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are over 10 percent (Chari, 1975).
Some of the plants used by these tribals are given below :
1. Acacia catechu
Locality. Lavalong (Chatra)
Root made into a paste and applied on the joints for seven days for rheumatism.
2. Cassia tora
Chakar (Oraon) ; Chakunda (Khond)
Locality. Singhani (Hazaribagh town)
Root made into a paste and along with the powder prepared from the horn of a cow, given orally once daily in high fever and to a patient who is unable to speak and hear.
3. Hibiscus rosa – sinensis
Flower bud made into a paste which is prescribed in impotency, once daily on an empty stomach for seven days.
4. Terminalia alata
Karaka (Khond) ; Aswan (Hindi)
Locality Singhani (Hazaribagh Town)
Two to three leaves from a fresh twig made into a paste and given three times a day for one day in vomiting and loose motions.
5. Xeromphis spinosa
Dudri (Munda) ; Nisawala (Birhor)
Locality. Dhajadhari Pahar (Koderma)
Stem bark made into a paste and mixed with goat’s milk and country liquour. This is prescribed in rheumatism once daily on an empty stomach for 15 days.
Assam : The Miris of Assam Plains
The Miris are a tribe living in the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam. The plants used for medicine are :
(i) Ageratum conyzoides (Namin-ing) :- Leaves and fruits used to prevent bleeding.
(ii) Calotropis gigantea (Akon) : The milky juice used as purgative; leaves after crushing are applied on the burn injury or swelling; the bark of the root given for dysentery.
(iii) Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi): Leaves used for cold and cough.
(iv) Piper longum (Piplu) : Root used in improving digestion.
(v) Polygonum strigosum (Bihalangani): Leaves used for skin diseases.
Assam : Plants used by Karbis of Assam
The Karbis are a tribe inhabiting the mountainous regions of Assam. More than 350 plants are related with the folklore and folk life of the Karbis.
The knowledge of medicinal uses of plants is well-developed among the Karbis. More than two hundred fifty plants are used by them for medicinal purposes. But the knowledge is confined chiefly to the medicinemen. However, a good number of these plants are also used in the Karbi household when the local medicineman is not available.
These plants grow mostly near the villages and do not necessitate and complicated technique in applying them.
A number of plants employed in common ailments are listed in Table 3.
(i) Aristolochia indica
Root (3 g) made into paste and given twice daily for treatment of diarrhoea.
(ii) Borreria articularis
Juice of leaves mixed with little salt poured in eyes in conjunctivitis and other eye diseases.
(iii) Croton roxburghii
Dev Chandan (Oriya)
Decoction of the bark (10g), rhizome of Ramkedar (Zingiber montanum), black pepper and Nimba chhatu given in cholera and diarrhoea.
(iv) Leucas aspera
The leaf paste fried and applied on the forehead to relieve pain.
(v) Shorea robusta
Small quantity (5g) of powdered jhuna (resin) taken with hot milk to relieve chest pain and stomachache.
Bihar : The Asurs of Netarhat Plateau (Bihar)
The Asurs live and enjoy the life amidst nature in the pat areas of Netarhat plateau within Chotanagpur division of south Bihar, collecting tubers, roots, fruits, flowers, leaves, honey and gums from the forest and using them in a variety of ways.
The native uses of medicinal plants by the Asurs are listed here:
(i) Satawar : In fever due to heat, the root of Satawar and the root of Putri are ground with water and the decoction is orally administered.
(ii) Asan : The bark is brunt and mixed with Til oil, and is used for curing itch.
(iii) Siris : The bark, leaves and fruit are boiled together, and the infusion is given in cases of anaemia.
(iv) Asog : The leaves are boiled and the infusions taken medicinally for curing jaundice.
(v) Rakatphar : The root in ground fine and applied as a thick plaster to reduce the swelling of dropsy.
(vi) Sinduar : The leaves of Sinduar are applied on the body for curing dropsy.
Bihar : “HO” Tribe
The use of 32 plants (in 25 folk – role claims) employed for curing 17 diseases (and one as tonic) among the “Ho” tribe of Bihar is reported.
These folk-lore claims with their related data are presented in a tabular form (Table 4).
The following abbreviations are used LF : Leaf ; PL : Whole plant; RH : Rhizome ; RT : Root ; SB : Stem bark.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands :-
(i) Body Pains : Adenia penangiana
(ii) Cough : Premna serratifolia
(iii) Cuts and wounds : Morinda citrifolia
(iv) Fever : Desmodium unbellatum
(v) Headache : Hernandia peltata
(vi) Gynaecological disorders : Donax connaeformis
(vii) Miscellaneous medicinal use : Thespesia populnea
(viii) Stomach pains : Aegle marmelos
Meghalaya : Garos of Meghalaya
Although nowadays patent allopathic medicines are sold in their weekly markets by quack-doctors, the Garos look for many wild plants for their medicinal use. Some of the important plants used for medicine are :
(i) Cassia fistula (Soneru) : Pulp of the fruit used as purgative.
(ii) Ficus fistulosa (Tabi) : Used for headache.
(iii) Rubus rugosus (Thekhi-sambok) : Fruit juice used for curing fistula.
(iv) Stauranthera umbrosa (Sukum saplax) : Plant juice used for curing boils.
(v) Stephania japonica (Kharkha) : Juice of roots administered to heart patients.
Meghalaya : Khasi and Jaintia Tribes
In this region, there are 100 species of plants in 81 genera and 46 families, having medicinal virtues and which are commonly used, especially, by the rural tribals of Khasi and Jaintia hills.
Meghalaya has three major tribes, viz., the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos.
In the list that follows, the botanical name of the medicinal plant is given first, followed, wherever possible, by vernacular names, the locality (loc) of collection and uses.
(i) Ageratum conyzoides
During typhoid fever and high body temperature, a paste made from leaves, ginger and mustard seed is placed on skull, over the position of the brain, to bring down the temperature of the patient.
Whole plant is pounded, boiled and the solution is used in massaging body swelling, tumours, etc.;
(ii) Azadirachta indica
Neem – Loc. Byrnihat
Diarrhoea and dysentery, leaver along with barks of Aegle marmelos, Shorea robusta and leaves of Phlogacanthus thyrsiflorus are mixed together with a few more plants, boiled, stored in a bottle and taken when attacked with the disease.
(iii) Commelina paludosa
Whole plant ground with ginger and tabacoo leaves applied on insect stings.
(iv) Holmskioldia sanguinea
Juice of roots taken to relieve fever.
(v) Sonerila maculata
Roots boiled and taken for stomach ailments.