Ethnobotanical Leaflets 12: 118-126. 2008.
Glimpses of Tribal Botanical Knowledge of Tirunelveli Hills, Western Ghats, India
G.J. Jothi* A. Benniamin and V.S. Manickam
Centre for Biodiversity and Biotechnology
St. Xaviers College (Autonomous), Palayamkottai-.627 002
Tamil Nadu, India
*Department of Plant Bilogy and Biotechnology
Loyolla College, Chennai,Tamil Nadu, India
Email: [email protected]
Issued 4 March 2008
In the present paper, 46 plant species of angiosperms belonging to 19 genera of Euphorbiaceae that occur naturally in the Tirunelveli Hills of western Ghats, India, were chosen for study. It was found that the uses of Euphorbiaceous plants by the inhabitants of this region cover a number of broad categories including food, various kinds of poisons, medicines, sundry types of oils, waxes, rubbers, varnishes, compounds for paints and other industrial products.
Key Words: Tirunelveli hills, western Ghats, Euphorbiaceae, medicinal plants.
Evolution of human life and culture has directly or indirectly been associated with and influenced by the surrounding environment. Primitive people live closely associated with nature and chiefly depend on it for their survival. Their dependence on plants around them made them acquire the knowledge of economic and medicinal properties of many plants by methods of trial and error. Consequently, they became the store-house of knowledge of many useful as well as harmful plants, accumulated and enriched through generations and passed on from one generation to another, without any written documentation. World wide, tens of thousands of species of higher plants and several hundred lower plants are currently being employed by human beings for such purposes as food, fuel, fibre, oil, herbs, spices, industrial crops and as forage and fodder for domesticated animals. ( Heywood, 1992). Many people, especially in the poorer, underdeveloped countries, rely on wild plants for food, construction materials, fuel wood, medicine and many other purposes. Traditionally, the people in many local communities worldwide are extremely knowledgeable about plants and other natural resources, on which they are so immediately and intimately dependent. Unfortunately, much of this wealth of knowledge is today becoming lost as traditional cultures become eroded. Ethnobotanists can play very useful roles in rescuing this disappearing knowledge and returning it to local communities. In this way local ethnobotanical knowledge can be conserved as part of living cultural- ecological systems, helping to maintain a sense of pride in local cultural knowledge and practice and reinforcing links between communities and the environment, all of which may be thought of as essential steps in the promotion of conservation (Martin, 1995 ). It is, therefore, important that before this rich unwritten folk-lore on uses of plants and plant resources becomes lost forever through the recent accelerated civilization of the aborigines (tribals), it should be properly documented and preserved (Rao and Henry, 1997).
The health of every individual is directly dependent on the plant world. Out of the total Indian angiosperm flora of about 20,000 species, some 5,000 are economic species. Of the latter, some 3,000 are medicinal root plants; whereas 680 produce fruits of medicinal value. About 450 Indian medicinal plants are exported globally.
The richness and diversity of the tropical flora and fauna of India amazed the Europeans when they first arrived on this subcontinent. That this is so is evident from a reading of the text of the first work on Indian botany, Coloquios dos simples, a book which deals in part with the western Ghats of Peninsular India ( cf. Clive 1984).
Euphorbia is the largest genus in the family Euphorbiaceae and one of the sixth largest genera of flowering plants in the world, consisting of about 2000 species. Out of 81 species of Euphorbia occurring in India, about 40 species have been ethnobotanically studied (Binojkumar and Balakrishnan, 1996). According to Hill (1755), the milky latex of Euphorbia is effective in the treatment of Dropsies. Ainslier (1826), on the other hand, reported that the latex of E. tortilis was used externally for herpes.
Aporusa lindleyana has long been used traditionally for the treatment of jaundice, fever, headache and insanity. Significantly, the analgesic activity of a root extract of A. lindleyana was later proven by Krishnamoorthy et al., (1999).
An extract of Phyllanthus amarus significantly reduces the radiation-induced Micronuclei (MN) induction in both polychromatic erythrocytes (PCE) and normochromatic erythrocytes (NCE). This reduction was found to increase linearly with extract dosages of from 25 to 125 mg/kg (Devi et al., 2000).
During the field survey, the medicinal species of Euphorbiaceous were collected and documented. Information was obtained from the Tribals (Kanis) of Tirunelveli hills and the local Siddha, Ayurvedha practitioners and tabulated.
STUDY AREA AND ITS TRIBAL COMMUNITIES
The Tirunelveli hills lie between 77o 5 and 77o40 E and 8o20 and 8o 50 N from the southernmost segment of the Western Ghats. They extend through Papanasam R.F., Singampatti R.F., Kalakadu R.F., Mahendragiri R.F, Veerapuli R.F. and Ashamboo R.F., and into the present day Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu (Fig 1). The tops of these mountains are often compared to oceanic islands in having unusually large numbers of endemic species, this largely due to the isolation provided by the waters of Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal on three sides (Nayar, 1996; Gopalan and Henry, 2000). Otherwise, the western Ghats area as a whole is characterized by a profusion of different vegetation types, such as Southern Tropical Thorn Forest (foot hills to 20m), Southern Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest (200-400m), Grass Lands (+ 500m ), Southern Tropical Moist Deciduous Forest (500-800m), Southern Tropical Wet Evergreen Forest (80-1500m), Subtropical Mountain Forest (7150m) and Grassy Swards at high altitudes (7100m).
The Kanis and Paliya tribes inhabit the villages of Petchiparai, Kallar and Mahendragiri in the Kanyakumari district and Kadayam, Sankarankoil, Puliarai, Papanasam, Courtallam, Sivagiri and Manjolai in the Tirunelveli District. They subsist on leaves, tubers and fruits of forest plants and on meat from wild, hunted animals. Wild plants provide the bulk of their medicines. Many changes can be expected in the future, however, since the younger generations of these communities are being more and more influenced by modern day social and living standards.
Field trips were conducted during 1999 to 2004 in the tribal and rural parts of the Tirunelveli hills. Data was collected regarding plant and plant parts used, local names and purposes and method of administration of the drugs. Information was obtained from tribal medicine men, old men and women, and other local rural informants. The actual application of plant remedies was also observed during field work. The plant specimens were identified using recent regional floras (Gamble, 1993 & 1994). Routine herbarium methods have been followed in preserving specimens and they are deposited in St. Xaviers College Herbarium, Palayamkottai.
The tribals and rural populaces use a variety of species from the forested as well as non forested geographic pockets of the study area. In the present paper, 46 plant species of angiosperms belonging to 19 genera of the Euphorbiaceae were studied (Table 1). The uses of Euphorbiaceous plants in our own society cover a number of broad categories including food, various kinds of poisons, medicines, sundry types of oils, waxes, rubbers, varnishes, compounds for paints and other industrial products. Many plants of this family have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years as anti-tumour drugs. According to Schroeder et al., (1980), plants of this family have been used to treat cancer, tumours, and warts from the time of Hippocrates (ca 400 BC).
As pointed out earlier, the field of ethnobotany is receiving more and more attention these days. However, it is still the molecular biologists whose work centers in the laboratory that garnishes more status and funding. Field ethno botanists have not yet received the same level of support and respect, primarily because interest in this field has only recently reemerged. Yet, the field is growing. New scientific journals and societies have begun to disseminate the studies of ethnobotanists to peers, other scientists, and policy makers worldwide. The current era is an exciting time to be an ethnobotanist. Ethnobotany issues are the focus of much public attention. Due to increased public interest and policy making in conservation, companies are looking for new plants and new approaches for the production of food, medicines, and energy sources. University departments are opening positions for interdisciplinary-trained ethnobotanists. The future looks promising for these dedicated scientists in a fascinating and vital field of research.
Ainslier, W., 1826. Tirrooghucallia Materia indica 2: 424-426.
Binojkumar, M. S. and Balakrishnan, N. P. 1996. Ethnobotanical studies of the genus Euphorbia L. (Euphorbiaceae ) J.Econ.Tax.Bot 12: 46-49.
Clive, A. Stace, 1984. Plant taxonomy and biosystematics. Edward Arnold.
Devi P U, Ravindra Kamath, BSS Rao, RK Kaath, 2000. Current Sci. 78 (10):1245-1247.
Gamble, J. S., (1993 & 1994). Flora of the Presidency of Madras. Vol I-III. Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh. Dehra Dun-India.
Gopalan and Henry, A. N., 2000. Endemic plants of India. Bishen Singh MahendraPal Singh Dehra dun.-India.
Heywood, V.H., 1992. Conservation of germplasm of wild species. In Sandlund, O.T., Hindar, K. and Brown, A.H.D. (eds.). Conservation of Biodiversity for Sustainable Development. Scandinavian University Press, Oslo, 189-203.
Hill J. I., 1755. Useful family Herbal (ed2), London.
Krishnamoorthy, G., G., Kavimani, S Jayakar, B. Singh, R.S. Suthar Singh R., 1999. Analgestic activity of root extract of Aporosa lindleyana Hamdard Medicum 42 (3): 18-21.
Lanhers, M.C., Fleurentin, J., Dorfman, P., Misslin R., Mortier, F., 1996 Neuro physiological effects of Euphorbia hirtal (Euphorbiaceae ), Phytotheraphy research 10 (8) 670- 676.
Martin, J., 1995. Ethnobotany - A methods manual. Chapman and Hall, London. 268.
Nayar, 1996. Hotspot of endemic plants in India and Nepal and Bhutan. Tropical Botanical and Research Institute Trivandrum,Kerala, India.
Rama Rao, N. and Henry, A.N., 1997. The Ethnobotany of Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh, India. Botanical Survey of India. 259.
Schroeder, G., Rohmer, M., Beck, J.P. and Anton, R, 1980. 7 - Oxo 7 alpha hydroxyl and 7 Beta hydroxysterols from Euphorbia fischerriana. Phytochemistry (19): 2213-2215.
Table 1. The list of Medicinal plants of Euphorbiaceae from Tirunelveli hills.