Ethnobotanical Leaflets 13:1453-67, 2009.
Medicinal Plants Used in the Health Care System Practiced by Traditional Vaidyas in Alaknanda Catchment of Uttarakhand, India
P.C. Phondani1*, R.K. Maikhuri1 and N.S. Bisht2
1G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, P. Box 92, Garhwal Unit, Srinagar - 246 174, Uttarakhand, India
2H.N.B. Garhwal Central University B.G.R Campus Pauri-246001, Uttarakhand, India
Corresponding author1*- ,
Issued 01 December, 2009
The present study documents the indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants used in the Alaknanda catchment of Uttarakhand state in India. Ethnomedicinal uses of 100 medicinal plant species along with botanical name, vernacular name, family, habit, part used and folk medicinal uses are presented. They belong to 91 genera and 51 families. These plants have been used to cure 60 types of different ailments out of the 58 plant species used to cure more than one disease. The most widely sought after plant parts in the preparation of remedies are the underground parts such as root, tuber, bulb, rhizome etc. Most of the remedies were reported to have been from herbal species. Approximately 70% of the population was found dependent on herbal treatments and the remaining 30% of the population was dependent on an allopathic form of treatment. In this study it was found that maximum 69% veteran of female category in Berahi valley prefer to visit traditional Vaidyas (traditional herbal practitioners) for curing ailments. The study emphasizes the potentials of the ethnobotanical research and the need for the documentation of traditional knowledge pertaining to the medicinal plant utilization for the greater benefit of mankind.
Key words: Medicinal plants, Health care system, Traditional Vaidyas, Alaknanda catchment.
Uttarakhand is one of the hilly states in the Indian Himalayan region. Because of its unique geography and diverse climatic conditions it harbors the highest number of plant species known for medicinal properties among all the Indian Himalayan states (Kala et al., 2004). The majority of the human populations in Uttarakhand state (78%) live in rural areas. There are very few primary health centers in the states. Each primary health center caters more then 31,000 people although the stipulated norm of 20,000 is expected for the hilly region of Uttarakhand (Samal et al., 2004). Therefore, the inhabitants of Uttarakhand are still dependent on the Vaidhyas (traditional herbal practitioners) for treating disease due to isolation and relatively poor access to modern medical facilities (Maikhuri et.al. 1998; Kala, 2002a, 2005).
The Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) and their products have a very long history of being utilized and traded in the lower Himalayan region and plains of India from the higher Himalayan Mountains. There has been a recent dramatic surge of interest of appears to be the result of emerging new strategy for economic development, health improvement and conservation and management of valuable species. Of the 2500 wild plant species of known medicinal value growing in the Indian sub-continent (Kempanna, 1974), 300 species are used by 8000 licensed drug manufacturing units in India (Ahamad, 1993). It is reported that western Himalayan contains 50% of plant drugs mentioned in the British Pharmacopoeia. It caters to 80%, 46% and 33% of the Ayurvedic, Unani and Allopathic system of medicines, respectively and contributes a major share in the economy of the rural and traditional communities. According to a survey report by WHO, about 25% of the prescribed human medicines are derived from plants and over 80% of the population in the developing countries still depends on the traditional or folk system of medicine (Chauhan, 1996).
Traditional system of medicine is a wise practice of indigenous knowledge system, which has saved the lives of poor people around the globe. Traditional knowledge system is of particular relevance to the poor in the following sectors: agriculture, animal husbandry and ethnic veterinary medicine, management of natural resources, primary health care and preventive medicine, psycho-social care, saving and lending, community development, poverty alleviation, etc. (Maikhuri et al., 2000). According to an estimate of the world Health Organization about 80% of the populations of developing countries rely on traditional medicine, mostly plant drugs, for their primary health care. One important common element of complementary or traditional medicine is that they encourage and elect self-healing.
The traditional health care systems, including Ayurveda, were transmitted from generation to generation by ‘Gurukula’ mode of instruction (Kala, 2002b). In most cases, the knowledge base was kept strictly within the family circle. The apprentices lived with and learnt at the feet of the masters who maintained a conventional oral tradition. The disciples prepared the medicines, administered them and nursed the patients according to the instructions received from the masters. The texts were sacred, and most of the texts were learnt by heart. Only after several years of learning and experience could the apprentices become practitioners themselves. Knowledge and experience were transmitted gradually, but completely, at a pace determined by the master. The disciples did not attend any formal schools or undergo a specific, prescribed curriculum. Their claim to practice was dependent on the intimate knowledge, which was passed on for many years by the Guru while he was treating each individual case to the disciple. Therefore, an urgent need for a comprehensive analysis and documentation of indigenous knowledge based traditional health care system of hill societies inhabited in remote and an isolated valley of Alaknanda catchment in Uttarakhand becomes increasingly important.
The river Alaknanda has its source in the Satopanth and Bhagirath kharak glaciers, which rise from the eastern slope of Chaukamba peak (7138m.) of Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand state. In its course of 141.5 km it drains approximately 11000 km2 area. The catchment of Alaknanda river extends between 290 58' 34" to 310 04' 20" N and 780 34' 31" to 800 17' 54" E. The dendrite pattern of drainage basin of Alaknanda has a maximum width of 171.63 km (N-S) and minimum width of 161.60 km (E-W) along the Saraswati-Vishnuganga. It narrows down towords west and tapers off at Devprayag making confluence with the river Bhagirathi and forms the holy Ganga.
The present study was carried out in 35 villages of three prominent valleys such as Nandakini valley (1450-2750masl.), Berahi valley (1650-3000masl.) and Pinder valley (1500-2900 masl.) of the high altitude regions of Chamoli district in Alaknanda catchment of Uttarakhand (Fig.1). All the study villages is situated in 3-24 Km distance away from the road head where the primary health care center is rare or in very poor conditions. In these valleys the major economic activities of the people is collection of non-timber forest products, Agriculture, Animal husbandry and Turism. The tribal and non-tribal population of these areas depends on traditional system of medicine for curing different ailments they suffer from, and famous for its rich biodiversity, cultural, tradition and mythology.
Fig. 1. The location of Study area in Alaknanda catchment of Uttarakhand.
An extensive literature survey (Kala, 2002; Maikhuri et al., 1998; Gaur, 1999) was carried out to gather information on locality, local names, altitude range, habitat, and plant parts used for curing different ailments by various ethnic communities of the study area. The information related to ethnobotany of traditional communities was collected using questionnaires, Interviews and group discussion in the fields was carried out. Extensive field visits was made with traditional herbal practitioners to gather information on the identity and occurrence of medicinal plants and mode of their utilization. Randomly selected households in the study site were surveyed to gather information on dependency of herbal and allopathic system of treatments and perception of local people on the basis of gender in different age groups, preferred to visit Vaidyas for curing ailments (Kala, 2004b). The information related to quantity/dosage of medicine prepared from different medicinal plants and prescribed to the patient for particular period of time was obtained from the traditional herbal practitioners. The data obtained was analyzed carefully in MS Excel spread sheet were utilized to make simple calculations, determine proportions and draw graphs. The plant species collected was maintained in to herbarium specimens, and were identified with the help of flora books (Gaur, 1999; Naithani, 1985) literature, and taxonomical experts of the HNB Garhwal Central University Srinagar. Specimens of each species identified were brought to the G.B. Pant Institute (Garhwal Unit) herbarium for scientific identification where they were subsequently deposited. This study was carried out between April 2007 to March 2009.
Results and Discussion
The results showed the immense knowledge of these communities, who use as many as 100 plant species belonging 51 families are extensively being used for medicinal purposes for curing 60 common ailments. Out of 58 plant species is used to cure more than one disease and maximum plant parts in the preparation of remedies in the study area are used underground parts (27%) leaves (22%), fruits (13%), seeds (9%), whole (7%), bark (5%), flower (3%) and other (14%) of medicinal plant species contributes in curing a verity of diseases. In addition to this, out of the total medicinal plants used majority of them belonged to herbaceous community (60%) followed by trees (24%), shrubs (8%), climber (7%) and creeper (1%), collected by them from the forest and alpine meadows since time immemorial (Table 1). However, remaining plant species are used for vegetables, fruits, fuel, fodder etc.
Table 1. Medicinal plants used for curing various ailments by traditional Vaidyas of three different valleys in Alaknanda Catchment.
Approximately 70% population of these three prominent valleys was found dependent on herbal treatment and rest 30% population was dependent allopathic treatment for curing 60 common ailments. However, to cure the rest of the diseases, maximum people preferred to visit Vaidyas (local medical practitioners). It was found that besides Vaidyas, every elder both man and woman in the villages had sound knowledge about medicinal values of some plant, especially those species which are very oftenly used for common diseases like cough, cold, fever, viral fever, headache, stomachache, diarrhea, dysentery, minor wounds and cuts. This could be said as wisdom of age because the younger were poor in knowledge of medicinal plants but still they had faith in the efficacy of these medicines.
The three prominent valleys of the Alaknanda catchment were surveyed regarding percentage of people preferred to visit Vaidyas for curing their ailments. It was found that maximum 69% veteran of female category in Berahi valley prefers to visit Vaidyas followed by 68% veteran of female category in Pinder valley and 66% veteran of female category in Nandakini valley for curing ailments. The percentage of young and male gender visiting Vaidyas is very less in all the valleys as compared to adult and veteran of female gender for curing ailments (Table 2). The dependency of local people on herbal and allopathic system of medicine was worked out. It was observed that in all three valleys poor family still depend more on herbal systems and preferred to visit Vaidyas (traditional herbal practitioners) for treatment compression to rich family. It was also noticed that for some particular diseases/ailments poor family visit to allopathic treatment as they known that Vaidyas or Ayurvedic system of treatment will take more time for cure. Similarly for particular diseases even rich family also depend on herbal system either due to remoteness or easy access to Vaidyas (Fig. 2).
Table 2. Perception of local people (more than 40%) on the basis of gender in different age groups preferred to visit Vaidyas for curing ailments.
Fig. 2. Dependency of local people on herbal and allopathic system of treatment in three different valleys of Alaknanda catchment.
People preferred to go Vaidyas to diagnose their problem although they know some medicinal plants themselves. They said the effectiveness of the herb was connected to the knowledge of the exact nature of diseases. They also added that dose response differs from person to person and also for the same person from time to time because the cause and effect varies. It was found difficult to extract indigenous knowledge base particularly related to medicinal plants from these communities. Even Vaidyas do not pass information to their family members. The younger generations show no interest in learning about this indigenous knowledge preferring modern medicine instead. Thus most of the young people are ignorant regarding the use of medicinal plants in curing ailments, however, they do know about the importance of these plants with respect to market.
The use method of the plants varies according to the nature of the disease. In some cases most of the plant species are not used alone but are mixed with other herbs in specific amounts. The medicines are mostly consumed in a powdered form, as the local people believe this form is considered to be more effective then any other form i.e. as pills, tablets etc. In majority of the cases, a decoction of leaves, stem, fruits and root/tuber is drunk or rubbed on the body to cure a disease or diseases. Most of the decoctions were made just by crushing the plant parts with the help of the mortar and pestle, but some were made by boiling plant parts with water, decanting of the liquid and drinking after cooling. Some plant decoctions were used directly on the wound or the infected part of the body. In some cases the patient is bathed in the decoction made by boiling with water. Generally bathing with the decoction was found common to cure skin diseases. Paste of some plants was plastered to set dislocated or fractured bones or muscular pain. Some of the diseases like headache, cuts, wounds, burns, boils and skin disease were treated through external application. It was also found that garland made of either the root or the stem was also worn to cure diseases like fever. In these garlands the numbers of species of the plant part remain fixed. Some herbs are taken empty stomach for its best results and in others there are some restrictions of food for the period of medication.
The documentation of indigenous knowledge and evaluation of the use of plants for a variety of purposes assumes greater significance not just to store it, but also to keep it alive and make it available for future use because of rapid socio-economic and cultural changes that are taking place across the tribal community of the region. This implies maintaining the ecosystems or natural habitat as well as the socio-cultural organizations of the local people. However, this would conflict with the autonomy of the people introduced. It seems that the only alternative is to carefully record the knowledge and insights of the people living within these societies.
Knowledge of herbs, traditional practices and wisdom is in the hands of the older particularly the local medical practioners known as Vaidyas. However, this wisdom, and certain medicinal plants, their distribution, important attributes, harvesting and management practices and the extraction of useful properties from them are fast disappearing due to various reasons. Some of the reasons are a lack of interest from the younger generation, abandonment of apprenticeship with Vaidyas which has broken the continuation of knowledge flow to the younger generations, deforestation and illegal collection, which has significantly reduced the availability of herbs in their natural habitat. The so-called scientific outlook has demoralized local practioners and the drastic change in lifestyles and food habits have necessitated the need to look for alternative methods of relief.
The authors are thankful to Dr. L.M.S. Palni Director, G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Kosi-Katarmal Almora for providing necessary facilities. We are grateful to all traditional herbal practitioners for their kind co-operation and active participation in this study. The authors are also thankful to the National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB), Govt. of India for financial support.
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