Open Access

Ethnomedicinal botany of the Apatani in the Eastern Himalayan region of India

Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine20051:11

DOI: 10.1186/1746-4269-1-11

Received: 21 September 2005

Accepted: 16 November 2005

Published: 16 November 2005

Abstract

This paper investigates the wealth of medicinal plants used by the Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. Apatani have traditionally settled in seven villages in the Ziro valley of Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh in the Eastern Himalayan region of India. The present study has resulted in the documentation of 158 medicinal plant species used by the Apatani group of villages. These medicinal plant species were distributed across 73 families and 124 genera. Asteraceae was the most dominant family (19 species, 11 genera) of medicinal plants, followed by Zingiberaceae, Solanaceae, Lamiaceae and Araceae. For curing ailments, the use of aboveground plant parts was higher (80%) than the belowground plant parts in the Apatani group of villages. Of the aboveground plant parts, leaf was used in the majority of cases (56 species), followed by fruit. Different belowground plant forms such as root, tuber, rhizome, bulb and pseudo-bulb were used by Apatani as a medicine. About 52 types of ailments were cured by using these 158 medicinal plant species. The results of this study are further discussed in the changing socio-economic contexts.

Keywords

Apatani tribe Arunachal Pradesh Eastern Himalaya indigenous uses ethnomedicinal plants

Introduction

Tribal communities are mainly the forest dwellers who have accumulated a rich knowledge on the uses of various forests and forest products over the centuries. India possesses a total of 427 tribal communities, of these more than 130 major tribal communities live in North East India, which is comprised of the 8 states Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The major tribal communities of the North East India have been categorized into sub-tribes and if these sub-tribes are taken into account the total number of tribal groups reaches up to 300. In general, the tribes of North East India have been categorized into two broad ethnic communities, such as the Khasi and the Jaintia tribe of Meghalaya, who belong to 'Monkhemar' culture of Austoic dialect, and the rest of the tribal groups are basically Mongoloid, who belongs to Tibeto-Burman subfamily of Tibeto-Chinese group [13].

In the North East India, each state contains a number of tribal groups. Arunachal Pradesh is one of the states in North East India inhabited by 28 major tribes and 110 sub-tribes [4]. Arunachal Pradesh is the 12th mega biodiversity region of the world [5]. More than 545 species of orchids have been reported from the state, which is the highest number of orchid species known from any single state of India [6]. Such a rich biodiversity in the state has provided an initial advantage to its inhabitants for observing, and scrutinizing the rich flora and fauna for developing their own traditional knowledge. Most of the tribe economies have been historically engaged in subsistence agriculture or hunting and gathering. Over the years, they have developed a great deal of knowledge on the use of plants and plant products in curing various ailments.

A review of the literature reveals that many tribal areas and tribal communities in the eastern Himalayan region of India are either under explored or unexplored with regard to their floral wealth used in curing diseases. The Apatani is one such little studied tribe of Arunachal Pradesh [3]. Therefore, a need was felt to gather in-depth information on the plant species used by this tribal group and suggest that similar studies need to be carried out across the various groups of tribes for comparison as well as for documenting the knowledge which may be under threat due to the influence of modernization. The present paper thus aims to highlight and record in detail the traditional knowledge of the Apatani tribe on the use of medicinal plant species growing in and around their settlements.

Study area: Apatani group of villages

Literally, the word Apatani is composed of two words- 'Apa' and 'Tani'. According to the local language, 'Apa' means display of affection and 'Tani' stands for human race. The Apatani, generally, speak in their own language which has no script. Traditionally, they had settled in seven villages (e.g. Hong, Hari, Billa, Dutta, Hija, Mudang-Tage, and Michi Bamin) those were organized in accordance with the traditional lines of the three forefathers called Nichi-Nitii, Tinii-Diibo-Dre-Hija, and Talyang-Hao. These 7 villages are located in the Ziro valley of Lower Subansiri district in the central western part of Arunachal Pradesh in India between 26°55' – 28°21' N and 92°40' – 94°21' E. The Ziro valley (often called the Apatani valley) lies between the Panior and Kamla (Kuru) rivers at an altitude of 1524 to 2738 m a.m.s.l. The Apatani group of villages is located at 2200 m elevation. The Apatani migrated to the present location from the Talle Valley located in south eastern region [7]. The pattern of Apatani villages is that of string settlements (village houses are in a straight line) and homes are made of bamboo and timber. The Apatani belong to the Tibeto-Mongoloid stock, and trace their descent from one legendary ancestor, the Abotani.

The Apatani believe in indigenous religion called as 'Donyi-Polo' and are patriarchal in social system. The traditional village council, which regulates and administers the community, consists of three bodies namely Akha Buliyang, Yapha Buliyang and Ajang Buliyang. In each of these traditional institutions has one or two persons represent from each clan. Earlier, the Apatani had prominent tattoo marks on the face to distinguish themselves from other communities settled nearby. However, the practice of tattooing has been discouraged in the recent past and now is on the verge of extinction.

In 1991 census the population of Apatani was 22,526 (Table 1). The decadal (1991–2001) growth rate of the Apatani is 8.62%, which is much lower than that of the state (26.21%). The Ziro valley has an area of 1058 km2 of which 43 km2 is under agriculture, and remaining under forests, plantations and settlements. It is bounded with the areas traditionally belonging to neighbouring Nishi tribe. The land holding size varies from 0.02 to 10.00 ha with over 93% holdings consisting of 0.026–3.00 ha. The Ziro valley exhibits a humid sub-tropical to temperate type of climate with 108.1 cm rainfall and a temperature ranges from a maximum of 30.6°C to minimum of 1.1°C [8]. The climatic, altitudinal and geomorphological variations have shaped the two major vegetation types in and around the study area- sub-tropical forests and temperate forests. Sub-tropical forests in the study area are represented by Castanopsis indica, Acer sp., Pinus wallichiana and Pinus roxburghii, whereas, the temperate forests are represented by Quercus glauca, Alnus nepalensis, Castanopsis indica, Pyrus sp., Prunus sp., Populus sp. and Acer sp [9, 10]. Many shrub species such as Berberis wallichiana, Viburnum foetidum, Prunus sp., Rubus sp., Spirea sp. and Symplocos sp. occur in the forested areas.
Table 1

Demographic profile of the Apatani in Ziro valley of Arunachal Pradesh

Year

Population

% to state

 

Apatani

Arunachal Pradesh

 

1961

10,793

3,36,588

3.21

1971

12,888

4,68,511

2.75

1981

16,580

6,31,839

2.62

1991

22,526

8,64,558

2.61

2001

24,650

10,91,117

2.26

Source: Census of India, Part IX-B, Government of India.

Medicinal plants survey

A literature survey was carried out for compilation of existing information on the medicinal plants used by Apatani villagers [2, 3, 1014]. In addition, field surveys in Apatani villages were undertaken during May and June 2005 to gather data on the indigenous uses of medicinal plant species by the Apatani. During the survey period, information was also gathered using semi-structured questionnaires on types of ailments cured by the traditional use of medicinal plants and plant parts used in curing different ailments. Cross-checking of data was made with the help of group discussions among different age classes of Apatani villagers that include both the genders of the society. The participant observation method was also employed to understand the methods and techniques adopted by the Apatani in curing diseases. The surrounding forested area and agricultural land of the Apatani villages were also surveyed with local youths and knowledgeable elders for the identification of various medicinal plant species and their indigenous uses. Since there is lack of comprehensive records on floral diversity of North East Himalaya including Arunachal Pradesh, the plant specimens were identified through various floral inventories [10, 13, 15]. The collected information was analyzed, and correlation was made between different genera and species of the medicinal plants in order to understand the pattern in medicinal plant uses and occurrences.

Results and discussion

The Apatani mainly subsist on agriculture and animal husbandry. Wet-rice cultivation is their most important agriculture practice. One of the Apatani proverbs reads "Tanii hii jebi danii", which means the Apatani depend on wet-rice cultivation. The Apatani have also developed a unique system of fish farming in their wet-rice croplands. They use available natural resources such as bamboo, cane, pine, Phragmites sp. and Castanopsis sp. in order to check the soil erosion, to conserve the soil fertility, to cultivate varieties of rice landraces, and to culture the fish in an integrated manner. Two species of bamboo (Phyllostachys bambusoides and Dendrocalamus hamiltonii) are also cultivated in private lands by the Apatani for construction of houses and other domestic uses. Bamboo shoots are also consumed by the Apatani as a vegetable. Apong, a locally prepared beer by fermenting rice, finger millet and barley, is an important beverage of the Apatani, which they prefer to consume with mutton. Domestic and semi-domestic cattle also play important role in maintaining the economic status of the Apatani. Possessing a large number of domestic animals is an indication of the prosperity of their respective owner [16]. Mithun (Bos frontalis) is preferred mostly for the meat. In addition, pigs, cows, and multiple varieties of birds and fish are consumed by the Apatani. A number of wild edible fruits and vegetables are also collected by the Apatani from the nearby forested areas to supplement the domestic nutritional requirements.

Traditionally, the Apatani group of villages was not only familiar with the knowledge of medicinal plants but they were also expert traders and met their necessities in exchange of paddy, which was always in excess of their requirements [17]. Earlier, they had no connection with the plains of Assam due to obstructions created by the Nishi who were earning a lot by acting as middlemen between the Apatani and the people residing in the plains. However, the Apatani had occupied a compact area in Ziro valley and were one of the self-sufficient tribes in North East India [8]. Their immediate dependence on nature had developed knowledge which ultimately is reflected in their traditional culture, religion, local belief, folklore, taboos language and dialects. For many centuries, the Apatani had kept alive a self-managed system of folk medicine that was mainly based on herbal remedies [10]. Their ingenuity still reflects their traditional management and sharing of natural resources in a way that there is optimum utilization of such resources [8, 18]. The Nishi are one of the neighbours of the Apatani who live at lower elevations and are the most populous tribe in the state. Over the past few decades, the interaction between the Apatani and the Nishi has increased many fold due to migration of Apatani people in search of better education in Itanagar, a capital of Arunachal Pradesh. The availability of motor roads and the invasion of modern civilization have also enhanced the day to day interaction and the exposure of the Apatani to the rest of the world. Such interaction has provided a possible sharing of traditional knowledge of the Apatani with their neighbouring community.

During the present course of investigations, a total of 158 medicinal plant species used by the Apatani group of villages were documented. These medicinal plant species were distributed across 73 families and 124 genera (Table 2). In terms of number of medicinal plant species, Asteraceae was the most dominant family (19 species, 11 genera) of medicinal plants, followed by Zingiberaceae, Solanaceae, Lamiaceae, Araceae, and Verbanaceae (Table 3). There was a significant positive correlation (r = 0.92, p > 0.01) between the number of genera and number of species used as medicine by the Apatani (Figure 1). The invention of maximum number of uses of Asteraceae by the Apatani tribe demonstrates the dominance of Asteraceae around the Apatani group of villages. Asteraceae is the most dominant family of medicinal plants across the North Eastern States of India [13].
Table 2

Medicinal plant species, plant parts used and ailments cured by the Apatani of Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh

Sl No.

Species

Family

Part used

Uses

1

Acorus calamus L.

Araceae

Root

Cut, wounds, skin diseases, bone fracture

2

Ageratum conyzoides L.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Cut, wounds

3

Allium cepa L.

Liliaceae

Bulb

Eye pain

4

Allium hookeri Thwait.

Liliaceae

Bulb

Eruption of skin, cough, cold, wounds

5

Alocasia forniculata (Roxb.) Schott.

Araceae

Root

Crack of heels

6

Alstonia scholaris (L.) Br.

Apocynaceae

Leaf, bark

Headache, stomach disorder, menstrual disorder

7

Amomum aromaticum Roxb.

Zingiberaceae

Leaf, seed

Fever, abortion

8

Amorphophallus paeoniifolius (Dennst.) Nicolson

Araceae

Corn

Piles

9

Andrographis paniculata (Burm. f.) Wall. ex Nees

Acanthaceae

Leaf

Dysentery

10

Anisomeles indica (L.) O.K.

Lamiaceae

Shoot

Bodyache

11

Angiopteris evecta (Forst.) Hoffm.

Angiopteridaceae

Stem

Health tonic

12

Antidesma acidum Retz.

Euphorbiaceae

Leaf

Wounds

13

Argemone mexicana L.

Papaveraceae

Shoot

Skin diseases

14

Artemisia indica Willd.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Bodyache, asthma, skin diseases

15

Artemisia maritima L.

Asteraceae

Shoot

Blood purification

16

Artemisia nilagirica (Cl.) Pamp.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Cough, headache, sores

17

Asplenium nidus L.

Aspleniaceae

Leaf

Ulcer

18

Barleria prionitis L.

Acanthaceae

Leaf

Cough

19

Begonia roxburghii (Miq.) DC.

Begoniaceae

Leaf

Indigestion

20

Berberis wallichiana (Wall.) Brongn.

Berberidaceae

Fruit, root

Indigestion, bodyache

21

Bergenia ciliata (Haw.) Sternb.

Saxifragaceae

Root, leaf

Cut, wounds

22

Brassiopsis glomarulata (Bl.) Regel.

Araliaceae

Fruit

Cough

23

Buddleja asiatica Lour.

Buddlejaceae

Leaf

Inflammation

24

Callicarpa macrophylla Vahl

Verbenaceae

Leaf

Headache

25

Callicarpa vastita Roxb.

Verbenaceae

Leaf

Indigestion

26

Calotropis gigantea (L.) Br.

Asclepiadaceae

Root

Dog bite

27

Canarium resiniferum Brace ex King

Burseraceae

Fruit

Urinary complaints

28

Capparis spinosa Lam.

Capparaceae

Root

Rheumatic pain

29

Cardamine hirsuta L.

Brassicaceae

Leaf

Indigestion

30

Castanopsis tribuloides (Sm.) DC.

Fagaceae

Stem

Cough, goiter, indigestion

31

Centella asiatica L.

Apiaceae

Shoot

Constipation, gastritis, blood purification

32

Chenopodium ambrosioides L.

Chenopodiaceae

Leaf

Toothache

33

Christella parasitica (L.) Lev.

Thelypteridaceae

Fronds

Cut, wounds

34

Chromolaena odorata (L.) King & Robinson

Asteraceae

Leaf

Cut, wounds, headache, fever

35

Cirsium lapskyle Petral.

Asteraceae

Shoot

Indigestion

36

Cissampelos pareira L.

Menispermaceae

Tuber

Health tonic

37

Clerodendrum glandulosum Coleb. ex Wall.

Verbenaceae

Leaf

Blood pressure, fever, cough

38

Clerodendrum serratum (L.) Moonb

Verbenaceae

Leaf

Eye disorders

39

Coelogyne pectata Lindl.

Orchidaceae

Pseudobulb

Burns

40

Colocasia affinis Schott

Araceae

Leaf

Fever, respiratory disorder

41

Crassocephalum crepidioides (Benth.) Moore

Asteraceae

Leaf

Indigestion, headache, stomachache, cut, wounds

42

Crotolaria pallida Ait.

Fabaceae

Root

Bodyache

43

Croton roxburghii Balak

Euphorbiaceae

Fruit

Indigestion

44

Curcuma caesia Roxb.

Zingiberaceae

Rhizome

Cough, asthma

45

Curcuma aromatica Salisb.

Zingiberaceae

Whole plant

Blood purification

46

Curcuma zedoaria Rosc.

Zingiberaceae

Rhizome

Cold, cough

47

Cuscuta reflexa Roxb.

Cuscutaceae

Whole plant

Purgative

48

Cyathea gigantea (Wall. ex Hk. f.) Holt.

Cyatheaceae

Leaf

Bodyache

49

Cyathula prostrata (L.) Bl.

Amaranthaceae

Shoot

Appetizer, dysentery, skin diseases

50

Cymbidium aloifolium (L.) Sw.

Orchidaceae

Tuber

Wounds

51

Dendrocnide sinuta (Bl.) Chew.

Urticaceae

Leaf

Urogenital disorder, toothache, dysentery

52

Dicranopteris linearis (Burm. f.) Und.

Gleicheniaceae

Whole plant

Indigestion

53

Dicrocephala bicolor (Roth) Sch.

Asteraceae

Shoot

Digestive problems

54

Dillenia indica L.

Dilleniaceae

Furit

Stomachache

55

Dioscorea alata L.

Dioscoraceae

Tuber

Indigestion

56

Dioscorea bulbifera L.

Dioscoraceae

Tuber

Indigestion

57

Dioscorea hamiltonii Hk. f.

Dioscoraceae

Tuber

Dysentery

58

Diplazium esculentum (Retz.) Sw.

Athyriaceae

Fronds

Constipation

59

Ecbolium viride (Forsk) Alston

Meliaceae

Root

Rheumatism

60

Eclipta prostrata (L.) L.

Asteraceae

Shoot

Cut, wounds

61

Elaeagnus caudata Sch. ex Momiyama

Elaeagnaceae

Fruit

Health tonic

62

Elaeagnus pyriformis Hk. f.

Elaeagnaceae

Fruit

Constipation

63

Elatostema platyphyllum Wedd.

Urticaceae

Root

Vomiting

64

Elsholzia blanda (Benth.) Benth.

Lamiaceae

Leaf

Itching

65

Eluesine coracana (L.) Gaertn.

Poaceae

Grains

Stomach disorder, tonic, cold

66

Eupatorium odoratum L.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Wounds, cut

67

Erigeron bonariensis L.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Nose block

68

Eryngium foetidum L.

Apiaceae

Seed

Madness, headache

69

Ficus benjamina L.

Moraceae

Stem

Stomach disorder

70

Ficus hirta Vahl

Moraceae

Fruit

Wounds, cut

71

Gerbera pilosellioides (L.) Cass.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Rheumatic pain

72

Gloriosa superba L.

Liliaceae

Tuber

Killing lice in hairs

73

Gmelina arborea Roxb.

Verbenaceae

Leaf

Stomach disorder

74

Gynostemma pedata Bl.

Cucurbitaceae

Leaf

Throat ache

75

Gynura biscolor (Roxb. ex Willd.) DC.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Intestinal worms

76

Gynura nepalensis DC.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Indigestion

77

Hedychium coronarium Koen.

Zingiberaceae

Rhizome

Bodyache

78

Hedychium dekianum Rao & Verma

Zingiberaceae

Rhizome

Cut, wounds

79

Hedychium spicatum Buch.-Ham. ex Sm.

Zingiberaceae

Rhizome

Stomach disorder

80

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis L.

Malvaceae

Flower

Reproductive disorders

81

Houttuynia cordata Thunb.

Saururaceae

Shoot

Freshness, good sleep, heart disorders

82

Hyptis suaveolens (L.) Poit.

Lamiaceae

Leaf

Itching, cough, cold

83

Hypericum japonicum Thunb. ex Murr.

Hypericaceae

Stem

Cut, wounds

84

Impatiens latifolia L.

Balsaminaceae

Leaf

Headache, digestive disorder

85

Impatiens racemosa DC.

Balsaminaceae

Leaf

Digestive disorder

86

Indigofera tinctoria L.

Fabaceae

Root

Wound

87

Jasminum humile L.

Oleaceae

Root

Ringworm

88

Laginaria siceraria (Molina) Standl.

Cucurbitaceae

Fruit

Burns

89

Leonotis nepetifolia R. Br.

Lamiaceae

Seed

Burns

90

Lithocarpus dealbatus (Miq.) Rehder

Fagaceae

Fruit

Indigestion

91

Litsea cubeba (Lour.) Pers.

Lauraceae

Fruit

Cough, cold, hair tonic, indigestion, good sleep

92

Litsea salicifolia (Nees) Hk.f.

Lauraceae

Fruit

Bone fracture, stomach disorder

93

Lygodium scandens (L.) Sw.

Schizaeaceae

Leaf

Skin diseases

94

Mahonia napalensis DC.

Berberidaceae

Stem

Itching

95

Measa indica (Roxb.) DC.

Myrsinaceae

Fruit

Indigestion

96

Mikania micrantha Kunth.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Itching, skin diseases, headache

97

Miliusa roxburghiana (Wall. ex Griff.) Hk. f. & Th.

Annonaceae

Leaf

Headache

98

Molineria crassifolia Baker

Hypoxidaceae

Fruit

Diarrhoea

99

Molineria recurveta (Dryand) Hebbert.

Hypoxidaceae

Leaf

Bodyache

100

Mucuna pruriens (L.) DC.

Fabaceae

Stem

Eye disorder

101

Murraya koenigii (L.) Spr.

Rutaceae

Leaf

Stomach trouble

102

Musa paradissica L.

Musaceae

Fruit

Indigestion

103

Myrica esculenta Ham. ex D. Don.

Myricaceae

Fruit, bark

Indigestion, skin eruption

104

Myrsine semiserrata Wall.

Myrsinaceae

Seed

Skin diseases

105

Oenanthe javanica (Bl.) DC.

Apiaceae

Shoot

Indigestion

106

Oroxylum indicum (L.) Vent.

Bignoniaceae

Seed

Purgative, headache

107

Osbeckia stellata Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don

Melastomataceae

Leaf

Toothache

108

Oxalis corniculata L.

Oxalidaceae

Shoot

Appetizer, headache

109

Paedaria foetida L

Rubiaceae

Stem

Gastritis, diarrhea, stomach disorder

110

Passiflora foetida L.

Passifloraceae

Fruit

Respiratory disorder

111

Photinia integrifolia Lindl.

Rosaceae

Fruit

Indigestion

112

Perilla frutescens (L.) Britt.

Lamiaceae

Seed

Fever, headache

113

Physalis angulata L.

Solanaceae

Fruit

Gastric trouble

114

Physalis minima L.

Solanaceae

Fruit

Gastric trouble

115

Physalis peruviana L.

Solanaceae

Leaf

Pain in pregnancy

116

Picrorhiza kurrooa Benth.

Scrophulariaceae

Root

Cold, fever

117

Pinus roxburghii Sarg.

Pinaceae

Seed

Indigestion

118

Piper brachystachyum Wall.

Piperaceae

Seed

Cough

119

Piper trioicum Roxb.

Piperaceae

Root

Cough

120

Plantago major L.

Plantaginaceae

Leaf

Constipation

121

Plectranthus japonicus (Burm. f.) Koidz.

Acanthaceae

Leaf

Fever

122

Polygonum nepalense Meissn.

Polygonaceae

Leaf

Indigestion

123

Polygonum perfoliatum L.

Polygonaceae

Leaf

Indigestion

124

Portulaca oleracea L.

Portulacaceae

Stem, leaf

Appetizer

125

Pouzolzia hirta (Bl.) Hassk.

Urticaceae

Root

Constipation

126

Pterospermum acerifolium Willd.

Sterculiaceae

Flower

Earache

127

Rhus chinensis Miller

Anacardiaceae

Fruit

Blood dysentery

128

Rubia cordifolia L.

Rubiaceae

Shoot

Stomachache

129

Rubus calycinus Wall.

Rosaceae

Fruit

Stomach disorder

130

Rubus ellipticus Sm.

Rosaceae

Fruit

Indigestion

131

Rubus paniculatus Sm.

Rosaceae

Fruit

Stomach disorder

132

Rubus roseafolius Sm.

Rosaceae

Fruit

Indigestion

133

Rumex nepalensis Spr.

Polygonaceae

Leaf

Indigestion

134

Saurauria roxburghii Wall.

Saurauriaceae

Leaf

Constipation

135

Schefflera glomerata L.

Araliaceae

Fruit

Indigestion

136

Schizostachium capitatum (Munro) Majumdar

Poaceae

Shoot

Diarrhea, dysentery, stomach disorder

137

Senna alata (L.) Roxb.

Caesalpiniaceae

Leaf

Skin diseases

138

Senna tora (L.) Roxb.

Ceasalpiniaceae

Leaf

Low blood pressure

139

Sphenomeris chinensis (L.) Maxon

Lindsaeceae

Fronds

Sprains

140

Solanum kurzii Brace ex Prain

Solanaceae

Fruit

Cough, worms infestation

141

Solanum myriacanthum Dunal

Solanaceae

Seeds

Toothache

142

Solanum nigrum L.

Solanaceae

Leaf

Liver tonic, indigestion

143

Solanum torvum Sm.

Solanaceae

Fruit

Cough, skin diseases

144

Sonchus asper (L.) Hill

Asteraceae

Shoot

Indigestion

145

Sonchus arvensis L.

Asteraceae

Shoot

Stomachache, gastritis

146

Spilanthus clava L.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Throat pain

147

Spilanthes paniculata DC.

Asteraceae

Leaf

Constipation

148

Stellaria media (L.) Vill.

Caryophyllaceae

Leaf

Itching

149

Stereospermum chelonoides (L. f.) DC.

Bignoniaceae

Leaf

Sprain

150

Strobilanthus helictus T. Anders.

Acanthaceae

Shoot

Indigestion

151

Terminalia chebula Retz.

Combretaceae

Fruit

Cough

152

Toddalia aculeata Pers.

Rutaceae

Fruit

Throat pain

153

Urtica dioica L.

Urticaceae

Leaf

Bone fracture

154

Vernonia cinerea (L.) Less

Asteraceae

Leaf

Indigestion

155

Zanthoxylum acanthopodium DC.

Rutaceae

Fruit

Dysentery

156

Zanthoxylum armatum DC.

Rutaceae

Fruit

Cold, cough, fever, appetizer

157

Zanthoxylum oxyphyllum Edgew.

Rutaceae

Fruit

Stomach disorder

158

Zingiber officinale Rosc.

Zingiberaceae

Rhizome

Cough

Table 3

Dominant families of medicinal plants used by the Apatani in terms of number of species occupied

Family

Genera

Species

Asteraceae

11

19

Zingiberaceae

4

8

Solanaceae

2

7

Lamiaceae

5

5

Araceae

5

5

Verbenaceae

3

5

Rutaceae

3

5

Rosaceae

2

5

Urticaceae

4

4

Acanthaceae

4

4

Figure 1

Relationship between genera and species richness of medicinal plants used by the Apatani in Ziro valley of Arunachal Pradesh.

Different parts of medicinal plant species were used by the Apatani as a medicine. For curing ailments, the use of aboveground plant parts was higher (80%) than the belowground plant parts. Of the aboveground plant parts, leaf was used in the majority of cases (56 species), followed by fruits. Different belowground plant forms such as root, tuber, rhizome, bulb and pseudo-bulb were also used by the Apatani as a source of curing ailments (Table 4). The whole plant of 3 species [e.g. Curcuma aromatica Salisb., Cuscuta reflexa Roxb. and Dicranopteris linearis (Burm. f.) Und.] was used as medicine. These 158 medicinal plant species were used in curing about 52 types of ailments, of which the highest numbers of plant species (40 species) were used for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders such as indigestion and constipation. About 19 medicinal plant species were used in curing cough and cold, and 15 medicinal plant species were used for healing cuts and wounds (Table 5).
Table 4

Patterns in Apatani use of medicinal plant parts

Aboveground plant parts used

Number of Species

Belowground plant parts used

Number of Species

Whole shoot

15

Root

14

   Leaf

56

Tuber

6

   Fruit

31

Rhizome

6

   Seed

10

Bulb

2

   Stem

6

Pseudo-bulb

1

   Fronds

4

Corn

1

   Bark

2

  

   Flower

2

  

   Total

126

Total

30

Table 5

Major ailments cured by the Apatani in terms of using the plant species

Ailments

Number of plants used

Indigestion

40

Cough and cold

19

Cut and wounds

15

Headache

12

Stomach disorder

11

Skin diseases

11

Fever

8

Body-ache

6

Dysentery

6

Throat-ache

5

Previous studies carried out in North East India have reported 41 medicinal plant species used by the Apatani of Arunachal Pradesh [13]. However, they had selected many North Eastern States and 12 different tribal communities for investigations. Based on their experiences, they had suggested the need of carrying out detailed investigations of each tribe. So far different authors have reported 1350 species of plants used in ethnomedicinal preparations, 665 species of food plants and 899 species for miscellaneous uses from the entire North East India [3]. The present inventory of 158 medicinal plant species as used by the Apatani is one of its kinds in terms of the highest number of species recorded so far used by a single tribe of the North East India. This fact provides a strength to the statements of earlier researchers that North East India is still under-explored and certain areas in the district of Subansiri still remain unexplored [3, 10]. Hence, a need for detailed investigations of ethnobotanical knowledge held by each tribal community in North East India is required before such valuable knowledge vanishes. In spite of the rich wealth of bio-resources and potential, development is far from meeting the expectations of local people in Arunachal Pradesh mainly in terms of existing health care facilities and herbal industries. Ethnomedicinal knowledge is also important from a humanitarian point of view in that in long run as this knowledge may help to identify important medicinal uses that can help in curing and healthcare around the world. Attempts should be made to share the benefits arising from such knowledge with its holders. The present inventory of medicinal plants used by the Apatani opens new avenues to scrutinize such a rich natural resource for further analysis in order to develop the potential of herbal medicine.

Declarations

Acknowledgements

I thank Director, G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development, for providing logistic support. I extend my thanks to Dr. Pitamber P. Dhyani, Dr. Drupad C. Choudhury, Dr. Rakesh C. Sundriyal, Dr. Nehal A. Farooquee, Dr. Manju Sundriyal, Mr. Mihin Dollo, and Mr. Rubu Bukar for helping in various ways during the course of this study. Dr. M.S. Rawat is thanked for discussions on the subject matter. I acknowledge the help provided by all the Apatani group of villages during the fieldwork. Dr. Andrea Pieroni and three anonymous referees are thanked for their constructive comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development, Kosi-Katarmal

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© Kala; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2005

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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