Traditional use of medicinal plants among the tribal communities of Chhota Bhangal, Western Himalaya
© Uniyal et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2006
Received: 09 January 2006
Accepted: 20 March 2006
Published: 20 March 2006
The importance of medicinal plants in traditional healthcare practices, providing clues to new areas of research and in biodiversity conservation is now well recognized. However, information on the uses for plants for medicine is lacking from many interior areas of Himalaya. Keeping this in view the present study was initiated in a tribal dominated hinterland of western Himalaya. The study aimed to look into the diversity of plant resources that are used by local people for curing various ailments. Questionnaire surveys, participatory observations and field visits were planned to illicit information on the uses of various plants. It was found that 35 plant species are commonly used by local people for curing various diseases. In most of the cases (45%) under ground part of the plant was used. New medicinal uses of Ranunculus hirtellus and Anemone rupicola are reported from this area. Similarly, preparation of "sik" a traditional recipe served as a nutritious diet to pregnant women is also not documented elsewhere. Implication of developmental activities and changing socio-economic conditions on the traditional knowledge are also discussed.
Out of the total 4, 22, 000 flowering plants reported from the world , more then 50,000 are used for medicinal purposes . In India, more than 43% of the total flowering plants are reported to be of medicinal importance . Utilization of plants for medicinal purposes in India has been documented long back in ancient literature [4, 5]. However, organized studies in this direction were initiated in 1956  and off late such studies are gaining recognition and popularity due to loss of traditional knowledge and declining plant population.
Right from its beginning, the documentation of traditional knowledge especially on the medicinal uses of plants, has provided many important drugs of modern day [7–9]. Even today this area holds much more hidden treasure as almost 80% of the human population in developing countries is dependant on plant resources for healthcare . In the interior areas of western Himalaya plants become the only source of medicine and well being. However, information on the uses of plants as traditional medicines has not been documented from various interior areas of western Himalaya such as Chhota Bhangal. Due to its remoteness and lack of modern health facilities dependence on plants for medicine is very high. Ironically, information on the uses of plants for medicine from this area is completely lacking. At the same time, the area is undergoing rapid transformations due to its recognition as an ideal paragliding site and is therefore becoming more market oriented. This can be seen in the changed cropping patterns of the local people. The role of market economy in depletion of traditional knowledge has been well documented in many parts of Himalaya . Thus many important leads to drug discovery may be lost in absence of proper documentation.
Keeping this in view, the present study was initiated, with an aim to identify knowledgeable resource persons and document their knowledge of on the utilization of medicinal plants in Chhota Bhangal area of western Himalaya.
Land and people
Bhangalis are a repository of traditional knowledge especially on the utilization of plants for medicinal purposes. This can be easily understood from the following local sayings which are very popular in the area. "Bana, basuti te bare jethi houan thethi manu kian more" meaning a man cannot die of disease in an area where Vitex negundo (bana), Adhatoda vasica (basuti) and Acorus calamus (bare) are found, provided that he knows how to use them. Similarly another verse that is common in the area is "Harad, bahera amla bich payi giloye, jithonye char chijan utho admi kyon moye". It means that a person will not succumb to disease in an area where Terminalia chebula (harad), T. bellerica (bahera), Emblica officinalis (amla) and Tinospora cordifolia (giloye) plants are available. Recently the area has come up on the world tourism map because of its recognition as an ideal paragliding site. In addition to paragliding thousands of tourists visit the area for its scenic beauty and high peaks & passes.
In order to document the utilization of medicinal plants, a total of four field surveys were carried out from December 2003 to July 2005 in the area. The surveys were spread across seasons so as to get maximum information and also to cross check the information provided by the local informants during the earlier visits. During each field survey at least two weeks were spent with the local people. After initial reconnaissance survey of the area in December 2003 and discussions with the local people, a total of 13 resource persons, comprising of 10 males and 3 females were identified. These are locally referred to as vaids and perform the duties of medicinal practioner. They had sound knowledge on medicinal plants and were therefore highly rated in the society. Structured questionnaires, interviews and participatory observations were used to illicit information from the resource persons using standard methods . Information on local name of plant, plant part used for curing, method of dosage and administration were recorded. Trade information on the plants wherever available was also collected. Later, short field visits to the forests were organized with the vaids so as to ascertain the correct identity of plant and also to obtain first hand information on their distribution. These plants were collected for identification and herbarium preparation following standard methods . The voucher specimens are housed in the herbarium (PLP) of Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT), Palampur for future reference.
Locally used medicinal plants
Scientific name (specimen number, family)
Aconitum heterophyllum Wallich ex Royle (3241, Ranunculaceae)
Dried roots are powdered and taken orally to cure stomach ache and fever.
Aesculus indica (Colebr. ex Cambess) Hook. (7029, Hippocastanaceae)
Fruits are used for preparing a nutritious recipe called "Sik". It is a pre- and post- pregnancy food for ladies. It is also used for curing excessive bleeding and pain during menses.
Ajuga bracteosa Wallich ex Benth. (4550, Lamiaceae)
Leaf powder is given to cure ulcer of mouth. Decoction of leaves (3–4 drops) is given thrice a day to small children (4–5 months old) who have breathing problems and also to cure internal sores.
Ainsliaea aptera DC. (5267, Asteraceae)
Crushed roots are used for gastric problems. Oily and sour food items are avoided.
Angelica glauca Edgew. (5266, Apiaceae)
Root powder is (1–2 g) is consumed daily for a week with "Gud" (jaggery) to cure fever and cold. It is also used as spice in local dishes.
Anemone rupicola Cambess (5297, Ranunculaceae)
The sap obtained after crushing the leaves is used in treating ears with pus.
Artemisia sieversiana Willd. (5262, Asteraceae)
Decoction of leaves is given to the pregnant ladies as an abortifacient. Paste prepared from the leaves is also applied on wounds to cure pain and swelling.
Berberis asiatica Roxb. ex. DC. (5251, Berberidaceae)
The roots are used for curing diabetes and jaundice. Fresh roots are cut into small pieces and decoction is prepared. This is later filtered through a cloth, concentrated and dried in shade. Small pills (each of ca. 1–1.5 g) are made from this. For adults, 3 pills a day are recommended with the sap of bitter guard (locally called "karella") to cure diabetes. These pills are also consumed with "Kujja Mishri" (local sweet made out of sugar) and water to cure jaundice.
Berberis lycium Royle (5252, Berberidaceae)
Roots & new shoot apices
The roots are dried in shade and boiled in water. This decoction is concentrated at low temperature and finally dried. The dried product is called "Rasaunt" and is used to cure eye infection. New vegetative apical shoots are also used for the same purpose. These are crushed and the sap is applied directly on the eyes.
Bergenia ciliata (Haworth) Sternb. (5254, Saxifragaceae)
Root decoction is taken empty stomach in the morning for 3 months to cure kidney stones.
Cannabis sativa L. (4857, Cannabinaceae)
Oil extracted from dry seeds is applied to cure paralysis and joint pain. It is also applied to cure fever caused by severe cold. Concentrated and dried sap extracted from the leaves is mixed with mustard oil and applied internally, as well as externally to cure piles.
Cirsium wallichii DC. (5260, Asteraceae)
Root powder taken with water in early morning helps to cure gastric problems.
Cynodon dactylon (L.) Persoon (226, Poaceae)
Entire aboveground parts are crushed with water. Two to three drops of this extract are poured in the nostril to cure nasal bleeding.
Fragaria nubicola Lindley ex Lacaita (5259, Rosaceae)
Decoction of plant is consumed twice a day for 5–6 days in the morning and evening to cure fever.
Grewia optiva Drummond ex Burret (358, Teliaceae)
Fresh leaves are boiled in water to prepare decoction which is further concentrated at low temperatures. The concentrated paste is applied to cure joint pains.
Malva parviflora L. (5280, Malvaceae)
Entire plant is boiled in water to prepare decoction. It is used for abortion.
Parthenocissus semicordata (Wall.) Planchon (5256, Vitaceae)
Aerial parts & Root
Sap collected by giving a cut in the above ground portion of the plant is drunk to cure leucorrhoea. It is also used to cure piles but is not recommended for male as it may cause impotency. Further, the paste prepared from the roots is also applied externally over the wounds and boils to inhibit puss formation.
Picrorhiza kurrooa Royle ex Benth. (4524, Scrophulariaceae)
Fresh as well as dry roots/rhizomes are ground with water to prepare a paste. The paste is applied to cure joint pains. It is also used for curing fever.
Pinus roxburghii Sarg. (3520, Pinaceae)
The green needles are ground and sap is extracted. It is taken to increase the flow of urine.
Polygonatum verticillatum (L.) All (5249, Liliaceae)
Fresh roots are cleaned, broken into small pieces and kept in water overnight. Next day these are ground in the same water. About 10 ml of this solution is taken regularly empty stomach in the morning to cure spermatorrhaea (locally called Dhat) and piles.
Polygonum amplexicaule D.Don (4559, Polygonaceae)
Root sap is extracted and applied to cure fresh wound in the eyes.
Prinsepia utilis Royle (5257, Rosaceae)
Root extract is taken orally as an antidote to neutralize the effect of poison intake. Root paste after heating at low temperature in an earthen pot is applied on wounds.
Prunus cerasoides D.Don (3853, Rosaceae)
Decoction of stem bark is concentrated at low temperature and applied to cure joint pains.
Ranunculus hirtellus Royle (5289, Ranunculaceae)
Roots of plant are crushed with cow's urine to make a paste. The paste is applied at the base of thumb. If the swelling is on the right testes then the paste is applied at the base of left hand thumb and vice versa. The paste should not be kept for more than 20 minutes and is applied only once.
Rheum australe D.Don (3244, Polygonaceae)
Whole plant is crushed and poultice is made in a cotton cloth. This is then heated and applied to cure swelling, which has developed as a result of fractured bone.
Rhododendron arboreum Smith (4512, Ericaceae)
Flowers are crushed and snuffed to stop nasal bleeding.
Rubus niveus Thunb. (5258, Rosaceae)
Fresh root tips
Fresh root tips are used for curing excessive bleeding during menstrual cycle. The root tips are made into a paste with water and small pills are made. One pill per day, preferably with butter made from buffalo milk, is taken empty stomach in the morning for 7 days. The original rootstock of the plants is avoided.
Rumex hastatus D.Don (4522, Polygonaceae)
Leaves are believed to have cooling properties and help in stopping nasal bleeding.
Rumex nepalensis Sprengel (4522, Polygonaceae)
Leaves are crushed and applied on wounds as an anti- allergic.
Saussurea costus (Falc.) Lipsch. (2100, Asteraceae)
Root paste is applied externally to cure joint pains.
Selinum tenuifolium Wallich ex C.B. Clarke (4523, Apiaceae)
Root is powdered and mixed with mustard oil and applied on the body of women to cure swelling which develops after delivery.
Stellaria media (L.) Villars (5269, Caryophyllaceae)
Seeds and leaves
About 20 dry seeds/day of the plant are given to the children to cure skin infections. The leaf paste of the plant is also applied on wounds caused by burning.
Swertia chirayita (Roxb. ex Fleming) Karsten (4558, Gentianaceae)
Entire plant is ground, boiled in water and filtered. 1–2 drops of filtered decoction is given to children against skin infections.
Thalictrum foliolosum DC. (5277, Ranunculaceae)
Dried root powder mixed with Thymus linearis in equal proportion is taken regularly to cure stomach pain and gastric trouble.
Viola pilosa Blume (4526, Violaceae)
Fresh flowers are boiled in water and decoction is prepared. The decoction is used as tea to cure fever, cough and cold.
It was also found that people are hesitant to disclose their knowledge. It is this knowledge that provides them recognition in the society and hence they do not want to share it. In most of the cases, it was found that this knowledge has been orally transferred from one generation to other and at each level a bit of it has been lost. The people themselves say that, compared to them their forefathers knew much more. It was also found that the local people are concerned about the degradation of medicinal plants in wild. Due to recent shift towards herbal medicines the pressures on the resources have increased and the market is fast expanding. It is to be noted that nearly 130 medicinal plants are in heavy demand from Himachal Pradesh  and as already mentioned many important plants are traded from Chhota Bhangal.
Many of the plants that are used by the local people in Chhota Bhangal find mention in ancient medicinal literature and are also used in different medicines systems such as, the Ayurveda and Unani. Aconitum heterophyllum that is used by the Bhangalis for curing stomach ache finds mention in Ayurveda for curing stomach ache and fever. It is one of the main ingredients of "Ativishadi churna", "Chandraprabha vati" and "Amritarishta" ayurvedic medicines. In Unani system of medicine it is an important ingredient of "Sufuf habib" which is used for curing piles and also of "Ma'jun jograj guggal" that is used against arthiritis . Similarly Picrorhiza kurrooa which Bhangalis use for joint pains is used for curing fever, jaundice, asthma, and leucoderma in Ayurveda. In Unani it is used for curing leucoderma and piles . It forms an important ingredient of medicine "Arogyawardhini" which is used for treating hepatobiliary disorders  and of "Hepax" which is useful in pregnancy anaemia . The overexploitation of A. heterophyllum and P. kurrooa for trade has lead to a drastic decline in their population and now both are endangered . Rheum australe is another important plant especially in the Unani medicine system where it is an important constituent of "Itrifal Mulayyin" used for curing constipation; "Hab Shabyar" used for curing headache, "Haba Shafa" used against cough and cold and "Roughan aqrab" used for piles . The plant also finds mention for curing diarrohea amongst livestock . Due to high extraction pressure and declining population, the plant has been designated as vulnerable . Berberis asiatica and B. lycium are used in Ayurveda and Unani for treating eye disorders  incidentally the Bhangalis also use them for eye disorders. Similarly, Bergenia ciliata that is used by Bhangalis for curing kidney stones is used for curing urinary disorders, splenic enlargement, ulcers and dysentery in ayurveda. In Unani it is used against hydrophobia, splenic enlargement, mennorrhgia and liver disorders . It is one of the main ingredients of "Cystose" drug that is used for cleaning urinary tract infections . During the surveys, it was observed that a large number of plants are used for curing female disorders compared to males. This can be attributed to the fact that unlike men, women are shyer and therefore find treatment in the community itself. The work load on them is also comparatively higher and hence they hardly find time to visit market places for treatment.
It is interesting to note that use of Ranunculus hirtellus, Rubus niveus and Anemone rupicola for the described medicinal purposes seems to be restricted to this area, as use of these plants for the said diseases could not be found in the literature perused for the western Himalaya [24–27]. Similarly, preparation of "sik" has not been documented in the literature for the western Himalaya.
It can be concluded from the study that Bhangalis inherit a rich traditional knowledge and documentation of this knowledge has provided novel information from the area. They still depend on the plants for medicinal purposes and are very much concerned about their degradation in wild as they now have to travel even more far to collect these plants. The incoming of roads and coming up of the area as an important tourist destination has allured the younger generation towards market economy, this certainly will have larger implications. Thus, the present documentation of traditional knowledge from an area where novel information has been generated will not only provide recognition to this knowledge but will also help in its conservation vis-à-vis providing pharmacological leads for the betterment of human society.
We thank the Director IHBT for facilities and encouragements. We are thankful to Dr. R.D. Singh for critical review and suggestions on the manuscript. Er. Amit Kumar and Dr. S. Rajkumar are thanked for fruitful discussions. We would also like to thank the various informants who shared their knowledge with us. The National Bioresource Development Board, Govt. of India is acknowledged for the financial support. This is IHBT communication number 506
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