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Aboriginal uses and management of ethnobotanical species in deciduous forests of Chhattisgarh state in India


A study on the native uses of ethnobotanical species was carried out in the south Surguja district of Chhattisgarh state in India with the major objective of identifying different food and medicinal plant species and also to understand their ongoing management and conservation. Through questionnaire and personal interviews, a total of 73 ethnobotanical species used by tribal and non-tribal communities were documented, of these 36 species were used in curing different types of diseases and 22 were used as edible food plants. This rich traditional knowledge of local people has an immense potential for pharmacological studies. The outside forces, at present, were mainly blamed to change the traditional system of harvesting and management of ethnobotanical species. The destructive harvesting practices have damaged the existing populations of many ethnobotanical species viz., Asparagus racemosus, Dioscorea bulbifera, Boswellia serrata, Buchnania lanzan, Sterculia urens and Anogeissus latifolia. The sustainable harvesting and management issues of ethnobotanical species are discussed in view of their conservation and management.


The Chhattisgarh state of India is one of the best representatives of the Deccan Peninsular bio-geographic zone that obtains biodiversity rich deciduous forests. About 44% geographical area of Chhattisgarh state is under various types of forests with rich plant diversity, of these many species are of ethnobotanical importance. In order to conserve and maintain the natural populations of these ethnobotanical species as well as to meet their requirements, the Chhattisgarh State Minor Forest Produce Co-operative Federation has been established, which deals with various conservation, development and livelihood issues at state level. A large number of hunter-gatherer societies live in the forests of Chhattisgarh from historical times, and these tribal and non-tribal groups meet their daily requirements from the surrounding forest resources. About 44 tribal communities live in Chhattisgarh state. Over the years of trial and errors, they have accumulated a great deal of knowledge on the utility of surrounding biodiversity. This traditionally occupied knowledge is transmitted by oral means and is mostly acquired through learning-by-doing approaches [15].

The plant based resources form a large share on which rural communities depend for food and medicines [6]. Besides, the surrounding forest resources are used for forage, construction of dwellings, making household and agricultural implements, dyes, and for fire, shade, gums, fibers etc. Generally, the traditional knowledge on the use of plant resources is dwindling due to several reasons including shift in attitude towards a more western lifestyle and declining interest of younger generations to carry forward the tradition. The traditionally occupied ethnobotanical knowledge is mostly, at present, restricted to far-flung areas away from invasion of modern cultural forces [7]. The rural area in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh state is inhabited by many tribal groups [2], which possess a great deal of knowledge on the various plant resources. Therefore, the present study was undertaken in the southern part of Surguja district with the major objective of assessing the indigenous knowledge of rural tribal communities associated with the ethnobotanical species. Attempts were also made to understand the harvesting practices and management of ethnobotanical species.


Study area

The Surguja district lies in the north of Chhattisgarh state in India between 23° 37' 25" to 24° 6' 17" north latitude and 81° 34' 40" to 84° 4' 40" east longitude. The states of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh encircle Surguja district, and the Vindhyachal-Baghelkhand region of peninsular India overlaps the southeastern part of the Surguja. Ambikapur is the district's headquarter. The forests are dry deciduous type and primarily dominated by Shorea robusta. Madhuca indica, Anogeissus latifolia and Semecarpus anacardium are the major companion species of Shorea robusta found in these forests.

Mythologically, the Lord Rama had visited Surguja during his 14 years of exile into the forests. Many places of Surguja viz., Ramgarh, Sita-Bhengra and Laxmangarh have been associated with the epic Ramayana and named after the Lord Rama, Laxmana and Goddess Sita. Surguja is one of the important tribal regions of Chhattisgarh. The major ethnic groups in the study area were Gond, Majhwar and Baiga. Yadav, Urawoo, Dash and Chauhan were among the other rural communities in the region. Apart from forest resource collection, the villagers practice agriculture and raise some crops, such as, paddy and maize. Comparatively, agriculture is practiced largely by the Gond tribe and livestock raring is practiced by Yadav.

Ethnobotanical exploration

Literature survey carried out on the ethnobotanical investigations reveals that there is almost no study available so far in the south Surguja region, however, some sporadic studies are available in the adjacent areas and districts [2, 812]. Hence, the field surveys in tribal villages of south Surguja district of Chhattisgarh covering Kete, Ghatbarra, Parsa, Tara, Pendrakhi, Parogia, Hariharpur, Shivnagar, Fatepur and Bhandargaun were undertaken during July to September 2008 for gathering data on the uses of various plant species. During the survey period, information was also gathered using semi-structured questionnaires on plant parts used for food, medicine, vegetable, fibers, dyes, gums, agricultural implements and types of ailments cured by the use of plant species. Cross-checking of data was made with the help of group discussions among different age classes of tribal and non-tribal villagers that include both the genders of the society. The participant observation method was also employed to understand the methods and techniques adopted by tribal to use plant and plant parts. The surrounding forested area and agricultural land of villagers were also surveyed with local youths and knowledgeable elders for the identification of various ethnobotanical species and their indigenous uses. The nomenclature and botanical identity of the plant species follows Witt [1], Haines [13], Roy et al. [14] and Panigrahi and Murti [15].

Results and discussion

The present investigations have recorded 73 ethnobotanical species used by tribal and non-tribal communities in southern part of Surguja district of Chhattisgarh state in India (Table 1). The recorded ethnobotanical species were distributed over various life forms, of which 35 were tree species, 13 were herbs, 10 were shrubs, 9 were woody climber, and 3 each were grass and climber species, respectively (Figure 1). In terms of number of ethnobotanical species, Leguminoceae was the most dominant family, though, 37 plant families have their presence in the study area. These ethnobotancial species had diverse uses viz., medicine, beverages, vegetables, tonic, fish poison, mosquito repellent and as dying clothes. Of the total ethnobotanical species, the highest numbers of plant species (n = 36) were used in curing different types of diseases, followed by wild edible plants (n = 22). Of the remaining ethnobotanical species, 5 plant species were used as tonic, 4 as dye yielding plant, 2 for preparing beverages, 5 as fish poison, and one plant species was exclusively used as mosquito repellent.

Figure 1
figure 1

Distribution of ethno-botanical species across various life forms in the study area.

Table 1 Ethnobotanical species used by local people for various purposes

Medicinal Plants

The total documented medicinal plant species were distributed over 26 families and have occupied various life forms, of which 14 were herbaceous species (3 climbers, 1 grass and 10 forbs), 13 were tree species, 6 were woody climber species and 3 were shrub species (Table 1). Combretaceae and Liliaceae had the highest number of species used in curing diseases. Different plant parts of these species, such as, root, tuber, leaf, fruit, bark, resin, seed and latex were used as medicine. In majority of cases, root (14 species) was used for preparing medicine, followed by fruit (7 species) and bark (5 species). More than one plant parts of 4 plant species viz., Garura pinnata Roxb., Helicterus isora L., Holarrhena antidysenterica Wall. and Ficus bengalensis L. were used as medicine. Cough, bodyache, dysentery, cut-wounds, scorpion bite, snake bite, muscular pain, and indigestion were among the ailments cured by using these plant species.

Many species of snakes including cobra were found in the study area, and snakebite was one of the frequent problems. In case of snakebite, the person was treated by some specialized expert, who used some plant species and also chanted some spiritual words while curing snakebite. Diospyrus melanoxylon Roxb., Elaeodendron glaucum Pers., and Garura pinnata were some of the important plant species used for curing snakebite. Similarly, the scorpion bite was treated by using the leaf paste of Achyranthus aspera L., and tuber of Urginea indica Kunth. The Surguja district is a mosquito prone area, and death by malarial fever is a common phenomena. The local people spend most of the time in the forest for rearing of their livestock, collection of fuelwood, fodder, medicinal and edible plants. To keep mosquito away from their body, they rubbed leaves of Chloroxylon swietenia DC. on the exposed body parts and also put its twigs on the head and back.

The study area harboured several important medicinal plants used in Ayurvedic medicine. Terminalia arjuna Bedd., Terminalia bellerica Roxb., Terminalia chebula Retz., Phyllanthus emblica L., Holarrhena antidysenterica Wall., Hibiscus abelmoschus L., Gloriosa superba L., Dioscorea bulbifera L., Aegle marmelos Correa., Boswellia serrata Roxb., Acorus calamus L. and Asparagus racemosus Willd. were among the prominent ingredients of the Ayurvedic medicine. All three species viz., Terminalia arjuna, Terminalia bellerica and Phyllanthus emblica of important Ayurvedic medicine 'Triphala' were available and used by local people in the study area.

Wild edible plants

Wild edible plants were one of the prime sources of livelihood to the rural communities of Surguja district. Various plant parts viz., fruit, leaf, flower, tuber, rhizome, root and seed were source of food to the residents of the study area. Of total 22 wild edible plant species, fruits of highest number of plant species (n = 13) were eaten as raw or after cooking by the local people. The fruits of Carissa spinarum DC., Cordia mixa L., Phyllanthus emblica L., Punica granatum L., Diospyrus melanoxylon Roxb., and Flacourtia indica (Burm. f.) Merr were consumed as food by the local people. The wild plants were also used as vegetables and the leaves and flowers of 7 plant species viz., Antidesma diandrum Roth., Ficus infectoria Roxb., and Indigofera pulchella Roxb. were eaten as vegetables after cooking. The roots and tubers of 3 species including Derris scandens Benth., and Dioscorea bulbifera L., were also used as food plants by the local people.

Other ethnobotanical species

Apart from food and medicine, the consumption of locally made beverages was a common practice of most of the villagers in the study area. Majority of households used fruits and flowers of Madhuca indica for preparing liquor. Apart from Madhuca indica, some wild plant species, such as, Acacia arabica Willd. was used in preparing beverages. Fishing was another source of livelihoods, and for this purpose they had discovered many plant species as a fish poison, which they spread in the ponds after crushing to powder. Acacia caesia W. et. A., Chloroxylon swietenia, Costus speciosus (Koen.) Sm., Ougenia dalbergioides Benth., and Randia dumatorum Lamk., were used as fish poison by the local people.

The tribal people in Chhattisgarh have rich plant-based ethno-veterinary knowledge. About 17 species of plants used as ethno-veterinary drugs are reported from nearby districts of the study area by Shukla et al. [10]. Besides, the local people have also occupied knowledge on the dye yielding plants for extraction of multiple colours. The bark of Bauhinia variegata L. and Symplocos racemosa Roxb. was used to extract colours for dyeing cloths. The flower of Woodfordia floribunda Salisb. was used for preparing red dye. A study conducted on dye yielding plants has reported that mostly bark is used for extraction of dyes, followed by leaves and flowers [16]. The natural dyes, as used by villagers, are eco-friendly and do not impinge negative impacts like synthetic dyes [17, 18]. Encouraging local people for establishing processing units of natural dyes may serve the purpose of ecosystem and environment management through avoiding the use of hazardous synthetic products.

Harvesting practices and management issues

Traditionally, the harvesting of ethnobotanically useful species was done by the communities for their own use or nourishment. Now, the invasion of market forces has made to commercialize the important ethnobotanical species that has changed the attitude of local people towards cash and high income generation. This has subsequently led to the overexploitation of many important ethnobotanical species. The traditional collection practices of wild plants are no more viable to meet their increasing demand, at present. Due to faulty harvesting practices, such as, plucking of entire twigs in most of the cases for gathering fruits, there has been 60% damage of Phyllanthus emblica's trees in the nearby district of Surguja namely Bilaspur [19]. The early harvesting of rhizomes of Costus speciosus (Koen.) Sm. results in scanty seed formation and thus creates problem for its regeneration. Seed collection practice of Celastrus peniculata Willd. has affected the regeneration of this species in the wild [20]. Celastrus peniculata does not grow easily and thus there is a difficulty in propagation and cultivation of this species at large scale.

Minor Forest Produce Co-Operative Federation

Chhattisgarh State Minor Forest Produce Co-operative Federation (CSMFPCF) is an apex organization dealing with state level policy formulation on conservation, collection, value addition and marketing of non-wood forest produce. CSMFPCF is involved in the collection and sale of the forest produce (i.e., Tendu leaves, Sal seed, Harra, Gums, etc.) with the help of 32 District Unions, 913 Primary Forest Produce Co-operative Societies and 10,000 Collection Centres established across the state [21]. In order to collect the forest produce, the area of collection is divided into different units and sells through tenders and auctions by the Federation. The funds for various operations are made available to Primary Societies through District Unions. The forest produce is sold by the local people/collectors to the Primary Society at every collection centre, which is responsible for transport and storage of forest produce in his godowns or the godowns of Forest Department/Federation. Primary Co-operative Societies calculate the amount of profit earned by the trade of concerned forest produce, of which 70% is provided to the collectors as wage incentives, 15% of profit each to the village resource development and development of forest/forest produce.


The livelihood of local people in south Surguja of Chhattisgarh is primarily depends on the forest resources, and they use to collect many ethnobotanical species for their day-to-day activities. The wild medicinal and food plant species, as documented in the present study with the help of local people, may be screened and standardized as per scientific norms for medicinal potency and nutritive values for their wider acceptability. The need of hour is to identify and disseminate the valuable information about the important ethnobotanical species and knowledge for the benefit of society and science. To mitigate the ongoing pressures on ethnobotanical species beyond their sustainable capacity, the local people may be educated on the future consequences of nature resource over-exploitation process and environmental degradation. The forest dwellers may also be provided the sufficient resources for their basic requirements. Many ethnobotanical species provide food and medicine to the rural people [22, 23]; therefore such species may be protected through non-destructive way of harvesting. Rather than exporting important ethnobotanical species in raw forms, attempts should be made at the village level to promote their processing and value addition. Agro-techniques of demand driven ethnobotanical species need to be developed and the useful tree species may be planted as agro-forestry species. Besides, the state Government and CSMFPCF may encourage agro-forestry, farm forestry and on-farm cultivation of ethnobotanically useful species.


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I thank Director, Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal, India and Prof. Yogesh Dubey, Faculty, Ecosystem & Environment Management, IIFM, Bhopal for support during the course of this study. During the fieldwork, help extended by field-staff, especially Ramdhan, Syam Nath, and Sukh Nandan is greatly acknowledged.

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Kala, C.P. Aboriginal uses and management of ethnobotanical species in deciduous forests of Chhattisgarh state in India. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 5, 20 (2009).

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