Open Access

Ethnobotanical study on wild plants used by Lhoba people in Milin County, Tibet

Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine201511:23

https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-015-0009-3

Received: 4 December 2014

Accepted: 2 February 2015

Published: 24 March 2015

Abstract

Background

The Lhoba are a small ethnic group, located in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Until 1960, their livelihood was predominantly based on swidden agriculture, hunting, and gathering. To investigate and document the plant species used by the Lhoba, ethnobotanical surveys were conducted in three villages of Nanyi Township in Milin County, Tibet, China.

Methods

Ethnobotanical surveys were conducted in three Lhoba villages using key informant interviews and semi-structured interviews. Plants traditionally used by the Lhoba were documented. Data obtained were analyzed through informant consensus factor analysis (FIC) to determine the homogeneity of the informants’ knowledge of medicinal plants.

Results

Fifty-nine plant species belonging to 49 genera and 28 families were recorded and collected. Twenty-eight species are ethnomedicinal plants, 29 are local edible plants, and 23 are used for other purposes in Lhoba daily life. The medicinal plant species are used for treating eight categories of illness. Most medicinal plants are herbs (71.4%) or roots (39.2%). Nutrition adjustment (FIC = 0.76) and dermatological infections (FIC = 0.56) showed the highest FIC, indicating that the Lhoba had the highest level of agreement about the use of plants for these two illness categories. Fruit is the most frequently used part of the edible plants. Nine edible plant species are used as herbal medicine. Plant species used for other purposes include, six species for fuel, five for dye material, six for religious use, four for timber, two for tobacco substitutes, and one for fodder.

Conclusions

Some traditional technologies and customs of Lhoba, such as dyeing and bamboo weaving, have remained the same for centuries. In contrast, the Lhoba’s knowledge of ethnomedicine has been recently influenced by traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine, resulting in the loss of traditional knowledge in this sector. In addition, the development of tourism has influenced a change in the Lhoba lifestyle and their production of traditional products. These events signal the need to invest in mechanisms that can enable the Lhoba to benefit from the use of their traditional plant-derived culture and therefore support the continued conservation and use of these important plant resources.

Keywords

EthnobotanyMedicinal plantsLhobaTibet

Background

The southeast area of Tibet is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world [1]. The area is rich in biological resources due to its subtropical humid and semi-humid climate, which extend over extreme elevational differences. Rich medicinal plant resources are distributed in different geographical areas of the region. The region that Nanyi Village is located in has been regarded as a sacred site, and called “Medicinal Lord’s Valley” by healers [2]. The people living in Milin consist primarily of three ethnic groups: the Tibetan, the Monpa (or Moinba or Menba), and the Lhoba (or Luoba). The Lhoba are distributed in three counties of the Nyingchi (Linzhi) Prefecture: Milin, Medog, and Zayü, and in Lhünzê County of the Shannan Prefecture [3]. Researchers have speculated that the Lhoba might be from the integration of several ancient tribes of the southeastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau [4,5]. Before the Chinese government recognized and decided on “Lhoba” as their unified name in 1965 [6], each tribe had an independent name and a different dialect, “Bo’gaer”, “Bengni”, and “Miguba” [5,7]. “Lhoba” is derived from pronunciation of which means “southerner” in the Tibetan language”, and has been used to refer to the people living in Lhoyü, Tibet [4]. According to the 2010 census, there are only 3,682 Lhoba in the modern-day Tibet Autonomous Region in China, and Milin County contains the largest population of Lhoba (Bo’gaer tribal group) that lacks a mixed inhabitation with other ethnic groups [8,9]. Before the 1960s, the Lhoba mainly lived on the abundant plant resources in the Tibetan mountain valleys. They practiced swidden agriculture, in addition to hunting and gathering activities. For centuries, these plant resources have provided the Lhoba’s most important source for medicine and food supplements [10,11]. The Lhoba have a rich information base of ethnobotanical knowledge for describing and using these species.

The majority of plant-based chemical compounds, which now provide important components of medicines in the world market, come from traditional medicinal plants through the isolation and analysis of the active components [12]. In many developing countries, up to 80% of the population continue to depend on traditional medicines for their primary health care needs [13]. Many valuable nutritional foods came from traditional foods [14], while the value of wild food plants is very important for cultural and nutritional perspectives [15]. Traditional plant-based knowledge and the plants themselves remain crucial for the development of new drugs, preparation of ethnic food, and other plant based product development [15-18].

The Tibetan region is a hot spot for ethnobotanical studies [19-21], particularly related to Tibetan medicine [22-25]. In recent years, wild edible plants used by Tibetan ethnic groups have become of interest to ethnobotanists. Ju and colleagues identified and recorded the use of over 168 wild edible plant species used by Tibetans in the Shangri-la region in Yunnan Province, China [26]. Kang and colleagues surveyed 81 species of wild food plants used by the Tibetans of Gongba Valley in Zhouqu County, Gansu Province, China [27]. However, to date, the knowledge of medicinal and wild edible plants in the Lhoba communities has been unexplored.

The purpose of this study was to document the traditional ethnobotanical knowledge of the Lhoba, to understand the relationships between the Lhoba and their living environment, and to review the impact of Tibetan culture on this knowledge. We also examined whether the ethnobotanical knowledge of the Lhoba was similar to published information on the Lhoba tribes in neighboring India.

Methods

Site description

This study was conducted in September 2012, and July to September 2013, in three villages of Nanyi Township in Milin County: Caizhao Village (N 29°11′,E 94°11′), Qionglin Village (N 29°12′, E 94°12′), and Nanyi Village (N 29°10′, E 94°12′) (Figure 1). Nanyi Township covers a total area of 648.4 km2, including 38.7 km2 of forest, 140 km2 of grassland, and 2.3 km2 of glaciers. There are 109 families living in the county with a total population of 515. Milin County lies in the middle river valley of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, with an average altitude of 2,940 m. The average temperature of the coldest month ranges from 0.1°C to 3.2°C, and the average temperature of the hottest month ranges from 12.3°C to 17.4°C. The annual average rainfall is 600 mm, and the average humidity is 66% [28]. Mountain brown soil and dark brown soil are the major types of soil. The vegetation of the area is dominated by a temperate semi-humid monsoon forest.
Figure 1

Location of the study area, Milin County, Tibet, China.

In the study area, the Lhoba use the Bo’gaer dialect, which belongs to the Tani language branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family of the Tibeto-Burman language [29]. The Lhoba traditional houses are built with bamboo and timber. Three stones lie in the center of the house, with a stone bowl on them, used for cooking food. Staple foods are finger millet (Eleusine coracana), rice, corn, and buckwheat. Clothes are usually made from bamboo shells, vines, bearskins, and palm fibers. The traditional belief of the Lhoba is animism; the ghost, god, demon, and elf are not distinguished, and all of them are called “Wuyou” [4]. The Lhoba have two kinds of witches or wizards for divination and to sacrifice to. Recently, Lhoba traditional culture has been deeply affected by Tibetan culture; most young and mid-aged Lhoba speak the Tibetan language or Mandarin Chinese, and Tibetan New Year is their major festival [9].

Ethnobotanical survey and data collection

The traditional plant-based information was collected through participatory rural appraisal (PRA), direct observation, and semi-structured and key informant interviews [30-33]. Twenty-three respondents with ages ranging from 20 to 65 years were included in the interviews. Informants were asked to give the local names of plants, ailment treated, parts used, cooking or preparation method, and other uses of the plants. Interviews were conducted in the local language by visiting each respondent individually, with assistance from translators and field work guides from the township. Permissions were provided by all participants in this study, including the local Lhoba people. Consent was obtained from the participants prior to this study being carried out. Uses of the plants were grouped into three categories: medicinal, edible, and other uses. Specimens were collected and identified by the authors and deposited in the Herbarium of Minzu University of China (Beijing).

Data analysis

To estimate the consistency of informants and the extent that the informants agree on the use of certain plant species for the treatment of a given illness or illness category, an informant consensus factor (FIC) was calculated for testing homogeneity in informant responses [34]. The formula is:
$$ {\mathrm{F}}_{\mathrm{IC}}=\left({N}_{ur},-,{N}_t\right)/\left({N}_{ur},-,1\right) $$

where Nur is the number of individual plant use-reports for each ailment category, and Nt is the total number of species used by all informants for this ailment category. FIC values range from 0 to 1, where higher values indicate higher consensus.

Results and discussion

Ethnobotanical information for 59 plant species belonging to 49 genera and 28 families were collected from the study area (Table 1). These species include angiosperms (54 spp.), gymnosperms (2), pteridophyte (1), algae (1), and lichen (1). Within these plant species, 36 are herbaceous (61%), 14 are shrubs (24%), and nine are trees (15%). According to our survey, 28 species are ethnomedicinal plants, 29 are local edible plants, and 23 are used for other purposes in Lhoba daily life, such as fuelwood (6), dye (5), religious (6), timber (4), tobacco substitutes (2), and fodder (1) (Figure 2).
Table 1

Ethnobotanical inventory of Lhoba in Milin County, Tibet, China

Family name

Scientific name

Local name

Habit

Part used

Local use

Adoxaceae

Sambucus adnata Wall. ex DC.

Ong na nie na san dou ba

Herb

Fruits and roots

Medicine used for treating bruises. Fruits are edible and sweet.

 

Viburnum kansuense Batal.

Ga ma mi me

Shrub

Fruits

Food.

 

Viburnum nervosum D. Don

Ji bong

Shrub

Roots

Soaked in alcohol for anti-inflammatory and relieving pain as external medicine.

Apiaceae

Angelica apaensis R. H. Shan et C. Q. Yuan

Jia na

Herb

Whole plant

Boiled, used as hypotensive drugs.

Balanophoraceae

Balanophora involucrata Hook. f.

Di du guo ya

Herb

Whole plant

Soaked in alcohol or boiled in water for aphrodisiac.

Berberidaceae

Berberis atrocarpa Schneid.

Jiu zi ca ma

Shrub

Leaves and fruits

Food (sour taste).

 

Berberis kongboensis Ahrendt

Jiu zi ca ma

Shrub

Leaves and fruits

Food (sour taste).

 

Berberis pruinosa Franch.

Sai mang

Shrub

Branches, roots and fruits

Branches and roots are boiled in water and used as medicine for treating diarrhea. Fruits are edible and sour. Fruits and roots are also used for dyeing.

 

Berberis temolaica Ahrendt

Si sen

Shrub

Roots

Dye plant.

 

Dysosma tsayuensis Ying

Dong na long dong

Herb

Fruits

Eaten directly as food or boiled in water as medicine for treating gynecological diseases or hematinics.

 

Sinopodophyllum hexandrum (Royle) Ying

Dong na long dong

Herb

Fruits

Eaten directly as food or boiled in water as medicine for treating gynecological diseases or hematinics.

Bignoniaceae

Incarvillea lutea Bur. et Franch.

Di ma bu du

Herb

Roots

Medicine used for hematinics.

Clusiaceae

Hypericum bellum Li

Da bu ru ma

Herb

Fruits

Tobacco substitutes.

Compositae

Ajania tenuifolia (Jacq.) Tzvel.

Yi lin

Herb

Whole plant

Incense plant

 

Anaphalis nepalensis (Spreng.) Hand.-Mazz.

A bo

Herb

Whole plant

Tobacco substitute, kindling and fuel

 

Artemisia vestita Wall. ex Bess.

Can ba

Herb

Whole plant

An important incense plant.

 

Cirsium eriophoroides (Hook. F.) Petrak

Da ca ma

Herb

Whole plant

Medicine external used for stopping bleeding and reducing the inflammation.

 

Erigeron breviscapus (Vant.) Hand.-Mazz.

Ra jiang

Herb

Flowers and roots

Boiled or eaten directly, used for treating dyspepsia, headache and kidney deficiency.

 

Leontopodium dedekensii (Bur. et Franch.) Beauv.

Ba bong bin

Herb

Whole plant

Kindling and fuel.

 

Ligularia rumicifolia (Drumm.) S. W. Liu

Lang qian niu ba

Herb

Roots

Boiled liquid for treating sore throat as an anti-inflammatory medicine.

 

Senecio scandens Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don

Gang bu rong ba

Herb

Roots

Boiled for treating cold.

 

Synotis solidaginea (Hand.-Mazz.) C. Jeffrey et Y. L. Chen

Mi ji dong ba

Herb

Whole plant

Boiled liquid for treating stuffy nose and freckle.

Cupressaceae

Juniperus squamata Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don

Ba ma

Tree

Leaves and branches

Fuel, incense and timber plant.

Elaeagnaceae

Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.

Jiu gong/Ran jia

Tree

Fruits

Food (sour and sweet taste), used for treating stomach pain.

 

Hippophae rhamnoides Linn. subsp. yunnanensis Rousi

Da guo

Tree

Fruits

Food (sour and sweet taste), dye plant.

Ericaceae

Gaultheria wardii Marq. et Airy-Shaw

Dong gou mi xi

Shrub

Fruits

Food.

 

Rhododendron cephalanthum Franch.

Da jia bu

Shrub

Leaves and branches

Incense plant.

 

Rhododendron primuliflorum Bur. et Franch.

Da jia bu

Shrub

Leaves and branches

Incense plant.

Fagaceae

Quercus aquifolioides Rehd. et Wils.

Sen nie ya ye

Tree

Fruits and branches

Unshelled and crushed fruits are used for making flat cake. Branches are used for making agriculture tools, weaving tools and fuel.

Grossulariaceae

Ribes himalense Royle ex Decaisne

Ong m li

Shrub

Fruits

Food (sour and sweet taste)

 

Ribes laciniatum J. D. Hooder et Thomson

Ong m li

Shrub

Fruits

Food (sour and sweet taste)

Lamiaceae

Elsholtzia ciliata (Thunb.) Hyland.

Bong ga da nang

Herb

Whole plant

Spice plant for making blood sausages.

 

Elsholtzia densa Benth.

Bong ga da nang

Herb

Whole plant

Spice plant for making blood sausages.

 

Elsholtzia strobilifera Benth.

Bong ga da nang

Herb

Whole plant

Spice plant for making blood sausages.

 

Phlomis milingensis C. Y. Wu et H. W. Li

Ou mu ba wa

Herb

Flowers

Nectar

 

Salvia przewalskii Maxim.

Re nie

Herb

Flowers

Nectar

Lauraceae

Litsea cubeba (Lour.) Pers.

De yi

Tree

Fruits

Medicine used for treating stomach disorder and diarrhea. Fruits are fried with pepper as substitute of spices.

 

Litsea pungens Hemsl.

Ta er

Tree

Fruits

Fried with pepper as spices substitutes.

Melanthiaceae

Paris polyphylla Smith

Da bi ri sen

Herb

Roots

Medicine used as a kind of inflammation-relieving hemostatic medicine.

Pinaceae

Abies forrestii C. C. Rogers

Song

Tree

Branches

Fuel, used for making barrel and other living appliances

Plantaginaceae

Veronica anagallis- aquatica Linn.

Bong ga neng bong

Herb

Whole plant

Food (a kind of vegetable). Medicine used for treating sore throat.

Poaceae

Fargesia macclureana Yi

La rang

Herb

Branches

Fuel, thatching, weaving basket and other instruments of labor.

Polygonaceae

Polygonum hydropiper Linn.

A er

Herb

Aboveground part

Dye plant

 

Polygonum tortuosum D. Don.

Ya rong

Herb

Whole plant

Boiled roots used for treating diarrhea. Fodder.

Primulaceae

Primula sikkimensis Hook.

Qiu dong ba

Herb

Roots

Boiled for treating diarrhea.

Pteridiaceae

Pteridium aquilinum (Linn.) Kuhn var. latiusculum (Desv.) Underw. ex Heller

Da wang

Herb

Burgeens

Food (a kind of vegetable)

Ranunculaceae

Aconitum kongboense Lauener

Ao mo mu ji

Herb

Roots

Poison for hunting. Grinding roots into power and stick on arrowhead with water to make the arrow poison. Medicine used for paretic analgesia.

 

Batrachium bungei (Steud.) L. Liou

Xi jiao

Herb

Leaves

Medicine used to wash hair for hair healthy.

 

Coptis teeta Franch.

Meng ba

Herb

Roots

Medicine used in wound care for stopping bleeding, relieving pain, anti-inflammatory and detoxification properties.

Rhamnaceae

Berchemia yunnanensis Franch.

Guo lang

Tree

Fruits

Medicine used for stomach pain

Rosaceae

Fragaria vesca Linn.

Yi gei ba qi

Herb

Fruits

Food (sweet taste)

 

Potentilla anserina Linn.

Ba xi

Herb

whole plant

Incense plant. Roots are cooked with other food material for nutritional supplement.

 

Rosa omeiensis Rolfe

Ha ji ba bu

Shrub

Fruits

Food (sweet taste) used for treating dysentery and cold.

 

Rubus biflorus Buch.-Ham. ex Smith

Yi na/Zi ga

Shrub

Fruits

Food (sweet taste), good for kidney.

 

Sorbus thibetica (Card.) Hand.-Mazz.

Bo lang

Tree

Fruits

Food (sour and sweet taste),eaten after frost for replenishing strength.

Rubiaceae

Rubia cordifolia Linn.

Da min

Herb

Whole plant

Dye plant

Rutaceae

Zanthoxylum bungeanum Maxim.

Ye ma

Shrub

Fruits

Spices

Usneaceae

Usnea spp.

Bi ba beng suo

Herb

Whole plant

Soaked in water, used to wash feet for treating beriberi.

Zygnemataceae

Spirogyra spp.

Ni a ji

Herb

Whole plant

Food (making soup)

(Ranked by family names alphabetically, followed by generic and species names).

Figure 2

Plants used for different purposes by the Lhoba ethnic group in Milin County, Tibet, China.

Wild medicinal plants

The information for the ethnomedicinal species was recorded, including the botanical names, the local names, the part used, the method of preparation, and the ailments treated. Most medicinal plants are herbs (71.4%). Roots (39.2%) are the most predominantly used part of these medicinal plants, followed by fruits (28.6%), whole plant (28.6%), leaves (3.6%), branches (3.6%), and flowers (3.6%). Results are similar to other ethnobotanical studies of medicinal plants [35], in that the most frequently used part of the plant was the underground part, where higher amount of bioactive compounds than for the other parts are noted [36]. The most commonly used method of preparation was decoction, in which the plant is boiled in water until the water is reduced to more than half its original volume.

Based on the information from the informants, the uses for all reported illnesses for wild medicinal plants are grouped into eight categories [37] (Table 2): dermatological infections/diseases, circulatory system, genito urinary ailments, hair disorders, gastro intestinal ailments, nutrition adjustment, respiratory system disorders, and skeleton muscular system disorders. FIC results for the eight illness categories ranged from 0.3 to 0.76, with the highest for nutrition adjustment (FIC = 0.76; 6 species, 22 use-reports) and dermatological infections (FIC = 0.56; 5 species, 10 use-reports) (Table 2). One of the Lhoba’s important avocations is hunting, which is associated with injuries from accidents. Dysosma tsayuensis and Sinopodophyllum hexandrum were the most commonly used species for treating gynecological diseases or as hematinics. According to the China Red Data Book, Dysosma tsayuensis and Sinopodophyllum hexandrum are vulnerable species, Coptis teeta is an endangered species, and Dysosma tsayuensis is endemic to Tibet [38,39].
Table 2

Ethnobotanical consensus index for traditional medicinal plant use categories

Illness category (diseases and disorders)

Biomedical terms

Number of taxa (N t )

Number of use reports (N ur )

Informants’ consensus index factor (F IC )

Dermatological infections/diseases

cuts and wounds

5

10

0.56

Circulatory system

high blood pressure and altitude reaction

2

3

0.5

Genito urinary ailments

sexual weakness, menstrual problems and kidney deficiency

5

8

0.43

Hair problem

hair loss

1

1

--

Gastro-intestinal ailments

diarrhea, stomach pain and dyspepsia

8

11

0.3

Nutrition adjustment

anemia and malnutrition

6

22

0.76

Respiratory system disorders

cold, sore throat and stuffy nose

5

8

0.43

Skeleto muscular system disorders

inflammation and curing traumatic injury

2

3

0.5

Literature studies revealed that the same parts of 12 of the species (43%) collected in this study are also used in Tibetan medicine [40] (Table 3). Three of these species: Berberis pruinosa, Polygonum tortuosum, and Potentilla anserina, are used in Tibetan medicine to treat the same ailments. Seven other species (Angelica apaensis, Dysosma tsayuensis, Sinopodophyllum hexandrum, Cirsium eriophoroides, Erigeron breviscapus, Coptis teeta, Usnea spp.) had partial uses similar with Tibetan medicine. And the two remaining species (Rosa omeiensis and Sambucus adnata) are used for different uses by the Lhoba than in Tibetan medicine. Although some studies indicated more Lhoba living in adjacent Indian, only two speices, Litsea cubeba [11] and Coptis teeta [18,19,22] were used in the same ways by the Lhoba and these tribal peoples [11,41-44].
Table 3

Comparison of Lhoba plant use and Tibetan use of reported medicinal plants

Family name

Species name

Habit

Part used

Lhoba use

Tibetan use [ 40 ]

Adoxaceae

Sambucus adnata Wall. ex DC.

Herb

Roots

Bruises.

Eczema, edema3

 

Viburnum nervosum D. Don

Shrub

Roots

Injury, pain

 

Apiaceae

Angelica apaensis R. H. Shan et C. Q. Yuan

Herb

Whole plant

Hypertension

Skin diseases, nosotoxicosis2

Balanophoraceae

Balanophora involucrata Hook. F.

Herb

Whole plant

Aphrodisiac.

 

Berberidaceae

Berberis pruinosa Franch.

Shrub

Branches and roots

Diarrhea.

Diarrhea, grasserie, and flu1

 

Dysosma tsayuensis Ying

Herb

Fruits

Gynecological diseases and anemia.

Gynecological diseases, nephropathy2

 

Sinopodophyllum hexandrum (Royle) Ying

Herb

Fruits

Gynecological diseases and anemia.

Gynecological diseases, nephropathy2

Bignoniaceae

Incarvillea lutea Bur. et Franch.

Herb

Roots

Anemia

 

Compositae

Cirsium eriophoroides (Hook. F.) Petrak

Herb

Whole plant

Bleeding and inflammation.

Edema, bleeding, epistaxis, menorrhagia2

 

Erigeron breviscapus (Vant.) Hand.-Mazz.

Herb

Flowers and roots

Dyspepsia, headache, and kidney deficiency.

Ophthalmalgia, headache2

 

Ligularia rumicifolia (Drumm.) S. W. Liu

Herb

Roots

Sore throat and inflammatory

 

Senecio scandens Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don

Herb

Roots

Cold

 
 

Synotis solidaginea (Hand.-Mazz.) C. Jeffrey et Y. L. Chen

Herb

Whole plant

Stuffy nose and freckle

 

Elaeagnaceae

Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.

Tree

Fruits

Stomach pain

 

Lauraceae

Litsea cubeba (Lour.) Pers.

Tree

Fruits

Stomach disorder and diarrhea.

Melanthiaceae

Paris polyphylla Smith

Herb

Roots

Wound and inflammation

Plantaginaceae

Veronica anagallis-aquatica Linn.

Herb

Whole plant

Sore throat

 

Polygonaceae

Polygonum tortuosum D. Don.

Herb

Whole plant

Diarrhea

Diarrhoea, gastricism1

Primulaceae

Primula sikkimensis Hook.

Herb

Roots

Diarrhea

 

Ranunculaceae

Aconitum kongboense Lauener

Herb

Roots

Poison

 
 

Batrachium bungei (Steud.) L. Liou

Herb

Leaves

Hair loss

 
 

Coptis teeta Franch.

Herb

Roots

Bleeding, pain, inflammatory and detoxification properties

Intestinal diseases, anthrax, dysentery, pyogenic infection2

Rhamnaceae

Berchemia yunnanensis Franch.

Tree

Fruits

Stomach pain

 

Rosaceae

Potentilla anserina Linn.

Herb

Whole plant

Hyposthenia

Hyposthenia 1

 

Rosa omeiensis Rolfe

Shrub

Fruits

Dysentery and cold

Skin diseases, arthralgia3

 

Rubus biflorus Buch.-Ham. ex Smith

Shrub

Fruits

Kidney deficiency

 
 

Sorbus thibetica (Card.) Hand.-Mazz.

Tree

Fruits

Hyposthenia

 

Usneaceae

Usnea spp.

Herb

Whole plant

Beriberi and ulcer

Tracheitis, mastitis, ulcer, pneumonia, hepatitis, toxic fever2

(Ranked by family names alphabetically, followed by genus and species names).

1: Local use coherent with Tibetan use; 2: Local use coherent with Tibetan use partially; 3: Local use not coherent with known Tibetan use.

Wild edible plants

Twenty-nine wild plant species are commonly used as food in Lhoba society, including 12 herbs, 10 shrubs, and 7 trees. The most frequently used part is the fruit (19 species, 65.5%). This is similar to the percentage use of the fruit of wild edible plants in the Sikkim Himalaya [45]. The Lhoba depended on wild fruit such as Rosa omeiensis, Rubus biflorus, Sorbus thibetica, or Ribes himalense for vitamines and nutrients nutrition. Reliance on fruit from wild edible species may be related to the low productivity of cultivated fruit trees of the Lhoba. The Lhoba reported that eating too much Sambucus adnata (Ong na nie na san dou ba) causes headaches. Most fruit are eaten directly, except Quercus aquifolioides (Sen nie ya ye), Litsea cubeba (De yi), Litsea pungens (Ta er), and Zanthoxylum bungeanum (Ye ma). Fruits of Quercus aquifolioides “Sen nie ya ye” are the Lhoba’s traditional food. The Lhoba remove the nutshell and astringency, crush the nuts, and bake the flower from the nuts as cakes. “De yi”, “Ta er,” and “Ye ma” are used as important spices or spice substitutes, and are boiled or stir-fried with other vegetables or meat. The Lhoba also mix spices with salts, yogurt, crushed vegetables, or mushrooms, and then dip steamed bread in this mixture. Bamboo shoots are usually collected and eaten from wild bamboo species, such as Fargesia macclureana, and are usually made as sour bamboo shoots for longer storage and a change in taste. Out of 29 wild edible species, nine are also used as herbal medicine. Veronica anagallis-aquatica, for example, is usually boiled as a vegetable and could be used for treating sore throats.

Plants used for other purposes

Dye plants are significant in the Lhoba’s livelihoods. The Lhoba have rich experience in extracting dye from plants and in dye technology. The exchange of dye plants has an important position in trade between the Lhoba and the Tibetans, because dye plants are the main raw material for Tibetan Buddhists to dye their clothes. The investigation revealed that Berberis pruinosa (Sai mang), Hippophae rhamnoides subsp. yunnanensis (Da guo), Berberis temolaica (Si sen), Rubia cordifolia (Da min), and Polygonum hydropiper (A er) are common dyeing species. Boiling the fruits or roots of “Sai mang”, “Si sen”, or “Da guo” with thread for one hour produces a thread that can be dyed yellow. “Da min” can turn yellow thread to red. “A er” can be used for dyeing wools to black. The Lhoba people put mashed “A er” into a gourd cask with wool, then mix with hot water, and hang the sealed gourd cask over fireplace; after fermenting for 4–5 days, the dyed black wool is taken out and dried in the sunlight. Polygonum hydropiper and Rubia cordifolia are also used as dye plants called “Chhum-gon” in Monpa and “Tamen” in Adi, respectively [46].

Abies forrestii, Juniperus squamata, and Quercus aquifolioides are the main timber species that the Lhoba used for building their houses and are also used to make agricultural tools or daily-life utensils. For example, Abies forrestii can be used to make barrels and Quercus aquifolioides for “Da luo”, is used to make wooden shovels for digging. Bamboo weaving of the Lhoba in Nanyi is very famous. The common bamboo species is Fargesia macclureana. Bamboo canes are cut into thin ribbons and used for weaving baskets, mats, cages, bowls, rain gear, bows, arrows, and some other common livelihood items (Figure 3). The bamboo weaving handicraft skills of the Lhoba are similar to the Yak Pastoralists [34].
Figure 3

Inside a Lhoba house and Lhoba bamboo weaving.

The Lhoba culture has been deeply impacted by Tibetan culture. The Lhoba have animistic beliefs, but they have adopted many religious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, such as burning offerings [9]. Potentilla anserina, Artemisia vestita, Ajania tenuifolia, Juniperus squamata, Rhododendron cephalanthum, and Rhododendron primulaeflorum are used as incense sources, which play an important role in the religious activities of the Lhoba. Plants used for fuelwood plants include three tree species: Quercus aquifolioides Juniperus squamata, and Abies forrestii, and three herbaceous species: Anaphalis nepalensis, Leontopodium dedekensii, and Fargesia macclureana. The three herbaceous species are used as good kindling. Most Lhoba, both male and female, have the habit of smoking, and use Anaphalis nepalensi and the fruits of Hypericum bellum as substitutes for tobacco.

The study revealed that the traditional uses of plant species of the Lhoba in Milin County are closely related to their living environment. For example, palms are mentioned in earlier studies of Lhoba culture in Medog County, a county adjacent to Minlin County, but at lower elevations with a tropical environment [47]. Studies for Medog County mentioned that, in food shortage situations, the Lhoba in Medog County extracted starch from palm’s stems as an important wild food source, and used tropical fruits such as banana, citrus, and betel nuts [48,49]. Our investigation found no record of the Lhoba using palms or tropical fruits, which may be due to the differences in climate and thus available possible species to be exploited as food [50].

The Lhoba transfer their plant-based knowledge from one generation to the next through elders by oral tradition, without any written documents. The influence of tourism, socioeconomic development, the small group size, and a lack of interest shown by the young generation have seriously threatened this non-literate ethnic culture [11,51]. Recently, better accesses to markets have provided the younger generation with sufficient food and medicine, removing the need for wild plant harvest. In addition, our results show that increased publicity for and availability of Tibetan and Chinese medicines has affected the indigenous knowledge of the Lhoba, especially the youth who put more value on the medicines that pharmaceutical companies or medicine buyers are purchasing from the community, such as Ophiocordyceps sinensis. Recent tourism has also affected the passing on of Lhoba traditional culture. Lhoba run businesses often serve as guides in the adjacent tourism area. The influenced of tourism culture, used for attracting tourists has resulted in tourist guides providing incorrect or unreliable information on Lhoba culture. For example, Lhoba guides told tourists that Hippophae rhamnoides subsp. yunnanensis was the holy tree in traditional Lhoba culture, while other Lhoba, not in the tourist business, stated that this claim was incorrect.

Conclusions

This study documented traditional ethnobotanical knowledge of the Lhoba in Nanyi Township, Milin County, Tibet. Fifty-nine wild plant species were found to be used in traditional medicines, food, dyeing technologies, and religion. These species mainly came from the surrounding areas. Some of these materials are important trade items in local Tibetan and Lhoba markets. The Lhoba in Nanyi use the same plant species for dyes and had similar bamboo weaving handcraft as tribes in adjacent areas in India. In contrast the Lhoba’s use of ethnomedicinal species has been deeply influenced by traditional Tibetan medicine and Chinese medicine. This study reported less plant species compared to other ethnic communities in Tibet. This may be due to the small size of the Lhoba population. The improved access to imported goods from outside their community and the development of tourism has changed the Lhoba lifestyle and production structure. These events signal the need to invest in mechanisms that can enable the Lhoba to benefit from the use of their traditional plant-derived culture and therefore support the continued conservation and use of these important plant resources.

Declarations

Acknowledgements

We thank all the survey practitioners who generously shared their experiences and knowledge with us. Members of the Ethnobotanical Laboratory at Minzu University of China, and the Research Group of Ethnobotany at Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, participated in the field work and discussion. We are also grateful to the Lhoba people in Minlin County, local guides and translators. This research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31400192), the General Financial Grant from the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2013 M530864), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31161140345), and the Ministry of Education of China through its 111 and 985 projects (B08044, MUC985 & YLDX01013).

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Minzu University of China
(2)
College of Agronomy and Biotechnology, Yunnan Agricultural University
(3)
Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences
(4)
Bioversity International

References

  1. Myers N, Mittermeier RA, Mittermeier CG, Da Fonseca GA, Kent J. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature. 2000;403(6772):853–8. doi:10.1038/35002501.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Lei J, Li F, Zhaxi D, Zhao S, Zhou S. Tentative exploration of special features of medicinal plants in Tibet and protection of their resources. World Sci Techn/Mod Tradit Chinese Med. 2002;4(2):60–4.Google Scholar
  3. Ning M. On the present situation of no-material cultural heritages of Luoba Nationality and its protection--taking Nanyi village in the Tibet Autonomous Region as the example. J SCUN (Humanit Soc Sci). 2008;6:015.Google Scholar
  4. Kang L, Gao F, Zhang H, Yuan D, Zhao F, Li S. Determination of HLA-DRB1 gene polymorphism in Luoba ethnic group of Tibet. J Cent South Univ (Med Sci). 2005;30(2):135–9.Google Scholar
  5. Jian S, Fang X. Society and Culture of Lhoba. Chengdu: Sichuan Ethnic Publishing House; 1992.Google Scholar
  6. Liao X. South Tibet toponym proving national ascription of Monba and Lhoba. Geospatial Inform. 2011;9(2):136–8.Google Scholar
  7. Chen L. On the protection of Lhoba ethnic minority’s traditional culture and environment. J Tib Univ. 2009;24(4):6–12.Google Scholar
  8. Tabulation on the 2010 Population Census of the People's Republic of China. China Statistics Press, Beijing. 2010. http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjsj/pcsj/rkpc/6rp/indexch.htm. Accessed 14 Jun 2014.
  9. Cai G. On the traditional Lhoba culture and its current status–-thoughts on the tourism development of Qiongling Village of Milin County in Tibet. J Tib Univ. 2010;25(2):51–5.Google Scholar
  10. Murad W, Azizullah A, Adnan M, Tariq A, Khan KU, Waheed S, et al. Ethnobotanical assessment of plant resources of Banda Daud Shah, District Karak. Pakistan J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2013;9:77. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-9-77.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  11. Namsa ND, Mandal M, Tangjang S, Mandal SC. Ethnobotany of the Monpa ethnic group at Arunachal Pradesh. India J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2011;7(1):31. doi: 10.1186/1746-4269-7-31.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  12. Wang K. Ethnobotany and plant resources exploitation. Chin Acad Med Mag Organ. 2003;3:008.Google Scholar
  13. McNeely JA, Miller KR, Reid WV, Mittermeier RA, Werner TB. Conserving the world’s biological diversity. Gland: IUCN; 1990.Google Scholar
  14. Kuhnlein HV, Turner NJ. Traditional plant foods of Canadian indigenous peoples: nutrition, botany, and use. Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers; 1991.Google Scholar
  15. Ghorbani A, Langenberger G, Sauerborn J. A comparison of the wild food plant use knowledge of ethnic minorities in Naban River Watershed National Nature Reserve, Yunnan. SW China J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2012;8(1):17.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  16. Heinrich M, Ankli A, Frei B, Weimann C, Sticher O. Medicinal plants in Mexico: Healers’ consensus and cultural importance. Soc Sci Med. 1998;47(11):1859–71. doi: 10.1016/S0277-9536(98)00181-6.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Uprety Y, Poudel RC, Shrestha KK, Rajbhandary S, Tiwari NN, Shrestha UB, et al. Diversity of use and local knowledge of wild edible plant resources in Nepal. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2012;8:16. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-8-16.View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Bora L, Paul V, Bam J, Saikia A, Hazarika D. Handicraft skills of Yak Pastoralists in Arunachal Pradesh. Indian J Tradit Know. 2013;12(4):718–24.Google Scholar
  19. Salick J, Byg A, Amend A, Gunn B, Law W, Schmidt H. Tibetan medicine plurality. Econ Bot. 2006;60(3):227–53.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  20. Salick J, Amend A, Anderson D, Hoffmeister K, Gunn B, Zhendong F. Tibetan sacred sites conserve old growth trees and cover in the eastern Himalayas. Biodivers Conserv. 2007;16(3):693–706. doi:10.1007/s10531-005-4381-5.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  21. Law W, Salick J. Comparing conservation priorities for useful plants among botanists and Tibetan doctors. Biodivers Conserv. 2006;16(6):1747–59. doi:10.1007/s10531-006-9057-2.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  22. Kletter C, Kriechbaum M. Tibetan medicinal plants. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers; 2001.Google Scholar
  23. di Sarsina PR, Ottaviani L, Mella J. Tibetan medicine: a unique heritage of person-centered medicine. EPMA J. 2011;2(4):385–9.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  24. Pei S. Ethnobotanical approaches of traditional medicine studies: some experiences from Asia. Pharm Biol. 2001;39(s1):74–9.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  25. Liu Y, Dao Z, Yang C, Liu Y, Long C. Medicinal plants used by Tibetans in Shangri-la, Yunnan. China J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009;5:15. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-5-15.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  26. Ju Y, Zhuo J, Liu B, Long C. Eating from the wild: diversity of wild edible plants used by Tibetans in Shangri-la region, Yunnan. China J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2013;9(1):28. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-9-28.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  27. Kang Y, Łuczaj Ł, Kang J, Wang F, Hou J, Guo Q. Wild food plants used by the Tibetans of Gongba Valley (Zhouqu County, Gansu, China). J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2014;10(1):20. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-10-20.View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Yang X, Wang Q, Lan X, Li C. Numeric dynamics of the endangered plant population of Paeonia ludlowii. Acta Ecol Sin. 2007;27(3):1242–7.Google Scholar
  29. Zheng L, Lu S, Zhang X, Luo D, Yu H. A study of the physical characteristics of the Lhoba and Monba peoples. Acta Anthropol Sin. 2009;4:401–7.Google Scholar
  30. Alexiades MN, Sheldon JW. Selected guidelines for ethnobotanical research: a field manual. New York: New York Botanical Garden; 1996.Google Scholar
  31. Long C, Wang J. The principle, method and application of participatory rural assessment. Kunming: Yunnan Science and Technology Press; 1996.Google Scholar
  32. Chambers R. The origins and practice of participatory rural appraisal. World Dev. 1994;22(7):953–69. doi:10.1016/0305-750X(94)90141-4.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  33. Chambers R. Participatory rural appraisal (PRA): Challenges, potentials and paradigm. World Dev. 1994;22(10):1437–54. doi: 10.1016/0305-750X(94)90030-2.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  34. Trotter RT, Logan MH. Informant consensus: a new approach for identifying potentially effective medicinal plants. In: Etkin NL, editor. Plants in indigenous medicine & diet: biobehavioral approaches. New York: Routledge; 1986. p. 91–112.Google Scholar
  35. Rokaya MB, Münzbergová Z, Timsina B. Ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants from the Humla district of western Nepal. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010;130(3):485–504. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2010.05.036.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Srithi K, Balslev H, Wangpakapattanawong P, Srisanga P, Trisonthi C. Medicinal plant knowledge and its erosion among the Mien (Yao) in northern Thailand. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009;123(2):335–42. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2009.02.035.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Xavier TF, Kannan M, Lija L, Auxillia A, Rose AKF. Ethnobotanical study of Kani tribes in Thoduhills of Kerala. South India J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;152(1):78–90. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2013.12.016.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  38. Wang S, Xie Y. China species red list. Beijing: Higher Education Press; 2004.Google Scholar
  39. Wu Z, Raven P, Hong D. Flora of China. Beijing, St. Louis: Science Press, Missouri Botanical Garden Press; 1994.Google Scholar
  40. Subject Database of China Plant, Medicinal Plant Database. Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing. 2014. http://www.plant.csdb.cn/herb. Accessed 8 Jun 2014.
  41. Nimachow G, Taga T, Tag H, Dai O. Linkages between bio-resources and human livelihood: a case study of Adi tribes of Mirem Village, Arunachal Pradesh (India). Initiation. 2008;2(1):183–98.Google Scholar
  42. Kagyung R, Gajurel P, Rethy P, Singh B. Ethnomedicinal plants used for gastro-intestinal diseases by Adi tribes of Dehang-Debang Biosphere Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. Indian J Tradit Know. 2010;9(3):496–501.Google Scholar
  43. Greeshma A, Srivastava B, Srivastava K. Plants used as antimicrobials in the preparation of traditional starter cultures of fermentation by certain tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Bull Arunachal For Res. 2006;22(1&2):52–7.Google Scholar
  44. Srivastava R, Singh RK, Mukherjee T. Indigenous biodiversity of Apatani plateau: Learning on biocultural knowledge of Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh for sustainable livelihoods. Indian J Tradit Know. 2010;9:432–42.Google Scholar
  45. Sundriyal M, Sundriyal R. Wild edible plants of the Sikkim Himalaya: Nutritive values of selected species. Econ Bot. 2001;55(3):377–90.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  46. Mahanta D, Tiwari S. Natural dye-yielding plants and indigenous knowledge on dye preparation in Arunachal Pradesh, northeast India. Curr Sci. 2005;88(9):1474–80.Google Scholar
  47. Peng B, Bao H, Pu L. Geo-ecology of Mts. Namjagbarwa region. In: Zheng D, Zhang Q, Wu S, editors. Mountain geoecology and sustainable development of the Tibetan Plateau. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers; 2000. p. 265–82.Google Scholar
  48. Chen L. On the protection of Lhoba ethnic minority’s traditional culture and environment. J Tibet Univ. 2009;4:006.Google Scholar
  49. Ji W, Li Y. Lhoba’s old pictures and folk customs in Motuo County of Tibet during 1950s-1960s. J Ethnology. 2012;2:008.Google Scholar
  50. Boesi A. Traditional knowledge of wild food plants in a few Tibetan communities. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2014;10(1):75. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-10-75.View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Derex M, Beugin M-P, Godelle B, Raymond M. Experimental evidence for the influence of group size on cultural complexity. Nature. 2013;503(7476):389–91. doi:10.1038/nature12774.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright

© Li et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Advertisement