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A cross-cultural study of high-altitude botanical resources among diverse ethnic groups in Kashmir Himalaya, India



In the Himalayas, traditional knowledge and biodiversity are strongly linked due to the symbiotic interaction between plant and cultural diversity, as well as the support provided by cultural memories, ecological awareness, and social norms. Our study was focused on documenting the vanishing knowledge in the Kashmir Himalaya with the following main objectives: 1) to document the ethnomedical and cultural knowledge of the local flora, 2) to evaluate the cross-cultural use of the flora in the region, and, finally, 3) to identify the key indicator species utilized by each ethnic group using multivariate statistical analysis.


We used semi-structured questionnaires to conduct interviews with people of different ethnicity, gender, age, and occupational categories. The intercultural relationships of species utilization among ethnic groups were examined using a Venn diagram. The overall trends between the indicator values and the plant species used by diverse ethnic groups were illustrated using the linear regression model.


We recorded 46 species belonging to 25 different families used by the local people of the Kashmir Valley belonging to four ethnic groups (Gujjar, Bakarwal, Pahari, and Kashmiri). The dominant families recorded were Asteraceae and Ranunculaceae followed by Caprifoliaceae. Rhizomes were the most utilized plant part, followed by leaves. A total of 33 ailments were treated with plants, and gastrointestinal disorders were treated with most species followed by musculoskeletal diseases and dermatological problems. Across cultural relationships, the Gujjar and Pahari showed greater similarity (17%). This may be due to the fact that both ethnic groups share a common geographical landscape and are exogamous to each other. We identified key indicator species used by different ethnic groups with significant (p ≤ 0.05) values. For instance, in the Gujjar ethnic group, Aconitum heterophyllum and Phytolacca acinosa had significant indicator value, which was due to the fact that these plants were easily accessible and also had a wide range of uses. In contrast, the Bakarwal ethnic group showed different indicator species, with Rheum spiciforme and Rhododendron campanulatum being highly significant (p ≤ 0.05), because this ethnic group spends the majority of their time in high-altitude pastures, using a particularly wide variety of plant species for medicine, food, and fuelwood. While indicator values and plant usage were positively correlated for the Gujjar, Kashmiri, and Pahari ethnic groups, they were negatively correlated for the Bakarwal. The positive correlation indicates cultural preferences for certain plant use and underlines the cultural significance of each species. The current study reported new uses for the following species: raw roots of Jurinea dolomiaea used for tooth cleaning, seeds of Verbascum thapsus applied for respiratory diseases, and flowers of Saussurea simpsoniana given to anyone as a good luck wish.


The current study highlights historical ethnic group stratifications and cultural standing while comparing reported taxa across cultures. Each ethnic group made extensive ethnomedical use of plants, and knowledge, originally transmitted verbally, is now available in writing for reference. This could pave the way for providing incentives to local communities to showcase their talents, celebrate them, and gain from potential development initiatives.


Local and indigenous communities often have a close link with the environment [1] and often living in natural habitats they hold tremendous traditional knowledge about the use of biotic resources [2]. It is well acknowledged that traditional medicine has contributed to the discovery of a wide variety of allopathic drugs [3, 4]. Forest products such as food, fodder, and medicine are an important livelihood source for communities [5]. Knowledge of medicinal plants and their usage are part of culture and knowledge institutions [6]. Local knowledge incorporates different elements including human cognition, social networks, cultural beliefs, local categorization systems, language, religion, and information access [7, 8].

Ethnobotanical documentation can contribute to the conservation of local plant diversity, culture, and their interactions [9, 10]. The identification of new ingredients for allopathic medications and formulations might be based on ethnobotanical research that records traditional knowledge [11, 12]. Because of the symbiotic relationship between plant diversity and cultures, and religious traditions and rituals, cultural diversity and biodiversity are closely related in the Himalayas [13, 14]. If appropriately channeled, plant resources can also give direct economic benefits through trade and play an important role in improving livelihoods [15], helping to alleviate issues such as unemployment and food insecurity.

Traditional medicines are important in many countries, e.g., China, India, and Japan [16]. In India, around 65% of the population particularly in rural areas is still dependent on traditional medicine for primary health care [17]. The most important health issues are often intestinal problems linked to inadequate sewage infrastructure and a lack of safe drinking water [18, 19]. The Himalayan region holds more than half of India's biodiversity [20], serving as a prime resource for food and medicine [8, 21]. Kashmir, part of the union territory (Jammu & Kashmir) in India lies in the lap of the Himalayas. The people living in the far-flung areas of the region are largely dependent on the flora [22]. Forest resources are a source of income, employment, lodging, shelter, food, fodder, fuel, timber, vegetable, and medicine [20]. The local population belongs to different ethnic groups like Gujjar, Bakarwal, Pahari, and Kashmiri and possesses a unique wealth of information. Traditional knowledge has, however, been impacted by migration, urbanization, employment trends, and rising living standards. Our research followed key goals in order to document the loss of knowledge in the area: 1) to document the ethnomedicinal and cultural knowledge of local flora, 2) to analyze the cross-cultural use of the flora in the region, and 3) finally to identify the key indicator species utilized by each ethnic group using multivariate statistical analysis. By providing an answer to the aforementioned question, we will be able to provide additional cross-cultural ethnobotanical information on the forest resource that can support the preservation of regional plant diversity, culture, and their interactions.

Research and methodology

Study area

Kashmir division is part of the North-Western Himalayas and is currently administered as a part of the Union Territory (Jammu & Kashmir) in India, with 10 administrative districts ( (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1
figure 1

Map of the study area (a) India (b) Kashmir (c) showing the surveyed villages in the Kashmir valley, India

The region is mainly mountainous with maximum temperatures of 35 Cº in summer and -6 Cº in winter. The month of March receives the highest rainfall. The region is characterized by Himalayan dry temperate to subalpine forest types [14]. A rich cultural diversity with prominent ethnic communities like Pahari, Kashmiri and Bakarwal and Gujjar exists [23]. The languages spoken are Pahari, Kashmiri, and Gujjari, respectively. The local ethnic communities follow different religions, like, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism.

Socioeconomic background

People living in the region are mainly engaged in agriculture (Pahari, Kashmiri) and cattle rearing (Bakarwal and Gujjar) [24]. Participants of the study also held Government jobs (6.09%), were wage laborers (14.63%), craftsmen (18.29%), herders (21.95%), housewives (9.75%), and shopkeepers (14.63%). In our study most of the traditional knowledge holders were old-aged people (56–75 +) (50%) followed by middle age-group (27–55 yrs.) (1.70%) and young age-group (18–26 yrs.) 18.29%). The majority of the population lives in rural areas. People widely use plants for primary health care and some clans have legacy of this traditional information about plants to treat a variety of ailments, with remedies often administered by traditional medicinal practitioners, locally called Hakeems.

Demography of informants

A total of 82 respondents were selected for interviews, comprising 63 men and 19 women due to cultural limitations (Table 1). Before documentation, frequent visits were carried out in the study to ensure the cooperation of local people. The interviews followed [20, 25]. Prior to each interview, verbal prior informed consent was obtained, and the ISE Code of Ethics was followed (International Society of Ethnobiology, Code of Ethics. 2006) ( A translator was used to conduct the interviews in the respective native languages. As stipulated under the Nagoya Protocol, based on the agreement with the local participants, the ethnicity of the participants and the language information are not revealed. Using semi-structured questionnaires, we conducted interviews with individuals of various ages, gender, and occupational groups [10, 20]. Participants were asked about species, including information about the local name, parts used, disorders (ailments) treated, formulations, methods/techniques used in the preparation, adverse effects (if any), and use for treating that particular diseases. Most of the people in the study area had formal education (54.87%) and we found that illiterate people had less ethnomedicinal knowledge (45.12%). All the informants in our study followed Islam. At each research site, at least one knowledgeable informant assisted in specimen verification and herbarium preparation. Both photos and live plants were shown to the participants for identification and to obtain local names. The collected specimens were cross-checked with the assistance of taxonomist at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar (J&K), where the specimens were also deposited. To authenticate plant names, we used POWO 2019 (

Table 1 Demographic status of the respondents from the study area

Ethnic communities

A total of four different ethnic communities were reported from the Kashmir division, i.e., Gujjar, Kashmiri, Pahari, and Bakarwal (Table 1). The Kashmiri ethnic group is the most dominant ethnic group in the study area, inhabiting the plain areas of the Kashmir valley; most of them followed Islam. All participants were using traditional medicine, although due to urbanization they were now largely consuming generic medicine. They have their own tradition and different language compared to other ethnic groups in the study area. Gujjar and Pahari ethnic groups live together and inhabit especially areas close to forested areas of the study area and are the second and third dominant ethnic groups in the study area. They share the same cultural tradition and mostly inter-marry, with a small difference in their languages. The Bakarwal ethnic group mostly migrate to the study area in spring from the Jammu region of Jammu & Kashmir and return in fall, using the alpine regions of the Kashmir valley. They have their own tradition and culture and there is a little similarity between Bakarwal and Kashmiri ethnic groups as they have little interaction between these two ethnic groups.

Data analysis

The data were processed and analyzed in Microsoft Excel. Overall trends in fidelity level (FL) and use value (UV) were expressed through linear regression models through GraphPad Prism version 9 (GraphPad Software, CA, USA). We used fidelity level (FL) to determine which species were the most popular among residents in a given area [26]. To examine cross-cultural relationships of species utilization among ethnic groups a Venn diagram was created using Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Genomics software [16]. The indicator species for different ethnic groups were calculated based on the percentage of citations using the PAST software (version 10.3). Following the determination of the indicator values for each plant species, a linear regression model through the use of OriginPro version 9.8 was used to examine the correlation between the indicator values and the plant species used by different ethnic groups, including the Gujjar, Kashmiri, Pahari, and Bakarwal. The Jaccard Index (JI) was computed I to compare our data to previously published data from neighboring areas following González-Tejero et al. [27] using the given formula:

$${\text{JI}} = c * {1}00 \, / \, (a + b)\, - \,c$$

A qualitative comparison was made with 20 studies conducted in other Himalayan region by Ahmad et al. [28], Abbas et al. [29], Amjad et al. [30], Bano et al. [31], Bhat et al. [32, 33], Bhatia et al. [34], Farooq et al. [35], Khan et al. [36], Kumar et al. [37], Mir et al. [38], Ojha et al. [39], Rana et al. [40], Rashid et al. [41], Shah et al. [42], Sharma et al. [43], Singh et al. [44,45,46], and Wali et al. [47].

Results and discussion

Plant composition and distribution patterns

We recorded 46 species belonging to 25 different families used by the local people from four ethnic groups (Gujjar, Bakarwal, Pahari, and Kashmiri) of Kashmir valley (Table 2). The number of plant species identified in the research area was comparable to that found in past ethnobotanical investigations conducted in other Himalayan regions. For example, Barreda et al. [48] reported 53 plants from Monpa tribe in Eastern Himalayas; Mir et al. [9] reported 32 pants species from different ethnic groups of Kupwara, Kashmir Himalayas; Asif et al. [22] reported 29 species from various ethnic groups from remote tehsil (Karnah); Sher et al. [49] reported 53 plants from District Swat, Pakistan.

Table 2 List of plant species, local name, part used; preparation, form, mode of use, traditional cultural use across the four ethnic groups from the Western Himalayas

The distribution of species across 25 families was disproportionate, with 7 families (Asteraceae, Ranunculaceae, Apiaceae, Caprifoliaceae, Polygonaceae, Gentianaceae, and Lamiaceae) accounting for about half of the species and 18 families accounting for the other half, including 13 families represented by single species. The species family relationship is shown in Fig. 2. The dominant families were Asteraceae and Ranunculaceae (11% each) followed by Caprifoliaceae (7%) (Table 2). Asteraceae was found dominant in many biomes, primarily in open habitat ecosystems [50]. Several studies have concluded that the Asteraceae was also the most important or useful family in the surrounding areas of Pakistan and Kashmir Himalayas [9, 51, 52]. Likewise, [53] also reported Asteraceae as a dominant family in the Highlands of Gasa District, Bhutan. Ranunculaceae was the second leading family in our study area. Kayani et al. [54] also reported Ranunculaceae as a leading family from the high-altitude of Pakistan. Because of their alkaloids, sterols, flavonoids, and glycosides, plants in the Asteraceae and Ranunculaceae are known as a rich source of medicinal products used to treat a variety of ailments [55, 56]. Furthermore, the current study discovered that families had unequal distribution patterns, with 13 monotypic families, it agrees with earlier ethnobiological research from other Himalayan areas [20, 22].

Fig. 2
figure 2

Species family relationship of the vegetation in the high-altitude Western Himalaya

Traditional cultural use categories

The most common use of plants was for medicine (72%) followed by food (14%) and fodder (5%) (Table 2). This suggests that the high-altitude plant resources are significant in all facets of life for those who reside in remote areas, especially in terms of providing for their fundamental needs in terms of food, shelter, livelihoods and healthcare. Several other studies also reported similar results from other Himalayan regions like [20] from District Reasi, Northwestern Himalaya, [57] from Kashmir Himalayas [14], and from high-altitude Trans Himalaya. People often prefer to use traditional medicine because it is widely available locally, less expensive, has few perceived side effects, its accessibility, and simplicity in administration, and there is a growing importance of medicinal plants commonly used in folk medicine [58]. However, many species may fail to pass clinical testing due to their toxicity and biocompatibility issues.

Parts used

Different parts of plants were used with a significant difference (χ2 = 90.587, df = 7, p < 0.001). Rhizomes were most utilized (45% of uses), followed by leaves (31%) and fruits, flowers, and seeds (5% each) (Fig. 3). Rhizomes are widely used in pharmaceutical preparations due to their high concentration of bioactive components [11]. Similar findings were reported by various ethnobotanists including [9] from Kashmir Himalayas, [59] from Northern Ethiopia, and [2] from tribal communities in the Western Himalaya. Excessive use of rhizomes, particularly in the case of threatened species, should be avoided because it can have a detrimental impact on population and growth, as well as lead to extinction [9]. Leaves might have the potential to be a source of valuable drugs in addition to food. The presence of alkaloids in them explains why they are often employed as a remedy in traditional medicine so efficiently [14].

Fig. 3
figure 3

Distribution of plant species in various plant parts categories used in the region. The direction of the lines depicts which plant species is linked with which part used and thickness of each bar indicates the degree of parts used in each category

Form of remedy preparation

In the current study, powder (59%) was the most frequent preparation form, followed by paste (15%) and decoction (14%) (Table 2). Rokaya et al. [60] also reported powder form as the common form used by local inhabitants of Nepal India. The patients regarded powdered preparations as quite effective, and it was utilized whenever possible. Similarly, findings were reported by [61] from Himalayan India.

Diseases cured

A total of 33 aliments were treated with plants, and most species (25%) were employed for gastrointestinal disorders, followed by musculoskeletal diseases (20%) and dermatological problems (12%) (Fig. 4, Table 2). The possible reason behind these results might be that gastrointestinal disorders are common in these areas due to a lack of hygienic conditions, malnutrition, and a lack of pure water. Similar results were reported by [62] and [12] from Pakistan; [63] from Northern Nigeria; and [9, 35] and [30] from various ethnic groups of Northern Himalaya. Among the uses of plants for medicine, the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases holds a significant role in many regions [64,65,66,67].

Fig. 4
figure 4

Distribution of plant species in various disease treated categories used in the region. The direction of the lines depicts which plant species is linked with which disease and thickness of each bar indicates the degree of plants used to treated disease in each category

Novelty of the study

This study's list of 46 wild plants was cross-checked against 20 published articles from the entire Himalayan region (Table 3). This comparison helped to reveal variances of local wild plants that existed across various populations and places as shown in the Jaccard Index (JI). In the current study, the JI values ranged from 10.87 to 0.64 (Table 3). The highest value was reported from District Kupwara [33; 10.87] followed by the Sindh forest, Jammu & Kashmir, India [36; 9.40], and Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, Himalaya, India [32; 7.03]. Due to similar geographic or climatic conditions, the greater JI score demonstrates the similarity in vegetation types between the two places. The minimum JI was calculated in the study of Bandipora District, Kashmir Himalaya, [44; 0.64], where only 1 similar plant was reported with the current site because there is a significant difference in the geography; the reported site is a mountainous region with low altitude, whereas the current study is a high-altitude mountain region.

Table 3 Jaccard index value for plants

The current study also reports 18 wild species that have rarely been documented for treating human ailments in the ethnobotanical literature: Aconitum violaceum, Angelica glauca, Aquilegia nivalis, Arnebia benthamii, Bunium persicum, Corydalis cashmeriana, Delphinium cashmerianum, Dipsacus inermis, Fritillaria imperialis, Gentiana kurroo, Iris hookeriana, Lagotis cashmeriana, Potentilla nepalensis, Rheum spiciforme, Rheum webbianum, Rhododendron campanulatum, Thymus linearis, and Trigonella emodi. While 28 medicinal plants had already been reported in the available literature, we documented novel utilization for 18 of these species (Fig. 5). The present study reported new uses for 24% plant species, e.g., rhizome of Corydalis govianiana for killing lice in animals, raw roots of Jurinea dolomiaea for tooth cleaning, seeds of Verbascum thapsus for respiratory diseases, leaves of Bergenia ciliata as lid for utensils, flowers of Saussurea simpsoniana were presented to anybody a wish for good luck, leaves of Dipsacus inermis were used for internal injuries and body inflammation, leaves of Arnebia benthamii as brain tonic, leaves of Viburnum grandiflorum against muscle sprain, leaves of Aconitum violaceum used as food, rhizome of Geranium wallichianum as dye, bark of Rhododendron campanulatum to overcome drug addiction, rhizome of Aconitum heterophyllum for stomach problems and piles.

Fig. 5
figure 5

Comparison of the current study with previous studies in the Himalayan region. Red color showed the common plant in both study with dissimilar use, while blue color shows the common plants in both study with similar use

Use value

In the present study, the highest UV of 0.86 was calculated for Aconitum heterophyllum and the lowest UV of 0.26 for Androsace rotundifolia (Fig. 6; Table 2). Due to their widespread distribution and widespread knowledge of therapeutic applications among the local population, medicinal plants in the research location had high UV levels [35, 68, 69].

Fig. 6
figure 6

Relationship between use value (UV) and frequency of citation (FC). The full plant names are presented in Table 2

Cross-cultural analysis

We examined how social, economic, and cultural factors influenced plant resource utilization patterns among various ethnic groups in the region. Across cultural relationships, the Gujjar and Pahari showed greater similarity (17%), whereas the least overlap (2%) was observed between Bakarwal, Gujjar, and Kashmiri (Fig. 7a).

Fig. 7
figure 7

a Percentage of similarity b Venn diagram showing pattern of ethno-veterinary usage pattern of plant resources in different ethnic groups of Kashmir region

The reason for the greater similarity of Gujjar and Pahari lies in the fact that both ethnic groups share a common geographical landscape, while both are exogamous to each other (Table 1), whereas the Bakarwal, Gujjar, and Kashmiri have different cultural identities, live in different areas of the region, and not surprisingly showed the least relationship. The cross-cultural analysis revealed that all ethnic groups used 14 species on a regular basis followed by nine species shared by the Bakarwal, Gujjar, and Pahari and minimum one species (Saussurea simpsoniana) by Bakarwal, Gujjar, and Kashmiri (Fig. 7b). Meanwhile, Kashmiri was the only ethnic groups with idiosyncratic species (N = 1) Prunella vulgaris, which may be accounted for by the fact that the aforementioned species thrives in habitats near rivers, streams, and canals, which are located at relatively elevations, as well as by the fact that the aforementioned ethnic group use it commonly during COVID-19 to treat cold, fever, and migraine. Many other researchers conducted similar cross-cultural analyses, revealing the overlapping and uniqueness of species due to cultural, landscape, availability, and socioeconomic factors such as [14] from the Trans Himalayas; [25] and [70] from Pakistan Himalaya; [10] and [71] from Kashmir Himalaya; and [72] from Eastern Morocco and Eastern Andalusia.

The Venn diagram can, however, not provide a clear picture of plant usage; for example, if a specific ethnic group uses N plants, it does not specify whether it is used by one informant or by maximum members of that ethnic group. We used indicator species analysis for the first time to solve this problem. The analysis of indicator species revealed a clear distinction between key species in four ethnic groups (Fig. 8). In the Gujjar ethnic group, Aconitum heterophyllum and Dolomiaea costus had significant indicator value, the reason behind this being that these plants grow in abundance near forests and are easily available, and also have a wide range of uses and also support livelihood, while Rhododendron campanulatum and Rheum spiciforme all had significant p values in the Bakarwal ethnic group, because this ethnic group spends the majority of their time in high-altitude pastures, making them frequently use these plant species for medicine, food and fuelwood. Aconitum heterophyllum and Prunella vulgaris were indicator species of the Kashmiri ethnic group, both these species are having the multiple medicine usage (particularly in COVID-19). In the Pahari ethnic group, Fritillaria cirrhosa and Rheum spiciforme were indicator species; all of these species had numerous medicinal uses in addition source of livelihood. The majority of species with high indicator values were associated with particular ethnic communities and heavily consumed by them. Aconitum heterophyllum was a common indicator species between Gujjar and Kashmiri ethnic groups, while Rheum spiciforme was a common indicator species in Pahari and Bakarwal ethnic groups (Fig. 8). The reason was that these plants were frequently used in traditional medicine, and Gujjar and Bakarwal communities primarily extracted them from the surrounding forest area and selling them to the Kashmiri community, which primarily resides in the lower reaches of the Kashmir valley. In this way, information on medicinal usage and means of support are passed from one community to another.

Fig. 8
figure 8

Indicator values of species in different ethnic groups in different ethnic groups of Kashmir region. Indicator plants were highlighted in box in different groups

Some of the commonly used plant species used by all four ethnic groups were Aconitum heterophyllum, Angelica glauca, Fritillaria cirrhosa, Rheum webbianum, Dolomiaea costus, and Arnebia benthamii. The reason behind this was that these species were all medicinal and were used in various forms as well as having cultural and traditional values. The ethnomedicinal knowledge of these species was held mostly in the Gujjar, Bakarwal, and Pahari ethnic groups. The Kashmiri ethnic group had less ethnomedicinal knowledge because of the preference for allopathic medicine. People often had to walk by foot about 10–15 km to reach the areas where medicinal plants were collected.

Medicinal plants used by Gujjar and Pahari ethnic groups were Ferula jaeschkeana, Euphorbia wallichii, Primula denticulata and Phytolacca acinosa. The reason behind this great similarity between these two ethnic groups lies in culture, language, and tradition. These ethnic groups live near forests and visit higher altitudes in summer along with their livestock. There were least plant species which used by Bakarwal and Kashmiri ethnic group, given their very limited interactions between these two ethnic groups and their different culture and tradition as well as language. The Gujjar and Pahari acted as knowledge-transferring agents between Bakarwal and Kashmiri ethnic groups. The highest number of plant species was used by Gujjar, Pahari, and Bakarwal ethnic groups. The interaction between these ethnic groups usually occurred in summers in the alpine regions of the study area where all these ethnic groups live together along with their livestock.

Relationship between indicator values and the number of plants used by different ethnic groups

The results showed that the indicator values and the number of plants had a linear relationship (i.e., positive correlation) with the Gujjar (R2 = 0.013, intercept = 20.94, slope = 1.17), Kashmiri (R2 = 1.08, intercept = 23.47, slope = 0.013) and Pahari (R2 = 0.014, intercept = 21.45, slope = 0.94), while the relationship between the number of plants represented a negative correlation with indicator values of the Bakarwal ethnic group (R2 = − 0.022, intercept = 23.39, slope = − 0.049) (Fig. 9).

Fig. 9
figure 9

Linear regression between plants and indicator values of plant used by different ethnic groups a (Gujjar) b Kashmiri c Pahari d Bakarwal from the study area

Our data enabled an investigation into the links between the indicator values of numerous widely used plants with the relative importance of ethnobotanically used species as well as various ethnic groups. The positive connection indicates cultural preferences for certain plant use and underlines the cultural significance of each species. Such positive combinations create the door for their future applications. The highest R2 value for the community showed strong relationships with indicator values of medicinal flora.

Plants and livelihoods

The ethnic people living in the Himalayas have a close relation with the local flora [22]. We recorded 16 plant species (Trillium govanianum, Arnebia benthamii, Aconitum heterophyllum, Aconitum chasmanthum, Dolomiaea costus, Fritillaria cirrhosa, Jurinea dolomiaea, Saussurea simpsoniana, Rheum webbianum, Podophyllum hexandrum, Gentiana kurroo, Angelica glauca, Dolomiaea macrocephala, Bunium persicum, Rheum spiciforme, and Picrorhiza kurroa) being sold by ethnic communities to improve their income, and the traditional health practitioners (Hakeems) also used these species for making medicinal preparations. The ethnic groups with the highest plant use were Bakarwals and Gujjar. Due to strict faith in traditional medicine, the demand of the plant species was very high, hence people earned handsome incomes. If trade of plant species continues at the same rate, it is possible that in various species will vanish from the region the near future, ultimately affecting the biodiversity of the region. In the past, due to high market value, the unchecked exploitation of different species resulted already in the loss of biodiversity and a threat to many species [73, 74].

Plant toxicity

In the present study, local people indicated that Rhododendron campanulatum, Podophyllum hexandrum, Arisaema jacquemontii, Fritillaria imperialis, Euphorbia wallichii and Phytolacca acinosa, besides having medicinal value, did also possess poisonous potential if harvested in the inappropriate stage. Plants with lethal attribution constituted 8.69% of the total documented species.

Different plant parts were reported as responsible for toxicity. For instance, unripe fruits of Podophyllum hexandrum, Arisaema jacquemontii, Phytolacca acinosa, early-stage leaves of Rhododendron campanulatum, immature bulb of Fritillaria imperialis, latex from rhizomes of Euphorbia wallichii. The lethality of the plant/part can often be ascribed to alkaloids present [11, 75]. It is important to note that local people suffered losses in the form of livestock/human deaths as a result of the consumption of these plant species. As a result, our study can be used as a written reference for a safer future utilization of these plant resources.


The current study will help to convince policymakers to concentrate on ethnic groups' social sustainability in order to achieve long-term sustainable resource management. We focused on documenting the eroding traditional knowledge across the cultural use of the flora in the region, observing that ethnic groups sharing a geographical environment and being exogamous with one another showed the highest overlap in the use of plant resources, whereas those with distinct cultural identities, living in separate parts of the territory showed the least similarity. The Gujjar and Pahari acted as knowledge-transferring agents between Bakarwal and Kashmiri ethnic groups. We found that key indicator species, Aconitum heterophyllum, Rhododendron campanulatum, Fritillaria cirrhosa, Rheum spiciforme, Dolomiaea costus, and Prunella vulgaris, were connected to particular ethnic communities and were all used for food, medicine, and other essential purposes. This study may help future generations preserve their traditional knowledge in writing and advance the creation of scientifically sound protection plans for their cultural and botanical resources.

Availability of data and materials

All data have already been included in the manuscript.


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The authors are grateful to the local Kashmir participants for sharing their valuable knowledge. We are also very grateful to Prof. Andrea Pieroni for providing constructive advice on the manuscript.


Open Access funding provided by the Qatar National Library. The current study was conducted on self-finance by the authors. Qatar National Library funded the publication of this article.

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SMH and MSA contributed to conceptualization and study design; SMH and AAK collected the data; SMH, MSA and MW analyzed the data; SMH contributed to original draft; MSA and RWB supervised the study; RWB, SMH, MSA, KA, MW, and AAK contributed to writing, reviewing, and editing. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kishwar Ali.

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Haq, S.M., Waheed, M., Khoja, A.A. et al. A cross-cultural study of high-altitude botanical resources among diverse ethnic groups in Kashmir Himalaya, India. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 19, 12 (2023).

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  • Cultural relationships
  • Linear regression model
  • Indicator values
  • Ethnic groups
  • Western Himalayas