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The local medicinal plant knowledge in Kashmir Western Himalaya: a way to foster ecological transition via community-centred health seeking strategies

A Correction to this article was published on 19 February 2024

This article has been updated



The mountainous region of Kashmir is a biodiversity hotspot, with diverse local communities and a rich cultural history linked to nature. Mountain ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate change. This study emphasises the need to record the indigenous ethnoecological knowledge of wild plants used for the treatment of various ailments at higher elevations in remote areas where globalisation poses a threat to this traditional knowledge.


The field survey was carried out in 2020–2022, to collect data on wild medicinal plants. Informants were selected randomly to collect indigenous medicinal knowledge using semi-structured interviews and group discussions. Various quantitative indices were employed to evaluate ethnomedicinal data.


A total of 110 medicinal plants belonging to 49 families were recorded in the study area. These medicinal plants are extensively used by local communities for the treatment of 20 major disease categories. Asteraceae was the dominant family contributing (9.09%) to medicinal plants, followed by Polygonaceae (8.18%), Apiaceae (7.27%), Lamiaceae (5.45%), and Ranunculaceae (5.45%). We observed 166 remedies were used for the treatment of various diseases in humans, and 9 remedies were used for animals. The most frequently used medicinal remedy was tea or decoction (30.91%). Among the medicinal plants, herbs (85.5%) were most frequently used by the local populations of Kashmir, whereas leaves (10.26%) were used for the treatment of various ailments. Out of 110 species, 31 were endemic, 15 of which are endemic to the Kashmir region and 16 to the Western Himalaya. The highest RFC value was reported for Allium humile (0.77), the highest UV value for Fritillaria cirrhosa (1.33), and the highest ICF value for gastro-intestinal/digestive disorders (0.85).


Local communities still rely on wild medicinal plants for primary healthcare. These communities retained valuable indigenous knowledge, which needs to be preserved for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Further field exploration is required to fully explore indigenous knowledge in the mountainous regions of Kashmir, and this knowledge has the potential to support the ongoing ecological transition.


The Himalayan Mountain region is home to a diverse range of medicinal and food plants and is regarded as a significant hub of biocultural diversity or biocultural refugia [1]. Particularly, the indigenous communities of the geographical region are more dependent on non-timber forest products, as they derive their livelihood from plant-derived components that are immensely important to the management of traditional healthcare systems [2, 3]. Plants play an essential role in the lives of indigenous peoples living in the Himalayan Mountains, as they provide both food and medicine [2, 4]. Traditional knowledge is the subject of discussion by current ethnobiologist as a result of rapid globalisation and modernisation. According to studies, the remarkable shift in culture has prompted traditional ecological knowledge to decline, if not disappear entirely [5].

Ethnobotanical documentation explores how communities interact with their surroundings, including traditions and cultural beliefs concerning how to utilise certain plants [6,7,8]. These surveys are important for uncovering novel medicines and highlighting the significance of native medicinal plants [9]. Indigenous communities hold important knowledge about how to utilise a plant for multiple purposes and are custodians of traditional knowledge. This traditional knowledge has been passed down through generations, and it is closely linked to their daily routines and the ecological resources in their surroundings [10]. Indigenous communities struggle to preserve their traditional knowledge, which leads to the need for comprehensive evaluation of this knowledge for better healthcare in isolated areas, as recognised by national as well as global organisations [11].

Despite its significance, indigenous medicinal knowledge is diminishing. Further investigation is required to document medicinal plants, analyse their components, perform clinical trials, and develop novel medications [12, 13]. Ethnomedicine emphasises the therapeutic properties of plants for the development of modern medications. This played a vital role in the development of several pharmaceuticals and modern drug discovery [14]. Approximately 70,000 plant species are used globally as traditional medicine [15], with developing nations depending on plant-based therapies since they are more affordable and safer than conventional therapies, which might be inaccessible [16].

Mountain’s ecosystems in the Himalayan region are essential for economic development and human well-being because they provide a wide range of essential necessities, including fresh water, energy, food, and medicinal plants [17]. The medicinal plants collected by the Ayurvedic physician from the high-altitude area constitute 35.7% of all plant species in the Himalayan alpine and subalpine regions [18]. In the Himalayan region, different ethnic groups have unique indigenous healthcare systems. Depending on the topography and ecology of their various regions, these groups have different uses for medicinal plants [19].

Throughout history, numerous cultures all over the world have utilised medicinal plants as their main source of medicine. Pakistan has an abundance of medicinal and aromatic plants due to its unique phytogeography and diverse climatic conditions. Pakistan is estimated to be home to between 400 and 600 of the world's 5,700 medicinal plants, reflecting the country's rich floral diversity [20]. In the early 1950s, nearly eighty per cent of the population relied on conventional medicinal products for their healthcare requirements [21]. However, this method is currently utilised solely in remote regions as a result of urbanisation and industrialisation [22, 23]. In the Himalayan Mountain region, 70% of medicinal plants and animals are wild, and 70–80% of the local population still relies on traditional remedies for their healthcare [24].

Ethnoecology focuses on the documentation of traditional ecological knowledge, which includes culture and generational ideas passed down through cultural transmission [25]. Ethnoecological knowledge can help with long-term management and conservation of biodiversity, including wild medicinal plants [26,27,28,29]. Ethnobotany is beneficial to the development of healthcare and conservation programmes worldwide by preserving and promoting future medicinal plant research for the development of novel medications [30]. Traditional remedies are also widely used for primary healthcare management in developing countries [31] and are in demand in developed countries due to the belief that “natural is better” [32].

Documentation of traditional knowledge is very essential to conserve and enable future research on the safety and effectiveness of medicinal plants, which can validate their traditional use [33]. Traditional medicinal knowledge is generally passed down orally by elderly folks and hakims [34]. The risks of knowledge loss are raised by urbanisation, modern healthcare, and generational gaps [35, 36]. Documenting indigenous ethnomedicinal knowledge is essential for cultural preservation, drug development, and natural resource management. This project explored the potential uses of the data within the realm of domestic healthcare among the local communities living in the Kashmir mountainous areas of the Western Himalayas. The main objective of this study: (1) to document the local ecological knowledge and practices (LEK) linked to medicinal plants in the Western Himalayan region of Kashmir, (2) to compare this LEK with that previously recorded in Pakistan in order to explore data novelty, and (3) to reflect upon if and how the main findings could help to foster sustainability in local health seeking strategies.

Materials and methods

Study area

The State of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is located in the Pir-Panjal Subrange of the Western Himalayan Mountains in north-western Pakistan, spread between longitudes 73° and 73° north and latitudes 33° and 36° east, comprising an area of 13,297 km2 [37]. The state has a hilly, mountainous topography with forested mountain slopes and deep valleys gorged by several streams and rivers. AJK is a regional biodiversity hotspot harbouring a diverse array of agroclimatic zones and habitats owing to a huge altitudinal gradient ranging from 360 m in the southern parts bounded by the Punjab Plains to an extreme height of 6325 m in the north [38]. An ethnobotanical survey was carried out in the six districts of Kashmir at higher elevations, including Neelum Valley, Jhelum Valley, Muzaffarabad, Haveli, Bagh, and Poonch (Fig. 1). The targeted area consists of subalpine and alpine pastures with an elevational range above 2800 m (Fig. 2). The climate of the study area is characterised by extreme cold during the winter season, with heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures down to − 10 °C from November to April. The average temperature is around 10 °C during the summer from June to August, while the summer season is cold and short. The area receives about 1000 mm of precipitation annually, most of which falls as snow in winter [39].

Fig. 1
figure 1

Map of the study area

Fig. 2
figure 2

Landscape view of the study area

Sampling techniques and sampling intensity

In the study area, the multistage random sampling method of [40] was applied for the selection of summer pasture sites. Eighteen summer pasture sites, including Bilor Kasi, Zargary Behak, Gujjar Nar, Shounthar, Magri, Ratti Galli, Dabran top, Peera Hashimar, Sheesha Mali, Bara Hazari, Machiyara, Kamiri top, Sheero Dhara, Bedori, Poonch, Ganga Choti, Saral Behak, and Kutton top with 5% sampling intensity, were selected from the study area. A total of 200 informants were surveyed for documentation of indigenous ethnomedicinal knowledge by the respondents, preferably older people. Furthermore, these respondents had good experience and knowledge regarding the diversity and utilisation of medicinal plants in the study area for primary healthcare management.

Data collection

About three years (June 2020–September 2022) of field studies were conducted to document the information about ethnomedicinal plants at higher elevations in the study area. Before collecting ethnomedicinal data, each respondent was briefed on the objectives and purposes of the research to gain their consent and cooperation, following the ISE code of ethics (International Society of Ethnobiology, Code of Ethics. 2006) ( The discussions emphasised the importance of each informant's contribution to the record of ethnomedicinal knowledge of medicinal plants in the western Himalayan region of Kashmir. The ethnomedicinal knowledge was documented using open-ended, semi-structured, and pre-tested questionnaire methods. Interviews and group discussions on the indigenous uses of plant species as medicine were used to collect information. Following a preliminary analysis, a group of individuals was chosen, and information was gathered about their interests and abilities in identifying and using plants. The discussions were conducted in the local languages (Pahari, Gojri, or Kashmiri) to facilitate communication with the informants. The information gathered included the local names of medicinal plants, their habits (wild or cultivated), the plant parts used, ethnomedicinal use, the common diseases that can be treated by medicinal plants, the methods of crude drug preparation, and the mode of administration. During field trips, all plants were not in the flowering and fruiting stage. In these instances, data were collected, and the same area was visited during the flowering season.

Plants identification and preservation

The collected specimens were dried, pressed, and then mounted on the herbarium sheets by following standard protocols [41]. All specimens were identified by Dr Mushtaq Ahmad (Plant Taxonomist) by using available taxonomic literature [42] and online databases of regional flora. The voucher specimens were deposited in the Herbarium of Pakistan (ISL), Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. The endemic status was assessed using online flora ( Endemic species were classified into two categories: (1) endemic to Kashmir (restricted geographical distribution range) and (2) endemic to the Western Himalayas (broad geographical distribution).

Data analysis

Relative frequency of citation

The relative frequency of citation (RFC) was used to analyse ethnobotanical. RCF values measured the local importance of plant species based on the frequency of citation (FC), divided by the total number of informants (N) in the survey. The higher value of the relative frequency of citation (RFC) demonstrates the significance of each species [43].

RFC is calculated using the formula:

$${\text{RFC}} = {\text{FC}}/N$$

Use value

The use value (UV) measures the relative importance of regionally known plants [44]. The use value is calculated using the formula:

$${\text{UV}} = \Sigma {\text{Ui}}/N$$

where N represents the total number of informants and Ui represents the total number of uses claimed by each informant for a particular species.

Informant consensus factor

The informant consensus factor (ICF) measures if traditional informants consistently used the same plant species [45]. ICF is calculated based on the indigenous information of the informant using a formula:

$${\text{ICF}} = {\text{Nur}} - {\text{Nt}}/{\text{Nur}} - 1$$

where Nur is the total number of reports for all cases of each disease category and Nt is the total number of plant species used in that category. ICF values range 0–1.

Jaccard index (JI)

To calculate similarities or resemblances of indigenous traditional knowledge data with previous ethnobotanical studies conducted in different areas of the Himalayan region [46], the JI is calculated using the formula:

$${\text{JI}} = \frac{C*100}{{\left( {A + B} \right) - C}}$$

where “A” represents the recorded species of the current study and “B” is the recorded species of the other area to be compared, while “C” is the common number of species in both studies.

Results and discussion

Demography of informants

A total of 200 informants, including 137 males (< 45 years = 60.58%, < 30 years = 27.73%, < 18 years = 11.67%) and 63 females (< 40 years = 61.90%, < 18 years = 38.09%), were interviewed in local languages including Phari, Hindko, Gojri, Kashmiri, and Urdu. The majority of female informants were illiterate (Table 1). Female informants’ percentage is lower due to social setup because local people don’t allow women to talk with strangers. The local people of the Kashmir region have a close interaction with nature and the best experience of resource utilisation [47].

Table 1 Demographic information of the informants from the investigated area

Floral diversity and anthropogenic pressure

The floral diversity of medicinal plants belonging to different families, local names, used parts, voucher numbers, ailments, remedies, and modes of administration are presented in Table 2. An ethnomedical plant survey documented 110 medicinal plants belonging to 90 genera and 49 families. Out of these medicinal taxa, herbs (85.45%) were predominant, followed by shrubs (6.36%), trees (5.45%), ferns (1.81%), and epiphytes (0.90%) (Fig. 3). Among the 49 families, Asteraceae was the dominant family and contributed the most (9.09%) to medicinal plants, followed by Polygonaceae (8.18%), Apiaceae (7.27%), Lamiaceae (5.45%), and Ranunculaceae (5.45%) (Fig. 4). The genera with the highest number of species represented are Angelica (3 species), Geranium (3 species), Aconitum (3 species), Polygonatum (2 species), Taraxacum (2 species), Berberis (2 species), and Rheum (2 species). The study shows that indigenous peoples of the Kashmir region heavily depend on medicinal plants for primary healthcare, especially during the winter when the area is inaccessible for longer due to heavy snowfall. These medicinal plant species were traditionally used to strengthen and energise, thereby improving health. In addition, the use of medicinal plants found at higher elevations is primarily driven by remoteness, poverty, and limited job opportunities. The study region's lack of infrastructure and socio-economic development exacerbates the problems. The survey revealed that high anthropogenic pressure on medicinal plants is likely caused by illegal extraction and environmental stress. Hence, local populations heavily depend on these higher elevation medicinal plants to sustain their primary healthcare and daily requirements. Asteraceae, Polygonaceae, Ranunculaceae, Apiaceae, Lamiaceae, and Ranunculaceae have been reported as dominant families from the Western Himalayas by several other researchers as well [38, 48,49,50]. The Asteraceae, Polygonaceae, and Ranunculaceae plant families are most prevalent in many open-habitat ecosystems [51, 52]. These aforementioned plant families are rich in medicinal chemical compounds such as sterols, alkaloids, glycosidase, and flavonoids, which are used for the treatment of numerous health problems [43]. These families were recorded as dominant families due to their broader ecological amplitudes and adaptations like small dwarf size, stunted growth, and semi-woody and spiny vegetation at higher altitudes with extreme environmental conditions [53]. Several other studies on ethnomedicinal applications in the Himalayan region support the present study results [54,55,56,57].

Table 2 Taxonomic diversity of plants used as ethnomedicines by the local communities of Kashmir
Fig. 3
figure 3

Classification of floral diversity on the basis of habit

Fig. 4
figure 4

Proportion of dominated Plant Families and Genera recorded from the study area

Endemic species

Endemic species refers to species found exclusively in a specific geographical area or specific habitat [58]. There were 31 endemic species in the study area, 15 of which were endemic to the Kashmir region and 16 to the Western Himalaya. Arnebia benthamii, Bergenia ciliate, Bergenia stracheyi, Bupleurum longicaule, Caltha palustris, Corydalis govaniana, Dolomiaea macrocephala, Euphorbia wallichii, Gentiana alii, Lagotis cashmeriana, Ligularia jacquemontiana, Meconopsis aculeata, Podophyllum hexandrum, Rheum webbianum, and Taraxacum laevigatum were found to be endemic to the Kashmir region. Aconitum chasmanthum, Aconitum hetrophyllum, Aconitum violaceum, Aucklandia costus, Dactylorhiza hatagirea, Gentiana kurroo, Hymenidium brunonis, Hypericum perfotatum, Inula royleana, Iris hookeriana, Persicaria amplexicaulis, Polygonatum verticillatum, Rosa webbiana, Thymus linearis, Verbascum Thapsus, and Viola biflora were found to be endemic to the Western Himalayan region.


A total of 166 remedies were used for the treatment of various diseases in humans, and 9 remedies were used for animals. Quercus semecarpifolia was a medicinal plant used only in veterinary medicine. Twelve medicinal plants (i.e. Phytolacca acinose, Hymenidium stellatum, Primula denticulate, Rheum webbianum, Rumex nepalensis, Ligularia jacquemontiana, Verbascum Thapsus, Sambucus wightiana, Iris hookeriana, and Betula utilis) were used for the treatment of both animals and humans. Thirteen medicinal plants (i.e. Geranium wallichianum, Geranium caespitosum, Bergenia ciliate, Aucklandia costus, Rheum webbianum, Rheum austral, Picrorhiza kurrooa, Phytolacca acinose, Geranium nepalense, Bergenia stracheyi, Berberis umbellate, Ajuga integrifolia, and Aconitum hetrophyllum) were observed to have more diversified uses for the treatment of more than 5 ailments. All recorded species are wild and mostly collected from nearby subalpine forests and alpine pastures. Among the medicinal plants, herbs (85.5%) were most frequently used by the local populations of Kashmir (Fig. 3), whereas leaves (20.51%) were used for the treatment of various ailments (Fig. 5). Use category results for documented plants showed that the majority of plants were used for medicinal purposes (63.62%), followed by food (10.34%) and fodder (5.75%) (Fig. 6). Furthermore, females had better knowledge about medicinal plants and remedies for the treatment of different ailments because the majority of male members are out of their homes for jobs due to poverty and limited job opportunities. Similar findings were also reported from the Western Himalaya and Brazil [52, 59].

Fig. 5
figure 5

Proportion of plant parts used by medicinal plants for remedies

Fig. 6
figure 6

Percentage distribution of medicinal flora on the basis of use category

Preparation of medicinal plants remedies and usage

All parts of medicinal plants were used to prepare various remedies, such as leaves, rhizomes, roots, tubers, and stems. Herbs were recorded as the dominant life form (94 species) used as a major remedy source in the Kashmir region's local populations. The most frequently used medicinal remedies were tea or decoction (24.1%), paste or crushing (20.6%), raw (14.2%), cooked (12.8%), juice or extract (10.6%), infusion (7.8%), powder (7.1%), and others (2.8%) (Fig. 7). The present study results revealed that leaves (20.51%) were used for the preparation of various remedies, followed by roots (17.95%), whole plant (13.46%), rhizomes (16.03%), aerial parts (7.69%), the flowers (9.62%), bark (3.21%), seeds (3.21%), fruits (3.21%), stem (1.92%), resin (1.28%), tubers (1.28%), and bulbs (0.64%) (Fig. 5). Local communities residing in the mountainous region of Kashmir did not frequently use medicinal plants' bark, seed, stem, and bulbs, rendering these plant parts unsustainable for medicinal use. The aforementioned plant parts are difficult to crush for decoction and hence cannot sustainably be used as remedies in the local communities. The plant's parts, such as the root, entire plant, and rhizome, are extensively employed in native healthcare systems for basic healthcare purposes in Kashmir. So, these plant parts have been considered sustainable for medicinal use in the prevailing area as they contain major constituents of medications. Excessive use of leaves and roots, especially for vulnerable species, could adversely affect their growth, leading to population decreases and even species extinction [56]. Due to the presence of alkaloids, leaves can be used as food as well as a potential source of valuable pharmaceuticals [3]. As a result, they are frequently used as a remedy in the traditional healthcare system because they are so effective. A total of 166 remedies were made, of which 142 employed fresh parts of plants and the rest were made from 24 dried plant parts. Approximately 31.81% of the 110 species enlisted were used for the treatment of a specific type of disease. The most common methods of administration are oral (72.81%), external (24.56%), and eye drops (0.7%). The dosage and duration of medications are based on the severity of the disease, the age of the patient, and the information provided by different informants. Similar findings were also reported, which supports our results [52, 60,61,62,63,64]. The differences in the duration and dosage of medicinal plants are given in Table 2.

Fig. 7
figure 7

Percentage distribution of methods of remedies preparation

Ailments treated

The most frequently recorded diseases from the Kashmir region are fever, stomach, body pain, coughs, colds, joint problems, constipation, wounds or cuts, and skin problems. Due to heavy snowfall in certain regions, local people have moved from high-altitude areas (i.e. alpine pastures) to lower elevations. In some areas, the availability of modern medications for quick pain relief has caused a decline in the use of medicinal plants. In contrast, the majority of people in remote areas still rely on medicinal plants for their primary healthcare. The documented ailments were classified into 20 general categories: gastro-intestinal/digestive disorders (67 remedies), external and internal injuries (44 remedies), pulmonary disease/respiratory problems (32 remedies), cold and fever (25 remedies), oral, dental, hair, and ENT disorders (21 remedies), dermatological/skin problems (17 remedies), bleeding, cuts, and wounds (17 remedies), liver and hepatic disorders (17 remedies), others (17 remedies), cardiovascular blood system (14 remedies), gynaecological problems (14 remedies), urogenital disorder (12 remedies), diabetes (10 remedies), anthelmintic and anti-lice (8 remedies), condiments (7 remedies), veterinary diseases (4 remedies), cancer (3 remedies), cultural uses (2 remedies), nervous system disorders (2 remedies), and antidote (2 remedies) (Fig. 8). Most studies reported ethnomedicinal applications for the treatment of gastroenterological, respiratory, and wound healing, which were recorded as the most prevalent diseases in the Himalayan region [4, 22, 62, 65, 66].

Fig. 8
figure 8

Major disease treated through medicinal plants

Informants consensus factor

Different ailments reported from the study area were classified into 20 general categories to develop a consensus among informants (Fig. 8). The informant’s consensus factor was calculated based on disease categories, as single medicinal taxa are used for the treatment of 2–3 or more disease categories. The ICF value ranged from 0.64 to 0.85. The highest value of ICF was recorded for gastro-intestinal/digestive disorders (0.85), whereas the lowest value of ICF was recorded for liver and hepatic disorders (0.64). Among the categories, gastro-intestinal/digestive disorders were the leading disease categories based on ICF values, as strongly supported by various studies [67,68,69,70,71,72,73]. The prevalence of gastro-intestinal/digestive disorders is mainly due to fuel wood smoke inhalation unhygienic conditions, contaminated food, and poor water quality mostly arise in the study area due to animals and humans frequently sharing water sources, such as little springs and wells [67, 74, 75]. Fritillaria cirrhosa, Allium humile, Bergenia stracheyi, Berberis umbellate, Angelica glauca, Ajuga integrifolia, and Achillea milliefolium were the most commonly used medicinal plants for the cure of gastro-intestinal and digestive disorders. These medicinal plants were preferred to cure digestive disorders because they are a rich source of vitamins, essential oils, flavonoids, and other bioactive compounds [76].

The second highest categories of ICF were estimated for dermatological/skin problems (0.84). Skin problems might arise due to UV exposure at higher elevations, unhygienic living conditions, sharing a room with family members or even cattle, and contaminated food [77, 78]. The third highest IFC value (0.83) was recorded for the cold and fever categories. Cold and fever problems arise due to different factors, including harsh winter conditions such as frosting and snowfall, increased moisture at higher elevations, unhygienic conditions, and abrupt changes in weather [79]. The high ICF value (0.82) for gynaecological disorders in the study area may be due to limited access to hospitals and medicines, remoteness, and heavy snowfall causing road blockages. However, over 95% of females give birth naturally, without regular check-ups or operations. This is attributed to their healthy lifestyle, daily walking for daily needs, and reliance on medicinal herbs with no side effects.

Use value

Use value is an essential tool for identifying highly valuable medicinal plants in a region for detailed pharmacological research. The use value ranged from 0.07 to 1.34 (Table 2). The highest use value was reported for Fritillaria cirrhosa (1.34) followed by Allium humile (1.29), Bergenia stracheyi (1.20), Abies pindrow (1.05), Berberis umbellata (1.04), Angelica glauca (0.92), Aconitum hetrophyllum (0.88), Rheum australe (0.85), Taxus wallichiana (0.85), and Geranium nepalense (0.84). The high usage of reported medicinal plants implies a strong association and reliance of local populations on the surrounding flora, particularly for the treatment of various diseases [43]. There is a strong correlation between use value and use reports for a plant. Medicinal plants with a higher number of records have a higher use value [67, 80].

Relative frequency citation

RFC is a tool used for assessing the significance of different species in curing different ailments based on how often they are mentioned by local communities [36]. The RFC value ranged from 0.07 to 0.78 (Table 2). The highest RFC value was reported for Allium humile (0.78), followed by Fritillaria cirrhosa (0.70), Aconitum hetrophyllum (0.68), Geranium nepalense (0.60), Aconitum chasmanthum (0.60), Ajuga integrifolia (0.58), Berberis umbellata (0.56), Rheum australe, Thymus linearis, and Skimmia laureola (0.55), respectively. Locals are familiar with numerous plant species with high RFC values that are prevalent throughout the area due to their traditional use as medicine. These plant species could prove valuable for drug discovery and commercial authentication [70, 81]. High RFC values indicate that a species is commonly used for the treatment of various ailments, leading to overexploitation and a serious threat to conservation. Some plants with high RFC are critically endangered in the study area.

Novelty of study

The findings of this study were compared with the 20 published papers from the Himalayan region represented in Table 3. In the comparison, the JI value ranged from 18.23 to 3.05 (Table 3). The maximum value of the Jaccard index was reported from District Poonch, Jammu & Kashmir (18.23), followed by the northern region of Kashmir, Himalaya (16.45), and District Chamba, Western Himalaya (16.27). High JI values indicate that the vegetation in these areas has similar characteristics due to common traditions, cultures, geography, and environmental conditions. The lowest value of JI was calculated in the Ladakh region of the Himalayas (3.05). The low JI value represents that the geographical features are different. The lower value of JI indicates that the high-elevation areas where the study was conducted do not possess similar topography to the cold desert of Ladakh, which accounts for the lowest value observed. It demonstrates that there are significant variations in the site features between the two regions, which is the reason the current study's JI value is the lowest.

Table 3 Jaccard Index data for medicinal plants

This study reports 22 medicinal plants that are new or rarely documented in ethnomedicinal literature: Aconogonon alpinum, Actaea spicata, Angelica archangelica, Asparagus racemosus, Berberis jaeschkeana, Bupleurum longicaule, Chaerophyllum villosum, Clematis napaulensis, Corylus colurna, Diplazium maximum, Gentiana alii, Herminium edgeworthii, Lindelofia longiflora, Polygonatum multiflorum, Potentilla atrosanguinea, Rhodiola fastigiata, Salvia hians, Selinum vaginatum, Taraxacum tibetanum, Taraxacum laevigatum, Viola biflora, and Valeriana himalayana. This research discovered new ethnomedicinal uses of plants, i.e. the flower and rhizome of Aconitum chasmanthum for treating asthma in humans and mukhar in animals, the aerial part of Aconogonon alpinum for leucorrhoea, Actaea spicata as an anti-lice, roots of Alcea rosea for urination problems (red urine), roots of Angelica archangelica for wound healing, Asparagus racemosus for fever, Berberis jaeschkeana for cancer, bleeding, and vertebral column pain, Bupleurum longicaule for headache, Chaerophyllum villosum for typhoid fever and skin problems, Clematis napaulensis for fever, Corylus colurna for jaundice, Diplazium maximum for body pain, Gentiana alii for Leucorrhoea, Herminium edgeworthii for diabetes, Geranium caespitosum for gynae problems, Gentiana kurroo for blood purification, Lindelofia longiflora for female disorders, Polygonatum multiflorum for cough and headache, Potentilla atrosanguinea for stomach, Rhodiola fastigiate for stomach, Salvia hians for eye diseases, Selinum vaginatum for cold, Taraxacum tibetanum for diabetes, Taraxacum laevigatum for joint pain, Valeriana himalayana for fever and headache, and Viola biflora for malaria.

Threats to medicinal plants

The indigenous communities in the mountainous areas of Kashmir rely on domesticated animals, agriculture, and natural resources for their livelihood. Due to remoteness and limited job opportunities, local communities rely on natural resources to sustain their lives at higher elevations. The majority of the aforementioned communities are involved in numerous activities, including deforestation, illegal wood smuggling, and the extraction of medicinal herbs and fungi (Morchella esculenta) as their main source of income. Unfortunately, over 50% of populations collect medicinal plants to sell to local herb sellers, resulting in the overexploitation of these medicinal plants and subsequently leading to the extinction of endemic medicinal plants. Numerous factors, such as natural disasters like avalanches and soil erosion, as well as anthropogenic activities like deforestation, urbanisation, forest fires, and overgrazing, are significant contributors to the decline of medicinal plants. To prevent these alarming trends, relevant authorities must implement effective conservation measures to ensure sustainable utilisation and protection of these important medicinal plants. Furthermore, the government, academic institutions, and the Forest Department's work to raise awareness about the importance, conservation, and cultivation of medicinal plants among the local community might serve as an important factor in restoring the declining numbers of these invaluable plants. These initiatives are anticipated to enhance the region's sustainability while simultaneously providing the foundation for its socio-economic development.

Ecological transition and sustainability of medicinal plants

Biodiversity in the mountains is ecologically valuable because it regulates the stability of soil and is essential for the functioning of ecosystems, as well as having substantial social, ethical, and aesthetic values. Mountains comprise approximately 25% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity and have a presence in 50% of the world's biodiversity hotspots [97]. However, anthropogenic activities have caused remarkable changes in ecosystems over the last few decades, resulting in an alarming decline in biodiversity. The maintenance of a healthy and sustainable ecosystem is significantly challenged by the alarming rate of change driven by the human race, which is exceptional in human history. The impacts of the global climate change scenario have exerted a profound impact on different countries all over the world, contributing to a variety of ecological transformations such as glacial melting, altered precipitation patterns, droughts, floods, and a significantly increased worldwide temperature. Due to the instability of ecological processes, biodiversity is lost and ecosystems are degraded.

The significant contribution of wild medicinal plants for the treatment of different ailments in indigenous communities is currently under threat. Mountainous ecosystems, where a majority of medicinal plants grow, are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change due to their confined geographical boundaries. However, urbanisation, immense population pressure, expansion of agricultural fields, overgrazing, deforestation, forest fires, and overexploitation pose an additional threat to wild medicinal plants. The aforementioned factors have substantially decreased the diversity of medicinal plants that are readily available in mountainous areas. The extraction of wild medicinal plant rhizomes, roots, and flowers by untrained local collectors has imposed enormous stress on their populations, leading to the extinction of many endangered and endemic taxa. This represents a significant threat to the availability of basic healthcare in remote regions that depend significantly on the healing properties of wild medicinal plants due to a lack of modern healthcare facilities.

In the context of climate change, ecological transition is a serious and debatable issue around the world, and policy makers are tasked with implementing effective strategies to protect against the increasing risk of extinction and ensure the uninterrupted availability of wild medicinal plants for local communities. As a consequence, immediate action is required to ensure the sustainable long-term utilisation and preservation of these valuable natural resources. There are 400 endemic species in Pakistan, and the northern and western higher elevations of Pakistan and Kashmir are home to 80 per cent of the country's endemic flowering plants [98]. Mountainous ecosystems are characterised by their rich biodiversity because they are home to a variety of protected areas and an extensive diversity of medicinal plants as well as animals. Due to the existence of endemic medicinal plants, the conservation of mountainous ecosystems is of utmost significance [99]. Hence, it is critically important that decision-makers give thoughtful consideration and then implement measures that prioritise the conservation and sustainable uses of these valuable resources, ensuring their availability for future generations.

The active participation of doctors in indigenous communities is one way to encourage the use of wild medicinal plants for basic healthcare. This comprises educating and promoting awareness among local communities and patients about the potential healing properties and health advantages of wild medicinal plants. Doctors who are familiar with the traditional usage of wild medicinal plants can be highly valuable in promoting their use in basic healthcare. They may guide their patients on how to properly and successfully include natural remedies in their treatment plans while urging them to consider these practices. However, doctors’ involvement in encouraging the therapeutic potential of medicinal plants incorporates the opportunity to have a significant impact on local populations by improving healthcare access and promoting sustainable utilisation of natural resources.

Importance of revitalising sustainable ethnomedicinal practices

In isolated mountainous areas, indigenous knowledge is disappearing or being replaced by non-native knowledge, which is a serious problem. Youth education is critical for the sustainable utilisation of local natural resources and the preservation of cultural heritage. Traditional knowledge is dwindling due to social changes and reliance on standardised plant elements, threatening the viability of local practises. Due to the availability of modern medication and modern agricultural methods, traditional ecological knowledge in mountainous areas is being lost. Due to the aforementioned problems, some of the medicinal plants are rare, and a few are overexploited. In the future, this could have a severe negative impact on basic healthcare practices. Numerous indigenous communities are losing traditional foraging practices as a result of socio-environmental changes. The majority of wild medicinal plants are commonly available, and LEK needs to be revitalised to foster the ecological transition. Ethnobotanical research documenting the disappearance of wild plant knowledge can be an invaluable tool to prepare for future challenges.

Ethnobiologists have historically emphasised the crucial need to revitalise the valuable traditional ethnomedicinal knowledge. Ethnobiologists demand the development of dynamic frameworks that not only revive these old traditional healthcare practises but also encourage their implementation through holistic educational approaches [100, 101]. The revitalisation of traditional nature, ethnomedicinal knowledge, and healthcare practises are essential for achieving socio-ecological sustainability. Rural communities are facing inevitable social change; modern medication availability, driven by advancement in the pharmaceutical industry, is erasing traditional healthcare practices. Documentation of traditional knowledge from field investigations may provide concrete tools for better understanding and future planning in numerous fields. The participation of ethnobiologists in policy platforms and community engagement should be strongly encouraged since they play a critical role in understanding and communicating how humans significantly interact with nature. Incorporating regionally oriented biological learning into educational curricula that emphasise local healthcare management along with modern medications in pharmaceutical fields by involving students could be crucial for fostering sustainability. This strategy, proposed by Pontius [102], encourages students to investigate and compare traditional practises with scientific findings and to actively participate in the co-creation of a sustainable future. Integrating traditional healthcare management knowledge into modern education systems can be a strong tool for strengthening students understanding of culture, traditional healthcare practises, nature, and their environment, as well as promoting creative connections with their socio-ecological environments. Field expeditions that encourage connection with nature through interaction, compassion, emotion, meaning, and beauty might be beneficial in improving our relationship with the natural world [103]. To learn about healthcare management through medicinal plants effectively, it is essential to implement reflective and multilateral methodologies that include both belief based and practical aspects of traditional knowledge.

Ethnoecological knowledge about medicinal plants can be valorised by numerous approaches, such as the preservation of traditional knowledge: It is critical to preserve traditional collection and preparation methods to safeguard indigenous herbal history. This can be accomplished through the documentation of indigenous knowledge and urging the usage of local medicinal plants for basic healthcare to sustain their continued existence. Education: the appreciation of traditional herbs can be fostered by imparting knowledge of their cultural significance through seminars and other cultural events. Promoting local healthcare practises: promoting indigenous healthcare practises through newspapers, social media, and herbal festivals can raise awareness regarding their cultural significance and encourage residents to try them out. Promoting Mountainous Tourism: Indigenous medicinal practices can help the tourism industry by attracting tourists who are interested in traditional cuisine and herbal remedies. Increasing awareness of herbal remedies can benefit the local economy. Innovation: By investigating novel uses of traditional herbal remedies, innovation can help preserve folk plant medicine. This includes experimenting with traditional foods or incorporating traditional herbal teas into modern cuisine. Furthermore, valuing indigenous healthcare practises entails understanding the cultural significance of the local medicinal value of plants and taking steps to safeguard and foster them for future use.


The study presents the first detailed exploration of indigenous ethnomedicinal knowledge from remote mountainous areas at higher elevations in Kashmir, Western Himalayas. The mountainous region of Kashmir is home to diverse wild medicinal plants and traditional knowledge, both of which play a significant role in treating various ailments through primary healthcare. The study emphasises the importance of indigenous ethnomedicinal knowledge as well as the declining interest in gaining traditional knowledge among the younger generation, possibly due to an increase in allelopathic medicinal practices. Kashmir's mountainous floral diversity is threatened by overexploitation, illegal smuggling, overgrazing, soil erosion, and deforestation. These factors led to the extinction of important wild, endemic medicinal plants. Local communities are mostly unaware about the importance and conservation of medicinal plants. The documentation of indigenous knowledge is essential for its preservation, sharing of information in the public domain, the invention of novel medicines, and future management for the conservation of threatened flora.

Availability of data and materials

All data are available in this paper.

Change history

  • 12 February 2024

    This article has been corrected since original publication; please see the linked erratum for further details

  • 19 February 2024

    A Correction to this paper has been published:



Local ecological knowledge


Azad Jammu and Kashmir


Relative frequency of citation


Use value


Informant consensus factor


Jaccard index


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 The author extends their appreciation to the researchers supporting project number (RSP2023R483) Kind Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.


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Authors and Affiliations



M.M., H.S., S.W.G, and M.Z. carry out the fieldwork and collected the ethnomedicinal data. M.M. prepared first draft of manuscript. M.M., M.A., S.S., and S.W.G. contributed to data interpretation. M.M., M.Z., T.M., and H.S. conducted the data analysis. A.A.A., K.K.K., and M.S.E. were involved in data curation. A.P. was involved in visualisation and review. M.A. conceptualised and supervised the study. All authors read and finalised the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mushtaq Ahmad.

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Manzoor, M., Ahmad, M., Zafar, M. et al. The local medicinal plant knowledge in Kashmir Western Himalaya: a way to foster ecological transition via community-centred health seeking strategies. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 19, 56 (2023).

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