An ethnobotanical survey highlights the fragility of knowledge in traditional medicine
The new survey was published in the Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine.It was the work of researchers associated with a university and a government institute.
First survey of its kind carried out in the district
The survey focuses on the Mizo tribes in the Champhai district of a part of India known as Mizoram, which was originally a subset of the Indian state of Assam. The region, which is a mountainous region covered in rainforest, is sandwiched between Bangladesh to the west and Myanmar to the east.
Mizo is a name applied to several ethnic groups unified by a single language. After a period of turmoil in the 1960s, which included advocating for Indian independence, Mizoram was granted union territory status within India, removing it from the control of the Indian government. the state of Assam.
The researchers visited 15 village areas in the district, which has a total population of around 126,000. The research team conducted at least 16 face-to-face interviews in each location. In total, more than 200 interviews were conducted, and the researchers said participants were randomly selected.
Wide variety of plants used
The two most commonly used herbs come as no surprise: turmeric (Turmeric longa) and amla or Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica). Both are pillars of the Ayurvedic medicinal tradition.
In total, ethnobotanical researchers found that 93 different plants were used in traditional herbal medicine practices in the district. Plants belonged to 55 families and 85 genera.
The most common form of medicinal plants was herbs, followed by tree species, shrubs, and vines or lianas. 53 were collected in the wild.
The leaves were the most commonly used part of the plant, followed by the fruits, bark and seeds. This part of the analysis was not weighted by volume, because the use of rhizome parts was low, but must certainly represent a much larger part of the plant parts used by weight, because it is the rhizome of turmeric which is only used. Decoction was the predominant method of preparing these herbs in this community, followed by
The researchers said this is the first time that the enthnobotanical knowledge of this particular region has been catalogued, although many such surveys have been carried out in other parts of India. And it may not have happened too soon, they said.
“This study also revealed that the younger generations aged 18-30 have little or no knowledge about the preparation of herbal medicines and their use compared to older age groups. This is mainly due to the availability of modern clinical drugs in the villages. Therefore, the traditional knowledge and practices of medicinal plants in the study area are somehow threatened with extinction. This is why it is important to document valuable knowledge as well as for the conservation of taxa,” they wrote.
Breaking the chain of traditional medicine
Experts experienced in preserving ethnobotanical knowledge contacted by NutraIngredients-USA said this is a growing problem worldwide.
“In areas with inadequate trade or infrastructure, the retention of traditional plant knowledge wanes as people seek economic opportunities in other ways. Retaining this knowledge requires support and advocacy , on the part of the government and private companies”, said botanic ingredient consultant Chris Kilham, who is currently working in India on a project related to ashwagandha, another pillar of Ayurveda.
“When there is no advocacy, things die. This happens all over the world. The idea is to help indigenous peoples to develop trade if they wish, and to help them access the market. With this, trade can flourish and knowledge will be maintained. Without it, knowledge is lost.” he added.
Roy Upton, HR, DipAyu, agreed, saying that while plant species can become rare or extinct, plant knowledge can too, which can amount to much the same. Upton is the founder and executive director of American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.
“I consider it essential to preserve and cultivate traditional knowledge of medicinal plants around the world. The majority of medicines were originally derived from plants and therefore the therapeutic potential for humanity is great,” said Upton.
“This adds to the inherent value of preserving individual cultures that are otherwise marginalized or not fully represented in the global community. For example, the Ayurveda, Unani and Jidda traditions are more fully represented, but minority communities like this are not. Communities like this are especially important because every passing elder takes that knowledge with them. As the authors state, this is the first ethnobotanical survey of this community, suggesting that a huge amount of traditional knowledge has already been lost, at least for now,”he added.
“Traditional knowledge is being lost all over the world, not more so than in North America where most indigenous medicinal plants have been seriously studied. We developed monographs for yerba santa (not yet published) and devils club (published) for which there was preliminary work but no clinical, although they are extremely important native medicinal plants”,said Upton.
Upton said one of the challenges is finding funding mechanisms to do this work. Many common pharmaceuticals had botanical origins, but drug development as practiced in the West focuses on single molecules and related market dynamics. Maintaining traditional knowledge is not part of the agreement. In India, the situation is a bit more promising, with an official government agency, AYUSH, helping to publicize these traditional medicine systems. (AHP is working with AYUSH right nowto develop a series of botanical monographs.)
“The authors note that members of this community have extensive knowledge of plant medicine, but this is relative to what they need and does not necessarily translate to a global need. Moreover, there is no comparison of their traditional remedy, for example gastrointestinal, with TUMS, peppermint oil or other remedies; so you see the challenge of assigning a value to this kind of knowledge; from a global perspective,said Upton.
Source: Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine
Ethnomedicinal study of medicinal plants used by the Mizo tribes in the Champhai district of Mizoram, India
Authors: Laldingliani to be confirmed, et al.