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Ethnomedicinal Practices and Conservation Status of Medicinal Plants of North Kashmir Himalayas

A.R. Malik, M.A.A. Siddique, P.A. Sofi and J.S. Butola
The present study reports ethno-medicinal uses and conservation status of medicinal plants in the northern region of Kashmir Himalayas. Surveys were conducted in district Baramulla and Kupwara for documentation of traditional knowledge and practices (mode of administration and dosages) of medicinal plants. Eighty medicinal plant species (69 herbs, 7 shrubs and 2 trees), representing 43 families and 72 genus, were recorded to be used under traditional health care system. Amongst the species, 71 species were collected from the wild, 4 species from cultivation and 5 species from both the sources. An IUCN criterion based assessment of conservation status of these species showed 9 species as Critically endangered, 14 Endangered, 24 Vulnerable, 28 Rare and only 5 Secure in study the region. Likewise other parts of the IHR, wild populations of medicinal plants of this region are under severe pressure of over-harvesting coupled with over grazing. Moreover, the prevalent practice of premature harvesting of the whole plant is leading to unrecoverable loss of their germplasm. The present communication also depicts market chain of medicinal plant trade in the region which is highly unregulated and lacking equitable share of benefits. Keeping all above issues in mind, an appropriate strategy and action plan for the conservation and sustainable utilization of medicinal plants of the region need to be formulated and implemented, effectively.
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A.R. Malik, M.A.A. Siddique, P.A. Sofi and J.S. Butola, 2011. Ethnomedicinal Practices and Conservation Status of Medicinal Plants of North Kashmir Himalayas. Research Journal of Medicinal Plant, 5: 515-530.

DOI: 10.3923/rjmp.2011.515.530

Received: August 08, 2010; Accepted: December 21, 2010; Published: March 28, 2011


According to WHO (World Health Organization), 70% population of the world depend on Traditional Health Care System (THCS) for curing various diseases (WHO, 2002). It is well known that this system offers minimal side effects and relatively low cost as compared to other systems of medicine. This is the reason that patients in developing countries such as Bangladesh (90%), Myanmar (85%), India (80%), Nepal (75%), Srilanka (65%) and Indonesia (60%) have strong conviction in this system. In the Asia-Pacific region, 14 countries namely Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka in South Asia; Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam in Southeast Asia; China, Mongolia and South Korea in East Asia; and Fiji and Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific are actively involved in research and development of medicinal plants (Batugal et al., 2004). India is amongst the most important medicinal plant collection centers as it has about 27% of the total known medicinal plant species of the world (Kumar and Katakam, 2002). The potency of herbal plants is significant and they have negligible side effects than the synthetic antidiabetic drugs. There is increasing demand by patients to use the natural products with antidiabetic activity. In recent times there has been renewed interest in the plant remedies. Plants hold definite promises in the management of Diabetes mellitus. Isolation and identification of active constituents from these plants, preparation of standardized dose and dosage regimen can play a significant role in improving the hypoglycaemic action (Joseph and Jiinni, 2011) Across the country, 90% diversity of medicinal plants occurs in the wide range of forest types (21 forest types) and only about 10% are restricted to non-forest habitats. Particularly, the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) supports major part of this diversity of medicinal plants is clearly evident in the records revealing 1,748 species in the region (Samant et al., 1998). This is the reason that major part of the exported raw material originates from the Himalayan region (Rawat and Garg, 2005). Shawl et al. (2006) proposed that Oil produced under Kashmir conditions is quite competitive to best geranium oil produced in South India. Moreover the odor and evaluation studied by a leading perfumer have found that the oil is higly acceptable to the user industry.

India occupies a premier position in the use of herbal drugs utilizing nearly 2,500 plant species in different formulations. Estimated number of medicinal drug-manufacturing units in India is over 7800 which consume about 2000 tonnes of herbs annually (Ramakrishnappa, 2002). Over 500 million people of the country receive the benefits of THCS with nearly 460,000 practitioners of the system. The traditional knowledge of medicinal plant diversity and THCS are main income generating resources of underprivileged communities (Myers, 1991; Lacuna-Richman, 2002). It is interesting to know that the ancient Indians were acquainted with larger number of plants than the natives of any other country of the word. This is clearly evident by the ancient Indian treatise such as ‘Materia Medica’, ‘Nighantus’ and ‘Koshas’. The documentation of traditional knowledge of medicine has gained a wide recognition due to an escalating faith in herbal medicines (Jain, 1991; Kaul et al., 1995). The knowledge of herbal remedies in ethnic communities (#4,635) across the various ecosystems from Trans-Himalayas to southern tips and West-cost to four corners of the North-East part of India is very high. Kashmir Himalayas, one of the most beautiful parts of the IHR harbors a large number of medicinal plants (Singh, 1995). A perusal of literature indicates that the documentation of ethno-botany of Lidder valley (Sharma and Jamwal, 1988)Ladakh (Bhattacharyya 1989; Kaul et al., 1995)Doda (Kaul et al., 1994; Singh 1995) Bhaderwah hills (Kapur, 1995) Little Tibet (Sharma, 1995) Uri sector (Lone, 2003) Muzaffarabad (Dar, 2003) and Samahni valley (Ishtiaq et al., 2006a,b, 2007) of Kashmir Himalayas has been done. However, northern region of Kashmir in spite of being great repository of medicinal plants (Dhar and Kachroo, 1983) remained unexplored in this regards. Also, there is no information available on conservation status and trade of medicinal plants of the region. Therefore, the present study was carried out (i) to document traditional knowledge and practices among rural communities; (ii) to assess conservation status of medicinal plants; and (iii) to understand market chain of medicinal plants trade in the northern region of Kashmir Himalayas.


Description of the study area: Kashmir is one of the provinces of Jammu & Kashmir State located in the laps of Himalaya decorated with snow covered, silver-headed mountains, magical halcyon lakes and green grass lands. The study area falls under north Kashmir comprises of district Baramulla and Kupwara lies between 330 22' and 370 06' N latitude and 720 30' and 770 03' E longitude. The climate of the area is of Mediterranean type with four distinct seasons, viz., Spring (March-May), Summer (June-August), Autumn (September-November) and Winter (December-February). The monthly mean temperature ranges from -00.3°C in January to 30.4°C in August. Geologically, the mountains enclosing the area are comprised of complex crystalline rocks such as granite, genesis and schists and sedimentary rocks such as slates, phyllites and schists with embedded lime stone.

Survey, sampling and documentation of traditional knowledge: During 2003-2004, the ethno-medicinally important six areas/sites in each district: Baramulla (Tangmerg, Yarikheh, Buniyar, Shadara, Bonakote and Wanpora) and Kupwara (Kalaroce, Khurhama, Tangdhar, Keran, Jumgund and Budnamel) were selected for the study. The areas/sites were visited regularly for one year with special emphasis to the period of collection/extraction of medicinal plants during April to November. Professional herbalists (Hakeems), occasional practitioners and experienced established prescribers were approached, brought into confidence and interviewed. To avoid erroneous identification, knowledgeable persons and herbalists were taken to the forests to verify the plant samples. Questionnaire method was adopted to gather quantitative information about the medicinal plants and their utilization by the local peoples. The common name of the plant, medicinal uses and practices (mode of administration and dosages) were recorded for each claim. Each specimen having an accession number was identified with the help of local floras (Dhar and Kachroo, 1983; Sharma and Jamwal, 1998) and deposited in Herbarium section of Sheri Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology, Shalimar, Srinagar (J and K). This study was carried out to fulfill the partial requirement of the degree of Master of Science by the first author.

Conservation status of medicinal plants: The valuable information regarding plant abundance, distribution and localities of their maximum availability were collected from the local people especially from plant collectors of the area. This information was confirmed with regular field visits. Keeping some parameters in to consideration, personal observations including range of extent, area of occupancy, exploitation level, plant availability, habitat alternation, conservation efforts, plant part collection techniques, threats (pollution, urbanization, lack of awareness, deforestation, etc.) were also made in the field. Based on the above, these species were categorized into Critically endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), Vulnerable (VU) and Rare (R) following IUCN criteria (IUCN, 1993). The plants which did not fall in these categories were considered as ‘Secure’ (S) in the study area.

Trade of medicinal plants: Collectors, Traders, Hakeems and Consumers were interviewed to understand the market chain of medicinal plants in the region


Traditional uses and practices: A brief set of information including botanical name, local name, family, source of raw material, conservation status and traditional knowledge and practices (part used, mode of administration and dosages) of medicinal plants used by the inhabitants of north Kashmir is given in Table 1. A sum of eighty species (69 herbs (2 fungus), 7 shrubs and 2 trees) of medicinal plants representing 43 families and 72 genus were recorded. Lamiaceae (11 spp.), Asteraceae (9 spp.), Apiaceae (4 spp.), Rosaceae and Polygonaceae (3 spp. each) were dominant families and 29 families were monotypic. Adiantum, Artemisia, Chenopodium, Malva, Mentha, Plantago, Salvia and Viola (2 spp. each) were dominant genus.

Table 1: Traditional knowledge and practices of medicinal plants used by the inhabitants of north-Kashmir Himalaya
Abbreviations used: W: Wild, C: Cultivated, H: Herb, S: Shrub, T: Tree, Fg: Fungus, CR: Critically Endangered, EN: Endangered, VU: Vulnerable, R: Rare, S: Secure, WP: Whole Plant RS: Root stock, WF: Whole fruiting body, BR: Bark of roots, ST: Stem, SE: Seeds, LE: Leaves, FL: Flowers, F: Fronds and FR: Fruits

Analysis of utilization pattern of these species indicates that the whole plant (43 spp.), root stock (16 spp.), leaves (4 spp.), flowers (4 spp.), stem (2 spp.), seeds (2 spp.), bark of roots (1 spp.) and fronds (1 spp.) have been used to cure various diseases. In some diseases, plant parts (7 spp.) are used in combination. Major diseases and conditions cured by these plants include “Hasub”, asthma, rheumatism, ulcer, diarrhea, poliomyelitis, chronic fever, stomach pain, abdominal pain, sterility in females, snake bite, dysentery, body swellings, boils, headache, burns, wounds, cough, allergies, eye diseases, general weakness, throat infection, etc. and some species as antiseptic, hair tonic and insecticides. The “Hasub” has been found to be the most prevalent disease among children at the age group of 1 month to 3 years old and is characterized by frequent diarrhea, with green stool. This disease is cured by 0.5-1mL extract of root of Inula racemosa which is taken once a day in alternate days till cure. According to local people, this disease is not cured by allopathic medicines and they are urged to resort to local herbalist. Poliomyelitis is another acute disease among the children of 2 to 5 years of age. The extract of roots and leaves of Sambucus wightiana are prepared and its 1-1.5 drops are given orally twice a day once a week. Likewise, asthma is the most prevalent disease among the adults which is cured by using the species like Angelica glauca, Althaea rosa, Atropa acuminata, Polygonum amplexicaulis, etc. Morchella esculenta is claimed to be used for back pain, rheumatism and as an anticancerous drug. The whole fruiting body of this fungus is dried in sunlight and then crushed into powder. The powder is mixed with oil or ghee and eggs without yolk to make a paste. Paste is rubbed over painful portion twice a day or 0.5-1mL of extract is taken once a day for 25-60 days. Besides above, one interesting claim for throat infection or swelling and chest congestion was recorded. In which, the flowers of Viola odorata and sugar are mixed in 1:3 ratios and kept in closed tin for 20-40 days. This is locally called as “Khambir”. Half spoon of “Khambir” is taken once a day mostly early in the morning. Some of the these claims are very similar to that reported by Sharma and Jamwal (1988), Bhattacharyya (1989), Kaul et al. (1995), Singh (1995), Kapur (1995), Sharma (1995), Lone (2003) from different part of Kashmir Himalayas.

Conservation status: In recent years, the demand of Indian medicinal plants has increased considerably at national and global markets. India is second largest volume exporter of raw herbal drugs to the global market (Lange, 1997). Keeping this in view, the country has planned to increase the trade of medicinal plant extracts to 3,000 Crores by year 2005 and 10,000 Crores by year 2010 (Bhattacharya and Mittra 2002). In fact, a huge volume of raw material of medicinal plants is required to meet this goal within stipulated time. For that, wild populations of medicinal plants have been targeted which are the main source of raw materials and only a minor fraction of the requirement is met from cultivation (Dhar et al., 2000). Of the total medicinal plants known worldwide, agrotechnology of about 1% and propagation protocol of <10% species is available so far (Lozoya, 1994; Khan and Khanum, 2000). The overharvesting or unsustainable manner of harvesting coupled with other biotic and abiotic factors have brought a sizeable number of medicinal plants to the brink of extinction (Nayar and Sastry, 1987, 1988, 1990) or facing various categories of threats (CAMP, 2003). The situation assumes more alarming with respect to the species endemic to Himalayan ecosystem and if lasts, they will lost from biological world itself. It is estimated that 4000 to 10,000 medicinal plant species might now be endangered at global level (Edwards, 2004). In the present study, it was noted that the majority of the species (71 species) used for medicine were collected from the wild, only 4 species from cultivation and 5 species from the both sources (Table 1). It is a well known fact that the wild populations of medicinal plants are the main source of raw materials to the pharmaceutical industries (Ved et al., 1998). Assessment of conservation status of the above medicinal plants showed 9 species viz., Aconitum heterophyllum, Angelica glauca, Arnebia benthamii, Berberis aristata, Geranium wallichianum, Morchella esculantum, Inula racemosa, Saussurea costus and Rheum emodi as Critically endangered, 14 Endangered, 24 Vulnerable, 28 Rare and only 5 species as Secure in the area. Except Geranium wallichianum and Morchella esculantum all these species have already been reported as threatened for Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand (CAMP, 2003). Although, earlier these herbs were gathered especially for own consumption or by local herbalist, but due to increasing demand of raw materials at local, national and international markets, they are being indiscriminately harvested for the commercial purposes. Such malpractices prevalent throughout the Himalayan region have posed these plants at the brink of extinction (Ved et al., 1998; Dhar et al., 2000; Kala, 2000). It was also noted in the present study that due to absence of adequate modern healthcare facilities in the region the dependency of local inhabitants on indigenous medicine is very high.

Trade: The market sector of medicinal plants in Indian Himalaya is not well established and is generally unregulated. In the study region, local people are involved in collection and trade of medicinal plants to sustain their basic needs of livelihood. The market channel of medicinal plants trade in north Kashmir is shown in Fig. 1 which is identical to the market channel existed in Himachal Pradesh (Butola and Badola, 2008). According to local collectors and traders of medicinal plants, the demand of some species like Aconitum heterophyllum, Angelica glauca, Podophyllum hexandrum and Saussurea costus is very high but supply is low which is due to rare populations and absence of cultivation of these medicinal plants. Generally, three main stakeholders viz., collectors, traders and pharmaceutical industries, are involved in medicinal plants trade. Amongst them, the major beneficiaries are traders and pharmaceutical industries. The collectors, generally the villagers, are not aware of the end products (formulations) and huge profits earned by the traders.

Fig. 1: Market channel and representatives involved in medicinal plant trade in North Kashmir


Medicinal plants are now emerging as an important bio-resource. Earlier they have been used only by specialized herbal healers and rural communities, but now the herbal products have become the first choice of every household. Undoubtedly, there efficiency in controlling human aliments together with no side effect has brought a great recognition to these valuable species. Documentation of rare and highly efficacies claims of health care among the hill communities have been practiced by different institutions and interested individuals. Such documents are widely considered as an asset for welfare of the present and future generations. The traditional knowledge and practices of medicinal plants among rural communities of north Kashmir against different diseases like “Hasub”, asthma, rheumatism, ulcer, diarrhea, poliomyelitis, chronic fever, stomach pain, abdominal pain, sterility in females, snake bite, dysentery, body swellings, boils, headache, burns, wounds, cough, allergies, eye diseases, general weakness, throat infection, etc. have great significance considering high cost and side effects of allopathic medicine. On the other hand, due to unsustainable harvesting, over harvesting, deforestation and uncontrolled grazing, medicinal plant diversity of north Kashmir is being largely threatened and many species have come under Critically endangered category. It is high time that a feasible conservation strategy and action plan should be formulated and implemented effectively in order to save this high value dwindling resource. The situation is more alarming in absence of any cultivation practices and therefore, the cultivation of these species should be promoted on priority basis. The indigenous extraction and drug formation practices recorded in the present study should be tested and standardized on scientific scale. The commercial harvesting of threatened medicinal plants should be banned, strictly. Most importantly, the native communities need to be sensitized to the sustainable use and conservation value of these species.


We gratefully acknowledge SKUAST-K, Shalimar, Srinagar (J and K) for providing key facilities to manuscript preparation. Thanks are also due to local people especially to Hakeems, Traders and Forest workers for kind co-operation and providing desired information during the course of study.

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