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An Ethnomedicinal Survey and Documentation of Important Medicinal Folklore Food Phytonims of Flora of Samahni Valley, (Azad Kashmir) Pakistan

Muhammad Ishtiaq, Wajahat Hanif, M.A. Khan, M. Ashraf and Ansar M. Butt
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Ethnobotanical knowledge is one of the precious cultural heritage parts of an area that involves the interaction between plants and people and foremost among these are the management of plant diversity by indigenous communities and the traditional use of medicinal plants. An ethnobotanical analysis was conducted in order to document the traditional medicinal uses of plants, particularly medicinally important folklore food phytonims of flora of Samahni valley, Azad Kashmir (Pakistan). In the valley, inhabitants use different taxa of flora in two different ways; herbal medicines and food (vegetable and fruits) medicines. The distinctive geographic position and historic demological background of the area keep folk phytotherapy potential of medicinal herbs hitherto alive, which are used in various forms; as regular herbal medicines prescribed by Hakeems (herbal practitioners) and as food (medicines) recepies suggested by elder people. Among these, some herbs are used as single remedy while others depict better curative effects in synergistic mode against various ailments. Some interesting and uncommon findings are as; Sisymbrium irio is used for treatment of measles, asthma; Solanum miniatum to cure urinary calculi, heart pain, rheumatism, Momordica balsamina leaves as wound healer; Allium sativum bulb juice as anti cancer, contraceptive, blood pressure; Boerhavia diffusa roots as anti jaundice, anemia, edema; Capsicum annuum fruit as omen against evil eye and giant, yellow fever; Corriandrum sativum seeds as diuretic, anti spermatogenesis; Raphanus sativus seeds against syphilis; Solanum miniatum fruit for treatment of enlarged spleen and liver; seed's oil of Pisum sativum as anti spermatogenesis; Bauhinia variegata for skin diseases, ulcers; Malva sylvestris for cough, bladder ulcer; Phoenix sylvestris kernel as anti-aging tonic; Phyllanthus emblica for diuretic, anemia, biliousness; Terminalia chebula to cure chronic ulcers, carious teeth pain, heart problems; Veronica anthelmintica for bandage of broken bones and Withania coagulans is used to treat small pox. Many wild plants are eaten green and raw as salad, or in boiled form of soup as blood and intestine cleansing tonics. Moreover, some plants are spiritually recorded as sacred and used as ritual plant for good omens or against the evil eye and removal of giant. About 95 species of 38 families were recorded to be important part of phyto heritage of folk pharmacopoeia of Samahni valley. Among most frequent used families are Papilionaceae 9.47%, Solanaceae and Poaceae 8.42% each, Cucurbitaceae 7.36% and Brassicaceae and Rosaceae 6.31% each. Among the surveyed families used to treat various diseases, Solanaceae is at first rank with 9.74%, Brassicaceae 8.23% and Cucurbitaceae 7.39% subsequently. Most commonly used families with highest percentage of plants used as food medicines are Solanaceae (11.37%), Brassicaceae (8.38%) and Papilionaceae (7.18%) respectively. Most frequent plant parts used are; roots, leaves, seeds and flowers while popular forms of plants uses are decoction, poultice, infusions, soups and raw form as salad. Importance of ethnobotanical inventory constructed from ethnomedicinal uses and folklore phytonims of flora in perspectives of initiative for future phytochemical and pharmacological research on these taxa to develop and discover of new drugs is present and discussed.

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Muhammad Ishtiaq, Wajahat Hanif, M.A. Khan, M. Ashraf and Ansar M. Butt, 2007. An Ethnomedicinal Survey and Documentation of Important Medicinal Folklore Food Phytonims of Flora of Samahni Valley, (Azad Kashmir) Pakistan. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences, 10: 2241-2256.

DOI: 10.3923/pjbs.2007.2241.2256



Ethnobotanical knowledge is one of the precious cultural heritage part of an area that depicts the life-style and relationship of local community with their environment and their mutual interaction has profound importance for long term survival of people and biodiversity in an ecosystem. Generally, ethnobotanical studies involve the interaction between plants and people and foremost among these are the management of plant diversity by indigenous communities and the traditional use of medicinal plants. The vast body of indigenous knowledge concerning biodiversity is vanishing with the destruction of ecosystems and traditional cultures throughout the world. This destruction has led to an increased awareness of the necessity of ethnobotanical research. Medicinal plants provide health security to millions of rural people all over the world. According to WHO estimations over 80% of people in developing countries depend on traditional medicines for their primary health needs (Farnsworth and Soejarto, 1991). Demand for medicinal plant is increasing in both developing and developed countries due to growing recognition of natural products, being non-narcotic, having no side-effects, easily available at affordable prices and often the only source of healthcare facility available to the poor communities.

A detailed systematic exploration of traditional ethnobotanical knowledge of flora of Samahni valley is inevitable because of its geographic and historic importance as well as industrial encroachment has not yet completely diminished folklore medicines. The present article describes ethno-pharmaco importance of flora of Samahni valley being used as regular herbal medicines or conventional (food) medicines as vegetables and fruits. Albeit plants described here as food medicines are used frequently and but little is known about practice of food therapy in literature about this valley. Such medicines cuisines have key and vital role in traditional folk medicinal practices in human history (John, 1980; Etkin and Ross, 1993; Etkin, 1994, 1996). Some of these phytonims or recipes are very historical since they are practised since ancient times.

Samahni is one of the most beautiful valleys of state of Azad Kashmir (Pakistan), located in zone of district Bhimber (A.K). Geographically it is located between 33.05°N latitude and 74.82°E longitude. The valley is encompassed by district Mirpur and (Tehsil) Bhimber on western and southern sides, respectively. On other two sides it shares its boundary with Jammu and Kashmir (Occupied Kashmir). The valley has typically mountainous terrain ca.975 m above sea level, with north and south facing high and lofty hills with variable vegetation distribution due to different altitude and topography (Muhammad Ishtiaq et al., 2006a). The annual rainfall is abundant ca. 150 cm, with variable temperature ranging between 1-42°C. Major economic source of inhabitants is agriculture, sale of wild medicinal plants, forest products, but other sources as business and other governmental or non-governmental services also provide subsistence for livelihood (Muhammad Ishtiaq et al., 2006b).

Different ethnic tribes residing in far and remote parts of the valley harbour the vast diversified flora. But recently, there is growing trend towards modernization, so traditional agro-sylvo-pastoral life style is being declined gradually. But in some parts of valley ethnic minorities still solely depend on local traditional ethnopharmacological recipes as in form of botanic drugs or food therapies to cure various ailments. Some ethnobotanical research work has been conducted on different areas of Azad Kashmir (Shahzad et al., 1999; Shahzad and Qureshi, 2001; Dastagir, 2001; Bukhari, 1996; Rasool, 1998; Gorsi and Shahzad, 2002). Although some ethnobotanical research on Samahni valley has reported previously by Muhammad Ishtiaq et al. (2001) and (2006a,b), but perusal of literature indicates that hitherto no comprehensive ethnobotanical survey about local flora used as herbal medicines and particularly as folklore phytonims (food medicines) of plants has been conducted or published on Samahni valley of Azad Kashmir, Pakistan.

The aim of present study was to focus on documentation of these precious historic and cultural ethnomedicinal uses of the flora being used in form of herbal drugs or conventional (traditional food phytonims) medicines (vegetable/fruits) in local pharmacopoeias. This attempt of documentation of regular herbal medicinal and conventional food medicinal uses of plants will provide incentives for preservation of traditions and culture of Samahni valley on one hand and on other side it will also help in conservation of biodiversity and initiation of incentives for phytochemical investigations on medicinally important species to develop and produce new drugs.


Generally, well planned experimental design produces good results. Different methodologies are being used to document the ethnomedicinal knowledge by different ethnobotanists. For this ethnobotanical survey plan was designed, structured and random interview methods were applied according to Martin’s protocol (Martin, 1995). The folklore medicinal knowledge was recorded during planned field trips, conducting regular interview with well knowledged people of the area comprising of 20 Hakeems (doctor who prescribes regular herbal medicines), 15 Sanyasies (person who usually lives in forests and has fair knowledge of herbs) and 10 Bokarwals (tribes who live in mountains as nomadic tribes) because regular herbal and phytotherapeutical knowledge resides with medicines men and women. The interviewees were mostly men (45-70 years old) and only few ladies (40-55 years old) because former explore forests more frequently than latter ones. For data collection of conventional (food) medicinal uses of plants, a comprehensive survey was carried to collect informations. In this case no criteria were selected; because purpose of this work was to assess the breadth of popular heritage in the field of food medicines, knowledge of which is wide spread among the communities. For this 500 people without regard of their gender and age were interviewed randomly from different villages of valley so that data collected represent views and knowledge of broad community of the area. Among the informants 250 were farmers, herbs collectors (women) the others mainly building workers, restaurateurs, shepherds and housewives. A questionnaire was filled in order document ethnomedicinal data and it was compared with previously cited literature. The inhabitants described medicinal uses of plants in local dialects and usually ranked the plant according to its medical uses as it good, it is very good or it is excellent tonic for this diseases. The herbs were said to be used in different forms as poultice, juice, decoction, infusions, or simple fresh plant. It was preferred to classify the plants according to their importance as food medicines by analyzing different assertations which were made during survey. The obtained data of plants were divided into four classes according to their intensity of usefulness as food medicines: no use, little use, fair use and high use. The plants described by the community people were collected and their herbaria specimens were prepared, identified with help of literature available about flora of Pakistan (Stewart, 1982; Nasir and Ali, 1970-2002) and placed in herbarium of Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad, Pakistan, for future reference. The obtained ethno-pharmaco informations regarding the use of medicinal plants were compared with literature available Muhammad Ishtiaq et al. (2001) and (2006a-b). The interesting and uncommon uses of some taxa are presented and their medicinal importance is discussed.


In present ethnobotanical study of Samahni valley, it was observed that local inhabitants of area use many plants as ethnomedicinal herbs and as food medicines (Table 1). About 95 plant species are recorded which belong to 38 families with Papilionaceae 9.47%, Solanaceae and Poaceae 8.42% each, Cucurbitaceae 7.36% and, Brassicaceae and Rosaceae 6.31% each (Fig. 1). Among the surveyed families used to treat various diseases, Solanaceae is at first rank with 9.74%, Brassicaceae 8.23% and Cucurbitaceae 7.39% subsequently (Fig. 2). Most commonly used families with highest percentage of plants used as food medicines are Solanaceae (11.37%), Brassicaceae (8.38%) and Papilionaceae (7.18%) respectively (Fig. 3). Most frequent plant parts were recorded and their traditional ethnobotanical knowledge and medicinal properties were documented, as quoted by informants. Some of the recorded uses are common and already documented in scientific literature and others are original. Exotic species and other supposed health plants were not considered; only native plants of area are documented in this report. The most interesting uses and aspects of collected data are discussed.

New phytotherapeutic reports: The species presented in Table 1 were quoted by at least three informants and recorded data were compared with available literature. Uncommon and interesting uses were recorded for Allium sativum, Boerhavia diffusa, Capsicum annuum, Corriandrum sativum, Pisum sativum, Raphanus sativus and Solanum miniatum sp. For these botanicals, the folk phytonims prescriptions collected in study area are also unknown both in the old medical treatises and in the modern phytopharmacology.

Allium sativum: Its bulb is used as anticancer and effective in blood pressure problems. Its bulb extract is used as folklore medicine for female contraceptive for fertilization.

Boerhavia diffusa: Its roots are expectorant, antihelmintic. Its roots pieces are used as garland in neck of jaundice patient for relief as ritual plant. Its roots are very effective in anaemia, ascoites and edema.

Capsicum annuum: Its fruit is used treating scarlatina, dyspepsia and snakebite. It is considered a good omen plant against effects of evil eye and giant influence on a person.

Corriandrum sativum: Its seeds soaked in water overnight are used as birth control by check of spermatogenesis. Its fruit is also good in aphrodisiac, anti-biliousness and preventing foul breath.

Table 1: Ethnobotanical and food medicinal uses of plants of Samahni valley (A.K.)

Pisum sativum: Its seed’s flour is emollient and resolvent in sprain and applied in cataplasm. Seed oil has anti-sex hormonic effect and antagonizes male sex hormone and is being used as birth control folk medicine.

Raphanus sativus: Its leaves juice is effective in dysuria, calculus and strangury. Root is given in urinary and syphilis diseases. Its seeds are peptic and emmengogue.

Solanum miniatum: Its leaves as poultice are effective in rheumatism and gout joints pain. Its fruit is used a good against leprosy, enlargement of spleen and liver, hydrophobia.

Malva sylvestris: It is used to cure cough and chronic bladder ulcer.

Terminalia chebula: It used to cure chronic ulcers, wounds healer tonic for carious teeth pain and to cure heart problems.

Medicinal plants as food medicine: About 85% recorded plants also play a role as food medicine. It was observed for home-made food phytonims have an important medicinal digestive spirits in the traditional culture of the area. As these plants are common part of daily food phytonims, so their medicinal importance is usually under estimated or ignored. In particular, Raphanus sativus, Corriandrum sativum, Allium cepa, Terminalia bolerica, Mentha sativus and Ceropegia bulbosa aerial parts, roots and seeds are normally used as stomachic, digestive and as anti flatulence curatives. Other group of plants, which includes condiments and spices have important medicinal role as food medicines. Many wild and cultivated species are being used as flavouring agents and carminatives in daily dishes. The most commonly used plants are Daucus carota, Capsicum annuum, Brassica nigra, Carum carvi, Citrus aurantifolia, Foeniculum vulgare, Cuminum cyminum and Hyoscymus niger. These are used to flavour and make dish more digestible with high fat or protein contents. Some times these taxa are also separately used as medicinal herbs in form of infusions or decoctions to provide relief by food therapy approach. Some of plants which are usually used as salads or in boiled mixtures; sometimes also in the form of vegetable soups and their food medicinal role is well recognizable in folklore phytonims. There are taken as soups or salads to clean heat of stomach, blood purifier and as liver and intestine cleansing tonic with diuretic or mild laxative properties. The herbs used comprise of Raphanus sativus, Malva sylvestris, Foeniculum vulgare, Sonchus asper, Hyoscymus niger, Portulaca oleraceae, Abelmoschus esculentus, Amaranthus viridus, Daucus carota and Hordeum vulgare.

Fig. 1: No. of plants being used as ethnomedicines of each family in Samahni valley

Fig. 2: No. of diseases treated by (different plants) each family

Fig. 3: Family wise use of plants as food medicines

Many ethnomedicinal uses of the surveyed species are not quoted by modern pharmacognosy, phytochemistry and further research is needed in this field. This green food (usually used as salad) and group of herbs used as condiments have the highest informant census values, which confirm their wide, spread popular recognition in communities’ daily lives.

To represent the best range of use of ethnomedicines, more attention should be paid in the ethnobotanical survey that it should represent the whole or maximum community of the Samahni valley. Moreover, ethnobotanical surveys about wild species should incorporate very rare and uncommon herbs also with documenting about their medicinal consumption in culture of the area. The evidence about the herbs ingested in traditional diets (food phytonims) play a vital role as modulators in human metabolism has been well discussed in previous research (Johns and Chapman, 1995; Johns 1996). Another interesting perspective of plants use in traditional foods is considered to be healthful and some times as home tonic to cure minor troubles. Perceptions as folklore food medicine are sometimes remarkable, as use of tea of Viola biflora is good reliever of seasonal flu, cold, cough and bronchial afflictions. Other sorts of foods, typically prepared as hot snacks are fairly liked by women and children, during little breaks from schools, or even concurrent with other activities.

Ritual medicinal plants: Although, major community of the valley believes in religion Islam, yet more or less they believe in some superstitions. Some plants are given sacred rank and visited regularly to cure or avoid some fatal or epidemic diseases. They are also considered to protect the babies, home or any lovely animal from effects of bad eye, or from ghost. This type of medicinal uses (spiritual or psychological treatment) is still alive in the culture of the valley. This traditional superstitious therapy related with some plants is also alive in other developing parts of world and even in some European countries (Coris et al., 1981; Hoefler, 1908; Hansel et al., 1993; Teti, 1995; Hoffmann and Bachtold 1942; Ratsch, 1995). The ritual plants of the valley include a specific use of Clematis vitalaba, Boerhavia diffusa, Capsicum sativum and Solanum miniatum to get rid of evil effects of bad eye effects or ghosts. The plants which are reputed to be actively used are mostly wild species; perhaps morphological aspects could have played a role in their identification and uses.


From this ethnobotanical and ethnomedicinal survey findings we conclude that about 95 species represent the heritage of the folk food medicine of Samahni valley. This ethnomedicinal survey will initiate incentives for further studies concerning to quantify this data considering all biological and pharmacological parameters to evaluate their drug development potency. A comprehensive ethnomedicinal survey about wild food species in the area is inevitable to record remaining all ethnomedicinal data in the valley. For local communities of Samahni valley, this research would stimulate the implementation of ‘recollected’ data inside concrete eco-sustainable interdisciplinary projects, involving natural, social, cultural and economic aspects. It will help to preserve biodiversity of the area on one side and on other hand it will motivate the communities to grow these plants massively in their fields that will increase individual’s income and also indirectly boost up the economy of the area.


Special thanks are due to Prof. Dr. Mir Ajab Khan Q. A.U. Islamabad, Pakistan, who helped in identification of specimens collected and manipulation of this huge data in a typical form. Also thanks to all the informants of the Samahni valley, who volunteered to share their precious experiences about the medicinal plants of the valley.

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