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Ethnomedicinal Uses of Tree Species by Tharu Tribes in the Himalayan Terai Region of India



Omesh Bajpai, Jitendra Pandey and Lal Babu Chaudhary
 
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ABSTRACT

The present investigation aimed at documenting medicinally important species of trees used by Tharu tribe in the Himalayan Terai region of India. Out of 204 tree species belonging to 143 genera and 50 families reported in this study, uses of 148 species have been recorded from this region for the first time. Twenty nine leguminous species belonging to 16 genera are most commonly used by tribal people of the region. Eight species of Ficus are used in different diseases. About 75% of total tree species of medicinal uses have been found in wild habitat while the remaining species are cultivated. It has been noticed that bark is one of the frequently utilized plant parts by the tribe. In such diseases as diarrhoea, skin problems, dysentery, fever, ulcer, rheumatism, wounds, diabetes, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, more than one plant species are used. Over all, more than 86 health-related issues are bing cured utilizing ethnomedicinally important tree species. It has also been observed that the majority of youth in Tharu tribe are very less aware of their ethnic knowledge and are also not so much interested in such learning. Thus, a precise documentation of these information with traditional knowledge base from the ethnic people has great relevance for the human welfare. The study suggests the need for training local people for sustainable utilization of these plant resources and their proper conservation. The youth should be encouraged learning to sustain their ethnic wisdom which would also help creating employment among local inhabitants.

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Omesh Bajpai, Jitendra Pandey and Lal Babu Chaudhary, 2016. Ethnomedicinal Uses of Tree Species by Tharu Tribes in the Himalayan Terai Region of India. Research Journal of Medicinal Plants, 10: 19-41.

DOI: 10.3923/rjmp.2016.19.41

URL: https://scialert.net/abstract/?doi=rjmp.2016.19.41
 
Received: September 03, 2015; Accepted: October 28, 2015; Published: November 23, 2015



INTRODUCTION

Although, the allopathic way of treatment has advanced rapidly, about 64% of world population still depend on the traditional medicine system for health care (Farnsworth, 1994). Major population of traditional users is represented by rural and tribal people of developing countries. These people are using neighbouring plant species for treatment of diseases by choice or due to lack of money or access to allopathic treatment (Prance, 1991; Qureshi et al., 2006). These ethnic people are using plant based remedies since the time of immemorial in different parts of the world. Their knowledge bank is the result of obligation to nature and long-term experience of trials, observations and errors (Sen et al., 2011). The study of such prehistoric knowledge base comes under ethnobotany or ethnomedicine (Harshberger, 1895; Jain, 1995). It is now well recognised source of knowledge wherein 2500 medicinal plants are introduced to modern world and much more yet to be explored (Huxley, 1984).

In India, about 65% of total (Timmermans, 2003) and 85% of the rural (Jain, 1994) population depend on such traditional knowledge for healthcare. India has a tremendous wealth of medicinal plants due to its unique geography, climate and environmental conditions (Kshirsagar and Singh, 2000). The country has an ancient cultural background and about 300 tribal communities with 53 million population (Reddy et al., 2010). These people are using 7000-7500 plants to overcome different kind of health problems (Matthews, 2005; Mao et al., 2009; Survase and Raut, 2011). The traditional knowledge has been documented time to time in our ancient Vidic and Pauranic literature which founded the base of the well known Ayurvedic system of medicine (Charak, 1996). Rigveda (~1500 BC), Yajurveda (~1100 BC), Atharvaveda (~1000 BC), Charak Samhita (~700 BC) and Sushrut Samhita (~200 BC) have demarcated about 81, 290, 1100 and 1270 species, respectively for healthcare uses (Uniyal et al., 2002; Das et al., 2009; Singh et al., 2012). Unani, Siddha and Amchi medicine systems also provide a valuable source of knowledge of medicinal plants by prescribing about 700, 600 and 600 species, respectively (Joy et al., 1998; Ahmad et al., 2006; Samy et al., 2008; Sen et al., 2011) for healthcare uses. Although, a number of plants have already been described in the ancient literature, the documentation of these ethnic values is still required to catch-up the incredible traditional wisdom (Sikarwar, 2001; Sikarwar et al., 2008; Rana et al., 2010; De et al., 2010; Sen et al., 2011; Kumar, 2013). Despite the fact that a number of ethnobotanical studies have been conducted throughout the country (Padhye et al., 1992; Chaudhari and Hutke, 2002; Sharma and Mujumdar, 2003; Pattanaik et al., 2006; Reddy et al., 2006; Prasad et al., 2008; Mao et al., 2009; Shukla et al., 2010; Gupta et al., 2010; Narayanan et al., 2011; Mehra et al., 2014), there are a number of missing links which are yet to be explored. Lack of proper documentation and oral communication of such knowledge base from one to another generation are forcing towards a heed for scientific exploration and documentation of medicinal knowledge before it faces the risk of extinction (Sajise, 1995; Murthy, 2012).

The Himalayan Terai region is one of the highly divers and rich eco-regions of India (Bajpai et al., 2012a, b, 2015a). The region spreads along the foothills of the central Himalaya in the north of Indo-Gangetic plain (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar). The similar region below the eastern Himalaya is named as ‘Dooars’ (Bajpai et al., 2015b). It is ethnobotanically rich region due to the presence of ‘Tharu’ tribal communities since long back (Singh et al., 2012). The population census 2011 reveals about 1,69,209 people in Tharu communities in the country, of which about 50% live in Uttar Pradesh alone, with majority in Maharajganj, Gorakhpur, Siddharthnagar, Balrampur, Shravasti, Baharaich and Lakhimpur-Kheri districts. Recent studes indicate that Tharu population is suffering from rapid cultural degradation due to changing socio-economic conditions (Hamilton, 1995; Kumar et al., 2006; Singh et al., 2012). Thus, there is an urgent need to collect and record the ethnobotanical information from this region before these being vanished completely (Kumar et al., 2006; Ong et al., 2011).

A literature survey reveals that in the Himalayan Terai region of Uttar Pradesh, most of the scattered ethnobotanical studies so far have been concentrated in the eastern (Singh et al., 1987; Singh and Maheshwari, 1992; Kumar et al., 2006, 2012, 2013a) and western regions (Singh et al., 1979; Maheshwari et al., 1981; Maliya, 2011; Mohammad et al., 2011; Kumar et al., 2013b). A comprehensive documentation from this biodiversity rich area is lacking. The present study was conducted covering the entire Terai region of the state to collect ethnomedical knowledge exclusively about the tree species being considered among the most valuable life forms in the region.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Study area: The Terai region in Uttar Pradesh spreads from Saharanpur to Deoria covering 21 districts of the State. The region representing 30-50 km wide and ca. 1,670 km long strip with the elevation ranging from 100-300 m, situated between 28°45’-26°15’ N and 79°51’-84°24’ E. For the safeguard of the biodiversity, one national park and six wildlife sanctuaries have been declared by the government in this region (Fig. 1). The study area witnesses monsoon type of climate with three different seasons; winter (November-February), summer (April-June) and rainy (July-September). Spring (March) and autumn (October) represent transition months. Mean minimum temperature varies from 4-5°C in December-January and maximum 40-45°C in May-June. The average annual rainfall ranges from 1085-1228 mm.

Tribal community: Since the Tharus are the dominant tribal community of the study area, they have been considered for collection of ethnomedical information about the tree species. They are the natural inhabitant in the Himalayan Terai region. Their population spreads from Champaran district of Bihar to Nainital district of Uttarakhand and in the adjacent Terai area of Nepal. According to Singh (1965), they are predominantly Mongoloids with certain non-Mongoloids features.

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Fig. 1:Location of study area

They are endogenously sub-grouped into Badwayak, Battha, Birtiya, Bunka, Buxa, Dahait, Dangauria, Dhangra, Jugia, Kathuria, Kochila, Mahto, Mech, Rajia, Rana, Rawat and Sansa (Singh et al., 2012). Presently, about 90% of the Tharu population is engaged with small-scale agriculture, but still some aboriginal population lives in and around the forests and is dependent on the forest products for daily uses and needs (Singh, 1965; McLean, 1999; Verma, 2011).

Data collection: The entire study area was explored comprehensively during the last three years from 2011-2013 to collect and document medicinally important tree species. The ethnomedical information about the tree species of the study area was collected through interviewing the Vaidhya (tribal medicine men), Pujari (Hindu priests), elderly men and women using a questionnaire fallowing, Jain (1995) and Martin (1995). Since these people believe that disclosing the medicinal values of a plant will demolish the therapeutic property of that plant and will not be able to cure the sickness, they are apprehensive to share their knowledge. To build confidence with these people, the first author lived in the tribal villages for many weeks and organised group discussions with the resource persons to explain them the importance of their cooperation and knowledge sharing for the benefit of the society. The plant materials have been collected along with their ethnic uses and herbarium specimens were prepared following standard herbarium techniques (Lawrence, 1951; Jain and Rao, 1977) and deposited at LWG.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The study enumerates medicinal importance of 204 tree species (under 143 genera and 50 families) being used by the Tharu tribe of Terai region for treatment of various diseases (Table 1). Acacia catechu (L. f.) Willd., Aegle marmelos (L.) Correa, Alangium salvifolium (L.f.) Wang. Azadirachta indica A. Juss., Barringtonia acutangula (L.) Gaertn., Breynia vitis-idea (Burm. f.) C.E. Fischer, Careya arborea Roxb., Carissa carandas L., Citrus medica L., Cordia dichotoma G. Forst., Dalbergia lanceolaria L. f., Ficus benghalensis L., F. racemosa L., Flueggea virosa (Roxb. ex Willd.) Royle, Gmelina arborea Roxb. ex Sm., Grewia asiatica L., Holarrhena pubescens Wall. ex G. Don, Holoptelea i ntegrifolia (Roxb.) Planch., Kigelia africana (Lamk.) Benth., Litsea glutinosa (Lour.) Rob., Melia azedarach L., Mimusops elengi L., Mitragyna parvifolia (Roxb.) Korth., Moringa oleifera Lamk., Morus alba L., Murraya koenigii (L.) Spreng., Nyctanthes arbor-tristis L., Oroxylum indicum (L.) Vent., Ricinus communis L., Saraca asoca (Roxb.) de Wilde, Schleichera oleosa (Lour.) Merr., Semecarpus anacardium L. f., Stereospermum chelonoides (L. f.) DC., Streblus asper Lour., Strychnos nux-vomica L., Terminalia arjuna (Roxb. ex DC.) Wight and Arn., T. bellirica (Gaertn.) Roxb., T. chebula Retz. and Wrightia tinctoria R. Br. are some of the important and highly useful tree species being used by Tharus for different therapeutic purposes (Fig. 2-4). About 72% (148) of total medicinally useful tree species presented in this study are reported from the area for the first time. Fabaceae with 29 species belonging to 16 genera has been found highly used family followed by Malvaceae (18 species and 12 genera), Euphorbiaceae (13 species and 8 genera), Moraceae (12 species and 4 genera) and so on (Fig. 5). Some of the frequently used genera for the treatment of different diseases are Ficus (8 species), Bauhinia (6 species), Glochidion (5 species), Terminalia (5 species) and Grewia (5 species) (Fig. 6).

Table 1: List of medicinal tree species with local name, indigenous uses and source of collection
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Image for - Ethnomedicinal Uses of Tree Species by Tharu Tribes in the Himalayan Terai Region of India
Image for - Ethnomedicinal Uses of Tree Species by Tharu Tribes in the Himalayan Terai Region of India
Image for - Ethnomedicinal Uses of Tree Species by Tharu Tribes in the Himalayan Terai Region of India
Image for - Ethnomedicinal Uses of Tree Species by Tharu Tribes in the Himalayan Terai Region of India
Image for - Ethnomedicinal Uses of Tree Species by Tharu Tribes in the Himalayan Terai Region of India
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Image for - Ethnomedicinal Uses of Tree Species by Tharu Tribes in the Himalayan Terai Region of India
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#Uses of the species recorded in the present work, *Uses known earlier

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Fig. 2(a-o):
Some important medicinal tree species, (a) Acacia catechu (L. f.) Willd., (b) Aegle marmelos (L.) Correa, (c) Alangium salvifolium (L. f.) Wang., (d) Azadirachta indica A. Juss., (e) Barringtonia acutangula (L.) Gaertn., (f) Breynia vitis-idea (Burm. f.) C.E. Fischer, (g) Careya arborea Roxb., (h) Carissa carandas L., (i) Citrus medica L., (j) Cordia dichotoma G. Forst., (k) Dalbergia lanceolaria L. f., (l) Ficus benghalensis L., (m) F. racemosa L., (n) Flueggea virosa (Roxb. ex Willd.) Royle and (o) Gmelina arborea Roxb. ex Sm.

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Fig. 3(a-o):
Some important medicinal tree species , (a) Grewia asiatica L., (b) Holarrhena pubescens Wall. ex G. Don, (c) Holoptelea integrifolia (Roxb.) Planch., (d) Kigelia africana (Lamk.) Benth., (e) Litsea glutinosa (Lour.) Rob., (f) Melia azedarach L., (g) Mimusops elengi L., (h) Mitragyna parvifolia (Roxb.) Korth., (i) Moringa oleifera Lamk., (j) Morus alba L., (k) Murraya koenigii (L.) Spreng., (l) Nyctanthes arbor-tristis L., (m) Oroxylum indicum (L.) Vent., (n) Ricinus communis L. and (o) Saraca asoca (Roxb.) de Wilde.

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Fig. 4(a-i):
Some important medicinal tree species, (a) Schleichera oleosa (Lour.) Merr., (b) Semecarpus anacardium L. f., (c) Stereospermum chelonoides (L. f.) DC., (d) Streblus asper Lour., (e) Strychnos nux-vomica L., (f) Terminalia arjuna (Roxb. ex DC.) Wight and Arn., (g) T. bellirica (Gaertn.) Roxb., (h) T. chebula Retz. and (i) Wrightia tinctoria R. Br


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Fig. 5: Some highly used medicinal plant families with number of representing species and genera

With respect to different plant parts, bark is mostly used for maximum tree species (110), followed by leaves, root, fruits, seeds, flowers, gum and latex (Fig. 7). Out of total recorded species, 155 grow in wild habitat, 56 as plantation and 52 as cultivated species (Fig. 8).

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Fig. 6: Some highly used medicinal plant genera with number of representing species

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Fig. 7:Plant parts of the species used in ethnomedical practices

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Fig. 8: Different sources of medicinal tree species

About 86 health related problems are treated by using different parts of these tree species. Majority of the diseases are effectively treated by more than two species (Table 2).

Table 2:Number of tree species used in different health related problems
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Diarrhoea is treated with maximum 52 tree species followed by skin diseases (46 species), dysentery (44 species), fever (43 species), ulcer (30 species), rheumatism (27 species), wounds (27 species), diabetes (24 species), respiratory and gastro-intestinal problems (20 species) (Fig. 9).

Family Fabaceae and genus Ficus appeared highly useful plant groups by tribes in the study area. Highest number of medicinally useful plants from family Fabaceae has also been reported in other studies (Hawkes, 1970; Purugganan and Fuller, 2009) and the importance of genus Ficus has also been mentioned by other authors (Cottee-Jones et al., 2015). The study witness tropical climate wherein barks of the trees are enormously used for their therapeutic properties (Zschocke et al., 2000). Similar ethnomedicinal uses of these plants have been recorded either from the same area or adjacent areas (Singh and Maheshwari, 1992; Saini, 1996; Kumar et al., 2006, 2013a). Most of the collections for medicinal uses from ~75% of the tree species are made from their wild sources as also observed in other studies throughout the world (Hamilton, 2004).

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Fig. 9: Tree species used for treatment of different diseases

Such indiscriminate exploitation of plant materials from natural resources could stress the natural population of these medicinal plants. While data collection from the tribes, it was noticed that the ethnic knowledge is restricted mainly with the old age person (men and women) because the younger generation is not much interested in these valuable knowledge base. It has also been observed that the people who migrate to urban and suburban areas tend to de-link them from such a valuable knowledge base. Such kind of problems has also been reported from the other ethnic groups of India and other countries (Begossi et al., 2002; Ong et al., 2011; Uniyal et al., 2011).

CONCLUSION

The study clearly indicates that the Himalayan Terai region has an enormous wealth of medicinally important tree species (204 species) commonly used by Tharu tribes for healthcare. Uses of 148 tree species for different medicinal practices have been listed from the study area for the first time. The list of tree species provided here with their medicinal uses is a great source for the researchers of pharmacology, pharmaceuticals and other related fields. These resources can be used to find out bioactive compounds responsible for healing and cure. The study suggest the need for providing training to these ethnic people to make them aware about the sustainable utilisation of medicinal plants and their conservation through nursery, gardening and other methods. The youths, in particular, need to be encouraged and promoted by the government for sustainable use and conservation of these valuable resources.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The authors are grateful to Director, CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow and Head, Department of Botany, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi for providing necessary facilities. Financial support was received from DST, New Delhi under GAP-215725. Thanks are due to PCCF (Wildlife), Government of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh for granting permission and all forest staff for logistic support to conduct the study. The Authors are also very thankful to the Vaidhya, Pujari and elderly men and women of the study area for sharing their traditional knowledge with us.

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