Traditional knowledge on ethnobotanical uses of plant biodiversity: a detailed study from the Indian western Himalaya

Traditional knowledge on ethnobotanical uses of plant biodiversity: a detailed study from the Indian western Himalaya

Abstract: The present article is based on the ndings of ethnobotanical surveys conducted in the entire Lahaul-Spiti region of Indian western Himalaya to highlight the traditional use of medicinal plants by the native people. Results revealed that tribal communities of both Lahaul and Spiti valleys (Lahaulas in Lahaul and Bhotias in Spiti) have a great respect for and faith in Amchi system of medicine practiced in the entire region. Information collected on the traditional use of plants in the local health care system by the tribal communities of Lahaul-Spiti revealed the use of 86 plant species belonging to 69 genera and 34 families to cure about 70 different ailments. Maximum number of plant species used in herbal formulations belonged to families Asteraceae, Apiaceae, Gentianaceae, and Polygonaceae. Both single herbal preparations and polyherbal formulations are prescribed and administered by local healers known as Larje in Lahaul and Amchis in Spiti. Most of the medicines are prescribed in a powder form, some as juice and decoctions. Among plant parts, leaves were recorded to be used to a large extent as a remedy, followed by owers. Results of the present study show that the highest number of plants was used to cure stomach disorders, while the highest extent of phytotherapeutic use among all the species had Hippophae rhamnoides (17.14%). The obtained data also revealed the information on new or less known medicinal uses of various plant species that are new addition to the traditional knowledge from western Himalaya. Modes of preparation, administration and dosage are discussed along with the family and local names of plants and plant parts used.

1. Introduction
The art of herbal healing has very deep roots in tribal culture and folklore. Even today, most of the tribal com- munities are dependent upon local traditional healing systems for their primary health care. Lahaul-Spiti is one of the exceptional locations in the Indian western Himalaya which offers immense scope for ethnobotani- cal studies. Because of the unique geographical location, Lahaul-Spiti harbours distinct ethnic and biological diversity. This is one of the regions in Indian Himalaya, where traditional healing system is still popular among the local people (Singh 2008).

Lahaul-Spiti is inhabited by two major ethnic groups, namely, Lahaulas in Lahaul and Bodhs (Bhotias) in Spiti. Besides distinctions in socio-economic and cultural conditions, peoples of both communities have firm belief in indigenous medicines. In Spiti, the lo- cal practitioners who prescribe medicines are called Amchis, whereas in Lahaul, they are regarded as Larje. The traditional system of medicine followed by these healers is known as Amchi System of Medicine. The Amchi System of Medicine is one amongst the indigenous systems of medicine which are still practiced throughout Indian trans-Himalaya.

Due to the on-going developmental activities, the traditional wisdom, developed over centuries, is vani- shing rapidly. Modernization has also affected living standards of the inhabitants of Lahaul-Spiti (Singh & Brijlal 2008). Changing lifestyle has also jeopardized the ages-old practice of herbal use. Therefore, docu- mentation of valuable information known to the native people has become imperative to discover potential sources of new herbal medicines.