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four Vedas (Rig-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda and Atharva-veda) contain the medicinal knowledge, especially the Atharva-veda (2000B.C.–1500 B.C.) is based ...


A.R. Joshi and Kunjani Joshi* EMA Group, P.O. Box 2486, Kathmandu, Nepal *Harvard University Herbaria, Boston, USA

E-mail: [email protected] Nepal has all the three elements that contribute to the ethnobotanical richness of an area – floristic diversity, ethnic diversity, and a rich tradition. Nepal is considered a big storehouse of enormous diverse plants and a vast emporium of ethnobotanical wealth. The unique and diverse flora is matched by

more than 100

ethnic groups/castes

speaking about 75 laguages in Nepal (CBS, 2003). From the earliest times, these ethnic groups/castes have had a long tradition of using plant resources for their various basic needs (such as food, medicine, firewood, timber, fodder and agricultural tools), medical care and livelihood. Cottage and rural industries derive bulk of their raw materials from wild species. These factors provide a great opportunity for ethnobotanical studies and utilization of indigenous knowledge for local development in a sound and sustainable way. Vast ethnobotanical knowledge and practices have existed in Nepal from ancient times. Historical records show that the earliest mention of medicinal use of plants is found in the oldest repository of human knowledge – the Vedas. Though all four Vedas (Rig-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda and Atharva-veda) contain the medicinal knowledge, especially the Atharva-veda (2000B.C.–1500 B.C.) is based on the principle of Ayurveda “the science of life”, which include herbal medicine, dietetics, body work, surgery, psychology and spirituality. According to astronomical records in ancient Vedic texts, the Vedic system, including Ayurveda was in practice before 4000 B.C. Use of nearly five hundred kinds of medicinal plants including fruits and vegetables have been


mentioned in Ayurvedic texts. It has been estimated that Ayurvedic knowledge was accessed by Nepali Vaidhyas as early as about 879 AD. During the prieministership of Bir Samsher Jung Bahadur Rana (A.Ds. 1885-1901), Pandit Ghana Nath Devkota tried for the first time to compile all information relating to the Himalayan herbs in a Nepali Pharmacopoeia – Bir Nighantu (includes botany and pharmacology in one text). However, progress was not very encouraging and the manuscript was bound under the revised name “Chandra Nighantu”. An elaborated account of the story is to be found in the book Nepali-Nighantu written by Kosh Nath Devkota and published by the Royal Nepal Acadamy in 1969. In rural areas, traditional beliefs and practices of people are deeply rooted in their culture in such a way that they attribute majority of complicated ailments and other misfortunes to supernatural origin due to soul loss, spells or curses cast by evil sprits, displeasure of ancestral godlings, or by the breaking of religious taboos (Joshi and Edington, 1990; Joshi and Joshi, 2000). Similarly, during various cultural festivals and religious worships, the people have a tradition to use various plants and their parts. Though the ethnobotanical uses and practices were known from ancient times, ethnobotanical studies as well as systematic documentation of useful plants intensified after the establishment of the Department of Medicinal Plants. Ethnobotanical research was carried out by various botanists, anthropologists, ecologists, conservationists, environmentalists, medicinal practices following different approaches; these include taxonomical, chemical, ecological, religious, social, economic and anthropological approaches. Until the mid 1970s, National policy was focused on utilization and trading of timber and non-timber forest products. Several activities were implemented in unsustainable ways within the broad framework of this policy. Consequently, destruction of forests increased resulting in the degradation and loss of species and their habitats. 2

Plant species and their habitats are also under increasing pressure from growing human population and their demands for firewood, timber, fodder, raw materials and other nonwood forest products. It is estimated that forest area decreased at an annual rate of 1.7 per cent between 1978/79 and 1994. In 1980, some notable initiatives were taken in the field of in-situ conservation i.e. addition of protected areas, and ex-situ conservation i.e documentation of useful species collected from various habitats in the national herbarium, conservation of threatened species in the botanical gardens, Germplasm collection etc.

Within the last few decades, the paradigm has

shifted to


understanding of plant-human relationship, as well as for practical applications of the biological knowledge of people in medicine, agriculture, and health. The scope, concept and implication of ethnobotany has expanded at a very fast rate with the enforcement of the Convention on Biodiversity Conservation. This recent trend shows that ethnobotany has extended beyond ordinary realism of botany to incorporate other branches of science with








ethnophermacology, ethnotoxicology, archeobotany etc. The past and present trend in ethnobotany and conservation of useful plant diversity indicates that ( 1 ) Ethnobotanical studies in Nepal have covered the following areas: 1. Ethnobotanical surveys, and documentation of useful plants 2. Ethnobotany of certain ethnically distinct human societies 3. Ethnobotany of specific geographical areas 4. Ethnobotany of watershed areas 5. Ethnobotany of particular utility group of plants 6. Ethnopharmacology and search for new drugs and therapeutic agents 7. Chemical Screening of useful plants 8. Microbial imitation of medicinal plants 3

9. Ethnobotany of particular plants, genus or family of plants 10. Ethnobatanical aspects of conservation and management of plant resources 11. Plant based faith, religious beliefs and practices 12. Ethnobaotany of miscellanous subjects, EIA, EMP ( 2 ) Documentation of the published papers, books and unpublished thesis and reports from 1946 to May 2004 shows that out of a total of 1,027 references, 669 are strictly related to ethnobotanical works or very closely allied themes. The remaining 196, 133 and 29 references are on ethnobotany with conservation, conservation of useful species and policy, legislation, technology and other relevant subjects respectively (Joshi and Joshi, 2005). (3) The year 1990-2000 was a very important decade in the development history of ethnobotany in Nepal. During this period, numerous references were published including 307 on ethnobotany, 103 on ethonobotany with conservation, and 63 on conservation (Figure 40). Data from 2001 to May 2004 shows that interest on ethnobotany and conservation aspects of useful species has grown at a very fast rate (Joshi and Joshi, 2005). (4) The ethnobonical studies have already been documented on the traditional practices and useful plants used by the following ethnic groups : Bantar, Chepang, Danuwar, Darai, Dhimal, Gurung, Khatwe, Lama, Limbu, Musahar, Rai, Raute, Satar, Sherpa, Tamang, and Tharu. There is still need to study and document ethnobotanical knowledge, practices and uses of plants by the remaining ethnic groups. (5) In the last three decades, ethnobotanists have shifted their attention to the Documentation of particular classes of indigenous uses, like plants in food, medicine, fodder, and traditional practices

related to conservation of bioresources. The most

common utility groups have been the plants used for medicine and food.. Folk medicine has been studied not only for humans but also for animals. 4

(6) Recently, some studies have also given emphasis to ethnobotany with sustainable utilization of useful species in various ecosystems of the watersheds i.e. Bagmati Watershed, Langtang Watershed, Likhu Subwatershed, Kaligandiaki Watershed etc. In conclusion, the efforts and achievements in areas of ethnobotany are notable and significant for bringing into light numerous useful plants. However, integrated studies on indigenous practices and sustainable uses and linkages with other components of ecosystems, and systematic scientific studies on chemical constituent of plants and their comprehensively

REFERENCES CBS 2003. Population Census 2001, Caste/Ethnicity, Mother Tongue & Religion, CBS, Kathmandu, Nepal. Joshi, A. R. & Edington, J. M. 1990. The uses of medicinal plants by two village communities in the Central Development Region of Nepal, Economic Botany 44(10): 71-83. Joshi, A.R. and Joshi, Kunjani 2000. Indigenous knowledge and uses of medicinal plants by local communities of the Kali Gandaki watershed Area, Nepal. J. Ethnopharmacology 73: 175-183. Joshi, A.R. and Joshi, Kunjani 2005. Ethnobotany and Conservation of Plant Diversity in Nepal. RubRick, Kathmandu, Nepal