Ethnobotanical Leaflets 12: 276-280. 2008.
Traditional Herbal Medicines Used for
the Treatment of Diabetes among Two Major Tribal Groups in South Tamil
M. Ayyanar1, K. Sankarasivaraman2 and
of Medicinal Plants Research, Entomology Research Institute, Loyola College,
Chennai – 600034, Tamil Nadu; 2Centre
for Research & Post Graduate Studies in Botany, Ayya
Nadar Janaki Ammal College, Sivakasi – 626
124, Tamil Nadu
Medicinal plants used to treat diabetic conditions are of considerable interest and a number of plants have shown varying degrees of hypoglycaemic and antihyperglycaemic activity. An ethno-medico-botanical survey was carried out among the Kani and Paliyar tribals in southern Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu for the exploration of antidiabetic herbal medicines. They frequently use ten species of plants for the treatment of diabetes either in single or in combination with some other plant parts. The wealth of tribal knowledge on medicinal plants points to a great potential for research and the discovery of new drugs to fight diseases including diabetes, obtaining new foods and other new uses.
Medicinal Plants, Traditional Medicine, Tamil
In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the treatment against different diseases using herbal drugs as they are generally non-toxic and World Health Organization has also recommended the evaluation of the effectiveness of plants in condition where we lack safe modern drugs. Plant derivatives with hypoglycaemic properties have been used in folk medicine and traditional healing systems around the world (Yeh et al., 2003) from very ancient time. Despite the introduction of hypoglycaemic agents from natural and synthetic sources, diabetes and its secondary complications continue to be a major medical problem to people (Ravi et al., 2005). Medicinal plants used to treat hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic conditions are of considerable interest to ethnobotanical community as they are recognized to contain valuable medicinal properties in different parts of the plant.
In traditional medicine diabetes mellitus is treated with diet, physical exercise and medicinal plants, even though, more than 1200 plants are used around the world in the control of diabetes mellitus and approximately 30% of the traditionally used antidiabetic plants were pharmacologically and chemically investigated (Alarcon-Aguilar et al., 2002). On the other hand, potential hypoglycaemic agents have also been detected for more than 100 plants used in antidiabetic therapy. Traditional treatments may provide the valuable clues for the development of new oral hypoglycemic agents and simple dietary adjuncts. More than 100 medicinal plants are mentioned in the Indian system of medicines including folk medicines for the management of diabetes, which are effective either separately or in combinations (Kar et al, 2003).
As per the ethnobotanical literature on traditional phytotherapy of Indian medicinal plants, the species like Asparagus racemosus, Butea monosperma, Cathanranthus roseus, Coccinia indica, Gymnema sylvestre, Syzygium cumini and Momordica charantia are consistently used by the tribal communities for the treatment of diabetes (Rana et al., 1999) as well as in modern medicine. The present study was performed with the aim of producing an inventory of the plants used by traditional healers in southern Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu to treat diabetes.
Study area and ethnic people
Southern Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu occupy the
forests of Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari
and Virudhunagar districts of Tamil Nadu with rich vegetation and lies between the longitudes
770 5’ - 770 40’ E and latitudes 80 5’ - 80
50’ N. These
hills are characterized by numerous folds and extension engulfing small,
narrow valleys and the elevation varies from 50 to 1869m. There are two
reserve forests present in the study area such as Kalakad
– Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (Tirunelveli
district) and Grizzled Giant Squirrel Sanctuary (Virudhunagar
district). The information was gathered from the two distinct indigenous
people inhabiting the southern Western Ghats of
Tamil Nadu such as Kani or Kanikaran (Tirunelveli
and Kanyakumari districts) and Paliyars (Virudhunagar
district), oldest group of the branch of ethnic group in
Frequent field surveys
were carried out in southern Western Ghats of Tamil
Nadu during January 2005 to March 2007. Data were
collected through general conversations with traditional healers and
questionnaires were used to obtain the plants used by them. Details of
medicinal plants used, mode of treatment, methods of preparation, types of
administration and dosage were documented by interacting with them as well as
through direct observations. The information got from the tribals
was recorded in field notebooks and the voucher specimens were deposited in
the herbarium at Entomology Research Institute (ERIH),
Results and Discussion
The present study identified that, there are two medicine men in Tirunelveli hills and one man in Giant Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary are identified as the well-known persons for the preparation of medicine in the treatment of diabetes. Herbal medicines prescribed by tribal healers are either preparation based on single plant part or a combination of several plant parts. Always they prepare medicine to treat diabetes in the combination of more number of plants. They believe that combination of several plant parts cures diseases rapidly. To improve the acceptability of certain remedies that are taken orally some additives are frequently used. Before starting the treatment the condition of the patient is observed deeply and then the prepared medicines are given to treat diabetes. Most of the plants cited by Kani tribals are widely used by the other tribals in Tamil Nadu (Balu et al., 1999). The plants which are used by the tribal people inhabiting southern Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu in the treatment of diabetes is provided given below with the mode of preparation, method of administration and dosage.
Enumeration of Antidiabetic plants
1. Abrus precatorius
L. (Fabaceae). Local Name: Kundumani.
The plant is a climber commonly known as Wild Liquorice
and found through the plains of
2. Andrographis lineata
Wallich ex Nees (Acanthaceae). Local Name: Siriya
nangai. The plant is annual herb found in the
hedgerows throughout the plains in
3. Andrographis paniculata (Burm.f.) Wall. ex Nees (Acanthaceae).
Local Name: Periya nangai. The plant is annual herb (Commonly known as King
of Bitters) found in the hedgerows throughout the plains in
4. Canthium parviflorum Lam.
(Rubiaceae). Local Name: Sakkarai kovaimaram. A shrubby and woody
plant found throughout the
5. Costus speciosus (Koenig.) J. E.
Smith (Costaceae). Local Name: Kostak-kilangu. A tuberous fleshy herb, plentifully found
6. Gymnema sylvestre (Retz.) R. Br.
ex Schultes (Asclepiadaceae). Local Name: Siru
kurinjan. A climbing shrub commonly found in the
plains of central and southern
7. Memecylon umbellatum Burm. f. (Melastomataceae). Local Name: Sakkarai
vaembu. A bushy small tree found in the hilly areas
(Cucurbitaceae). Local Name: Kaattu pagar-kai. The plant is
commonly known as Bitter guard and has many varieties. The plant is climbing
shrub and generally cultivated everywhere in
9. Syzygium cumini (L.) Skeels. (Myrtaceae). Local Name: Naaval maram. The plant is large tree and commonly known as Jambolan or Black Plum found throughout the plains. Juice extracted from the leaf is mixed with honey or cow’s milk and fresh fruits are taken orally. Dosage: 2 teaspoon of juice is taken twice a day after food for 3 months. It is one of the significant antidiabetic plant and it has long been reported for its use in many pharmacological activities mainly diabetes. During the last four decades, numerous folk medicine and scientific reports on the antidiabetic effects of this plant have been cited in the literature. Clinical and experimental studies suggest that, different parts of the plant especially fruits, seeds and stem bark possess promising activity against diabetes mellitus (Mukherjee et al., 2006). S. cumini exerts a dual effect namely a combination of mechanism of action of sulfonylurea and biguanids and may bring about its hypoglycaemic action through stimulation of surviving cells of islets of langerhans to release more insulin (Sagrawat et al., 2006).
10. Wattakaka volubilis (L.f.) Stapf. (Asclepiadaceae). Local Name: Perun-kurinjan. The plant is a fleshy and very large climber found throughout the plains with papery leaves. Leaf powder is taken orally along with cow’s milk. Dosage: 50-75 ml of mixture is taken twice a day after food for 90 days
The study of ethnomedical systems and plants as therapeutic agents is of importance in addressing health problems of traditional communities. Among the plants used by traditional healers (Kanis and Paliyars), most of the plants have been used in folk medicine and traditional healing systems around the world from very ancient time. The wealth of tribal’s knowledge on medicinal plants points to a great potential for research and the discovery of new drugs to fight diseases including diabetes, obtaining new foods and other new uses. Instead of trying to identify the active components of herbs through massive collection of plants from natural sources, it is better to start investigating the efficacy of the medicinal plant based on the traditional healthcare practices by indigenous people.
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