Ethnobotanical Leaflets 12: 118-126. 2008.

 

 

 

Glimpses of Tribal Botanical Knowledge of Tirunelveli Hills, Western Ghats, India

 

G.J. Jothi*  A. Benniamin and V.S. Manickam

 

Centre for Biodiversity and Biotechnology

St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Palayamkottai-.627 002

Tamil Nadu, India

*Department of Plant Bilogy and Biotechnology

Loyolla College, Chennai,Tamil Nadu, India

Email: jothigj@yahoo.com

Issued 4 March 2008

 

ABSTRACT

In the present paper, 46 plant species of angiosperms belonging to 19 genera of Euphorbiaceae that occur naturally in the Tirunelveli Hills of western Ghats, India, were chosen for study. It was found that the uses of Euphorbiaceous plants by the inhabitants of this region cover a number of broad categories including food, various kinds of poisons, medicines, sundry types of oils, waxes, rubbers, varnishes, compounds for paints and other industrial products.

Key Words: Tirunelveli hills, western Ghats, Euphorbiaceae, medicinal plants.

 

INTRODUCTION

Evolution of human life and culture has directly or indirectly been associated with and influenced by the surrounding environment. Primitive people live closely associated with nature and chiefly depend on it for their survival. Their dependence on plants around them made them acquire the knowledge of economic and medicinal properties of many plants by methods of trial and error. Consequently, they became the store-house of knowledge of many useful as well as harmful plants, accumulated and enriched through generations and passed on from one generation to another, without any written documentation. World wide, tens of thousands of species of higher plants and several hundred lower plants are currently being employed by human beings for such purposes as food, fuel, fibre, oil, herbs, spices, industrial crops and as forage and fodder for domesticated animals. ( Heywood, 1992).­ Many people, especially in the poorer, underdeveloped countries, rely on wild plants for food, construction materials, fuel wood, medicine and many other purposes. Traditionally, the people in many local communities worldwide are extremely knowledgeable about plants and other natural resources, on which they are so immediately and intimately dependent. Unfortunately, much of this wealth of knowledge is today becoming lost as traditional cultures become eroded. Ethnobotanists can play very useful roles in rescuing this disappearing knowledge and returning it to local communities. In this way local ethnobotanical knowledge can be conserved as part of living cultural- ecological systems, helping to maintain a sense of pride in local cultural knowledge and practice and reinforcing links between communities and the environment, all of which may be thought of as essential steps in the promotion of conservation (Martin,  1995 ). It is, therefore, important that before this rich unwritten folk-lore on uses of plants and plant resources becomes lost forever through the recent accelerated ‘civilization’ of the aborigines (tribals), it should be properly documented and preserved (Rao and Henry, 1997).

The health of every individual is directly dependent on the plant world.  Out of the total Indian angiosperm flora of about 20,000 species, some 5,000 are economic species. Of the latter, some 3,000 are medicinal root plants; whereas 680 produce fruits of medicinal value. About 450 Indian medicinal plants are exported globally.

The richness and diversity of the tropical flora and fauna of India amazed the Europeans when they first arrived on this subcontinent.  That this is so is evident from a reading of the text of the first work on Indian botany,  Coloquios dos simples, a book which deals in part with the western Ghats of Peninsular India ( cf. Clive 1984).

Euphorbia is the largest genus in the family Euphorbiaceae and one of the sixth largest genera of flowering plants in the world, consisting of about 2000 species.  Out of 81 species of Euphorbia occurring in India, about 40 species have been ethnobotanically studied (Binojkumar and Balakrishnan, 1996).  According to Hill (1755), the milky latex of Euphorbia is effective in the treatment of Dropsies. Ainslier (1826), on the other hand, reported that the latex of E. tortilis was used externally for herpes. 
               A lypophilized aqueous extract of E. hirta was evaluated by Lanher et al., (1996) for benzodiazepine like properties and for hypnotic nueroleptic and antidepressant properties. However, they found out that the extract did not possess neuroleptic activity, though slight antidepressant effects were obtained against reserpine-induced hypothermia.

Aporusa lindleyana has long been used traditionally for the treatment of jaundice, fever, headache and insanity.  Significantly, the analgesic activity of a root extract of A. lindleyana was later proven by Krishnamoorthy et al., (1999).

An extract of Phyllanthus amarus significantly reduces the radiation-induced Micronuclei (MN) induction in both polychromatic erythrocytes (PCE) and normochromatic erythrocytes (NCE). This reduction was found to increase linearly with extract dosages of  from 25 to 125 mg/kg (Devi et al., 2000).

During the field survey, the medicinal species of Euphorbiaceous were collected and documented.  Information was obtained from the Tribals (Kanis) of Tirunelveli hills and the local Siddha, Ayurvedha practitioners and tabulated.

 

STUDY AREA AND ITS TRIBAL COMMUNITIES

The Tirunelveli hills lie between 77o 5’ and 77o40’ E and 8o20’ and 8o 50’ N from the southernmost segment of the Western Ghats. They extend through  Papanasam R.F., Singampatti R.F., Kalakadu R.F., Mahendragiri R.F, Veerapuli R.F. and Ashamboo R.F., and into the present day Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu (Fig 1). The tops of these mountains are often compared to oceanic islands in having unusually large numbers of endemic species, this largely due to the isolation provided by the waters of Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal on three sides (Nayar, 1996; Gopalan and Henry, 2000). Otherwise, the western Ghats area as a whole is characterized by a profusion of different vegetation types, such as Southern Tropical Thorn Forest (foot hills to 20m), Southern Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest (200-400m), Grass Lands (+ 500m ), Southern Tropical Moist Deciduous Forest (500-800m), Southern Tropical Wet Evergreen Forest (80-1500m), Subtropical Mountain Forest (7150m) and Grassy Swards at high altitudes (7100m).

The Kani’s and Paliya tribes inhabit the villages of Petchiparai, Kallar and Mahendragiri in the Kanyakumari district and Kadayam, Sankarankoil, Puliarai, Papanasam, Courtallam, Sivagiri and Manjolai in the Tirunelveli District. They subsist on leaves, tubers and fruits of forest plants and on meat from wild, hunted animals. Wild plants provide the bulk of their medicines. Many changes can be expected in the future, however, since the younger generations of these communities are being more and more influenced by modern day social and living standards.

 

METHODOLOGY

Field trips were conducted during 1999 to 2004 in the tribal and rural parts of the Tirunelveli hills. Data was collected regarding plant and plant parts used, local names and purposes and method of administration of the drugs. Information was obtained from tribal medicine men, old men and women, and other local rural informants. The actual application of plant remedies was also observed during field work. The plant specimens were identified using recent regional floras (Gamble, 1993 & 1994). Routine herbarium methods have been followed in preserving specimens and they are deposited in St. Xavier’s College Herbarium, Palayamkottai.

 

RESULTS

The tribals and rural populaces use a variety of species from the forested as well as non forested geographic pockets of the study area. In the present paper, 46 plant species of angiosperms belonging to 19 genera of the Euphorbiaceae were studied (Table 1). The uses of Euphorbiaceous plants in our own society cover a number of broad categories including food, various kinds of poisons, medicines, sundry types of oils, waxes, rubbers, varnishes, compounds for paints and other industrial products.  Many plants of this family have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years as anti-tumour drugs. According to Schroeder et al., (1980), plants of this family have been used to treat cancer, tumours, and warts from the time of Hippocrates (ca 400 BC).

 

CONCLUSION

As pointed out earlier, the field of ethnobotany is receiving more and more attention these days. However, it is still the molecular biologists whose work centers in the laboratory that garnishes more status and funding. Field ethno botanists have not yet received the same level of support and respect, primarily because interest in this field has only recently reemerged. Yet, the field is growing. New scientific journals and societies have begun to disseminate the studies of  ethnobotanists to peers, other scientists, and policy makers worldwide. The current era is an exciting time to be an ethnobotanist. Ethnobotany issues are the focus of much public attention. Due to increased public interest and policy making in conservation, companies are looking for new plants and new approaches for the production of food, medicines, and energy sources. University departments are opening positions for interdisciplinary-trained ethnobotanists. The future looks promising for these dedicated scientists in a fascinating and vital field of research.

 

REFERENCES

Ainslier, W., 1826. Tirrooghucallia Materia indica 2: 424-426.

 

Binojkumar, M. S. and Balakrishnan, N. P. 1996. Ethnobotanical studies of the genus Euphorbia L. (Euphorbiaceae ) J.Econ.Tax.Bot 12: 46-49.

 

Clive, A. Stace, 1984. Plant taxonomy and biosystematics. Edward Arnold.

 

Devi P U, Ravindra Kamath, BSS Rao, RK Kaath, 2000. Current Sci. 78 (10):1245-1247.

 

Gamble, J. S., (1993 & 1994). Flora of the Presidency of Madras. Vol I-III. Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh. Dehra Dun-India.

 

Gopalan and Henry, A. N., 2000. Endemic plants of India. Bishen Singh MahendraPal Singh Dehra dun.-India.

 

Heywood, V.H., 1992. Conservation of germplasm of wild species.  In Sandlund, O.T., Hindar, K. and Brown, A.H.D. (eds.). Conservation of Biodiversity for Sustainable Development.  Scandinavian University Press, Oslo, 189-203.

 

Hill J. I., 1755. Useful family Herbal (ed2), London.

 

Krishnamoorthy, G., G., Kavimani, S Jayakar, B. Singh, R.S. Suthar – Singh R., 1999. Analgestic activity of root extract of Aporosa lindleyana Hamdard Medicum 42 (3): 18-21.

 

Lanhers, M.C., Fleurentin, J., Dorfman, P., Misslin R., Mortier, F., 1996 Neuro physiological effects of Euphorbia hirtal (Euphorbiaceae ), Phytotheraphy research 10 (8) 670- 676.

 

Martin, J., 1995.  Ethnobotany - A methods manual. Chapman and Hall, London.  268.

 

Nayar, 1996. Hotspot of endemic plants in India and Nepal and Bhutan. Tropical Botanical and Research Institute Trivandrum,Kerala, India.

 

Rama Rao, N. and Henry, A.N., 1997.  The Ethnobotany of Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh, India. Botanical Survey of India.  259.

 

Schroeder, G., Rohmer, M., Beck, J.P. and Anton, R, 1980. 7 - Oxo 7 alpha hydroxyl and 7 Beta hydroxysterols from Euphorbia fischerriana. Phytochemistry (19): 2213-2215.

 


 

 

Table 1. The list of Medicinal plants of Euphorbiaceae  from Tirunelveli hills.

 

S.No.

Scientific Name

Local Name

Habit

Parts / mode of administration

Status

 

 

1.

 

Acalypha ciliata Forssk.

 

-

 

Herb

 

Whole plant

 

 

Laxative and vermifugal properties

 

Common

 

2.

Acalypha fruticosa Forssk.

Sirusinni

 

Shrub

Leaves

Roots

Digestive troubles

Gonorrhoea

 

Common

 

3.

Acalypha indica L.

Kuppai meni

 

Herb

Whole plant

Tooth ache, ear ache, severe cough, ringwork and burns

 

Common

 

4.

Acalypha racemosa Heyne

 ex Baill.

-

Herb as under shrub

 

Whole plant

Substitute for A. indica

-

 

5.

Aporusa lindleyana

 (Wight) Baill.

-

Tree

Root

Excessive thirst and fever

Occasional

 

 

6.

Antidesma acidum Retz.

Kattu khoya

 

 

Shrub or small tree

Leaves

Cooked as vegetable

Occasional

 

7.

Antidesma alexiteria L.

-

Small tree

Leaves

Snake bite

 

Common

 

8.

Antidesma bunius (L.) Sprengel

-

Tree

Leaves

Ulcers, indigestion

 

Common

 

9.

Baccourea courtallensis (Wight) Muell. Arg.

-

Tree

Fruit

Acidity, edible

 

Occasional

10.

Bischofia javanica Blume

Malai poovarasu

Tree

Leaves

 

Bark

Sores, tooth ache and eye diseases

Throat troubles

 

Occasional

 

11.

Breynia retusa (Dennst.)

Alston

-

Shrub

Stem

 

Conjunctivities

Common

 

12.

Breynia vitis-idaea (Burm.f.)

C. Fischer

Manipullanti

 

Shrub

Leaves

Roots

Tonsils.

Mouthwash for toothache

 

Common

 

13.

Bridelia retusa (L.) Sprengel.

Mulvengai, Adamaruthu

 

 

Shrub or tree

Bark

Hypertensive properties

Common

 

14.

Croton caudatus Geiseler

-

Shrub

Leaves

 

Roots

Applied as poultice in sprains, diuretic.

Malaria

 

Rare

 

15.

Croton zeylanicus

Muell. -Arg.

-

Shrub

Bark

 

Stomach ache

Common

 

16.

Drypetes roxburghii (Wall.)

 Harusawa

Parupala

 

Tree

Leaves

Seeds

Fever, sterility.

Habitual abortion and burning sensation

 

Rare

 

17.

Euphorbia antiquorum L.

Sathura kalli

 

Tree

Roots

Stomachic, digestive, wounds, ulcers, deafness, cough and anti- inflammatory

Common

 

18.

Euphorbia dracunculoides

Lam.

-

Herb

Capsules

 

Removing warts

Common

 

19.

Euphorbia hirta L.

Ammanpacharisi

 

Herb

Whole plant

Purifies blood, skin diseases, cough, asthma, and other respiratory disorders

 

Common

 

20.

Euphorbia indica Lam.

-

Herb

Whole plant

Diarrhoea, dysentery and leucorrhoea

 

Common

 

21.

Euphorbia nivulia

Buch.-Ham.

Illaikalli

Small tree

Leaf, latex and root

Skin disorders, ear disorders, retention of urine, swelling, worm infection

 

Occasional

 

22.

Euphorbia rosea Retz.

-

Herb

Leaves and seeds

 

Vermifuge

Occasional

 

23.

Euphorbia rothiana

Sprengel

-

Herb

Leaves

Vermifuge

 

Rare

 

24.

Euphorbia thymifolia L.

Chinnamman pacharisi

 

 

Herb

Whole plant

Ring worm, wounds, asthma, skin diseases.

Common

 

25.

Euphorbia tirucalli L.

Thirukalli

 

Small tree

Milky juice

Warts, toothache, cough asthma and earache

 

Common

 

26.

Euphorbia tortilis Rottler

Thirugukalli

 

Small tree

Milky juice

Herbs

Common

 

27.

Glochidion zeylanicum

(Gaertner) Juss.

Kokkamani maram

Small tree

Bark

Shoot

Fruit

Stomachic

Itches

Cooling and restorative

 

Common

 

28.

Jatropha curcas L.

Kattamanakku

 

Shrub

Leaves

 

Latex

Seeds

Foul ulcers, tumours and scabies

Wounds, ulcers.

Wounds, skin diseases

 

Common

 

 

29.

Jatropha glandulifera

Roxb.

Vellai kattukottai

 

Shrub

Stem

 

 

Seeds

Arrest bleeding from wounds and cuts and ulcers

Cleansing application for wounds, sores and ulcers

 

Common

 

30.

Jatropha gossypifolia L.

Adalai

 

Shrub

Leaves

Seeds

 

Roots

 

 

Stomachic, fever.

Fixed oil useful in body pain

Kidney troubles, liver bladder diseases, diabetes and against leprosy

 

Common

 

 

31.

 

Macaranga indica Wight

 

Vattakkanni

 

 

Tree

 

Gum

 

Antiseptic, applied on the sores

 

 

Common

 

32.

Macaranga peltata (Roxb.)

 Muell. Arg.

Vattathamarai

 

Tree

Gum

 

Leaves

Bark

Applied on veneral sores

Extract as vulnerary.

Contains antiseptic tannins.

 

Common

 

33.

Mallotus philippensis (Lam.)

 Muell. Arg.

Thirisalakkai

Maram

 

 

Tree

Bark

Fruits

Antiseptic

Skin affection

Common

 

34.

Phyllanthus amarus

Schum. &  Thonn.

Kezhanelli

 

Herb

Whole plant

Jaundice, diarrhoea, dysentery, intermittent fever, diseases of the urino-genital system, scabies, ulcers and wounds

 

Common

 

35.

Phyllanthus emblica L.

Nelli

 

Tree

Root bark

Leaves

 

 

Fruits

Jaundice, diarrhoea.

Inflammation, dysentry and diarrhoea.

Diabetes, cough, asthama, peptic ulcers, skin diseases, leprosy, anaemia, cordiac disorders and greyness of hairs

 

Common

 

36.

Phyllanthus maderaspatensis

L.

Melanelli

 

Herb

Leaves

Seeds

Infusion in headache.

Carminative, diuretic

 

Common

 

37.

Phyllanthus reticulatus

Poir.

Karunelli

 

Shrub

Whole plant

Burning sensation, sores, diarrhoea and skin eruptions

 

Common

 

38.

Phyllanthus rheedii Wight

-

Herb

Whole plant

 

Stomach disorders

Common

 

39.

Phyllanthus urinaria L.

Sivappu keezhanelli

 

Herb

Whole plant

Substitute for Phyllanthus amarus

 

Common

 

 

 

40.

 

Phyllanthus virgatus Forst.

 

-

 

Herb

 

Whole plant

 

 

Having antiseptic properties

 

Occasional

 

41.

Sauropus androgynus

(L.) Merr.

Thavasimurungai

 

 

Shrub

Leaves

 

 

Roots

Leafy vegetable (multivitamin content)

Fever, bladder,

ulcers

 

Occasional

 

42.

Sauropus quadrangularis

Muell.-Arg.

-

Shrub

Leaves

Dried and smoked as a cure for tonsils

 

Occasional

 

43.

Sebastiania chamaelea (L.)

 Muell.-Arg.

-

Shrub

Leaves

Diarrhoea

Common

 

 

44.

Securinga virosa (Roxb.ex

 Willd.) Baill.

Aadu thinnichedi

 

Shrub

Bark

 

Leaves

 

 

Roots

 

Paste on skin scratches

Destroying worms of the sores, laxative and antipyretic

Analgesic

Common

 

 

45.

Suregarda multiflora

(Juss.) Baill.

-

Small tree

Bark

Hepatic troubles, purgative

 

Occasional

 

46.

Tragia involucrata L.

var. involucrata

Chenthatti

 

Climbing herb

Roots

Skin eruption, veneral diseases, diabetes, blood impurities and vomiting

Occasional