Ethnobotanical Leaflets 12: 1054-60. 2008.
Perspectives of Botanicals used by Malayali Tribes
in Vattal Hills of Dharmapuri
of Biotechnology, Chemical and Biomedical
& Research Department of Commerce,
of Botany, RD
survey was conducted to collect information about the medicinal plants used
by Malayali tribes in Dharmapuri
Key words: Malayali tribes; medicinal plants; ethno-botany; traditional knowledge
Many tribal communities in Tamilnadu meet their healthcare needs using plant products and preparations based on traditional knowledge that has been gained indigenously over a period of time and /or by practice (Patrick, 2002). It has been well established that herbal drugs obtained from plants are much safer, with fewer or no side effects in treating various ailments (Ayyanar and Ignacimuthu, 2005a,b). Several studies have revealed that tribal population, not only depend on plant based resources for medicines, food, forage and fuel, but also play a vital role in natural resource management that forms the core aspect of conservation biology (Ignacimuthu et al., 2006).
The main objective of this study
was to assess the diversity of ethnomedicinal plant
species used by Malayali tribes in Dharmapuri district and to document the traditional
medical practices in healing aliments. Similar ethnobotanical
studies have been reported in several parts of
Malayali tribes dwell in Sherveroyan hill ranges of Dharmapuri district (12'N 78.5'E). Of the schedule tribes (ST), Malayali, Irular, Kattunayakan, Kurumans and Kondareddis together constitute 85.3% of the ST population of the state. Malayalis are the largest tribal group with a population of 310,042, constituting 47.6% of the state ST population. The Malayali claim that they were caste Vellalas of Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, and that, following the invasion by several kings, they fled to the Sherveroyan hills (Thurston and Rangacharry 1975).
The indigenous people of the study area called Malayali. They inhabit Vattal Hills, (part of Sherveroyan hill ranges) in Dharmapuri district, Tamil Nadu. In the Sherveroyan hills they are found at an altitude of up to 1700 m. Generally, Malayali are illiterate and they speak Tamil. Physically they are similar to the Semong of Malaya and other Indian tribal communities. Historically, these tribal communities have survived on their traditional knowledge base. Traditional medicines are the primary healthcare resources for the Malayali tribes to protect/ maintain their health. Tribal practitioners are curators of the society and have good knowledge of medicinal plants, diseases and treatment modalities.
Description of study area
Field investigations were conducted in villages of the study area in Dharmapuri district during Dec 2007 to Sep 2008. More than 500 families and nearly 2750 members of Malayalis dwell in the study area. During the study, their daily activities were closely observed and interpersonal contacts were established by participating in several of their social and religious functions. There were 7 informants (5 males and 2 females) with in the age group of 39 to 75. Among them one was a local tribal practitioner.
Ethnobotanical data were collected
according to the methodology suggested by Jain (2001). The ethnobotanical data were collected using questionnaire,
interviews and discussions in their local dialect. The Flora of Presidency of
Results and Discussion
In Table 1, data obtained from the field survey are presented. In this study 27 plant species belonging to 16 families have been recorded. Many plant species belonging to families of Acanthaceae, Solanaceae and Asclepiadaceae are frequently used. The informations collected from this study are in agreement with the previous reports (Pushpangadan and Atal, 1984, Kala, 2005; Jain, 2001; Ayyanar and Ignacimuthu, 2005a,b; Sandhya et al., 2006; Ignacimuthu et al., 2006). For common ailments such as wounds and skin diseases more number of medication were used. On the other hand, few were used to alleviate problems such as cold, cough and asthma. Ayyanar and Ignacimuthu (2005a) reported that Andrographis sp. is used by tribal people to treat poisonous bites, similar observations have been made in the present study. Healers in the area diagnose diseases based on symptoms but sometime they may also associate it to spirit. Therefore, preparation of medicines and treatment of diseases are sometimes accompanied by rituals. Tribal practitioner(s) use specific plant parts and dosages in treatment of specific ailments. Plant products are consumed raw or taken as decoction (juice)/ infusion (oral treatment) and paste (external application). Fresh leaves, root and stem were more frequently used when compared to other parts of the plant. However, in most of the cases, it was recorded that internal uses predominates external application. Juice and paste formulations were quite common for external applications. For topical application, the paste was mixed with oil. If more than one plant is used, such preparations are more or less similar to Siddha formulations. Sometimes the healer may mix several plants as ingredients to cure a single disease but detailed information on the role of the components used in such formulations are obscure.
The most important aspect of the Malayali tribal medicine is that fresh plant material is used for the preparation of medicine. Alternatively, if the fresh plant parts are not available, dried plant materials are used. For this reason several plants serve as alternative remedy to cure a single disease. From this study it is clear that Malayali tribal possess innate ability to discern the character of plants and exploit the plant resources to meet their health care needs.
This study depicts that traditional knowledge forms the basis for the treatment of various ailments among Malayalis. Still, this age old practice forms the basic aspect of their lifestyle and rituals. Plants such as Andrographis, Adhatoda, Vitex and Plectranthus are the lead species and members belonging to the family Acanthaceae and Asclepiadaceae were more frequently used. Data depicts that most of the remedies are preferred as oral. Further, most of the reported preparations are drawn from a single plant; formulations containing two or more plants are rarely used. Present study reveals that medicinal plants continue to play a major role in healthcare needs of Malayali community.
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Fig. 1. Location of
the area studied in Tamil Nadu,
Table 1. Ethno-medicinal perspectives of
botanicals used by Malayali tribes in Dharmapuri (TN),