Medicinal Plants of Eastern Madagascar

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Medicinal plants used to treat the most frequent diseases encountered in Ambalabe rural community, Eastern Madagascar

Rakotoarivelo NH, Rakotoarivony F, Ramarosandratana AV et al.
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2015 Sep 15;11:68
PubMed Central: PMC4570514

Investigators from the Missouri Botanical Garden, University of Antananarivo, and Washington University in St. Louis inventoried medicinal plants used to treat diseases frequently occurring among residents of Ambalabe in eastern Madagascar.

Working with residents of Vatomandry District (which includes the rural community of Ambalabe and Vohibe Forest [a protected area established in 2008]), the team identified diarrhea, malaria, stomach-ache, cough, bilharzia (schistosomiasis), and dysentery as the most frequently occurring diseases and 83 medicinal plant species used to treat those diseases.

Litchi chinensis
Litchi chinensis [Photo: B.navez, WikiMedia Commons]
Plant species commonly used to treat the diseases included Mollugo nudicaulis, Litchi chinensis, Kalanchoe prolifera, and Paederia thouarsiana. Less than half of the medicinal plants were collected in Vohibe Forest, the rest were cultivated or collected around the villages, in house yards, and in crop fields.

In their conclusion, the authors note that while the local population retains important knowledge about medicinal plants, many of those species might be threatened:

“[T]his paper provides new information on medicinal plants used by the local population in Ambalabe community to fight against frequent diseases. Some species seemed new to sciences or sometimes have new uses never recorded. Further pharmacological studies will be needed to better understand the importance of traditional medicine. Besides, because 83 species were used to treat six most frequent diseases, their conservation should be considered as important to ensure sustainable future use, especially due to the fact that most of them were collected in the surroundings of the villages and in non-protected areas. Sustainable management techniques should be considered, especially for Malagasy endangered species.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.




Medicinal Plants of Trinidad

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An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants in Trinidad

Clement YN, Baksh-Comeau YS, Seaforth CE
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2015 Sep 15;11:67
PubMed Central: PMC4570261

Location of Trinidad and Tobago
Location of Trinidad and Tobago [Map: Vardian, Wikimedia Commons]
Investigators from The University of the West Indies and The University of Trinidad and Tobago conducted the first systematic ethnobotanical survey to identify medicinal plants commonly used in traditional medicine across the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

The authors describe Trinidad’s unique geology, flora and fauna, and human characteristics:

“The island of Trinidad which lies approximately 13 km off the coast of the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela is the larger of the twin-island state of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The island has a population of approximately 1.3 million people with about 77% being either of African or Asian Indian ancestry or an admixture of these major ethnic groups. Unlike other Caribbean islands, Trinidad is a continental island sharing its geology, flora and fauna, with South America having recently separated from the mainland ca. 10,000 years ago. This gives Trinidad a unique mix of Antillean and South American elements in its flora and fauna. However, the natural vegetation has been significantly transformed in the post-Columbian era with the arrival of the Europeans, West Africans and the East Indians.”

23220590015_1a198798e3_m
Cymbopogon citratus [Photo: WAH, Flickr]
Based on interviews in 50 rural communities, the team identified 917 plant remedies from 96 species including Leonotis nepetifolia, Neurolaena lobata, Cymbopogon citratus, Momordica charantia, and Stachytarpheta jamaicensis. The authors detail uses for ailments affecting the upper respiratory tract and the genitourinary tract, chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes mellitus, hypertension), and for “cooling-cleansing” and treatment of fever.

While noting evidence of antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and related pharmacological activities of some of the plants in laboratory studies, the authors advise caution in interpretation pending clinical studies:

“Although the literature shows limited pre-clinical evidence to demonstrate pharmacological activities for some of the plants cited in our survey, this must be taken cautiously, as this level of evidence does not represent the reality in the traditional use setting. Firstly, the pre-clinical evidence comes from studies utilizing solvent extracts, fractions, or isolated compounds which are not the modality traditionally used. Secondly, the concentrations of putative components in these solvent extracts, fractions or isolated compounds used in pre-clinical experiments may be significantly higher than that which could be attained following oral administration, thus making the extrapolations to the clinical setting unjustified. However, there are a few promising examples, such as Senna (an FDA-approved non-prescription laxative) which has been clinically proven to be efficacious. A similar approach is needed to determine the clinical efficacy of other herbal remedies.

“However, the identification of these medicinal plants provides a platform from which further pre-clinical and clinical studies could be formulated to determine the efficacy and safety of herbal preparations. These research efforts may provide alternative and/or complementary approaches for healthcare provision in the Caribbean and beyond.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.




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Wild Food Plants and Fungi Used in the Tibetan community of Zhagana

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Wild food plants and fungi used in the mycophilous Tibetan community of Zhagana (Tewo County, Gansu, China)

Kang J, Kang Y, Ji X, et al
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2016 Jun 1;12(1):21
PubMed Central: PMC4890536

Investigators from Northwest A&F University, Yangling Vocational & Technical College, Bailongjiang Forestry Administration Bureau, University of Gdansk, Polish Academy of Sciences, Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l’Asie orientale, University of Glasgow, and University of Rzeszów conducted field research to investigate knowledge and use of wild food plants and fungi in a highland valley in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Region on the north-eastern edges of the Tibetan Plateau.

Pteridium aquilinum
Pteridium aquilinum (Photo: Rasbak, Wikimedia Commons)

The team conducted field research in four neighboring villages in a mountain valley of Diebu (Tewo) county, interviewing villagers singly and in groups (altogether 63 informants) and collecting voucher specimens. DNA barcoding was used to identify fungi. They recorded the use of 54 species of vascular plants and 22 mushroom taxa. The most frequently mentioned wild foods included wild vegetables (Pteridium aquilinum, Notopterygium incisum, Allium chrysanthum, Allium cyaneum, Chenopodium album); fungi (Lactarius deliciosus, Ramaria spp.); fleshy fruits (Fragaria orientalis, Ribes alpestre); and two species used as staple foods (Persicaria vivipara and Potentilla anserina).

The authors note impacts of modernity and tourism in their discussion of the traditional uses of the plants:

“Most wild vegetables and mushrooms are usually boiled, sprinkled with hot oil and served as side-dishes. Wild fleshy fruits are collected mainly by children and eaten raw. Some green parts of plants are eaten as raw snacks: plants with a sour taste (Rumex leaves, Rheum peeled stalks), solidified spruce sap and nectar sucked out of flowers.

“In times of famine or grain scarcity Persicaria vivipara fruits were mixed with barley and used to make flour. This was practiced even up until the 1980s. Other wild staples are the small tubers of Potentilla anserina. They are still gathered now, but are treated only as ceremonial foods, being served during New Year celebrations, funerals and other ceremonial occasions. Their rarer use stems from a very tedious gathering procedure. The tubers are dug out by women in late autumn or early spring. One woman can gather 0.5–1 kg of tubers per day. In the past they also constituted emergency food. Several informants observed changes in the frequency with which wild foods are collected: adults collect and eat less wild vegetables and children snack less on wild fruits. Most people usually use only a few wild vegetables, such as Allium spp., Pteridium and Notopterygium. Some people have stopped eating Chenopodium and Urtica. Due to the increasing involvement of tourism in the valley in the last 5 years, people do not have time to gather fungi in summer, at the peak of the tourist season.

“Practically all families dry wild vegetables for later use, however they do not lacto-ferment them. People usually dry bracken (Pteridium) fronds, Nothopterigium leaves and wild garlic (Allium) flower heads. They also dry a few species of mushrooms, mainly morels (Morchella conica) and milk velvet caps (Lactarius deliciosus var. deterrimus). Morels are an important article of commerce, as is the medicinal Cordyceps sinensis mushroom, which was regarded by our informants as medicinal and not an edible mushroom. Some of our informants stored a few large sacks of morels for sale.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

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When Two Worlds Collide: The Battle of Bagua

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When Two Worlds Collide
Directed By Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel
2016, Peru
Spanish with English subtitles
Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Walter Reade Theatre, NYC, 16 June 2016
[Film Website]

In December 2007, President Alan Garcia of Peru signed a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. The following June, Garcia’s administration pushed a number of legislative decrees through the Peruvian Congress, including a new Forest and Wildlife Law (DL 1090) and another law, DL 1064, which made it possible to convert state forest lands into private agricultural lands through administrative re-classification. These laws essentially opened Peru’s Amazonian rainforests for the wholesale extraction of natural resources (oil, gas, lumber, etc.) by foreign (primarily U.S.) corporations. The government, however, did not consult with the indigenous people who lived on the 45 million hectares affected by the legislation, in violation of the Peruvian constitution and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), to which Peru was a signatory.

Indigenous organizations led by La Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP) responded with a series of strikes, protests, and road blockades through June 2009, when Garcia’s administration ordered the national police to forcibly remove protesters in the Amazonas province of Bagua. A small, heavily armed troop of officers fired on nearly 5,000 protesters and the ensuing battle left 33 dead (10 protesters and 23 policemen, with another officer missing and presumed dead).

The government revoked DL 1090 and 1064, AIDESEP lifted the strike, and Peru’s first prior consultation process began, which the government and some NGOs declared a success while AIDESEP and others maintained was plagued by “irregularities, lies, manipulation attempts, and a lack of a consensus in the end.” More than 100 protesters were charged with crimes including murder and sedition, notably among them Alberto Pizango, then chairman of AIDESEP. [1]

Filmmakers Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel open When Two Worlds Collide following Pizango as he hunts and fishes on his ancestral lands, awaiting the outcome of his trial. They expand to document firsthand accounts of indigenous people throughout Amazonas, who reveal how their water, land, and wildlife have been contaminated by extractive industries and how they hope to conserve what remains in a country where they are vastly outnumbered and a world where international investment and trade laws overwhelmingly support corporate rights over all others (environmental, indigenous, human). Contemporary news footage shows President Garcia and his cabinet as they propagandize for extraction and belittle the indigenous protest movement as jungle savagery run amok. Raw video captured by handheld cameras on the scene by local journalists, protesters, and police show the escalation from confrontation to lethal violence, and resulting corpses and funerals.

When Two Worlds Collide effectively integrates storytelling, investigation, and advocacy in a remarkably measured and balanced approach to a potentially explosive subject. While focusing on Pizango and the protesters, the filmmakers open the narrative to include the father of the policeman whose body was never found, who seeks news of his son in Amazonas, and the family of Captain Miguel Montenegro, killed during the conflict after attempting to keep the confrontation peaceful.

When Two Worlds Collide won a World Cinema Documentary special jury prize for Best Debut Feature at Sundance, and will open in NYC at Film Forum on August 17, 2016. The film is scheduled for release in Peru in August-September.

1. Historical summary based on “Box II: Peru’s New Forestry and Wildlife Law” (Environmental Investigation Agency, 2016).

Medicinal Plants of the Russian Pharmacopoeia

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Medicinal plants of the Russian Pharmacopoeia; their history and applications

Shikov AN, Pozharitskaya ON, Makarov VG, et al
J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Jul 3;154(3):481-536
PubMed: 24742754

Investigators from the St. Petersburg Institute of Pharmacy, Ludwig Maximilian University, Leiden University, and UCL School of Pharmacy conducted a review to summarize and critically appraise data concerning plants used in Russian medicine that are not included in the European Pharmacopoeia.

Using the State Pharmacopoeia of the USSR (11th edition), the team selected 32 plant species that have not yet been adopted in Western and Central Europe and systematically searched the scientific literature for data regarding species, effectiveness, pharmacological effects, and safety.

Bidens tripartita
Bidens tripartita [Photo: Fornax, Wikimedia Commons]
Plants with reported pharmacologic uses included anti-inflammatory agents (e.g., Bidens tripartita); diaphoretic and anti-inflammatory agents (e.g., Viburnum opulus); hypotensive, anti-inflammatory, and choleretic agents (e.g., Gnaphalium uliginosum); bitterants (appetite stimulants) (e.g., Herba centaurii [Centaurium erythraea, C. minus, Erythraea centaurium, C. pulchellum]); astringents (e.g., Alnus incana, A. glutinosa); choleretic agents (e.g., Helichrysum arenarium); antihelmintic and choleretic agents (e.g., Tanacetum vulgare); expectorants (e.g., Ledum palustre); diuretic agents (e.g., Viburnum opulus); cardiotonic agents (e.g., Adonis vernalis); cardiovascular agents (e.g., Crataegus sanguinea); haemostatic agents (e.g., Persicaria hydropiper); spasmolytic agents (e.g., Anethum graveolens); sedatives (e.g., Herba Leonuri [Leonurus cardiaca, Leonurus quinquelobatus/Leonurus cardiaca]); polyvitamins (e.g., Sorbus aucuparia); regulation of metabolism and anti-inflammatory agents (e.g., Fungus betulinus/Inonotus obliquus); and tonics (e.g., Aralia elata).

The review includes a history of herbal medicine in Russia, including observations on the unique position of Russian phytotherapy between European and Asian traditional medicine:

“In the nineteenth century, European physicians had completely forgotten about the herbal traditions that had once predominated in their countries, whereas Chinese healers had almost no awareness of the medical developments in the West. Russian doctors were unique because they knew of both their own folk-herbal tradition and of modern Western medicine.”

Read the complete article at PubMed.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Folk Knowledge of Wild Food Plants in Thakht-e-Sulaiman Hills, Pakistan

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Folk knowledge of wild food plants among the tribal communities of Thakht-e-Sulaiman Hills, North-West Pakistan

Ahmad K, Pieroni A
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2016 Apr 8;12:17
PubMed Central: PMC4826518

Investigators from COMSATS Institute of Information Technology and the University of Gastronomic Sciences conducted an ethnobotanical study to document traditional knowledge of wild food plants among indigenous communities of the Thakht-e-Sulaiman hills in the North-West tribal belt of Pakistan.

The authors note both the importance of traditional knowledge of wild food plants for people in the region and factors putting that knowledge in danger:

“In spite of their great importance, [wild food plants] are vanishing from traditional diets, which poses serious concerns due to their role and contribution in the cultural history of a region as well as their nutraceutical value. In the developing world these plants are regularly ignored in governmental policies, agricultural research and extension programs. Over the past decade, the majority of tribal communities on the north-western boarder of Pakistan have been affected by the ‘war on terror’, which has destabilized their traditional knowledge systems. The present research area is semi-arid and mountainous with deficient agricultural land. The people live in extreme poverty with widespread food insecurity. They are also not considered in government developmental policies.”

Amaranthus spinosus
Amaranthus spinosus [Photo: Forest & Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons]
Working with 72 informants from 10 different villages, the team documented 51 species used as wild food plants, including fruits, vegetables, and teas. The most highly cited species were Olea ferruginia, Amaranthus spinosus, and Ficus palmata.

The authors recommend a program of sustainable harvesting, domestication, and marketing to conserve both the wild food plants and local knowledge about their uses:

“In addition to food value, the supplementary qualities of [wild food plants] such as medicinal potential, cultural uses, marketing and storage make them more important in the local culture but also predispose them to extensive exploitation. There is a large potential for the harvesting, domestication and marketing of [wild food plants] in the area, and if done properly, they could be a source of cash income for locals. The wild relatives of the domesticated food species could help increase genetic diversity for crop improvement and yield, thus addressing the present demand of human food security. The ongoing process of domestication of wild species in the area is of the utmost importance not only for the interests of local communities but also for global food diversification.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Medicinal Dietary Plants Used by the Naxi People of Northwest Yunnan

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Ethnobotanical survey of medicinal dietary plants used by the Naxi People in Lijiang Area, Northwest Yunnan, China

Zhang L, Zhang Y, Pei S, et al
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2015 May 12;11:40
PubMed Central: PMC4449607

Investigators from the Kunming Institute of Botany, South China Botanical Garden, and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences conducted the first ethnobotanical survey to document species used as medicinal dietary plants by the Naxi people in northwest Yunnan.

The Naxi are indigenous people of the Lijiang region who have a long-standing knowledge of diet therapy:

The Tea Horse Road
The Tea Horse Road [Map: Yerius J, Wikimedia Commons]
“The Naxi are a Burmo-Naxi-Lolo sociolinguistic sub-group of the Tibeto-Burman group within the Sino-Tibetan family. The Naxi population was formed during the southward migration of the ancient Qiang people during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC), who had originally inhabited the Hehuang area of Northwest China. The Naxi are indigenous residents of the Ancient Tea Horse Road, a trade link documented since the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) which lasted until the 1960s, and stretched across Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibetan provinces. The road promoted exchanges in culture, religion and ethnic migration, resembling the Silk Road. Given this history, the medicine of the Naxi integrates traditional Chinese, Tibetan, and Shamanic medicinal systems. Prior research indicates that the Naxi culture promotes diet therapy, and documentation of many of their traditional medicines and diet remedies exists through the world’s only remaining pictographic writing system. Despite the renewed interest in medicinal diets by scientists, consumers, and industry, not much is known about the medicinal dietary plants used by the Naxi, or their associated ethnobotanical knowledge.”

Pinus armandii with Deer and Red-Crested Crane
Pinus armandii with Deer and Red-Crested Crane [Photo: Philg88, Wikimedia Commons]
Working with 89 local participants from three Naxi villages, the team identified 55 botanical taxa (species, varieties, or subspecies) used as medicinal dietary plants to treat health conditions including fatigue; lung ailments; eye diseases; insomnia; cold; stomachache; abdominal pain; bruises; constipation; postpartum blood stasis; postpartum weakness; nervousness; and poor lactation. Aconitum stapfianum, several Cirsium species, Ligusticum chuanxiong, Pinus armandii, Polygonatum cirrhifolium, and Zanthoxylum bungeanum were among the plants most widely used for medicinal dietary purposes.

The authors recommend a rigorous scientific approach to any extrapolation of Naxi dietary plant therapy to broader populations:

“The medicinal dietary plants used by the Naxi people are diverse. The lives of the Naxi people are closely related with the use of medicinal dietary plants and their associated knowledge of these plants is extensive. These plants are easy to collect and prepare, and are widely used when needed by the Naxi people. The main theory behind the traditional medicinal diet of the Naxi people is to prevent disease by strengthening the body. A wide spectrum of disorders can be treated by medicinal diets. Most plants have a high fidelity level and are widely used. However, the safety of some medicinal dietary plants is not well understood, and the nutritional elements are unclear. Scientific evidence on the safety, detoxification, and nutrition of medicinal dietary plants of the Naxi people must be established before these medicinal dietary plants can be adopted by modern society to improve health and prevent diseases.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Medicinal Plants Used by the Maonan People of Southwest China

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Ethnobotanical study on medicinal plants used by Maonan people in China

Hong L, Guo Z, Huang K, et al
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2015 Apr 30;11:32
PubMed Central: PMC4449599

Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China [Map: TUBS, Wikimedia Commons]
Investigators from Minzu University of China, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Kunming Institute of Botany conducted an ethnobotanical study of traditional medicinal plants and associated knowledge of the Maonan indigenous people living in Huanjiang Maonan Autonomous County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, southwest China.

The authors note both the richness and precariousness of Maonan ethnomedicinal knowledge:

“As one of the indigenous minorities, Maonan is mainly living in Huanjiang Maonan Autonomous County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, southwest China. The exceptional altitudinal range, topography and climatic variability in this region have fostered a center of plant species endemism. Here the majority of Maonan people rely on medicinal plants for self-medication. The Maonan medicine has made a great contribution to protect the health of local people. This is due to free access to medicinal herbs, cultural traditions and high cost of hospital treatments in the town nearby. Local people widely utilize endemic species, and they have developed their own traditional medicinal knowledge. Without writing language, Maonan people pass on their indigenous knowledge from generation to generation orally. Nowadays, the Maonan children spend most of their time in schools, where they are taught in Han language. This decreases their chances to learn about the uses of the medicinal plants from the old people. Therefore, important information about medicinal plants is easily lost in the transfer process of indigenous knowledge. With the impact of increasing modern health facilities and modern civilization in Maonan area, indigenous knowledge is depleting rapidly. Although a number of ethnobotanical documentations about several ethnic groups have been published during the past decades in China, few field ethnobotanical studies have been conducted in Maonan society. It is therefore necessary to carry out a survey to document the medicinal plants and associated indigenous knowledge in Maonan region.”

In this context, the team worked to document and analyze the knowledge and use of medicinal plants by Maonan people in support of further multidisciplinary research, future phytochemical and pharmacological discovery, and conservation of knowledge and biodiversity.

Houttuynia cordata
Houttuynia cordata [Photo: Bouba, Wikimedia Commons]
Working with more than a hundred participants in eighteen villages, the team documented 368 medicinal plant species used to treat 95 human diseases. The most frequently used medicinal plants were Acanthopanax trifoliatus, Buddleja officinalis, Houttuynia cordata, Litsea pungens, Murraya exotica, Nephrolepis cordifolia, Paederia scandens, Platycodon grandiflorus, Rauvolfia verticillata, Rubus parvifolius, Sargentodoxa cuneata, Talinum paniculatum, and Tetrapanax papyrifer.

In addition to their medicinal value, most of the medicinal plants were also valued for their economic, edible, and ornamental qualities. In particular, the Maonans prioritize disease prevention and emphasize the function of medicinal food in ordinary life, adding medicinal plants into food for the purposes of enhancing immunity and disease resistance.

The authors conclude with an urgent recommendation to government agencies to develop sustainable programs to conserve and transmit the Maonan’s traditional knowledge:

“The species diversity of medicinal plants used by the Maonans in the study area was very rich. Medicinal plants played a significant role in healing various human disorders in the Maonan communities. However, the conflicts between traditional inheriting system and recent socio-economic changes (and other factors) resulted in the reduction or loss of both medicinal plants and associated indigenous knowledge. Thus, conservation efforts and policies, and innovation of inheriting system are necessary for protecting the medicinal plants and associated indigenous knowledge. Awareness is also needed to be raised among local Maonans focusing on sustainable utilization and management of both medicinal plants and traditional knowledge.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

A Comparative Ethnobotanical Study of the Cholistan Desert & Pothwar Plateau of Pakistan

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A comparative ethno-botanical study of Cholistan (an arid area) and Pothwar (a semi-arid area) of Pakistan for traditional medicines

Malik S, Ahmad S, Sadiq A, et al
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2015 Apr 30;11:31
PubMed Central: PMC4460735

Cholistan Desert & Indus River Basin
Cholistan Desert & Indus River Basin [Photo: NASA, Wikimedia Commons]
Investigators at the National University of Sciences and Technology, University of Sargodha, Islamia University of Bahawalpur, and American University of Ras Al Khaimah conducted an ethnobotanical study to compare and document therapeutic flora, their use, and traditional knowledge of residents of the Cholistan Desert and Pothwar (Potohar) Plateau of  Pakistan.

In their introduction, the authors note both the paucity of published ethnobotanical research and the risk of loss of indigenous knowledge from these regions:

“Data regarding ethnobotanical or ethnopharmacologically characteristics of the plants of Cholistan desert and Pothwar is almost non-existent except very few reports. The main objective of present study is to explore the relationship between local culture of folk people and plants in the pursuit of drug development and medical breakthroughs. The herbal treatments in respective regions are favored over the allopathic ones for their low cost and less side effects. The most important objective of this study is the preservation of local plant knowledge. Loss of the indigenous knowledge is a threat to the poor rural economies based on traditional livestock farming as that in the deserts like Cholistan or semi-arid area like Pothwar. It was, therefore, deemed imperative to document the ethnobotany knowledge possessed by the people of respective areas. In addition to this, present study will be a yardstick to probe standardization and systematic exploration of traditional herbs.”

Acacia nilotica
Acacia nilotica [Photo: J.M.Garg, Wikimedia Commons]
The team documented 67 plant species used in the traditional treatment of human diseases in the Cholistan Desert, and 86 species used in the treatment human diseases in the Pothwar Plateau. Medicinal plants used in both regions (10.5% of the total) included Acacia nilotica, Boerhavia procumbens, Calotropis procera, Citrullus colocynthis, Cyperus rotundus, Peganum harmala, Solanum surattense, Withania somnifera, and Ziziphus nummularia.

The findings from the Cholistan Desert are of particular interest (for example, roughly half of all plant species endemic to the region are used for medicinal purposes):

“Cholistan Desert is uniquely located in wild land with dearth of endemic flora counting only 128 species belonging to 32 families. During the present study people including local elders (Siana), herbal and homoeopathic practitioners and spiritual healers were interviewed. They play an imperative role in primary healthcare of the local inhabitants as the majority of their clients come from poor families who cannot meet the expense of the modern healthcare services. As said by traditional healers, the local people are still dependent on wild plants for prime healthcare owing to the widespread faith in its efficiency. According to the current survey, local people for curing various diseases, commonly use 67 plant species belonging to 29 families. The diseases cured vary from simple stomachache to more complicated such as male and female urino-genital disorders…. 14 plant species are being used for the treatment of gastrointestinal tract disorders. Moreover, it is observed that 16 plant species are consumed as antibacterial and cure for skin diseases. 10 of the plant species are particularly utilized for respiratory tract problems, whereas, for musculoskeletal and joint disorders 10 plant species are used. There are 5 species being consumed for the male sexual disorders, and 10 species for the female sexual disorders. For urinary tract infections 5 plant species have been exploited, and 10 plant species are being consumed as anti-diabetics. In addition to this, traditional healers are using 14 plant species to cure fever, 7 plant species to cure liver diseases, 9 plant species to treat jaundice and renal stones are being cured with 6 plant species. Five plants including Heliotropium strigosum, Withania somnifera, Mukia maderaspatana, Cymbopogon jwarancusa, and Peganum harmala are commonly used for the treatment of CNS disorders, like dementia.”

The authors recommend further documentation and preservation of this rich and unique traditional knowledge, which is in imminent danger of loss, as well as conservation of the medicinal plant species themselves and research on their pharmacological activity.

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Plants Used for Digestive System Disorders by the Karen of Thailand

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Ethnomedicinal plants used for digestive system disorders by the Karen of northern Thailand

Tangjitman K, Wongsawad C, Kamwong K, et al
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2015 Apr 9;11:27
PubMed Central: PMC4422539

Investigators at Chiang Mai University and Royal Park Rajapruek conducted an ethnobotanical study to document plants used by Karen people of Chiang Mai Province, northern Thailand, to treat and prevent digestive system disorders.

The authors open the paper with an introduction of the Karen:

“The Karen originated in Tibet and had migrated to other parts of Southeast Asia, particularly Myanmar. From the 18th century onwards they began to cross the Salween River and moved into Thailand, where they settled in the high mountains of Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Lamphun provinces, as well as other areas. In 2003, the Karen people constituted 48% of the total hill tribe population in the region with a population more than 430,000 Karens in Thailand. As they typically reside in the mountain areas, the Karen people have limited access to public healthcare systems. They have therefore accumulated a rich experience related to preventing and treating diseases with herbal remedies, and they have developed a distinctive knowledge of traditional medicine. This traditional knowledge has been handed down from one generation to the next by spoken word and through lifestyle. Most Karen villagers still maintain traditional knowledge of medicinal plants that are used for first aid remedies and to treat simple ailments.”

The team documented 36 plant species used by the Karen to treat digestive system disorders including diarrhea, flatulence, constipation, gastric ulcer, and jaundice.

Curcuma longa
Curcuma longa [Photo: J.M.Garg, Wikimedia Commons]
The medicinal plant species identified included Curcuma longa, Dendrocalamus strictus, Dillenia pentagyna, Engelhardtia spicata, Euphorbia heterophylla, Gymnopetalum integrifolium, Melastoma malabathricum, Musa sapientum, Psidium guajava, Punica granatum, Senna alata, Senna occidentalis, Zingiber montanum, and Zingiber ottensii.

In their conclusion, the authors recommend further research to determine the biological activities of medicinal plants:

“Digestive system disorders have a high prevalence in terms of the morbidity rate among Thai people. This is also considered to be true worldwide, particularly among ethnic people who likely have inadequate access to hygienic levels of sanitation, which may increase the transmission of digestive diseases. The study of medicinal plants among the Karen people of northern Thailand has reported that 36 species were commonly used against digestive system disorders. A literature investigation found that several surveyed plants had similar usage with other ethnic groups in different areas throughout the world. Moreover, the pharmacological studies of some of the medicinal plants could confirm that these plants are considered effective in treating digestive diseases. However, some medicinal plants, which were reported to have high UV and FL values, still require further pharmacological research for the discovery of new compounds and biological activities of these potential medicinal plants. There were certain toxic effects that were found to have been associated with some of these plants. Therefore, herbal remedies should be taken carefully in order to avoid any potential side effects that may occur through utilizing these medicinal plants.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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