Ethnobotany of the Balti Community, Pakistan


Ethnobotany of the Balti community, Tormik valley, Karakorum range, Baltistan, Pakistan

Abbas Z, Khan SM, Abbasi AM, et al
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2016 Sep 9;12(1):38
PubMed Central: PMC5018187

Investigators at Hazara University, Quaid-i-Azam University, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, South China University of Technology, University of Gastronomic Sciences, and University of Swat conducted a study “to document the ethnobotanical knowledge of the local peoples in the Tormik Valley, especially in the medical and food domains.”

The Tormik Valley is home to the Balti ethnic group:

“Overall in the Baltistan region (province), Mongol, Mon, Hor, Brokpa and Kashmiris are the prominent ethnic groups with the local languages being Balti and Shina (Broq-skat); however, the studied valley hosts a single ethnic group: the Balti. This ethnic group is comprised of thirty-one lineage groups known as qoum and speaks Balti as their local language. The population of the valley is approximately 5,000 inhabitants comprising 706 households. The people of this region migrated to the study area from other parts of Baltistan, as well as other regions, before the birth of the founder of Buddhism, Guatama Budha (563 BC).”

The team gathered ethnobotanical data using semi-structured interviews and group conversation with 69 participants during field trips in 14 different villages, and documented 63 plant species with detailed folk uses, including 43% used to treat various diseases, 21% consumed as wild fruits and vegetables, and 53% with multipurpose applications.

This is the first in-depth ethnomedicinal survey of the Tormik valley:

“In mountainous ecosystems such as the Karakorum range, often inadequate nutrition remains a major problem resulting in various diseases. The local inhabitants in these areas have developed traditional methods of curing such common health problems, which in turn can provide important data for devising public health policies. The Karakorum mountain range, situated at the junction of western and central Asiatic regions of Tethyan flora, is one of the most diverse habitats in the world. The Baltistan province of Pakistan is home to more than a dozen geographically isolated and botanically unexplored valleys in the Karakorum Range. Although a number of previous ethnobotanical investigations have been conducted in surrounding areas, many of these studies did not use quantitative methods. Moreover, Tormik Valley repeatedly went unnoticed, perhaps due to its high altitude, harsh and hostile climate, inaccessibility and prevailing poverty. A large proportion of its inhabitants depend on herbal remedies. They are known as the trustees of cultural knowledge whether related to plants, animals, fungi, lichens, or stones.”

Hippophae rhamnoides
Hippophae rhamnoides [Source: Wikimedia Commons, Carl Axel Magnus Lindman, «Bilder ur Nordens Flora» Stockholm]
Twenty-six medicinal plant species were used to treat human ailments, including gastrointestinal diseases, dermatitis, jaundice, hepatitis, cancer, pneumonia, tonic, asthma, urinary disorders, joint pain, and eye pain. Thymus linearis, Hippophae rhamnoides, and Convolvulus arvensis were the most used medicinal plant species.

The authors note several implications for public health and environmental policies:

“…[I]t is clear that stomach related health problems (ulcers, constipation, GIT infections, jaundice), and skin diseases (dermatitis) are the most prevalent health problems in the area. Stomach disorders are likely due to malnutrition and unhygienic food utilization. Skin problems can be attributed to the high altitude of the study area, where radiation from the sun tends to be more intense and potentially mutagenic. People traditionally treat such diseases with food-medicines, which in many cases are quite effective. Hence, the present findings provide very important insights for public-health officials, to formulate health policies taking into account the common health issues and Traditional Medicine practiced by the local people as part of their primary healthcare.
“…The present study revealed that the valleys in the Karakorum Mountains in Northern Pakistan support a notable Traditional Knowledge on the local plants. Wild food plants have represented the milestone of the traditional food systems and could still represent a pillar of the local food sovereignty, while medicinal plants play a vital role, which need to be reconsidered and carefully re-evaluated by ethnopharmacologists and public health actors. The collected data may be also of interest to initiatives aimed at fostering sustainable rural development in an area that faces serious economic problems, widespread illiteracy, and isolation. The findings of this paper advocate the need for comprehensive trans-disciplinary researches aimed to ensure the dynamic conservation of invaluable local knowledge systems, as well as plant diversity in Pakistani mountain regions.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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