Medicinal Plants of Skardu Valley, Karakoram-Himalayan Range, Pakistan


Quantitative ethnomedicinal study of plants used in the skardu valley at high altitude of Karakoram-Himalayan range, Pakistan

Bano A, Ahmad M, Ben Hadda T, Saboor A, Sultana S, Zafar M, Khan MP, Arshad M, Ashraf MA
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2014 May 9;10:43
PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4039317

Skardu [source: Waqas Usman, Wikimedia Commons]
Abida Bano of Quaid-i-Azam University, with colleagues from that institution and Universiti Sains Malaysia, Université Mohammed Premier, PMAS-Arid Agriculture University, and University of Malaya, conducted the first quantitative study of the ethnomedicinal spectrum of plant use in the Skardu Valley, Karakoram-Himalayan range, Pakistan.

The authors comment on the region’s high level of biodiversity:

“Generally in Deosai plateau, about 342 species of plants belonging to 36 families and 142 genera have been recorded in the flora of Pakistan so far, while to the best of our knowledge, the number of species used as medicinal are not systematically recorded in literature. This high level of biodiversity on the plateau is due to several reasons, including topography, location of the plateau (Junction of major mountain ranges) and local adaptation of its plant and animal species. Sultana et al. reported 43 species of Poaceae, 32 species of Cyperaceae and 4 species of Juncaceae from Deosai plateau. A total of 114 plant species belonging to 28 families were found around the Sheosar Lake of Deosai plateau. These studies on Deosai were based on biodiversity, altitudinal distribution of species and phytosociological expeditions. The present study focuses only on medicinal plant species frequently used by the local populace of Skardu valley. The study area has a rich potential for utilization and consumption of medicinal and aromatic plants. These areas are also the potential sites for exporting tradable medicinal plants on a sustainable basis.”

Hippophae rhamnoides
Hippophae rhamnoides [source: Carl Axel Magnus Lindman (1856–1928), Wikimedia Commons]
The team documented considerable indigenous knowledge about the valley’s native medicinal plants, with 50 medicinal plants reported to be used against 33 different ailments. The most popular medicinal plants known by the local communities include Hippophae rhamnoides, Rosa brunonii, Capparis spinosa, Ephedra gerardiana, Sophora mollis, Artemisia sieversiana, Astragalus psilocentros, Berberis vulgaris and Dracocephalum nuristanicum.

The authors note both the importance of ethnomedicinal flora to the people of Skardu Valley, and the high level of threat to the plants and this indigenous knowledge:

“Skardu valley is one of the naturally enriched regions of high mountains in the Karakorum- Himalayan ranges that make it unique with traditional cultural heritage but equally challenging to its community. The low standard of living and scattered population in high terrains consequently inaccessible or minimized the modern healthcare facilities for the majority of the population. This is the main reason behind the dependency of local people on medicinal plant resources to treat common day ailments. Besides the Karakoram Highway (KKH), the sole connection of Gilgit-Baltistan with the rest of Pakistan is often blocked due to the frequent land sliding round the year and intense snowfall in the winter which makes it isolated physically. It forces the local community to rely on native biodiversity to meet their daily needs. The people of the valley largely depend on wild plants for fuel, food supplements, medicine, construction material, nutrients and livestock feed. The majority of the people is engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry and forests related works. The vegetation in the valley is mostly inferior scrubs while herbs are abundant in alpine and subalpine pastures. The flora of fragile alpine meadows has been overexploited for traditional medicine because medicinal plant collectors invariably uproot the entire plant and due to this, the regrowth of some very important medicinal plants is retarded. There is a dramatic degradation of habitat due to collection of fuel wood and shrubs to meet the domestic energy requirement as the temperature drops below −25°C in winter (November- February) and there is no alternate source. The ruthless use of valuable medicinal plants of the grazing animals is indeed a great injustice. Pastures and rangelands are used for livestock herding by the local communities on a periodic basis like high pastures are used in summer and low rangelands in autumn. During the course of study, the informants were selected randomly from the tribal communities based on their rich knowledge with long experience in utilization of medicinal plants and most of the informants belonged to or above 60 years age. In this survey, we observed that the wealth of knowledge is rapidly vanishing due to the death of elderly rural people. Due to this, transfer of indigenous knowledge from generation to generation is now endangered in this area and tends towards disappearance. Preservation of this stock of knowledge is highly important for the socioeconomic prosperity of the region. On one hand, the community can be motivated to be a party of conserving their precious resources while on the other hand experts engaged in the policy making can realize to make the flora of this region in the lime light.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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