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.

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