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Wild Plants Used by Lhoba People in Tibet

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Ethnobotanical study on wild plants used by Lhoba people in Milin County, Tibet

Li F, Zhuo J, Liu B, et al
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2015 Mar 24;11:23
PubMed Central: PMC4374410

Mainling (Milin) County, Tibet
Mainling (Milin) County, Tibet [Map: Croquant, Wikimedia Commons]
Investigators from Minzu University of China, Yunnan Agricultural University, Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Bioversity International conducted an ethnobotanical study to document wild plant species used by Lhoba peoples living in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.

The authors begin by presenting some richly complex ethnogeographical context for their study:

“The southeast area of Tibet is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. The area is rich in biological resources due to its subtropical humid and semi-humid climate, which extend over extreme elevational differences. Rich medicinal plant resources are distributed in different geographical areas of the region. The region that Nanyi Village is located in has been regarded as a sacred site, and called “Medicinal Lord’s Valley” by healers. The people living in Milin consist primarily of three ethnic groups: the Tibetan, the Monpa (or Moinba or Menba), and the Lhoba (or Luoba). The Lhoba are distributed in three counties of the Nyingchi (Linzhi) Prefecture: Milin, Medog, and Zayü, and in Lhünzê County of the Shannan Prefecture. Researchers have speculated that the Lhoba might be from the integration of several ancient tribes of the southeastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Before the Chinese government recognized and decided on “Lhoba” as their unified name in 1965, each tribe had an independent name and a different dialect, “Bo’gaer”, “Bengni”, and “Miguba”. “Lhoba” is derived from pronunciation of which means “southerner” in the Tibetan language”, and has been used to refer to the people living in Lhoyü, Tibet. According to the 2010 census, there are only 3,682 Lhoba in the modern-day Tibet Autonomous Region in China, and Milin County contains the largest population of Lhoba (Bo’gaer tribal group) that lacks a mixed inhabitation with other ethnic groups. Before the 1960s, the Lhoba mainly lived on the abundant plant resources in the Tibetan mountain valleys. They practiced swidden agriculture, in addition to hunting and gathering activities. For centuries, these plant resources have provided the Lhoba’s most important source for medicine and food supplements. The Lhoba have a rich information base of ethnobotanical knowledge for describing and using these species.”

In addition to documenting the traditional ethnobotanical knowledge of the Lhoba, delineating the relationships between the Lhoba and their living environment, and reviewing the impact of Tibetan culture on this knowledge, the team also examined whether the ethnobotanical knowledge of the Lhoba was similar to published information on the Lhoba tribes in neighboring India.

Working with 23 local respondents with ages ranging from 20 to 65 years, the team collected ethnobotanical information for 59 species including medicinal plants, edible plants, and plants used for other aspects of daily life (e.g., fuelwood, dye, religious purposes, timber, tobacco substitutes, fodder).

Berberis pruinosa
Berberis pruinosa [Photo: Daderot, Wikimedia Commons]
Plants used for medicine, food, or both included Angelica apaensis, Berberis pruinosa, Cirsium eriophoroides, Coptis teeta, Dysosma tsayuensis, Erigeron breviscapus, Fargesia macclureana, Litsea cubeba, Litsea pungens, Polygonum tortuosum, Potentilla anserina, Quercus aquifolioides, Ribes himalense, Rosa omeiensis, Rubus biflorus, Sambucus adnata, Sinopodophyllum hexandrum, Sorbus thibetica, Usnea spp, Veronica anagallis-aquatica, and Zanthoxylum bungeanum.

In their conclusion, the authors note some ambivalent effects of integration and recommend investment in the conservation of Lhoba peoples’ traditional plant-derived culture:

“This study documented traditional ethnobotanical knowledge of the Lhoba in Nanyi Township, Milin County, Tibet. Fifty-nine wild plant species were found to be used in traditional medicines, food, dyeing technologies, and religion. These species mainly came from the surrounding areas. Some of these materials are important trade items in local Tibetan and Lhoba markets. The Lhoba in Nanyi use the same plant species for dyes and had similar bamboo weaving handcraft as tribes in adjacent areas in India. In contrast the Lhoba’s use of ethnomedicinal species has been deeply influenced by traditional Tibetan medicine and Chinese medicine. This study reported less plant species compared to other ethnic communities in Tibet. This may be due to the small size of the Lhoba population. The improved access to imported goods from outside their community and the development of tourism has changed the Lhoba lifestyle and production structure. These events signal the need to invest in mechanisms that can enable the Lhoba to benefit from the use of their traditional plant-derived culture and therefore support the continued conservation and use of these important plant resources.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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