The paper enumerates the traditional uses of endemic and red-listed medicinal plants utilized by the Valaiyars of Karandamalai for primary health care. Intensive ethnobotanical surveys through structured questionnaires were conducted to tap the ethnobotanical wisdom of Valaiyars. Information on the medicinal uses of 45 plants belonging to endemic and red-list category was documented. Vernacular names of the plants, parts used, methods of medicine preparation, dosage, mode and time of administration were also gathered. Ethnomedicinal plants are arranged alphabetically followed by botanical name, family name, local name and parts used, mode of preparation and medicinal uses.
Key words: Endemic, Red-list, Karandamalai, Medicinal plants, Valaiyars.
India has an ancient, rich and diverse living tradition in the use of medicinal plants. The country has about 19,395 flowering plants1, of these 5,725 species are endemic2. Nearly 75% of the drugs mentioned in various pharmacopoeias are growing in India. Medicinal plants continue to be an important source of life saving drugs for human kind, especially in the developing nations. The World Health Organization has estimated that more than 80% of the world population in developing countries depends on plants for basic health care3; 85% of the medicines in primary healthcare are derived from plants4. In rural India, 70% of the population is dependent on the traditional system of medicine5. The increasing realization of the health hazards and toxicity associated with the indiscriminate use of synthetic drugs and antibiotics has renewed the interest in the use of plants and plant-based drugs. Subsequent global inclination toward herbal medicine has advanced the expansion of plant-based pharmaceutical industries.
The obligatory demand for a huge raw material of medicinal plants is met from their wild populations. Over-exploitation and destructive harvesting to meet such demand in fact threaten the survival of many rare species. There is no reliable estimate for the number of medicinal plants that are globally threatened, however the reported species ranges from 4160-10 0005,6. In 2008, IUCN Red List shows that the number of threatened plant species is increasing gradually. The number of threatened plants is 8457, out of which 247 plants are found at different biodiversity hotspots in India. Our estimates of endangered species of flowering plants in India have unfortunately sharply risen from few hundred to a few thousand species over the past few years7. Confronted by such unprecedented genetic erosion and disappearance of species and ecosystems, conservation of natural resources assumes paramount urgency. To undertake and promote focussed conservation action, FRLHT has been engaged in systematic and rapid assessment of threatened medicinal plant taxa of India through the CAMP (Conservation Assessment and Management Plan) exercises. This methodology has been designed and developed by CBSG (Conservation and Breeding Specialist Group) of Species Survival Commission of IUCN for rapid assessment of Red List status of prioritized taxa. During 1993-2003, 10 such workshops have been conducted from different states of India and 304 taxa of medicinal plants have been assessed and assigned Red List status ranging from Near Threatened to Extinct. Four of these workshops have been conducted from 1993-1997 for the 3 southern Indian states viz., Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and results of these assessments enlist 110 taxa of medicinal plants for conservation focus8.
2. Topography of the Study area
Karndamalai is a part of Southern Eastern Ghats and situated 43 km from Madurai. It is adjoined by Ariyalur hills in the west and towards the northwest and northeast it is surrounded by the Sirumalai and Perumalai hills, respectively. It lies between 100 15’ to 100 21’ north latitude and 780 9’ to 780 15’east longitude. The altitude from foothill to the highest Jandamedu ranges from 180 to 916 M with undulating terrain. Forest types range from tropical thorn forests to mixed deciduous forests and moist deciduous riparian forests9,10.
2.1. Geology and Soil
Geographically, Karandamalai is an archaen formation (i.e. made up of gneissic rocks). The gneissic rocks are referred to as charnockite and consist of mica, feldspar and quartz. Red soil is the predominant soil type found in Karandamalai. The surface soil in the scrub forests is usually of red soil mixed with pebbles. In the deciduous forests, soil is greyish-yellow lateritic clay. The riparian forests have loamy blackish soil rich in humus.
2.2. Climate and Rain fall
Except the riparian areas, majority of the parts in Karandamalai is hot and dry. The relatively cool season is December, January and part of February. During this period, there is heavy due formation at nights and mornings are foggy. The hottest months are April-May. The annual mean temperature of this are varies during summer and winter from 250C-300C and 170C-260C. The rainfall regime is a tropical dissymmetric type with the bulk of rain received during the retreating monsoon period (October-December) due to depressions and cyclones. Some rain is also received during the South-west monsoon.
3. Ethnography of Valaiyar
Valaya or Valaiyars are one of the most ancient castes in the country and they were often found in the villages on periphery of forests in the 18th and 19th century. They belong to denotified tribe of Southern India and traditionally they are rat trappers. In the census report of 1901, the Valaiyars are described as a ‘shikari (hunting) caste’ in Madurai and Tanjore. They are one of the oldest aboriginal groups inhabiting the hill tracks of southern Tamil Nadu11. They are skilled hunters and forest product gatherers and their name is believed to be derived from the word ‘valai’ (or net), since this implement is constantly employed by them in the capturing of jungle game12. They are the repositories of the knowledge of herbal medicine and they utilize local herbs for different ailments after centuries of trail.
Intensive interviews were carried out in the field with the Valaiyars, following standard methodology13-16. The gathered data was cross-verified by repeated queries with different local herbalists in different seasons in order to validate the information. The collected plants were identified taxonomically with the help of various floras17,18. The ethnomedicinal plants were preserved or pressed immediately. The herbarium specimens were prepared as per the standard specification and their identification was later confirmed by matching specimens with previously authenticated specimens available at Botanical Survey of India, Southern Circle, Coimbatore. All collections are deposited in Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) Herbarium, Bangalore.
ENUMERATION OF ETHNOMEDICINAL PLANTS
The enumeration follows alphabetical order of the binomials. Family name is given in uppercase in parentheses and the local name (Tamil name) is in italics within inverted commas, followed by collectors initials (RKM- R. Kottaimuthu) and collection number.
1, Acalypha alnifolia Klein ex Willd. (Euphorbiaceae); ‘Chinnikeerai’ (RKM-1099); Leaves paste is taken internally for dysentery
2. Andrographis ovata (T. Anders. ex Bedd.) Benth. ex Clarke (Acanthaceae); ‘Periyanangai’ (RKM-1050); Leaf paste is applied topically for poisonous bites. 20-30 ml of leaf juice is given for diarrhoea
3. Aphanamixis polystachya (Wall.) Parker (Meliaceae); ‘Vella kongu’ (RKM-1085); Oil extracted from the seed is used to treat skin diseases, especially eczema
4. Artocarpus hirsutus Lam. (Moraceae); ‘Kattupala’ (RKM-1096); Fruits used as an appetizer. In addition, the powdered seed is mixed with honey and used in the treatment of asthma
5. Barleria courtallica Nees (Acanthaceae); ‘Kaattukanagambaram’ (RKM-1058); Root juice is given for poisonous bites
6. Barleria longiflora L. f. (Acanthaceae); ‘Vellakuringi’ (RKM-1009); Leaf infusion is given for cough. Root paste is applied topically for poisonous bites
7. Caralluma pauciflora (Wight) N. E. Br. (Asclepiadaceae); ‘Puliyanpirnadai’ (RKM-85); Stem is ground with water and taken internally for stomach disorder
8. Caralluma stalagmifera C. E. C. Fischer (Asclepiadaceae) ‘Pulichai’ (RKM-2022); 2-3 teaspoons stem paste mixed with a glass of hot water, given orally for a week for stomach ulcer
9. Cassia montana B. Heyne ex Roth (Caesalpiniaceae); ‘Malaiaavaram’ (RKM-1057); Leaf paste is mixed with neem oil and applied topically for scabies. Stem bark decoction is given for stomach complaints
10. Catunaregam brandisii (Gamble) R. Kottaimuthu (Rubiaceae); ‘ Malaikaarai ’ (RKM-270); Diluted leaf juice is given for dysentery. Fruits are used as fish poisons
11. Celastrus paniculatus Willd. (Celastraceae); ‘Valuluvai’ (RKM-1140); A decoction of the bark is given orally on an empty stomach for a period of 7 days to women for the purposes of abortion
12. Commiphora berryi (Wight & Arn.) Engler (Burseraceae); ‘Mulkiluvai’ (RKM-444); Powdererd resin is mixed with hot water and taken internally for dysentery
13. Commiphora pubescens (Wight & Arn.) Engler (Burseraceae); ‘Malaikiluvai’ (RKM-111); Dried resin is mixed with hot milk or honey and taken internally to arrest diarrhoea
14. Cyanotis tuberosa (Roxb.) Schultes & Schultes (Commelinaceae); ‘Valukaikizhangu’ (RKM-108) Tuberous root is ground with water and into paste and taken internally for a month for diabetes
15. Decalepis hamiltonii Wight & Arn. (Asclepiadaceae); ‘Maahaali kizhanku’ (RKM-1071); Tuberous root paste is given for stomach disorders
16. Deccania pubescens (Roth) Tirveng. (Rubiaceae); ‘Peikaarai’ (RKM-100); Leaf paste is applied topically for cuts and wounds
17. Dicliptera cuneta Nees (Acanthaceae); ‘Thelekadi poondu’ (RKM-814); Leaves and roots are chewed for poisonous bites especially scorpion bites
18. Endostemon viscosus (Roth) M. Ashby (Lamiaceae); ‘Senthulasi’ (RKM-1099); Leaf jucie is applied externally to repel ticks
19. Ficus dalhousiae Miq. (Moraceae) ‘Kalitchi’ (RKM-1120) Bark paste is applied externally to mend cracks in the feet. Stem bark decoction is used for taking bath to get relief from body pain
20. Gardenia gummifera L. f. (Rubiaceae); ‘ Kumbil’ (RKM-1512); The mixture of resin and sugar in hot milk is used to arrest diarrhoea. Bark paste applied for skin diseases especially for scabies
21. Gloriosa superba L. (Colchiaceae); ‘ Kanvalipoo’ (RKM-857); 10-20g of paste of tuberous roots is taken internally by women for abortion
22. Gymnema elegans Wight & Arn. (Asclepiadaceae); ‘Sirukurinjan’ (RKM-800); Handful of fresh leaves ground with water and the paste is taken internally for 30 days for diabetes
23. Hemidesmus indicus (L.) R.Br. var. pubescens (Wight & Arn.) Hook.f. (Periplocaceae); ‘Nannari’ (RKM-799); Decoction extracted from the roots is taken in an empty stomach for two months for diabetes. Root paste is taken internally for stomach disorder
24. Henckelia incana (Vahl) Spreng. (Gesneriaceae); ‘Kalthamarai’ (RKM-1253); Leaf is ground in water and the juice is taken orally to treat fever.