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Ethnobotanical research on local medicinal plant use in Central India

Around 60-80% of India's population relies on plant-based medicines for primary healthcare despite the availability of modern treatments. Chhattisgarh, a tribal-dominant state in Central India, comprises a third of the population of indigenous communities. The state consists of 44% forest, which has long been utilized for spiritual, cultural, and religious purposes. However, the traditional knowledge and diversity of medicinal plants are diminishing due to overexploitation and the influence of modern medicine. To address this, Chhattisgarh has been declared a 'Herbal State' to conserve medicinal plants by promoting their cultivation and sustainable development while also generating employment opportunities. This study aims to document the ethnomedicinal flora and traditional knowledge for the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources in the Achanakmar Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve (AABR), Central India.

The study was conducted in tropical dry forests of the Bicchhiya subdistrict in Madhya Pradesh. There were 55 study sites divided into three broad categories: a) Restored sites - Sites where restoration by way of Lantana camara removal has taken place in the last five years; b) Unrestored Sites - Sites with a high density of L. camara where no restoration has taken place in the last five years; and c) Low Lantana Density (LLD) Sites - Sites which naturally have very few L. camara plants or no L. camara plants in the last five years.

The study was conducted in the Surhi Range of the Bilaspur Forest Division, part of the AABR. It experiences a monsoon climate with distinct summer, rainy, and winter seasons. The area is surrounded by luxuriant Sal and Sal Mixed forests, agricultural lands, water bodies, and human settlements. The vegetation consists of Sal forests, Sal mixed forests, and dry mixed deciduous forests. The dry mixed deciduous forest consists of dry Sal with associates in the top storey like saja, bija, dhaora, kusum and many other thorny species in the middle storey, banrahar, chhind, dhawai, harsingar, kurdai, and kalabansain in the undergrowth; chhira, kusum, bhurbhusi, and mushelas grasses and mahul, etc. as common climbers.

An ethnobotanical survey was conducted in Surhi, Jamunahi, and Rajak villages, inhabited by indigenous communities, including Baigas, Gonds, Oraons, and Pradhans. Secondary data was collected from the National Informatic Centre, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, while primary data was collected through Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and focused group discussions. The survey involved fifty indigenous communities from each village representing different age groups, genders, and communities, with equal opportunity given to household members to share their perceptions and knowledge of medicinal plants for common diseases.

The study also documented the disappearance of valuable medicinal plants, identified rare and endangered species, and addressed the challenges local communities face in collecting and utilizing medicinal plants. A Baiga vaid (local healer) was selected randomly from each village, and their traditional knowledge and utilization of crude drugs were gathered through semi-structured interviews with cross-checking. A list of rare, endangered and threatened plants were identified using the Red data book of the Botanical Survey of India. The collected field data was analyzed using appropriate statistical methods in MS-Excel.

The ethnobotanical survey conducted in the study area identified various medicinal plants used by indigenous communities. Seventy plants from 37 different families were identified as potential medicinal sources, with the Fabaceae family having the highest number of species. The families were ranked according to the number of species they had, with Fabaceae (10) being the most abundant, followed by Combretaceae (6), Rubiaceae (4), and Acanthaceae (3). Of these, 31 species were trees belonging to 18 families, 24 were shrubs from 16 families, and 15 were herbs corresponding to 12 families. However, only 17 plants were commonly used in home remedies for treating ailments such as cough, cold, and digestive disorders. Various plant components such as leaves, stems, bark, flowers, fruits, and roots were employed in producing unrefined medicinal substances. These substances were externally applied to address wounds, allergies, and swellings, while decoctions made from them were ingested to alleviate colds, coughs, and fevers. In some instances, raw forms of these plants were chewed to relieve toothaches and mouth ulcers. Baiga vaids, traditional healers, utilized 48 plants for treating persistent ailments.

The study listed ten rare and endangered medicinal plants. Rauvolfia serpentina is critically endangered and requires special conservation attention. Acorus calamus and Adiantum lunulatum are endangered, while Chlorophytum borivilianum, Curcuma angustifolia, Emblica officinalis, Pterocarpus marsupium, Sterculia urens, Terminalia chebula, and others are vulnerable and need conservation efforts both on-site and off-site.

The study highlights the rich traditional knowledge of medicinal plants among the indigenous communities of Surhi Range, AABR, in Central India. Conservation and promotion of these plants are recommended for community health. Traditional healers (Baiga vaids) should be supported, and further research is needed to explore these plants' therapeutic and pharmacological potential. Documentation and preservation of indigenous knowledge are crucial for sustainable development. The study suggests the need for comprehensive surveys and investigations to identify novel drugs for chronic diseases.


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