Ethnobotany is the study of inter-relationship between plants and people. From the beginning human beings of all cultures and races have been utilizing plant material for their various needs. Plants provide a wide variety of things: timber, fibre, perfumes, paper, resin, dyes, oils, soaps, etc. Plants also provide us a wide variety of food (for mental and physical strength) and medicines for almost any type   of disease from the common cold to cancer.

The hunt for new plant medicines is going on all over the world. Because of various developmental activities more and more habitats that are rich in biodiversity are threatened.  Scientists  from  all  parts of the world are struggling to  identify  new  plant species to find out  their  traditional  uses  before  they are lost forever.

A few plant species that are used in curing some common ailments are given below:

  • Thulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) – It has got several medicinal values and is consumed along with pepper and vallarai to cure fever and the leaves may be chewed when you have a cold. It can be used as an insect repellent also as it keeps away the mosquitoes and other insects when planted around the house.
  • Pepper (Piper nigrum)It is consumed with pepper with vallarai and thulasi for fever. It can also be mixed with thippili and ginger and consumed to cure cough.
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – Ginger paste may be applied on the forehead to cure headache. It can be consumed with thippili and pepper for cough.
  • Keezhanelli (Phyllanthus niruri) – The mashed leaves are mixed with curds and consumed to cure jaundice on an empty stomach.
  • Adathodai (Justica adhatoda) – The leaves are made into a paste and used to treat respiratory tract ailments.
  • Nitya kalyani (Catharanthus roseus) – The dried roots and leaves are powdered and used for treating various types of cancer.
  • Chinchona (Chinchona) – The bark of the tree is used to make quinine which is used to treat malaria.
  • Siriyanangai (Andrographis paniculata) – The raw leaves may be consumed as an antidote for snake venom.

As we distance ourselves from the natural world by disturbing fragile habitats, we are also disturbing our own traditional values and knowledge. With the present developmental activities, somewhere along the line we have lost the link with nature, by manipulating it for our own greed and benefit.

Dr. P. Sudhakar

Source: Eco News, Vol. 9, No. 1 (April – June), 2003.

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