ETHNOBOTANY: Resurrecting Medicinal Culture

Botanical Garden, BHU Varanasi (Source: Google)

The organisms that populated the earth way before we “the humans” showed up were the flora and fauna’s. The major chemistry and biology of life started out with plants, soil, and microbes. Moreover, we are entirely depended on them and because of their existence we as a species were able to evolve in order to flourish. We have heard of how humans differ from other species on the earth as we have culture, sense of morality and language. But somewhere deep down environment played a major part in shaping our culture and if we see the other way around then culture revolves around them.

When we study cultural origin of life, in socio-cultural anthropology, which is holistic in nature all its aspects are inclined around environment; culture; and indigenous peoples their traditional values, their approaches towards life and we try to make a sense out of it in order to lay out a theory for the origin and survival of the human species and how they have evolved overtime.

Over the time period we have observed that ethnographic studies has always been a major part of anthropological studies where fieldwork has been its base and participant observation the soul. Speaking of ethnography, well there are so many branches of study starting with the prefix ethno (meaning ethics, people, culture, belief, tradition, values, knowledge, aesthetics, etc) like ethnobotany, ethnobiology, ethnopharmacology, ethnomusicology, ethnomycology, ethnoscience, ethnoecology etc. Though their objectivity differs when we specify the area of investigation but when we speak of it subjectively then all these disciplines revolves around the culture of the people (indigenous). And with that there goal remain common too; know their culture with the specified area of study (ethno…) and pitch it into how it could help understand them better and development could be done without any harm.

Ethnobotany which studies the plant and people relationship with traditional knowledge of local culture and ethnoecology which studies how different groups of people living in different location understand ecosystem and their relationship with environment are at a point very vastly interlinked but they also differ at many levels.

In 1893, a unique collection of botanical objects were set up for exhibition at the Chicago World Fair which caught the attention of John W. Harshberger. He was so caught up and taken by it that he wrote in botanical gazette under an article titled “The Purpose of Ethnobotany” (1896). Seeing the collection and comparison made over in the exhibition he suggested that the topic it represent should become a designated area of study “Ethnobotany” which would aid in elucidating the cultural position of tribes who used the plants for food, shelter or clothing.

Since then Ethnobotany has made its roots stronger in the area of study and what is worth was in the twentieth century(the past century) its status was reflected in the year 2005 at the Fourth International Congress of Ethnobotany held in Istanbul, Turkey where the theme was “Ethnobotany: At the Junction of the Continents and Disciplines”. Presently in between the world pandemic of Corona Virus ethnbotany is at its peak trying to make its art come into use by using the ethnobotany and Ethnopharmacology together to save the humankind.

On the field many changes has been observed while working under the light of pandemic as in how is it impacting the cultural life of indigenous society and how has it impacted the whole concept of survival in a wider perspective.

In a world rich of botanical source we have thousands of medicinal plants of which we are very much unaware of, these are safeguarded by the tribal’s living in the forest. When we ain’t well we go see a doctor, but what about those who live deep in jungles, where do they go?

Well, the answer is they go to Mother Nature and the abundant botanical source she provides just helps them heal.

India is home to a rich source of such herbs and a leader in the field of traditional medicines and uses. Plants are traditionally part of Indian culture and tradition from the time immemorial. And the interesting fact is it was recognized in India way before anywhere else.

Soma Ras: Identified as “Somalata” (Sarcostemma acidum) by various Indian traditional medicine practitioners is mentioned in Soma Mandal of Rigved and in Chapter 9 of Geeta. It is used in vitiated condition of pith, dipsia, viral infection, hydrophobia, psychopathy and general debility.

Sanjeevani (one that infuses life) says Selaginella Bryopteris is a Lithophytic plant that is native to India found on the Hills of Nilgiri is mentioned as a medicinal plant which can be used as an emergency drug and it can be used in case of unconsciousness (mentioned in Ramayana, the tale of lord Rama).

In Kerala we observe people eating out of Banana Leaf, why? It’s because the leaf has natural antioxidants similar to that found in green tea. These antioxidants prevent diseases.

 Another such example is Betel Leaf and the benefits it provides are a great medicine for many problems like – constipation and congestion, it is also filled with great antioxidant bodies as well it is loaded with vitamins like vitamin C, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, carotene and calcium too.

There are many more examples like tumeric, tulsi, garlic, ginger, elephant foot yam (also known as suran in local languages in India)etc, these botanical product along with others area great source of antioxidants, blood thinners, and can balance bodies PH Level.

Another one is the Hemp, which is in a way is the base of Indian medicine given in Ayurveda, it has the capacity to cure cancer, (reference from Priya Mishra’s talk present on YouTube channel Sangam Talks).

Here, we can see that botany is the source of our well being, and with the pandemic hanging over our heads, there has been a significant rise in demand for products like – cloves, garlic, guruchi, leafs of night flowering jasmine, tulsi (holy basil) etc. Experiments with these plants have shown that they do work and are a great source of medicines. And Indian mythology carries a great reference to it too. They work as great cure for dangerous flues to typhoid’s and so on.

Being a huge field, that is ethnobotany, it holds many powers and surprises for humans. Understanding it and familiarizing ourselves with this miracle would not only help us better our life but understand in a much better way the tribes, forest our culture and traditions that have been passed onto us.

As well the more we connect ourselves with nature more we would be able to conserve the environment. The way it’s degrading with each second we need to connect and help it grow back, get its roots stronger and flourish otherwise humankind can say good bye to life on earth.

Author: Jagjeet Kaur

Co-Author: Shraddha Sharma

©️ Alysane Society

©️ Jagjeet Kaur

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5 thoughts on “ETHNOBOTANY: Resurrecting Medicinal Culture

  1. Indigenous medicines use these medicinal herbs and sometimes they prove much more effective than other drugs. We need to create awareness about these plants, conserve them and use them wisely. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah that’s the need of the hour. Glad you like it.😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed. It’s the need of the hour! Great post

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re most welcome 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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