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close this bookBiodiversity in the Western Ghats: An Information Kit (IIRR, 1994, 224 p.)
close this folder6. Plants, fungi and bacteria
View the document6.1 Plant associations of the central Western Ghats
View the document6.2 Rare and endangered flowering plants
View the document6.3 Medicinal resources from the forest and sea
View the document6.4 Poisonous plants
View the document6.5 Fungi: Biodiversity, ecology and use
View the document6.6 Conserving fungi
View the document6.7 Edible mushrooms
View the document6.8 Microbial biodiversity of salt pans

6.3 Medicinal resources from the forest and sea

Since the dawn of civilization, people have cultivated and collected plants from wild sources to seek remedies for their ailments.

The first written evidence of the use of medicinal plants dates back to the Atharva Veda. Charak Sanhita, Sushrut Sanhita and Kashyap Sanhita mentioned the use of plants (from both land and sea) to treat human ailments. The Ayurvedic system of treatment developed and flourished in India. The other major Indian systems of medicine Siddha, Unani and folk medicine also rely heavily on plants. Over 80% of remedies of these systems are plant-based.

Tribal and rural communities possess a rich ethno-botanical knowledge base. Of the 20,000 species of flowering plants found in India, about 2,000 are thought to be used for medicinal purposes.

Many scientists have studied medicinal plants in India. Pioneering work on the plants of Goa was done by Garcia da Orta (1563), Dalgardo (1898) and Dada Vaidya.

Despite their importance, most medicinal plants are obtained from the wild; only a handful (generally those with export potential) are cultivated on a large scale.

The Western Ghats are very rich in medicinal plants, but environmental degradation mean that plants that were previously easily found now grow only in undisturbed areas. Some plants, such as asparagus, are cultivated on a large scale, but naturally growing wild varieties has become rare.

Forests are the primary storehouse of medicinal plants. But they are disappearing at an alarming rate, taking with them a wealth of wild species. Consequences are:

· Many medicinal plant species are threatened with extinction as a result of genetic erosion.

· The availability of medicinal plants has decreased to such an extent that the tribal and rural communities no longer have easy access to medicinal plants for their health care needs.

· Due to shortages of genuine crude drugs there is widespread substitution and adulteration in herbal medicines, often leading to clinical failures. The credibility of herbal medicine suffers.

A lack of knowledge of local flora and the belief in the fast relief provided by allopathic drugs mean that medicinal plants and knowledge of how to use them are vanishing. It is increasingly important to educate local people on the conservation of medicinal resources in the forests.

Writings on medicinal plants through history

1563 Garcia do Orta, the personal physician to the Viceroy of the Portuguese colonies in India, described more commonly used medicinal plants from Goa in Coloquios dos Simples e Drogas e Cousas Medicinais da India.

1578 Acosta presented plants from Cochin and Goa in Tratado das Drogas e Medicinais das Indian Orientaias.

1824 Roxburg published Flora Indica, referring to plants from this region.

1898 Dalgardo's Flora de Goa e Savantvadi.

More recent publications include:

1954 Vaidya's Estudo Sobre e Historia da Farmacia Ayurvedica
1966 V. D. Vartak's Enumeration of Plants from Gomantak
1985 Rao's Flora of Goa, Daman, Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

"There is no single thing in the world that is not a medicine" Avurveda

Research on medicinal plants

The Government has set up special institutes and projects to work on various aspects of medicinal plants. They focus on a few commercially important species, such as Plantago ovata, Catharanthus roseus, Papaver somniferum, Cassius angustifolia, and Rauvolfia serpentine.

Institutions studying medicinal plants include the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow; Regional Research Laboratory, Jammu and Jorhat; National Botanic Research Institute, Lucknow; Central Council for Research on Ayurveda and Siddha (Ministry of Health); and various universities and institutes.

The sea is also being tapped for its rich resources. Many algae and seagrasses have been found to contain essential alkaloids or active constituents which could be used in drugs.


Various methods must be used to help conserve our plant medicinal resources.

Personal level

· Individuals should use local or home medicines for minor ailments.

· Home remedies given by elders should not be neglected; on the contrary, they should be used after confirming their effects from ancient literature.

· Individuals should learn to identify and use medicinal plants found locally.

Community level

· School and college groups should visit forests with experts to learn to identify and use medicinal plants.

· Nurseries to grow wild medicinal plants should be taken up by schools, colleges and clubs.

National level

· Incentives or subsidy may be given to individuals who grow medicinal plants.

· Techniques like tissue culture for medicinal plants should be practiced, and not left merely as an academic exercise. Research should be applied, not confined to the laboratory.

· Legislation should be passed and implemented to conserve and protect medicinal resources.

· Political parties should include the conservation of natural resources in their election manifestos.

Medicinal uses of selected plants

The uses below are taken from various Indian medical systems. Caution is necessary when using these plants to treat diseases: incorrect use or dosage levels can be dangerous. Prescribing medicinal plants should be left to those with experience and knowledge of diseases and corect dosages.

Abutilon indicum (Petari)

Though different morphologically from Sida spp., it has similar functions in strengthening the body.

Acacia sinuta

A powder from the pod fruit is widely used to treat dandruff. Roots are emetic.

Achyranthes aspera

Improves digestive secretions and helps reduce flatulence. It is useful in kidney diseases, especially kidney stones. It expels cough from the lungs and is used to treat piles.

Aegle marmelos

Lord Shiva is often decorated by the leaves of this plant. A leaf extract is used to cure jaundice. The tender leaves are used for dysentry, fruit syrup for indigestion, fruit juice for cough, and roots for piles, sleeplessness and psychological disorders. Many diabetic patients are benefited by the leaves.

Andrographis particulata (Kiraitem)

It is given for infants to relieve griping, irregular stools, and loss of appetite. It is prescribed in cold and fever.

Asparagus racemosus (Asparagus, Sosro)

A well-known. versatile medicinal plant, it used as a galactogauge (to increase milk secretions in mothers). It also works as a diuretic. It is used to treat bleeding diseases such as dysentry and diarrhoea, eye disorders, paralysis and infertility. It is also used as a tonic to increase body weight.

Asparagus racemosus

Azadirachta indica

Many parts are used as medicine for various skin diseases, liver disorders, allergic reactions and indigestion. The principal alkaloid, azadiractin, is a good insecticide.

Bauhinia variegate

Used to treat lymph node infections in the cervical region. The skin of the bark is used externally and internally. The flowers are used to stop bleeding, as in dysentery and bleeding piles. It is also used to treat chronic wounds.

Bombax malabaricum

Its powder gives vigour and vitality to the body. Flowers increase urination. The gum is useful in treating all diarrhoeas.

Butea frondosa

Its flowers are useful in to treat kidney stones and urinary disorders.

Caesalpinia crista (Vakeri)

Root is anti-inflammatory and is good for tumours and removing placenta. Leaves are used as anthelmintic and are also used in elephantiasis and smallpox.

Caesalpinia digynia

Tubers and roots are used to treat diabetic wounds.

Calotropis gigantea (Rut)

Juice of leaves is used as anthelmintic, laxative and cure for piles. Leaves are useful for removing pain from joints. It contains resin. Juice contains enzyme similar to papain. Latex is toxic.

Capparis zeylanica (Katya Ghosvel)

Root is used as sedative. It is used to relieve sun burn.

Careya arborea (Kumayo)

Bark is used in tumours, dyspepsia, piles and epileptic fits. It is also used in dry cough. Used with honey to treat excessive menstrual flow. Also a laxative.

Casearia esculenta (Satanguem)

Root is recommended for liver troubles and popularly used for diabetes.

Cassia fistula (Balo)

Leaves act as purgative and are used to treat boils, abscesses and ear disorders. Fruits are a mild laxative. Seeds are used in jaundice. Root is useful in skin diseases.

Clerodendrum serratum

Root decoction works well against malarial fever and as an anti asthmatic. An ointment prepared from the leaf and butter cures eye disorders. A root paste made with honey is used to correct ear infections.

Crateara religiosa

Used mainly for breaking urine stones. Its skin and bark are useful for lymph-node infections. It reduces fat and increases the quantity of urine.

Datura meter

Seeds are used to stop vomiting. Leaves are used for mumps and gonorrhoea.

Dioscorea bulbifera

Bulbs and rhizomes are used to cure dysentry, piles, and skin diseases.

Eclipta alba

Used externally and internally to treat burns and skin lesions. It improves respiration in cases of cough.

Erythrina variegate

The skin is used to treat high fever, insomnia and dysentery. The leaves are used in menstrual complaints, difficulty in urination. It is also used to treat earache and toothache.

Ficus benghalensis (Wad)

Wide medicinal uses. The latex is used to cure arthritis; a decoction of bark, garlic and turmeric is given to diabetic patients to reduce blood sugar. A decoction of young shoots is used to cure dysentery when the sputum contains blood. Ripe fruits are used in diabetes, and young shoots are used as a uterine tonic.

Ficus glomerata

Roots are used for various urinary diseases and menstrual complaints. Fruits boiled with milk are used as anti abortive.

Ficus religiosa

The ripe leaf is given with betel leaf to cure jaundice. Fruit are used to treat urinary disorders. Frequent eating of ripe fruit induces infertility in women.

Gloriosa superba

Seeds are rich in colchecine alkaloid and the rhizome is used as an analgesic. Leaf extract act as a wormicide and the paste of rhizome is applied externally for smooth delivery.

Gmelina arborea (Shivan)

Root is used in abdominal pains and fevers. Fruit promotes hair growth.

Gymnema sylvestris

An emetic, it is mainly used in diabetes to lower the sugar level. The leaf has anti-inflamatory and wound-healing properties. Snuffing of dried leaf powder clears the nose.

Helicteres isora (Allay)

Bark is used as expectorant. It cures scabies when applied externally. Root is useful in diabetes.

Hemidesmus indicus (Uparsal)

A versatile plant, used to treat more than 20 diseases. The root is used to treat urinary tract infections, kidney and skin disorders. It is also used as an appetizer, rejuvenator and galactogogue, and to treat epileptic fits in children. It cures syphilis.

Holarrhena antidysenterica (Kudo)

The plant is rich in alkaloids and has an antidysenteric action. It has been shown to have antiamoebic properties. Flowers are used as blood purifier; the root and bark with buttermilk is given as an appetizer and digestor. The leaves regulate menstruation. Seeds with honey and saffron are said to favour conception.

Ixora parviflora (Dhavi Pitcoli)

Roots are given to females in cases of white discharge.

Mallotus philippinensis

The hair-like structures from the fruit are used as a laxative. This plant is useful in treating worms, skin diseases and wounds.

Momordica dioica (Faglin)

Leaves are used in headache and urinary infections. Roots are useful for diabetes.

Oroxylum indicum (Dhonduk)

Bark is used for liver troubles. Seeds are used as purgative.

Paederia foetida (Modashi)

Roots are given for dysentery, piles and rheumatism. It contains essential oils and alkaloids.

Piper longum

A good rejuvenator, used to increase appetite and build vigour after diseases such as typhoid, and to treat various diseases of respiratory and digestive systems. More than dozen remedies can be prepared to treat arthritic diseases, scialica, etc

Piper nigrum

An excellent household remedy used from time immemorial as an appetizer, digestive and antiflatulant. It was a first and best remedy for cholera. It is also useful in curing skin disorders and piles.

Plumbago zeylanica

Roots are digestive and appetizing in nature. They are useful in acute skin diseases, diseases of bones and joints, and piles.

Plumbago zeylanica

Pterocarpus marsupium (Asan, Raktaragado)

Bark is a pain killer and anti-inflammatory. Leaves are used for skin diseases.

Randia dumetorum

An emetic. Its smell is nauseating, so it is used in Ayurveda to remove excess cough. It is also used as fish poison.

Rauvolfia serpentine (Adaki)

Roots are used for painful affections of bowels and as a remedy for snake bite. Rauvolfia lowers blood pressure and is used to treat herpes, insomnia and insanity. Uses are mainly attributed to alkaloids.

Rhyllanthus emblica

An important ingredient of triphala churan and chavanprash and a rich source of vitamin C. Hair oil is prepared from fruit. It is a good appetizer, wound healer and rejuvenator. It is also used to treat several chest disorders.

Ricinus communis

A laxative. The roots are used to break urinary stones and to stop diarrhaea. Seeds are laxative, roots have the opposite effect. Roots are also very good painkillers.

Rubia cordifolia

Used to treat skin diseases, gout, urinary diseases, diabetes, jaundice and intestinal disorders.

Santalum album

Perhaps the "coldest" remedy in Ayurvedic medicine. It is used to treat burning sensations such as burning urination. It is used in high fevers and to treat excessive thirst.
Saraca asoka

Root bark stops bleeding. It is used in gynecological disorders where excess blood is lost.

Semecarpus anacardium

A frontline remedy in cancer treatment. It is antiseptic and antidysentric. Its decoction is given to cure asthma.

Sida cordifolia, Sida rhombifolia

Used to strengthen the body.

Solanum indicum

Leaf and ginger extract is used as antiemetic. Smoke of fruit is used to treat dental disorder, a root decoction as a diuretic, and leaf paste to treat skin diseases. It is also an excellent remedy for cough.

Stephania hernandifolia (Padvel)

Roots are very useful in urinary diseases. It is also given in fever and dyspepsia.

Sterculia urens (Dhavorukh)

Germ is used for diabetes and liver troubles.

Strychnos nox-vomica (Kajro)

Seeds are used as appetizer in small doses and against snake bite. It is also given in colics. Juice of wood is useful in cholera.

Syzygium cumini

The seed powder lowers the urine sugar; a bark decoction is used to cure throat infection and toothache; a leaf extract is given with goat milk to cure childhood dysentry. A preparation made by keeping chopped leaves with iron for a long time is used to treat anemic patients.

Terminalia arjuna

The plant has wound-healing properties and is a good cardiac tonic. It is widely used in treating fractures.

Terminalia bellirica

The skin is used to treat a dry or hawking cough. It is one' of the ingredients of triphala. Research shows that this plant possesses antibiotic properties.

Terminalia chebula

Thousands of Ayurvedic recipes contain hirda. It is very good for the eyes, skin and digestive system. It is used as laxative.

Terminalia chebula

Tinospora cordifolia (Amkutvel)

The bitter tonic obtained from this plant can cure various fevers. The plant can also be used to increase blood haemoglobin and to treat jaundice and various skin diseases.

Tylophora asthmatica

A leaf or root decoction is used in small concentrations used to cure asthama. It is emetic in nature and poisonous at high dosages. It also has a sedative effect.

Urginea indica

The bulbous root is used to correct heart diseases. It is also used in allopathic drugs to cure heart disease.

Viburnum foetidum (Narval)

Roots are used as emmenagogue. Leaves are useful in menorrhagia.

Vitex negundo (Lingad)

An analgesic; the leaves are applied externally to reduce arthritic pain. A leaf decoction brings the uterus at normal size after delivery; the seeds are used to correct skin disorders.

Vitex negundo (Lingad)

Vitis quandrangularis

Contains calcium oxalates, carotene and vitamin C. It is given internally in the patients with fractures, asthma and increased menstrual flow.

Woodfordia floribunda

Gynaecological complaints like whites are cured by this plant. Its flowers are used in many Ayurvedic preparations. Large-scale cultivation can support bee-keeping and honey making.

Sea products

Pearls, corals, corry and shanka

These are medicinally superior to plants. All are rich in organic calcium, which is easily assimilated by our body. Pearls and corals are "cold" in nature, so are used in diseases with burning, such as hyperacidity and burning urination. Shanka is an excellent antacid. All are used to treat ricketts. Sepica officina is used to treat ear infections.

Prepared by R. V. Gaitonde, T. M. Patil, V. S. Haldavnekar and Kasturi Desai