Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge
Vol. 5(3), July 2006, pp. 342-347
Trends in ethnodomestication of some wild plants in Meghalaya, Northeast India
R B Chhetri
Department of Biological Sciences and Environmental Science, P B No 6250, KTM Dhulikhel, Kavre, Kathmandu University, Nepal;
E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 17 January 2005; revised 17 July 2005
Tribals in Meghalaya not only cultivate variety of crops but also domesticate quite a lot of wild s plant species in their courtyard, orchards, kitchen garden, flower garden and sedentary agricultural fields. Present study has explored as many as 62 wild plant species under 59 genera belonging to 44 families domesticated by Khasis, Garos and Jaintias of Meghalaya.
Keywords: Ethnodomestication, Ethnobotany, Ethnomedicine, Folk medicine, Khasi tribe, Garo tribe, Jaintia tribe, Medicinal plants, Meghalaya
IPC Int. Cl.8: A61K36/00,A61P1/04, A61P1/08, A61P1/16, A61P11/00, A61P11/06, A61P11/08, A61P11/10, A61P11/12, A61P11/14, A61P19/00, A61P19/02, A61P29/00, A61P31/00
Meghalaya, one of the seven states in Northeast India lies between latitude 25° 1′-26° 5′N and longitude 850 45′-92°52′ E at an altitude ranging from 500-2089 m. The temperature ranges from 2° C (during winter) to maximum 26° C (during summer)1. It has rich floral diversity under the influence of monsoonic sub-tropical and temperate climate. Three distinct ethnic aboriginal tribes, viz. Khasis, Garos and Jaintias who are mostly confined to their respective districts, inhabit Meghalaya2. These tribes have distinct ways of life, dialects, beliefs, traditions, cultural heritage and rich plant lore that offer tremendous scope for ethnobotanical studies3,4. Majority of the population depends on agriculture in Meghalaya for their livelihood5. Shifting or Jhum cultivation, popularly known as Slash and Burn cultivation is commonly practiced throughout Meghalaya. Besides shifting cultivation, tribals in Meghalaya maintain good kitchen garden, orchards, flower garden, courtyards, bio-hedges, and sedentary terrace garden. In such gardens, indigenous people have the trends of domesticating some wild herbs, shrubs, climbers and trees.
The ethnobotanical exploration was conducted in Khasi, Garo and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya at regular bimonthly intervals during 1992-1993, each visit lasting for 2-3 days. The information regarding the domestication and utility of wild plants were collected by personal observation and interview with local senior men and women. Unidentified plants, with local plant names were identified with the help of Botanical Survey of India, Eastern Circle Shillong.
A total number of 62 plant species belonging to 59 genera under 44 families were found to be ethnically domesticated in Khasi, Garo and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya for different utilitarian purposes in day to day life of tribals (Figs 1-8). In the following enumeration, the plant species are arranged alphabetically with botanical name, family, local names in Khasi (K), Garo (G) and Jaintia (J), habit, habitat and their utility.
Aegle marmelos (L.) Correa. (Rutaceae); Soh-bel (K); Belethi (G). Commonly cultivated in kitchen gardens and orchads in Balphakram,Nongpoh and Umsning. Fruits are eaten and marketed.
Agapetes variegata (Roxb.) G.D.; (Vaccinaceae); Dieng-soh-limut (K); Dieng-tang-sang (J). Planted as ornamental plant in flower gardens in Shillong and its adjoining regions. Flowers are eaten as vegetable.
Agave sisalana Perr.ex Englem.; (Agavaceae); Tiew-phareng (K). Grown as ornamental plant, and hedges in Shillong and Cherrapunji.
Allium hookeri Thwaites; (Liliaceae); Ja-uat (K). Cultivated as cash crop in kitchen as well as sedentary gardens in Mawphlang, and Lailyngkot. Bulbs are marketed as spice and condiment.
Allium tuberosum Rottlb.ex. Spreng. ; (Liliaceae); Jyllang (K). Cultivated in both kitchen and sedentary gardens in Shillong, Mawphlang and Lyngkerdem. Leaves are marketed as green vegetable.
Asparagus racemosus Willd.; (Liliaceae); Soh-phen-klaw (K); Planted as ornamental plant in Mawiong and Mawpat. Tender shoots are eaten as vegetable.
Asplenium nidus L.; (Asplenioideae); Tyrkhang-skum-sim (K). Commonly cultivated as an ornamental potherb in flower gardens in the urban areas of Khasi hills. The phyllotaxy is very attractive.
Averrhoa carambola L.; (Averrhoaceae); Amrenga (G); Dieng- soh- treng (K). Cultivated in courtyard and kitchen gardens in Balphakram, Nongpoh and Jorabat. Fruits are eaten, heavily marketed and are used in treating jaundice.
Azadiracta indica A. Juss.;(Meliaceae); Dieng-slah-kthang (K). Commonly planted in courtyards in Jarain, Jorabat and Umtru. Leaves are used as medicine in malarial fever; young leaves are eaten as vegetable.
Baccaurea sapida (Roxb.) Muell-Arg.; (Euphor-biaceae); Soh-ramdieng (K). Cultivated in courtyards and kitchen gardens in Shillong and Mawkyrwat. Fruits are eaten and sold in market.
Bambusa pallida Munro; (Poaceae); Siej Shken (K). The bamboo is domesticated in kitchen gardens and sedentary fields in Umroi and Umtru. Culms are used for making huts, mats, baskets, etc.
Bambusa tulda Roxb.; (Poaceae); Skhong (J); Wati (G). One or two tufts of the bamboo are grown in Tura, Jowai and Jarain near houses. Culms are mostly used in making huts, tender shoots are pickled.
Castanea sativa Mill.; (Fagaceae); Soh-ot-phareng (K). Cultivated in Shillong belt in kitchen gardens and orchards. Seeds are eaten raw and also sold in market.
Chenopodium album L.; (Chenopodiaceae); Jaut- pudar-saw (K). Cultivated in the sedentary fields, kitchen gardens in Shillong and its adjoining regions along with other vegetables. Young shoots are considered to be excellent vegetable and often sold in the market.
Chimnobambusa khasiana (Munro) Nakai; (Poaceae); Sieg-Kdait (K). Planted in the boundary of settled gardens in Mawklot, Mawpat and Mawkyrwat of the Khasi hills. Culms are locally used for constructing walls of houses and for making arrows.
Cinnamomum tamala Nees; (Lauraceae); Dieng-latyrpat (K); Teji-bol (G). One or two trees are cultivated in the courtyard of houses in Phulbari, Nongpoh and Mairang, but wild pure stands are maintained by Khasis in Pynurslah and Nongjri areas. Bark and leaves are used as condiments. Leaves are marketed.
Citrus latipes (Swingle) Tanaka; (Rutaceae); Soh-kymphor (K); Dieng –soh-bah (J). Planted in kitchen gardens and orchards in Shillong and Jowai. It is endemic to this province. Fruits are eaten and sold in the market.
Clerodendrum colebrookianum Walp.; (Verbenaceae); Dieng-jalem-kynthei (K). Cultivated in kitchen gardens in Shillong. Leaf extract is used in controlling hypertension.
Coix lacryma- jobi L. var. mayuen Stapf. ex Hook.f.; (Poaceae); Soh-riew (K). Cultivated as field crop in Umsning and Umroi. Grains are eaten by boiling.
Corylopsis himalayana Griff.; (Hamamelidaceae); Dieng –piur (K). Planted as ornamental plant in some places of Shillong. The leafless flowering stage is very attractive.
Dendrocalamus hamiltonii Munro; (Poaceae); Siej-bah; Siej –iong (K). Planted in the corner of sedentary gardens or orchards in Shillong, Mawkyrwat and Umden. Matured culms are used in making huts, baskets and mats. Young shoots are fermented for making vegetable and pickle.
Digitaria cruciata (Nees)A. Comus var. esculenta Bor.; ( Poaceae); Raishan (K). Domesticated as a field crop in Mairang areas. Grains cooked with rice are eaten, but mostly utilized in brewing local wine.
Dioscorea bulbifera L.; (Dioscoreaceae); Phan-shynreh (K). Planted in the sedentary gardens in Shillong, Umran, and Usning. The tubers are cooked and eaten as vegetable, and also sold in the market.
Docynia indica (Wall.) Decne.; (Rosaceae); Soh-phoh- khasi (K). Cultivated mostly in the courtyard of houses and hedges for fruits in Shillong, Jowai and Jarain. Fruits are sold in the market for pounded chutney.
Elaeagnus conferta Roxb.; ( Elaeagnaceae); Soh- shang (K); Dieng- snlangi (J); Chhokhua (G). Cultivated in courtyard and orchards or in corner of sedentary gardens in Shillong, Jowai and Nartiang. Fruits are eaten and sold in the market.
Eryngium foetidum L.; ( Apiaceae). Donia- khlaw (K). Planted in the kitchen gardens in the rural areas of Shillong and Umsning for aromatic leaves. Leaves are used as condiments and for making chutney.
Erythrina arborescens Roxb.; (Fabaceae); Dieng-song (K). Commonly planted as livepost in the hedges throughout Shillong.
Euodia trichotoma (Lour.) Planch.; (Rutaceae); Dieng-sngiat (K); Dieng-subu-klong (J). Cultivated for rearing Eri -silkworms in Shillong-Jowai belt.
Ficus auriculata Lour.; (Moraceae); Dieng –soh- shied (K); The-bol (G). Common throughout Meghalaya but also planted in the kitchen gardens in Shillong. Fruits are eaten; leaves are used for making dishes.
Flemingia vestita Benth.; (Fabaceae); Soh-phlang (K). Cultivated as a field crop in Mawphlang, Mawkyrwat and Mairang for its tuberous roots, which are eaten raw by local people and also sold in the market.
Houttunyia cordata Thunb.; (Saururaceae); Jamyrdoh (K). Cultivated in kitchen gardens mostly in Shillong. Leaves are eaten raw and sold in the market.
Leucoceptrum canum Sm.; (Lamiaceae); Tiew-toti-tip (K); Dieng-lachhi (J). Planted as livepost of hedges in Shillong and Mawphlang.
Ligustrum robustum (Roxb.)Bl.; (Oleaceae); Dieng-soh- paiet (K); Dieng –shieng-kha (J); Marakha-jathong (G). Planted as live post of hedges in Shillong, Lyngkerdem and Mawphlang.
Litsea cubeba (Lour.) Pers.; (Lauraceae); Dieng-si-ing (K); Zeng-jir (G). Planted in the courtyard of houses or in the hedges in Shillong and Mawiong. Dry fruits with candy sugar are used in treating chronic bronchitis and asthma.
Manihot esculenta Crantz.; (Euphorbiaceae); Phan-dieng (K); Phan-kah (J). Cultivated for edible tubers as a source of carbohydrate in Nongpoh, Umroi and Umran.
Mentha arvensis L.; (Lamiaceae); Pudina (K). Domesticated in Shillong in wet places of kitchen gardens. Leaves are eaten raw and also sold in the market.
Meyna laxiflora Robyns.; (Rubiaceae); Thitchkeng (G); Soh-mon (K); Dieng-soh-matan (J). Planted in the hedges mostly in Tura, Shillong and Jowai for fruits. Brownish fruits are eaten and sold in the market. Ripe fruits are often used in brewing local wine.
Moringa oleifera Lamk.;(Moringaceae); Dieng-jhur-sacina (K). Cultivated in kitchen gardens in Nongpoh, Umroi and Mawiong. Fruits are used as vegetable and sold in the market.
Morus australis Poir.; (Moraceae); Soh-lyngdkhur (K). Planted near houses for fruits and also as monoculture for rearing Eri-silkworms in Shillong. Ripe fruits are eaten and sold in market.
Murraya koenigii Spreng.; (Rutaceae); Sam-khatsi (G). One or two plants are cultivated in the courtyard and kitchen gardens in Tura. Leaves are used as condiment.
Myrica esculenta Buch.-Ham.ex D. Don; (Myricaceae); Soh-phi (K). Planted mostly in kitchen gardens and orchards in Shillong, Mawphlang and Mawkyrwat. Sour or semi-sweet fruits are eaten and sold in the market.
Nasturtium officinale Br.; (Brassicaceae); Ayrr-soh-um (K). Cultivated in wet places of kitchen gardens in Shillong and Pynurslah. The plant is used as vegetable being eaten raw or cooked.
Nephrolepis cordifolia (L.) Presl; (Oleandroideae); Tyrkhang (K). Commonly cultivated as ornamental fern in Shillong. The tubers are eaten.
Passiflora edulis Sims.; (Passifloraceae); Soh- brap (K). Grown in the courtyard and orchards in Shillong. Ripe fruits are eaten and marketed.
Perilla ocimoides L.; (Lamiaceae); Nei-lieh (K); Arim (G). Extensively cultivated throughout Shillong and Jowai in jhum cultivation. The local people eat seeds paste with Flemingia vestita tubers.
Phrynium placentarium (Lour.) Merr.; (Marantaceae); Lah-met (K). Planted as ornamental plant in Shillong, while in Pynurslah is properly protected as forest undergrowth. Leaves are extensively used for packing edible stuffs in the market.
Phyllostachys mannii Gamble; (Poaceae); Seij-naka (K). Cultivated in Shillong as bio-hedge. Culms are used in making fishing rods. Young shoots are eaten as vegetable.
Phytolacca acinosa Roxb.; (Phytolaccaceae); Jaiong (K). One or two plants are planted in kitchen gardens and in the terrace field in Shillong and Mawphlang. Leaves are used as vegetable.
Prunus cerasoides D.Don; (Rosaceae); Dieng-iongkrem (K); Diengtyrkhum (J). Planted mostly in the hedges in Shillong and Jowai.
Prunus nepaulensis(Ser.)Steud.; (Rosaceae); Soh-iong (K,J).Cultivated near houses and in sedentary gardens for fruits in Shillong, Jowai and Mawphlang. Fruits are eaten, marketed and largely used in brewing alcoholic drink.
Pyrus pashia D.Don; (Rosaceae); Soh- shur (K). Cultivated in hedges and courtyard in Shillong and adjoining regions for different uses. Woods are used in making tools handle; fruits are eaten and marketed.
Rhaphidophora decurvisa (Roxb.) Schott.; (Araceae); Slah- padong (K). Planted as ornamental plant in Shillong and Lailyngkot; sold by rural people as pot shrub.
Rhododendron arboreum Sm.; (Ericaceae); Dieng-tiew-thuin (K). Planted as ornamental plant in Shillong. Flowers are used as medicine for cough and bronchitis.
Rhus javanica L.; (Anacardaceae); Soh-ma (K); Dieng-sa-am (J); Khitma (G). One or two plants are planted in courtyard and hedges in Shillong and Mawkyarwat. Fruits are eaten and used as medicine for dysentery and colic pain.
Sarcandra glabra (Thumb.) Nakai; (Chloranthaceae); Tiew-krimas (K); Jakhi (J). Planted in Shillong, Cherrapunji and Mawsynram as religious ornamental plant. Cuttings with persistent red fruits are used for decoration during Christmas.
Solanum kurjii Br.; (Solanaceae); Soh-ngang rit (K); Khim-kha(G). Cultivated mostly in the kitchen gardens in Shillong, Mawiong and Nongstoin. Bitter berries are eaten and sold in the market.
Spiraea cantoniensis Lour.; (Rosaceae); Tiew-torsuin-lieh (K). Planted as a bio-hedge in Shillong and Jowai.
Symplocos cochinchinenesis (Lour.) S. Moore ssp.laurina (Retz.) Nooteboom; (Symlocaceae); Dieng-japei (K). Planted in the courtyard as ornamental plant in Shillong.
Syzygium jambos (l.) Alst.; (Myrtaceae); Soh-Kuduk (K). One or two trees are planted in courtyard and hedges in Shillong and Mawkyrwat. Fruits are eaten and sold in the market.
Thysanolaena maxima (Roxb.)O.Ktze.; (Poaceae); Synsar (K); Simu (G). Usually grown in the corner of kitchen gardens in Shillong, Tura and Jowai. Panicles are used for making brooms.
Xanthoxylum acanthopodium DC.; (Rutaceae); Jaiur (K); Dieng-ja-iaur (J). Planted in the hedge and kitchen gardens in Shillong and Jowai. Young leaves and fruits are eaten. Fruits are frequently sold in the market and used as medicine for rheumatism.
Yucca gloriosa L.; (Agavaceae); Dieng-la- tari (K). Cultivated in the courtyard in Shillong and Mawphlang for its evergreen ensiform leaves and creamy white, large, erect inflorescence.
The present ethnobotanical study has revealed the domestication of 62 species of wild plants by Khasis, Garos and Jaintias at different places of Khasi, Garo and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya. These plants are domesticated for medicine, fruits, vegetables, live post, bio-hedges, wood for basket, huts, mats, bow and arrows, agro-tool handle, spices & condiments, walking stick, decorative and religious purpose, etc. Such domestication can be considered as a measure of low cost conservation of economically important plants in a greater extent. These are to be subjected for germplasm study, pharmaceutical analysis minimizing the pressure of exploitation in the natural habitat.
Author is highly grateful to elderly people of the Khashi, Garo & Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya for providing the information on ethnodomestication of some wild plants. Thanks are also due to R Shanpru, Senior Scientific officer of Botanical Survey of India Eastern Circle Shillong, for his kind assistance during identification of the specimens.
1 Bhakta G P, Outline of Geography of Meghalaya, (Raj Publishing Concern), 1996.
2 Rao R R, Ethnobotanical studies of the flora of Meghalaya: some interesting reports of herbal medicines in: Glimpses of Indian Ethnobotany, by S K Jain, (Oxford and IBH Publishing Co., New Delhi), 1981,137.
3 Hazra K, Nature and Conservation in Khasi folk beliefs and Taboos in: Glimpses of Indian Ethnobotany, by S K Jain, (Oxford and IBH Publishing Co, New Delhi), 1981,149.
4 Kharkongor P & Joseph J, Folklore medicobotany of rural Khasi and Jaintia tribes in Meghalaya in: Glimpses of Indian Ethnobotany, by S K Jain, (Oxford and IBH Publishing Co., New Delhi) 1981,124.
5 Samati H, Kitchen garden plants of Pnar tribe in Jaintia hills district, Meghalaya, Ethnobotany, 16, (2004) 125.