Indian Journal Of Traditional Knowledge
Vol. 7(4), October 2008, pp. 581-586

Herbal remedies among the Khasi traditional healers and village folks
in Meghalaya

SR Hynniewta &Yogendra Kumar*

Department of Botany, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong793 022, Meghalaya

E-mail: yogendrakumar@hotmail.com; ykgaur2001@yahoo.com

Received 15 May 2006; revised 6 March 2007

The paper provides first hand information on the herbal remedies practiced by the rural folks of Meghalaya. During the study, out of several known herbal plants 54 plant species belonging to 53 genera and 38 families were found to be used by the local medicine men and village folks to cure various ailments. The report incorporates the mode of application and dosage of these herbal drugs, which is obtained with great difficulty because in many cases these medicine men are reluctant to share their knowledge.

Keywords: Ethnobotany, Ethnomedicine, Medicinal plants, Traditional healers, Meghalaya

IPC Int. Cl.8: A61K36/00, A61P1/02, A61P1/10, A61P1/16, A61P13/00, A61P17/00, A61P19/00, A61P25/00, A61P29/00, A61P39/02

 

The term Ethnobotany is defined as the study of huma evaluation and manipulation of plant materials, substances and phenomenon including relevant concepts in primitive and unlettered societies1. The term ethnobotany implies an explanation on local people’s perspective on culture and scientific knowledge2. It can also be defined as all studies, which describe local people’s interaction with the surrounding natural vegetation3. The tribal people and ethnic races throughout the world have developed their own culture, customs, cults, religious rites, taboos, legends and myths, folk tales and songs, foods, medicinal practices, etc. Numerous wild and cultivated plants play a very important and vital role among these cultures. This interrelationship has evolved over generation of experience and practices. The medicinal plants in particular have received the attention of scientists from chemical, pharmacological and clinical angles in India and abroad. Studies on folk medicines through ethnobotanical surveys are also gaining importance. A vast knowledge on medicinal plants exists as oral among the folklore and traditional medicine men of India, where a large number of potent medicinal herbs are found growing wild.

Meghalaya, which lies between 25°05´ N and 26°10´ N Latitudes and 89°47´ E and 92°47´ E Longitudes has immense scope of ethnobotanical studies due to the natural forest coverage (Fig. 1). Due to poor transportation and medical facilities in the rural areas, the rural folks to a great extent still hold onto their traditional faith in local medicine men and wild herbal plants. Interestingly, it was also noted that in some cases, prayers to the almighty or chanting of mantras sometimes accompany administering of the herbal medications. Therefore, it is interesting to record the traditional wisdom about plant wealth of their surroundings though there is a steady decline in human expertise capable of recognizing various medicinal plants. A paper was brought forward based on the folklore medicobotany of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes in Meghalaya4. A list of 31 medicinal plants used by tribals of Meghalaya was also given5. Work on the Ethnobotany of some weeds of Khasi and Garo hills of Meghalaya brought forth a paper, which deals with the ethnobotany of 65 taxa belonging to 26 families of angiosperms6. A record of 74 plant species used by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes have been published7. Work on the ethnobotany of Khasi and Chakma tribes of Northeast India showed the importance and uses 37 plant species belonging to 34 genera and 15 families8.

 

Methodology

An ethnobotanical survey of the East Khasi hills, West Khasi hills and Ri Bhoi districts of Meghalaya was conducted during January 2005 to April 2006. It was seen that knowledge of herbal remedies for treatment of various diseases rests with the traditional healers, which belong to a family of indigenous practitioners and skills have been passed on from one generation to the other only by word of mouth. Each village has one or two traditional healers or Nong ai dawai kynbat as they are called locally. Each of them practices at home or has a place in the weekly market of the villages, where people come to consult him. Information on the traditional medicinal uses of plants was collected through direct field interviews with them. Most importantly, the patients who have been cured by these medicine men were also interviewed. Interviews with a number of elderly people, who have a great deal of experience in indigenous herbal treatment of diseases were also conducted. Contact was established with village headman, community leaders, and priests from whom guidance was sought. Field visits and collection on all seasons was done with the help of the informants. The collected specimens were identified and final identification was done at the Herbarium of Botany Department, North Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong.

 

Enumeration

The medicinal plants recorded during the work are listed below in alphabetical order by botanical names, family name, local/vernacular name (LN), and use(s).

Allium sativum L., (Liliaceae), LN: Rynsun

Uses: Bulb is fried in mustard oil; oil is used for massaging newborns and is taken orally for cough. Bulb is also taken with hot milk to relieve cough. Raw bulb is chewed for mouth sores.

Allium tuberosum Roxb., (Liliaceae), LN: Jyllang

Uses: Leaf decoction is given in urinary troubles and as diuretic.

Acorus calamus L., (Araceae), LN: Bet, Ryniaw

Uses: Leaf decoction is taken daily in case of paralysis. Decoction of underground plant part is fomented on the body of a paralytic patient. Roots and leaves are used for the treatment of epilepsy, stomach problems in new born, and ailments due to evil eye.

Ageratum conyzoides L., (Asteraceae), LN: Kynbat myngai

Uses: Leaf paste is applied on cuts and wounds.

Anotis wightiana Wall., (Rubiaceae), LN: Bat lynkha smaiwtung synlei

Uses: Paste of whole plant of Anotis wightiana Wall., Hypericum laxum (Bl.) Koidzumi, & Leucas ciliata Benth., and leaves of Paederia foetida L. is used as an antidote for snakebite.

Areca catechu L., (Arecaceae), LN: Kwai

Uses: Nut chewed with Piper betle L. and lime is applied on cuts.

Begonia roxburghii A. DC., (Begoniaceae), LN: Jajew jylwang

Uses: Leaf decoction is used for bathing a person with measles for quick relief. Tuber paste is taken in diarrhoea and dysentery. The tubers with fruits of Solena heterophylla Lour. are taken to relieve fever4. Rootstock is taken in bile dysentery5.

Brunella vulgaris L., (Lamiaceae), LN: Jahynwet

Uses: Tender leaf paste is applied on cuts and wounds for quick healing.

Centella asiatica (L.) Urb. (Apiaceae), LN: Khliang syiar, lbong syia.

Uses: Leaves are taken as raw to cure blood deficiency and helps in    purification of blood. Whole plant is also taken for blood dysentery.

Cheilanthes albomarginata Cl., (Cheilanthaceae), LN: Tyrkhang lieh

Uses: Ground frond is applied over boils.

Citrus medica L., (Rutaceae), LN: Sohmad

Uses: Leaf decoction is used for bathing newborns and infants to prevent them from cold.

Clerodendron colebrookianum Walp., (Verbenaceae), LN: Jarem

Uses: Leaf decoction is taken against high blood pressure, malaria and liver troubles. Leaves are first warmed over fire and then leaf paste is is applied over the body in case of rheumatism4.

Coix lacryma- jobi L., (Poaceae), LN: Sohriew

Uses: Leaf juice is taken in diarrhoea, dysentery, fever, small pox and as tonic.

Crassocephalum crepidioides (Benth.) Moore, (Asteraceae), LN: Jathymmai

Leaf paste is applied on cuts and wounds.

Dendrobium chrysanthum Lindl., (Orchidaceae), LN: Tiew lyngskaw

Uses: Stem paste mixed with little water is applied externally on injuries and after setting a fractured bone.

Dischidia nummularia Br., (Asclepiadaceae), LN: Kynbat kudam

Uses: Leaf paste is applied on wounds, injuries and bone fractures.

Drymaria cordata (L.) Willd. ex Roem. & Schult., (Caryophyllaceae), LN: Kynbat thalap

Uses: Whole plant paste is applied against leprosy. Leaf paste is applied in case of snakebite5.

Eriosema himalaicum Ohashi., (Fabaceae), LN: Sohpen

Uses: Tubers are taken orally against dysentery. Tuber paste is taken with honey to prevent bad breath coming from the mouth.

Eryngium foetidum L., (Apiaceae), LN: Dhonia Bhoi, Dhonia khlaw, Kynbat ksuid

Uses: Victims of fits and epilepsy are made to smell the leaf paste.

Erythrina arborescens Roxb., (Fabaceae), LN: Diengsong.

Uses: Stem pieces (about 15 cm) burnt at the tip and are smoked like a cigar. The smoke relieves toothache and prevents dental caries.

Flemingia procumbens Roxb., (Fabaceae), LN: Sohphlang

Uses: Tuber skin is taken raw for deworming.

Gaultheria fragrantissima Wall., (Ericaceae), LN: Lathynrait

Uses: Leaf juice of Gaultheria fragrantissima Wall., Clerodendron colebrookianum Walp. and Eucalyptus maculata Hook. is massaged over the body of persons suffering from rheumatism and paralysis. In case of migraines and pneumonia the juice is applied over the forehead.

Geranium nepalense Sweet, (Geraniaceae), LN: Batlmieng

Uses: Leaves are chewed to relieve from toothache and bleeding gums.

Hedyotis uncinella Hook & Arn., (Rubiaceae), LN: Bat iong

Uses: Leaf paste is applied for insects’ stings. It is also applied for skin diseases4.

Houttuynia cordata Thunb., (Saururaceae), LN: Jamyrdoh

Uses: Leaf juice is taken for cholera, dysentery, curing of blood deficiency and purification of blood.

Hypericum laxum (Bl.) Koidzumi, (Hypericaceae), LN: Bat rit sla, Bat saw rit

Uses: Extract of whole plant of Anotis wightiana Wall., Hypericum laxum (Bl.) Koidzumi & Leucas ciliata Benth., and Paederia foetida L. leaves is used as an antidote for snakebite.

Kaempferia galanga L., (Zingiberaceae), LN: Sying khmoh, Sying shmoh

Uses: Rhizome is taken orally against poisoning, when there is blood vomiting. In infants, the rhizome is applied for mouth sores and tongue blisters.

Lactuca laevigata (Bl.) DC., (Asteraceae), LN: Khmut sim, Jhur kthang

Uses: Leaves are taken against high blood pressure, diabetes and skin infections on the face.

Leucas ciliata Benth., (Lamiaceae), LN: Bat nianglynur

Uses: Extract of whole plant of Anotis wightiana Wall., Hypericum laxum (Bl.) Koidzumi & Leucas ciliata Benth., and Paederia foetida L. leaves is used as an antidote for snakebite.

Leucosceptrum canum Smith., (Lamiaceae), LN: Soh Kjit

Uses: Root decoction and root juice is taken in malaria.

Myrica nagi (non Thunb.) Hook., (Myricaceae), LN: Sohlia

Uses: Stem bark is taken in powdered form against dysentery.

Oxalis corniculata L., (Oxalidaceae), LN: Sohkhia khnai

Uses: Whole plant ground with Drymaria cordata (L.) Willd. ex Roem. & Schult., mixed with water and is taken against fever with vomiting.

Paederia foetida L., (Rubiaceae), LN: Jyrmi sma iwtung

Uses: Extract of whole plant of Anotis wightiana Wall., Hypericum laxum (Bl.) Koidzumi, & Leucas ciliata Benth., and Paederia foetida L. leaves is used as an antidote for snakebite.

Passiflora edulis Sims., (Passifloraceae), LN: Sohbrap

Uses: Juice of tender plant leaves ground with Psidium guajava L. leaves is taken in blood dysentery.

Phrynium pubinerve Bl., (Marantaceae), LN: Sla met

Uses: Plant rhizome along with mature leaves of Zanthoxylum acanthopodium DC., Pteridium aquilinum rhizome, Sarcandra glabra (Thunb.) Nakai. leaves and Polygonum alatum Spreng. leaves are mixed together and ground. The fine mixture is then wrapped into many small packets with Phrynium pubinervi Bl., leaf and the packets are heated in the fire covered with ash so that they do not get burnt. After half an hour, all the packets are taken out while it is hot and the contents of each packet is then emptied into a piece of white cloth and tied at one end. It is then fomented on the body of persons suffering from leprosy and also in paralytic patients. This hot mixture is effective in treating various kinds of skin diseases as well (Fig. 2). In case of boils, the rhizome paste is applied locally.

Pinus kesiya Royle ex Gordon, (Pinaceae), LN: Kseh khasi

Uses: Young shoots are taken early in the morning to get relieve from cough in children.

Potentilla fulgens Wall., (Rosaceae), LN: Lynniang

Uses: Roots are edible and effective against high blood pressure.

Polygonum alatum Spreng., (Polygonaceae), LN: Jakyrphuh

Uses: Plant rhizome along with mature leaves of Zanthoxylum acanthopodium DC., Pteridium aquilinum rhizome, Sarcandra glabra (Thunb.) Nakai. leaves and Polygonum alatum Spreng. leaves are mixed together and ground. The fine mixture is then wrapped into many small packets with Phrynium pubinervi Bl., leaf and the packets are heated in the fire and covered with ash so that they do not get burnt. After half an hour, all the packets are taken out while it is hot and the contents of each packet is then emptied into a piece of white cloth and tied at one end. It is then fomented on the body of persons suffering from leprosy and also in paralytic patients. This hot mixture is effective in treating various kinds of skin diseases as well. In case of boils, the rhizome paste is applied locally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Polygonatum oppositifolium Royle., (Liliaceae), LN: Sying maw

Uses: Mixture of plant rhizome along with Zanthoxylum acanthopodium DC. mature leaves, Pteridium aquilinum rhizome, Sarcandra glabra (Thunb.) Nakai. leaves and Polygonum alatum Spreng. leaves is wrapped into many small packets with Phrynium pubinervi Bl., leaf and the packets are heated in the fire and covered with ash so that they do not get burnt. After half an hour all the packets are taken out while it is hot and the contents of each packet is then emptied into a piece of white cloth and tied at one end. It is then fomented on the body of persons suffering from leprosy and also in paralytic patients. This hot mixture is effective in treating various kinds of skin diseases as well. In case of boils, the rhizome paste is applied locally.

Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn ex Decken (Polypodiaceae), LN: Tyrkhang shatri

Uses: Plant rhizome along with mature leaves of Zanthoxylum acanthopodium DC., Pteridium aquilinum rhizome, Sarcandra glabra (Thunb.) Nakai. leaves and Polygonum alatum Spreng. leaves of are mixed together and ground. The fine mixture is then wrapped into many small packets with Phrynium pubinervi Bl., leaf and the packets are heated in the fire and covered with ash so that they do not get burnt. After half an hour, all the packets are taken out while it is hot and the contents of each packet is then emptied into a piece of white cloth and tied at one end. It is then fomented on the body of persons suffering from leprosy and also in paralytic patients. This hot mixture is effective in treating various kinds of skin diseases as well. In case of boils, the rhizome paste is applied locally. For removal of gall stones decoction of Smilax ferox Kunth roots along with Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn ex Decken. rhizome is taken daily three times a day.

Rhus semialata Murr., (Anacardiaceae), LN: Sohma, Sohmluh

Uses: Dried fruits are taken against cholera and dysentery.

Rotala rotundifolia (Roxb.) Koehne., (Lythraceae), LN: Bat dohkoid

Uses: Leaf paste is applied for boils.

Rubus micropetalus Gardner, (Rosaceae), LN: Sohnepbah

Uses: Edible fruits are taken against cough. Crushed stem bark is taken for mouth ulcers.

Sarcandra glabra (Thunb.) Nakai., (Chloranthaceae), LN: Tiew Krismas

Uses: Ground leaves mixed with ginger are applied on wounds where there is pus. Root extract is taken orally for irregular menstrual bleeding.

Smilax ferox Kunth, (Smilacaceae), LN: Shiah krot

Uses: For removal of gall stones, decoction of Smilax ferox Kunth roots along with Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn ex Decken. rhizome is taken daily three times a day.

Solanum torvum Sw., (Solanaceae), LN: Soh pdok

Uses: A plate filled with water is taken and then a red hot iron dao (big iron knife used for cutting wood), which was heated over the fire till it becomes red is placed on top of this plate. Dried seeds of Solanum torvum Sw., are put on one corner of the heated dao and the seeds are covered with a hollow tube. A small amount of mustard oil is poured on the seeds. The seeds get burnt in mustard oil due to the heat from the hot dao and fumes appear and come out through the tube, the fumes are allowed to circulate in the buccal cavity to prevent dental caries or to get relieve from toothaches. This should be done early in the morning before brushing the teeth and before taking any food. Fruits are reported for similar use4.

Spilanthes paniculata DC., (Asteraceae), LN: Jasat

Uses: Brushing teeth with inflorescence relieves toothache.

Swertia chirata Ham., (Gentianaceae), LN: Charita

Uses: Leaves and root are taken for treating malaria.

Tabernaemontana divaricata (L.) R. Br., (Apocynaceae), LN: Syntiew khlaw

Uses: Leaf paste with lime is applied for insect bites and skin diseases. Whole plant has anthelmintic properties and leaf paste is applied to relieve headache and fever4.

Thysanolaena maxima Herb. O. Kuntze., (Poaceae), LN: Synsar

Uses: Inflorescence paste mixed with a pinch of slaked lime is applied locally for treatment of boils and cancer. Young stem juice is applied on the eye when eyes become red and dirty4.

Valeriana jatamansii Jones, (Valerianaceae), LN: Jatung

Uses: Leaf and root paste is applied after setting a fractured bone. Whole plant paste is applied against diseases of the nails where the nails fall off.

Viola distans Wall., (Violaceae), LN: Jamaiang

Uses: Leaf paste is applied on boils.

Viscum articulatum Burm. (Loranthaceae), LN: Mangkaring

Uses: Whole plant along with Smilax ferox Kunth, root is boiled in water until the colour of the solution becomes like red tea, then small pieces of ginger is added. This medicine is known locally as Dawai Niangsohpet. When cooled, it is given to new born and is also applied over the stomach to prevent stomach troubles. This juice is also given to lactating mothers and expectant mothers to prevent stomach troubles and are advised to avoid egg and pork.

Zanthoxylum acanthopodium DC. (Rutaceae), LN: Jaiur khlaw

Uses: Its rhizome along with mature leaves of Zanthoxylum acanthopodium DC. mature leaves, Pteridium aquilinum rhizome, Sarcandra glabra (Thunb.) Nakai., leaves (more quantity than the others) and Polygonum alatum Spreng., leaves of are mixed together and ground. The fine mixture is then wrapped into many small packets with Phrynium pubinervi Bl., leaf and the packets are heated in the fire and covered with ash so that they do not get burnt. After half an hour all the packets are taken out while it is hot and the contents of each packet is then emptied into a piece of white cloth and tied at one end. It is then fomented on the body of persons suffering from leprosy and also paralytic patients. This hot mixture is effective in treating various kinds of skin diseases as well (Fig. 2). In case of boils, the rhizome paste is applied locally.

 

Discussion

Though the rural folks are often hesitant in sharing their knowledge with others, yet friendship has been established with them through frequent visits to the study area. The present work has brought to light the indigenous medicinal recipes of 54 plant species belonging to 53 genera and 38 families, which could cure a number of ailments without any side effects as proclaimed by these village folks and the patients who have recovered. During the survey some new herbal medicines that are not mentioned in important ethnomedicinal literature have been recorded. It was also observed that for majority of cases a single plant is administered singly but for a good number of diseases also the recipe includes a combination of many plants and plant parts. At the same time it was seen that a single herbal recipe is effective for treatment of a number of ailments, which shows that a single plant is used for more than one ailment.

The medicinal properties of some plants recorded during the present survey were also reported by earlier workers based by tribe Khasis and Jaintias of Meghalaya.4-5 Among these were Begonia roxburghii A. DC., Clerodendron colebrookianum Walp., Drymaria cordata (L.) Willd. ex Roem. & Schult., Hedyotis uncinella Hook & Arn., Sarcandra glabra Thunb., Solanum torvum Sw., Tabernaemontana divaricata (L.) R. Br. and Thysanolaena maxima Herb. O. Kuntze. However, some differences are there as far as ailments for which they were administered, method of preparation, plants parts used are concerned. Many new uses of plants and recipes have been recorded and listed for the first time.

 

Acknowledgement

SR Hynniewta is thankful to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi for providing financial assistance. Thanks are also due to Prof N K Chrungoo, Head of the Department of Botany, NEHU, Shillong for providing facilities and to Dr P B Gurung, Curator Herbarium (NEHU) for consultation of herbarium.

 

References

1         Schultes RE, The role of Ethnobotanists in search for new medicinal plants, Lloydia, 25 (1962) 257.

2         Pushpangdan P & Kumar B, Ethnobotany, (CBD and the Biodiversity Act of India), Ethnobotany, 17 (2005) 2.

3         Martin GJ, Ethnobotany: A Conservation Manual, (Chapman and Hall, London), 1995.

4         Kharkongor P & Joseph J, Folklore medicobotany of rural Khasi and Jaintia tribes in Meghalaya, In: Glimpses of Indian Ethnobotany, edited by SK Jain (Oxford and IBH, New Delhi), 1981, 115.

5         Rao RR, Etnobotanical studies on the Flora of Meghalaya-Some interesting reports of Herbal Medicines, In: Glimpses of Indian Ethnobotany, edited by SK Jain (Oxford and IBH New Delhi), 1981, 137.

6         Rao RR, Neogi B & Prasad MNV, Ethnobotany of some weeds of Khasi and Garo Hills Meghalaya and North-east India, Econ Bot, 43(4) (1989) 471.

7         Kumar Y, Fancy S & Rao RR, Further contribution to the ethnobotany of Meghalaya plants used by War Jaintia of Jaintia Hills district, J Econ Tax Bot, 11(1) (1987) 65.

8         Choudhury D & Neogi B, Ethnobotany of Khasi and Chakma tribes of Northeast India, In: Ethnobotany and Medicinal Plants of Indian Subcontinent, edited by JK Maheshwari (Scientific Publisher, New Delhi), 2003, 583.