Ethnobotany and research on medicinal plants in India.


Jain SK




Ciba Found Symp


Vast ethnobotanical knowledge exists in India from ancient time. Since the 1950s the study of ethnobotany has intensified; 10 books and 300 papers have been published. Our work over four decades, both in the field and literary studies, has resulted in a dictionary of Indian folk-medicine and ethnobotany that includes 2532 plants. India has about 45,000 plant species; medicinal properties have been assigned to several thousand. About 2000 figure frequently in the literature; indigenous systems commonly employ 500. Despite early (4500-1500 BC) origins and a long history of usage, in the last two centuries Ayurveda has received little official support and hence less attention from good medical practitioners and researchers. Much work is now being done on the botany, pharmacognosy, chemistry, pharmacology and biotechnology of herbal drugs. The value of ethnomedicine has been realized; work is being done on psychoactive plants, household remedies and plants sold by street drug vendors. Statistical methods are being used to assess the credibility of claims. Some recent work in drug development relates to species of Commiphora (used as a hypolipidaemic agent), Picrorhiza (which is hepatoprotective), Bacopa (used as a brain tonic), Curcuma (antiinflammatory) and Asclepias (cardiotonic). A scrutiny of folk claims found 203 plants for evaluation. Less well known ethnomedicines have been identified that are used to treat intestinal, joint, liver and skin diseases.

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