–by Dibya Jyoti Borah
North East India is geographically situated in one of the richest biological reservoirs of the world. Endowed with numerous varieties of flora and fauna, the entire region is an important segment of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot, one of the 34 global ones.
The existence of such biodiversity greatly shapes the historical, cultural, and sociological formation of the traditional knowledge system prevalent in Northeast India.
The prevailing traditional medicine practiced by different communities forms one of the key bedrocks of the indigenous knowledge system. North East India can be termed as a repository of ethnic traditional medicines which potential is yet to be tapped properly in today’s context.
The unique natural diversity also permeates the sphere of cultural and ethnic identity in the Northeast. The distinct indigenous communities of the region have their own and rich traditional knowledge and utilising the environment in daily life. The knowledge and mode of utilisation of local plants vary with ethnic groups.
Knowledge of traditional medicine has been accumulated over many generations. This kind of knowledge can come from experience, be passed down verbally mostly, or by script. This knowledge is based on their needs, instinct, observation, trial and error, and long experience
As defined by WHO- “It is the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health, as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illnesses.”
Practices of traditional medicine vary greatly from country to country, in the case of Northeast India, it varies from tribe to tribe, as they are influenced by factors such as cultural traits, history, ethos, rituals, and philosophy. Contrary to Western biomedicine, their theory and application are quite different from those of conventional medicine.
The methods employed by Indigenous medicine are highly holistic, unlike western Medicare which revolves around quick fixes. Alternative medical practitioners will not just concentrate on the reduction of symptoms but on long-term changes within the lifestyle of the patient, such as changes in environment and attention to the community to which an individual belongs. Long historical use of many practices of traditional medicine, including experience passed on from generation to generation, has demonstrated its safety and efficacy.
Among other communities ,the practice of traditional ethnobotanical medicine by the Dimasas finds a special mention. Like other indigenous people, herbal medicine and treatment play a significant role in their health care system inherited from past generations. The tribesman has an impressive knowledge about herbs, herbal materials, herbal preparations, and finished herbal products. Their system of therapy can be broadly divided into mainly two categories:
Therapeutic activity refers to the successful prevention, diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental illnesses
Active ingredients refer to ingredients of herbal medicines with therapeutic activity.
A few Ethno-Botanical Plant used by Dimasa communities
Vernacular Name: Methap Common Name: Hairy Senna
Description: The plant is native to tropical and subtropical forests. They are wild, small tree, erect, woody, solid branching, root-tap, leaves compound, leaflet 4-8 pairs with hairy in both leaves, flower yellowish, long pedicles, fruit black when ripe.
Flowering and fruiting: July-October
Parts used: Root is used to treat dysentery, gastrologia, liver disorder, obstruction of the intestine
The bark of the stem is used to cure constipation, vomiting, piles, flatulence, rectal troubles.
The young plant part is used as fodder for pigs.
Method of preparing medicine: The root of the plant is crushed and mixed with mild hot water. The bark of the stem is crushed and mixed with hot water for the treatment of diarrhea and constipation.
Vernacular Name: Tembra
Description: The plant is woody, large shrub strangling on a tree with raised dots on branches, leafs compound, petiolate leaflet oval, flower seassle, calyx short
Flowering and fruiting: September-November
Part used: Root is used to cure diseases like Cholera, whooping cough, spleen disease, syphilis, neuralgia
The bark of the stem can be used for the preparation of yeast cake for the preparation of traditional wine.
The root of the plant is cut into small pieces and boiled into water.
Genus-Entada purseatha DC
Vernacular Name: Southai
Common Name: Lady Nut
Description: The plant is a perennial large shrub, tree climbers, leaves bipinate, obtuse, unicostate reticulate venation, flower bracteates small white, fruit long, black-colored when it is ripe.
Flowering and fruiting: April-July
Part used: Root is used to cure many diseases like piles, rectal troubles, spleen disease, anemia, and enlargement of the intestine.
The stem bark is used to prevent bleeding from cut and wounds, leucrrhoea, tinctures, carminative, colic.
Seed is used to control childbirth menstrual suppression, skin diseases and boil.
The root is crushed and taken with mild warm water.
Seed is also crushed and pasted over an area of the boil.
Genus- Citrallus colacynthis
Vernacular name: Daokha khimphang
Common Name: Paddy Melon
Description: The plant is small, tree climber herb, hairy, leaves cordate, flower bright yellow, large solitary, fruit deep red when ripe
Part used: It is used to control cancerous diseases like boil cancer, decaying of domestic animals’ body, and also used to reduce body pain. Twig of the plant is used as an insecticide.
The tuber is cut into pieces and crushed and applied to the paste over the infected area.
Traditional knowledge is considered as a body of information and a set of skills that are in a constant state of change. Undoubtedly, potentialities of indigenous medicine have been overshadowed by “Modern” health care systems powered by western bio-medicine. The information about folk medicine of North East India is still not gathered in a systemic way culminating in a loss of many local medicines and extinction of medicinal herbs. However, more comprehensive research is needed to reclaim its efficacy. Integration of both modern health care system and traditional can help to formulate robust alternative health care for future