Scholarly article on topic 'Ethnomedicinal plant use by Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley, bordering Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, in North Sikkim, India'

Ethnomedicinal plant use by Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley, bordering Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, in North Sikkim, India Academic research paper on "Biological sciences"

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Academic research paper on topic "Ethnomedicinal plant use by Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley, bordering Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, in North Sikkim, India"

Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine

BioMed Central

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Ethnomedicinal plant use by Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley, bordering Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, in North Sikkim, India

Bharat K Pradhan and Hemant K Badola*

Address: Conservation of Biodiversity Core Group, G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development, Sikkim Unit, P.O. Box 24, Gangtok 737 101 (Campus at Pangthang), Sikkim, India

Email: Bharat K Pradhan -; Hemant K Badola* - * Corresponding author

Published: 1 October 2008 Received: 20 December 2007

Accepted: 1 OCt0ber 2008 Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2008, 4:22 doi:l0.ll 86/1746-4269-4-22 v

This article is available from: http://www.ethn0bi0med.c0m/c0ntent/4/l/22

© 2008 Pradhan and Bad0la; licensee Bi0Med Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms 0f the Creative C0mm0ns Attributi0n License (http://creativec0mm0ns.0rg/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distributi0n, and repr0ducti0n in any medium, provided the 0riginal w0rk is properly cited.


Lepcha is the oldest and the first tribe reported from Sikkim, India; majority of its population inhabiting in Dzongu valley, an officially demarcated reserve for Lepcha community, bordering Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, in north district. Lepchas of Dzongu are known for their retention of rich cultural heritage. In view of the on-going cultural and economic changes brought in by the process of globalization, the immediate need was felt to document in details the under-explored ethnomedicinal practices of Lepchas of Dzongu valley. This paper reports 118 species, belonging to 71 families and 108 genera, under ethnomedicinal utility by the Lepchas for curing approximately 66 ailments, which could be grouped under 14 broad categories. Zingiberaceae appeared as the most used family (8 species and 5 genera). As per use pattern, maximum of 30.50% species are to cure stomach related disorders/ailments, followed by 19.49% for curing cut, wounds, inflammation, sprains and joint pains. Administration of medicine orally is recorded in 75% cases. Root and rhizome harvesting targeted 30 species. The changing scenario over time both at socio-cultural front and passing traditional knowledge interests from older to younger generation and rich ethnomicinal wealth of the oldest tribe of Sikkim are discussed in the light of conservation strategies and techniques to adopt.


Documentation of traditional knowledge on ethno medicinal use of plants has been considered as a high priority [1-5] to support the discoveries of drugs benefiting mankind. In India, various communities use over 50% of the plant species of any ecosystem in ethnomedicine and in general over 7500 species are utilized in primary health care by various tribes [6]. The tribal populations, who have been the primary inhabitants of natural habitats, hold tremendous amount of traditional knowledge on the use of various biotic resources [4,7], which may have

greater importance to the on-going research and discoveries in the field. It is well acknowledged in literature [2,8,9] that their age old practices of using plants to cure numerous ailments have paved the way to further discovery of many life saving drugs. In India, out of over 427 tribal communities in total, the north-east states, including Sikkim, boost to have over 130 major tribes, reaching in to a total sub-tribes or groups of about 300 [10]. The state of Sikkim, though only 7096 Km2 in area is one of the rich depositories of biota [11]. This represents over 550 medicinal plants, which may offer incredible scope for the

development of pharmaceutical sector as potential commercial hub, boosting economy of the state. Ethno-medic-inal explorations and simultaneous prioritization of pharmaceutically important plant species for conservation through ex-situ cultivation have been identified as vital aspects for the drug industrial development [6,12,13]. In Sikkim, such exploratory researches on eth-nomedicinal use of plants are not sufficiently taken up, especially targeting the remotely located tribal areas in the state; whichever is available mostly confined to simple preliminary listings (mentioned later in this section). The Dzongu valley in north Sikkim, India inhabits the largest population of the Lepcha tribe. The Dzongu valley, an officially demarcated reserve for Lepcha community bordering Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, known for its vast plant wealth is one of the least attended areas on ethnomedicinal aspects, for being sacred and restricted, especially to outsiders.

The Lepchas of Dzongu valley, an isolated forest dweller, living harmoniously with nature over centuries, have accumulated a vast understanding on the use pattern of various wild products of the area. This suggests them as great traditional ethno-botanical practitioners. Sir J.D Hooker, during his botanical explorations to Sikkim Himalaya (1847-1851), mentioned Lepchas of Sikkim for their knowledge on the plants in splendid terms in his monumental work,"Himalayan Journal (1855)" [14]. The bamboo plant has been used quite commonly and exquisitely by the Lepcha community since their existence. Bamboo supplies a frame in the majority of constructions, such as houses and bridges. Lepchas seem to have gained marvel over the technical use of Bamboo, ranging from articles of routine requirement to artifacts, water distribution network, musical instruments, etc [15]. Bamboo is a summom bonum of their spirit. The Bamboo technology can be imported from this community. Lepchas in remoteness from modern facilities of the world got adapted to develop skills required to withstand difficult conditions of nature. Lepchas have become carrier of enormous understanding on the use of plants descended upon them through use of traditional medicinal cure to various ailments [16]. However, a general observation highlights that the Lepcha medicine man or the Lepcha healer, locally called 'Maon-doak', is known to restrict his medicinal practices and prescriptions only to Lepcha community, and he does not share or offer the same to the outsiders. The 'Maon-doak' believes that if his secret traditional knowledge of using plants is disclosed to any unauthorized person, the plants under use would produce adverse effects, and he may encounter ill-fate generated from the rage of the supreme deity of medicinal plants in the forest. This non-sharing attitude must have been one of the strongest reasons for the decline of this archaic system of medicine [14].

The cultural heritage of Lepcha tribe of Sikkim has been in the past and now a centre of attraction for several anthropological studies [15-25], as well as on Lepcha language, heritage and culture in general ( heleen.plaisier/bibliography.htm; accessed on 17.4.2008, for a detailed compiled list of references) but on ethnom-edicinal knowledge of Lepchas only a few sporadic publications are available documenting fragmentarily. Amongst them, as a part of ethnobiological study, Jana & Chauhan [26] have tabulated the use of 38 plant species curing various ailments by Lepchas in Dzongu, giving the plant name, part used, application, etc. Similarly, 21 species of medicinal plants used (part, specific use, and doses) by both Lepchas and Nepalese in north Sikkim, in general, were reported by Maiti et al [27], who further showed concern on the regular collection of plants by the Nepalese collectors. Jha et al [28] have provided names of 35 drug plants (no individual use of plant given), and 15 local name of drug plants are mentioned, without providing botanical name, used in Dzongu. Misra & Dutta [29], in a report on Sikkim, tabulated thirty eight plants for Lep-cha's folk medicine, using secondary source [26]. In a conference Abstract, Jha et al [30] have figured out 56 medicinal plants, without mentioning them, for north Sikkim. Out of above few fragmentary reports, merely 3050 species having medicinal importance to Lepchas of Dzongu could be drawn. There are, however, numerous plant species said to be used by Lepchas in their traditional medicine which need systematic investigations and exploration. The literature lacks written records on Lepcha medicine which could have otherwise been served as the guide to the people interested in indigenous medicine [31]. Since, the Lepchas of Dzongu are known for their retention of rich cultural heritage, and especially in view of the on-going cultural and economic changes brought in by the process of globalization, the immediate need was felt to document in details the under-explored ethnome-dicinal practices of Lepchas of Dzongu valley. The present study makes an exhaustive effort in investigating and documenting ethnomedicinal plants of Dzongu. The paper extended the list of such species describing their detailed practices along with quantitative analysis of the data. This study will present an updated and much improved document of the traditional pharmaceutical knowledge of a tribe of Dzongu valley. This effort should be seen serving not only as a sound base for resource assessment but an opportunity for developing scientific guidelines on access and benefit sharing regime on ethnomedicinal plants by the community people. The objectives of the present study is to provide field based assessment and documentation on, (i) authentic listing of plants used in traditional medicinal practices; (ii) the use part and the use pattern of the plants, preparation, ailments cured, etc., and (iii) describing conservation aspects of those plants for the drug.

The Lepcha tribe- a brief history

The Lepcha tribe is believed to be the indigenous to Sikkim Himalaya [18,25]. This tribe claims to have its origin in the "Ne Meyel Lyang" (the land of hidden paradise), or "Ne Male Lyang" (land of internal purity), a legendry kingdom on the slopes of Khangchendzonga mountain comprising Sikkim, and Ilam hills, now in Nepal [32]. The Lepchas are characterised by Mongoloid morphological features [18]. However, according to White [33], Lepchas came from the eastern direction of Assam and Burma and settled in Sikkim. He further menioned that, the Lepchas believed to have similarity with the Tibetans, but Tibetans are smaller and slighter in built with finer cut features, and in many cases the Lepchas are almost like Jewish. The Lepchas have resemblance with the tribes of Hanga-rang in the North West Frontier Province and also with the mountain tribes of the Laree area in Ladakh. Some also believed that the Lepchas were originated in China and belong to Ta-Tai group of Chinese [23]. The union of two words lep and tsa means 'to belong to a place' coins the word Lepcha as originated [34]. In connection with origin of the word

"Lepcha", Risley [35] writes ".........what the derivation of

Lepcha is cannot be ascertained. It must, however, be remembered - that the English form of spelling the word is incorrect and out of keeping with the local pronunciation, which is "Lap-cha" or "Lap-che," the former being the more common and probably the correct one. Dr. Waddell writes: "As the term' Lapcha' is of Nepalese origin, and the Parbatiya dialect of the Nepalese consists mainly of pure Sanskrit roots, the word 'Lapcha' may perhaps be derived from' lap,' speech, and' cha,' vile = the vile speakers-a contemptuous term with reference to their" non-adoption of the Parbatiya language like the rest of the' Nepalese' tribes." Another authority enquires whether it may refer to the Hindi, Lap-thi,' the name of a kind of skate fish, i.e., of a flat fish, a term which may have been applied by the Goorkhas to the Lepchas on account of the flatness of their faces. None of these derivations are convincing, but none are

offered by the people themselves............". The distinct Lepcha

language known as "Rong" [36], belonging to Tibeto-Kanauri group, included in Tibeto-Burman family of languages, is distinguished by having its own script (supposed to be invented by the Lepcha scholar Thikung Men Salong sometimes during the 17th century) and literature [33]. Lepchas indentify themselves as "Rong-kup" meaning the 'son of snowy peak' [24], "Rong-Pa" meaning 'Ravine folk or the dwellers of the valley' [17,34], and "Mutanchi" meaning 'beloved people of mother earth'.

The Lepchas were hunters and gatherers [21,34] and used to live complete nomadic lives. Since mid-nineteenth century, they began practicing settled agriculture [37] particularly because of increased production of large cardamom, as a cash crop. In addition, Lepchas also grow rice, maize, millet, wheat, buckwheat, pulses, and vegetables, and in some parts sugarcane and fruits, with animal

husbandry as another important economic activity. The diet of Lepchas is supplemented with plants and mushrooms, tubers and rhizomes gathered from wild and produce grown in small kitchen garden such as ginger, chilies, beans, cucumber, garlic, sweet potatoes, yams and sugarcane. Originally, the Lepchas were the followers of the Shamanism; they converted to Bhuddism in eighteenth century, and since the middle of the nineteenth century, a significant number of Lepchas has converted into Chiris-tianity [38]; although, indigenous Lepcha Shamanism has managed to exist till today.

Study area and methodology

Study area

An officially demarcated reserve for Lepcha community, the Dzongu, a Bhutia derived name meaning "a place with nine districts" [19], is located about 70 km north to the State Capital, Gangtok - in the north district of Sikkim, India. The Dzongu is bounded to the south-east by Teesta river and north-east by Tholung chu (river) and to the west by rising mountain leading to Khangchendzonga, the house of five treasures ['Kingtsoom Zaongboo Choo", Lepcha name for Mt. Khangchendzonga (3rd highest mountain in the world) meaning 'bright auspicious forehead peak' that borders the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve (KBR) at north. The KBR was officially notified in the year 2000, covering 2, 61,992 hectares area; the Dzongu valley people have traditional association with the reserve for their resources and religious affinity, and currently promoted eco-tourism by the state government. A fairly triangular shaped Dzongu landscape covers approximately 78 km2 geographical areas extending between 27°28' - 27°38' N lat. and 88°23' - 88°38' E long. (as judged from Google Earth) along the 700 m to 6000 m amsl altitude. Dzongu further extends from Sheep-Gyer in the east to Sakyong-Pentong village in the west and Kishong Cho Lake in north to Lum village in the south. The area is characterized by diverse snowy mountainous landscape with steep and narrow valleys and gorges with well drained flanking slopes, receiving high rainfall between June and September. Owing to dense forest cover, the area experiences showers almost throughout the year. The area represents three climatic zones viz. subtropical, temperate and alpine. Further, the area may be divided into two parts, viz. Upper Dzongu; the western side of which can be entered through a bridge at Sanka-lang over river Teesta and the eastern side is connected by road at Theng via Toong prior to reaching Chungthang; and the Lower Dzongu, which can also be entered through a bridge at Sankalang in the eastern side and a bridge at Phedang near Dikchu bazaar (market) in the western side over the same river. Dzongu is the abode of majority of Lepchas [21]; however, as per 2004 official list of voters, it has a total population of approximately 4513

persons (ca. 10% of total Lepcha population of Sikkim), spreads over 38 villages.

The importance of Dzongu valley is further enhanced by the famous Tholung Gumpa, one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim built in early 18th century during the reign of Chogyal Chagdor Namgyal, the king. The Gumpa is situated at an altitude of 2600 m amidst sacred groove "a treasure house of nature", demarcated under buffer zone III of the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve. Since the invasion of Sikkim by Gorkhas during late 17th and early 19th century, Tholung Gumpa (monastery) harbours sacred Buddhists and Sikkim relics that were brought here for safety by Lama Lhatsun Chempo, founder of the Thol-ung monastery. The Ecclesiastical Department, Government of Sikkim keeps these relics in sealed thirteen boxes under custody. In the presence of lamas of the Gumpa and the representatives from concerned department, these relics are taken out once in every three years in the month of April for public display. Tholung Gumpa has very sparse human habitation with merely 15-20 settlements of which 10-12 remain almost vacant throughout the year. The Kishong Cho or Kishong Lake, situated at an altitude of approximately 4200 m having religious significance for Buddhists, also forms a part of Dzongu valley. In addition, there are many sacred caves in Dzongu valley which are said to be used by the lamas for meditation in the past. Large Cardamom cultivation is practiced in the entire Dzongu valley, reaching up to Tholung Gumpa. Both in composition and value, the floristic wealth of Dzongu and its surrounding area is rich and diverse, representing a wide variety of tree species, shrubs, lichens, epiphytes, mosses and bamboos, which provides refuge to several endangered species of birds and animals. Without prior permission from the higher authorities, outside people are not allowed to visit Dzongu valley, being a restricted area [26].

Medicinal plant survey

At first, extensive literature and internet search was carried out to review and assess the existing information on the medicinal plants used by Lepcha tribe, as baseline for extensive research. To get first hand data and further for confirming authenticity of the existing information, extensive field surveys were undertaken between 2006 (groundwork) and 2007 (comprehensive) in Dzongu area, North Sikkim, India. Information was gathered, using semi-structured formats, interviews, and group discussions, on the indigenous uses of plant species as medicine by the Lepcha tribe. During the survey period, conversations with informants were held with the assistance of local resource persons. In view of their belief not to share their knowledge to the outsiders the collection of information was not easy. The objectives of the study were elaborated and efforts were made to take them into confi-

dence that purpose of this study is just to document and preserve the traditional knowledge of Lepchas on medicinal plants. In total 125 informants (95 males and 30 females) were interviewed, which included 4 Moandoaks (Lepcha medicine man or Lepcha healer), 27 Thyongs (elderly person in village), 7 Bongthings or Padem (priest following Shamanism), 3 Monks, 2 Muns (a healer who exorcises demons, helps to heal illness and guides souls to the afterlife), 17 graziers and remaining 65 included people belonging to different categories like villagers, farmers, housewives, teachers, shopkeepers, forest managers, contractors, etc., of which 37 were males and 28 were females in different study villages (Passingdang, Lingdem, Fourth-mile hamlet, Ruk Lu, Kayeem, Tingvong, Tholung Gumpa, Sakyong-Pentong). These informants were approached and requested to share their knowledge about the plants they use against different diseases, plant parts harvested, method of preparation, etc. All the informants were above 27 years in age. Friendly chats made with teenagers and youngsters and school children, of both genders, helped a lot in confidence building with tribal people. In some villages, the informants were not much cooperative to reveal the secret of their ethnomedicinal knowledge to the strangers unless they were taken in to confidence, which experienced rather as a difficult task, besides language problem. Adopting participatory and group interaction approach, data were further crosschecked. Surveys were also made in the wilderness along altitudinal transects reaching timber line zones (upto Temreng), surrounding natural habitats and the agricultural areas of villages. The help of local representatives was taken to approach the plants growing in areas and or specimens available in the villages with elderly people in some cases. Species were identified using standard Floras and books [9,39,40]. The restriction on the collection of any specimens, especially by the outsiders, for being the landscape as protected/sacred/restricted, suggested adopting the above strategy of field identification. The gathered field information was systematized and analyzed to draw a clear and updated picture of the ethnomedicinal use pattern of plants of Dzongu area in Sikkim. At the same time, efforts were made to compare and discuss the use of some of the medicinal plant species recorded in Dzongu valley with those reported for other tribal groups/traditional healers in India (Table 1).


The study documented 118 medicinal plant species, distributed across 71 families and 108 genera, used by the Lepcha tribe of Dzongu area (Table 2). In terms of number of species used, Zingiberaceae appeared as the most prominent family (8 species, 5 genera), followed by Rutaceae and Poaceae (5 species each), Asteraceae, Rubiaceae, Moraceae (4 species each), Apiaceae, Cucur-bitaceae, Solanaceae, Liliaceae, Ericaceae (3 species each)

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Table 1: Comparison on the use of some of the medicinal plant species by the different tribal groups/traditional healers in India

CM ■¿t

S o c -s:

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Lepcha Tribe [Present study]

Apatani Tribe [10]

Jaintia Tribe [47]

Tolcha Bhotiya[48]

Paliyar Tribe [49]


Acorus calamus Linn. Ageratum conyzoides Linn.

Allium cepa Linn. Bischofia javanica Blume

Cannabis sativa Linn.

Citrus aurantifolia Christum.

Coriandum sativum Linn. Costus speciosus Smith

Curcuma aromatica Salisb.

Curcuma caesia Roxb. Curcuma longa Linn.

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Skin diseases, fever, cough

Part use: Leaf Disease: Cut, wounds, diarrhoea, dysentery, intestinal colic with flatulence Part use: Bulb Disease: Fever, act as cooling agent Part use: Leaves, bark Disease: Sore throat, diarrhoea

Part use: Seed Disease: Body ache

Part use: Root, fruit, seeds, leaf Disease: Worms, vomiting sensation Part use: Shoot Disease: Expelling gas, indigestion, stomach pain Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Veneral disease, urinary tract infection

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Nausea, stomach ache, expelling gas

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Expelling gas

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Throat pain, cold, cough, fever

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Cuts, wounds. skin diseases, bone fracture Part use: Leaf Disease: Cuts, wounds

Part use: Bulb Disease: Eye pain

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Throat infection

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Throat infection

Part use: Leaf Disease: Cuts, wounds

Part use: Bark Disease: Nervous disorder, to stimulate hair growth

Part use: Seed, leaf Disease: Burn and muscular pain, stomach pain, worms

Part use: Fruit Disease: Stomach pain

Part use: Whole plant Disease: Blood purification

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Cough, asthma

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Dyspepsia

Part use: Leaf Disease: Fever, headache, cold

Part use: Leaf Disease: Diabetes

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Table 1: Comparison on the use of some of the medicinal plant species by the different tribal groups/traditional healers in India (Continued)

Curcuma zedoaria Roxb.

Cynodon dactylon (Linn.) Pers.

Dillenia indica Linn.

Dioscorea alata Linn.

Drymaria cordata Willd. Ex Roem & Schult

Fagopyrum esculentum Moench.

Ficus hirta Vahl. Ficus religiosa Linn.

Juglan regia Linn.

Lantana camara Linn.

Mimosa pudica Linn. Momordica charantia Linn.

Part use: R00t/Rhiz0me Disease: Skin disease, diarrh0ea and c0lic, indigesti0n

Part use: Leaves, r00t Disease: Piles, cuts, w0unds, diarrh0ea, dysentery

Part use: Leaves, fruit Disease: Fever, c0nstipati0n, dysentery Part use: Tuber/ Rhiz0me

Disease: Throat pain Part use: Wh0le aerial part

Disease: Sinusitis and n0se bbckade, headache, s0re thr0at pain, fever, headache

Part use: Grains Disease: Diarrh0ea

Part use: R00t Disease: F00d p0is0n Part use: Wh0le plant/ bark/fruit Disease: Burning sensati0n 0f genitals, v0miting, cracked heel Part use: Bark Disease: W0rms

Part use: Leaves Disease: Cuts, w0unds, pain reliever

Part use: R00t Disease: Piles, b0ils Part use: Fruit, tender sh00t/r00t Disease: Diabetes, bl00d purificati0n, snake bite

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Cold, cough

Part use: Fruit Disease: St0machache

Part use: Tuber/ Rhiz0me

Disease: Indigesti0n

Part use: Whole plant Disease: Cooling agent for body

Part use: Leaf Disease: Cracked heel

Part use: Fruit Disease: Cuts, wounds

Part use: Leaf Disease: Headache, fever

Part use: Leaf Disease: Body pain

Part use: Seed, bark Disease: Body itching, stomachache

Part use: R00t Disease: Piles Part use: Leaf Disease: Rabies, chest/ rheumatic pain

Part use: Fl0wer Disease: Headache

Part use: Leaf Disease: Cuts, w0unds

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Table 1: Comparison on the use of some of the medicinal plant species by the different tribal groups/traditional healers in India (Continued)

CM ■¿t

Musa paradissica Linn

Oroxylum indicum (L.) Kurz

Oxalis corniculata Linn.

Picrorhiza kurrooa Benth.

Rhododendron campanulatum D. Don

Rubia cordifolia Roxb. Ex Fleming

Rubus ellipticus Smith.

Rumax nepalensis Sreng.

Urtica dioica Linn.

Zingiber officinale Rose.

Part use: Sap Disease: Fever Part use: Bark, seed Disease: Fever, pneumonia

Part use: Whole plant Disease: Appetizer, boils, dysentery, throat pain

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Fever, cough

Part use: Leaves Disease: Cough

Part use: Root Disease: Urinary infection, skin diseases Part use: Tender shoot, root

Disease: Stomach pain, worms, headache

Part use: Whole plant Disease: Wounds, hair loss

Part use: Whole plant Disease: Bone fracture and dislocation, diarrhoea, cough, child delivery

Part use: Rhizome Disease: Cough, fever, throat pain

Part use: Fruit Disease: Indigestion Part use: Seed Disease: Headache

Part use: Shoot Disease: Appetizer, headache

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Fever, cold

Part use: Root Disease: Cracked heel

Part use: Fruit Disease: Indigestion

Part use: Leaf Disease: Indigestion

Part use: Leaf Disease: Bone fracture

Part use: Rhizome Disease: Cough

Part use: Leaf, root Disease: Cuts, wounds

Part use: Root/Rhizome Disease: Jaundice, stomachache, dyspepsia, dysentery Part use: Leaf Disease: Cuts, wounds, cold, cough

Part use: Shoot Disease: Stomachache

Part use: Root Disease: Stomachache

Part use: Leaf Disease: Indigestion

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Table 2: Plant species used for curing different ailments by the Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley in North Sikkim, India

S. No.

Botanical Name


Parts used and the methods

1 Abies densa Griff.

2 Aconitum ferox Wall ex Ser.

3 Aconitum heterophyllum

4 Aconitum spicatum Stapf.

5 Acorus calamus Linn.

6 Aesandra butyracea (Roxb.) Baehni

7 Ageratum conyzoides Linn.

8 Allium cepa Linn.

9 Allium sativum Linn.

10 Amaranthus tricolour Linn.

11 Amomum subulatum Roxb.

12 Ampelocissus sikkimensis (Laws) Planch.

13 Artemesia vulgaris Linn.

14 Bauhinia variegata Linn.

15 Bergenia ciliata (Haw.) Sternb.

16 Bischofia javanica Blume

17 Brassica campestris Linn.

18 Calamus macracanthus T. Anders.

19 Canna indica Linn.

20 Cannabis sativa Linn.

21 Carica papaya Linn.

22 Cedrela toona Roxb.

Abietaceae Ra nunculaceae

Ranunculaceae Ranunculaceae


Sapotaceae Asteraceae

Liliaceae Liliaceae



Vitaceae Asteraceae

Caesalpiniaceae Saxifragaceae Bischofiaceae Brassicaceae


Cannaceae Urticaceae



Fresh leaves Juice is taken 0rally t0 relieve stomach pain and fever.

Rhiz0me, extremely p0is0n0us, is detoxified by c0ntinu0us b0iling with water for 24 h0urs 0r m0re and then cut into small pieces and dried. Dried pieces are chewed to cure c0ugh, fever, skin diseases and t0 relieve g0ut pain.

Rhiz0me is dried up and taken t0 relieve b0dy-ache, fever, c0ld, c0ugh, n0se discharge etc.

Rhiz0me is detoxified by n0n-st0p b0iling with water at least for 24 h0urs, and cut into small pieces and dried, and chewed in case 0f f00d p0is0ning, diarrh0ea, c0ugh, inflammati0n 0f intestine. Dried rhiz0me is p0wdered and c0nsumed to relieve b0dy pain, ear and n0se discharge.

External applicati0n 0f rhiz0me paste cures skin diseases and 0n the forehead in case 0f fever. Small piece 0f dried rhiz0me is taken curing distressing c0ugh. Dried cut piece is given to child f0r speech clarity 0r t0 stammering child. Fruit juice applied 0n the b0dy before sleeping t0 s0ften skin; fruit edible.

Leaf juice is applied externally to heal surface w0unds. Dec0cti0n 0f herb is als0 given to cure stomach ailments such as diarrh0ea, dysentery and intestinal c0lic with flatulence Eating raw bulbs eaten raw reduces fever acting as c00ling agent. Raw bulbs are taken in case 0f indigestfon and altitude sickness. Bulb paste cures skin diseases, and the bulb juice is p0ured in the ear t0 treat earache. Bulb fried with mushr00m act as antid0te 0n snake bite. T0 drive the snake away from the vicinity 0f the h0use during summer m0nths, the rhiz0me is crushed to mix into with water to sprinkle around the h0use. Curry prepared from green leaves stops diarrh0ea. Seeds grounded int0 p0wder, mixed with water and taken as an infusi0n t0 cure general gastric problems. Beaten seeds are fried with butter and fed to pregnant w0men t0 lessen pregnancy pains.

Gargle with seed dec0cti0n with water, is used to treat teeth and gum infectfon. P0unded r00t mixed with water treats urinary infecti0n in cattle.

Plant juice cures s0res in m0uth and tongue 0f an infant, and treats f00t and m0uth disease in cattle.

Crushed leaves inserted in the n0se stop bleeding. Water, mixed with crushed leaves, in taking bath prevents and cures allergy. Raw leaves chewed are g00d for m0uth ulcer; als0 find uses in rituals.

Dried buds are chewed to cure ulcers and bleeding piles. During

t00thache bark juice is taken in the form 0f tonic.

Crushed rhiz0me is tied around the fractured b0ne to heal; the

paste is applied 0n the cuts and w0unds.

Chewing raw leaves treat s0re throat. Drinking bark cure


Seed 0il is applied t0 w0unds t0 speed up healing and prevent infectfon. Oil applied 0n forehead relieves headache. T0 keep hair black and healthy, the 0il is applied with massage. Juice 0f crushed leaves used as eye drop cures eye infecti0n and 0ther eye diseases.

Edible rhiz0me is b0iled and taken during fever.

P0unded seeds mixed with water taken in very minute quantity

during severe b0dy pain; the leaves given to cattle in flatulence.

Raw fruit is crushed, squeezed and the milky extract given to

females for ab0rting unwanted pregnancy.

Bark is crushed and the paste is applied to cure ulcers. Ffower is

chewed to pr0m0te menstrual discharge in females.

Table 2: Plant species used for curing different ailments by the Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley in North Sikkim, India (Continued)

23 Celastrus paniculatus Willd.

24 Cinnamomum tamala (Buch.-Ham.) Nees. & Eberm.

25 Cissampelos pareira L.

26 Citrus aurantofolia Christum

27 Citrus medica Linn.

28 Citrus reticulata Blanco.

29 Clematis buchananiana DC

30 Colocasia antiquorum var. esculenta Linn.

31 Coriandum sativum Linn.

32 Costus speciosus Smith.

33 Cucurbita pepo Linn.

34 Curcuma aromatica Salisb.

35 Curcuma caesia Roxb.

36 Curcuma longa Linn.

37 Curcuma zedoaria Roxb.

38 Cynodon dactylon (Linn.) Pers.

39 Daphne cannabina Wall.

40 Datura fastuosa Linn.

41 Dicentra thelictrifolia (Wall) Hk.f & Th.

42 Dichroa febrifuga Lour.

43 Dillenia indica Linn.

44 Diplazium polypodioides Bl.

45 Disocorea alata Linn.

46 Drymeria cordata Willd. ex Roem & Schult.

47 Eleusine coracana Linn.







Ranunculaceae Araceae





Zingeberaceae Zingeberaceae






Hydrangeaceae Dilleniaceae


Dioscoreaceae Caryophyllaceae


Seed paste is applied in case of skin irritation/allergy; good for gout.

Leaves are rubbed on the body surface of the scabies affected person.

Plant extract is given to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, indigestion and urinary disorders. Root is used as antidote. Leaves applied on wounds heal and cure stomach pain. Root powder mixed with water kills stomach worms. Fruit prevent vomiting sensation. Pounded leaves and seeds relive stomach ache in cattle.

Chewing dried fruit skin helps preventing dysentery. Fruit is good for indigestion. Roots are tied together along with a copper coin and placed in women's naval during child birth, which is believed to expedite the expulsion of the placenta after child birth.

Juice by squeezing fruit skin is applied into the eyes to cure eye problems; dried fruit skin chewed to treat stomachache, tonsillitis, fever, and headache.

Juice extracted by crushing fresh roots is inhaled, for having strong smell, to treat sinusitis and headache. Juice of crushed roots and leaves is applied on warts. Corms are eaten as vegetable. Fresh leaves and rhizomes are used to stimulate lactation in cows.

Shoot is chewed raw to expel gas and bowel, helpful in digestion; mixed with Fenugreek and Thyme taken along with tea relieves stomach pain.

Rhizome mixed with sugar used to treat veneral diseases; being pungent, it is used as a substitute to zinger. Juice taken before breakfast cures urinary tract infections. Seed powder taken with water acts as vermifuge. Fresh leaf paste acts as a soothing agent if applied on the burn portion. Ripen fruits cure jaundice.

Rhizome powder taken with water relieves nausea, stomachache and expels gas.

Fresh rhizome is eaten raw to expel gas.

Drinking water boiled with root cures throat pain, cold, cough

and fever.

Fresh rhizome paste is applied externally to cure skin diseases. Rhizome eaten raw cures diarrhoea and colic, and helps in digestion

Crushed root juice is taken to relieve piles. Root paste applied heals cuts and wounds. Boiled leaf and root juice help in treating diarrhoea and dysentery.

Root is crushed and the boiled juice is given during food poisoning. Raw leaves are fed to baby goats during diarrhoea and fever. Traditional paper is made from the bark and the stalks are used to weave mats.

In case of rabid dog bite, seed eaten raw in very minute quantity. To treat asthmatic fits, smoke from burnt leaves is inhaled. Taking water boiled with crushed root stops excessive bleeding in females.

Leaf powder is taken during fever. Ink is prepared from berries. Fruit juice mixed with sugar and water is taken to treat fever. Fruit helps to relieve constipation. Leaves are used to treat dysentery.

Eating fresh and dry root helps stop dysentery.

To relieve throat pain, rhizome is eaten raw.

The plant is warmed while wrapped in a cloth and emanating

vapour inhaled in the case of sinusitis and nose blockade. Also, it

is a remedy for headache. To relive sore throat pain, fever and

headache, the plant either eaten raw or cooked.

Fermented seeds are taken with traditional drink as medicine

during bodyache due to exhaustion. It is also given to the gastric


Table 2: Plant species used for curing different ailments by the Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley in North Sikkim, India (Continued)

48 Entada pursaetha ssp.sinohimalensis Grierson & Long Mimosaceae

49 Equisetum debile Roxb. Ex Vaucher

50 Eupatorium cannabinum Linn.

51 Euphorbia pulcherrima Linn.

52 Evodia fraxinifolia Hook. f.

53 Fagophyrum esculentum Moench

54 Ficus cunia Ham.

55 Ficus hirta Vahl.

56 Ficus religiosa Linn.

57 Gouania leptostachya DC

58 Helianthus annus Linn.

59 Heracleum wallichii DC.

60 Hibiscus esculentus Linn.

61 Holarrhena antidysenterica Wallich

62 Hordeum vulgare Linn.

63 Hydrocotyle asiatica Linn.

64 Juglan regia Linn.

67 Leea macrophylla Roxb.

68 Lindera neesiana (Wall ex Nees) Kurtz.

69 Litsea citrata Blume

70 Lobelia angulata Forst.

71 Luffa aegyptiaca Mill. ex H00k. f.

72 Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.

73 Marsdenia roylei Wight.

74 Mentha arvensis Linn.

Equisetaceae Asteraceae

Euphorbiaceae Rutaceae


Moraceae Moraceae Moraceae

Rhamnaceae Asteraceae


Malvaceae Apocynaceae




65 Kaempferia sikkimensis (King ex Baker) K. Larsen Zingeberaceae

66 Lantana camara Linn. Verbinaceae


Myrsinaceae Lauraceae






Juice 0r paste 0f crushed bark is applied externally t0 cure skin diseases. Paste 0f seeds is applied t0 cure mumps. Seed p0wder is mixed with water for cleansing hair, and has an anti-dandruff agent.

Juice 0btained from crushing aerial part is applied 0n the fresh w0unds, n0se bleeding etc. t0 cfot bl00d. Juice 0btained through crushing fresh leaves and tender sh00ts is applied t0 cuts, and the remains are placed 0ver the w0unds t0 stop bleeding immediately and this is highly effective in the preventi0n 0f infectfon further.

Plant latex is applied 0n the t00thache site to relive pain; this

need great care as the latex is allergic.

Ripe fruit is b0iled t0 crush and the paste is applied 0n the

forehead during giddiness; chewing raw 0r dried fruit treat

indigestfon. Fruits are als0 used t0 make chutney.

P0wdered grains are baked into chapattis (Bread) and given t0

treat diarrh0ea.

The latex is applied externally t0 reduce b0ils. R00t dec0cti0n treats f00d p0is0ning.

Water extract 0f any plant part is given during burning sensati0n 0f the genitals. Bark s0aked in water and the water is taken t0 stop v0miting. Fruit juice is used in to treat cracked feet. Past 0f leaves is applied to cure s0res and inflammati0n. R00t dec0cti0n as a gargle relieves t00thache; dried ffower chewed cures ulcers, fever, rough and rold. Leaves crushed and mixed with water and taken bath cures Allergy and skin diseases are treated taking bath with leaves crushed into water. Dried fruits are chewed to treat sinusitis and influenza. R00t juice is taken to cure diarrh0ea; seeds are focally used as chatni. Fruit mucilage acts as s00thing agent 0n cuts. P0wder 0f barks, seeds and leaves is taken with water helpful in in dysentery.

Gruel is made by the p0wdered grains and given in case 0f painful indigestfon. Barley water with h0ney is prescribed in br0nchial c0ughs.

Fresh plant parts crushed and ingested 0rally cure s0res 0f throat and lungs. Leaf juice is used as eye drops to cure eye infecti0n. Dressing with leaf paste reduces swelling 0r and applied in w0unds. Juice 0f sh00ts treats gastritis and ronstipatfon.

Fresh bark juice is taken t0 rem0ve w0rms from the stomach. Bark and leaves crush act as a fish p0is0n. The nuts are eaten. The shell 0f the fruit when crushed gives 0ut black robr which was used previ0usly to paint the d00r and the wind0ws. P0ultice formed from crushed bulbs is applied t0 heal b0ne fractures, disfocatfon and w0unds.

The juice 0f crushed leaves is applied to the fresh cut and w0unds t0 heal. Crushed leaves are tied 0ver the sprain to relieve pain.

Seeds are wrapped, as small pack, in a cfoth and tied around the neck 0f the children, which is believed to cure stomach pain. Als0, the seeds are chewed to treat viral fever. Seeds crushed and taken with water stops v0miting sensatfon. Fruits are chewed to treat stomach dis0rders, headache; als0 used in making chutney.

Wh0le plant is b0iled and given in case 0f throat pain and fever. Tender sh00t is smashed and the juice is applied externally to treat b0ils and inflammatfon.

Juice 0f leaves cures ronjunctivitis. Tender fruit is taken as vegetable. The rourse sp0nge 0f mature fruit is used as a bath scrub.

Raw fruit is taken during indigestfon and t0 prevent bleeding fr0m the gums.

Deroctfon 0f unripe fruit, r00t and leaf is to relieve burning sensati0n in the genitals.

Raw leaves chewed help to check stomach related dis0rders: gastritis, acidity, indigestfon etc., als0 used t0 flav0ur chutney.

Table 2: Plant species used for curing different ailments by the Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley in North Sikkim, India (Continued)

75 Mimosa pudica Linn.

76 Momordica charantia Linn.

77 Morus indica Linn.

78 Mucuna marcrocarpa Wallich

79 Musa paradisiacal Linn.

80 Mussaenda frondosa Linn.

81 Nasturitium officinale R. Br.

82 Oroxylum indicum (L.) Kurz

83 Oxalis corniculata Linn.

84 Paederia scandens Merrill

85 Pandanus nepalensis St. John

86 Phyllanthus emblica Linn.

87 Phytolacca acinosa Roxb.

88 Picrorhiza kurroaa Benth.

89 Pieris ovalifolia

90 Piper longum Linn.

91 Plantago eroasa Wallich

92 Polygonum viviparum Linn.

93 Prunus cerasoides D. Don

94 Psidium guajava Linn.

95 Pteris biaurita

96 Rhododendron arboreum Smith

97 Rhododendron campanulatum D. Don

98 Rhus semialata Murr.

99 Rubia cordifolia Roxb. ex Fleming

Mimosaceae Decoction of roots is helpful to control piles; root paste is applied externally to cure boils.

Cucurbitaceae Fruit juice is good for diabetics; juice acts as blood purifier. Juice of tender shoot or root is applied at the point of snake bite.

Moraceae Bark and leaf decoction cures sore throat; fruit is edible and

cures throat infection and swelling. Seed extract is applied to heal foot cracks.

Fabaceae Seed powder taken with water helps remove round worm from


Musaceae Person suffering from fever is advised to drink sap released from

the plant directly.

Rubiaceae Whole plant is boiled and decoction is given to treat fever,

asthma and cough.

Brassicaceae The aerial part decoction is given to relieve body pain; also eaten as salad.

Bignoniaceae Bark and seeds are powdered and mixed with water, and

strained; the concoction is fed to patients suffering from high fever or pneumonia, which believed to restore health or brings down fever. Unbroken pod is also used in rituals.

Geraniaceae Whole plant is chewed raw and the juice acts as an appetizer;

also checks boil. Fresh plant decoction taken treats dysentery. Fruit is consumed to lessen throat pain.

Rubiaceae Dried fruit is powdered and applied over teeth to relieve tooth

ache and prevent tooth decay.

Pandanaceae Tying or wrapping up the young and tender leaves from upper part of the stem on the surface act as an antidote to snake poison/bite. It may also be chewed as breath sweetener. Fresh leaves act as cockroach repellant. Leaves are used for making mats, carry bags, fishing bags and for thatching purpose. Fruits are seen being eaten by monkeys and rats.

Euphorbiacea Fruit is eaten raw to treat cough, diarrhoea, and dysentery.

Phytolaecaceae Fresh leaves are boiled and consumed to relieve bodyache and diarrhoea.

Scrophulariceae Dried rhizome is boiled in water and taken to cure fever, cough, etc.

Ericaceae Leaves either crushed or mixed with water are rubbed on the

body to reduce inflammation, irritation and allergies.

Piperaceae Dried seed powder paste is applied to reduce sprains; the

powdered roots are given to treat cold and cough.

Plantaginaceae Leaf paste is applied to heal wounds. Seed powder is taken with water treats diarrhoea and dysentery.

Polygonaceae Root juice boiled with water is given in case of fever and stomach upset.

Rosaceae Bark is powdered and applied externally on the fractured bone

along with other processs of treatment; fruit is edible.

Myrtaceae Young leaves and tender shoots taken raw cure mouth ulcers,

sore throat, cough, toothache. Drinking bark powder mixed in hot water is best local remedy for dysentery with blood in stool; fruits are edible.

Pteridaceae Mashed petiole extract applied on the cuts and wounds stop

bleeding and infections.

Ericaceae Dried flowers crushed and mixed with water stop excessive

bleeding in female. Fresh leaves chewed stop dysentery. Flower petals clear throat choking due to fish or chicken bone.

Ericaceae Leaves are chewed and the juice from the crushed leaves

relieves cough.

Anacardiaceae Sour juice of fruits is boiled with water, and concentration is further mixed with water and raw egg, treats diarrhoea and dysentery. It is also used as food preservative.

Rubiaceae Root decoction with water is given to cure urinary infection;

paste is used as an ointment to skin diseases. Root is also used to make dyes.

Table 2: Plant species used for curing different ailments by the Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley in North Sikkim, India (Continued)

100 Rubus ellipticus Smith

101 Rumax nepalensis Sreng.

102 Saccharum officinarum

103 Sapindus mukorossi Gaertn.

104 Schima wallichii (DC.) Korth.

105 Semecarpus anacardium Linn. f.

106 Solanum khasiana C.B. Clarke.

107 Spermadictyon suaveolens Roxb.

108 Sphagnum squarrosum Crome

109 Stephania hernandifolia Walp.

110 Swertia chirayita (Roxb. Ex Flem.) H. Karst. 11 1 Thysanolaena maxima Kurtz.








Rubiaceae Sphagnaceae


Gentianaceae Poaceae

112 Tupistra nutans Wall.

113 Usnea sikkimensis

114 Urtica dioica Linn.

Liliaceae Parmeliaceae


115 Valeriana hardwickii Wallich

116 Viscum articulatum Burm.f.

117 Zanthoxyllum alatum Roxb.

118 Zingiber officinale Rose.

Valarianaceae Loranthaceae



Y0ung sh00t is chewed raw t0 relieve sudden stomach pain. R00t dec0cti0n given to the children t0 get rid 0f stomach warm. R00t paste is applied 0n forehead during severe headache; fruit is edible.

Juice prepared by smashing leaves and y0ung sh00ts is applied t0 heal w0unds. R00t is crushed and the juice applied 0n the scalp prevents hair foss. Juice is taken to cure jaundice.

Scalp is washed with fruit to rem0ve dandruff and lice.

Bark is rubbed 0n the caterpillar infected p0rti0n rem0ves its

R00t paste (p0is0n0us) is applied externally 0n the affected p0rti0n cures skin diseases. Dec0cti0n 0f the bark is given t0 the animals t0 treat w0rms.

Sm0ke, through burning the seeds, is directed t0 the infected teeth t0 cure t00thache and t00th decay. R00t paste is applied externally to relieve j0int pain. Hunters and graziers use wh0le m0ss for dressing w0unds in place 0f abs0rbent rotton 0r gauze. It is als0 act as an imp0rtant s0urce 0f fuel for them.

Paste 0f crushed leaves is applied 0n the b0ils for 0pening; water kept in bulb0us r00t is sprinkled in the p0ultry farm to prevent from bird flu.

Juice 0btained through b0iling the entire plant is taken to cure fever, rold, rough, diarrh0ea, and stomach-ache. R00t paste applied 0n b0ils helps it in 0pening up faster. Juice from b0iled r00ts used as gargle in case 0f bad breath and kills w0rms in stomach 0n drinking. Br00m and r00ts are tied together afong with a c0pper c0in and placed in w0men's naval during child birth, believed to expedite expulsfon 0f the placenta after child birth. During wedding rituals and Pujas (Prayers) for newly ronstructed h0uses, individual stalks 0r b0uquet are placed in several focati0ns ar0und the h0use t0 create an auspicfous envir0nment.

Infl0rescence is p0wdered and mixed with water and taken t0 relieve b0dy pain.

Hunters and graziers use it t0 bandage surface w0unds and skin eruptfons 0r b0ils. It is inserted in the n0stril to stop n0se bleeding. Shepard put it in the sh0e t0 prevent 0r treat blisters. R00t paste is applied 0n min0r b0ne fracture and disl0cati0n. R00t and seed dec0cti0n is taken to treat diarrh0ea and rough. Curry, prepared using sh00t tips, is given to female during child delivery as their slipperiness is believed to help delivering child. It sh0uld n0t be taken by a pers0n wh0 has been bitten by rabid d0gs which is believed t0 aggravate the problem. Stems are beaten, dried and b0iled to make threads and w0ven into traditi0nal nettle cfothing. Spines believed to stimulate milk productfon, when rows d0 n0t lactate, they are believed t0 be p0ssessed and beaten with nettles for n0rmal lactating. Shamans beat humans during ex0rcism rituals with nettles in a belief to drive away evil spirits from b0dy; this sh0uld n0t be touched 0r eaten by family members 0f deceased pers0n 0n the day 0f death. If the decease is 0ne's father 0r m0ther, this pr0hibiti0n remains for 0ne year. Nettle is planted 0n the child's grave in a belief that the evil spirit 0f child will n0t rome 0ut t0 tr0uble 0ther family members.

Extract 0f crushed r00ts is taken t0 treat urine tr0uble. Paste prepared from the entire dried plant is applied to heal fractured b0ne, and disl0cati0n.

Branchlet used as t00thbrush to relieve t00thache. Berries (2-3)

taken t0 cure stomach ache and t00thache. Berries are crushed

and rubbed 0n the leg which acts as leech guard.

Rhiz0me is roasted and chewed to treat rough, fever and throat


(Figure 1). As per plant part used by Lepcha tribes for ethnomedicine, the maximum number of species are harvested for root and rhizome (34 species combined) and leaves (27 species), followed by fruit, seed, bark and whole plant (Figure 2). Further, destructive harvesting for the whole plant as medicine indicates the use of 9.32% species in the area. In the present study, a maximum of about 29% species are subjected to destructive harvesting using root/rhizome, which may be related to their possible vulnerability towards endangerment [41]. The cases of Aconitum ferox, A. heterophyllum, Picrorhiza kurrooa, Swertia chirayita, Valeriana hardwickii, etc. appeared in the same category.

The 118 medicinal plant species recorded from Dzongu are used to cure about 66 ailments, which authors grouped them under 14 broad categories (Figure 3). Of which, 36 species (maximum) used to treat stomach related disorders such as diarrhoea, dysentery, indigestion, gas expelling and others; however, 23 species figured in curing cut, wounds, inflammation, sprains and joint pain (Figure 1). The study revealed that 59.3% plant species are reported to be used to cure more than one ailment. External applications as well as internal consumption are involved in the treatment of diseases. Analysis of species level data discovered the oral (75.0 %), external application (44.4%), nasal (5.5%), eye (2.7%) and the ear (0.93%) as major administration route of ethnomedicine used. It was observed that most of the preparations include single plant species and in rare case the combination of two or more species. It was also observed that different parts of a single species are used to cure different diseases.

The study finds the used administrations are not standardized in general, but depend on the age and physical appearance of the patient, illness and diagnosis of the diseases [28,42,43]. Children are given small doses of medicine than considered in case of adult patients, which further depend on the type of illness and treatment realized appropriate by the local medicine man. The type of disease and level of its severity further decide the course of the frequency of treatments. Each medicinal plant is used either raw or in dried form as medicine. Especially, the underground parts are used in the dried form, which is either cut into small pieces or powdered, and stored [44].

On the collection and use of medicinal plants, about 70% respondents indicated Swertia chirayita as the most frequently used and highly extracted species (whole plant) for its applicability in many common diseases, such as, fever, cold, cough, diarrhoea, stomach-ache (Table 2). As per IUCN criteria the S. chirayita is considered as a critically endangered species for Himachal Pradesh, India [45] and vulnerable for north-east India [46]. Similarly, the

crushed rhizome of Bergenia ciliata, a threatened medicinal herb [46] is used to cure fractured bone, fresh cuts and wounds. Whereas, in west Sikkim, graziers also use the same in case of sheep, Dzos (a breed of Ox and Yak) and horses (authors' unpublished work). An endangered species for both Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh [46], the Aconitum ferox is a poisonous plant and has traditional use for fever, skin diseases, cough and gout. There are many threatened medicinal plants grow along the high altitude reaches of Dzongu, such as Aconitum heterophyllum, Dacty-lorhiza hatagirea, Nardostachys jatamansi, Panax pseudosin-seng, Picrorhiza kurrooa, etc. These species were used for ethnomedicine in the past but owing to distance of availability, severely declined populations and loss of knowledge amongst youngsters, the majority of respondents did not mention them as under current use. Interestingly, the A. heterophyllum, N. jatamansi are assessed as endangered and P. kurrooa as vulnerable under IUCN criteria for Sik-kim [46].Oroxylum indicum is yet other vulnerable (IUCN criteria) taxa for Sikkim, having common utility for folk as appetizer and to treat dysentery and throat pain. Another destructive use by extracting roots in urine trouble in case of vulnerable species for Sikkim, Valeriana hardwickii is known. Dioscorea alata, a common form of wild edible for Sikkim people is also found to be used, occasionally, for having medicinal properties, in curing fever, rash, itches, constipation and piles.

Use of Pandanus nepalensis as medicine is poorly mentioned in the literature though has important properties. This plant is abundantly available all along the Teesta valley and its tributaries in the warmer parts of the state, including lower parts of Dzongu. Belonging to monocot family it is a medium-sized tree up to 5-6 m in height typically having broad canopy and stout trunk, ringed with many leaf scars and dioeciously branched. The clustered drooping fruit resembles Ananas comosus, but without leaves at the apex of the fruit, which is seen eaten by monkeys and rats. As per Moan-doak, placing or tying up of young or tender leaves on the skin at the place of snake bite helps reduce the pain caused. It may also be chewed as breath sweetener. The fresh leaves also act as a cockroach repellant. The leaves were used for making hand-wooven mats, carrying bags, fishing bags, thatching roofs, etc. but a dying practice these days.

The use of Sphagnum squarrosum (peat moss) and Usnea sikkimensis (old man's beard, a lichen) of the alpine region, in dressing and bandaging cuts and wounds because of their absorbency and insulation, has been reported by some of the elderly persons, who were the hunters and graziers at one time. S. squarrosum is also used as an important source of fuel in the area. Written records exist on the use of U. sikkimensis as a remedy for lung troubles, hemorrhage and asthma, and also the massaging

re ® «

<#> & & & r,® o® J> J> J>


Figure 1

Dominant families of medicinal plant species used in Dzongu valley, North Sikkim, India.

6 ® "o

a 5 (0

4 CD n

scalp with plant powder helps strengthen hair [14]. Thyongs of Dzongu also reported that U. sikkimensis stops nose bleeding, prevents or treats foot blisters (if inserted inside the shoe) due to continuous wearing of hard leather shoes, and treats skin eruptions and boils (bandaged over the wound). This lichen is inserted in a bag and also used in the form of pillow by the graziers/shepherds. However, such uses of plants sound amazing and interesting to the present generations.


In general, over 80% respondent under present study in Dzongu shared that in recent years, dependency on allopathic treatments has increased considerably over traditional health care systems. Loosening interest amongst in young generation, and tough and time consuming process of plant collection and gradually lacking in skill of specific identification, appeared as major reasons for declining trend in using traditional health care system. For living in the close nearness to the district headquarter by the exposures and involvement in developmental programmes

offering them livelihood options as well the availability of primary health centers and sub-centers in each village in recent years have further diverted youngsters from using ethnomedicinal practices. Surprisingly, for some particular ailments like bone fracture and dislocation, most of the inhabitants still prefer herbal use rather than the allopathic treatment, as they like to avoid undergoing painful therapies of the later. Many natives still prefer and trust upon using traditional health care system as the excellent and much effective means to cure their ailments over allopathic drugs [42-44]. The species subjected to destructive harvesting due to uprooting underground part form over 29% in Dzongu. Often, the threatened taxa, if they are already having small and fragmented populations in a particular area, as well as growing in specific habitats [41], they could be susceptible to further endangerment, if species are approached to commercialization through wild harvesting. It would be crucial to assess their potential of availability, as resource, through population assessment. Ex-situ cultivation of such taxa would not only promote their conservation but also offer income opportunity to

Number of species % Number of Species

ftliiil, llllll, lyj^iatim^i

Plant Part(s) Use

35 30 25

15 10 5 0


Frequency of plant parts used of medicinal plant species in Dzongu valley, North Sikkim, India.

local folk. Amongst them, some, including high traded threatened taxa Swertia chirayita and Picrorhiza kurrooa, are prioritized at the top for their conservation through ex-situ cultivation [12].

Prior to entering Sikkim from southwest Tibet, the Lepcha tribe migrated to Thailand, Burma, Assam, and Bhutan. During the course of migration, they got along the composite culture over how to use the available wild plants of those areas and importantly the knowledge of those herbal plants associated with well being of mankind and deeply in them efficiency of the drug's crucial for saving life. In turn in Sikkim, they encountered many new plant species and developed their knowledge on them. They decided "Ne Mayal Lyang", on the slopes of Khangchend-zonga (floristically rich) in Sikkim as their final abode. From their experience in the past new discovery left them rather to experiment the new plant species for different ailments in addition of plants as medicine in the number. It seems that Lepcha tribe of Dzongu valley was a keen learner over the use of plants for their property of drug

through experience and natural selection not been possessed by other and hence decided to keep their knowledge upto themselves in the threat of life as a survival strategy. This has made them most experienced medicinal practitioner and to the community a container of those associated culture. During authors' latest conversation with one of the elderly Lepcha from Dzongu, he mentioned that the cut piece of dried rhizome of Acorus calamus is given to child for speech clarity or to the stammering a child, and has been found effective in curing the problem, which is a new finding for Lepcha tribe. The Apatanis uses the root/rhizome of the same species for curing problems like cuts, wounds, skin diseases, bone fracture but Lepcha uses it for curing cough and fever in addition to skin diseases (Table 1). But they do not use it for cut, wounds, bone fracture etc. because they found Ber-genia ciliata to be much more effective in case of such problems and Viscum articulatum in case of bone fracture than Acorus calamus. Similarly, Ageratum cornyzoides is used by the Lepcha tribe for curing diarrhoea, dysentery, intestinal colic with flatulence in addition to cut and

Urinary disorder I Bone related problems i

Vermifuge i

Food poison & Antidote I

Head & body - ache 1

Women & Sex related problems ~1

^ Mouth, nose, ear, and eye related problems ~1

Teeth, gum related problem & ulcers i

Fever I

Others i

Cold, cough & throat related problems 1

Skin diseases & Boils ~l

Cuts, wounds, inflam, sprains & joint pain I

Stomach related disorders i


0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 Number of Species

Figure 3

Major group of ailments cured using the plant species in Dzongu valley, North Sikkim, India.

wounds as used by the Apatinis and the Jaintia tribe of the North-eastern India. Similarly, the use of Allium cepa is different for Lepcha tribe and the Apatani tribe (Table 1.). Lepchas have learnt to make use of Costus speciosus for curing the disease infecting most sensitive part of the human body (veneral disease and the urinary tract infection), which is not mentioned by other tribes [47-50] under review (Table 1). Similarly, the leaf of Lantana camera, the dominant weed in the region, is being found used only by the Lepchas as an antiseptic and as a pain reliever; this use is not found with other tribes mentioned in this paper. Depending upon the immediate availability of the plant species, they have managed to make multiple uses of single species. For example, Urtica dioica, is used by the Lep-cha tribe for curing diarrhoea and cough and the soup prepared from it is given to the pregnant women which helps is easy delivery of child other than bone fracture as used by Apatani tribe. Similar multiple use of another species, Cynodon dactylon, Drymeria cordata and Ficus religiosa, is recorded form Lepcha tribe of Dzongu (Table 1), such use is not reported from other tribes of the north-eastern Indian region indicating that the Lepchas having much

more exploratory power and knowledge in comparison to the other existing tribes in the region.

Use of local medicinal plants by Lepchas ensures the continuity of indigenous knowledge associated with the species and has the definite bearing on the identification of their habitats, which are confined in the pockets of the most difficult hill terrain to some extent. The gradual decline in traditional use practices may, therefore, leads to the fading away of the indigenous knowledge associated with the plants in very near future. On the other hand, the people inhabiting Sakyong- Pentong, Tholung, etc., the places which are not approachable by roads, still found to be almost fully dependent on herbal health care system. The present study indicates that the Dzongu area is a rich reservoir of medicinal plants and associated ethnomedic-inal practices offering great pharmaceutical potential. The knowledge for identification of medicinal plants, drug preparation and usage for medicines, as great potential amongst Lepcha tribes of Dzongu valley is confined to few old traditional practitioners chiefly. For their getting migrated to cities in search of better livelihood options

further weaken the interest of young generations in carrying noble traditions. This tendency of disinterestedness in old traditions is feared by old generation as a major cause of loosing this wealth of knowledge in coming time soon. Therefore, it is an appropriate time to document systematically traditional ethnomedicinal practices for conservation.

Introducing techniques of ex-situ cultivation of commercially viable species [12,51,52] would present a strong option of income generation to community people. To establish self sufficient primary health care system of this remotely placed tribal area, growing herbs in kitchen garden would not only supply raw material at household level but ensure the revival of traditional knowledge and conservation of valuable medicinal plants of the region. Development of kitchen garden growing herbs has greater benefit to train community tribal people on conservation through nursery practices at small scale before venturing into big ones. The current study may be of great use and interest to researchers, pharmaceuticals, foresters and medicinal practitioners. The documentation finds Dzongu valley a highly potential reservoir of high value medicinal plants and rich ethnomedicinal knowledge, and can also be a suitable agroclimatic zone for the cultivation of herbal plant species. Thus the current study will further help in both conservation of traditional ethnome-dicinal knowledge as well as the development of native villagers.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests. Authors' contributions

The current study is a joint effort of both authors. BKP collected data, relatively, for a longer period in field, computed them for statistical analysis and contributed in primary manuscript drafting. HKB conceptualized and designed the study; collected field data, interpreted them and finalized the draft. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.


Authors are grateful to the Director of the institute for providing necessary facilities and consistent support. Authors thank Mr. Dorjee Lepcha of Dzongu for his help as translator during the field survey and other members of Mutanchi Lom Al Sezum (a Dzongu based NGO) for their friendly support in the study area. Authors appreciate all the local informants and healers who shared their knowledge on the use of medicinal plants; without their contribution, this study would have been much difficult. Thanks are due to the PCCF cum Secretary of FEWMD, Govt. of Sikkim and the Chief Wildlife Warden, FEWMD, Govt. of Sikkim and their staff for time to time cooperation. Authors appreciate Mr. Guth Lepcha, Additional Director-Forest, FEWMD, Govt. of Sikkim for his several interactions on Lepcha culture, and biodiversity conservation in KBR. Specific thanks to Shri J.B. Subba, the Joint Director (KBR/KNP), FEWMD, Govt. of Sikkim and his team for field support.


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