Introduction

Indigenous people throughout the world possess knowledge of their surrounding flora and fauna. People's knowledge and perceptions of the environment and their relationship with it are often important elements of cultural identity. In India, the traditional folklore healthcare system has a long history and is very deeply rooted in rural and tribal populations. It was practiced long before the beginning of the Christian era and, perhaps, in the "pre-Vedic" periods to which belong the Mohanjodaro and Harappan civilizations. The familiarity with plant species producing medicines,

Laboratory of Ethnobotany and Agrostology, Department of Botany, University College of Science, M.L. Sukhadia University, Udaipur-313001, India, e-mail: [email protected]

K.G. Ramawat (ed.), Herbal Drugs: Ethnomedicine to Modern Medicine, DOI 10.1007/978-3-540-79116-4-3, © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

essential oils and insecticides dates back to the beginning of civilization. The Aryans and Dravidians had good knowledge about the rich heritage of herbal drugs in India. The traditional healthcare practice of indigenous people pertaining to human health is known as ethnomedicine. Indian civilization has played a pioneer role from time immemorial in utilizing plants such as indigenous drugs. Ethnomedicinal practices are the mother of all other traditional systems such as Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and even today's most popular modern therapeutic system or allopathic system [1]. Herbal medicine is not just a poor man's substitute for conventional medicine but a valuable form of treatment in its own right.

It has been estimated that approx. 80% of the population of developing countries is partially or fully dependent upon herbal drugs for primary healthcare, and higher plants are known to be the main source of drug therapy in traditional medicine [2-4]. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 80 to 90% of the world's population relies mainly on local herbal practitioners [2]. The WHO in its 29th and 30th assemblies (1976-1977) gave formal recognition to traditional medicine and recommended the inclusion of traditional healers in the national healthcare programme [5]. The major classical systems of medicine used on the Indian subcontinent like Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani together use about 1200 plant species to treat human ailments, but the tribals of India use more than 7500 plant species [6]. India is one of the world's 12 hotspots, having the largest plant biodiversity, and it has almost 45,000 plant species of which 15,000 to 20,000 are used for medicinal purposes [7].

Demographically, the Aravalli hills are the homeland of people belonging to tribes, subtribes and different ethnic and religious groups such as the Bhil, Meena, Garasia, Kathodi, Saharia, Bhagora, Damor, etc. A major portion of its population, irrespective of ethnicity, is of rural background, most of them living in isolated pockets and remote areas maintaining a primitive state of economic life and sometimes completely cut off from modern amenities. However, the Aravalli hills are very rich in herbal medicinal flora of angiosperm and lower plants. The inhabitants of this region are still completely dependent upon natural plant resources for their daily needs. Likewise, these tribal people possess perfect knowledge of plant use, which they have acquired over the course of their centuries-old experiences with herbal plants [1].

Ethnomedicinal therapy plays a vital role in the primary healthcare of tribals and rural populations of the Aravalli hills and hold great potential in the discovery of new drugs of herbal origin which are easily metabolized in the human body and have no adverse side effects. The search for new potential therapeutic compounds like reserpine, quinine, ephedrine, cocaine, emitin, khallin, colchicines, digoxin, taxol, vinblastine, gugulipid, vincristine, artemisinine, etc. from medicinal plants, with a rich ethnobotanical lore, gave impetus to ethnobotanical research throughout the world [3,4].

Because of the various ethnic groups scattered throughout the state of Rajasthan, extensive ethnomedicinal studies of plants in Rajasthan have been carried out [1], [8, 17]. The phytochemistry of several species has been carefully examined to validate the role of the active principle, viz. Ephedra species [18], Aegle marmelos [19], Cocculus pendulus [20], Curculigo orchioides [21], Commiphora wightii [22, 23], Cayratia trifolia [24] and Pueraria tuberosa [25].

Unfortunately, much of this knowledge and many of the cultures are fast disappearing in most regions. It is, therefore, essential to rescue the disappearing knowledge and to revitalize and return it to the local communities. With this objective in mind, some ethnobotanical investigations were conducted by the author and his associates in the tribal-dominated areas of Rajasthan [17], [27-30].

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