Hyderabad: Tribals selling herbal formulations on road margins is a common sight
in many towns. And do not be surprised if you find scientists making a beeline to these
“tribal doctors” to know more about the herbs and their efficacy in the treatment of drug
resistant diseases ranging from tuberculosis to falciparum malaria.
Tribal or ethnomedicine, popularly known as the fourth world botany, is the in-thing. The
forests of the Nallamalas, the Yerramalas, the Eastern Ghats and the virgin forest tracts
in Adilabad, Nellore and Khammam have emerged as the new research centres for a variety
of diseases, particularly those resistant to the known drugs. A little over 1000 herbs
have been known to different tribal populations in Andhra Pradesh for treatment of health
problems ranging from simple skin rashes to snake poisoning, from psoriasis to muscle
relaxants during delivery, and from severe fevers to gastroenteritis.
A number of research groups are now involved in unravelling the medicinal secrets of
fourth world botany. This includes a group of researchers from Nagarjuna University led
by SM Khasim that has documented a number of herbs used by tribals as part of their
ethnomedicine. They highlighted the concept of fourth world botany with special reference
to tribals of Eastern Ghats. The fourth world botany includes tribal botany, ethnobotany
and indigenous traditional knowledge.
The group carried out a survey among tribal groups such as Jatapu and Savara living in
the Eastern Ghats. They found that these two tribal groups have been using 72 plant
species for treatment of excretory, digestive, circulatory and reproductive ailments.
The National Institute of Indian Medical Heritage in the city has also documented a
number of herbs used by tribal populations in the State forests. The department of Ayush
has taken up the task of revalidation of ethnomedicine to give them a scientific and
modern touch to the ancient healing practices.
“Taking into consideration, the unprecedented rate of deforestation and habitat
destruction, there is an urgent need to explore the Fourth World Botany and its
documentation and preservation for posterity,” Khasim pointed out.
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