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African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines
African Ethnomedicines Network
ISSN: 0189-6016
Vol. 3, Num. 1, 2006, pp. 101-114

African Journal. Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines Vol. 3, Num. 1, 2006, pp.101-114  


B. Sandhya,  S. Thomas, W. Isabel and R. Shenbagarathai

Research centre and PG department of Zoology,LadyDoakCollege, Madurai. Tamil Nadu , India E-mail:

 Code Number: tc06012


Herbal medicine is widely practiced   from ancient period   throughout the world.These medicines are safe and environment friendly.  According to WHO about 80% of the world’s population relies on traditional medicine for their primary health care. India, being one of the world’s 12 mega biodiversity   countries, enjoys export of herbal raw material worth of U.S.  $100-114   million   per year approximately.    Currently the Government of India, realizing the value    of the country’s vast range of medicinal plants, has embarked on a mission  of documenting  the  traditional knowledge about medicinal plants and herbs. This investigation, in a small way, takes up the enumerationof plants  with  medicinal  value,  which  are used by the  Valaiyans,  an  ethnic  group, residing in and around Piranmalai Hills, Tamilnadu, South India. This report elucidates a rich and unique profile of phytodiversity of  the  area  surveyed, with  63 species  of medicinal  plants belonging to 59 genera and 38 families.

Key words: Traditional knowledge, Herbal medicines, Phytodiverisity


Mankind has been continuously using the plants in one or the other way in the treatment of various ailments.  In India, the sacred Vedas dating back between 3500 B.C and 800 B.C give many references of medicinal plants.  One of the remotest works in traditional herbal medicine is “Virikshayurveda”, compiled even before the beginning of Christian era and formed the basis of medicinal studies in ancient India.  The Rig Veda , dating between 3500 B.C.  to 1800 B.C. , seems to be the earliest record available on medicinal plants[1]. Herbs seem to be very important component of medicine in other cultures too  ; Greek , African and Chinese medicines., to mention a few .

Nearly 80% of the world population depends upon traditional system of health care. Allopathic drugs have brought a revolution throughout the world but the plant base medicines have its own status. Surveys had revealed that 50% of the top prescription drugs in the USA are based on natural products and the raw materials are locked up in the tropical world –interiors of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The local uses of plants as a cure are common particularly in those areas, which have little or no access to modern health services[2] such as the innumerable villages and hamlets in India.

The indigenous traditional knowledge of medicinal plants of various ethnic communities, where it has been transmitted orally for centuries is fast disappearing from the face of  the earth  due to  the advent of modern technology and transformation of traditional culture. The collection of information about natural flora, classification, management and use of plants by the people holds importance among the ethno botanists. The local people and researchers face the challenging task of not only documenting knowledge on plants, but also applying the results of their studies to biodiversity conservation and community development[3]

With a deep concern and reverence for the vast diversity of flora that our country enjoys, and with sense of realization about the invaluable therapeutic properties of this phytodiversity, the current research is undertaken. This work concentrates on ethno medicinal value of plants and herbs commonly  used by the Valaiyan Community of the area surveyed.   

The study area concentrates in and around the Piranmalai hills  which comes under Reserved forest ,located  between  Madurai  and Siva Ganga Districts, Tamil Nadu, South  India.  The area lies approximately with in 77˚81’ - 78˚ 2E longitude and 9˚5’ - 10˚5 N latitude, the elevation of the area ranges from 1000’ to 2000’. It  has a good content of red and loamy soil; in higher elevation the soil is rocky with small to big boulders.  The temperature ranges from 18˚C during winter and about 25˚C to 30˚C in summer.  The mean of annual rainfall recorded in the study site in 1000mm of which the highest rainfall is during October to December, while March - May are the driest months[4].                  


Following the method of Jain and Goel (1995), the information regarding the usage of medicinal plants available in the local area for treating various ailments and diseases, was collected by directly contacting the elders, herbal doctors and the persons who have knowledge about these medicinal plants in the Valaiyan community inhabiting the hamlets, Oduvanpatti, Valaiyankulathupatti, Ammankovilpatti, Silambkkonpatti, Melavanayeirippu, S Puthur, which are situated around the Piranmalai Hills. Regular visits to the above mentioned places were made from June 2004 to February 2005. The plant material was collected and carefully handled for identification by authenticated source .

Most of the plant materials were preserved by making herbaria and all the specimen vouchers were carefully numbered and deposited. The medicinal value of each plant was enumerated in the following pattern: a)Binomial, b)Family, c)Vernacular Name, d)Parts used and e)Ethnomedicinal uses.   

The identification of plants was done using the following references.

1.      The flora of Tamil Nadu Carnatic by K.M. Mathew (1981,82).

2.      Flora of Tamil Nadu, India series I, Vol .I by N.C Nair and A.N. Henry (1983).

3.      Flora of Tamil Nadu, India, Series-I Vol II by Henry et al., (1987).

4.      Flora of Tamil Nadu, India Series – I Vol III by Henry et al., (1989).

(Figure 1)


The data on medicinal plants, which was collected from inhabitants in and around piranmalai hills, were pooled and analysed. The investigation revealed the medicinal plants of 63 species and 59 genera belonging to 38 families, which are commonly used for various ailments by Valaiyans of the area surveyed. The enumeration and utilization of these plants are described Table 1a, b, c, d, e , f, g, h, i below.


A number of organizations within India are concerned with maintaining India's Traditional Medicine Systems. In addition, there is a wide spread development network, an established pharmaceutical industry and a wealth of botanical experts in the country. Until now, however, there has been little effort to document the volume and impact of national or international trade in India's medicinal plants.

According to the latest figures, it costs around 800 million dollars to put a new drug on the market. When  companies manufacture a product based on TK and convert it into a medicine, they  “acquire” a product which is worth a few hundred million dollars (Jain, 1986). A USA based top  pharmaceutical companies  like MERCK and SHAMAN are the classical examples .Such is the enormous potential hidden in these plants gifted by Nature .

 After lengthy discussions with the  local doctors practising siddha, Ayurveda and  unani  (Indian alternative medical systems), it was learnt that these plants listed by the authors  in this investigation are very much used  by them in making various formulations for a variety of ailments. From the enumeration study, it is obvious that the Valaiyans, who either work as labourers or cultivate crops such as Paddy and Ground Nuts, inherit rich traditional knowledge about the flora investigated and apply this knowledge for making crude phyto- medicines  to cure infections as simple as cold to as complicated  as cancer. These crude  herbal medicines are  based not only on traditional knowledge but also on rituals and beliefs. For instance the treatment given by the herbal healer for a patient suffering from jaundice is paste of a particular herb  and onion along with a copper coin tied religiously around the shoulder  and it is believed that it has a magical cure! 

Another remarkable feature of the study was the presence of sacred grooves in all the   hamlets . Sacred groves are one of the most important and essential bio-resources of the country. It represents an ancient Indian conservation tradition, protected by the local people out of reverence and respect, fear and sentiment for Nature and incarnation of Nature. They are home to local flora and fauna, a veritable gene pool and mini biosphere reserve. It is note worthy that Tamil Nadu from South India has the maximum number of sacred groves. It is   observed with a sad note that this TK which formed the basis for origin of   not only alternative medicine but also paved way to evolution of a gamut of new and novel modern medicines, is facing slow and natural death as these communities are eventually   oriented more towards modern medicine as they believe it gives a quick remedy, while it is paradoxical to see the modern world of late, focusing more on alternative medicine which has herbal base predominantly. Presently very few elders in the community practice herbal cure, while the young and current generation knows little or nothing about the traditional herbal medicines. If this trend continues, a few years from now, there will not be even a single elder member  in this  community who knows TK on medicinal plants to welcome an ethno-botanist   with “EVERYTHING  GREEN IS MEDICINE”.


Authors are thankful to Mr. L. Kesavan, Taxonamist (Retd. professor) and Dr. S. Ganesan of ThiagarajarCollege, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, for their valuable and consistent support and guidance. 


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  10. The New Indian Express.(2000). 18th July.

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