Medicinal Plants of Assam and the Tribes Behind Traditional Healthcare

Indigenous Insights into Sustainable Healthcare Practices
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Assam's Medicinal Plant Wealth

The dataset explores the wealth of medicinal plant knowledge in Assam and the northeastern region of India, known for its diverse population and rich biodiversity.

It underscores the urgent need to document traditional wisdom, especially among communities lacking written scripts, as this knowledge faces threats from modernization and deforestation.

With over 500 plant species used in traditional healthcare, the dataset highlights the potential for drug discovery and cost-effective alternatives to synthetic drugs.

Emphasizing the region's unique biodiversity, it addresses the intersection of traditional knowledge, bioresources, and the pressing need for documentation before this invaluable heritage disappears. The utilization of medicinal plants has been integral to the evolution of human customs.

Medicinal Plants
Medicinal Plants

These plants serve as the foundation of traditional remedies, and numerous contemporary medicines have their origins rooted in these plants.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), herbal medicines fulfill the healthcare necessities of approximately 80 percent of the global population, particularly catering to the healthcare needs of millions residing in expansive rural areas across developing nations.

Simultaneously, individuals in developed nations are expressing dissatisfaction with conventional healthcare systems and are actively exploring alternative options - which only makes it imperative to study traditional medicine to possibly solve modern illnesses today.

In addition, this dataset also includes scientific articles and research papers on each indigenous plant recorded, the purpose of which is to explore the further possibilities of the plant’s medicinal qualities and how it can help cure diseases or illnesses.

Methodology of the Study

The Data regarding the Plants and their uses, the tribes that use them, and their local names were extracted from a study “Documentation of Medicinal Plants” which was sponsored by – Ministry of Tribal Affairs Government of India, New Delhi.

Medicinal Plants
Indigenous peoples

Many aforementioned plants are used together to heal illnesses/diseases, while many prove to be of use, independently. It is also to be noted that although many tribes use the same plants; they may not use it for the same purpose. The sizes of the plants and the forests in which they’re found, in addition to scientific evidence of the plants were mostly extracted from the following resources:

Data Base

Description of each column
PLANT - Scientific names of the medicinal plants
SIZE - Size, length of the plant or tree
TRIBES - The tribes of Assam that actually use these plants as a part of their traditional healthcare
FOREST TYPE - the forest in which these plants are found typically
DISEASE/ILLNESS - The disease, disorder or illness the plant is used to heal
DISEASE/ILLNESS - The disease, disorder or illness the plant is used to heal
COMMENTS - Additional information
SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE - Links and resources for the specified medicinal plant, in journals and articles

A discussion about the dataset

The present study was conducted among the nine tribes of Assam viz Deori, Hajong, Hmar, Karbi, Sonowal Kachari, Mech Kachari, Mising, Tai Khamayang and Tai Turung spread over six districts of Upper Assam. Altogether 22 villages were surveyed for collection of field data. The villages were selected on random basis.  

Objective of the study:

With the above mentioned background, the present work focused on the following objectives:
To document the plants used by various tribes for therapeutic purposes, both human and animal. 
To document the various methods of making medicines using plant products by the tribes of Assam.
To document the traditional methods of conservation of these plants. 
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Data for the documentation have been collected through an interview method. Extensive field survey was carried out among the nine tribes of Assam. Information on the preparation of medicine and application were gathered from traditional medicinal men. The old and experienced women folk were also interviewed. 

Medicinal Plants

An Introduction to the Tribes Studied

Exploring Cultures, Histories, and Traditions


Tetraodon cutcutia, used by the Hajong Tribe is not actually a medicinal plant, but a freshwater species, but has been included in the study.


As one further studies the data, it can be seen that many tribes use the same medicinal plant for different purposes. For instance, the Karbi tribe uses Piper nigrum L for treating feeding problems post delivery, whereas the Hajong tribe uses the same plant along with others, to treat piles

Importance of Plants in Modern Medicine and its Scope

Ethnomedicine, a practice rooted in indigenous cultures, encompasses the use of certain herbs, animals, and minerals for healing. This knowledge, passed down through generations, results from extensive experimentation and learning from trial and error over centuries. It forms the basis for various medical systems, including Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, and modern medicine. Within communities, traditional herbalists play a crucial role, intimately understanding each family and its surroundings, allowing them to address day-to-day health concerns effectively.

Traditional medicinal knowledge has universal access, not requiring any formal study for practice. Many families possess knowledge of herbal remedies, and practitioners often specialize in specific areas such as bone setting, wound healing, neurological disorders, spiritual healing, or a blend of these skills. The efficacy of herbal medicine is widely acknowledged, particularly among rural and urban poor communities where it often serves as the primary source of healthcare.

Globally, traditional medicine has garnered attention from folklorists, anthropologists, and medical scientists. Countries like Russia have made significant efforts to scientifically explore native remedies. China successfully integrates traditional healthcare with modern medicine, providing comprehensive coverage to its vast population. However, the lack of official recognition for indigenous medicinal knowledge in underdeveloped countries contributes to insufficient healthcare, exacerbating disparities due to financial constraints.

Researchers have clinically examined claims made by African and Indian healers regarding conditions like herpes zoster, psoriasis, hypertension, asthma, and rheumatism. Efforts by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) to compile medicinal plants globally could enhance primary healthcare strategies, especially in developing nations.

Traditional medicine has contributed significantly to modern healthcare, with numerous drugs developed from plant constituents used traditionally. The medicines in the table are examples made by scientists who studied the chemicals in plants used traditionally by tribal and village communities. For instance, reserpine, isolated in 1952 from the herb Rauvolfia serpentina, has historical use in India for treating snake bites and mental illness.

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Bias and Issues

Numerous factors contribute to the preference for traditional medicine, including affordability, religious beliefs, proximity to home, efficacy in treatment, and the profound impact of cultural practices. These elements collectively underscore why traditional medicine stands as the predominant and widely embraced method of healthcare, particularly in regions of Northeastern India. 

Traditional medicine, while widely practiced and valued, confronts several challenges. Its lack of scientific validation and standardized testing raises uncertainties about the efficacy and safety of various remedies. Differences in how remedies are prepared can mean the doses and quality aren't consistent, which might impact how well they work. This uncertainty can raise the chances of unexpected side effects or bad reactions. Depending too much on traditional medicine could also mean missing out on getting urgent, standard medical care, especially in serious or sudden health issues. Additionally, there's a looming threat of losing invaluable traditional knowledge as younger generations may not actively engage in learning these practices. The way some natural resources are gathered for traditional medicine is unsustainable, causing worries about losing different plant and animal species and using up these resources too quickly. On top of that, because there aren't strict rules and supervision around traditional medicine, it's tough to make sure it's safe and up to certain quality standards. This adds to the problems linked to using traditional medicine widely.

To further develop traditional medicine, governments should integrate it into primary healthcare, educating people on its use and benefits. Promoting knowledge about medicinal plants, their identification, and usage in treating common diseases is crucial. Financial support, inventory documentation, and conservation efforts for medicinal plants are essential for sustainable access to safe and affordable remedies. Such initiatives would strengthen traditional healthcare systems in developing nations, reducing reliance on expensive imported medicines with potential side effects.

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Medicinal Plants

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Collaborated by: 

Tanvi Sardana

Tanvi Sardana

Business Insights Analyst

She is a final-year Math Major at the University of Delhi. She's interested in Analytics and building Models that can drive growth and create a difference within organizations. She's always interested in talking about books, cultural movements of the 70s, and exploring new places.