Ethno Medicinal Studies on Kurumba Community for the Treatment of Gastro-intestinal Disorders, Niligiri District, Tamil Nadu, India  

Deepak P. , Gopal G.V.
Regional Institute of Education, University of Mysore, Mysore, Karnataka, India.
Author    Correspondence author
Medicinal Plant Research, 2014, Vol. 4, No. 2   doi: 10.5376/mpr.2014.04.0002
Received: 11 Feb., 2014    Accepted: 21 Feb., 2014    Published: 28 Feb., 2014
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Deepak et al., 2014, Ethno Medicinal Studies on Kurumba Community for the Treatment of Gastro Intestinal Disorders, Niligiri District, Tamil Nadu, India, Vol.4, No.2 6-17 (doi: 10.5376/mpr.2014.04.0002)


Gastro intestinal diseases are major cause of child and adult mortality in all the developing countries. This paper mainly focuses on the documentation of ethno medicinal practices of Kurumba tribes of Niligiri district for treating various gastro-intestinal ailments and also attempted to evaluate the efficacy of these plants using a non experimental method. The study documented the ethno medicinal aspect of 21 plant species belonging to 20 genera and 16 families which are used by the Kurumba tribe for various gastro intestinal aliments. These plant species are enumerated alphabetically with their botanical names, vernacular name, family, plant parts used and the mode of preparations. The ethno pharmacological validation of the aboriginal knowledge of Kurumbas on various medicinal plants used for gastro intestinal diseases need to be subjected to various phytochemical and pharmacological studies with priority, to evaluate further potential of these treatments for gastro-intestinal disorders.

Kurumba; Coonoor; Kotagiri; Kundah

The history of use of plants and animals as a source of medicine dates back perhaps to the origin of human race. Ethnobotany as a science was first officially recognized by (Harshburger, 1896) to point out the plants that are used by the aboriginals. This science is a multidisciplinary science comprising of many interesting and useful aspects of plant science, history, anthropology, culture and literature. It deals with the relationship between plants and human beings especially the economic uses of plants by primitive tribes far away from civilization and culture (Kaushik and Dhiman, 2000). Considering the importance of natural drugs and to promote the traditional system of medicine, World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a major programme, “Health for all by 2000 C.E”. The WHO conference held at Alma Ata, in the year 1978, declared that primary healthcare is the key for achieving ‘Health for all’. The conference realized the vital role of traditional medicine in meeting the healthcare needs of the world population in general, rural and tribal population in particular (Rao, 2000). Many workers have carried out ethnobotanical studies on various tribal groups of Tamil Nadu. Subramanyam et al. (2008) on Malasars of Dravidian Tamils are an indigenous society occupying the forests of the Western Ghats, are known to be exceptional healers and keepers of traditional aboriginal knowledge (TAK) of the flora in the Velliangiri holy hills. Chellaiah et al (2006) have documented the indigenous knowledge of local traditional healers and the native plants used for medicinal purposes were collected from the Kancheepuram district. Ignacimuthu et al. (2006) studied the ethnobotanical investigations among Paliyar tribes in Madurai District. Ethnobotanical Studies among villagers from Dharapuram Taluk, by Balakrishnan et al (2009). Similar studies have been carried out in documenting the indigenous knowledge of the tribes of Tiruvannamalai hills by Ramakrishna et al (2006) and on Irulas, by Subramanyam and Steven (2009).The study of ethnomedicinal plants and their utilization by villagers in Kumaragiri hills of Salem district was carried out by Alagesaboopathi (2009).

Gastro-intestinal illness continues to be one of the most important causes of illness and death worldwide, especially amongst young children. Much of this illness is due to exposures to contaminated water or food as result for example, of poor water quality, limited access to water, poor food hygiene, safety or poor sanitation in the home, food habits which includes the lack of balanced diet, alcoholism etc. Major pathogens include Salmonella, Shigella, Camylobacter, E.Coli and Rotavirus (Patel et al., 2009). Most of these diseases are associated with various symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, blood in the stool, heart burn etc. Hence the present work was carried out which mainly focuses on the formulations in which the medicinal plants have been used exclusively for the gastro intestinal disorders by the Krumba tribes of three taluks Kundah, Kotagiri and Coonoor taluks of Nilgiri district.

The Nilgiri district, also called ‘The Nilgiris’ or The Niligiri Hills is one of the smallest districts in Tamil Nadu. Etymologically the word ‘Niligiris’ means ‘Blue Mountains’. The district is a hilly area of 2549.0 sq.kms, located between 11010 and 11030North latitude and between 76025 and 77040 East longitude at the junction on the Eastern and Western Ghats, the two prominent mountain ranges that runs almost parallel to the coastline of peninsular India.With an average elevation of 6,500 sq. ft., the Nilgiri district is bounded on the west by Kerala, on the north by Karnataka state and on the south east by Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu state. The natural vegetation of the plateau consists of vast stretches of grasslands inter spread with numerous isolated, sharply defined and usually small woodlands. These tropical mountane woodlands are locally known as ‘Sholas’, a term derived from the Kurumba dialect word ‘Solai’. These shola forest harbor a very wide variety of flora, the most conspicuous of which are of course trees, many of them are endemic species. Shola is much more than trees; shrubs, flowers and ferns of many kinds, mosses, orchids, lianas, creepers, many types of grass in the streams and swampy areas and a large number of mushrooms and fungi (Daniels, 1992). Six primitive tribes viz., Todas, Kotas, Irulas, Kattunayakas, Paniyas and Kurumbas live here. Among the six tribes, the Kurumbas are the expert healers using herbal medicines. Kurumbas reside more in number in the taluks of Kundah, Kotagiri and Coonoor in the Niligiri district (Figure 1). In Kotagiri and in Coonoor taluks, Kurumbas live as neighbourers to Badaga’s, Tamilian’s,Malayali’s and Sri Lanka repatriates. In Kundah taluk, the nearest neighbours to Kurumbas are the Badaga’s (Parthasarthy, 2009).

Figure 1 Location map of the study area

The present study focuses on the indigenous knowledge of Kurumba tribes for the treatment of the gastro-intestinal problems. A total of 21 plant species belonging to 20 genera 16 families were used as traditional remedies for various gastro-intestinal ailments (Table 1). The data gathered was the results of the field visits carried during 2009-2010. The preliminary analysis of the data gathered clearly illustrated in the figure 2 which depicts that the 38% of the leaves are primarily used for the medicinal preparations for treating the gastro- intestinal ailments, followed by Bark (19%), Entire Plant (14.2%), Seed (9.5%), Fruit (9.5%) and Stem (4.7%)  respectively. The study also reveals that most of the preparations are administered in orally in the form of decoction by powdering the plant part, leaf juice or bark infusion (57%), as a food supplement (38%), Applied as externally on the abdominal region (9.5%) which was depicted in figure 3. For example plants like the seeds of Ricinus Communis and leaves of Ruta graveolens are grinded and the oil which extracted is applied on the abdominal region to relief the pain during abdominal cramps. Similarly the seeds of Oryza sativa are used both as medicine as well as staple food on a regular basis. The most common symptoms of gastro-intestinal diseases are diarrhea. Hence almost 38% of Kurumba phytotherapia are used against controlling the diarrhea only.

Figure 2 Analysis of plant parts used


Figure 3 Analysis of mode of administration

Ethnobotanical study has revealed a large body of descriptive data regarding the traditional knowledge of Kurumbas in curing various gastro intestinal ailments. The procedure used to evaluate this ethnopharmacopoea clearly indicates that 76% plant species fall under the validation score of 4 and 23% are falling under the score of 3 (Table 1). Hence traditional medicinal practices of Kurumbas need to be regarded as an efficacious form of medicine to cure gastro intestinal diseases. However it is the need of the hour to carry out phytochemical and pharmacological studies rigorously (Fransworth et al., 1985; Browner et al., 1988; Weniger and Robineau, 1989) which will further validate this data. Also, phytochemical analysis of plants like Trema orientalis (3C), Grewia aspera (3B), Chenopodium ambrosiodes (3B), Ipomoea staphylina (3B) and Leucas sebaldiana (3B) will help to improve their validation scores. At the same time, various other species of these genera have proven to be high medicinal value like Leucas aspera (Willd.) Link. , Ipomea cairica L. Traditional medicinal practices are an important part of the primary health care system in the developing world (Sheldon et al., 1997). Also the herbal drugs are proved to be safer than the synthetic drugs. Thus plant based traditional knowledge has become a new tool for the search for new bioactive compounds.

Table 1 Plants used by Kurumba tribes for gastro intestinal ailments

Materials and Methods
Extensive ethnobotanical explorations were under- taken during 2009–2010, in the Kurumba settlements of three taluks namely Kundah, Kotagiri and Coonoor. For the present study, totally 29 tribal healers were interviewed and their help was taken in identifying the plants, herbs and tribal medicine. The details about the tribal healers are given in the Table 2.

Table 2 Profile of the study sites and the respondents

Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) method was used for obtaining the data (Dilip and Janardhana, 2012). As part of developing a good rapport and to gain the confidence of the healers and headmen, a task which is often difficult to accomplish, as the healers usually keep their knowledge a secret and are unwilling to reveal it to outsiders, eatables, books for children, money and local cigars (Beedi’s) made from Diospyros melanoxylon Roxb. were offered to them, which were accepted. During the survey, it was easier to approach the healers individually in private, as they were willing to reveal easily their traditional plant lore than when they are in large groups. For the better understanding of the local medicinal practices by the group specific questions were asked during the interviews as the questions mentioned in the questionnaire designed by the Department of studies of Botany, University of Mysore (Dilip and Janardhana, 2012) (Table 3). Prior Informant Consent (PIC) was obtained from the informants in view of reproducing the medicinal information. During the course of the study, each informant was visited at least three times in order to verify the reliability of the data obtained. If what was said during the visit related to the usage of a particular medicinal plant by an informant did not agree with what was told during the earlier visits, then the information is considered as unreliable and discarded and also if the identity of a particular medicinal plant varies during the visits then the data is discarded. During the process of documentation consistent field walks were also carried out to the specific habitat for identification and collection of the particular therapeutic plant cited by the healer. The information gathered was confirmed by different tribal groups dwelling in different places of the study area. The methodology adopted by the previous workers was followed (Jain and Goel, 1995).The medicinal plants were identified, photographed and collected for preparing herbariums. The herbarium was prepared by following the procedure described in Methods and Approaches in Ethnobotany (Jain, 1989). Plants were characterized based on the identification keys given in standard identification manuals The Flora of Presidency of Madras (Gamble, 1975), The Flora of Tamil Nadu Carnatic (Mathew, 1983) and The Flora of South Indian Hill Station (Fyson, 1932).

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