[KATHMANDU] Nepal may have more plants of medicinal importance than previously estimated, according to new research.
Botanists from Nepal and the United States conducted a review of 264 articles published in 1979–2006, which studied the use of medicinal and aromatic plants in Nepal, and the diversity of these plants.
The study — published online in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine last month (2 December) — was supplemented by four field trips to the western districts of Nepal in 2006–2008, to verify the data.
The researchers found that up to 55 per cent of plants in the region had medicinal value compared to an average of 21–28 per cent described in the articles.
According to the report, the variety of medicinal plants decreased as altitude increased, but more of these plants were used as medicine.
"This [increase] is probably due to the preference for herbal remedies in high altitude areas and a combination of having no alternative choices, poverty and trust in the effectiveness of traditional herbal remedies," Ripu Kunwar, one of the researchers from the Ethnobotanical Society of Nepal, told SciDev.Net.
According to Kunwar, the difference in the data and earlier studies indicates that there is a wide gap in the knowledge of useful plants in Nepal.
The study also found a decreasing trend in usage of traditional medicine among young and educated people, and in the lowlands of Nepal. This could be explained by increased accessibility to better communication and healthcare infrastructure.
"We have to understand that diverse plants of medicinal importance are our assets and we could utilise them for the improvement of people's lives in rural settings. It is worrying that such knowledge and plants are about to disappear," says Keshav Rajbhandari, an ethnobotanist from Kathmandu.
Krishna Shiwakoti, a Kathmandu-based doctor of alternative medicine and naturopathy, told SciDev.Net, "In the current situation, it is getting difficult to find people with knowledge of traditional beliefs, practice and healing plants [because these treatments are spread by mouth and not written down]. We need to work on documenting all the knowledge that spreads by mouth."
Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine doi 10.1186/1746-4269-4-24 (2008)