Kashmir is losing its rich biodiversity to unplanned development, however, a programme by KU’s botany department is helping revive some medicinal plants. Baseera Rafiquee reports
Kashmir has rich biodiversity in flora and fauna and is home to more than 300 aromatic and medicinal plants.
Most of these plants are not cultivated but grow of their own in forests, meadows and pastures. These plants are being used for various medical purposes since ages and even find mention in historical books of seminal importance.
One such plant is Artemisia (Wormwood), locally known as Tethwan. It is believed to be the native of the Northern Hemisphere that is Asia and Europe. This plant can be found everywhere in our state – be it Jammu, Kashmir or Ladakh.
There are about 8-10 species of this plant such as amygdalina, annua, absinthum, maritime, which grow in wild low lying areas of the valley. Its plant is a short perennial herbaceous one with grayish white leaves. Its medicinal values is attributed to active substances absinthin and ana-absinthine which is found in abundance in the plant. All parts of this plant are used – from leaves to seeds – in one form or the other.
Kashmiris have been using Tethwan for ages. A simple decoction of the dried leaves can act as a wormicide and, in fact, have been used as insect repellants in cupboards.
Septugenarian Sarwa Begum of Lolab in Kupwara district has been using Tethwan in her home from many decades. She says, “It has something very strong in it that cures worms at once and I have yet to witness any of its negative features”.
Living in the Lolab Valley she has easy access to it. “This new angreezi dawa (allopathic medicine) arrived only yesterday, before it we used these herbs, for medicinal purposes,” she added. She has a rich knowledge of various plants and their uses.
Tethwan is an important part of Unani and Ayurvedic systems of medicine, says a doctor of Unani medicine. “It is an integral part of many drugs of anti-microbial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, chologogue, febrifuge and anti-helminthes use. Wormwood oil is supposed to be a cardiac stimulant and improves blood pressure,” he added.
However, most of the Artemisia plant species have been categorized as endangered. Artemisia amygdalina endemic to valley has been listed among the critically endangered.
As the plant is found usually in high altitude pastures and forests, its cultivation in the plains of the valley have not been so successful. However, the Botany Department at the University of Kashmir has grown Tethwan in the Botanical Garden at the university campus. “There are nearly 100 Tethwan plants in the Botanical Garden which shows that it can be grown in ex-situ conditions and hence can be preserved by using simple planting techniques, like grafting,” one of the researchers associated with the programme said.
“If concerted efforts of this nature are undertaken at the public level buoyed by private entrepreneurship, this endangered can be rescued. Both in-situ and ex-situ conservation programs have to go hand in hand to safeguard this valuable species for future generation,” he added.
Unplanned growth, cutting down of forests and development bereft of any ecological concerns are the causing loss of our ethnic resources – the valuable flora and fauna.
Prof Irshad Nawchoo of the Department of Botany at University of Kashmir said, “Unplanned development has put the bio-diversity of the state is under perennial threat and continuation of such policies might lead us to colossal and irreparable loss.”
Nowadays various departments of the university, like Botany, Biochemistry and Centre of Research and Development (CORD) are working together to study and chronicle the composition, use and contraindications of various plant species present in the valley besides delineating their proper economic value.
Anyone can cultivate these plant species as it responds well to ex-situ plantation and can boost the economy particularly as one can make good profits even with low input.
Prof Irshad Nawchoo says that the plants of medicinal value should be also preserved at their native places. “This way we can ensure that an ecological balance is maintained that will provide conservation of not only these but other species also which are directly or indirectly related to them,” he said.
The Jammu and Kashmir Kuth Act controls the extraction of these plants and ensures their preservation in the state. But the people living near forests have exploited it for their day-to-day needs, in absence of any effective administrative vigilance.
Various youth of the valley are taking interest in this sector and are earning a livelihood by cultivating the medicinal plants. An entrepreneur Dr Gazala Amin cultivates medicinal plants on five hectares in Sumbal area.