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Traditional healing practices of Indigenous Communities

Archaeological evidence shows the prevalence of using botanical medicine by humans since the Paleolithic era in civilizations across the world. This blog is about the Medicinal and Healing properties of traditional herbs of Assam and the importance of the role indigenous communities play in preserving this knowledge. In Assam and the northeast as a whole, traditional healing practices have been prevalent among various tribes. North-Eastern region comprising of Assam, inhabited by a large number of tribals of many ethnic groups. These ethnic communities have traditional knowledge and have practised traditional healing since time immemorial.

The use of herbs, plants, roots, leaves or fruits from certain plants for culinary and treatment purposes has been a part of our culture and beliefs among the different communities in Assam. Traditional recipes generally use indigenous herbs both for taste and medicinal value.

Role of Indigenous Communities

Yes, the ethnic communities of Assam and NER have played a significant role in conservating biodiversity in and around their natural habitat for ages. The Tribal economies engage in subsistence agriculture or hunting and gathering food. Traditionally, they know the use of plants in curing various ailments and a deep belief in their native folklore medicine for remedies. Tribal communities such as Bodo, Deori, Hajong, mishing, Rabha, Rajbongshi, Sonowal Kachari are highly passionate about cooking traditionally unique food items and using various folklore medicines sourced locally from available medicinal plants.

Like other indigenous people of the world, the people of NER have learnt to live in the most hostile environmental conditions in localities that are immensely rich in biodiversity.

India has thousands of species of wild plants, out of which many are ethnobotanically important. Thousands of these plants species are medicinal sources in indigenous health practices. These plant species are food for tribals. Indigenous people depend on the medicinal properties of plants for various ailments. They also use plant saps as antidotes for snake bites and scorpion stings. Many rare plants offer medicine for setting bone fractures, curing wounds or arthritis. The women of these communities treat all kinds of menstrual problems through medicinal herbs.

Thus the Indigenous people have played a vital role in environmental management and traditional knowledge of Eco-restoration in harmony with nature.

Their knowledge of traditional conservation methods keep the natural resources intact and save biodiversity. Indigenous people depend on wild sources for food, fruits and herbs. Hence, they also use indigenous cultivars. Modern agriculturists can learn conservation skills from these ethnic people and use them in agricultural cultivars improvement programmes to increase productivity and incorporate traits for increasing resistance against different pests and diseases.

Traditional knowledge can help the environment heal.

Today, we are in an environmental crisis. And we are facing disastrous consequences. Traditional ways of nature conservation can be a source of inspiration and guidance. For instance, the Sacred groves are dedicated to a deity and worshipped in Meghalaya. India has a long and rich tradition of protecting natural resources and wildlife. It is followed through religious beliefs, myths, arts and culture. For the people of India, environmental conservation is not a new concept and is evident from the teachings of Vedas.

It is the circle of life itself. What we give comes back to us. If we embrace sustainable ways, nature will sustain us.

Sustainable Practices for Future

By preserving the fast-disappearing species of plants, herbs, we can secure our present and future. The young generations must learn so that the traditional uses of such plants will not get extinct. They are the eco-warriors we need for the future, we cannot all become Jadav Payeng, the forest man of Assam, but we can start small and create a love for the healing herbs of Assam.

Preserving traditional healing herbs

Traditional knowledge is vital for the sustainability of natural resources, including medicinal plants. Biodiversity conservation is dependent on the context-specific local knowledge and intergenerational transmission of knowledge, skills and strategies, concern for the well-being of future generations.

Sadly today, we rush to get vitamins and mineral supplements for deficiency in our system. Anaemia is a common problem among girls and women due to iron deficiency. But traditional Assamese recipes always offer rich sources of iron through Colocasia leaves and banana flower curry.

Many of us have fond memories of when as children, we spent afternoons or early evenings plucking indigenous wild fruits including,

Madhuriaam, Burmese grapes, Ponial, Nuni, Robab Tenga or Pomelo, so many others to relish together. I cherish those memories and am thankful that we got our natural supplements and hardly suffered from immune deficiency or lack of vitamins.

Assamese cuisine is never complete without Outenga( Dillenia Indica) Tree Outenga Sepal of fruit and Fleshy calyx is used for a stomach disorder. The Jelly pulp of the fruit can treat the scalp for curing dandruff and falling hair.

Apart from popularizing local fruits and herbs among the present generation, we also need to encourage the commercial viability of the cultivation of local varieties.

Why do we need to encourage this?

They are a ready source for all kinds of health benefits

Fresh and organic products

Help to build immunity treats ailments naturally

Encourages small farmers to cultivate them, thereby the farmer's can benefit commercially.

We should teach children to learn about these herbs and fruits. By encouraging them to appreciate the beliefs and traditional practices of the state, we will create a love for the environment among the young people.

We are what we eat, so instead of popping expensive pills for health deficiencies, children can start taking care of themselves in natural ways. And enjoy making memories, as we did.


Studies conducted by agricultural labs indicate that plants growing in virgin tribal areas in undisturbed forests are more healthy and free from diseases. Hence knowledge sharing will be beneficial for ecological restoration. It is possible by adapting to in-situ conservation of genetic resources within their eco-system and ex-situ conservation of genetic materials.

The influences of modern developments are threatening the tribal knowledge bank and their culture. It is depleting fast as these people are witnessing rapid urbanization. There is an urgent need for Ethnobiologist who have to salvage the valuable legacies before tribals culture disappears.

Hence AMTCT plans to stress awareness campaigns and training programmes in tribal localities for eco-restoration and conserving floras, faunas and biodiversity hotspots.

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