Pharmacognosy Magazine

: 2020  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 68  |  Page : 69--80

Traditional use of ethnomedicinal plants among people of Kapurthala District, Punjab, India

Jaskirat Kaur, Rajinder Kaur, Avinash Kaur Nagpal 
 Department of Botanical and Environmental Sciences, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Punjab, India

Correspondence Address:
Avinash Kaur Nagpal
Department of Botanical and Environmental Sciences, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Punjab


Background: Plant-derived products have a vital biological role against various diseases. The present study was carried out to document and investigate the existing ethnomedicinal knowledge on local flora of Kapurthala district, Punjab, India. Materials and Methods: The ethnomedicinal investigation was carried out from March 2015 to October 2017. Key informants, rural as well as urban, i.e., herbal doctors, homemakers, farmers, elders, etc., were selected using snowball sampling method. Information on ethnomedicinal importance of plants of this region and methods of preparation and administration was gathered by questionnaire-based personal interviews, group discussions, informal meetings, and field observations with local people. Results: Fifty plant species belonging to thirty families were informed to be used for medicinal purposes. Fruits and leaves were the most used plant parts. The most commonly used mode of administration was raw form or juice of plant parts. Most of the information was recorded for the treatment of gastrointestinal problems. Conclusions: This study reveals the interesting use of plants by the local people of Kapurthala district, which shows that use of medicinal plants still exists. However, because of modernization, traditional knowledge is losing at high rate; there is a need to conserve our ancestral knowledge. Further, medicinal plants should be examined for pharmacological and phytochemical studies for novel drug discovery.

How to cite this article:
Kaur J, Kaur R, Nagpal AK. Traditional use of ethnomedicinal plants among people of Kapurthala District, Punjab, India.Phcog Mag 2020;16:69-80

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Kaur J, Kaur R, Nagpal AK. Traditional use of ethnomedicinal plants among people of Kapurthala District, Punjab, India. Phcog Mag [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Dec 2 ];16:69-80
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Ethnomedicinal plants have a significant role in traditional systems of health care for the treatment of various diseases. However, recently, in the name of modernization and easy availability of synthetic drugs, they are neither used nor explored even for common ailments. Traditional knowledge of plants is losing at higher pace, and there is a need to document and conserve our ancestral knowledge. Plants should be scrutinized for their phytochemical and pharmacological validation. This will help in the development of novel drugs from natural sources.


Abbreviations used: CM: Complementary medicine; WHO: World Health Organization; AYUSH: Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy; PCA: Principal component analysis; PC: Principal component


Several traditional systems of health care rely on the use of plants for the treatment of a wide variety of diseases. Traditional medicine, also known as complementary medicine (CM) in some countries, is an important component of health services around the globe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Traditional medicine is the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness” ( The terms “complementary medicine” or “alternative medicine” refer to a broad set of health-care practices that are not part of that country's own traditional or conventional medicine and are not fully integrated into the dominant health-care system (

Very recently, the WHO developed traditional medicine strategy 2014–2023 to address some of the important issues regarding the safety, quality, availability, effectiveness, and regulation of traditional (T) and CM. According to a latest estimate by Kew (2016), there are 391,000 vascular plant species known to exist globally, of which at least 31,128 species have a documented use and 17,810 species have been used as medicine.[1] Traditional knowledge on the medicinal uses of plants developed over 1000 of years was gathered mostly by oral communication from one generation to the next. During the later half of the last century (20th century), there was a considerable decline in the use of home remedies for the treatment of various diseases due to easy availability of allopathic drugs and multispecialty hospitals. However, the last few decades have witnessed an increasing global interest in the use of plant-derived medicines as they are considered safer than the synthetic drugs.[2] In India, a separate Ministry of “AYUSH” was formed in 2014 with the aim of providing infrastructure and framing policies for education and research in Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy.

Plants have been used not only for traditional medicine but also in the development of modern medicinal drugs. Many of the medicinal drugs are compounds isolated from plants or their derivatives. Hence, the traditional knowledge on medicinal plants is useful not only for health care but also in the development of the present-day pharmaceuticals. However, this folk knowledge is disappearing at a faster pace as it is believed to be possessed by the elderly people, and there is lack of interest among the younger generation to acquire this wealth of knowledge.[3],[4] Hence, there is an urgent need to document the indigenous knowledge which may be helpful in the designing of new drugs besides providing primary health care. The transmission of medicinal plant knowledge through books, scripts, and other media plays a powerful impact on the use of medicinal plants.[5] Hence, the present study was planned to identify knowledgeable resource persons from different sections of the society of Kapurthala district, Punjab, India, and document their knowledge on medicinal uses of plants. Though various studies are available indicating the medicinal importance of different plants, not enough information is available on how to use these plants for the treatment of various diseases. This necessitates documentation of methods on how to use plants against various diseases. The present article also aims to provide firsthand information gathered from the local population of Kapurthala on different methods of herbal preparations and their mode of administration.

 Materials and Methods

Study area

The study area, Kapurthala district (31.3656° N, 75.2946° E), lies in the northwestern part of Punjab, India. The Beas river separates it from the district Gurdaspur in the north and Amritsar and Tarn Taran in the west. According to the 2011 census, the district is spread over an area of 1633 km 2 with a population of 817,668 ( Most of the population lives in rural areas, so five study sites were chosen including four villages, Ram Garh, Ahmadpur, Madhopur, and Pandori Jagir from each of the four divisions of the district, i.e., Bholath, Kapurthala, Phagwara, and Sultanpur lodhi, respectively, and the city. The district has semi-arid climate and experiences primarily four seasons, i.e., summer, monsoon, postmonsoon, and winter seasons. Winter season extends from December to February with temperature ranging from 4°C to 19°C. Summer season, also known as dry season, extends from April to June with temperature reaching 43°C–46°C; monsoon season extends from July to September when the weather is hot and humid and average rainfall is 718 mm; post-monsoon season extends from September to October. Between winter and summer is a transition period called spring (March–early April). Another transition period is autumn (October–November). It is between post-monsoon and winter. The average climatic temperature is 23.8°C. The driest month of the year is November. There is 6 mm of precipitation in November. The major precipitation fall is observed in July with 197 mm. As per a survey conducted in 2017, there are ten forest covers in the district; eight open and two moderate to dense with rich plant diversity ( [Figure 1].{Figure 1}

Data collection and identification of plant species

The ethnomedicinal study was conducted from March 2015 to October 2017. A total of fifty local inhabitants both rural and urban including herbal doctors, homemakers, farmers, and elders were selected using snowball sampling and consulted for the present study.[6] Information on ethnomedicinal importance of plants of this region and methods of preparation and administration was gathered by questionnaire-based personal interviews, group discussions, informal meetings, and field observations with local people of both sexes and age groups (26–40, 41–60, and >60 years).

Format of questionnaire

Personal information:

Name of the informantSexDate of birth/ageAddressEducationOccupation.

Ethnomedicinal information:

Local name of the plant/common nameHabitatPart of plant usedCultivated/wildMethod of collection/storageName(s) of the disease(s) treatedMethod(s) of drug preparationMode of administrationDosage.Potential adverse reaction of plants

The interviews were conducted in English or Punjabi (local language) as per the convenience of the informants. Interviews were conducted in a cordial atmosphere and rapport was developed with the informants by listening to them with respect. Field trips were also carried out along with some informants to understand the habitat and availability of some plants. Photographs of the plants in the field were clicked and specimens were collected and identified by consulting herbarium specimens of respective plants housed in the Herbarium, Department of Botanical and Environmental Sciences, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, and consultation of different floras of the region and books on trees/shrubs.[7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13]

Statistical analysis

Principal component analysis (PCA) was used to analyze the multivariate data using PAleontological STatistics version 3.18 software (University of Oslo, Norway). It reduces the number of variables considerably in such a manner that a minimum number of variables can explain maximum variance for the given data. It was used to determine which of the nine major disease categories (dependent variable) was/were treated with which of the plant part, life form, and type of remedy used (independent variables).

 Results and Discussion

A total of fifty key informants (30% males and 70% females) belonging to different age groups, occupations, and education levels were selected [Table 1]. Out of all occupations, maximum information (60%) was provided by homemakers and herbal doctors; among different age groups, informants older than 40 years of age had more ethnomedicinal knowledge as compared to younger ones. This may be due to more knowledge sharing with relatives and friends, personal experiences, and interaction with the plants.[14] Herbal doctors were reluctant to reveal their knowledge, but on convincing that their information on plant remedies would be used exclusively for academic purposes and not for commercial use, they came up with positive response to share their knowledge. The basic reason for the relatively lesser ethnomedicinal knowledge of younger generation lies in the rapid urbanization, change in lifestyle, and increasing availability and use of allopathic drugs. These results are in conformity with some of the earlier studies carried out in Pakistan and Turkey.[4],[15]{Table 1}

During ethnomedicinal survey, information on a total of fifty plant species from Kapurthala district belonging to thirty vascular plant families was documented [Table 2]. For each species, scientific name, common name, local name, habit, plant part used, disease treated, ethnomedicinal preparation, mode of administration, and possible adverse reaction are provided [Table 3]. Accession numbers for the specimens of the studied species housed in the herbarium of the Department of Botanical and Environmental Sciences, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, are also summarized in [Table 3]. These plant species have been reported to be used for 109 remedies to cure a wide range of disease conditions which are categorized into nine major categories, namely, skin and hair problems; gastrointestinal problems; reproductive disorders; cardiovascular ailments; kidney-, liver-, pancreas-, and urinary-related disorders; nervous system and musculoskeletal disorders; oro-dental diseases; ear, nose, and eye problems; and respiratory disorders. The dominant families with more than three plant species informed to be used for ethnomedicinal purposes include Fabaceae (Arachis hypogaea L., Butea monosperma (Lam.) Taub., Tamarindus indica L., Tephrosia purpurea (L.) Pers., Trigonella foenum-graecum L.), Euphorbiaceae (Euphorbia hirta L., Jatropha curcas L., Phyllanthus emblica L., Putranjiva roxburghii Wall.), and Solanaceae (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill., Physalis peruviana L., Solanum nigrum L., Solanum tuberosum L.) [Table 2]. These findings are in line with some of the earlier studies which also showed dominance of these families, namely, Fabaceae,[16],[17],[18],[19] Solanaceae,[4],[16],[18],[20] and Euphorbiaceae [16],[18],[19],[20] for ethnomedicinal importance.{Table 2}{Table 3}

Out of the fifty medicinal plant species reported, the most commonly used life form was herbaceous life form (46%), followed by trees (32%), shrubs (18%), and climbers (4%) [Figure 2]. This research is in line with previous studies which also showed that herbs are dominant for curing diseases.[21],[22],[23] This is understandable as in any natural community, availability of herbaceous species is much more as compared to other habits (trees/shrubs/climbers); hence, they are more frequently used for medicinal purposes.[24] Venkatachalapathi et al.,[19] in their ethnomedicinal study on Irula tribes of Southern Western Ghats, India, also reported higher use of herbaceous life forms for medicinal purposes. Among different plant parts used for ethnomedicinal purposes, above-ground parts, i.e., leaves and fruits, are the most frequently used [Figure 3]. Easy collection and processing of leaves and fruits may be the reason for their maximum use.[25] Previous studies have also shown maximum use of leaves [26],[27],[28] and fruits [29] for the preparation of herbal formulations.{Figure 2}{Figure 3}

The major form of remedies used by informants is juice of plant parts (leaves/fruits/roots/whole plants) followed by decoction and raw consumption (mostly of fruits and roots as salads) [Figure 4]. In some earlier studies on tribal communities, decoction was the major form of remedy/preparation.[21],[30],[31],[32] Sometimes, for the preparation of remedies, other ingredients are also used such as for impotency, powdered roots of Argemone mexicana L. with sugar candy are used; for ear pus and pain, ghee is applied on the Calotropis procera (Aiton) Dryand. leaves and put on fire for few seconds and juice is extracted and put in the ear; for cold, cough, bronchitis, and asthma, fresh leaf juice of Justicia adhatoda L. is taken with honey twice a day; and for hematuria, 2 tbsp of whole plant juice of Tribulus terrestris L. added into a cup of buttermilk is used daily for few days. This is in line with some previous studies where medicinal plants were used in combination with other ingredients such as honey, sugar, and coconut oil for ethnomedicinal preparations by Irula and Kani tribes of Western Ghats, India,[19],[26] and rural population of Izmir province, Turkey.[33] Among different ailments which have been reported to be cured using ethnomedicinal preparations, gastrointestinal disorders dominated the list. This is in accordance with the previous studies which also showed more number of ethnomedicinal remedies for gastrointestinal diseases as compared to other diseases/disorders.[21],[34]{Figure 4}

The study also revealed that for some plant species, different plant parts of a single species are used for the treatment of multiple health problems. For example, bark, fruits, twigs, and leaves of Ficus religiosa are used for several diseases including cuts and wounds, burns, infertility, tooth/gum pain, and bleeding nose. In an earlier study, Umair et al.[4] reported that fruits, bark, flowers, leaves, and roots of Cassia fistula L. were used for constipation, jaundice, eczema, rheumatism, etc., Similarly, Venkatachalpathi et al.[19] reported that leaves, bark, fruits, and seeds of Syzygium cumini (L.) Skeels were used for diabetes and dysentery.

Although most of the documented species are used in daily routine as fruits, vegetables, and spices, i.e., Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench., A. hypogaea L., Beta vulgaris L., Brassica campestris L., Punica granatum L., T. foenum-graecum L., etc., some possible adverse reactions of plants were also informed by informants. Some plant species such as A. mexicana L., C. procera (Aiton) Dryand., Cinnamomum camphora (L.) J. Presl, and Hibiscus rosa-sinensis L. were not allowed to be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Other possible adverse reactions informed were diarrhea, nausea, headache, infertility, itching, dryness, miscarriage, etc., [Table 3]. Some other studies have also documented the adverse reactions of different plant species.[35],[36]

Most of the medicinal plant-based knowledge is passed from one generation to other generation orally. However, it is also observed that some people practice making herbal medicine at home with the help of books and media (television and the Internet). Therefore, documentation of these plants species in research articles or books may bring these plants species to researchers and common people.[5],[37]

PCA was applied to see the effect of multidimensional variables, namely, life forms, plant parts used, and ethnomedicinal preparations on the treatment of nine major disease conditions. For each of these analysis, different variables were reduced to two main components (PC I and PC II) showing the highest variability.

PCA scatter plot for life forms [Figure 5] revealed that skin and hair problems and reproductive disorders are mainly treated with trees and shrubs, whereas herbs were used to treat gastrointestinal, kidney, liver, pancreas, and urinary-related disorders.{Figure 5}

The scattered plot for plant parts [Figure 6] indicated that leaves were most frequently used for the treatment of skin and hair disorders, whereas fruits were mostly used for the treatment of gastrointestinal, kidney, liver, pancreas, and urinary-related disorders. The plot also indicates that roots and seeds are used for the treatment of gastrointestinal problems.{Figure 6}

The scattered plot for the preparation method [Figure 7] revealed that for the treatment of gastrointestinal problems and kidney, liver, pancreas, and urinary-related disorders, raw form of the plant parts (fruits, leaves, and roots) was most often used followed by decoction form. The latter was also useful for the treatment of reproductive disorders, whereas powder and paste forms were shown to be relatively more effective for the treatment of reproductive disorders.{Figure 7}

Some of the plant species documented in this study are wild species such as A. mexicana L., C. procera (Aiton) Dryand., Cannabis sativa L., E. hirta L., S. nigrum L., and T. terrestris L., whereas, others are cultivated such as A. esculentus (L.) Moench., Arachis hypogea L., Brassica campestris L., Coriandrum sativum L., Helianthus annus L., and L. esculentum Mill. For maintaining endangered plant species, the conservation status for each plant also needs to be checked.[37] According to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India (2014), none of the fifty plant species mentioned in this study belonged to the threatened flora of Punjab ( Although local people did not use any precise and clear mechanism for the conservation of plant species, they ensured that they practice sustainable harvesting system without harming the plants and thus also make sure their future availability. For example, while collecting the root part of trees and shrubs, they usually cut only a few roots and the main root was not cut, touched, or dug up. To minimize the effect on the growth and further development of tree, the small roots and lateral shoots were mainly harvested. While collection of bark, twig, and branches of trees or shrubs, if any plant shows sign of previous collection, then that plant was left untouched for its recovery. The main parts used for medicine were leaves and fruits; it is believed that they are available in abundance and hence, there is no need to conserve these main parts. Similar harvesting strategies used by people of Loita Maasai of Kenya have also been reported in an earlier study.[38]


The ethnomedicinal study of Kapurthala district, Punjab, India, revealed various uses of fifty plant species and richness of knowledge of key informants. Elderly people have more experience and knowledge than younger generation. Knowledge about the medicinal uses of plants is disappearing fast as a consequence of modernization, easy availability of allopathic drugs, and least interest of younger generation. This study is significant as it contributes to the preservation of traditional medicinal knowledge of local people of Kapurthala District, Punjab, India, which is eroding at a faster pace. It is suggested that medicinal plants should also be scrutinized for their pharmacological and phytochemical analysis for novel drug discovery.


The authors are highly thankful to all the informants for proving us ethnomedicinal data, without whose cooperation this study would have been possible. We acknowledge Prof. A. K. Thukral for his assistance in statistical analysis.

Financial support and sponsorship

We acknowledge UGC-MANF (F1-17.1/2013-14/ MANF-2013-14-SIK-PUN-29326/[SA-III/Website]) to Jaskirat Kaur for field study.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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