Ethnobotanical Database of Bangladesh (EDB) 3.1
Plants of Bangladesh


  1.1 Definition  
  In 1895, at a lecture in Pennsylvania, Dr. John Harshberger first used the term "ethnobotany" to describe his field of inquiry, which he defined as the study of "plants used by primitive and aboriginal people." In 1896, Harshberger published the term and suggested "ethnobotany" be a field which elucidates the "cultural position of the tribes who used the plants for food, shelter or clothing" (Harshberger, 1896). After Harshberger, J. Walter Fewkes in 1896 adopted the term for the title of a paper (Saklani and Jain, 1994).
Robbins et al., (1916) first defined the term as a “Study and evaluation of the knowledge of all phases of plant life amongst primitive societies and effect of the vegetal environment upon the life” (Rao and Henrey, 1996).
  The concept of Ethnobotany developed gradually by different workers is given bellow:  
  •  “A term by which most investigators have designated the plants used by aboriginal  peoples” (Vestal and Schultes, 1939).
  •  “The study of the interactions between ‘primitive’ humans and plants” (Jones, 1941).
  •  “The study of the relationship between man and his ambient vegetation” (Schultes, 1941).
  •  “Ethnobotany is sharply differentiated from economic botany in that it is vitally concerned with the fundamental Culture; aspects of plants utilization, while economic botany practically ignores the cultural expects in a very general way” (Castetter, 1944).
  •  “The multitudinous connections, direct or indirect, between man and plants are the proper field of ethnobotany” (Faulks, 1958).
  •  “Ethnobotany is defined as the study of the relationships, which exist between people         of a primitive society and their plant environment” (Schultes, 1962).
  •  “The study of the direct relationships between humans and plants” (Ford, 1978).
  •  “Ethnobotany deals with the direct relationship of plants with man” ((Jain, 1986)).
  •  “The study of useful plants prior to their commercial exploitation and eventual domestication. It includes the use of plants by both tribal and non-tribal communities without any implication of primitive or developed societies” (Wickens, 1990).
  •  “The study of the relationships between people and plants, especially the utilization of plants by people” (Given and Harris, 1994).
  •  “All studies (concerning plants) which describe local people’s interaction with the natural environment” (Martin, 1995).
  •  “Ethnobotany is the study of how people of a particular culture and region make of use indigenous plants” (Veilleux and.King, 1996).
  • “Ethnobotany is the Science of people’s interactions with plants” (Turner, 1996)
  •  “The study of the past and present inter-relationships which exists between the tribal societies and their surrounding vegetal environment” (Rao and Henry, 1996).
  •  “Ethnobotany may be define as an anthropocentric approach to botany, and is essentially concerned with gathering information on plants and their use” (Rao and Henry, 1997).
  1.2 Present Concepts of Ethnobotany  
  Today, ethnobotany is mentioned as a broad field of science of human interactions with plants and the ecosystem. It is a multidisciplinary science, which incorporates biology, plant science, forestry, ecology, agriculture, medicinal sciences, phytochemistry, pharmacology, history, anthropology, culture, literature, linguistics etc. (Jain, 1989). It depends on many varied approaches. It is a reflection of the floral type of a particular region, the culture of the people living in that region and their relationship. It includes all aspects of aboriginal and traditional use including food, clothing, fuel, poisons, narcotics, stimulants, perfumes, dyes, medicines and so on. The concept of ethnobotany has undergone several changes.  
  “Ethnobotany is a term used to refer to the academic discipline that deals with people's interaction with plants. As an academic discipline, the definition of Ethnobotany is varied but there are some common elements in the concept. It is broadly defined as the study of the total relationships between plants and people” (Cox and Balick, 1996).  
  “Most ethnobotanical studies have been restricted to studies of tribal and rural people to record their knowledge and use of plants and to search for new sources of herbal drugs, edible plants and other properties of plants of value to man” (Jain and Mudgal, 1999)  
  “Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship between plants and people:  From” ethno" - study of people and "botany" - study of plants. Ethnobotany is considered a branch of ethnobiology. Ethnobotany studies the complex relationships between (uses of) plants and human cultures. The focus of ethnobotany is on how plants have been or are used, managed and perceived in human societies and includes plants used for food, medicine, divination, cosmetics, dyeing, textiles, for building, tools, currency, clothing, rituals, social life and music” (Staff, 2007).  
  “Ethnobotanical knowledge is important for development planners and policy-makers who devise solutions to local and regional problems (Alcorn, 1995).”
So, ethnobotany is a multidisciplinary subject deals with the total relationships between plants and people in context to their culture.
  1.3 History of Ethnobotany  
  The term Ethnobotany was first used by US botanist John W. Harshberger in a lecture he delivered to the University of Pennsylvania on 4 December 1895 (Cotton, 1997). But the history of the field begins long before that. Ethnobotanical knowledge is a very ancient discipline in the Indian subcontinent. "The ancient Indians should be given the credit for cultivating what is now called ethnobotany" (Kirtikar and Basu,1993). In that period the curative properties of some herbs were documented in Rigveda, Atharvaveda, Upanishads, Mahabharata and Puranas; written between 4500-1600 BC. (Bhandari, 1951; Jain, 1994). It was followed by Atharvaveda, wherein the magico-religious aspects and utility of medicinal herbs were recorded. Later, eight division of Auurveda, written probably between 2500 and 900 BC were the real foundation of ancient medicine. Detailed accounts of medicinal plants are also found in Chikitsa Sthanam of Sushruta Samhita, written between 600 BC and 300AD. (Bishagranta 1907-1916; Jain 1967 and 1996 ; Jain and Mudgal, 1999).  
  In AD 77, the Greek surgeon Dioscorides published "De Materia Medica", which was a catalog of about 600 plants in the Mediterranean region. It also included information on how the Greeks used the plants, especially for medicinal purposes. Dioscorides stressed the economic potential of plants. For generations, scholars learned from this herbal, but did not actually venture into the field until after the Middle Ages (Garcia , 1966 and Stein, 1966).  
  In 1492, the discovery of the New world initiates the identification of several plants of considerable economic value and is based on observation of native people (Cotton, 1996). Christopher Columbus discovered tobacco (Nicotiana spp) in Cuba in 1492 and about 350 years later Richard Spruce, a British explorer, documented the psychoactive properties of Bristeriopsis cappi, a vine of South America (Simpson and Conner-Ogorzaly, 1986; Schultes, 1983). All traditional systems of medicine have their roots in ethnobotany (Jain and Mitra, 1990).  
  In 1663, John Josselyn began his study of the natural history of New England, later publishing his text on native herbal medicine, New England realities discovered (Cotton, 1996). One of these reports was on the use of the herbs by the Indians published by John Josselyn in 1672 in England, which was the outcome of his eight years field experience (Griggs, 1981).  
  During the 17th century Georg Eberhard Rumphius benefited from local biological knowledge in producing his catalogue, Herbarium Amboinense, covering more than 1200 species of the plants of Indonesia. (Wikipedia, 2004).  
  During the 19th century, Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, on his Voyage of the Beagle took interest in the local biological knowledge of peoples he encountered (Wikipedia, 2004). He started the collection of exotic plants from several museum and garden of London at 1831 (Cotton, 1997). Richard Spruce, a British scientist explorer of the north-west Amazon and northern Andes, explored much of the Rio Negro and its tributaries in 1851 and 1854. At the same period other botanists also documented the useful plants of New England (Ford, 1978). For centuries information on ethnobotanical study was scattered in chronicles of sixteenth century Spanish missionaries, the diaries of European adventurers and in many works on native American herbal medicine. In 1870, all this scattered information was brought together by an American Botanist, Edward Palmer, who published a book entitled "Food Products of the North American Indians" (Castetter, 1944).  
  In the later part of the nineteenth century, particularly during preparations for the 1893 World Fair, a close interest in aboriginal botany began to become established. This involved both anthropologists and archaeologists in the collection of traditionally useful plant products (Ford, 1978). Significantly, this exhibition included the Hazard Collection, a range of preserved plant products used by the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians in Mancos Canon in Colorado, and which was later sent to the University of Pennsylvania for analysis. There botanist John Harshberger examined the collection, and in December 1895 he finally delivered a lecture in which he described items of food, dress, household utensils and agricultural tools of plant origin preserved in the Hazard Collection; it was during this lecture that the term ethnobotany was first used (Cotton, 1997). Organized studies in ethnobotany in this subcontinent are very recent. During the British rule (1755-1947) many new medicinal plants were introduced to the subcontinent. Mitra and Jain (1991) summarized the information on medicinal plant uses from English literature published in the 19th century in the form of catalogues, dispensatories, pharmacopoeias and illustrations of plants with notes on medicinal uses, which culminated in Watts (1889-1896) six-volume Dictionary of Economic Products.  
  The first individual to study the medic perspective of the plant world was a German physician working in Sarajevo at the end of 19th Century (Glueck, 1896). His published work on traditional medical uses of plants done by rural people in Bosnia (1896) has to be considered the first modern ethno botanical work. In 1898 Ethnology Department of US National Museum endeavors to document all useful plants of North American Indians and in 1900 the first PhD in Ethnobotany is awarded to David Barrow a student of University of Chicago for his doctoral dissertation in ethnobotany (Cotton, 1996). During the 19th century, knowledge on ethnobotany expanded rapidly. The American ethnologist Gilmore (1932) later expanded this last point and argued both the need to interpret ethnobotanical data within its cultural context and that account was taken of the important role of linguistics in ethnobotanical study.  
  By the turn of the 20th century ethnobiological practices, research, and findings have had a significant impact and influence across a number of fields of biological inquiry including ecology, conservation biology, development studies, and political ecology. The establishment of masters programme in ethnobotany at the University of New Mexico by Castetter in 1930 (Cotton, 1996). The Society of ethnobiology published the first issue of its journal of Ethno biology in 1981 (Cotton, 1997). Both post graduate and undergraduate programmes in ethnobotany become increasingly available, while many research projects focus on practical applications of plant knowledge by 1990 (Cotton, 1996).  
  During the middle of the 20th century, when it seemed that the worlds indigenous peoples were about to disappear, traditional societies and their knowledge attracted widespread scholarly attention, primarily as part of an anthropological rescue operation (Burch and Ellanna, 1994). Many scientists have begun to realize the practical and academic value of ethnobotanical data and are beginning to acknowledge that traditional peoples have much to teach science.  
  1.4 Aims and Objectives of the Study  
  Ethnobotany as an interdisciplinary science is, therefore, in a position to contribute to development, the wealth of traditional knowledge that the indigenous people possess concerning their natural systems and environment, including their knowledge on utilization and maintenance of different type of plant resources on a long term basis without damaging or destroying their habitats. The aboriginal or tribal community living in the harmony with surrounding vegetation. These aboriginals or tribal have their own culture, customs, religion, legends, food habits and a rich knowledge in traditional medicine (Rao and Henry, 1996). But lack of consciousness, gross mismanagement and without proper documentation these knowledge may be disappeared. So, an urgent need to proper documentation or update this study was felt because, the tribes and many ethnic societies are rapidly being assimilated into modern societies and the treasure of their knowledge is fast disappearing.  
  The main objectives of the present study are, therefore as follows:  
  • To proper documentation and preservation of unwritten traditional knowledge of plants used by the tribal communities for various purposes such as medicine, food, household articles and handicrafts before their disappearing.
  • To gain knowledge and develop appropriate scientific base for their economic   development without disturbing their natural habitat and culture.
  • To document the conservation strategy followed by the tribal communities.
  • To analyze the medicinal value of the selected plants used by them as herbal  medicine.
  • To prepare an ethnobotanical data-base.
  According to Davis (1991) critics of the practice of ethnobotany usually overlook two important considerations, the act and of compiling raw information provides the foundation of any natural science and without a basic inventory theoretical formulations are not possible and second ethnobotany is a science of discovery. Nevertheless, as pointed out by Phillips & Gentry (1993a, 1993b), there has been an overemphasis on data compilation and relative scarcity of hypothesis testing. Many drugs that are on the market have come to us from folk use of plants by indigenous cultures (Prance, 1995). This thesis aims to develop our fundamental knowledge of the use of plants by a local ethnic community of some area in Coxs Bazar district.  
  1.5 Importance of Ethnobotany  
  The tribal and rural people live in the area where plants are naturally growing. They have remarkable knowledge of plant use growing around them. They know the usefulness of this plant. Their livelihood depends on plant availability and their plant use knowledge which they gain from their previous generation. In recent centuries, industrialized cultures have relentlessly exploited and assimilated the indigenous cultures of the world. This has led to an unfathomable loss of our collective human heritage (Schultes, 1994). But, without proper documentation these information may be lost forever. So, ethnobotany has great importance such as:  
  • The knowledge of origin, evolution and migration of several ethnic communities can be gathered by Ethnobotany.
  • It has a great important for the documentation of culture of several communities.
  • It provides systemic recording and documentation of indigenous knowledge of plant use in relation with culture before their extinction.
  • It helps to find out new useful plant resource for various purposes and their proper domestication.
  • The recent increase in the manufacture of herbal drugs has created a large demand for medicinal plants (Balick, 1994). So, it plays an important role in the establishment of pharmaceutical industries and identifying new and alternative drug.
  • It helps to know about the geographical distribution of plant community.
  • Documentation of indigenous technology and management system for preservation of plant resources.
  • The knowledge of conservation of biodiversity by several communities can be gathered.
  Ethnobotanical data can be utilized by economic botanists to discover new plant resources, to provide fresh ideas for environment planners, as a tool for basic selection of plant species for development of drugs by pharmacologists, phytochemists and clinicians, as a new source of history through the study of plant names by linguists, as a source for locating new germplasm for agriculturists, etc. In the last century the dynamic science of ethnobotany has emerged as a powerful force for the preservation and revitalization of indigenous cultures through the study of their essential relationship with the plant kingdom. Ethnobotany also holds tremendous importance for the future of industrialized cultures, not only in the "new" medicines it continues to "discover" but in recovering the aboriginal paradigm of deep interrelationship with the natural world that is integral for the preservation of the earths biosystems and the survival of the human race (Schultes, 1994).  
  1.6 Ethnobotanical Works in Bangladesh  
  The work on ethnobotany in Bangladesh is very recent. But Hutchinson first worked on CHT (Chittagong Hill Tract) in 1909. Most authors have relied on the pioneering work of Hutchinson (1909), who gives an overview of the area and its people. He provided details of characteristics, culture, custom, agriculture and tribal populations. Then several worker works in this purposes in the Indian sub-continent. Recent Rajput (1965) worked on the tribes of CHT and it considered to be the start of ethnobotanical work in Bangladesh. Thereafter, Sirajuddin (1971), Saigal (1978), Tanchangya (1982) and Shelly (1992) but, worked in this line these are less detailed and largely dependent on Hutchinsons earlier work. Khan and Huq (1975), Hasan and Khan (1986), Mia and Huq (1988) worked on medicinal plant of Bangladesh. But it was only a very preliminary work.  
  Some works on ethnobotany performed only in last decades of 20th century. Kadir in 1990 worked on medicinal plant of Bangladesh and their conservation strategy. Alam (1992, 1998) documented the ehtnobotanical information and medicinal plant use by Marma. Several work also done by Chakma (1992, 1993), Hasan and Huq(1993), Tanchangya (1982), Tripura (1994), Yusuf (1994), Hasan and Khan (1996) on this field. Chemical analysis of some medicinal plant has done by Chowdhury (1993, 1996). Alam (1996), Khisa (1996a, 1996b, 1998), Millat-e-Mustafa (1996), Rahman and Yusuf (1996), Rahman (1997, 1999), Rahman and Uddin (1998), Ghani (1998),Uddin (1998), Begum and Rashid (1999) also worked on ethnobotanical field. All of them basically worked on the traditional plant use of tribal community as well as the Bengali people.  
  The most recent work has done by Rahman and Uddin (2000, 2003), Begum (2000), Ghani (2000), Millat-e-Mustafa (2001), Baker and Momen (2001), Khan (2002), Pavel (2007) and Anisuzzaman (2007).  
  1.7 Ethnobotanical Database of Bangladesh (EDB)  
  The Ethnobotanical Database of Bangladesh (EDB) has compiled and created by Md. Salah Uddin. EDB is the first online plant database in Bangladesh. This database contains plants profile, ethnobotanical dictionary, indigenous knowledge, indigenous communities of Bangladesh and ethnobotanical uses of plants. Plants profile consists of authoritative taxonomic information, phyto-chemical constituents, and traditional uses of plants of tribal communities in Bangladesh.  
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