The paper deals with enumeration of medicinally important weeds frequently used by local communities of Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. A total of 93 medicinal weedy species from 85 genera used in traditional medicines were identified. Majority of species are used for curing skin diseases, fever, cold and cough, etc. Of 42 families, 20 families were monospecific. Plants of family Fabaceae was largely represented (7 species) family followed by Asteraceae, Lamiaceae and Euphorbiaceae.
Weeds are comprised of the more aggressive, troublesome and undesirable elements of the World’s vegetation1. More than 80% of the developing world continues to rely on traditional medicines predominantly plants, for primary healthcare2,3. The global demand for herbal medicine is not only large, but also growing4. The market for Ayurvedic medicines is estimated to be expanding at 20% annually in India5. Only 15% of pharmaceutical drugs are consumed in developing countries, and relatively more affluent people take a large proportion of even this small percentage6. Medicinal plants can provide a significant source of income for rural life in developing countries, especially through the sale of wild-harvested material. Between 50-100% of households in the northern part of central Nepal and about 25-50% in the middle part of the same region are involved in collecting medicinal plants for sale, the materials being traded on to wholesale markets in Delhi7.
Knowledge of medicinal plants is rapidly disappearing. Every year, the sum total of human knowledge about the types, distribution, ecology, methods of management and methods of extracting the useful properties of medicinal plants is declining rapidly-a continuation of a process of loss of local cultural diversity that has underway for hundreds of years8. Knowledge of the natural world is typically a very important part of the knowledge-worlds of rural people following more traditional life ways9. The revitalization of traditional systems of medicine can be high on the agendas of those promoting local and indigenous cultures8. Kanyakumari district (77º7-77º 35’ E and 8º 5’-8º35’ N), a part of western Ghats occupies an area of about 1672 sq km and is inhabited by 11,37,181 people (Fig. 1). The rainfall varies from 103-310 cm and altitude is about 1829m asl10. Most of the district is composed of gneissic rocks11. Fourteen types of forests occur in this district because of diverse locality factors and harbour plenty of medicinally important weeds12. Topographically, the district may be broadly classified as coastal region, middle region and mountainous region13-14.
Ethnobotanically, the area remains unexplored and no comprehensive account of local tradition is available. The earlier studies on medicinal plant of the area were fragmentary and with limited objectives1518. In view of this fact, the present work was carried out to provide a comprehensive account of medicinal weeds of Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. During the study an extensive survey of the medicinal weeds was done and the species used in traditional medicines were enumerated.
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