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Wanwagun- An endangered medicinal plant of Kashmir Valley

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By: Abrar Yousuf Mir

Human society depends on numerous Bio-Resources, amongst which plants play an important role providing food, clothing, timber, fuel, medicine and so on. In fact humans have been using plants since ages to cure different ailments and of the total 297,000–510,000 plant species found worldwide and about 70,000 (ca. 10–18%) are believed to be used in healthcare system , about 34% plant species native to India  are known to have medicinal importance . The Indian Himalayan Region – a rich storehouse of these medicinal plants – records a total of 1748 species. However, most of these species are experiencing tremendous pressure due to over and illegal exploitation and are no longer found in accessible habitats in large quantities (Vashistha et al. 2006). Besides the low availability of these plants, many herbs either are on the threshold of extinction or have become rare or endangered.

Kashmir valley is famous, all over the world, for its natural beauty, lofty mountains and beautiful landscapes with a rich floristic wealth which has been used as bio –Resources by people since times immemorial. Indeed our valley is rich in both flora and fauna particularly in terms of medicinal value but is under threat from past several years owing to intense exploitation of rare and endangered medicinal plants, smuggling, uncontrolled research, habitat destruction due to which some medicinal plants have been enlisted in rare, threatened, vulnerable, endangered list. The same list includes specie like Podophyllum hexandrum, popularly known as Wanwagun or Bankakri in our Kashmir valley.

Podophyllum hexandrum is a perennial wild herbaceous rhizomatous species, the ‘Podophyllum’ means footed leaf and ‘hexandrum’ stands for six stamens. It is found on higher ranges of Himalayas from Kashmir to Sikkim at an altitude of 2500-4000m. In Kashmir valley, it is found on higher reaches of district  Kupwara, Gulmarg, Baramulla, Budgam, Shopian, and Pulwama .It is low to the ground with glossy green, drooping, lobed leaves on its few stiff branches, and it bears a pale pink flowers and bright red -orange bulbous fruits. It is very tolerant of cold temperatures.

Lignans are the man class of natural products which are found in genus Podophyllum. The rhizome of Podophyllum hexandrum yield cytotoxic lignan podophyllotoxin and resin due to which Podophyllum possesses anti- tumor activity. The phenylpropanoid derived lignan Podophyllotoxin, occurring in Podophyllum species and  is used as a starting compound for the synthesis of the more water-soluble antitumor, testicular, small cell lung cancer and certain leukemias agents like etoposide, teniposide and etophos, which have FDA approval in the united states. Podophyllotoxin is also a precursor for the new derivative CPH-82 (reumacin) being tested in Europe in phase 3 clinical trials for arthritis and some other derivatives for the treatment of psoriasis and malaria were also reported. In addition, podophyllotoxin and podophyllin (Podophyllum resin) are considered as active constituents in dermatologic products for therapy of genital warts. Antioxidants and radioactive properties of Podophyllum hexandrum were also reported by many researchers. Kashmiri Podophyllum contains 3 times more resin and podophyllotoxin (4.3 %) than the American species.

Ethno Botanical uses:

Vermifuge-The ground rhizome or root is mixed with boiling water or milk and taken orally as an effective vermifuge.

Acidity – The juice of fruit and seed extract is used .The root is also crushed and mixed with warm water and filtered, the filtered is then used.

Heart disease- Extract of root is taken.

Tumor- One cup of rhizome decoction is taken at bed time for two months. Gujjars also take the fruits as such when ripe.

Diarrhea- The juice of fruit and seed is used twice a day for week.

Constipation-Mature reddish fruit is taken after meals for seven to fifteen days by bakerwals.

Hepatic enlargement- Powdered roots are used to cure hepatic enlargements.

Wounds-Powdered rhizomes applied on wounds for rapid healing.

Medicinal plants are now emerging as an important bio-resource. Earlier they have been used only by specialized healers and rural communities but now the herbal products have become the first choice of every household. Undoubtedly, there efficiency in controlling human ailments together with no side effect has brought a great recognition to these valuable species. The traditional knowledge and practices of medicinal plants among rural communities particularly  tribal populations against different diseases of Humans and Animal stock .On the other hand, due to smuggling ,uncontrolled research , deforestation and uncontrolled grazing, medicinal plant diversity of our valley  is being largely threatened and many species have been enlisted in endangered categories by IUCN .

In addition to specie Podophyllum hexandrum, various other medicinal plant species namely Gentiana kurroo, Aquilegia nivalis, Atropa acuminata, Aconitum heterophyllum etc. are under tremendous threat due to above mentioned activities.

A regulatory mechanism is needed at the institutional level, particularly at the time of assigning research problem to the student, and it is also the duty of Departmental Research Committees (DRCs) to evaluate the synopsis and also see the pros and cones of the assigned research problem. More awareness among common masses regarding importance of medicinal importance should be done through various possible ways . The commercial harvesting of threatened medicinal plants should be banned, strictly. Most importantly, the native communities need to be sensitized to the sustainable use and conservation value of these species.
The shrinking populations of MAPs is a matter of great concern as these plants are backbone of our traditional medicinal system – a huge population still depends on traditional medicine. In addition, extinction of these plant species may also lead to ecological imbalance.

The writer is a student of  University of Kashmir


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