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Comparing medicinal plant knowledge using similarity indices: A case of the Brou, Saek and Kry in Lao PDR
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Organismal Biology, Systematic Biology. (Ethnobotany)
(Department of Biology, Faculty of Sciences, National University of Laos)
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Organismal Biology, Systematic Biology.
2012 (English)In: Journal of Ethnopharmacology, ISSN 0378-8741, E-ISSN 1872-7573, Vol. 141, no 1, 481-500 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

known traditional ecosystem services, as it provides primary healthcare, contributes to subsistence livelihoods, and for its potential value as a source of novel pharmaceuticals. People living in close contact with their surroundings for many generations are hypothesized to have developed, through trial-and-error, in-depth knowledge of ecosystems, biodiversity, and their management and utility. In the case of medicinal plant knowledge it could lead to an asymptotic climax or a constantly evolving equilibrium of cures with proven efficacy and those under assessment.Methods: An in-depth study of 97 plant species used in traditional medicine by the Brou, Saek and Kry ethnic groups in Lao PDR was made to test similarity in medicinal plant knowledge.Results: Medicinal plants were used in 99 different ways in 510 species-use combinations. Medicinal uses could be generalized into 12 use categories with 747 species-category combinations. Similarity indices show Brou and Saek plant use appears to be most similar (QS(BS): 60.0; JI(BS): 75.1) followed by Kry and Saek (QS(KS): 51.6; JI(KS): 53.4), and then Kry and Brou (QS(BK): 46.9; JI(BK): 44.1).Discussion: Intercultural similarities found are quite low, considering that all three groups share the same geographical and ecological area and have the same dependence on medicinal plants. Intercultural transmission is unimpeded but many treatments are likely to be ineffective. Comparison of the similarities found here with similarities computed from other data show that these results are homologous with other sympatric ethnic groups, and much higher than those for allopatrically living groups.Conclusion: Medicinal plant knowledge does not reach a stable climax, but appears to evolve continually by trial-and-error, as effective cures to many ailments are unavailable.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. Vol. 141, no 1, 481-500 p.
Keyword [en]
Traditional plant medicine, Ethnobotany, Traditional ecological knowledge, knowledge similarity, Similarity indices, Jaccard, Sorensen
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-168534ISI: 000304571100061OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-168534DiVA: diva2:499660
Manuscript title: Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Similarity of medicinal plant knowledge among the Brou, Saek and Kry in Lao PDRAvailable from: 2012-02-13 Created: 2012-02-13 Last updated: 2012-06-26Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Snake Gourds, Parasites and Mother Roasting: Medicinal plants, plant repellents, and Trichosanthes (Cucurbitaceae) in Lao PDR
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Snake Gourds, Parasites and Mother Roasting: Medicinal plants, plant repellents, and Trichosanthes (Cucurbitaceae) in Lao PDR
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Background. Traditional plant use was studied in Lao PDR. Research focused on medicinal plant use by the Brou, Saek and Kry ethnic groups, traditional plant repellents against parasitic arthropods and leeches, and the phylogeny and biogeography of the medicinally-important snake gourd genus (Trichosanthes, Cucurbitaceae).  Methods. The ethnobiology research used a combination of structured interviews, village surveys, botanical collecting, hydro-distillation, GC-MS analysis, literature studies, and laboratory experiments. The plant systematics research used a combination of morphological studies, molecular biology laboratory work, and phylogenetic, dating and biogeographical analysis.  Results. Informants reported the use of close to 100 species to repel arthropods and leeches, many of which have constituents with documented efficacy.  Brou, Saek and Kry informants use over 75 plant species for women’s healthcare, mainly during the postpartum period for steam sauna, steam bath, hotbed, mother roasting, medicinal decoctions and infusions, and postpartum diet.  A molecular phylogeny of Trichosanthes and Gymnopetalum using a broad sampling of ~60% of their species and 4756 nucleotides of nuclear and plastid DNA shows that Gymnopetalum is nested within Trichosanthes. Fossil-calibrated Bayesian molecular dating of the Trichosanthes phylogeny reveals an early Oligocene origin of the genus, and many of the extant sections originating and diversifying during the Miocene. Biogeographical analysis shows a likely East or South Asian origin of Trichosanthes, with lineages diversifying and spreading throughout Australasia from the early Pliocene to the Pleistocene.  Discussion. Traditional plant use in Lao PDR is common and widespread. The presence among the repellent species of economical alternatives to costly synthetic repellents is tenable, and the subject of ongoing studies.  Postpartum traditions and medicinal plant use are essential parts of childbirth and postpartum recovery in these ethnic groups, and many other groups in Lao PDR. Efforts to improve maternal healthcare and reduce maternal and infant mortality need to integrate these traditions with modern notions of healthcare to achieve wider adoption. Documenting all possible uses of commonly used medicinal plant species shows that similarity in use between these ethnic groups is relatively low considering that they share, and have shared for many generations, the same environment and resources. A lack of effective cures leads to a process of continuous innovation, where effective cures are shared between cultures, but remedies of only cultural importance, or those under evaluation are culture-specific.  The Trichosanthes phylogeny implies the merging of Gymnopetalum into Trichosanthes, and this is done using available names or new combinations. A synopsis of Trichosanthes, the new combinations, and a revision of the species in Australia, are made and presented.  Conclusions. Traditional plant use is widespread in Lao PDR, and of significance to many people as a source of primary healthcare and inexpensive repellents. The important medicinal plant genus Trichosanthes includes Gymnopetalum, and has a complex biogeographic history with multiple colonization events of Australasia.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2012. 59 p.
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Science and Technology, ISSN 1651-6214 ; 901
Trichosanthes, Ethnobotany, Similarity of Knowledge, Biogeography, Molecular Dating, Brou, Saek, Kry, Mother roasting, Postpartum healthcare, Parturition, Childbirth, Traditional Medicine, Plant repellents, Fermented fish
National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
Biology with specialization in Systematics
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-168536 (URN)978-91-554-8281-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-03-30, Lindahlsalen, Norbyvägen 18, Uppsala, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2012-03-02 Created: 2012-02-13 Last updated: 2012-03-29Bibliographically approved

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