Potential Medicinal Plants of Kashmir Himalaya

Various studies world over, during the last few months, showed that Traditional Medicinal System (TMS) played an important role in the battle against COVID-19. Several TMS formulas that were used in different countries particularly in China showed promising results. Mostly the Lung Cleansing and Detoxifying Decoction (LCDD) were used and these formulations showed good results in recovery of COVID-19 patients. Most of the Indian Himalayan states have their own Traditional Medicinal Systems in place, and Jammu and Kashmir has an age old Traditional Medicinal System in place as well. Every region of this part of globe has their unique Traditional Medicinal System- locally known as ‘Hakeem Syetem’, ‘Ved System’ and ‘Amchi System’. The high altitude regions of Himalaya were cold season lasts for about 4-5 months, the people residing in these areas have developed traditional practices for treating common cold and chest related problems. Kashmir Himalaya has its own Lung Cleansing and Detoxifying Decoctions (LCDDs) and some local tea (‘Kahwa’) to treat respiratory diseases. The ‘Kawha’ is given to every patient suffering from running nose and common cold as home remedy. Likewise the fermented Rose petals commonly known as ‘Khambeer’ are another traditionally used home remedy to treat common cold and respiratory diseases. ‘Khambeer’ is usually made from petals of endemic Rose plant (Rosa webbiana), in Kashmir called as ‘Kashur Gulab’ (English= Shrub Rose or Wild Rose). Another plant species Viola odorata has history of treating respiratory diseases, the Maharaja used to give salt as daily wages to the people who used to collect the flowers of this plant species that is why it called as ‘Noon-e-Posh’, because during that period there was scarcity of salt here in Kashmir and people preferred salt over money. This plant species is also called as ‘Banafsha’ (English= Sweet violet). The eleven ingredients used for the preparation of “Kawha’ include: Green Tea ‘Sabaz Chai’ (Camellia sinensis), Liquorice ‘Shanger’ (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Dried figs ‘Engeer’ (Ficus carica), Jujube ‘Brayee’ (Ziziphus jujube), Saffron ‘Kong’ (Crocus sativus), Cinnamon ‘Dalcheen’ (Cinnamomum verum), Cardamom ‘Sabaz aalea’ (Elettaria cardamomum), Chopped Almonds/Walnuts ‘Badam/Doone’ (Prunus amygdalus/Juglans regia), Black peper ‘Martch’ (Piper nigrum), Fragrant manjack or Soap berry ‘ Safestan’ (Cordia myxa), Sugar or Honey ‘Mantch’- also a secondary plant derived product, and water. Among these ingredients two plant genera that have been proved scientifically effective against coronavirus and with molecules that can be used to treat COVID-19 are Camellia and Glycyrrhiza. Also two ingredients Cinnamomum and Glycyrrhiza of ‘Kahwa’ which is also constituents of LCDDs particularly the one used in china has proved effective in treatment of coronavirus and it has been reported that 90% of the 214 enrolled COVID-19 patients become healthy after treatment with this decoction. The other decoction (‘Qingfeipaidu’decoction) which proved effective in lung inflammation and treatment of viral diseases contain Ziziphus jujube– one of the ingredient of ‘Kawha’. Another homemade remedy ‘Khambeer’ which is made of Roses has scientific evidence that Roses are most effective against coronavirus.

Some of the most common plant species of Kashmir Himalaya that are used in Traditional Medicinal System (TMS) for the treatment of cough, cold and other respiratory diseases are: Saussurea bracteata (‘Bal-e-Kuth), Arnebia benthamii (Gaozaban or Khazaban), Rhododendron campanulatum (Tama), Papaver rhoeas (Gulala), Pyrus cydonia (Bam-e-choonth), Gagea gageoides (Gudgi), Skimmia anquetilia (Wan pater or Shingli Mingli), Potentilla anserine (‘Troma’), Delphinium cachemirianum (“Nilee Noori’), Aconitum heterophyllum(‘Patris or Patis’), Ajuga parviflora (Jangli Jani-e-Adam’), Lonicera japonica (‘Kawha Kul’) Anemone rivularis, Astragalus falconeri, Ephedra gerardiana, Artemisia spp. (‘Twthwan’), Rheum spp. (‘Pamb Chalan’)etc. in all there are more than 60 plant species with known claim in TMS to treat various respiratory diseases. Of these, some plant species in recent scientific studies have shown that these plant species are effective in treatment of COVID-19; which includes Rheum spp., Artemisia spp., Lonicera japonica, Ephedra spp. and Salvia spp.

There are some other plant species growing in Kashmir Himalaya which does not have any known traditional medicinal use to treat respiratory diseases but some recent studies have reported that these plant species are effective in the treatment of coronavirus which include: Cimicifuga andMorus alba.

Recent phylogenetic work showed individuals in Traditional Medicine Systems in disparate geographies independently incorporated related plants in their respective traditional medicine systems and it was observed in most of the cases that related plant species have similar biological activity. The plant species reported in recently conducted studies by various workers elsewhere in the world identified plants which prove effective in the treatment of COVID-19 or the molecules obtained from these plants can prove a good candidate for preparation of vaccine against this disease, such plants have their related species also growing in Kashmir Himalaya such as Astragalus, Polygonum, Scutellaria, Sambucus, Potentilla and Scutettaria.

The other species growing in Kashmir with known ethno-medicinal uses to treat respiratory diseases such as Viola odorata, Arnebia benthamii, Pyrus cydonia, Saussurea spp. etc. are potential plant species to treat pandemic like COVID-19.

Although most research studies in this area are in their initial stages, additional research on the identification of active substances, the description of underlying mechanisms, as well as the analysis of efficiency and probable in vivo applications is recommended in order to assist the exploration of potent antiviral drugs. Additional research should also investigate the possibility of combining these treatments with other natural ingredients or with standard medicines, as a multiple-target solution may help diminish the infection potential of drug-resistant virus strains. One of the trust worthy solution to this problem is natural remedies, such as aromatic herbs, essential oils derived from medicinal plants, will continue to play an important role and in the development and advancement of anti-coronavirus drugs. Keeping in view the huge biodiversity and rich traditional knowledge in place; this part of world should utilize the wisdom of ancient knowledge and bio-resource in cutting edge research in science and technologies.

Each one of us should bear in mind that we have to utilize this bio-resource in sustainable way. Recent news suggests that there is a rapid increase in the demand for traditional remedies for respiratory diseases throughout the world. It seems that current research focus is only on efficacy of herbal medicines to support health care, there is a lack of attention to ensure the sustainable utilization of these prized plant species. More and more conservation attention should be given to plant species that are not under cultivation but grow only in wild. The future availability of plant ingredients to support human health is dependent on prioritizing the conservation and sustainable use of their source species in the long-term.

Dr. Aijaz Hassan Ganien is Assistant Professor, Botany Kargil Campus

Dr. Bilal A Tali is Assistant Professor, Botany, Department of Higher Education, J&K