Building on experience through documentation

Indian subcontinent is rich with traditional knowledge on health care, acquired over generations. Even today this knowledge is being practiced by rural communities widely. However, there is a gradual erosion in the use of traditional knowledge. Lower confidence levels in their use has had an impact on the conservation of natural resources too.

Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), an NGO located in Bangalore and its allied partners have been addressing this issue by conserving medicinally important resources, documenting and promoting specific remedies that can be used to manage primary health care. Accredited as Centre for excellence in medicinal plants and traditional knowledge conservation, FRLHT has to its credit several successful programs/ projects of pioneering nature.  Following is an account of FRLHT’s decade long experience in documenting and sharing learning experiences pertaining to medicinal plants and traditional knowledge conservation across Southern India.

Conservation of medicinal plants

Over a decade, FRLHT primarily focussed on conserving medicinal plants and demonstrated the relevance of traditional health practices through co-ordinated effort in Southern India. FRLHT undertook designing and testing novel, participatory insitu and exsitu medicinal plants conservation models. Also built the capacities of state forest department, NGOs and local communities in doing so.

 To protect wild population of threatened medicinal plants through insitu conservation, FRLHT has devised rapid method to shortlist conservation of specific plant species of concern, through CAMP process, employing IUCN criteria. The short listed medicinal plants are sighted in wild (genetic variation and size) and protected through insitu conservation, as part of ‘Medicinal Plant Conservation Area Program’.  This process involves active participation by field taxonomist, botanist, conservationist, and biologist, foresters who record observations on the extent of distribution, population size, density, growth pattern, threats and management interventions at global and regional levels. Such insightful learning’s are shared with foresters for suitable management interventions through trainings, exchange programs etc.

Ex-situ conservation model, also known as Medicinal Plants Conservation Park program, involves establishment of home herbal garden, to achieve self reliance in primary health care and reducing medical expenditure. In this program apart from promoting medicinal plants cultivation and use. Local learning centres are established with elements like ethno-medicinal forests, herbarium and raw drug museum which preserves medicinally important local flora. The experiences of ex-situ conservation are documented and are being shared through various publications, training materials and programs.

 Besides conservation programmes, documenting the traditional practices, particularly on health aspects, has been the forte of FRLHT’s activities. Documentation has varied purposes and there are notable cases wherein the documentation of such traditional practices has helped in preserving people’s knowledge (eg., “People Biodiversity Register”, an initiative of Indian Institute of Science and FRLHT) protecting the IPR (a case of India winning the IPR on turmeric), enabling resource management in addressing the issues of IPR etc.

FRLHT has been systematically documenting it’s experience over time.  Various methodologies are employed to elicit information, organise, store, retrieve  and disseminate data for various users. Some of them are described below.

Development of database on Indian Medicinal plants

A meta-database titled “Indian Medicinal Plants Nomenclature Correlation browser” was developed where in local names and botanical names of 7500 medicinal plant species with images are recorded. It includes detailed information on the species.  Currently, part of this database is easily accessible through the website: enabling easy and quick access to authentic information on medicinal plants.

The database is found useful for (a) correlating vernacular and scientific names of medicinal plants in 30 different languages across India, (b) providing eco-distribution information for IUCN criteria based threat assessment of medicinal plants and development of distribution atlas of medicinal plants, and, (c) serving as a reference material for carrying out botanical surveys in various forest types across five southern states. The database along with field surveys has served as resource for developing various educational products like CDs and books.

Herbarium and raw drug repository

Botanical surveys were carried out in South Indian states to record floristic compositions and medicinal plants diversity across various forest types. This was done as a core support to insitu conservation related activities. Through these surveys, herbarium specimens were processed and deposited in FRLH Bio-geocultural Herbarium and Raw Drug Repository. This repository serves as a centre of learning with innumerable plant collections with authentic identification of plant specimen, virtual image library, raw drug museum and voluminous database and research publications pertaining to discovery of new species, rediscovery of lost species, botanical explorations etc. This comprehensive documentation enabled understanding about the status of medicinal plants in wild, trade and its usefulness to varied target groups. The documented information and experiences are being shared through diverse training programs for teachers, students, conservationists, village botanists etc.

Deciphering the codified classical Indian medical texts

Most of the classical Indian medical texts are in Sanskrit or in vernacular language or sparser scholarly commentaries. Deciphering the Sanskrit language data and collating enormous data to user-friendly form is a challenge by itself. The process involves documenting ancient texts in a systematic way. Efforts were made to disseminate this information by developing CDs based on the needs of specific target  group. For example, a course material on a CDRom was developed for students of Bachelor in Ayurveda Medicine. This was done in consensus with Rajiv Gandhi University of Health sciences, Bangalore. This CD is now being used as a reference by students to know about some of the clinically important plants as mentioned in their syllabus (FRLHT 2003-2013 and 2005).  Similar products are being designed for students of Siddha, Unani, and Homeopathy medicine too. These encyclopaedic series give authentic information on Sanskrit/vernacular name and botanical name correlation and time tested clinical data with references.

Documentation as a tool to build capacity

At FRLHT, sharing the essence of medicinal plants and traditional knowledge conservation efforts is a continuous process. Experiences have been documented and brought out in various forms of educational materials – training modules/manuals, CDRom, Video, books and other publications. These are being used in training programmes for partners in conservation and preservation of traditional health practices enabling them to document and revive the local health traditions systematically. The training programmes have been platforms facilitating interactions between the various stakeholders such as traditional knowledge bearers like households, healers; ethno botanists, traditional medical practitioners, doctors, community health workers etc. Communities are involved in identifying and promoting best health practices in primary health care which are cost effective and  accessible. They are being encouraged to establish home herbal garden to bring self reliance in primary health care. They are being encouraged to maintain  “community health traditions registers”  of their traditional knowledge and resources. The training module also provides software tools which aid in documenting the details.

For example, training module on “Documentation and assessment of local health traditions” helps partners to replicate the process at low cost to identify, promote best health practices. The training module was designed based on community based research in 13 locations in 4 southern states, since 1998. Around 2000 local communities were involved in the study. The module is now being adapted by various partners. The module is now being adapted by various partners including folk healers network to record the unwritten traditional health related knowledge and experience systematically, empirical data on effectiveness of the remedies. For example, Dakshina Kannada Milk Union employed this module to identify best practices for mastitis. Now, a value added product based on ethno-veterinary practices is being sold through Parampara Herbal Producers Company as licensed product. University of Agricultural Sciences have also developed a manual on mother and child health care practices adapting this training module. Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, has adapted this module in one of its livelihood projects to encourage local communities to prepare community health traditions register. This module has immense potential in promoting best plant/crop health practices using traditional agricultural knowledge.


Thus, our documentation experience on conservation of medicinal plants and traditional knowledge have helped in better management of medicinally important plant resources, deepened the understanding of local health traditions of a given area, enabled effective implementation of programmes and created awareness through various methods and media. These documents have also helped us to reflect on our own experiences and designing suitable programs for future.


  1. Bertus Haverkort, Katrien Van’t Hooft and Wim Hiemstra (eds), Ancient Roots, New shoots; Endogenous Development in Practice: Reviving Local Health Traditions, Dashan Shankar, Abdul Hafeel, Unnikrishnan Payyaoppalimana and  Suma Tagadur, 2002;ETC Compas and Zed Book Limited, London.
  • 2002. Local health traditions information system-Home remedies and food regimen. Version1.0. Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions. Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions,Bangalore. (CDROM)
  • 2005. Plants of Ayurveda Materia Medica. Version1. Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions,Bangalore. (CDROM)
  • Suma, T.S. 2003. Bridging the gap: towards protection, promotion of local health traditions. Amruth: Vol 7(1). The Medplan Conservatory Society, Bangalore
  • Ved, D.K., K.Ravikumar.2000. Illustrated field guide to 100 red listed medicinal plants of south India. Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, Bangalore.

Suma T.S., Research Officer, Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, 74/2,  Jaraka Bhande Kaval, Post Attur, Via Yelahanka, Bangalore-560064.

Website: www.

Email ID:

Suma T.S.

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