A comparative note on the ethnomedicinal plants used by the Kattunaikka and Paniya tribes of Nilambur forest, Malappuram district, Kerala, (India)
An International Journal

Agricultural and Biological Research

ISSN - 0970-1907
RNI # 24/103/2012-R1

Research Article - (2024) Volume 40, Issue 2

A comparative note on the ethnomedicinal plants used by the Kattunaikka and Paniya tribes of Nilambur forest, Malappuram district, Kerala, (India)

Chithra Malappurathattil1* and Geetha S Pillai2
*Correspondence: Chithra Malappurathattil, Department of Biotechnology, Centre for Medicinal Plants Research, Arya Vaidya Sala Kottakkal, Malappuram, Kerala, India, Email:

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An ethnobotanical survey was conducted to explore the indigenous knowledge of the Kattunaikka and Paniya tribes of Nilambur forest, Malappuram District, Kerala, India and to highlight the uses of the diverse flora. This paper provides information about 79 medicinal plant species used by the two tribes to manage 38 ailments conditions, either as single plant remedies or in combination. Of the 79 species recorded, 64 species (81%) were found to be used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine and 65% for similar conditions. The indigenous knowledge of these tribal traditional healers has been disappearing due to lack of followers for this valuable knowledge, as well as their migration to places outside of the forest. Use of plants among the two tribes reflects their interest in ethno-medicine and further investigation on under-explored species may lead to the discovery of novel pharmaceutical products.


Ayurveda; Ethnomedicine; Kattunaikka; Paniya; Nilambur forest


The Indian subcontinent represents one of the greatest treasures of ethnobotanical knowledge. Kerala state of India, at the southernmost boundary of the Malabar coast, has Western Ghats on the east and Arabian Sea on the west and has a land area of 38,863 Km2. Malappuram district lies in northern Kerala and is bounded on the north by Wayanad and Kozhikkode districts, on the northeast by Tamil Nadu state, on the southeast and south by Palakkad district, on the southwest by Thrissur district, on the west by the Arabian Sea and on the northwest by Kozhikode district. Nilambur, a municipality and a taluk in the Malappuram district, is situated close to the Nilgiris range of the Western Ghats on the banks of the Chaliyar river. Nilambur is inhabited by indigenous tribal groups. The scheduled tribes of Nilambur area are about 0.56% of the total population and it comes to 22,990 people. As per the 2011 census, the Kattunaikkan population was estimated at 1629 individuals, spread over 452 households. Out of the 35 scheduled tribes notified in the state, Paniyan is the most populous tribe with a population of 81,940, forming 22.5 percent of the total tribal population of the state [1].

Ethnobotanists could play very useful roles in rescuing disappearing knowledge and returning it to local communities. Several wild medicinal plants are declining in number due to the destruction and unscientific collection of plants from forests. Except for the documentation of the ethnobotanical knowledge in the Malappuram district by Thomas et al., [2-5] not much work is being done in this area. There is a very limited and scattered scientific record of the traditional medicines, used by the Kattunaikka and Paniya tribes of Malappuram district. The aim of this study was (1): To document the knowledge on ethnomedicines of Kattunaikka and Paniya tribes of Nilambur forest and (2): To find out whether traditional usages of medicinal plants by these tribals for treatment of various ailments has similarity with the uses in Ayurvedic medicine or the tribal medicinal plants were totally distinctive from Ayurveda.

Materials and Methods

Study area

The study was conducted in the Nilambur taluk of Malappuram district, Kerala (India), an area adjacent to the tropical mountain forests of Nilgiris, significant for floristic explorations. The valley is divided into three forest ranges, viz. the Nilambur range, Chungathara range and Karulai range. Geographically, the area is located approximately between 11°26’N-11°9’N latitude and 75°48’E-76°33’E longitude with altitudes ranging from 50 to 2500 m Above Mean Sea Level (AMSL). Soil is largely loamy on the ghats, but at lower elevation it is lateritic. With an annual average rainfall of over 2500 mm, spread almost throughout the year, the climate is warm humid. The temperature ranges from 17°C to 37°C.

Ethnobotanical data collection

Several field visits were conducted between 2010 and 2016 in the study areas among the Kattunaika and Paniya tribes to collect information on medicinal plants used by them using a questionnaire survey, interviews with key informants (knowledgeable elders, religious leaders and other individuals) and field observations. Interviews and discussions were conducted in Malayalam (the local language) using a checklist of topics. At the beginning of each interview the aim of the interview was explained to invoke clear and objective responses and then informants were asked for their consent. A range of ethnobotanical information including local names, habit and habitat, uses, parts used and mode of utilization of the plant were covered. Vegetation surveys and field observations were also conducted to substantiate these results. Vegetation surveys were carried out both in homesteads, in the wild and road sides to assess the distribution of the most frequently reported plant species. The collected specimens were cross-checked for their local names with the help of key informants and development agents. Botanical names were established by comparing specimens with those at the herbarium of Centre for Medicinal Plants Research (CMPR) and final identification was done after detailed laboratory studies, using stereomicroscopes and light microscopes or after consulting relevant floristic literature and their uses was carefully recorded in the field data book, Figure 1. The specimens are preserved in the CMPR herbarium. Medicinally important parts of some plants were collected and preserved in Formalin Acetic Acid (FAA) solution for further reference. Each species was checked for its Ayurvedic uses with the help of available literature like Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia of India and other books and similarity and dissimilarity in uses were analysed [6].


Figure 1: Herbarium specimens of selected ethnomedicinal plants. (1): Pancratium triflorum Roxb.; (2): Calotropis gigantea (L.) Dryand.; (3): Saraca asoca (Roxb.) de Wilde.; (4): Cyclea peltata (Lam.) Hook.f. and Thoms.; (5): Cassia fistula L.; (6): Indigofera tinctoria L.; (7): Elephantopus scaber L.; (8): Momordica charantia L.; (9): Catharanthus roseus (L.) G. Don.; (10): Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Benth. ex Kurz.; (11): Piper longum L.; (12): Asparagus racemosus Willd.; (13): Emilia sonchifolia (L.) DC.; (14): Plumbago zeylanica L.; (15): Strychnos nux-vomica L.

Results and Discussion

The study revealed that the level of knowledge differs in extent among the two tribes, gender and age groups. Though not much difference was recorded between the two tribes in the number of plant species used and the number/nature of ailments mentioned by them, Paniya tribe possessed comparatively higher knowledge about ethno-botanically useful plants than the Kattunaikka in terms of number of species used for a particular ailment/condition (details on differences are mentioned under the section ethnobotanical uses). Similarly, male informants had more knowledge than women. Among the men, elders were more aware than the younger members of the community. The lack of availability of elderly informants was experienced during the study. Narayanan et al., [7] has conducted ethnobotanical studies in the Wayanadu district, Kerala and documented information on 165 edible plants used by Kattunaikka, Paniya and Kuruma tribes. They report that the Paniya tribal community possesses knowledge regarding 136 taxa of wild edible plants, with Kattunaikkas coming next with knowledge of 97 taxa and Kurumas are at the bottom of the knowledgeladder with knowledge of 42 taxa of wild edible plants. The study supports our view that Paniya community of Nilambur area is rich in their knowledge on medicinal value of plants.

Taxonomic and ethanobotanical information

The present study documented taxonomical status and ethnobotanical usages of 79 plant species belonging to 76 genera and 45 families, used by the two tribes along with botanical name, family, vernacular name, plant parts used and mode of use (Tables 1-3). According to their life form, the greatest proportion of useful plants recorded at the locality included shrubs (32%), trees (29%), herbs (28%) and climbers (11%). The four most important families in terms of their number of taxa were Fabaceae with nine, Apocynaceae with seven, Asteraceae with five and Lamiaceae with four taxa. Two families were represented by three taxa each and nine families were represented by two taxa each. Rest of the 30 families consisted of only one taxa each. Use of plants for medicinal purpose by the two tribes from a wide variety of families was a point of interest.

S. no Botanical name, family, local name, part used Tribal use Mode of administration Ayurvedic uses Similar (S)/Dissimilar (D)
1 Asparagus racemosus Wild.
Asparagaceae, Satavari, tubers
Gynecological diseases Tuber decoction twice a day for one month Women health, galactagogue, rejuvenative S
2 Boerhavia diffusa L.
Nyctaginaceae, Tazhuthama, whole plant
Cardiac disorders Plant decoction is taken internally once a day for 5 weeks Diuretic, heart tonic and jaundice S
3 Calycopteris floribunda Lam
Combretaceae, Pullani, leaves
Skin diseases Leaf paste external application Skin diseases S
4 Curculigo orchioides Gaertn.
Hypoxidaceae, Nilappana, tubers
Piles Root decoction is taken internally and root paste is applied externally Aphrodisiac, appetizer, piles, fever and poisonous affections S
5 Cyclea peltata (Lam.) Hook.f. and Thoms.
Menispermaceae, Padakizhangu, roots
Postpartum health Root decoction to improve body vigor and to retain health Skin diseases and poisonous affections D
6 Datura stramonium L.
Solanaceae, Vella ummam, fruit
Leprosy, skin diseases and dandruff Crushed fruit paste is used externally. Whooping cough, asthma, painful menstruation Leprosy, dandruff, skin diseases S
7 Elephantopus scaber L.
Compositae, Anachuvadi, leaves
Child birth Fresh leaves mixed with starch water decoction to deliver placenta especially animals - -
8 Ficus exasperata Vahl.
Moraceae, Parakam, whole plant
Cuts and wounds Whole plant is applied externally 4-5 times - -
9 Gloriosa superba L.
Colchicaceae, Menthonni, rhizomes
Cancer Tuber decoction is taken internally twice a day Ulcer, intestinal worms, infertility, wounds and other skin problems D
10 Hemidesmus indicus (L.) R.Br. var. indicus
Apocynaceae, Nannari, roots
Refreshing drink Root paste mixed with lime. Root used to make pickles Rejuvenating drug, diuretic, digestive, blood diseases S
11 Holostemma ada-kodien Schult.
Apocynaceae, Adapathian, roots
Postpartum vigor, eye diseases Root decoction for youthful vigor, used against eye diseases Eye diseases, Improves health and vigor S
12 Hydnocarpus pentandrus (Buch-Ham.) Oken.
Achariaceae, Marotti, seeds
Skin diseases and hair loss Seed oil applied externally Skin diseases, rheumatism and leprosy S
13 Indigofera tinctoria L.
Leguminosae, Neelaamari, whole plant
Skin diseases, jaundice, hair tonic Whole plant, oil from leaf Hair tonic, ascites, skin affections S
14 Lantana camara var.camara
Verbenaceae, Kongini, flowers
Cuts and wounds A paste made up of flowers is applied externally - -
15 Naravelia zeylanica (L.) DC.
Ranunculaceae, Vathamkodi, whole plant
Leprosy Plant decoction is used internally Skin diseases, leprosy, inflammations, intestinal worms, wounds and ulcers D
16 Pancratium triflorum Roxb
Amaryllidaceae, Kattu ulli, bulbs
Achene foot diseases Heated bulbous portion applied to affected area, repeat it for 7 days - -
17 Piper longum L.
Piperaceae, Thippali, fruits and roots
Joint pain Root paste is applies on effected portion two times daily Powerful stimulant, digestive, cardiac and respiratory problems D
18 Plectranthus ambonicus (Lour.) Spreng.
Lamiaceae, Kannikoorka, leaves
Infantile fever Leaf decoction is taken internally Infantile cough, cold, fever S
19 Ricinus communnis L.
Euphorbiaceae, Avanakku, leaves, roots and seeds
Asthma, joint pain A decoction made up of roots taken internally, seed oil for joint pain Piles, cough, worm troubles, leprosy, colic, rheumatism S
20 Rotula aquatica Lour.
Boraginaceae, Kallur vanchi, roots
Piles Root decoction is taken internally and root paste applied externally Piles, kidney and bladder stone, and uterine disorders. S
21 Schleichera oleosa (Lour.) Oken.
Sapindaceae, Poovam, seeds
Snake bite Bark is crushed and applied externally - -
22 Senna tora (L.) Roxb.
Leguminosae, Pollamthavara, leaves
Skin diseases External application of leaf paste Skin diseases S
23 Solanum violaceum Ortega ssp. violaceum
Solanaceae, Puthirichunda, roots
Cardiac disorders Root decoction is taken internally Respiratory and cardiac disorders, skin ailments S
24 Wrightia tinctoria (Roxb.) R. Br.
Apocynaceae, Kutakappala, Bark, seeds
Burning sensations Seed oil is applied Skin diseases, hair growth D

Table 1: List of plant species used as single plant remedies by Paniya tribes for various ailments/conditions.

S. no Botanical name, family, local name, part used Ailment/condition Mode of administration Ayurvedic uses Similar (S)/Dissimilar (D)
1 Aegle marmeolos (L.) Corr. Rutaceae, Koovalam, leaves Diabetes Leaf decoction twice a day for 3 months Diabetes, diarrhoea and gastritis S
2 Anamirta cocculus (L.) Wight & Arn. Menispermaceae, Kollakkaya, dry fruits Skin diseases Water boiled with the dry fruits is used for bathing twice a day for one month Skin diseases S
3 Aristolohia indica L,Aristolochiaceae, Karalam, roots Snake bite Root decoction is taken internally twice a day for 7 days Snake poison, blood purifier, skin diseases S
4 Azadirachta indica A. Juss., Meliaceae, Aryaveppu, bark and leaves Rheumatism Water boiled with bark and leaves of this plant are used for bathing once a day for 21 days Rheumatism, skin diseases S
5 Bacopa moneri (L.) Pennell, Plantaginaceae, Bhrami, whole plant Epilepsy Whole plant decoction is taken internally twice a day for 2 months and also is used as a brain tonic Epilepsy, improves memory, anti-ageing, bronchitis, coughs, tonic for heart and nerves S
6 Calotropis gigantea (L.)R.Br. Apocynaceae, Erikku, flowers Asthma 10 ml of flower decoction is taken internally 2 times a day for one month Asthma, promote digestion, piles, skin diseases S
7 Clitoria ternatea L. Leguminosae, Sankhupushpam, whole plant Pitta Whole plant decoction is taken internally twice a day Pitta, uterine disorders, skin and eye diseases S
8 Cycas circinalis L. Cycadaceae, Eenthu, fruit Postpartum health Dried fruit is crushed and boiled with water and is consumed - -
9 Desmodium gangentium (L.) DC. Leguminosae, Orila, whole plant Cardiac diseases Root decoction is taken internally early morning Cardiac disorders, burning sensations, fever and cough S
10 Emilia sonchifolia (L.) DC. Compositae, Muyalchevi, roots and bark Flatulence and colic Mixed decoction of root and bark is taken internally Colic, fever, tonsillitis and eye diseases S
11 Euphorbia nivulia Buch. Ham. Euphorbiaceae, Kalli, roots and leaves Abdominal disorders Decoction of roots and leaves mixed with starch water is taken internally Stomachic, purgative, arbortifacient, jaundice S
12 Gymnema sylvestre (Retz) R.Br.ex Schult., Apocynaceae, Chakkarakolli, roots and leaves Diabetes Dried leaves and root decoction is taken internally twice a day for one month Diabetes S
13 Hemigraphis colorata (Blume) Hall.f. Acanthaceae, Murikootti, leaves Wounds Leaf paste is applied to affected portion - -
14 Ixora coccinea L. Rubiaceae, Thechi, whole plant Dermatitis Whole plant paste is applied externally twice a day for 3 days Skin affections like itches, scabies, boils etc. S
15 Kalanchoe schweinfurthii Penzig, Crassulaceae, Ilamulachi, leaves Diarrhoea Leaf juice is taken internally once daily in 7 days - -
16 Melia azedarach L. Meliaceae, Malaveppu, bark and leaves Headache Bark and leaf paste external application Eye and skin affections, carminative, leprosy D
17 Mesua ferrea L. Calophyllaceae, Churuli, flowers and leaves Postpartum health Decoction made up of flower and leaf is taken internally twice daily for one month to improve body vigor and to retain health Diseases of urinary bladder, sore throat, bronchitis, cough and constipation D
18 Myristica malabarica Lam. Myristicaceae, Pathiri, seeds Burning sensation   External application of seed paste for seven days Burning sensation S
19 Naringi crenulata (Roxb.) Nicolson Rutaceae, Kattu narakam, seeds Hair tonic Oil from seeds is applied against hair loss - -
20 Nothapodytes nimmoniana (J. Graham) Mabb. Icacinaceae, Peenari, heart wood Epilepsy water boiled with heart wood is used for bathing - -
21 Nyctanthes arbor-trists L. Oleaceae, Pavizhamulla, roots Uterine disorders Root decoction is taken internally twice a day - -
22 Oxalis corniculata L. Oxalidaceae, Puliyarila, leaf Vomiting Leaf paste along with starch water is taken internally twice a day for 2 days Stomachic, digestive stimulant, skin problems S
23 Plumbago zeylanica L. Plumbaginaceae, Vellakoduveli, roots Bronchial asthma Root decoction is taken internally in empty stomach once daily in one month Skin conditions, blood purifier D
24 Premna serratifolia L. Lamiaceae, Munja, whole plant Back pain and body pain Whole plant decoction is taken internally once daily for two months Rheumatism, cough, cardiotonic, anti-inflammatory S
25 Pterocarpus santalinus L.f. Leguminosae, Rakthachandanam, heart wood Blood purifying and removing scars A paste made up of heart wood is taken internally as a blood purifier and externally for removing scars Purifies blood and cures skin diseases and poisonous affections S
26 Saraca asoca (Roxb.) de Wilde. Leguminosae., Ashokam, bark Uterine disorders Decoction made up of bark is taken internally once daily for 7 days Uterine disorders, burning sensations S
27 Steriospermum suaveolens Roxb. DC. Bignoniaceae, Padiri, seeds Burning sensation External application of seed paste Cardiotonic, diuretic and pain relief D
28 Vernonia anthelmintica (L.) Willd, Compositae, Kattujeerakam, seeds Inflammation against lice Seed paste is applied to affected portion, used externally to kill lice Cure ulcers, vata, kapha and roundworms D

Table 2: List of plant species used as single plant remedies by Kattunaikka tribes for various ailments/conditions.

S. no Botanical name, family, local name, part used Tribes Tribal use Ayurvedic uses Similar (S)/Dissimilar (D)
1 Ageratum conyzoides L. Compositae, Kattappa, leaves P Wounds - -
2 Allium sativum L. Amaryllidaceae, Vellulli, bulbs K Cough, cold and fever Antithrombic, upper respiratory tract infections S
3 Alpinia galanga, Zingiberaceae, Peraratha, rhizome P Rheumatism Rheumatism S
4 Aristolochia tagala
Aristolochiaceae, Eshwara mulla, whole plant
K Snake bite - -
5 Asparagus racemosus*
Asparagaceae, Satavari, tubers
K Postpartum vigor Gynoecoligical problems, galactagogue S
6 Cassia fistula
Leguminosae, Kanikonna, tender root
P Rheumatism, snake bite Purgative, febrifugal, astringent D
7 Catharanthus roseus
Apocynaceae, Ushamalari, whole plant
K Tuberculosis - -
8 Cocos nucifera
Arecaceae, Thengu, cocunut milk
P Lactation Urinary disorders, gastroenteritis D
9 Coix lacryma-jobi
Poaceae, Kakkapalungu, seeds
P Postpartum vigor Diuretic D
10 Cuminum cyminum
Apiaceae, Jeeraka, seeds
P Lactation, kidney stone and abdominal disorders Diuretic D
11 Curcuma longa
Zingiberaceae, Manjal, rhizome
P, K Postpartum vigor, snake bite, wounds Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, gastroprotective effects S
12 Desmodium gangentium*
Leguminosae, Orila, roots
K Postpartum vigor Laxative and nervine tonic, galactagogue S
13 Eclipta alba
Compositae, Kanjunni, whole plant
P Hair fall Hair fall S
14 Gmelina arborea
Lamiaceae, Kumbil, bark
K Cough and stomach pain Stomach pain S
15 Holostemma ada-kodien*
Apocynaceae, Adapathiyan, tuberous roots
K Tuberculosis Laxative, rejuvenative D
16 Justicia gendarussa Burm.f.
Acanthaceae, Vathamkolli, whole plant
P Rheumatism Oedema and rheumatism S
17 Lawsonia inermis
Lythraceae, Mailanchi, dried leaves
P Hair fall Hair fall S
18 Momordica charantia
Cucurbitaceae, Kaippakka, leaves
P Snake bite Anthelmintic D
19 Ocimum sanctum
Lamiaceae, Tulsi, whole plant
K Cough, cold and fever, tuberculosis Cold, fever S
20 Phyllanthus emblica
Phyllanthaceae, Nelli, dried fruits
P Hair fall, postpartum vigor Gastrointestinal
21 Piper longum*
Piperaceae, Thippali, fruits
K Cough, cold and fever Cough, cold, asthma S
22 Piper nigram
Piperaceae, Kurumulaku, fruits
K Cough, cold and fever Cold, fever S
23 Pseudarthria viscida
Leguminosae, Moovila, roots
K Postpartum vigor Astringent, febrifuge D
24 Psidium guajava
Myrtaceae, Perakka, bark
K Cough and stomach pain - -
25 Rauvolfia serpentina
Apocynaceae, Sarpagandhi, roots
K Snake bite Neuro-psychiatric disorders, psychosis D
26 Rotula aquatica*
Boraginaceae, Kallur vanchi, roots
P Kidney stone and abdominal disorders Kidney stone S
27 Sapindus trifoliatus
Sapindaceae, Uruvanchikkaya, fruits
P Wounds Astringent, emetic, detergent, anthelmintic D
28 Sida cordifolia
Malvaceae, Anakurumthotti, roots
P Hair fall Rheumatism, neurological disorders D
29 Solanum melongena
Solanaceae, Cheruvazhuthana, roots
P Wounds Anti-asthmatic D
30 Strychnos nux-vomica
Loganiaceae, Kanjiram, bark
P Snake bite Neurological affections D
31 Trigonella foenum-graecum*
Leguminosae, Uluva, seeds
K, P Cough, cold and fever, kidney stone and abdominal disorders Flatulence, dyspepsia, colic, diarrhoea, dysentery S
32 Zingiber officinale
Zingiberaceae, Inchi, rhizome
K Cough, cold and fever Cough, cold, fever S

Table 3: List of plant species used by Kattunaikka and Paniya tribes in combined form for various ailments/conditions.

Ethnomedicinal uses

Kattunaikka and Paniya tribes revealed their knowledge on the use of 79 medicinal plants and about 38 ailments/conditions. Paniya tribes revealed information about the use of 41 species, whereas Kattunaikkans about 43 species which are used as either single or combined forms of medicines. Five species recorded were commonly used by both the tribes. The Paniya tribes revealed information about 24 species which are used as single plant remedies, whereas Kattunaikkans described 28 species (Tables 1 and 2). Information collected from both the tribes on some combined forms of preparations for various conditions is given in Tables 3 and 4. Among the 18 species used by Paniya tribes in combined form of preparations, only one species (Rotula aquatica) was used as the single plant remedy also. In the case of Kattunaikka tribes, out of the 15 species used in combination form, one species (Desmodium gangeticum) is mentioned as single plant remedy also. Out of the five species used commonly either in single or compound form, only two species, i.e., Trigonella foenum-graceum and Curcuma longa, were commonly used by the two tribes in combination remedies (Tables 3 and 4). The species were suggested for various diseases like bronchial asthma, cardiac disorders, diabetes, diarrhoea, epilepsy, gynecological disorders, kidney stone, rheumatism, snake bite, body pain and fever.

Condition Mode of administration


Cough, cold and fever Decoction made up of dry Zingiber officinale+Piper longum+Ocimum sanctum+Allium sativum+Piper nigram+Trigonella foenum-graecum is taken internally


Cough and stomach pain Ripe fruits of Gmelina arborea+Psidium guajava are taken internally once a day for 2 weeks


Hair fall Lawsonia inermis (dried leaves)+Eclipta alba (whole plant)+Sida cordifolia (root)+Phyllanthus emblica (dried) all are crushed and heated with coconut oil and applied on hair once daily


Kidney stone and abdominal disorders Trigonella foenum-graecum+whole plant paste of Rotula aquatica+Cuminum cyminum is taken internally in empty stomach once daily for man and twice daily for women


Lactation Cocunut milk (Cocos nucifera)+4 or 5 earthworms+Cuminum cyminum is made in to a paste and mixed in half glass of cow milk only one time


Postpartum vigor A decoction made up of Phyllanthus emblica+Desmodium gangentium+Pseudarthria viscida+Asparagus racemosus is taken internally three months


Seeds of Coix lacryma jobi+Curcuma longa applied on stomach


Rheumatism Alpinia galanga rhizome paste+Cassia fistula is applied externally


Justicia jerandurossa whole plant mixed with Azadirachta indica


Snake bite Bark of Strychnos nux-vomica (small amount)+Momordica charantia (4 or 5 leaves) are crushed and take internally on early morning and evening. Bitted portion is recommended to tie with a hair to avoid spreading


Rauvolfia serpentina root paste+Curcuma longa is applied to affected portion


Cassia fistula tender root+Curcuma longa external application for 7 days. That person is recommended to avoid sleep and also salt, chilly and oil


Aristolochia tagala whole plant+Curcuma longa external application for 7 days


Tuberculosis A decoction made up of root tuber of Holostemma ada-kodien+Catharanthus roseus+Ocimum sanctum is taken internally twice a day for one month.


Wounds Ageratum conyzoides plant paste+Curcuma longa are applied externally for seven days


External application of Sapindus trifoliatus fruits+Solanum melongena leaf for wounds on head


Table 4: Some combined form of preparations used by the Paniya and Kattunaikka tribes for various conditions.

One point of interest is that there was not even a single species commonly used by the two tribes as single plant remedy for a similar condition or ailment. It was observed that for similar conditions, both the tribes used different plant species. The knowledge and information revealed by Paniya tribes were rich in terms of usage of species for various ailments/conditions compared to Kattunaikkans. In the Paniya community, the number of plants used for a similar condition/ailment was more compared to Kattunaikkan community. For example, for curing skin problems, Paniya tribes revealed use of five species, whereas the Kattunaikka tribes revealed the use of only two. In other words, Kattunaikkans described only twenty-one species for ten ailments, in place of the thirty-five species described by Paniya tribes for same number of ailments (Table 5). The case of using one species for many conditions/ailments was also rarely recorded within the Paniya tribes. For example, Paniyars use Holostemma ada-kodien for postpartum vigor and eye diseases and Indigofera tinctoria for skin diseases, against jaundice and also as a hair tonic. For about ten conditions/ailments such as diabetes, epilepsy and diarrhea, Kattunaikka tribes alone described certain remedies and for certain other conditions/ailments like piles, leprosy, jaundice and joint pain only Paniya tribes described remedies (Table 6).

Conditions No. of species used Name of species used
Paniya Kattunaikka Paniya Kattunaikka
Skin diseases 5 2 Calycopteris floribunda
Datura stramonium
Hydnocarpus pentandrus
Indigofera tinctoria
Senna tora
Anamirta cocculus
Ixora coccinea
Snake bite 5 4 Cassia fistula
Curcuma longa
Schleichera oleosa
Strychnos nux-vomica
Momordica charantia
Aristolochia tagala
Aristolohia indica
Curcuma longa
Rauvolfia serpentina
Rheumatism 3 1 Alpinia galanga
Cassia fistula
 Justicia gendarussa
Azadirachta indica
Asthma 1 2 Ricinus communnis Calotropis gigantea
Plumbago zeylanica
Gynecological problems 1 2 Asparagus racemosus Nyctanthes arbor-trists
Saraca asoca
Cardiac disorders 2 1 Boerhavia diffusa
Solanum violaceaum
Desmodium gangentium
Post-partum health 5 4 Curcuma longa
Coix lacryma jobi
Cyclea peltata
Holostemma ada-kodien
Phyllanthus emblica
Curcuma longa
Cycas circinalis
Mesua ferrea
Pseudarthria viscida
Asparagus racemosus
Cuts and wounds 6 2 Ageratum conyzoides
 Curcuma longa
Ficus exasperata
Lantana camara
Sapindus trifoliatus
Solanum melongena
Hemigraphis colorata
Curcuma longa
Hair loss and growth 6 1 Eclipta alba
Hydnocarpus pentandrus
Indigofera tinctoria
Lawsonia inermis
Sida cordifolia
Phyllanthus emblica
Naringi crenulata
Burning sensation 1 2 Wrightia tinctoria Myristica malabarica
Steriospermum suaveolens
Total species 35 21  

Table 5: Difference in use of plants for similar ailments and conditions by Paniya and Kattunaikka tribes.

Ailments/conditions Tribes
Paniya Kattunaikka
Diabetes - Aegle marmeolos
- Gymnema sylvestre
Epilepsy - Nothapodytes nimmoniana
- Bacopa monnieri
Pitha - Clitoria ternatea
Flatulence and colic - Emilia sonchifolia
Abdominal disorders - Euphorbia nivulia
Diarrhoea - Kalanchoe schweinfurthii
Head ache - Melia azedarach
Vomiting - Oxalis corniculata
Back pain / body pain - Premna serratifolia
Blood purifying and removing scars - Pterocarpus santalinus
Inflammation  - Vernonia anthelmintica
Piles Curculigo orchioides -
Rotula aquatica -
Leprosy Naravelia zeylanica -
Datura stramonium -
Cancer Gloriosa superba
Child birth Elephantopus scaber -
Jaundice Indigofera tinctoria -
Achene foot diseases Pancratium triflorum -
Joint pain Piper longum -
Ricinus communnis -
Infantile fever Plectranthus ambonicus -

Table 6: Ailments and conditions and their remedial plants exclusively used by Paniya and Kattunaikka tribes.

Ethnobotanical survey in Mundakunnu village of Gudalur taluk, Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu, (India) reveals that six plant species are commonly used for different ailments by the Paniya tribes from two localities. But, tribes from both places use Hemidesmus indicus as a refreshing drink or coolant [8]. Thomas et al., [3] reports ethno-veterinary uses of 30 species from the Paniyar tribes of Malappuram, in which two species, Asparagus racemosus and Elephantopus scaber are found commonly used. They also report that Paniyars have a strong tendency of keeping their traditional knowledge and techniques secret. Ramachandran et al., [9] studied the wild edible plants used by the Paniyas and Kurumbas of Western Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu and describe nine species which are used as food and also for curing various common ailments. Plant species such as Lantana camara, Momordica charantia, Cyclea peltata, Solanum anguii (Solanum violaceaum) and Phyllanthus emblica which are consumed as wild edible plants by the Paniya and Kurumba tribes of Nilgiris, were found to be used for therapeutic purpose among the Paniya tribes in our study. Prasad et al., [10] records the plants used by the Paniya and Kattunaikka tribes for the treatment of digestive system disorders in Wayanad district, Kerala and they mention certain similarities in the usage of plants among these two tribes. Only two species, Aegle marmelos and Aristolochia tagala, used by the Kattunaikka tribes of Nilambur forests for diabetes and snake bite respectively, reported in our study are used by both the tribes of Wayanad district for digestive system disorders. Amuthavalluvan [11] documents the traditional ethno-medicinal practices of Kattunayakan of southern northern Arcot district, Tamil Nadu and nearly ten medicinal species utilize by them in traditional healing system is found to be common in our report for same or different conditions. They also report the use of two or more remedies for the same disease indicating that one is superior to the other and such observation has been recorded in our study also. Out of the 32 plant species reported by Naseef et al., [12] against gynaecological problems by the Paniya tribes of Nellivayal of Wayanad district, Kerala, only one species, Holostemm ada-kodien was found commonly used by the Paniya tribes of Nilambur forest for same condition.

Ayurvedic use of ethnobotanical plants

Ayurveda, which also relies on medicinal plants for treatment, is possibly the oldest traditional medicinal system in the Indian sub-continent dating back to nearly five thousand years ago. Of the 79 species recorded in this study, 64 species (81%) were found to be used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine and 65% for similar conditions. Nearly 79% of the plants used as single plant remedies by the Paniya tribes are recorded to be used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for treating similar (73.7%) or different (26.3%) conditions (Table 1). In the case of Kattunaikka tribes 78.6% of the plants used as single plant remedies are recorded to be used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for treating similar (77%) or different (23%) conditions (Table 2). Among the 32 plants used in the combined form of drugs, 87.5% are being used in Ayurveda and similarity in use was recorded in 53.6% cases (Table 3). The Ayurvedic system of medicine has been the major medicinal system practiced in Kerala since time immemorial. The traditional medicinal practice of the tribal communities typically involves simple use of plant parts of single plants or combination of 3 or 4 items, whereas Ayurvedic formulations mostly contains combination of many medicinal plants. The observation by Rahmatullah et al., [13] that use of medicinal plants in the traditional medicine practiced by Chakma tribes in Bangladesh is having resemblance to their use in Ayurveda, supports our view. Of the 73 total plants used by Chakma tribe, the medicinal uses of 33 plants are similar to Ayurvedic uses, as reported for various Ayurvedic preparations. While documenting the tribal medicinal practices of the Deb-barma clan of the Tripura tribe, residing in Dolusora Tripura Palli of Moulvibazar district of Bangladesh, Kabir et al., [14] records that a number of the plants used by the clan healer have similar uses in Ayurveda, but differ considerably in their therapeutic uses from that reported for other tribes in Bangladesh.

According to some researcher’s traditional medicine and biomedicine may be incompatible and the use of biomedicine and biomedical concepts often displaces the use of traditional medicine and medical beliefs. In contrast, other scholars have found that traditional medicine and biomedicine can co-exist, complement and blend with each other. Giovannini et al., [15] use an econometric model and quantitative data to test the association between individual knowledge of pharmaceuticals and individual knowledge of medicinal plants in a rural indigenous community at Mexico. The results suggest that, in the study site, individual knowledge of medicinal plants and individual knowledge of pharmaceuticals co-exist in a way which might be interpreted as complementary. They conclude that social organization involves in the use of medicines from both traditional medicine and biomedicine is of particular significance and the use of pharmaceuticals alone is not associated with a decline in knowledge/use of medicinal plants.


The study revealed that Paniya and Kattunaikka tribes of Nilambur forest use many plants or plant parts for both internal and external applications for the treatment of various ailments in their daily life. The difference in usage of plants by same tribes occupying different localities and different tribes of the same or nearby localities was observed. The similarity and difference observed between tribal and Ayurvedic system also requires more investigation. The use of plants among these tribes reflects their interest in ethnomedicine and further investigation on unexplored species may led to the discovery of novel pharmaceutical products. Study may produce valuable information on new phytopharmaceuticals for new drug development in future towards combating various human ailments.


The Kattunaikka and Paniya tribes of Nilambur forests are the source of information and the authors are grateful to all the respondents who took part in this study and their willingness to share their valuable ethnobotanical knowledge and their whole-hearted co-operation. Ethnobotanical field work requires researchers to collaborate with government officials, scientists and local people and their support are gratefully acknowledged. Authors are thankful to management, Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal and TATA Trust, Mumbai for providing the facilities for taking up the program.


Author Info

Chithra Malappurathattil1* and Geetha S Pillai2
1Department of Biotechnology, Centre for Medicinal Plants Research, Arya Vaidya Sala Kottakkal, Malappuram, Kerala, India
2Department of Biotechnology, Centre for Medicinal Plants Research, Arya Vaidya Sala Kottakkal, Malappuram, Kerala, India

Citation: Malappurathattil C, Pillai GS. A comparative note on the ethnomedicinal plants used by the Kattunaikka and Paniya tribes of Nilambur forest, Malappuram district, Kerala, (India). AGBIR.2024;40(2):1004-1012.

Received: 04-Mar-2024, Manuscript No. AGBIR-24-129615; , Pre QC No. AGBIR-24-129615 (PQ); Editor assigned: 06-Mar-2024, Pre QC No. AGBIR-24-129615 (PQ); Reviewed: 20-Mar-2024, QC No. AGBIR-24-129615; Revised: 27-Mar-2024, Manuscript No. AGBIR-24-129615 (R); Published: 03-Apr-2024, DOI: 10.35248/0970-1907.24.40.1004-1012

Copyright: This open-access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (CC BY-NC) (http://, which permits reuse, distribution and reproduction of the article, provided that the original work is properly cited and the reuse is restricted to noncommercial purposes. For commercial reuse, contact This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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