Ethno-Veterinary medicine plays a significant role in management of livestock health

Dr Kalyan Sarma / Dr H Prasad *

Ethno-medicine is a traditional medical practice that concerns the cultural interpretation of health, disease, and illness. The practice of ethnomedicine is a complex multidisciplinary system constituting the use of plants in a spiritual way in the natural environment and has been the source of healing for people for millennia.

Medicinal plants have played a key role in world health. Ethno-veterinary medicine comprises all the approaches applied by man to improve their livestock production, like breeding practices, animal feed technology, ritualism, herbalism, spiritualism and ethno-epidemiological knowledge on livestock diseases.

In spite of the great advances observed in modern medicine in recent decades, plants still make an important contribution to health care. Medicinal plants are distributed worldwide, but they are most abundant in tropical countries. Over the past decade, interest in drugs derived from higher plants, especially the phytotherapeutic ones, has increased expressively.

It is estimated that about 25% of all modern medicines are directly or indirectly derived from higher plants. In some particular cases, such as antitumoral and antimicrobial drugs, about 60% of the medicines currently available in the market and most of those in the late stages of clinical trials are derived from natural products, mainly from higher plants.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), because of poverty and lack of access to modern medicine, about 65-80% of the world's population which live in developing countries depend essentially on plants for primary health care.

Currently, the major pharmaceutical companies have demonstrated renewed interest in investigating higher plants as sources for new lead structures and also for the development of standardized phytotherapeutic agents with proved efficacy, safety and quality. Herbal medicinal preparations are normally very popular in developing countries with a long tradition in the use of medicinal plants.

India is rich in plant diversity and possesses almost 7% of the world's flowering plants. The Eastern Ghats of India are endowed with an extensively rich variety of biological species, geological formations, and different ethnic tribes. In India, the indigenous systems of medicine, namely Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani, have been in existence for several centuries.

These traditional systems of medicine together with Homoeopathy and Folklore medicine continue to play a significant role in the health care system of the population. Besides the demands for medicinal plants made by these systems as their raw material, the demand for medicinal plants made by the modern pharmaceutical industries has also increased manifold.

Thus, medicinal plants constitute a group of industrially important crops which bring appreciable income to the country by way of export . About 90% of India’s medicinal plants supply to international market is from wild stocks. Hardly 10% of raw materials come from cultivated sources, which offer buyers more constituent quality and lower risk of adulteration than do their wild counterparts .

Main characteristics of herbal medicines (phytotherapeutic agents)

Phytotherapeutic agents or phytomedicines are standardized herbal preparations consisting of complex mixtures of one or more plants which are used in most countries for the management of various diseases. Herbal medicines may contain excipients in addition to the active ingredients Phytotherapeutic agents do not possess an immediate or strong pharmacological action. For this reason, phytotherapeutic agents are not used for emergency treatment.

In contrast to modern medicines, herbal medicines are frequently used to treat chronic diseases, include: common cold (66%), flu (38%), digestive and/or intestinal diseases (25%), headache (25%), insomnia (25%), stomach ulcer (34%), nervousness (21%), circulatory disorders (15%), bronchitis (15%), skin diseases (15%), and fatigue and exhaustion (12%). However, so far, relatively few herbal drugs have been evaluated scientifically to prove their safety, potential benefits and effectiveness.

Active Ingredients in Herbs

Herbs are very much like foods (indeed in many cases they are indistinguishable from them). They have many constituents including vitamins and minerals and active ingredients that have a variety of medicinal benefits. In general, the three major groups of active ingredients recognizedare : nitrogen-containing substances, terpenes and phenolics.

1. Alkaloids : These vary from one plant to another in their components and actions however they all contain nitrogen. They tend to have potent effects and in some cases they are toxic in large amounts. These are usually found in herbs that are restricted to qualified herbalists and doctors.

Different type of alkaloids

They include
1. Pyrrolidine alkaloids; Eg.nicotine (in tobacco), act as a CNS stimulant
2. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids: eg Heliotrine, senecionine
3. Tropane alkaloids: e.g. L-hyoscyamine, L-scopolamine, (as spasmolytic, hallucinogenic activity in CNS ), Cocaine ( act as CNS stimulant, Na+ channel blocker with local analgesic )
4. Piperidine alkaloids: e.g., Pelletierine (cause skeletal muscles paralysis), Sedamine (analgesic), lobeline (CNS stimulant), Ammodendrine (cause fetal malformation), Arecoline (analgesic), coniine (poison)
5. Quinolizidine alkaloids: e.g. Sparteine(use as antiarrhythmic and uterotonic medicine), Anagyrine (cause fetal malformation)
6. ß-Carboline alkaloids: e.g.Harmaline (CNS stimulant and hallucinogenic activity)
7. Indolealkaloids : e.g. Physostigmine (analgesic)
8. Quinoline alkaloids: e.g. Quinine (antimalaria), Quinidin (antiarrhythmic), Camptothecine (tumer therapy)
10. Ergot alkaloids: e.g. Ergotamine, Ergometrine
11. Indole alkaloids: eg yohimbine, Ajmalicine (antiarrhythmic) ,Reserpine,Vinblastine (tumer therapy), C-toxiferineI (muscle relaxant) Strychine (antiarrhythmic)
12. Phenylethylamines : eg Ephedrine, Nor-ephedrine (Cardiac stimulant)
13. Amaryllidaceae alkaloids : eg galanthamine (used in the therapy of alzheimer,s disease), Lycorine (inhibit protein synthesis)
14. Colchicum alkaloids: e.g. Colchicine (gout)
15. Benzylisoquinoline alkaloids : e.g. Papaverine (inhibits cAMP-phosphodiesterase), Tubocurarine (muscle relaxant)
16. Aporphine alkaloids: e.g. Bulbocapnine (antagonist at dopamine receptor), Aristolochic acid I (mutagenic and carcinogenic), Boldine (anti –inflammation. Nurogenic)
17. Morphinane alkaloids: e.g. Morphine (analgesic), Codeine (cough expectorant, analgesic)
18. Protoberberine alkaloids: Berberine, Sanguinarine (nurogenic)
19. Purine alkaloids: e.g. Caffeine, Theobromine, Theophylline (inhibitors of phosphodiesterease)
20. Imidazole alkaloids: e.g. pilocarpine (antiinflammation)
21. Terpene alkaloids: e.g. Acontine (analgesic and paralytic), Taxol (anti tumour)

2. Anthraquinones

These are glycosides which are yellow. They were often used in the past to produce dyes. They act to stimulate muscular contraction of the large intestine and so have a laxative effect. Herbs such as dock, senna, and aloe contain anthraquinones. If they are taken alone they can have a griping effect in the bowel. They are therefore taken with calmative (flatulence treating) herbs such as ginger or fennel.

These herbs are best used for the short term treatment of constipation while the underlying causes are dealt with. Longer term use can reduce the tone of the bowel.They exhibit a strong laxative activity by interfering with intestinal Na+, K+ ATPase and adenylyl cyclase. E.g. Hypericine, plumbagin, arbutin

3. Bitters

Many herbs contain bitter ingredients (e.g. Quassin, Cucurbitacins) These mainly affect the digestive tract, stimulating the secretion of digestive juices and enzymes in the stomach and the flow of bile from the liver.

They enhance appetite and improve digestion and absorption of nutrients from food. They are prescribed for people with poor appetite, a sluggish bowel, gall bladder and liver problems, gastritis, and to aid convalescence after the flu and other illnesses. Bitter herbs can also have other beneficial effects.

Flavonoids or glycosides are responsible for the yellow or orange colors in herbs, such as cowslip. Many flavonoids have a diuretic action, some such as licorice are antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory and others are antiseptic. Bio-flavonoids are a part of plants that contain vitamin C, such as citrus fruit, rosehip, black current and cherries.

Bioflavonoid act with vitamin C to enhance its absorption and metabolism in the body. Bioflavonoids have a strengthening and healing effect on blood vessels. They are used to treat conditions such as capillary fragility, tendency to bruising and nosebleeds and high blood pressure.Catechins form a special class of Flavonoid. The phenolic hydroxyl groups of Flavonoid can interact with proteins to form hydrogen.

They can be regarded as general protein modifying compounds. Isoflavones exhibit oestrogenic activities and inhibit tyrosinekinase and play a role in the prevention of certain cancers and regulation of hormonal disturbances. The examples of flavonoids are apigenin kaempferol, naringenin, genistein etc. Artemisia copa contains flavonoids such as spinacetin, jaceosidin, axillarin, penduletin, tricin and chrysoeriol have anti-inflammatoryactivity .

5. Mucilage

Mucilage is a sweet, gel like substance. It has the tendency to draw water to it-so that when water is added, it swells to form a viscous fluid. It is able to form a protective layer over mucous membranes and skin -thus effectively soothing irritation and relieving inflammation. Plants with high mucilage content include flax or psyllium seeds. These are used to draw water into the bowel and thereby bulk out the stool making an effective laxative.

6. Saponins

Saponins are glycosides. They are found in many medicinal plants and like soap they lather when they are mixed with water. Soapwort has a high saponin content and can be used to make natural soap. Saponins have a number of different effects on the body including an expectorant effect (cowslip and mullein), diuretic effects (horsetail and asparagus), beneficial effects on the circulatory system, reducing the fragility of the blood vessel walls (horse chestnut).

7. Tannins : Tannin acts as an astringent. This action is a result of their ability to bind albumen (a protein found in the skin and mucous membranes) to form a protective layer that is resistant to disease. Tannins also have healing actions, protecting from irritation while at the same time reducing inflammation. Plants which contain tannins include witch hazel, oak bark and Beth root.

These herbs are used for cuts and wounds, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, catarrh, heavy periods and inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract. These compounds have antimicrobial activities and can inhibit receptor and enzymes externally, internally and in the digestive tract. Another important group of tannins is hydrolysable. They represent esters between Gallic acid and sugars. Tannins are useful in medicine to treat dermal and mucosal infection and intestinal problem.

8. Volatile oils

Volatile or essential oils are what give the aroma and flavour to herbs that we use in foods. These herbs include rosemary, marjoram, dill, basil, sage, thyme and mint. Volatile or essential oils are made up of different chemical compounds. The oils have antiseptic and anti-microbial action, enhance the body's ability to fight off a range of infections, have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects (chamomile, yarrow), are expectorants (thyme, hyssop), are diuretic (chamomile, parsley) are tonics enhancing the appetite and the digestion and absorption of food (rosemary, fennel, marjoram), and stimulate the heart and circulatory system (ginger, rosemary, thyme).

The essential oils can be taken into the body in a number of different ways. They can enter the blood stream via food, drinks or in herbal medicine, being absorbed when placed directly under the tongue, through the pores of the skin when in massage oils or inhaled.

They are rapidly dispersed and during pregnancy and lactation they are passed to the baby through the placenta and breast milk. When the oils are inhaled the nerve endings in the upper part of the nose carry messages to the brain and in particular the part of the brain related to our thoughts and emotions (the limbic system). When the oils enter our system through our skin as in a bath or massage, they stimulate the nerve endings in the skin which send messages to the underlying tissues (muscles, blood, lymphatic vessels and nerves). The messages are relayed to the pituitary gland (this gland regulates the body's hormones).

The triangle of human beings, animals and plants has existed for ages and has given rise to intense interrelationships, and consequently rich tradition in many regions of the world. The role of animals in Indian life, the part of the rural women play in the care of animals, and significance of ethno veterinary medicine practices have highlighted in many recent publications. The predominantly rural populations and the strong agricultural base of economy in India have provided unique situation for rich ethnoveterinary practices.

Due to richness of biodiversity in India, a very large number of plant species is available for ethnoveterinary use. The Indian farmers, particularly the tribal farmers, have a lot of traditional knowledge accumulated over the centuries for treatment of animals.Therefore, the ethnoveterinary medicine practice is more common among the North East hilly region.

According to a report nearly 750 medicinal plants are used by traditional healers for treatment of animal and human diseases. Most of these plants are used either as green or dried powder form or as water extract, decoction and infusion. They can also be refined into tablets, capsules, powder, tinctures and other supplement formulations.

Despite the fact that ethno-veterinary medicine has been very crucial for the animal health cares of most developing countries, it has not yet been well documented and much effort is needed in research and integration activities in these countries. Few ethno-veterinary remedies have been tested clinically in livestock species (rather than in laboratory animals); more such studies are needed.

To get the true picture of a remedy’s efficacy, it is important that such studies follow as closely as possible the local way of preparation and application; this is to ensure that the results reflect the efficacy of the remedy and are not influenced by other preparation or application method.

For further details contact:-Public Relation & Media Management Cell,CAU, Imphal. Email

* Dr Kalyan Sarma / Dr H Prasad wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writers are from the Department of Veterinary Medicine, College of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry, Central Agricultural University, Selesih, Aizawl, Mizoram.
This article was webcasted on September 11 2021.

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