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Use of plants by the people of Nepal: ethnobotany

Nepal is a multiethnic and multilingual country, with its 24 million people comprising 61 different ethnic groups speaking 11 languages and 71 distinct dialects. Throughout their long history Nepali people have used plants and plant products as a mainstay of everyday life, and over 1500 plants (1434 flowering plants, 65 pteridophytes and 18 gymnosperms) have at least one documented ethnobotanical use, with more than 650 used as food plants (Rajbhandari, 2001; Manandhar, 2002). Many people today still have to rely on plant resources for their medical needs and at least 1624 species of wild plants (1515 flowering, 109 non-flowering) are used in this way.
Traditional grindstone
Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) include all biological materials derived from forest species other than timber or fodder. There has been increasing awareness of the importance of NTFPs because of the dependence on rural communities on them, the increased urban and overseas market for natural products (including medicines), and the degradation of forests and ecosystem disturbance through unregulated collection (see conservation). If managed sustainably, the value of NTFPs can be far greater than that of timber harvest or conversion to agriculture or pasture. Recent studies have listed nearly 140 vascular NTFPs which are important as a long-term source of subsistence income. Conserving forests for the sustainable harvest of NTFPs is also good for conserving biodiversity in general, as the forest ecosystems are preserved.
Porters in a high elevation village

The Nepal Biodiversity Strategy ([NBS] 2002) highlights the importance of indigenous knowledge, stating “There is an urgent need to identify and document indigenous knowledge through proper research approaches; ethnobiology has a great potential for contributing to Himalayan biodiversity conservation.” NBS (2002, section 5.1.17) states that the aims of Biodiversity Registration are to:

  • document the rich traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples
  • share local knowledge of bioresources with other communities in the country and abroad for mutual benefit
  • conserve local traditional knowledge for the sustainable utilisation and equitable sharing of the benefits of natural resources through the active support and participation of local communities.
The website of the Ethnobotany Society of Nepal is recommended for further reading.
Selected publications on ethnobotany in Nepal
Manandhar, N.P. (2002). Plants and People of Nepal. Timber Press; Portland, Oregon.

Rajbhandari, K. R. (2001). Ethnobotany of Nepal. Ethnobotany Society of Nepal; Kathmandu.