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Introduction

One of nature’s most magnificent monuments – is the towering Himalayas. “Himalaya” is a Sanskrit word which literally means “Abode of Snow” - hima means ‘snow’ and alaya means ‘abode’.


Anaphalis adnata DC.
(Asteraceae)
There is a Sanskrit proverb, which says that a hundred divine an epoch would not suffice to describe all the marvels of the Himalayas. This awesome chain of mountains with their peaks reaching the sky and stretching nearly 17000 miles has from time immemorial held an indescribable charm, inspiration and spiritual significance to the millions of the Indian Subcontinent. Believing it to be the abode of the Hindu God and Goddess, sages have sought refuge in the caves, in its recesses to meditate for purification of mind and for self-understanding. Poets and artists have been inspired to make magnificent contribution and in many ways Himalayas have influenced the life, culture and history of the Indian people. It is impossible to describe in words the mysticism and religious aura that surrounds the Himalayas, and can never fully be captured in words the eternal truth which allude in them.
The Himalaya functions as good climatic divide which exert a dominating influence on the climatic condition of the Indian Subcontinent to the south and the Central Asian areas of the north. While Himalayan Mountains largely determine the climate of the Indian Subcontinent, they also create their own climate from the tropical Indian plains to the almost alpine of the higher reaches of the Himalayan ranges. In winter the giant Himalayan ranges serve as barrier to the intensely cold continental air blowing southward into India. The vast Himalayan ranges extend all along the northern border of India from Jammu and Kashmir in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in east. Due to different geological histories of the origin of the Himalayan regions different type of soils predominate at different regions.

Anemone coronaria L.

The major soil groups in the Himalayan regions are brown hill soil, submontane soil, mountain meadow soil, skeletal soil and red loamy soil. Brown hill soils have developed from tertiary sediments consisting sand stone, shale and micaceous grey sand stone at altitude ranging from 600 – 1700m mostly found in some areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Sikkim, Darjeeling and western part of Arunachal Pradesh. Submontane soils of Himalaya have dark brown surface layer, sandy loam with loose undecomposed organic matter 15-50 cm deep and acidic. These types of soils are found in some areas of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. Mountain meadow soils dominate in the regions of dry and cool climate and in high elevations mostly with scanty vegetation of alpine pastures. These soils are shallow to moderately deep and immature, which lacks moisture content. Lahul spiti of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh have this types of soils. These soil types developed from the withered red rock. In the Eastern Himalayan tract, soils are generally deep and well drained but low in fertility.

Due to different climatic and soil niches Himalaya abode a magnificent array of floristic diversity. The entire Himalayan ranges can be divided into three major botanical regions, the western, the central and the eastern Himalayas. The western region is divided into western Himalayasand north western Himalayas. The central Himalayas confirm to the mountainous ranges of Nepal. The eastern Himalayas include Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. The rich floristic diversity of Himalayas is a potential source of many drug yielding, aromatic and oil yielding plants. Many of these plants yield alkaloids, glycoside alkaloids, resins and other secondary metabolites which have been exploited for medicine. Medicinal uses of Himalayan plants are known since ancient period, references of which are available in the Indian mythology. In Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita there are references of Himalayan plants. People of remote areas till to the present time are entirely depending on the forest resource for maintaining their day to day needs including healthcare and medicine. They have developed their own health care system based on locally available plants. Some important locally developed healthcare system are Nepali jaributi, Lepcha and Tibetan.

The unique botanical diversity of the Himalayas have attracted several botanists from India and abroad since early 19th century for collection and recording of botanical wealth. There are region wise documentation of Himalayan flora including the Hooker’s  Flora of British India published in later part of the 19th century.


Anemone vitifolia DC.
(Ranunculaceae)

This Encyclopedia of Himalayan Medicinal Flora is based on extensive and intensive document research and unpublished field work of some members in the editorial board. This publication is for the general people for creating awareness on the medicinal plants resources of the Himalayas. The descriptions of each plant species has been simplified giving importance to the identifying features, photographs and line drawings, ecology, locality, uses, chemical constituents, etc. The most important part of this Encyclopedia is information on cultivation. For easy handling the entire works have been divided in 3 volumes. The first volume cover alphabets A to C, and the rest of the alphabets from D to Z will be covered in the next two volumes, to be released soon.

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