Entomophagy: Ethnotherapeutic practices of Manipur
by Rahul Kumar
Medicinal values of plants are well documented across India but the importance of insects in medicine is quite underrated. Insects, being the most diverse and the largest animal group, have huge bioresource potential. Insects produce many biochemical compounds with therapeutic potential. Apart from biological diversity, insects are also endowed with huge chemical diversity. Different species of insects produce a variety of bioactive alkaloids, quinones, terpenes, sterols and many other organic compounds. The consumption of insects as food is called entomophagy. More than 2 billion people around the world practice entomophagy in one or the other form. Consuming insects as food also has numerous health benefits. At least 1000 insect species are globally used for therapeutic purposes. The use of insects in folk medicine is documented in many countries. The use of honey for the treatment of wounds and infections including colds and cough is well known. Venoms extracted from bees, wasps and ants are documented to possess anti-cancer properties. These are also used for tuberculosis, flu and cold. The use of maggots for wound healing and reducing infections is also well-known. Many ethnic communities in India use insects in their traditional medicinal practices.
Previous studies have reported entomotherapeutic practices among various ethnic groups in India. Some of these are the Meitei community of Manipur, the people of the Attapadi Hills of Western Ghats, and the Nyishi, Galo, Adi and Wangcho communities of Arunachal Pradesh. In a recent study conducted by a group of Indian scientists, many insect species have been recorded to be used in ethnotherapeutic practices among the Tangkhul, Mao and Poumai communities of Manipur, India. In this study, a large-scale survey was conducted at different villages of Manipur along with a systematic survey of available literature. Based on the primary and secondary data acquired in this study, nine species (seven known and two unidentified) of insects have been reported to be used in traditional medicinal practices of Tangkhul, Mao and Poumai communities.
These tribes use different insect species based on their seasonal availability. Apis mellifera, Apis dorsata and Rhynchophorus species are available during monsoon season. Apis mellifera is also consumed during the winter season. Darthula hardwickii is collected and consumed during the spring season. An unidentified species of Longhorn beetle, Vespa soror and an unidentified species of Pink Oak borer lepidopteran caterpillar are consumed during the autumn season. Tipula sp. is available during the summer season. Different developmental stages of these insects are consumed for different therapeutic purposes. Depending upon the species and usage, adult, nymph, pupa and larva are consumed after boiling, frying, roasting or as soup. Some are crushed to prepare a decoction. These are used to treat cough, cold, body ache, jaundice, etc. Some are believed to speed up recovery after surgery, improve eyesight and increase body strength. This traditional knowledge has been transferred in oral form from one generation to another among these tribes.
Many insect species are known to have therapeutic values and this knowledge mostly comes from ethnic communities. Scientific validation of these species is necessary to conserve such practices for the benefit of society. The human population is increasing exponentially. Disease load is also increasing simultaneously. In such a condition, insects offer a huge resource base for the identification and characterization of different novel entomochemicals with diverse medicinal potentials. Who knows? Insects may prove to be a source of drugs which could treat diseases which are considered untreatable or incurable at present.
For more details, please refer
Devi, W.D., Bonysana, R., Kapesa, K. et al. Ethnotherapeutic practice of entomophagy species by the ethnic community of Tangkhul, Mao and Poumai community of Manipur, NER India. J. Ethn. Food 9, 17 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42779-022-00132-9
Rahul Kumar is one of the Associate Editors of IE. He is presently working as an Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of Zoology, Sheodeni Sao College (Magadh University), Kaler-824127, Arwal, Bihar, India. His current area of research concerns, mimicry among arthropods and the application of nanotechnology in an integrative taxonomy.
He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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