Ethnobotany and diversity of medicinal plants used by the Buyi in eastern Yunnan, China
Yong Xionga,b,1, Xueyi Suic,1, Selena Ahmedd, Zhi Wange, Chunlin Longa,b     
a. College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Minzu University of China, Beijing, 100081, China;
b. Key Laboratory of Ethnomedicine (Minzu University of China), Ministry of Education, Beijing, 100081, China;
c. Tabaco Breeding and Biotechnology Center, Yunnan Academy of Tabaco Agricultural Sciences, Kunming, 650021, China;
d. Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems Program, Department of Health and Human Development, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, 59717, USA;
e. School of Pharmacy, Hunan University of Chinese Medicine, Changsha, 410208, China
Abstract: The Buyi are a socio-linguistic group in Yunnan Province of southwest China that have a long history of using medicinal plants as part of their indigenous medical system. Given the limited written documentation of the Buyi indigenous medical system, the objective of this paper is to document the medicinal plants of the Buyi and associated traditional knowledge and transmission. Field research was conducted in four villages in Lubuge Township of Luoping County in Yunnan Province using ethnobotanical methodologies including participatory observation, semi-structured interviews, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions to elicit information on medicinal plants. In total, 120 informants (including 15 key informants who are healers) were interviewed. This study found that a total of 121 medicinal plant species belonging to 64 families are used by the Buyi including by local healers to treat different diseases. Among the medicinal plants recorded in this study, 56 species (46%) have not previously been documented in the scientific literature as having medicinal value, highlighting the pressing need for ethnobotanical documentation in indigenous communities. The most frequently used medicinal part was the leaf (24.9% of documented plants), and the most common preparation method was decoction (62.8% of medicinal). Medicinal plants were mainly used to treat rheumatism (12.4% of plants), trauma and injuries (9.6%). The documented plants are also used for other non-medicinal purposes including food, fodder, fencing, and ornamental. In addition, 35 of the medicinal plants are considered poisonous and are used by local Buyi healers for medicine. The traditional Buyi beliefs and practices associated with the documented medicinal plants likely contributes to their conservation in the environments and around Buyi communities. This study further highlights that ethnomedicinal knowledge of the Buyi is at risk of disappearing due to increased introduction and use of modern medicine in Buyi communities, livelihood changes, rapid modernization, and urbanization. Research, policy, and community programs are urgently needed to conserve the biocultural diversity associated with the Buyi medical system including ethnobotanical knowledge towards supporting both environmental and human wellbeing.
Keywords: Ethnobotany    Indigenous medical systems    Ethnobotanical knowledge    Buyi    Medicinal plants    
1. Introduction

Plant resources are integral to human societies and have been used by different cultural groups for thousands of years for supporting wellbeing. Numerous cultural groups around the world continue to rely on plants as their primary means of healing and have developed their own medical systems based on unique theories, beliefs, and experiences (WHO, 2012). Indigenous and traditional medical systems are particularly widespread in communities throughout Asia. For example, indigenous and traditional medical systems account for a notable proportion of all healthcare provided in China (Zhu, 2016). Different socio-linguistic groups in China have their own indigenous and traditional medical systems and medicinal plant uses which vary on the basis of geography and associated ecology (Liu et al., 2016).

The Buyi are indigenous inhabitants of southwestern China that have long relied on medicinal plants for disease prevention and treatment as well as overall wellbeing. The Buyi are one of the 55 recognized minority socio-linguistic groups in China and are the 11th most populous with a population of approximately 2.87 million (Population Census Office of Ministry of Population of China, 2010). The ancestors of the Buyi traditionally lived around the regions of the Nanpan, Beipan, and Hongshui Rivers. The association of the Buyi with rivers and mountain regions has shaped their current living habits. For instance, the typical Buyi village is usually located in a mountainous area with a river nearby (Yu and Guo, 2018). The typical architectural style of the Buyi, called "gan lan" (stilt style), is designed with double floors with only the top floor for living for the purpose of avoiding moisture from nearby rivers, dangerous animals, and poisonous insects. The Buyi have had to overcome many natural challenges in order to survive in their surroundings of high-altitude mountains and humid river valleys. Over time, the Buyi have accumulated a large amount of indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants in their surroundings, which has helped to ensure their survival and the thriving of their communities. The Buyi ethnomedicinal system is comprised of unique theories and diagnostic methods, which are distinct from traditional Chinese medicine, Western medicine, and other ethnomedicinal systems (Liu and Xue, 2012).

The Buyi speak their own indigenous language, which belongs to the branch of Zhuang language family (Zhou, 2009). Their current written language was created in the 1950s as a combination of Latin and Pinyin systems (Zhou, 2009). The Buyi originated from one of the branches of the "bai yue" group, referred to as "luo yue" in China. The earliest literature regarding the Buyi dates back to the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). Since then, their name has been changed several times across different dynasties, including "pu yue", "liao", and "fan man". The word "bu yi" was recorded in Chinese phonetically with "Bu" meaning 'people' or 'linguistic group'. The Buyi people address themselves as "Yi" in a manner of respect (Editorial Committee of the Brief History of the Buyi People, 2008). The Buyi are mainly distributed in southwest China, including in Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan provinces. More than 98% of the total population of Buyi people reside in Qiannan and Qianxinan prefectures of Guizhou Province. The remaining Buyi population is scattered in Luoping and Maguan counties of Yunnan, and in Ningnan County of Sichuan (Wang and Shang, 2009).

Several records about the medicinal plants used by the Buyi people have been compiled including the Checklist of Medicinal Herbs of Guizhou (Guizhou Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1988), Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae (Editorial Committee of Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae, 2004), Buyi Medicine, and the Utilization of Buyi Medicinal Herbs of the Buyi People Inhabited Letters (Jia and Li, 2005). Furthermore, research has been carried out in several Buyi communities in Guizhou Province on the use of medicinal resources and documented 252 plants, 26 animals, and 11 minerals used for medicinal purposes (Pan et al., 2003). However, there remains limited documentation of the ethnobotany of Buyi medicinal plants in Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces. As Buyi healers have traditionally collected medicinal plants from their surrounding fields, it is hypothesized that the medicinal plants and composition of medicinal plant prescriptions used by the Buyi in Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces differ significantly from those used in Guizhou Province due to variation in geography and certain cultural attributes.

The Buyi population in Luoping County of Yunnan Province is mainly concentrated in the Lubuge Buyi and Miao Autonomous Townships in a remote mountainous area with limited transportation, a distinct language, and extreme topographic variation. Consequently, the vegetation in and around Buyi communities in Yunnan is well preserved with high species diversity and a well forest coverage. The indigenous cultural practices of the Buyi are also well preserved in the remote communities in Luoping County.

Multicultural activities with other groups living around Buyi communities including the Miao, Yi, Bai, Hui, and Zhuang (Ju et al., 2013) are hypothesized to results in unique medical theories and medicinal plant uses by the Buyi communities living in Yunnan Province compared to those living in different geographic areas. Our previous ethnobotany studies indicate that the medicinal systems of the various indigenous people of Yunnan are vanishing due to habitat loss, influence from mainstream Chinese culture, development, and unsustainable resource utilization (Muthu et al., 2006; Li et al., 2006). Ethnobotanical research is urgently needed to investigate and document the medicinal system of Buyi communities in Yunnan Province in order to inform conservation efforts of biocultural diversity towards supporting both environmental and human wellbeing.

2. Material and methods 2.1. Buyi traditional culture

In general, one should be highly respected by the local people before becoming a healer in a Buyi community. For many local Buyi healers, them do not ask for much money or goods from patients when they diagnose their patients' diseases. The local Buyi healers do not buy medicinal materials from markets or pharmacy stores. Instead, they will go to the natural habitats to collect any medicinal materials they require for their practice. They prescribe medicinal recipes to patients as a gift, and they continue taking care of patients until they recover. If the patients' health conditions continue getting worse, the healers will change their medicinal recipes (Cui and Tang, 2007).

The Buyi local healers believe in the "Jing, Qi and Xue", three elements in Buyi ethnomedicine, which are a basic conceptual framework of the human body. When malfunction happens in these three elements, a patient's body will get an illness. Additionally, they also believe that a human's life is determined by the surrounding environmental conditions. If the environment has been damaged, one's life will also been negatively impacted. The above-mentioned theories have been used as basic framework for treatment disease and medicinal prescribing.

During the long process of human–nature interactions, the Buyi people not only accumulated abundant traditional knowledge for the utilization and protection of the natural environment and its resources, but also they have established an environmentally friendly network, which is closely connected with animals and plants, geographic conditions, and local climates. These traditional cultural beliefs are rooted in their religious beliefs, routine practices, ritual rules, and social regulations.

Simultaneously, the local ecological environment has also been influenced directly or indirectly by the Buyi people's traditional lifestyle, religious belief, and taboo. Here are two aspects:

(1) The richness and diversity of plants and animals might be broadly utilized in the traditional manufacturing process, such as textile, batik, brocade, embroidery, bamboo weaving, and carving.

(2) Buyi traditional customs and taboos call for more people to understand local biological resources and protect natural resources, so as to ultimately protect the composition, structure, and function of the ecosystem, stabilize the energy flow and material circulation, and improve the overall ecological function in terms of religious belief and worship.

The living condition of Buyi village is characterized by the surrounded mountains and rivers. Also, the Buyi village is also surrounded by towering ancient trees. Where there is a sacred tree, there is a mountain god. The Buyi people believe that the sacred tree cannot be cut down or destroyed at any time, otherwise disaster will occur. Therefore, the tree will survive and thrive for a long time.

2.2. Study area

Luoping County is located in Qujing Prefecture of Eastern Yunnan province in China at 103°57′-104°43′ E and 24°31′-25°25′ N, at the junction of Guizhou, Guangxi, and Yunnan provinces (Fig. 1). Altitudes in Luoping County range from 772 to 2468 m above sea level. Luoping is characterized by year-round precipitation, being located within one of the highest rainfall areas in Yunnan Province. Its climate is mainly dominated by plateau monsoon, with a mean annual temperature of 15.1 ℃, mean annual rainfall 1743.9 mm, and annual average relative humidity 85%. There are several rivers in this region, including the Duoyi, Kuaize, Huangni and Nanpan Rivers. Two townships (Lubuge and Changdi) in this county are dominated by the Buyi people (Editorial Committee of Luoping County Annals, Luoping County Annals Assembly, 2014).

Fig. 1 Sketch map of study site.

Based on our prior studies and field investigations, Lubuge Township is an cultural hotspot of Buyi people in Yunnan Province due to its well-preserved traditional practices and beliefs. For example, the Buyi people of this region still wear clothing linked to their cultural identity. Previous studies of the Buyi in Yunnan have mainly focused on the morals, ethics, culture, religion, literature, arts and economic development of this region (Zhu and Wang, 2008; Gao, 2001). However, there is a lack of detailed information concerning the use of medicinal plants by the Buyi of Yunnan. The objective of this study is to document medicinal plants used to prevent and treat diseases by Buyi communities in Luoping County as well as traditional methods of preparation based on the Buyi medicinal system.

2.3. Methods

Ethnobotanical research was conducted in four Buyi rural communities (Duoyi, Muna, Bantai and Badahe) in Lubuge Township of Yunnan Province between 2015 and 2017. We carried our semi-structured interviews with Buyi households and Buyi healers who served as key informants. In addition, we carried out community walks and plant collections. The interviews asked informants about their use of medicinal plans and consisted of the following questions adapted from previous ethnobotanical studies in the regions (Liu et al., 2014; Wang, 2014): (1) What plants in your community have been traditionally used for medicines? (2) Who in your household and community uses medicinal plants? (3) What season/time of the year do you collect medicinal plants? (4) How are each of these medicinal plants collected? (5) Where do medicinal plants grow in your community and surroundings? (6) How are medicinal plants processed and prepared for treating human and animal ailments? and (7) How do the Buyi people preserve medical technologies and associated cultural practices and traditional knowledge?

Fifteen healers from four villages were chosen as key informants. Another 105 informants were interviewed to gather information about local herbal medicinal knowledge, including experienced villagers, local healers, and herbal vendors. Information was recorded regarding the local names, medicinal parts, preparations, functional attributed, perceived toxicity levels, and other uses by Buyi informants. Voucher specimens of all documented plants through interviews were collected through community walks with Buyi healers and were examined to determine the species and botanical family using the Flora of China and the Subject Database of China Plant and Medicinal Plants of Yunnan Province (Jin, 2012;; Wan, 2016). The voucher specimens were then deposited in the Herbarium at Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KUN).

Findings were analyzed to tabulate the total number of medicinal plants belonging to different botanical families as well as the number of plants used to treat and prevent specific health conditions.

2.4. Data analysis

The data collected of medicinal plants in study area were collated into an inventory listing all the medicinal plants and related information. The use-value (UV) of each medicinal plant was calculated to evaluate the relative importance of each plant based on the number of times cited and the number of informants. The formula for UV is

Ui is the number of times cited by each informant for a certain medicinal plant, while N is the total number of informants (Sujarwo and Caneva, 2016).

3. Results 3.1. Buyi medicinal plants

A total of 121 botanical species were reported for medicinal purposes by the Buyi informants belonging to 64 families (Table 1). The first written documentation of the medicinal uses of these plants; specifically, 56 species were recorded for the first time in this study as medicinal plants (labeled with an asterisk in Table 1). The majority of documented medicinal plants have distinct local names in the Buyi language (labeled with a triangle mark in Table 1) while some are identified by their Mandarin names.

Table 1 List of ethnomedicinal plants commonly used by the Buyi people in eastern Yunnan.
Voucher number Scientific name Family name Local name Part used Preparation UV Medicinal uses Poisonous tissue Additional local uses
LBG097a Achyranthes longifolia M. Amaranthaceae Hong niu xi Whole plant Decoction 0.43 Anaemia
LBG018a Acmella calva (DC.) R.K.Jansen Compositae Jin niu kou Flower Soak in alcohol 0.37 Toothache, dental caries
LBGB001 Acorus calamus L. Acoraceae Guo cang pu Whole plant Crush and poultice 0.44 Inflammation of lymph Root Ornamental plant at dragon boat festival
LBG092a Justicia adhatoda L. Acanthaceae Guo zuan Stem, leaf, flower Crush and poultice 0.12 Inflammation
LBG047 Agrimonia pilosa Ledeb. Rosaceae Na gang Leaf Decoction 0.41 Hepatitis, nasosinusitis
LBG075 Ajuga decumbens Thunb. Labiatae Nia zi mu guai Whole plant Crush and poultice 0.23 Injuries from falls
LBG011a Alocasia cucullata (Lour.) G.Don Araceae Bi shi lin Rhizome, stem, leaf Decoction 0.30 Gastroenteropathy, stomachache Whole Ornamental plant
LBG010a Alsophila spinulosa (Wall. ex Hook.) R. Cyatheaceae Long gu feng Stem, leaf Decoction 0.45 Injuries from falls, rheumatism, epilepsy Whole Landscape plan
LBG032a Alstonia scholaris (L.) R. Br. Apocynaceae Ba zhua jin long Stem, leaf Decoction 0.14 Hemostasis, acesodyne Leaf and bark Latex for the raw materials of chewing gum
LBG015 Alstonia yunnanensis Diels. Apocynaceae San bai bang Leaf Crush and poultice 0.41 Fracture, ostealgia, injuries from falls Leaf
LBG014a Angiopteris sp. Angiopteridaceae Gu li wai Rhizome Decoction 0.24 Rheumatism, epilepsy
LBG056a Ardisia mamillata Hance. Myrsinaceae Mao qing gang Whole plant Decoction 0.45 Rheumatism, ostealgia, injuries from falls
LBGB002 Artemisia carvifolia Buch.-Ham. ex Roxb. Compositae Ya ai Leaf Decoction, fume 0.45 Inflammation
LBG112 Artemisia argyi H.Lév. & Vaniot Compositae Bai hao Stem, leaf Crush and poultice 0.44 Nose bleeding, traumatic injury, wound Ornamental plant at dragon boat festival
LBG012a Asplenium antiquum Makino Aspleniaceae Ming rong ruo Leaf Crush and poultice 0.23 Rheumatism
LBG079a Basella rubra L. Basellaceae Teng qi Vine, leaf Decoction, broth 0.35 Anaemia Fruit juice as a harmless food colorants
LBG108 Boehmeria nivea (L.) Gaudich. Urticaceae Da huo ma Stem, leaf Crush and poultice, soak in alcohol 0.49 Rheumatism Fiber crops
LBGB003 Boehmeria siamensis Craib. Urticaceae Ge ju lw Bark, leaf Crush and poultice 0.27 Fracture, ostealgia, injuries from falls
LBGB004 Bougainvillea glabra Choisy Nyctaginaceae Luo lin Root Crush and poultice 0.25 Detumescence, hemostasis Ornamental plant
LBG004a Bryophyllum pinnatum (Lam.) Oken Crassulaceae Luo di sheng gen Stem, leaf Decoction 0.17 Detumescence, burn Ornamental plant
LBG029a Buddleja officinalis Maxim. Loganiaceae Lu ya Stem, leaf, flower Decoction 0.26 Icteric hepatitis Root, leaf Yellow dyestuffs
LBG090 Bulbophyllum odoratissimum (Sm.) Lindl. ex Wall. Orchidaceae Guo sang ye Whole plant Decoction, crush and poultice 0.16 Pneumonia, pulmonary tuberculosis, fracture Ornamental plant
LBG078a Callicarpa arborea Roxb. Verbenaceae Mang zi Stem, leaf Crush and poultice 0.28 Inflammation, hemostasis Landscape plant
LBG087a Callicarpa bodinieri H.Lév. Verbenaceae Jie gu dan Whole plant Crush and poultice 0.25 Fracture Landscape plant
LBG101a Campylandra wattii C.B.Clarke. Liliaceae Wan nian zhu Stem Crush and poultice, soak in alcohol 0.32 Hemorrhoids Ornamental plant
LBGB005 Canna indica L. Cannaceae Ya yai Root Crush and decoction 0.21 Gynecologic diseases Ornamental plant
LBG074 Carthamus tinctorius L. Compositae Hong hua Flower Crush and decoction 0.40 Overwork, hemostasis Edible oil
LBG065 Centella asiatica (L.) Urb. Umbelliferae Gai liang Whole plant Decoction 0.38 Jaundice, hepatitis
LBG058 Chloranthus holostegius (Hand.-Mazz.) C.Pei & San Chloranthaceae Si kuai wa Whole plant Decoction 0.42 Injuries from falls, overwork, rheumatism, pediatric fever Whole
LBG021a Chonemorpha megacalyx Pierre ex Spire Apocynaceae Yin si du zhong Bark Decoction, broth 0.15 Nephropathy Hairs
LBGB006 Cinnamomum glanduliferum (Wall.) Meisn. Lauraceae Mai shang Fruit Crush and decoction 0.41 Fever Camphor Repellent
LBGB007 Cirsium japonicum (Thunb.) Fisch. ex DC. Compositae Guo ai Root Crush and decoction 0.19 Injuries from falls
LBG052a Clerodendrum yunnanense Hu. Verbenaceae Chou mu dan Root, leaf Decoction 0.47 Rheumatism, sore on waist and leg
LBGB008 Crotalaria sessiliflora L. Liliaceae Na jio Whole plant Decoction 0.22 Pediatric diseases Seed
LBG114a Cudrania tricuspidata (Carrière) Bureau ex Lavallée Moraceae Lao shui ci Stem, leaf Decoction 0.26 Icteric hepatitis Yellow dyestuff
LBG002 Cycas revoluta Thunb. Cycadaceae Bi sang Whole plant Decoction 0.15 Gastritis, gastrorrhagia, large intestine bleeding Seed Edible starch of stems and landscape plant
LBG062 Cynanchum auriculatum Royle ex Wight Asclepiadaceae Ge shan xiao Earthnut Decoction 0.43 Gastrosis Root
LBG104a Dendrobium loddigesii Rolfe. Orchidaceae Huang cao Whole plant Decoction 0.14 Legs paralysis, bedridden Ornamental plant
LBGB009 Dichondra micrantha Urb. Convolvulaceae Ting ma Whole plant Decoction 0.45 Fracture, ostealgia, injuries from falls Ornamental plant
LBG008a Dichrocephala integrifolia (L.f.) Kuntze. Compositae N/A Whole plant Decoction 0.21 Pulmonary tuberculosis Whole
LBG098a Dicliptera chinensis (L.) Juss. Acanthaceae Guo jiang Whole plant Decoction 0.19 Cholecystitis
LBG095a Diuranthera major Hemsl. Liliaceae Xiao huang qi Root, flower Decoction 0.15 Gynaecopathia, icteric hepatitis Ornamental plant
LBG006 Duchesnea indica (Jacks.) Focke. Rosaceae Gao ma Stem, leaf Crush and poultice 0.22 Snakebite Whole Ornamental plant
LBG066a Eclipta prostrata (L.) L. Compositae Han lian cao Stem, leaf, flower Decoction 0.15 Hepatitis
LBGB010 Eriobotrya japonica (Thunb.) Lindl. Rosaceae Pipa Fruit Eat 0.43 Lung disease Seed and leaf Fruit
LBG044 Eucommia ulmoides Oliv. Eucommiaceae Gao wang ma Stem Decoction 0.35 Nephritis
LBG026a Euonymus yunnanensis Franch. Celastraceae Jin si du zhong Stem Decoction 0.21 Injuries from falls, rheumatism, wound Whole
LUGB011 Euphorbia helioscopia L. Euphorbiaceae Guo ya Whole plant Decoction 0.14 Stomach, intestine disease Whole
LBG024a Flemingia macrophylla (Willd.) Merr. Papilionaceae Guo bu a Root Crush and poultice 0.31 Traumatic injury
LBGB012 Foeniculum vulgare Mill. Umbelliferae Ya wan Whole plant Decoction 0.44 Stomach, intestine disease Vegetables and seasoning
LBG069 Gardenia jasminoides J.Ellis. Rubiaceae Zhi zi Fruit Decoction 0.25 Icteric hepatitis Ornamental plant and dyestuffs
LBG072 Gentiana rigescens Franch. ex Hemsl. Gentianaceae Long dan Whole plant Decoction 0, 37 Inflammation, liver trouble, stomatitis
LBG096 Glechoma longituba (Nakai) Kuprian. Labiatae Ba ge nu nang Stem, leaf Decoction 0.41 Pediatric fever, overwork, strain, fracture
LBG055a Hedera helix L. Araliaceae San gu feng Vine, leaf Medicine bath 0.14 Skin disinfection Berry Landscape plant
LBG111 Hedera nepalensis K.Koch. Araliaceae San gu feng lin Vine, leaf Decoction 0.57 Furuncle on foot, eliminating naevi Landscape plant
LBGB013 Hibiscus syriacus L. Malvaceae Guo mu jin Flower Decoction 0.39 Stomach, intestine disease Landscape plant
LBG053 Houttuynia cordata Thunb. Saururaceae Bie lan Root Decoction 0.44 Duresis Whole Vegetables and seasoning
LBG071a Hypericum japonicum Thunb. Hypericaceae Tian ji huang Stem Decoction 0.23 Hepatitis
LBGB014 Iris tectorum Maxim. Iridaceae Ya yan hua Rhizome Crush and poultice 0.41 Injuries from falls, rheumatism, wound Stem and root Ornamental plant
LBGB015 Juncus effusus L. Juncaceae Guo tang Stem Decoction 0.31 Urethral problems
LBG078 Leonurus japonicus Houtt. Labiatae Guo gang leng Whole plant Decoction 0.51 Gynaecopathia Seed
LBG115 Lepisorus sp. Polypodiaceae Piao dai cao Whole plant Decoction 0.32 Sore throat
LBG081a Ligularia hodgsonii Hook. Compositae Gong ai ao Whole plant Boil and poultice 0.12 Pruritus
LBG067 Liquidambar formosana Hance. Hamamelidaceae Geng xiang (lu lu tong) Leaf, fruit Crush and poultice, decoction 0.62 Rheumatism Black dyestuff and construction
LBG070 Lonicera japonica Thunb. Caprifoliaceae Jin yin hua Stem, leaf Decoction 0.43 Influenza, tonsillite
LBG073a Loranthus sp. Loranthaceae Ma sang ji sheng Stem, leaf Decoction 0.36 Ischialgia, paralysis, injuries from falls
LBG025 Lygodium japonicum (Thunb.) Sw. Lygodiaceae Gu gou Whole plant Decoction, broth 0.42 Lithangiuria, diabetes
LBG118 Mahonia bealei (Fortune) Pynaert. Berberidaceae N/A Whole plant Decoction, broth 0.43 Ulcer furunculosis, hot eyes Landscape plant
LBG120a Mahonia fortunei (Lindl.) Fedde Berberidaceae N/A Whole plant Decoction 0.43 Inflammation, jaundice, hot eyes Landscape plant
LBG023a Marsdenia tenacissima (Roxb.) Moon Asclepiadaceae Gao dou sha Root Decoction 0.27 Lung heat, phthisic, pulmonary tuberculosis, antineoplastic
LBG051a Momordica charantia L. Curcurbitaceae Gao ma la gang mu Vine, leaf Decoction 0.39 Hepatitis, nasosinusitis Vegetable
LBGB016 Morus alba L. Moraceae Mai sang Fruit, leaf Eat, decoction 0.35 Common cold Fruit
LBG057 Munronia pinnata (Wall.) W.Theob. Meliaceae Ai tuo tuo Whole plant Decoction 0.51 Overwork, rheumatism Whole
LBG028a Myrica esculenta Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don. Myricaceae Hai pei lei Bark Decoction 0.22 Chronic enteritis Fruit
LBGB017 Nandina domestica Thunb. Berberidaceae Guo bei ling Root Crush and decoction 0.32 Inflammation, inflammation of lymph Fruit Landscaped plant
LBG091a Oberonia cavaleriei Finet. Orchidaceae Mou lang Whole plant Decoction crush and poultice 0.41 Traumatic injury, bleeding, fracture, gonorrhea
LBG059a Oenanthe javanica (Blume) DC. Umbelliferae Bai hua cao Whole plant Decoction 0.36 Rheumatism, gynaecopathia Vegetable
LBG045 Oroxylum indicum (L.) Kurz Bignoniaceae Wan mei long gua Fruit Decoction 0.40 Hepatitis, nasosinusitis
LBG088 Oxalis corniculata L. Oxalidaceae Suan jiang cao Whole plant Crush and poultice 0.26 Fracture, overwork, snakebite Whole Ornamental plant
LBG060a Paederia scandens (Lour.) Merr. Rubiaceae Niu jin teng Vine, leaf Decoction 0.52 Rheumatism Whole
LBG068a Panax notoginseng (Burkill) F.H.Chen Araliaceae San qi Rhizome Decoction 0.43 Blood circulation, injuries from falls
LBGB022 Peristrophe japonica (Thunb.) Bremek. Acanthaceae Guo yue Stem, leaf Decoction 0.13 Inflammation, hemostasis, Gynecologic diseases Red dyestuff
LBG038 Pinus yunnanensis Franch. Pinaceae Da jie Stem Decoction 0.44 Rheumatism, injuries from falls Construction
LBG013 Plantago major L. Plantaginaceae Guo po sheng Whole plant Decoction 0.43 Nasosinusitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, nephritis
LBGB018 Platycodon grandiflorus (Jacq.) A.DC. Campanulaceae Jie geng Root Decoction 0.42 Lung disease
LBG049a Pollia miranda (H.Lév.) H.Hara. Commelinaceae N/A Stem, leaf Decoction 0.18 Inflammation
LBG019a Polygonatum kingianum Collett & Hemsl. Liliaceae Guo dao ji Rhizome Decoction, broth 0.41 Swirl, dizzy
LBG061a Polygonum capitatum Buch.-Ham. ex D.Don Polygonaceae Ba gu yan Whole plant Decoction 0.24 Analgesic
LBG121 Fallopia multiflora (Thunb.) Harald. Polygonaceae He shou wu Earthnut Decoction 0.42 Hepatitis, anaemia
LBG080 Portulaca oleracea L. Portulacaceae Gao mao du Stem, leaf Decoction 0.38 Malnutrition, indigestion syndrome Vegetable
LBG005a Potentilla lineata Trevir. Rosaceae Fan bai ye Whole plant Decoction 0.28 Gastroenteritis, gastrorrhagia, bloody flux, dysentery
LBG063a Lobelia angulata G.Forst. Campanulaceae Bi ye ya mu Whole plant Decoction 0.25 Rheumatism, traumatic injury
LBG022 Prunella vulgaris L. Labiatae Xia ku cao Whole plant, leaf Burn into ash 0.39 Nasosinusitis
LBG003 Pteris cretica L. Pteridaceae Feng wei cao Stem, leaf Decoction 0.22 Cholecystitis
LBG020 Reineckea carnea (Andrews) Kunth Liliaceae Fen mei wai fing Leaf Crush and poultice, soak in alcohol 0.42 Fracture, rheumatism, injuries from falls Ornamental plant
LBGB021 Reynoutria japonica Houtt. Polygonaceae Guo xie ling Stem, leaf Crush and poultice 0.26 Fracture, rheumatism, injuries from falls
LBG048a Rhaphidophora decursiva (Roxb.) Schott Araceae Guo shan long Vine, leaf Decoction 0.32 Gastritis, gastrorrhagia, large intestine bleeding
LBG001 Rumex nepalensis Spreng. Polygonaceae Da huang Whole plant Decoction 0, 17 Inflammation, detumescence, diminish sore
LBG104 Sabia parviflora Wall. Sabiaceae Ya xi qiang Whole plant Decoction 0.43 Hepatitis, icteric hepatitis Tea
LBG035 Sargentodoxa cuneata (Oliv.) Rehder & E.H.Wilson Sargentodoxaceae Gao lu (gao zai) Root, stem, leaf Decoction 0.58 Rheumatism, injuries from falls Cane substitute
LBG064 Schefflera venulosa (Wight & Arn.) Harms Araliaceae Mai dang du Stem, leaf Decoction 0.53 Hemostasis, acesodyne, fracture, rheumatism
LBG039 Schisandra propinqua (Wall.) Baill. Schisandraceae Gao yi nou Vine Decoction, soak in alcohol, broth 0.61 Tonic
LBG082 Senecio scandens Buch.-Ham. ex D.Don Compositae Xiao gan yao Whole plant Decoction 0.41 Gastric diseases Whole
LBG054a Sinomenium acutum (Thunb.) Rehder & E.H.Wilson Menispermaceae Ge bou Vine Decoction 0.55 Rheumatism Stem and root
LBG083a Smilax china L. Smilacaceae Jin gang ci Rhizome Decoction 0.21 Nephropathy, overwork Edible starch from root, fence and vines.
LBG085a Smilax glabra Roxb. Smilacaceae Tu fu ling Rhizome Decoction; soak in alcohol 0.19 Injuries, nephropathy, overwork, smallpox
LBG116a Smilax sp. Smilacaceae Jin gang teng Rhizome Decoction 0.48 Eczema, Rheumatism, detoxifying, detumescence
LBG089a Solanum indicum L. Solanaceae Huang la guo Root, fruit, seed Decoction, fume 0.53 Rheumatism, dental caries Whole
LBG007 Solanum nigrum L. Solanaceae Ma ding Fruit Crush and poultice 0.42 Furuncle on foot, eliminating naevi Immature fruit Young leaves for vegetable, mature fruit edible.
LBG017 Stephania delavayi Diels. Menispermaceae Ri mu dui Earthnut Crushed and poultice, decoction 0.54 Rheumatism, stomachache, gastroduodenal ulcer
LBG016a Tacca chantrieri André Taccaceae Wang le xiang Stem Crush and poultice 0.14 Skin infection, detumescence Whole
LBGB019 Taraxacum mongolicum Hand.-Mazz. Compositae Luo ai Whole plant Decoction 0.41 Inflammation, inflammation of lymph Vegetable
LBG036a Tetrastigma sichouense C.L. Li. Vitaceae Na gao le Root Decoction 0.45 Rheumatism, gastropathy
LBGB020 Toricellia tiliifolia DC. Cornaceae Guo qiang ling Leaf Crush and poultice 0.43 Fracture
LBG041 Uncaria macrophylla Wall. Rubiaceae Gou wou nou Vine Decoction 0.51 Hepatitis, acute icteric hepatitis Stem
LBG040 Uncaria scandens (Sm.) Hutch. Rubiaceae Wou nou Vine Decoction 0.13 Rheumatism, injuries from falls
LBG109a Urtica fissa E. Pritz. Urticaceae Huo ma Shoot Decoction 0.62 Rheumatism, digestive disease Whole
LBG009 Verbena officinalis L. Verbenaceae Nia muen Whole plant Decoction 0.42 Cholecystitis, icteric hepatitis, hepatitis, pruritus Whole
LBG027 Woodwardia japonica (L. f.) Sm. Blechnaceae Guan zhong Root Decoction 0.25 SARS, cephalomeningitis
LBG046a Xanthium strumarium L. Compositae Wa gou ma Fruit Decoction 0.43 Hepatitis, nasosinusitis Seed
LBG037a Zanthoxylum nitidum (Roxb.) DC. Rutaceae Liang mian zhen Root Decoction 0.48 Chronic enteritis Whole
Notes: Names were pronounced the same as Mandarin Chinese.
a 56 species had medicinal values for the first time recorded from this study.

Among the 64 botanical families documented in this study, the Compositae was the most prevalent family with 10 species followed by the Polygonaceae, Araliaceae, Rubiaceae, Verbenaceae, Labiatae and Liliaceae (with 4 species each). Families with 3 species include Rosaceae, Apocynaceae, Smilacaceae, and Orchidaceae. Families with 2 species include Berberidaceae, Menispermaceae, Urticaceae, Umbelliferae, Asclepiadaceae, Solanaceae, Acanthaceae, and Araceae.

The most commonly reported medicinal plants include the following: Sargentodoxa cuneata (Lardizabalaceae), Uncaria scandens (Rubiaceae), Paederia scandens (Rubiaceae), Sinomenium acutium (Menispermaceae), Stephania delavayi (Menispermaceae), Hedera nepalensis (Araliaceae), Schefflera venulosa (Araliaceae), Munronia pinnata (Meliaceae), Munronia henryi (Meliaceae), Schisandra propinqua (Schisandraceae), Uncaria macrophylla (Rubiaceae), Zanthoxylum nitidum (Rubiaceae), Ardisia mamillata (Primulaceae), Alsophila spinulosa (Cyatheaceae), Smilax sp. (Smilacaceae), Liquidambar formosana (Altingiaceae), Clerodendrum yunnanense (Verbenaceae), Tetrastigma sichouense (Vitaceae), Boehmeria nivea (Urticaceae), Solanum indicum (Solanaceae), Pinus yunnanensis (Pinaceae).

3.2. Plant parts and types of preparation

The plant parts used for medicinal purposes of the documented medicinal plants of the Buyi medical system are listed in Table 2. Leaves (23.72%) and whole plants (23.72%) were the most frequently used parts, followed by stems (17.95%) and roots (11.54%). Other parts that are less prevalent include the vine (6.41%), rhizome (4.49%) and fruit (5.11%).

Table 2 Plant parts used.
Plant part Species number of uses Percent (%)
Leaf 37 23.72
Whole plant 37 23.72
Stem 28 17.95
Root 18 11.54
Vine 10 6.41
Rhizome 7 4.49
Flower 4 2.56
Fruit 8 5.13
Earthnut 3 1.92
Bark 2 1.28
Seed 1 0.64
Shoot 1 0.64
Total 156 100

The most common method of preparing the medicinal plants is using the decoction method (62.8%), followed by crushing the plant material for making a poultice (23.1%), broth (4.1%), soaking in alcohol (2.5%). Some species were used with other natural materials, such as the preparation of tonics made of medicinal plants combined with brown sugar, grains, chicken, pork and other materials.

3.3. Medicinal plant uses

The documented plants in this study are used for a wide range of health conditions (Table 3) by Buyi communities. A total of 40 health conditions were reported for the documented medicinal plants used by the Buyi. The most prevalent uses of the medicinal plants were for rheumatism (12.4%), trauma and injuries (9.6%), detoxification (5.7%), inflammation (5.1%), gynecological diseases (4.0%), tonics for overall health (2.8%), and pediatric diseases (1.7%).

Table 3 Diseases treated with herbal medicinal plants in Luoping County.
Diseases Number of citation Percent (%)
Rheumatism 22 12.4
Trauma and injuries 17 9.6
Liver diseases 15 8.4
Intoxication 10 5.7
Inflammation 9 5.1
Analgesic 8 4.5
Fracture 7 4
Gastric diseases 7 4
Overwork 6 3.3
Nose ailments 6 3.3
Renal ailments 5 2.8
Skin diseases 5 2.8
Intestinal diseases 5 2.8
Respiratory system 5 2.8
Tonic 5 2.8
Hemostatic 5 2.8
Gynecologic diseases 4 2.3
Pediatric diseases 4 2.3
Cholecystic diseases 3 1.7
Parasitic diseases 2 1.1
Mental diseases 2 1.1
Invigoration 2 1.1
Anemia 2 1.1
Snakebite 2 1.1
Tooth ailments 2 1.1
Foot diseases 2 1.1
Freckle ailments 2 1.1
Calculous diseases 1 0.6
Diabetes 1 0.6
Cephalomeningitis 1 0.6
Urethral ailments 1 0.6
Physical weakness 1 0.6
Common cold 1 0.6
Burn 1 0.6
Neoplasm 1 0.6
Dizzy problems 1 0.6
Haemorrhoids 1 0.6
Infertile ailments 1 0.6
Smallpox 1 0.6
Gonorrhea 1 0.6
Total 177 100

The most prevalent plants reported for treatment of rheumatism were Alsophila spinulosa (Cyatheaceae), Ardisia mamillata (Myrsinaceae), Angiopteris sp. (Marattiaceae), Asplenium antiquum (Aspleniaceae), Boehmeria nivea (Urticaceae), Chloranthus holostegius (Chloranthaceae), Clerodendrum yunnanense (Verbenaceae), Euonymus yunnanensis (Celastraceae), Iris tectorum (Iridaceae), Liquidambar formosana (Altingiaceae), Munronia henryi (Meliaceae), Oenanthe javanica (Apiaceae), Paederia scandens (Rubiaceae), Pinus yunnanensis (Pinaceae), Reineckea carnea (Asparagaceae), Reynoutria japonica (Polygonaceae), Sargentodoxa cuneata (Lardizabalaceae), Schefflera venulosa (Araliaceae), Sinomenium acutum (Menispermaceae), Smilax glabra (Smilacaceae), Solanum indicum (Solanaceae), Stephania delavayi (Menispermaceae), Tetrastigma sichouense (Vitaceae), and Uncaria scandens (Rubiaceae).

Another important medicinal plant category for the Buyi is trauma and injuries. The surveyed Buyi communities have notable knowledge about the use of medicinal plants for physical trauma and injuries given the nature of farming activities that may cause body injuries and sores. The prevalent medicinal plants reported for used for physical trauma and injuries were Chloranthus holostegius (Chloranthaceae), Smilax glabra (Smilacaceae), Reineckea carnea (Asparagaceae), Glechoma longituba (Lamiaceae), Oxalis corniculata (Oxalidaceae), Sargentodoxa cuneata (Lardizabalaceae), Alstonia yunnanensis (Apocynaceae), Oberonia myosurus (Orchidaceae), Bulbophyllum odoratissimum (Orchidaceae), Callicarpa bodinieri (Lamiaceae), Uncaria scandens (Rubiaceae), Pinus yunnanensis (Pinaceae), Alsophila spinulosa (Cyatheaceae), Evonymus yunnanensis (Polyporaceae), Schefflera venulosa (Araliaceae), Panax notoginseng (Araliaceae), Schisandra propinqua (Schisandraceae), Zanthoxylum nitidum (Rutaceae) and Ardisia mamillata (Myrsinaceae).

The interviews revealed that medicinal plants used for detoxification and inflammation have extensive definitions and usages. Plants used for detoxification and treating inflammation are primarily for reducing inflammation in the liver, gallbladder, lung, kidney, head and nose. Medicinal plants that were reported for treating inflammation linked to liver ailments were Momordica charantia (Cucurbitaceae), Hypericum japonicum (Hypericaceae), Xanthium sibiricum (Asteraceae), Eclipta prostrate (Asteraceae), Bulbophyllum odoratissimum (Orchidaceae), Polygonum multiflorum (Polygonaceae), Polygonum cuspidatum (Polygonaceae), Verbena officinalis (Verbenaceae), Uncaria macrophylla (Rubiaceae), Gardenia jasminoides (Rubiaceae), Agrimonia pilosa (Rosaceae), Sabia parviflora (Sabiaceae), Cudrania tricuspidata (Moraceae), and Oroxylum indicum (Bignoniaceae).

Other prevalent medicinal plant uses noted were the fruits of Tetradium ruticarpum to treat stomachache, leaf of Solanum spirale to treat skin diseases, and the root of Begonia grandis subsp. sinensis to treat burns. Although only a few species were reported for treatment of gynecological diseases, the informants highlighted that these species are considered very important for women. Four of these important plants used for are gynecological conditions are Diuranthera major (Asparagaceae), Leonurus japonicas (Lamiaceae), O. javanica (Apiaceae), and Marsdenia tenacissima (Apocynaceae).

Several medicinal plants used for overall health tonics were cooked with meats, including pork and chicken, which were viewed as improving the medicinal effect. These plants were Polygonatum kingianum (Asparagaceae), Basella rubra (Basellaceae), Urtica fissa (Urticaceae), and Achyranthes longifolia (Amaranthaceae).

Plants for treatment pediatric diseases had a low proportion among the total medicinal plants; however, while only several plants are used by the Buyi for medicinal purposes, they were reported as being very important. Pediatric malnutrition and indigestion are treated in Buyi communities by G. longituba (Lamiaceae), Senecio scandens (Asteraceae), Metaplexis japonica (Apocynaceae), Portulaca oleracea (Portulacaceae). Hedera helix (Araliaceae) is used for skin-detoxification for newly born infants.

3.4. Poisonous species

As displayed in Table 1, almost one third (28%) of the reported medicinal plants (35/121) are perceived to be toxic. The most common poisonous plant part reported by informants was the whole plant (41.46%), followed by root (12.20%) and seed (12.20%). Other less poisonous plant parts that were reported are the leaf (9.76%), stem (7.32%) and bark (4.88%) (Table 4). Many of medicinal plants used by Buyi were reported to have side effects, highlighting the importance of ethnomedical knowledge of medicinal plant utilization in order to prevent serious harm to the human body.

Table 4 Poisonous tissue statistics.
Poisonous tissue Number Percent (%)
Whole plant 17 41.46
Root 5 12.20
Seed 5 12.20
Leaf 4 9.76
Stem 3 7.32
Bark 2 4.88
Camphor 1 2.44
Berry 1 2.44
Fruit 1 2.44
Unripe fruit 1 2.44
Seeding 1 2.44
Total 41 100.00
3.5. Other uses of medicinal plants

In addition to medical uses, 41% of the reported medicinal plants (50) have other uses (Tables 1, Table 5). The most prevalent uses of the documented plants other than medicine included ornamental (32%) and edible (30%) purposes, followed by landscape design (16%) and dyeing (10%). The remaining usages include for construction (4%), fencing (2%), and herbal teas (2%).

Table 5 Types of multiple uses of medicinal plants used by local people.
Kind of usage Number of species Percent (%)
Ornamental 16 32.00
Edible 15 30.00
Landscaped 8 16.00
Dyestuffs 5 10.00
Construction 2 4.00
Cane substitute 1 2.00
Tea 1 2.00
Repellent 1 2.00
Fence 1 2.00
Total 50 100.00
3.6. Diverse diagnostic methods

The Buyi medicinal system consists of unique diagnostic and treatment methods, particularly for the treatment of fractures, trauma and injuries, rheumatism, gynecological diseases and snakebites. There are some traditional Buyi medicinal prescriptions that have been shown to be effective in modern pharmacological experiments and clinical trials, and some pharmaceutical companies have developed these into new drugs or healthcare products, such as "Qing Feng Hu Gan Cha" and "Yi Si Chun Ru Ji".

The Buyi healers often used fresh and raw plants for their medicines, and they typically do not use complex methods to process the remedies. For example, the fresh leaves of Toricellia tiliifolia are usually used to treat fractures. Methods of grinding, pounding, and powdering were most widely used to prepare these remedies in the study area.

This study found that 121 medicinal plant species belonging to 64 families are used by the Buyi to cure seven health conditions considered the most important for treatment (rheumatism, trauma and injuries, detoxifying and inflammation, gynecological disease, weakness, pediatric disease). The disease spectrum found in this study is similar to the Buyi medical culture in Guizhou Province, which can be explained by the following two reasons:

1) The Buyi people usually live in mountainous and high humidity areas. Such geographic and climate factors could cause these aliments to become common and to develop into regional diseases.

2) The Buyi often have to do onerous labor work including farming to support their livelihoods, which might make them more likely to suffer from injuries. Therefore, the medicinal knowledge for treating diseases such as trauma and injuries could have been gradually accumulated across the generations. For example, Chloranthus holostegius was commonly recognized by local people for its specific medicinal effect on injuries from falls and fractures.

3.7. Buyi medicinal resources and their multipurposes

The local healers have extensive knowledge on medicinal plants resources. Among the 121 identified species, most of them were collected from the wild habitats. Different plant parts are used to treat various diseases (Table 2).

Only a few medicinal plants were brought from neighboring regions. For example, Eucommia ulmmoides was purchased from Qianxinan Prefecture in Guizhou Province. We ascribe this situation to the following factors:

1) Like the natural conditions of many other Buyi villages, the Buyi villages in Luoping County are located in an area with a well-preserved natural habitat, good ecological environment, and rich biodiversity, which may provide a favorable foundation for medicinal plant resources for the local folk doctors.

2) The Buyi are one of the indigenous groups in southwest China. They gradually formed their epistemologies, such as the value of harmonious relationship with nature during a long process of production and practice. In the belief-system of Buyi people, they usually have pantheistical adorations, such as habitats (e.g. sacred mountains), plants (e.g. divine arbors, bamboo) animals or mythological creatures (e.g. fish, dragon), and natural elements (e.g. fire). All of these ideas played a positive role in environmental protection and sustained the Buyi ethnic culture over time.

Most local names of medicinal plants are in local Buyi pronunciation. But the pronouncement of 13 species is the same as mandarin Chinese, including Acorus calamus (Changpu), Carthamus tinctorius (Honghua), Chloranthus holostengius (Sikuaiwa), Dendrobium loddigesii (Huangcao), Eriobotrya japonica (Pipa), Gentiana rigescens (Longdan), Hypericum japonicum (Tianjihuang), Lonicera japonica (Jinyinhua), Oxalis corniculata (Suanjiangcao), Panax notoginseng (Sanqi), Plantago major (Cheqian), Prunella vuglaris (Xiakucao) and Zanthoxylum nitidum (Liang mian zhen). In fact, these 13 medicinal species are normally used as traditional Chinese medicine and widely used in many prescriptions. Since Buyi people are living alongside other linguistic groups, some local healers' traditional medicinal technologies might be influenced by traditional Chinese medicine and by other ethnic groups. Therefore, local Buyi pronunciation of some medicines are same as mandarin Chinese.

Multipurpose plants play an important role in the diversity of plant utilization and can be used as an indicator of regional biocultural diversity. Two-use plants were most common among multipurpose plants, with ornamental-medicinal plants being the most popular among two-use plants. Some plants have three uses, such as Cycas revoluta, Gardenia jasminoides and Foeniculum vulgare. The multipurpose value of a plant is essentially determined by the plant itself. Trees tend to have more uses than herbaceous plants. Multipurpose plants studies contribute to the standard recording of regional or ethnic traditional ecological knowledge, the identification of plant uses with their potential applications, and the promotion of regional natural cultural diversity protection.

4. Discussion 4.1. The characteristics of Buyi medicinal plants in eastern Yunnan

Among the 64 botanical families documented in this study, the Compositae was the most prevalent family with 10 species. Medicinal plants in the Compositae have previously been shown to be commonly used by Buyi communities as well as easily obtained in their rural surroundings (Wu et al., 2017). As one of the largest families of seed plants over the world, the Compositae plants are easily available in local communities. The biomass and population sizes of Compositae plants are usually very large.

Specific edible uses of medicinal plants were as a vegetable, fruit, seasoning and starch (Sui et al., 2011). The local people used Smilax china as fence, and they hung Acorus calamus and Artemisia argyi on the door for cultural purposes and traditional way during Dragon Boat Festival (Shu et al., 2018). Houttuynia cordata and Portulaca oleracea have been used both as vegetable and medicine by local people for a long time (Ye et al., 2015). Finally, medicinal dietary ferns were frequently used by Buyi people, such as they used ferns to treat influenza (Teng et al., 2016; Ye et al., 2016).

Previous research has highlighted how Buyi healers use multiple traditional methods to treat diseases including pocket (Doudu) therapy, moxibustion (Jiukao) therapy, curettage (Guazhi) therapy, light therapy (Dadenghuo) therapy, and egg rolling (Gundan) therapy (Pan et al., 2003; Xiong and Long, 2018) (Table 6). The abundant medicinal plants in Buyi region provide resources for healer's multiple traditional methods to treat diseases.

Table 6 Traditional therapies used by the local healers.
Therapy type Chinese name Specific process Diseases treated
Pocket therapy (Doudu) 兜肚疗法 Put medicines into a special sewing bag (Chinese name Doudu). Put it on the abdomen, so achieve the purpose of treatment through the pores of the skin to absorb drug smell. Usually used Zingiber officinale and Tetradium ruticarpum. Gynecologic diseases, stomachache
Moxibustion therapy (Jiukao) 灸烤疗法 Dry leaves of Artemisia argyi and porphyrization, make moxa cone. Fire moxa cone, barbecue affected part. Rheumatism
Curettage therapy (Guazhi) 刮治法 Use the edge of coppers, coins or bowls to dip in tung oil or canola oil, light scrapping skin, appear red mark. Clearing heat, intestine disease, common cold
Light therapy (Dadenghuo) 打灯火疗法 Use the stem of Juncus effuses to dip in tung oil or canola oil, heat affected part and leave quickly. Pediatric diseases
Egg rolling therapy (Gundan) 滚蛋疗法 Use cooked hot egg with eggshell to roll back and forth on the patients' stomach when the temperature of egg is moderate. Common cold, intestine disease
Tangerine therapy (Gunju) 滚橘疗法 Use orange or smaller grapefruit roasted on the stove or fire hot, and then roll around the patients' forehead when their temperature is moderate. Common cold, clearing heat
Canister therapy (Tongxun) 筒薰疗法 Decoct medicine into soup, and then pour the soup into bamboo tube when it is hot, use a wet towel to cover on the mouth of bamboo tube, post on the affected part, and let the heat washed up from the mouth of bamboo tube until the soup is cold. Oral disease, intestine disease
4.2. Conservation issues

Some medicinal plants used by the local people had not been found in our field surveys in Luoping County. Furthermore, the new medicinal plants and remedies we have documented imply the medicinal knowledge in Buyi marginal regions in Yunnan Province may serve to supplement the whole Buyi medicinal system, which should be protected and maintained.

Nevertheless, our investigation indicated that the traditional medicinal knowledge and methods in Luoping County are facing a danger of extinction. After extensive interviews with the local healers, we summarized the following main reasons for this situation.

Firstly, the young generation has little interest or is not willing to work hard to study traditional medicinal knowledge. Most of them have left their hometowns to earn money in big cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou, and Kunming. For instance, an experienced herbal doctor who passed away in 2004 once asked his children to study their traditional medicinal knowledge. However, his children refused because she thought there is no value in studying this knowledge. Consequently, his precious medicinal experiences and knowledge have, unfortunately, faded way.

What makes a medicinal culture endangered is not just the number of users, but also how old the users are. If it is used by teens it is relatively safe. The critically endangered cultural systems are those that are only used by the elderly. Why do people reject the medicinal culture from their ancestors? When the next generation reaches their teens, they might not want to enter into the old tradition. The change is not always voluntary; the deadliest weapon's is often not government policy but economic globalization (Yang et al., 2015).

Secondly, the influences of mainstream medicinal culture are also causing reduced popularity of traditional medicinal knowledge. Compared with indigenous medicinal therapies, modern medical care often has advantages of fast recovery periods, precise curative effects, and other conveniences, so it has become a first choice of the local people. Only when some diseases cannot be cured by modern medicinal treatments, the local people will turn to the traditional medicine.

A growing interest in cultural identity may prevent the direst predications from coming true. The ethnic groups have not lost pride in their traditional remedies, but they have to adapt to higher social-economic pressures. They usually cannot refuse to use the modern medicine if they move to an urban area. When an unwritten and unrecorded traditional knowledge disappears, it is lost to science forever.

Thirdly, the inheritance and further development of the local Buyi medicinal culture is limited by some traditional conceptions such as limiting knowledge only to the men in the family. Women are not allowed to study traditional medicinal knowledge, or to use medicinal plants.

The present study revealed the richness of medicinal plants and importance of traditional medicinal knowledge among the Buyi communities in Luoping County. We understand the urgency and difficulties to save the endangered traditional knowledge. Further surveys are necessary to identify priority of traditional knowledge for better conservation. Intensive studies including phytochemical and pharmacological investigations will help to confirm the functions and dynamics of important Buyi herbal medicines such as Sabia parviflora and its crude products (Sui et al., 2011). The results from these efforts together supporting from current positive policies will be able to attract interests from stakeholders including local healers and their potential successors, publics, investors, enthusiasts, and institutions. Thus the endangered traditional Buyi medicinal knowledge will possibly be conserved throughout documentation, inheritance and sustainable uses.

In all 121 plant species documented in this study, two species (Cycas revoluta and Tacca chantrieri) are listed in China Red Data Book while three species of orchids (Dendrobium loddigesii, Oberonia cavaleriei and Bulbophyllum odoratissimum) will be listed. These species were used in a small amount, but they should be informed through various approaches such as new media, in particular, the most popular social media in China named WeChat. The alternatives to these species may be recommended since a lot of medicinal plants occur in Luoping County.

We anticipate that the traditional medicinal knowledge of the Buyi people in the marginal regions such as Yunnan should be emphasized, since it is an indispensable part of the whole Buyi medicinal culture. The remaining Buyi communities should be intensively investigated in order to build a comprehensive perspective on the Buyi medicinal knowledge system. Furthermore, local government policy support would be essential to ensure that the whole of Buyi medicinal culture is continuous development in a sustainable way (Yang et al., 2015).

5. Conclusion

Medicinal plants used by the Buyi people in Luoping are very diverse. One hundred and twenty-one species in 54 families were documented for treating various ailments based on our ethnobotanical surveys in only four villages, in which 56 species were recorded for the first time in this study. Leaves and whole plants were commonly used by the Buyi healers in the form of decoction. The Buyi communities have abundant medicinal resources and traditional knowledge. However along with the development of global economy, the specialized knowledge of Buyi medicine resources are threatened by human activities and natural causes, and associated traditional knowledge is eroding rapidly. So it is thus urgent and necessary to prevent the further loss of the specialized knowledge of ethnic group. This is the best accomplished by recording and documenting their unique practice and their relationship to medicinal plants.

Authors' contributions

CL conceived of and designed the study. YX and XS conducted data collection, integrated the inventory and its analysis, and wrote the manuscript. CL, ZW, YX and XS identified the plants. SA supported with preparation of the manuscript.

Declaration of competing interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


We are very grateful to the local Buyi people in Lubuge Township, Luoping County, Yunnan Province who have provided valuable information about the medicinal plants. Ying Tan, Wen Guo, and Jifeng Luo participated in the field investigations and discussions, and provided some useful comments. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31870316, 31761143001), Key Laboratory of Ethnomedicine (Minzu University of China) of Ministry of Education of China (KLEM-ZZ201906, KLEM-ZZ201904), Jiansheng Fresh Herb Medicine R & D Foundation (JSYY-20190101-043), Biodiversity Survey and Assessment Project of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China (2019HJ2096001006), Minzu University of China (Collaborative Innovation Center for Ethnic Minority Development and YLDXXK201819), Ministry of Education of China and State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs of China (B08044).

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