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Musings » Plants and People of Nepal
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Manandhar, Narayan P.
Portland, Oregon
Timber Press 2002

One should not be too free with the word “masterwork” but when a book covers the subject as thoroughly and completely as Plants and People of Nepal, it is hard to know what else to call it. There is nothing which could be added to make it more comprehensive.

Dr Manandhar is government ethnobotanist to the Kingdom of Nepal, a country is which political turmoil has been the rule and not the exception for several years. For reasons to which he could only allude, the author had to work against the active interference and disapproval of his colleagues and superiors. Even if this were only a modest book, the achievement is still remarkable. To have produced a thorough treatise on the accumulated folk wisdom of a people living in one of the richest botanical environments in the world is a triumph. It has taken him nearly forty years. One is lost in admiration.

Plants and People of Nepal is a handsome volume. Timber Press has enhanced the significance of the content by giving it large clear format and pages which lie flat in spite of their very large number. The main section of the book comprises beautiful line drawings of each plant together with a clear and accurate botanical description, the English and Nepalese plant name and the uses to which it is put. There are a few judiciously chosen colored plates showing people in their villages actively using the fibres, seeds or other parts of a plant which are valuable to them.

Ethnobotany is a difficult scientific discipline, requiring not only conventional botanical knowledge, and preferably something about medicine, but also a great knowledge of, and sensitivity to, timeless customs which often vary by tribe or district, as well as an ability to make oneself understood by groups which seldom mingle with the outside and speak numerous dialects. The author grew up in a quiet Nepalese village, devoted to his grandparents and absorbing their knowledge of the biota around them. He simply assumed that all citizens of Nepal shared this knowledge.

When he found that city-dwellers were completely cut off from it, rejecting it as backward folk lore, he conceived the idea of preserving the traditions in a scientific manner. A number of valuable modern medicines had their beginning in folk tradition: ephedrine for asthma, dioscorea root for reproductive hormones, and digitalis (fox glove) for heart failure are just a few.

Nepal lies within the great Himalayan range. The Sanskrit word Himalaya stands for “abode of the snow”, and that is how we think of the area. In spite of being a very small country, Nepal covers the gamut of climatic extremes and this contributes to the richness of its flora. Many of the great plant explorers brought rhododendron and other glorious ornamental plants from Nepal. When a plant collector simply wrote “Himalaya” as a source of his discovery, quite frequently it came from Nepal.

This book is a permanent source of wisdom for those members of the club who spend a little time with it.