Traditional Knowledge – An Overview

What is Traditional Knowledge?

Traditional knowledge refers to the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world developed from experience gained over the centuries and adapted to the local culture and environment.

Traditional Knowledge
Traditional Knowledge


Traditional knowledge is transmitted orally from generation to generation. Many widely used products, such as plant-based medicines, health products and cosmetics, are derived from traditional knowledge. Other valuable products based on traditional knowledge include agricultural and non-wood forest products as well as a handicraft.

Traditional knowledge can make a significant contribution to sustainable development. It closely interlinks cultural and biological diversity, forming an essential basis for the conservation and sustainable use of global biodiversity.

Most indigenous and local communities are situated in areas where the vast majority of the world’s genetic resources are found. Many of them have cultivated and used biological diversity in a sustainable way for thousands of years. Some of these traditional practices have been proven to enhance and promote biodiversity at the local level. It also helps in maintaining healthy ecosystems. The skills and techniques provide valuable information to the global community. It also serves as a useful model for biodiversity policies.

Components of Traditional Knowledge

Traditional knowledge can be related to several aspects like:

  • Soil and water management systems,
  • Traditional forest management systems,
  • Traditional water management systems,
  • Soil fertility management,
  • Pest management,
  • Organic manuring,
  • Soil management,
  • Agricultural and horticultural crops,
  • Traditional foods & beverages etc.

The tribal cultures hold much ethnobotanical information. The rural and native communities regularly use medicinal plants for the treatment of diseases, wounds, fractures and other ailments. The traditional and indigenous practices are prevalent among the local communities. It helps them to better adapt to the global knowledge adhering to the local conditions. The activities are designed to serve community needs. Traditional Knowledge practices are farmer-friendly, socially accepted and environmentally sound suited to local conditions.

Traditional Knowledge- Role of Women

Since ages, traditional medicines are being used by the indigenous people for the maintenance of health as well as the treatment of mental and physical illness. The traditional knowledge acquired by these indigenous people leads to the development of modern drugs which are commercially valuable. Women play a major role in keeping the concept of traditional knowledge alive and still in practice. Local women are much efficiently involved and much aware of the local ethnobotanical knowledge. Men being involved in outdoor jobs are not much involved in traditional knowledge. Women being actively involved in daily chores possess much of the knowledge.

Some examples of Traditional Knowledge practices

  • Using the crop rotation technique- The soil retains a good deal of fertility by this process. In this process, alternate crops are sown on the same field every alternate year or sowing season. This ensures that the fertility of the field is maintained. By following crop rotation, the need for additional manure becomes negligible.
  • Crop Thrashing With the Help of Domesticated Animals Using various domesticated animals like cows, oxen, yaks for crop thrashing process eliminates the use of machines.
  • Construction of Water Channels- Building water channels helps in maintaining the proper gravity required for irrigation. It is one of the common ways of irrigating crops. The irrigation channels are diverted from river tributaries by making use of the natural gradients. This helps in maintaining the level of water higher than that of the cultivated fields.
  • Indigenous Drip Irrigation In the areas where rainfall is scarce, the practice of using pitcher water as a source of irrigation on fields is persistent. This technique is suited best for fields with sandy /loamy sand soils. The pitcher is placed in the soil and the new plant is planted close to it. The pitcher is filled with water and a stone/slate lid is placed on the top. The roots draw its moisture/water from a pitcher which in turn reduces the plant’s mortality.
  • Small Ponds for Spring Water Collection- In the areas where water is scarce, spring water is collected in small reservoirs scattered at regular intervals. This practice ensures adequate water availability during the events of water scarcity. Water from these ponds can be used for irrigation and drinking purposes.
  • Roof Water Harvesting- Collecting rainwater on the roofs or terraces of homes is another form of traditional knowledge for water conservation. The roof water is collected in dugout structures. The stored water in ponds and depressions is used for irrigational purposes during lean periods. In some areas during summer, the collected water serves for other domestic purposes as well.
  • Harvesting of Water from Snow Melting Harvesting of water is also done by constructing water ponds. Water is collected in these ponds from melting snow. In some areas, the grass is used as the inner lining of water ponds to check percolation losses.
  • Removal of Weeds and grasses- This practice of removing weeds and grasses from bunds and corners by digging helps in weed control in the cultivated fields. The area under crops is also increased as the land is not wasted by ingrown weeds and grasses. Another benefit is that the soil added in lower fields from the bunds of the upper field is rich in nutrients and it improves soil fertility.
  • Organic manuring, collection and management- Use of organic manures derived from plant and animal resources, are valuable byproducts of farming and allied industries. The collection of the dropping of domesticated animals can be used as organic manure in the field. It also cuts down the use of harmful chemical fertilizers

Traditional Food & Beverages

A number of traditional foods are prepared and consumed by people in India for ages. The know-how of traditional processes and technologies involved in the production of these products has been transferred from one generation to another.

Traditional Knowledge Management by the Use of Medicinal Plants

Plants have been used for medicinal purposes long before the prehistoric period. Traditional systems of medicine continue to be widely practiced on many accounts. The forests in India are the principal repository of a large number of medicinal and aromatic plants. These are largely collected as raw materials for the manufacturing of drugs and perfumery products. India has been known to be a rich repository of medicinal plants. Treatment with medicinal plants is considered very safe as there are no or minimal side effects. Apart from the medicinal uses, herbs are also used in natural dye, pest control, food, perfume, tea and so on. Medicinal plants have been used for the treatment of several diseases for ages.

Threats to Traditional Knowledge

  • With the aging population and large scale migration of young generations, traditional knowledge is on the verge of extinction.
  • The knowledge base of the local traditions is diminishing as the numbers of practitioners are declining.
  • Population rise,
  • Clearing of forests
  • Neglection of these practices on the pretext of being unscientific
  • Lifestyles getting techno-savvy, forcing us to move away from nature

Some Of Ethnomedicinal Plants and their uses

S.No Local Name

Botanical Name

Parts Used Disease/Ailment Method of Preparation
1.        Brahmi Bacopa monnieri (L.) Wettst. Leaves Nervous tiredness Juice of leaves taken up early in the morning to increase memory power and cure any nervous tiredness.
2.        Kachnar Bauhinia variegata L. Flower buds Stomach problem The juice of the flowers taken once a day to cure stomach problems. Young flowers bud are used as food material and making a traditional recipes.
3.        Bhang Cannabis sativa L. Leaves and bark Joint pain Leaves paste applied along with cow urine to joint pain Leaves are used for religious purposes and bark is used for making ropes.
4.        Datura Datura stramonium Wall Seeds Acne Making Paste of seeds with rose water and applied once in a day to cure pimples.
5.        Guggal Jurinea macrocephala DC Roots and leaves Fever The dried powdered form of roots taken with water at night time to cure fever and used in ceremonial and ritual purposes.
6.        Kadhi Pata Murraya koenigii Spreng Leaves and branches Gum problems As Flavoring agents in food and branches used for cleaning of teeth
7.        Tulsi Ocimum sanctum L Leaves, seeds Cold and cough Leaves are used for the preparation of tea to cold and cough and for religious purposes.
8.        Amla Phyllanthus emblica L Fruit and young Branches Hair problems Fruits used as food, dried fruits grind and used for cleaning hairs.
9.        Gloe Tinospora cordifolia Miers Stem Jaundice and Constipation Dried stem grind well and nearly 2 gm power taken with water early in the morning to cure jaundice and constipation. The dried stem is also used for religious purposes called “Hawan”
10.    Lashun


Allium sativum L.


Buds, Leaves Acute hepatitis associated with dyspepsia, loss of appetite.


A paste of 5–6 buds with 20 g fresh leaves of Leucas Aspera (Willd.) Link mixed in a glass of warm water is pre­scribed twice daily for 5 days with a small ripe banana
11.    Rattanjot


Arnebia benthamii


Roots Hair loss, Removal of dandruff Dried roots are immersed in mustard oil and kept for 1–2 weeks. When the color changes to reddish pink, it is then ap­plied to the scalp
12.    Chil


Pinus roxburghii


Plant needles, leaves Decreased urine flow, Kidney stones Green needles are ground with water. Extracted sap is taken once per day to increase urine flow and treat kidney stones.


13.    Laung


Syzygium aromaticum


Buds Wounds treatment, toothaches Powdered buds mixed with milk are ap­plied to wounds and for toothaches


14.    Tejpata Cinnamomum tamala Fresh leaves Treatment of Pyorrhea Chewing of leaves used in Pyorrhea
15.    Amla Phyllanthus emblica Fruit Health tonic for pregnant and lactating women As a tonic for pregnant women.
16.    Til Sesamum indicum Seeds Treatment for Amenorrhea The powder is taken with milk for amenorrhea
17.    Harad Terminalia chebula Fruit Treatment of constipation in newborn children Rubbed with mother’s milk & licked to the infant as a laxative.
18.    Giloye Tinospora cardifolia Stem Joint Pains Decoction used orally in joint pains.
19.    Bahera Terminalia bellirica Fruit Treatment for cough & Cold Roasted fruit for cough and cold.
20.    Amrud Psidium guajava Branchlets The branches of the plant are used as a toothbrush As a toothbrush.


Saving our Traditional Knowledge

All the communities have some kind of traditional knowledge associated with their life from time immemorial. As these practices are eco-friendly, they serve as the finest examples of sustainable development. ITK practices may have some weaknesses, problems and constraints but it should not be forgotten that farmers have survived in the past under extreme conditions based on local knowledge.

Some basic steps we could take to save this practice from fading away can be summed up as:

  • The traditional knowledge practices are farmer-friendly, socially accepted and environmentally sound suited to local conditions
  • ITK can contribute to the generation and exploitation of technology to benefit rural populations
  • The prevalence of traditional knowledge is largely linked to the availability of raw materials and, environmental conditions hence preserving these could be of help.
  • Introduction of some management measures taken jointly with the participation of local communities to conserve medicinal plant resources from becoming extinct.
  • Providing awareness and training to local communities on sustainable exploitation of traditional knowledge.

5 thoughts on “Traditional Knowledge – An Overview”

  1. Pingback: Environmental Health and Safety - The Mighty Earth

  2. Pingback: Concept of Green Building and Benefits - The Mighty Earth

  3. Pingback: Organic Farming, Advantages and Objectives - The Mighty Earth

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top