Medicinal Plants

 Link to Tibetan Orchids       For some more background info on medicinal plants see also the Sustainable Development Paper 2000   
The beautiful and strange inflorescence of Noble Rhubarb (Rheum nobile). The actual flowers are all hidden under big whitish translucent bracts that genrate a glasshouse effect, protecting the flowers from wind, cold and UV-light, a challenge in its high altitude range.
In Tibetan Medicine it is known as Chhu/ Chu ma tsi or Chum kar according to Dr. Tenzin Dakpa (2007). It is used to treat edema / oedema of internal organs. It also lowers fever of bile and cures diseases arising from cold phlegm (two diagnoses based on the theory of Tibetan medicine).
© Daniel Winkler, Aug. 7, 2011, 4700m / 14500 ft, Nyingchi County, Nyingchi / Linzhi Prefecture, Tibet AR.
 Sitting smugly next to a Noble Rhubarb on Serkyim La, Kongpo. I tried for years to take a "close up" of this Himalayan Rhubarb, but never had the time for a necessary hike. One can see them from a mile away, but along the roads they are harvested, since Tibetans love to eat the sour leaf stems. however, the leaves and flowers are poisonous.
Noble Rhubarb is also sometimes known as Sikkim or Himalayan Rhubarb, the latter for example to be found on a postal stamp from Nepal. However, another rhubarb, Rheum emodi, has the "Himalayan" in its name, since "Emodi" is Latin for the Himalayas. I do not like the name Sikkim Rhubarb, because it is distributed in all alpine areas of the Himalayas from Afghanistan to Arunachal Pradesh [Easternmost Himalayas, just North of Assam], as well as Tibet and Burma.
Saussurea medusa (Asteraceae) is known to Tibetan herb collectors as Ganglha Metok [gangs lha me tog], meaning glacier or snow deity flower. It is an important medicinal in Rigpa Sowa (Tibetan Medicine) andTraditional Chinese Medicine. In TCM it is known as "xue lian", meaning snow lotus. It grows way high up in the mountains, up to 5200m, and overcollection is of great concern.
© Daniel Winkler, August 2, 2007, 4100m, Litang County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan.
Saussurea obvallata (Asteraceae) is another plant with the same high altitude adaptation as Rheum nobile, but not related. It is a medicinal in Tibetan medicine known as Zadue Gogu. It is used to treat epilepsy, healing sores and relieving serious pain (Tenzin Dakpa 2007, Tibetan Medicinal Plants, New Delhi).
Stellera chamaejasme, a herbaceous relative of Daphne (Thymeleaceae), and also very fragrant, has traditionally been used to make paper in Tibet. It is also used in veterinary medicine to purge livestock from worms and other intestinal parasites. Stellera chamaejasme is known as  "Re-lCag-Pa" in Tibetan medicine and in Chinese as Langqing.   © Daniel Winkler, June 19, 2006, 4300m, above Tashigang - Ri Chu Valley, Meldrogongkar County, Lhasa,  Tibet AR
A yellow flowering Stellera chamaejasme. Stellera flower yellow and white, but the calyx can be yellow, white, pink, reddish or purple, resulting in a variety in colors visible before the flower opens (on left a white flower with red calyx).
Rheum SlopeJunba.jpg
Wild Rheum growing on a sunny slope© Daniel Winkler, August 2001, 3400m, Litang County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
Rheum Litang Nov00Sm.jpg
Rheum alexandrae, © Daniel Winkler, August 2001, 4200m, Litang County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
 Medicinal Rhubarb species from Litang. A variety of tall Rhubarb species (Rheum alexandrae, Rh. officinale, Rh. tanguticum, Rh. nobile) grow in Eastern Tibet. Their root is dug by locals and sold on markets. Its commonly used in Tibetan and traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM: Dahuang).
Meconopsis integrifolia (Papaveraceaebelow a Rhododendron from the 'nivale' group. Meconopsis, Himalayan poppy, is one of Tibet's most famous flowers and used as medicinal plant. © Daniel Winkler June 1999, 4300m, Litang County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
Meconopsis integrifolia, a truly high alpine Himalayan poppy. The hirsute (=hairy) nature of its leaves is an adaptation to the cold high altitude climate it thrives in. I have encountered this Himalayan poppy several times standing out in freshly snow-covered slopes.
© Daniel Winkler, Kongpo Barla, Medro-Gongkar, Lhasa Prefecture, Tibet AR, June 2006
Meconopsis baileyi, the archetype of Himalayan blue poppy.
© Daniel Winkler, Serkyim La, Nyingchi County, Nyingchi Prefecture, Tibet AR, June 2006
Close-up of Meconopsis aff. horridula, known in Tibetan Medicine as 'Utpala' . This one was found in Gyalthang County, in Pinyin formerly known as Zhongdian and currently known as Shangrila, Xianggerila, Dechen/Deqen TAP, NW-Yunnan.  © Daniel Winkler, July 27, 2001
Gastrodia elata Bed 
Planting bed for the orchid Gastrodia elata, which is known in TCM as Tianma. Tubers of this orchid are planted between cut stems derived from deciduous trees. Along the sides of this lay-out wood chips in porous plastic bags are added. Tianma is a saprophytic perennial that does not carry out photosynthesis, but is fed by fungi, which live off decaying wood. One kilogram of Gastrodia tubers sold for around 360 Yuan ($45) within China and for $80-$90$ in Asia in 2002.
© Daniel Winkler, November 2001, Barkam County, Aba TAP, W-Sichuan 
Coming across a lily in most Tibetan areas occurs much less frequent than one would expect. This can be explained by the fact that lily bulbs are used as remedies in TCM. Also, Tibetans and Chinese like to eat the bulbs. This lily is Lilium taliense.  © Daniel Winkler, 2800m, Zitsa Degu / Jiuzhaigou, W-Sichuan, July 1991.
Fritilaria cirrhosa Riwoche.jpg
Fritillaria cirrhosa (Liliaceae) is one of Tibet's most important medicinal plants. It's pea-sized white bulbs (see below) are sold dried for export down to China. In Tibetan it is known as "Pema (Padma)" and in Chinese as "Chuan Beimu".  Also, they are used as a specialty ingredient for Chinese yaojiu - medicinal schnapps. © Daniel Winkler June 1997, 4150m, Riwoqe County, Qamdo Prefecture, Tibet AR
Incarvillea mairei (Begoniaceae). Incarvillea species are found all over the Tibetan Plateau. In central and western Tibet they send a stemless flower and a few leaves out over the windswept ground. In the Southeastern Plateau region some Incarvilleaspecies reach up to 1.5m, one of them the yellow flowering Incarvillea lutea.
© Daniel Winkler, June 1999, 4100m, Litang County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan 
Troma - Argentina anserina

Troma (gro-mar) growing in a typical disturbed site. I dug out one of the plants to show the tuber and placed it on a piece of slate.
© Daniel Winkler, May 30, 2012, 3900m, Dora Khamo, near Lhagang (Tagong), Kangding County, Ganzi TAP, Sich

 A medicinal according to Gawai Dorje and also a very interesting and tasty Tibetan food item is Droma (also transcribed as Troma /Tromar or Choma, Wylie: "gro-mar" and also "gro-lo sa-dzin", Pinyin: Juema). Often it is also called "Tibetan sweet potato", but it is not related to sweet potatoes at all. However, its sweet taste and starchy consistency is well compared to sweet potatoes, but Tromar is much smaller, often 1 to 3 cm long (0.4 to 1.2 in). In Europe and North America it is known as silverweed or cinquefoil. Botanicallyit was called Potentilla anserina, but now has been transferred to Argentina anserina.
I was told the tuber is dug out in March and September. In late spring and summer, the tuber is not tasty, since its reserves are consumed by the fruiting plant or not fully restored yet. Once the tuber is dug out, I was told, it could be stored for long periods. Even one year should be possible. According to Guan Kaiyun (1998), it occurs between 2600m and 4300m (7000  and 14,000 ft) on grasslands, in alpine scrubs and around lakes. I find it mostly around settlements. It seems to thrive on humus rich topsoil in previously disturbed sites.

Rockhill (1891) reports that `Choma' is also very popular in Mongolia, where it is known as `zuuna'. Rockhill continues "The Chinese call it `yao-miao-ken' or jen-shou-kuo [zhen shu guo?], fruit of respect and longevity, from its being sent to friends, with wishes for their welfare, by persons returning from the countries where it grows. In Kan-su the Chinese call it choma or chüem-ma. It is found in many parts of Chinese Turkestan [Xinjiang] but chiefly in eastern Tibet". Rockhill states also, that Tromar is the only vegetable eaten by Amdo nomads.

A closely related plant, Potentilla pacifica also known as Argentina pacifica, which grows in coastal areas in the Pacific Northwest has been used as a vegetable by native American people (thanks to Steve Dupey for that information).

Dried Tromar sold at the market in Eastern Tibet.
© Daniel Winkler Litang, Kandze / Ganzi TAP,
Steamed Droma served with corn or maize. This has become a popular preparation recently. Otherwise I was used to get droma prepared in melted butter with a bit of sugar, a preparation heavily dependend on the state of the butter, which sometimes is just too rancid for my taste.
© Daniel Winkler, Lhasa, July 2010.


Frittilaria Baimu Sertar 
Mick Rigdrol inspects freshly harvested Fritillaria (probably F. cirrhosa) bulbs. Digging Fritillaria is a very common source for generating a cash income in rural areas. Rigdrol put himself through school by digging Pema, as Tibetans know it.
© Daniel Winkler, August 14, 2001,  Sertar County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
 Fritillaria is used in Traditional Chinese and Traditional Tibetan Medicine. The demand for Fritillaria is driven by TCM, which knows it as "Bai mu".  
Fritillaria is a good example of a NLGP, a non-livestock grassland product. I just had to coin that term, since NTFP, non-timber forest products do not cover fungi and plants growing in Tibet's vast grasslands.  More on NLGP in my 2008 article on the mushroom markets in Tibet, mostly dealing with Cordyceps and matsutake mushrooms.

Fritillaria out on the street for drying in Lithang Town.
© Daniel Winkler, August 3, 2007,  Lithang County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan

Medicinal plant storage room or rather the Tibetan Medicine pharmacy at Dzongsar Monastery in Derge.
© Daniel Winkler, Aug. 19, 1998, Derge County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
Last update 6-19-2012

Last edited on Tue, October 16, 2018, 8:43 pm