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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Stata Norton, PhD (University of Kansas Medical Center)
Description: This book concisely reviews the basic chemistry of therapeutically-active chemicals produced by plants. It begins with a discussion of the elements of the periodic table and the bonding arrangements into molecules. The major chemical structures in plants used medically are briefly described followed by descriptions of drug receptors and drug metabolism and elimination. The last chapter is a discussion of plants that have hallucinogenic effects and the actions of ginkgo preparations and some cancer drugs from plants.
Purpose: The stated purpose is to explain the chemical and pharmacological principles needed to understand how medicinal plants affect the human body. The author notes that this is an introductory book, deliberately incomplete from a technical perspective. While this is a worthy objective, it is a major undertaking in a book of about 300 pages intended for a nonscientific audience.
Audience: The origin of this book is a course that the author taught at college for nonscience majors. The audience for the book is expected to be readers who want to know more about the basic chemical actions of medicinal plants in the body. No prior science background is required to understand the chemistry in the book. Professor Hanson is experienced in teaching organic chemistry and biochemistry.
Features: The first four chapters of the book are devoted to the basic chemistry needed to understand the molecular structures of therapeutic chemicals produced by plants. Chapters 5 and 6 cover drug receptors and how drugs act in the body. Chapter 7 describes the effects of two herbals, ayahuasca (a mixture of Amazonian plants used for psychedelic experience) and Ginkgo biloba preparations and a summary of some plants used in cancer treatment. There is a glossary of terms and a bibliography, but these are not referenced in the text, so no data in the book are specifically documented from the scientific literature.
Assessment: Readers interested in learning the detailed chemistry of therapeutic plant products must be prepared to learn a great deal of biochemistry, anatomy and physiology. No one book can cover this adequately. This book offers a beginning in the chemistry, but the descriptions of therapeutic actions do not include a summary of the positive and negative effects of any therapeutic agent. Another book on medicinal plants is more thorough in referencing this critical information: Handbook of Medicinal Plants by Yaniv and Bachrach, eds. (Haworth Press, 2005).