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The Natural History of Medicinal Plants
     

The Natural History of Medicinal Plants

by Judith Sumner, Mark J. Plotkin (Foreword by), Judith Summer
 

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Wild and cultivated plants have provided humans with cures for thousands of years. Aspirin, for example, the most widely used drug in the Western pharmacopoeia, was first isolated from willows to treat fever, pain, and inflammation. Today it is synthesized in the laboratory, and its use as an anticoagulant eventually could overshadow its use as an analgesic. Other

Overview

Wild and cultivated plants have provided humans with cures for thousands of years. Aspirin, for example, the most widely used drug in the Western pharmacopoeia, was first isolated from willows to treat fever, pain, and inflammation. Today it is synthesized in the laboratory, and its use as an anticoagulant eventually could overshadow its use as an analgesic. Other botanical medicines that became significant to human health and well-being are pain-relievers from opium and coca, muscle relaxants from curare, blood anticoagulants from sweet clover, anticancer alkaloids from Madagascar periwinkle and Pacific yew, tranquilizers from snakeroot, and oral contraceptives from molecular precursors in tropical yams.

Although we may be tempted to think of these and other plant chemicals existing primarily for our medicinal use, in reality they are defense strategies in a natural world colonized by organisms competing for survival. In this fascinating introduction to the botanical compounds used medicinally, Dr. Sumner describes their biological and ecological importance as toxins and deterrents in protecting plants. Some of these chemicals discourage predators by rendering plant leaves unpalatable, while others disrupt the usual developmental and reproductive stages of their attackers. Still others are well known for their potent psychotropic effects that can dangerously alter the awareness and reflexes of plant-eating animals. An exciting chapter on the new field of zoopharmacognosy provides some interesting examples of birds, primates, and elephants that seemingly recognize and use plants as medicines. The author concludes with a thought-provoking analysis of the issues behind using medicinal plants to improve human needs without destroying the earth's biodiversity.

Written for the lay reader, The Natural History of Medicinal Plants will inspire a greater appreciation of the vast natural pharmacy of plant medicines. Numerous black and white illustrations and 30 color plates accompany the text.

Editorial Reviews

Booknews
A botany instructor at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard U. enlightens users of willow-derived aspirin on how plant defenses were found to be useful medicinally; and introduces the new field of zoopharmacognosy that studies how other animals use plants for healing. Includes 30 color plates, line drawings, and a glossary. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Before discoveries were made in the labs, plant medicines accounted for most of the substances used to cure disease. Natural History of Medicinal Plants provides a fascinating and informative science history of plantbase medicine, how people have learned the applications of such medicine, and why plants developed curative properties. Chapters will prove of use to both those involved in health professions and botanists alike.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780881924831
Publisher:
Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
01/28/2000
Pages:
252
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.35(h) x 0.95(d)

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