NATURE BOOKS - SOUTH AFRICA
Books for Nature Lovers
Medicinal Plants of the World
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Review By: Project: Home - 17 January

What better mood-lifter during these dark days than a book about beautiful plants with wonderful properties? Here's the cure: Medicinal Plants of the World, a photographic guide to the most commonly used and best known medicinal plants. More than 320 medicinal plants are described and illustrated in 800 crisp, gorgeous colour photographs. Close-ups show leaf, fruit, stem or other significant portion of the plant, as well as its prepared form (dried root, seeds, etc.). 
The photographs will keep you turning pages, and bits of fascinating text will pull you deeper into the history, preparation, and practical treatment of health disorders.
As a comprehensive reference guide, this book does not require you to be a pharmaceutical botanist. It provides deeper levels of information if you care to delve, but can also be helpful if you are taking a supplement and merely want to see the plant and read about its traditional medicinal use. You'll develop a new appreciation for "everyday" ubiquitous plants like chickweed and soybeans. This photographic guide is especially easy to use. 

The first people to use medicinal plants may not have understood the scientific rationale behind these substances, but they knew from personal experience that some plants were highly effective at therapeutic doses. "Medicine Systems of the World" provides background for understanding healing cultures: how plants were brought to common use in integrated holistic health care.
There is also information about the development of traditional Chinese medicine, African traditional medicine, Ayurveda (India), Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, and others. 

During most of the 20th century in the U.S., botanicals fell into decline due to skepticism, and plants were viewed as sources for chemicals with which to develop phytopharmaceuticals (plant drugs). Though medicinal plants are regarded as nutritional supplements (rather than medicine) in the U.S., herbs and botanicals have grown in popularity. The U.S. is the only country that designates medicinal herbs "dietary supplements" allowing no medical claims. Herbal medicines are both regulated and registered as medicine in other countries.

How do medicinal plants work? The short answer is that chemical compounds act individually or in combination on the human body to prevent disorders and restore health. There are 15 parts of plants used therapeutically and 23 different dosage forms (e.g. extract, tea, oil, tablet, etc.)
The plants are alphabetized by scientific name with common names included, with brief text to answer your obvious questions: What is it?; Where does it grow?; Which parts are used and how are they prepared?; What's the dosage?; What are the active ingredients and effects?; What warnings are associated with this plant? Warnings include interference with cardiac drug therapy, antidepressants or hormone therapy. 

Some interesting examples of medicinal plant include Alchemilla (Lady's Mantle, that lovely chartreuse borer perennial) is used to dissolve kidney stones; pure essential oil of Armoracia (horseradish) is considered a hazardous substance, and licorice comes from direid rhizomes ofGlycyrrhiza glabra, and has anti-inflammatory properties. Did you know that Scotch broom produces flowers used to treat heart and circulation disorders, and mountain ash berries contain the compound sorbitol, widely used as a sugar substitute in the food industry? My new favorite, Aspalathus linearis (Rooibos tea plant), looks like a cross between Scotch broom and asparagus plants. It contains antioxidant flavonoids said to delay the onset of ailments associated with aging. Pass the tea, please. 
Three additional sections round out this fact-packed book. If you find chemical compound diagrams intriguing, you will enjoy deciphering plant metabolites and their modes of action. This wass too technical for my taste, but the guide to commercialized medicinal plants, their origin, parts used, active compounds, and how they are used in traditional and modern medicine was most helpful. Additionally, the glossary of chemical, medical, and pharmaceutical terms enhances the book's utility. Medicinal Plants of the World reveals a profusion of natural options, and is an essential reference for your bookshelf.


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