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Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists, and Veterinarians, 2nd Edition
Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists, and Veterinarians, 2nd Edition

Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists, and Veterinarians, 2nd Edition, by Dietrich Frohne and Hans Jurgen Pfander, Inge Alford (Translator). Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2005. Hardcover, 469 Pages. ISBN 0-88192-750-3. $150.00.

Poisonings continue to occur in human beings and animals throughout the world, both from intentional and accidental encounters with a variety of plants. Small children are usually the most affected population, since their natural inquisitiveness entices them to handle and sometimes taste diverse plant parts such as flowers, fruits, or leaves.

Adult poisoning is also not uncommon, due to the misinformation and misidentification of wild plant gatherers and others who seek dangerous "recreational" experiences with some plants such as "Jimsonweed" or "Thorn apple" (Datura spp.). Such situations may end in tragedy because many people do not have a reliable and well-illustrated source of information regarding the toxicity of various members of the plant kingdom.

Livestock and pets may also be poisoned by eating feed contaminated with toxic plant parts, or simply by grazing poisonous plants when other more palatable or nutritious plants are unavailable.

Professor Dietrich Frohne and Dr. Hans J. Pfander are both researchers at the University of Kiel, Germany, who have continued to update this important compilation of information about hundreds of plants contained within approximately 89 botanical families, which are potentially toxic to humans, livestock, and companion animals.

Every economically important botanical family that contains toxic species is mentioned, including a description of its most salient morphological characteristics. For every plant discussed herein, the toxic constituents are thoroughly covered, as well as the methods of treatment. In some cases, beautiful color pictures of the plant, as well as black and white line drawings of its offending chemical compounds, are also provided. A selected bibliography for further reading is found after the description of each plant family.

The first English edition of this text appeared in 1984 and quickly became popular with the scientific community worldwide due to its ample coverage of plants that are potentially or actually toxic to both humans and animals.

The authors begin by defining a poisonous plant. This is indeed necessary, as many plants used commonly as food, ornament, or medicine can indeed be toxic if consumed at the wrong stage of growth or by employing the wrong part of the plant, which could be both inedible as well as toxic. Species that can cause allergies or dermatitis by contact are also included.

There is also a discussion about how plant poisonings usually occur, as well as the most common species usually involved.

The diverse toxic constituents contained in plants, such as alkaloids, glycosides, toxic amino acids, terpenes, and the like are also briefly mentioned. This catalogue of plants poisonous to humans and animals is arranged in alphabetical order by botanical family, including the most important representatives of toxicological interest contained in each family.

This second English edition of this European classic has been substantially revised and updated, containing approximately 60% more information than the previous edition. New information is included about plant poisonings, as well as a broader coverage of plant species outside the main geographic scope of this text, which had been central Europe.

Information about North American poisonous plants has been included as an appendix thanks to the collaboration of Kark Cumptston, PhD, and the late Patrick Mckinney, PhD, both from the University of New Mexico. Within this appendix, the description of toxicity for many American species used in herbal medicine is expounded, as is the case of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides [L.] Michx., Berberidaceae), for example, which can cause serious toxicity during pregnancy if used irresponsibly.

The authors not only mention the toxic properties and botanical characteristics of the plants as mere academic information, but provide an insert with the treatment (if known) regarding each species. This feature makes the book even more practical for those involved in poison control centers and hospitals who need a quick reference guide that not only includes the color picture of the plant for identification purposes, but which also suggests the currently accepted mode of treatment or support for the intoxicated patient.

Doctors Frohne and Pfander have included a useful synopsis of berry-like fruits in table format which aids toxicologists and others in the correct identification of the plant, according to the type, color, consistency of the fruit, and growth habit (woody, herbaceous, epiphytic, etc.) of the plant involved.

The book also contains a section with black and white pictures of leaves that point out the characteristic leaf features, which can be an invaluable source for the correct identification of the plant involved in an intoxication. Since time is of the essence in any intoxication, this information will be very handy when making split-second decisions regarding the treatment for a particular species of plant involved.

A glossary of botanical terms has been added and is a useful tool for understanding the botanical terms used throughout the book.

An important aspect of this work is that the authors caution readers not to look at plants with fear and suspicion, but rather encourage them to learn, as well as teach their children, about the risks of handling certain plants, instead of the misguided "eradication" approach so common in many misinformed publications.

We must learn to identify and avoid the most common offending species, with the understanding that even the most toxic plant, when used correctly, may have an important medicinal or therapeutic value for both humans and animals. The Western yew tree (Taxus baccata L., Taxaceae) has been known to be poisonous for many centuries, yet the anticancer compound paclitaxel (commonly known as Taxol¨) has been derived and eventually synthesized from this species and is now employed to treat breast cancer.

Podophyllotoxin and vincristine are 2 other anticancer compounds which have been obtained from the may apple (Podophyllum peltatum L. Berberidaceae) and the lesser periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), respectively.

Some potentially poisonous plants may be present in homes, gardens, and perhaps evenchildren's school yards. These plants usually occur as hedges or decorative houseplants, while others may be considered simply as weeds. For this reason it is important to know which plants could, at some point, pose a hazard to people or pets.

This long-awaited new edition will certainly be a valuable addition to the libraries of physicians, veterinarians, botanists, agronomists, and others interested in a serious and in-depth coverage of toxic plants, not only from Europe, but throughout the world.

—Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD University of Texas at El Paso, UT Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program