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Handbook of Herbs and Spices

Handbook of Herbs and Spices, Volume 3 by K. V. Peter, ed. Cambridge, England: Woodhead Publishing Limited; 2006. Hardcover; 537 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1-84569-017-5. $285.00.

This is the final volume of a 3-volume reference tailored for manufacturers and processors who use herbs and spices in their products. In addition to the introduction, the third volume is divided into 3 parts comprised of 31 chapters. The first part, entitled “Improving the Safety of Herbs and Spices,” is divided into 6 chapters that review ways to improve safety of products. These include detecting and controlling mycotoxins, pesticides, and other harmful residues; using methods to remove contaminants from plant materials; and improving packaging and storage to increase shelf-life. The section also includes a chapter on Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point (HACCP) and Quality Assurance (QA) to ensure safety of products sold globally.

The second part, entitled “Herbs & Spices as Functional Ingredients & Flavorings,” is made up of 5 chapters, 2 of which give an overview of health benefits and chemistry of active principles in herbs and spices. The remaining 3 chapters elaborate on the prevention of chronic ailments such as cancer and cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases.

“Particular Herbs & Spices”—the third part—includes 20 chapters (or monographs) on 20 individual herbs and spices. The rationale behind the selection of the ingredients included in this volume is not clear, nor is it clear why 37 other plant monographs included in the first 2 volumes were chosen. Although some of the species covered in these volumes are in demand globally, not all those covered herein are used worldwide.

All the monographs on individual herbs and spices in the third volume have useful information, but none of them follow a standard format. This is perhaps because the authors of these chapters hail from different countries and have different and diverse backgrounds. The lengths of chapters also vary; for instance, the chapter on celeriac (Apium graveolens, Apiaceae) is 4 pages long while the one on caraway (Carum carvi, Apiaceae) is 28 pages. Current botanical terminology is not used consistently: the family Apiaceae is referred to as Umbelliferae, Alliaceae is referred to as Liliaceae, Lamiaceae is referred to as Labiatae, etc. Current import and export data for the herbs and spices would have been useful to the manufacturers of dietary supplements, but such data are documented for only some species. The pharmacological properties of the species are spread over each chapter. Sometimes they can be found under the title “Functional Properties,” other times under “Medicinal Properties,” and at times they are mentioned only in passing. Some authors do not appear to be familiar with pertinent medical literature. Their explanation of the mechanism of action of plant-drugs is incomplete. There are also some obvious omissions. For example, in Chapter 9, which is about cancer, the author lists over 90 different plants used in cancer therapy but fails to mention the use of Camptotheca acuminata in modern therapy.

The monographs of herbs and spices covered in this handbook will be useful to farmers involved in their cultivation. The authors go to great lengths in describing the propagation techniques. They describe appropriate climate, soil, sowing techniques, fertilization, harvesting techniques, irrigation, weed control, pest control, etc.

Although plant synonyms and common names of plants are included in some monographs, this is not universally the case for all plants. The book could have been more useful to food technologists and manufacturers of herbs and spices if market analysis of the plant in question was included with each monograph. Each of the 3 volumes sells for $285—a price tag that only businesses can afford. These books are unlikely to have clientele in academia since, along with the price tag, it is disheartening to find less than 20 small nondescript black and white pictures.

K. V. Peter, who has edited all 3 volumes, is professor of horticulture and the vice-chancellor and former director of research at Kerala Agricultural University, India. He was director of India’s prestigious Indian Institute of Spices Research, Calicut, from 1991 to 1999. Each of the 31 chapters is authored or co-authored by different individuals who come from reputed institutes in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Greece, Iran, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, and India.

—Rustem S. Medora, PhD Professor Emeritus of Pharmacognosy University of Montana School of Pharmacy Missoula, MT