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African Natural Plant Products: New Discoveries and Challenges in Chemistry and Quality

African Natural Plant Products: New Discoveries and Challenges in Chemistry and Quality by H. Rodolfo Juliani, James Simon, and Chi-Tang Ho (eds). Washington, DC: American Chemical Society; 2009. Hardcover; 595 pages. ISBN 978-0-8412-6987-3. $195.00. Available in ABC’s online catalog #570.

A wide range of indigenous plant-derived health and nutritional products are utilized across the length and breadth of the African continent to improve human and animal health, and yet natural, plant-derived products from Africa presently have a disproportionately small market share of the global trade in such products. The dearth of up-to-date and authoritative sources of information is at least one of manifold reasons for this inequity.

The purpose of this book is to provide a comprehensive overview of recent scientific, technical, and economic developments across a broad range of African nutritional, medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), and plant-derived products. This useful reference book achieves its purpose, making a significant contribution to the scientific literature on useful African plants and plant-derived products. African Natural Plant Products is an information-dense volume that explores the current contributions that African plants make to local health and wellness within Africa, and identifies plants with economic importance on international markets. The reader is afforded an early glimpse of the emerging science on plants with promising economic and health potential, as the book includes some of the latest basic and clinical research supporting the plants’ uses in self-care and healthcare. There are 29 scientific articles and reviews contributed by more than 80 authors, organized into 5 sections.

The section “Overview” includes a foreword by Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, and a paper on the economic value of African plant-derived products.

“Traditional Medicines from Africa” consists of papers on the folk-uses and commercial applications of a wide range of African plants, and includes useful comprehensive reviews on baobab (Adansonia digitata, Malvaceae) and tamarind (Tamarindus indica, Fabaceae).

The section “Pharmacognosy and Validation of Traditional Medicines” provides recent advances in the scientific validation of indigenous therapeutic uses, and includes papers on plants as possible treatments for the prevalent diseases malaria, sickle-cell anemia, and diabetes. The review on the South African medicinal plant, Pelargonium sidoides (Geraniaceae) serves as a model for product development for African medicinal plants for the international market, and includes summaries of an impressive range of clinical trials, including “gold-standard” randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies on a proprietary product from this plant.

“Quality Control of African Natural Plant Products” focuses on the development of quality standards and provides practical information on quality issues for a wide range of African plants and products, and includes general reviews as well as proposed quality standards for the seeds of Voacanga africana (Apocynaceae) and Griffonia simplicifolia (Fabaceae).

The section “Applications and Commercialization of African Natural Plant Products” includes reviews on moringa (Moringa oleifera, Moringaceae) as well as papers on the uses and composition of essential oils from Madagascar and Kenya.

The book closes with a paper dealing with models for equitable benefit-sharing, an essential consideration for all those dealing with the research and commercialization of indigenous plants that have established local uses.

In a few of the contributed papers there are some omissions of—or insufficient emphasis on—important information. With the prevalence of malaria in Africa and the importance to local communities of the clinical validation of local antimalarial treatments, a complete description of published clinical studies (such as Dr. Marian Addy’s “Cryptolepis: An African Traditional Medicine that Provides Hope for Malaria Victims” in 2003’s HerbalGram #60 [available at:]) on infusions of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta (Asclepiadaceae) roots would have strengthened the review article on this plant. The growing use of moringa leaf as an apparently immune-supporting nutritional supplement by rural African people living with HIV is not mentioned. For baobab, an important omission is the European Commission Decision 2008/575/EC of 27 June, 2008, which authorizes the placing on the market of baobab dried fruit pulp as a novel food ingredient under Regulation (EC) No 258/97 of the European Parliament and of the Council. This decision is the key to establishing markets in Europe for this quintessential African functional food. The granting of GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status to baobab dried fruit pulp in the USA in 2009 may have been too late for inclusion in the review.

The editors are acclaimed academics in their field. H. Rodolfo Juliani, PhD, is a plant biologist working as a research associate at the Plant Biology and Pathology department at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He serves as the quality assurance and quality control coordinator for international development programs, and as the associate director of the New Use Agriculture and Natural Plant Products Program at Rutgers, a program which seeks to identify new crop opportunities, new applications of bioactive and nutritious plant compounds, and new products from fruits, vegetables and herbs including nutraceutical, bioactive, and cosmetic ingredients. James E. Simon, PhD, is a professor in the department of Plant Biology and Plant Pathology, and serves as the director of the New Use Agriculture and Natural Plant Products Program. Chi-Tang Ho, PhD, is professor in the department of Food Science, Rutgers University. He has published over 450 scientific articles, and is an editorial board member for a number of publications, including the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The editors have spent many years working on the ground with local African MAPs scientists and producers under the auspices of ASNAPP (Agribusiness in Sustainable African Natural Plant Products), an organization dedicated to improving the production, quality, and marketing of African plant-derived, beneficiated, raw materials and products. Many of the contributing authors are African, a testament to the contribution African scientists are making to the growing body of scientific research on African edible, medicinal, and aromatic plants.

I recommend this book as a valuable reference to a broad audience including scientists, clinicians, product developers, policy-makers, and development agencies. It is an important recent contribution to the steadily growing literature on African ethnobotany, plant chemistry, pharmacology, clinical research, and raw material production and quality control.

—Nigel Gericke, PhD Consultant, Cape Town, South Africa