Connecting Indian Wisdom and Western Science: Plant Usage for Nutrition and Health by Luisella Verotta, Maria Pia Macchi, and Padma Venkatasubramanian, eds. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2015. Hardcover, 470 pages. ISBN: 978-1482299755. $99.95.
This is an interesting and unique text meant to connect Indian and other Eastern health and nutrition practices with those of the Western world, specifically the Mediterranean area. The book focuses on commonly used plants, especially with respect to dietary habits. It has 11 chapters that are grouped into four sections: Section I contains five chapters that deal with traditional Indian medicine, primarily Ayurveda; Section II includes three chapters that focus on Western nutrition; Section III has two chapters on balancing food; and Section IV discusses the connections and conclusions. All of the chapters are very unevenly divided. For example, although Section III has only two chapters, it constitutes more than 70% of the total book.
This book describes Ayurveda, the science of life, and its history of practice, which goes back thousands of years. It is also about various plants used in Ayurveda that are connected with longevity. Chapter 1 gives a historical overview of Ayurveda and how it is connected to Greek, Arabic, and Roman traditions. Chapter 2 examines the basic principles and role of nutrition in Ayurveda. How food is connected to longevity and health is the subject of Chapter 3. The Ayurvedic concept of tridosha — the three doshas — is the topic of discussion here. The basic principles of diet and its role in medicine according to the Greek system are discussed in Chapter 4. The traditional Indian system of nutrition is discussed by A.V. Balasubramanian in Chapter 5.
While Section I is primarily about Indian traditions and systems, Section II deals with the Western system of nutrition. How nutrients are the essence of life is discussed in Chapter 6. The role of various so-called "nutraceuticals" is discussed in Chapter 7. This chapter, however, could have been more detailed considering the amount of information that is currently available. Chapter 8 deals with the Mediterranean diet. Again, the information provided is highly limited. It could have benefitted from having more pictures of the plants, as well.
The focus of Section III is food balances. Chapter 9 deals with the healing power of spices. This comprehensive chapter includes information on plants such as turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae), basil (Ocimum basilicum, Lamiaceae), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum, Zingiberaceae), cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Lauraceae), black pepper (Piper nigrum, Piperaceae), coriander (Coriandrum sativum, Apiaceae), cumin (Cuminum cyminum, Apiaceae), fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum, Fabaceae), garlic (Allium sativum, Amaryllidaceae), ginger (Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae), parsley (Petroselinum crispum, Apiaceae), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, Lamiaceae), saffron (Crocus sativus, Iridaceae), and sage (Salvia officinalis, Lamiaceae). The section continues with a discussion of the healing properties of food in Chapter 10. Chapter 11 deals with intercultural perspectives on human diet, while emphasizing that food is a medicine.
Overall this text is well done, comprehensive, and thorough. It describes the history of food, the history of medicine, and how food is medicine. I strongly recommend this book to all who want to know more about what we should eat, since “we are what we eat.”
—Bharat Aggarwal, PhD
Professor of Medicine,
MD Anderson Cancer Center