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Phytochemical Dictionary: A Handbook of Bioactive Compounds from Plants.
by Jeffrey B. Harborne and Herbert Baxter (eds.). 1993. Taylor & Frances, Inc., 1900 Frost Road, Suite 101, Bristol, PA 19007. Hardbound. 791 pp. including extensive index. $??. ISBN 0-85066-736-4.

This book is the most extensive phytochemical work available written by acknowledged experts in this field. The primary author, Jeffrey B. Harborne, is also the senior editor in a series on "The Flavonoids" (see HerbalGram No. 21). The book shows the chemical structure and description of 2,792 different, naturally occurring chemicals found in plants with the diagramatic chemical structures included.

The book is divided into five parts based on different general types of chemical compounds: carbohydrates and lipids, nitrogen-containing compounds (excluding alkaloids), alkaloids, phenolics, and terpenoids. In order to get a flavor of the information contained in this massive tome, I looked up silybin in the extensive chemical index in the rear, and I found it listed as compound number 1408 on page 385. The following is the entry for this important food and medicinal plant, the milk thistle:

"Occurs in the fruit of violet-flowered plants of Silybum marianum (Compositae).

"Silybin (formerly called silymarin) is one of the components of "silymarin group," a mixture of S. marianum flavanolignans having strong antihepatotoxic activity, especially against phalloidin [a toxic principle from the poison death trap mushroom (Amanita phalloides)]. They are used medicinally to treat liver disease and cases of Amanita poisoning. They increase the RNA-synthesis in isolated rat liver nuclei in vitro. As a consequence, the formation of ribosomes is accelerated and protein synthesis is increased."

This volume will undoubtedly become the classic reference for this subject and will become widely used by chemists, botanists, phytochemists, pharmacologists, herbalists, and other researchers interested in the activity of natural plant-derived chemicals.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.