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Medicinal Plants of South Africa.
by Ben-Erik Van Wyk, Bosch Van Oudtshoorn, and Nigel Gericke. 1998. Pretoria, South Africa: Briza Publications. 304 pp. Hardcover. Color photographs. $75.00. ISBN 1-875093-09-5. ABC Catalog #B314.

This book, now available in English, is a most colorful introduction to the rich plant diversity of South Africa, a country of more than 30,000 species of higher plants. Cape Floral and Kingdom, according to the book, has nearly 9,000 species of plants and is probably the most diverse temperate floral region on Earth. This diversity produces about 3,000 species of plants, of which about 350 are commonly used and traded as medicinal plants. The book highlights 132 of the most popular and well-researched of these medicinal plants, plus several other related plants as well.

The first part of the book gives a beautifully illustrated introduction into the cultural aspects of healing, including some of the ethnic cultures of South Africa, plant parts used in traditional medicine, methods of collection and storage, dosage forms and methods of preparation, methods of administration, and active ingredients (i.e., brief paragraphs on active phytochemicals).

On each right-hand facing page, the publishers have included three or more high-quality color photographs, making this book a valuable publication independent of the text offered on each plant. The skeletal monographs include Latin name, family name, local colloquial or vernacular names in the tribal languages, botanical description of the plant, plant part used, medicinal uses, preparation and dosage, active ingredient, pharmacological effect, and geographical distribution. The geographical distribution is also indicated with a color-shaded area on a line drawing of the map of South Africa. The active ingredients are also represented with chemical diagrams of one or two major active compounds. Each monograph contains six to eight references.

The book also has a brief glossary of medical terms, a cross reference of plants included in the book according to the various ailments for which they are used, and a general index. With over 500 color photographs of excellent quality, this book provides compelling visuals of the major medicinal plants of this beautiful country. The authors are a professor of botany, a retired professor of pharmacy, and a medical doctor and expert in ethnobotany. As interest in medicinal plants increases worldwide, as research increases on medicinal plants of Africa and, as Africa expands, this book will become an important part of the literature, especially as an initial means of study for students, pharmacists, researchers, and industry. Although the information provided on each plant is brief, the referencing provides avenues to further research for someone who wants more detailed information.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Mark Blumenthal