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The Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico: Volume 1.
Cheatham, Scooter, Marshall C. Johnston, and Lynn Marshall. 1995. Useful Wild Plants. Inc. Austin, TX. xxii + 568 pp. Hardcover. $125.00. ISBN 1-887292-01-2. Available from ABC Catalog # B 135.

Extraordinary! No less a word of praise can express my pleasure and amazement after browsing through this carefully organized and beautifully illustrated first volume describing the economic plants of the southern U.S.A., emphasizing Texas, and adjacent Mexico. Very simply, it is a work unequaled anywhere, worldwide. Given that 11 additional volumes are planned, the set will now and in the future always be an indispensable encyclopedia of reference for North Americans and others elsewhere interested in useful plants.

This is far more than a volume about economic plants typically perceived by botanists. Besides the anticipated binomial and common names with remarks on distribution and use followed by references and an index, who would expect to find relatively detailed morphological descriptions of genera and all useful wild species found in Texas and neighboring areas, colored maps showing distribution frequencies, and colored photographs with sufficient detail to assist significantly in species determinations? Moreover, who could hope for such detailed economic plant data involving so all-encompassing a coverage as food, nutrition, domestication, archeology, anthropology, ethnobotany, horticulture, chemistry, pathology, and pharmaceutical uses? Not many, at least not to the extent provided by the authors of this monumental work.

For ease of reference for a wide audience, the entries have been arranged alphabetically by genus rather than by the traditional family order. In Volume I this includes Abroniato to Arundo. Turning randomly to Amaranthus (pp. 255-287 with 42 colored maps and photographs), I have selected topics in the economic section provided by the authors from pages 268 to 287, the scope of which is amazing. The discussion begins with amaranth food potential and prehistory of grain amaranth, domesticates in the U.S.A. and the New World, the huauhtli controversy, amaranth introductions and origins of domestication, food uses in Euroasia and the Middle East, future as a food crop for North Americans, potential as a Third World food crop, evidence of wild amaranth in archaeologic sites and problems of interpretation, food use by Indians of northern Mexico, seed yields, amaranth protein, starch, and greens as a crop, harvesting, nutritional value, livestock food, for making dye, soap, glue, and snuff, as a lice-killing agent and breath freshener, for landscape enhancement, seed germination and viability, as pathogen hosts, and as major sources of allergens. The final section is devoted to the widespread medicinal use of amaranths to treat rheumatism, swellings, inflammations, broken bones, aches, snakebites, respiratory and digestive disorders, diarrhea, indigestion, cardiac and circulatory problems, renal disorders, venereal diseases, female reproductive disorders, hallucinations, insanity, and even others. However, many of these medicinal references extend to South America and the Old World.

How alive Cheatham, Johnston, and Marshall have made their book, which must be seen and used to be believed! Without exception it should be available in every library wherever plants and their uses are referenced for research, teaching, and industry, and by all those who enjoy learning more about plants around us. The publication is a botanical gem of the century.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Walter H. Lewis