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by Lewis Lewin, M.D. Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT. Paperback, ISBN-0-89281-783-6. 1998. 288 pp, $16.95. (Reprint of 1924 original.)

This book ranks with Claus Von Bibra's Plant Intoxicants (1855) as one of the primary classics in the field of ethnopsychopharmacology. The author, a German physician of the last part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, was considered the greatest medical toxicologist in Germany of his time. Unlike the previous work cited by Von Bibra, still a classic and reprinted by the same publisher (1995), this book deals with vegetable drugs of a hallucinatory, sedative, and CNS stimulating activity that have been used in traditional societies as ritual agents and as medicines.

Lewin's place in the history of modern herbal medicine is well established as can be attested by a review of the literature on kava (Piper methysticum). Lewin was the first to publish an extensive scientific monograph on kava in 1874 documenting the known chemistry and pharmacology of this traditional South Pacific medicinal plant -- at least the state of the science at that time -- 125 years ago! Additionally, Lewin was the first to publish a monograph on betel (Areca catechu) in 1888 -- the well-known stimulant of India and Africa. He also published the earliest monograph on peyote (Lophophora williamsii), the ritual hallucinatory "medicine" favored by Native Americans of the Southwestern U.S. and Northern Mexico.

This classic book contains many monographs replete with the best available scientific and commercial market information available at the time it was written. Monographs include such botanical substances as opium, morphine, and heroin; coca and cocaine; peyote, marijuana, the tropane alkaloid-rich plants of the Solanaceae (henbane, jimsonweed, etc.), and ayahuasca (Banasteriopsis caapi). Additionally, there are sections on alcohol, kava, betel, kat (Catha edulis), caffeine-rich plants (coffee, tea, cola, maté, guarana, chocolate); and tobacco. The information is given in a lucid, authoritative manner and represents the most advance thinking on these substances up to the first quarter of this century.

The book is organized by drugs according to their primary pharmacological activity -- as determined by Lewin: Euphorica: Mental Sedatives; Phantastica: Hallucinating Substances; Inebriantia; Hypnotica: Soporifics; and Excitantia. The substances mentioned above are explained under these headings.

The publishers are to be congratulated for making this classic volume available to the student and collector. This book provides valuable data and insights into an entire class of natural products, some of which continue to be used on a widespread basis in our culture, and others whose use stimulates much concern regarding natural healthcare and drug interdiction policy.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Mark Blumenthal