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Fundamentals of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy

Fundamentals of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy, 2nd edition, by Michael Heinrich, Joanne Barnes, Simon Gibbons, and Elizabeth M. Williamson. Edinburgh, Scotland: Churchill Livingston; 2012. ISBN: 978-0-7020-3388-9. $59.95.

Many retailers in the United States allocate a substantial amount of shelf space to a selection of herbal products including dietary supplements, cosmetics, and conventional foods. Manufacturing quality herbal products requires technical expertise to procure and process botanicals for commercial use, which has fostered the re-emergence of pharmacognosy as a vital scientific discipline. The sustained interest in consumer botanical health products has generated a need for professional roles in diverse fields such as medicine, academia, industry, and regulatory science. These roles need to be filled with qualified experts. And qualified experts need good reference textbooks.

The second edition of Fundamentals of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy provides authoritative information on botany, chemistry, and phytotherapy, as well as information on the importance of medicinal plants in some of today’s healthcare systems. A collaboration of 4 experts working together to develop a lecture series that integrates ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology, classical botanical pharmacognosy, natural product chemistry, phytochemistry, phytotherapy, and clinical pharmacy — the textbook is a unique reference that covers the fundamentals of pharmacognosy with a therapy-oriented perspective. As such, it is a must-have reference for pharmacists, pharmacognosists, integrative healthcare practitioners, industry scientists, and regulators.

The book is divided into 2 major sections. The first, “Fundamentals of Pharmacognosy,” provides a comprehensive overview of the history and importance of herbal products in pharmacy and medicine. This section covers concepts that provide the reader with a scientific foundation for understanding herbal products and includes relevant principles of botany and ethnobotany, the chemistry of secondary metabolites pertinent to drug therapy, the characterization and standardization of phytomedicines and so-called nutraceuticals, and the use of medicinal plants in Asian systems of traditional medicine, as well as in Western complementary and alternative medicine.

The second section is dedicated to applications of botanical products in pharmacy and medicine. Here, important botanical products are discussed by therapeutic categories and organized by body systems, e.g., gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, endocrine, reproductive, and musculoskeletal systems, as well as the urinary tract.

For example, in the gastrointestinal section, the authors further divide the information into sub-sections based on particular conditions, such as constipation, nausea and vomiting, and dyspepsia. Under each section is a list of the herbs most commonly used to treat such conditions. Under “Constipation,” the authors describe the benefits of bulk-forming laxatives such as psyllium (Plantago psyllium, Plantaginaceae), linseed (flax; Linum usitatissimum, Linaceae), and wheat bran (Triticum aestivum, Poaceae). A brief physical description of the plant and basic method of action are included in each section.

There are many textbooks in the field of pharmacognosy, but few provide as much useful information for a variety of readers as this one. For example, Chapter 9 discusses production, standardization, and quality control for botanical products from seed to shelf, with special emphasis on aspects of herbal product manufacturing not encountered when working with synthetic drugs or single chemical compounds. This book will no doubt become a staple reference in laboratories and for manufacturers using botanical ingredients worldwide.

This reference provides detailed structural diagrams and descriptions of complex methods in natural product chemistry expected of a high-quality textbook on pharmacognosy. In addition to explaining the conventional scientific framework for understanding botanicals, the authors delve into the rich ancient herbal traditions from around the globe. The reader is given an overview of key elements of traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and traditional African medicine. Furthermore, the reader benefits from thought-provoking correlations between traditional usage and pharmacological actions as understood by modern science. Accordingly, this book might become a go-to reference for integrative healthcare practitioners as well.

The textbook covers a wide range of topics important to the botanical science community. Each chapter of the book focuses on a subject matter that is elaborated upon with detail but without risk of tiring the reader with minutiae. Readers interested in greater detail are referred to additional resources in the “Further reading” sections of each chapter.

Fundamentals of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy is an essential read for practitioners of pharmacy, medicine, integrative medicine, and related professions. It is also a valuable reference textbook for industry professionals who work with herbs to find answers to day-to-day questions easily. I anticipate that this book will become one of those well-used reference books that appear on the bookshelves of professors, healthcare practitioners, industry scientists, and regulators.


–Douglas ‘Duffy’ MacKay, ND

Vice President of Scientific &Regulatory Affairs

Council for Responsible Nutrition