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Medicinal Plants of China, Korea, and Japan: Bioresources for Tomorrow’s Drugs and Cosmetics

Medicinal Plants of China, Korea, and Japan: Bioresources for Tomorrow’s Drugs and Cosmetics by Christophe Wiart. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012. Hardcover, 454 pages. ISBN: 978-1439899113. $149.95.

Medicinal Plants of China, Korea, and Japan is a compilation of botanical, chemical, and pharmacological information on roughly 200 selected plant species and is intended to be a reference for researchers who are looking for new leads from Chinese medicinal plants for pharmaceutical and cosmetic studies. Though Professor Stephen J. Hill, PhD, wrote in the preface that these plants “have been carefully selected for their novelty and pharmacological importance,” no further explanation is provided in the text on why or how the plants were chosen for this work. Furthermore, the book contains no introduction, nor does it feature any concluding remarks.

The bulk of the book consists of nine chapters organized using the “Superorder” system proposed by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) classification. They are Austrobaileyanae (ICBN family name: Austrobaileyaceae), Magnolianae (Magnoliaceae), Lilianae (Liliaceaea), Ranunculanae (Ranunculaceae), Rosanae (Rosaceae), Saxifraganae (Saxifragaceae), Santalanae (Santalaceae), Caryophyllanae (Caryophyllaceae), and Asteranae (Asteraceae). Under each Superorder are sections on selected orders and families. In each family section, brief morphological characteristics are given, followed by individual species.

The layout for each plant species is consistent, providing information on history (citation of the first botanical description of the plant), common names (mainly Malay, Chinese, Japanese, and/or Korean names), basionym (original Latin binomial), synonyms (Latin binomial), habitat in China and/or Southeast Asia, diagnosis (morphological descriptions of the plant species), medicinal uses and traditional and/or folkloric applications, pharmacology (brief description of selected in vitro and/or in vivo biological effects of the plant extract or its chemical constituents; in some cases, the structures of one or two major bioactive chemical constituents are provided); and finally, bioresources that includes promising bioactivity for further research. Major references are provided at the end of each chapter. The book concludes with five indices: common names, medicinal uses, natural products, pharmacological terms, and plants.

At first glance, I was attracted to this book’s subtitle, “Bioresources for Tomorrow’s Drugs and Cosmetics,” because, as a researcher in the area of natural drug discovery, choosing which plants to study is critical to success. As the subtitle implies, the most interesting and useful information that a reader might look for is the pharmacological potential of each plant species. Indeed, the book’s back cover asserts that “critical analyses of peer-reviewed articles provide the basis for Bioresource sections in each chapter wherein readers are advised, engaged, and guided toward exciting pharmaceutical and cosmetological research proposals.” Unfortunately, the Bioresource section turns out to be one of the shortest sections in the text, containing only short phrases, such as “In vitro pharmacological study of alisol B monoacetate for its effect on cancer,” or even as simple as “Antimalarial agent(s).” I find it disappointing that neither detailed explanations nor references are given to support these statements. In many cases, there are no clues at all to help a reader understand why a particular suggestion is made. For example, folicanthine from Chimonanthus praecox (Calycanthaceae) is proposed for study on Alzheimer’s disease without any explanation. In another case, under the Illigera appendiculata (Hernandiaceae) entry, the author suggests “In vitro pharmacological study of actinodaphnine for its effect on acne,” yet this compound never was mentioned as being present in this plant species.

The book seems to be full of confusing features. In numerous cases, partially highlighted chemical structures appear side-by-side with other structures bearing similar highlights. While the author never explains the meaning of these features, my suspicion is that he intended to illustrate the structural similarities between a plant constituent and a known active compound. For example, under the entry of Illigera luzoniensis (Hernandiacea), which contains actinodaphnine and N-methyl-actinodaphnine, the latter is recommendeded for in vitro study for its effect on alopecia, while the chemical structure of phenylephrine is given side-by-side. In my opinion, additional information and an expansion of the Bioresource section certainly would make the text more complete and useful. Moreover, it would be preferable if the author presented his views with sound scientific evidence.

On the back cover of the book, the author claims that “detailed photographs and hand-made botanical plates enable quick and reliable identification of each plant species.” Unfortunately, no such plates can be found in the book. Each species is accompanied only by a hand-drawn line sketch of selected plant parts (not necessarily showing the medicinal part), from which minimal morphological information can be obtained for identification purposes.

Eight color pictures of plants appear in the middle of the book with no elucidation.

Overall, I am disappointed to find that the most important data I was looking for are missing from this book. If the author would consider a revision of this work, I suggest a substantial expansion of the Bioresource section by the inclusion of detailed explanations and literature citations.

—Chun-Tao Che, PhD

Norman R. Farnsworth Professor of Pharmacognosy

College of Pharmacy

University of Illinois at Chicago

Chicago, IL