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Fundamentals of pharmacognosy and phytotherapy second edition

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Title: Fundamentals of pharmacognosy and phytotherapy second edition

Authors: Michael Heinrich, Joanne Barnes, Simon Gibbons and Elizabeth M Williamson

Publisher: Churchill Livingstone, 2012

Reviewer: Peter Houghton, emeritus professor in pharmacognosy, Kings College London

What was it like?

This book is a revised version of the ground-breaking undergraduate textbook first published in 2004 which combined phytotherapy, the therapeutic aspects of medicinal plants, with pharmacognosy, the more classical study of medicinal plants and their constituents, which deals with botanical and chemical aspects. The book is divided into five sections consisting of an introduction, then one dealing with botanical aspects including classical morphology but also systematics and ethnopharmacology. The next section deals with the chemistry of plant constituents and the final two sections cover herbal medical systems and overviews of medicinal plants arranged therapeutically.

What were the highlights? 

Considerable updating has taken place to include recent developments in research, particularly clinical evidence for reputed activity. The chapter on plant chemistry is especially good because it is clear, concise and comprehensive. The section detailing medicinal plants arranged according to their therapeutic use provides a more familiar port of entry to information than would be the case for those unfamiliar with chemical matters.   ..

Strengths & weaknesses:

The layout of the book is pleasant and illustrations are clear and add value to the text.

This book gives a good comprehensive treatment of a multidisciplinary area of knowledge and will be especially useful to nurses and  members of related professions,  who are increasingly likely to encounter patients taking the medicinal plants and derived products mentioned., often in conjunction with orthodox medication, but are unlikely to have been taught much about them in their university courses. This book will help to ascertain the benefits and limitations, even hazards, of such material from a scientific standpoint. This is particularly valuable in light of the amount of misinformation and half-truths, which exist about these products in the popular press and other media.

It is difficult to identify any serious weakness in this book but the omission of a section or chapter dealing with naturally derived drugs of abuse is surprising since these are widely used and often encountered as a complication in treating disease.  Another quibble is the inclusion of a chapter on anticancer natural products in the chemistry section. Although it is true that natural products underlie many drugs used in oncology, my contention is that this chapter would be better placed in the therapeutic sections. 

Who should read it?

I consider this book excellent value for money. Although primarily intended for pharmacy students, this is the best text in English for those studying to be nursing practitioners because of its scientific approach to complementary medicine, particularly therapies that use plant material for example herbalism, aromatherapy and  homeopathy. Much of the material will be also of interest to the intelligent layperson as well as to those at postgraduate level who wish to gain background knowledge in this fascinating area of research and practice. 

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