Book Review

Healing Plants of Peninsular India

By J.A. Parrotta, USDA Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Puerto Rico, USA

Binding: Hardback, Number of Pages: 944
Cabi Publishing June 2001, ISBN 085199 501 2

Cabi Publishing

The Healing Plants of Peninsular India is a monumental reference work covering some 550 species of plants used in various medical traditions of India. Mr. Parrotta has done a laudable job in gathering the scattered information and compiling it all in this very clearly laid out and extensively cross-referenced volume.

The introduction draws attention to many of the pressing problems facing traditional health-care practitioners world wide, many of which are closely entwined with conservation issues such as urbanization, which not only cause habitat loss and environmental degradation, but also often mark the beginnings of a loss of local and traditional plant knowledge.

The introductory section also includes a brief, but very interesting outline of the cultural and historical roots of traditional medicine in India, profiling ancient healing systems such as Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha medicine in some detail without getting lost in too many specifics.

A further section is devoted to India's rich natural plant resources. Being a geologically very diverse country India is blessed with many different kinds of biomes, which provide vastly different habitats. This section outlines the characteristics of each ecosystem and their indicator species.

The rest of the book profiles some 550 different species of medicinally important plant, organized alphabetically by family, genus and species, giving a full scientific description, details of habitat and distribution, synonyms in a number of local languages, as well as English and scientific names (this section is also cross-referenced in the appendix). A summery of therapeutic uses and/or commercial significance provides an insight into how each plant is used locally. Each profile is clearly laid out and illustrated with one or more small color photograph.

This impressive volume is a very well conceived and organized scholarly reference work that offers a wealth of varied and detailed information, primarily aimed at western scholars and researchers. The work draws extensively on other reference books and compiles information from many different sources. One of the most useful features is the great cross-reference between various local, scientific and English names, which makes it easy to locate just about any of the species mentioned. I also particularly appreciated the photographs, which puts a more personal face to each of the species profiles. Given the wealth of information and considering the many illustrations (high quality color photographs) the price, though not cheap, is justified. It's an excellent reference source well worth having for anybody interested in the medicinal plants of India/Asia and other tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

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