Plants that Cure: Book Review

Do you know what folk medicine that works is called? It’s called medicine. Traditional medicine that doesn’t work and is solely ritual eventually succumbs to plants that cure. Only seven percent of the nearly 400,000 plants on Earth have been used in indigenous herbal medicine or remedies. Today scientists are looking at plant elements to create new medicines. Plants That Cure explores these critical compounds and the plants that produce them.

IMG_7017In a recent Bill Maher interview with Chef Andrew Zimmern, Zimmern discusses the difference between Western and Eastern medicine. He says when you see a doctor in Asia one of the first things they ask is what you have been eating. Whereas Western medicine dismisses your diet. It was an interesting point as our bodies are operating on what we give them, and our food intake is directly aligned with our health.  

For a few years I have been growing, as a novelty, the toothache plant (Acmella oleracea). I obtained the seeds from Baker Creek and found it great fun giving the plant’s leaves to friends and seeing them experience the numbing sensation the plant’s compounds produce. In Plants that Cure the plants are given the common name electric daisies. The beginning of the book explains why scientific names are essential when treating ailments with plants.

Toothache Plant - Bullseye

According to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, “As potent as they are beautiful, these flowers pack a punch. With a bright bulls eye on the tip of each flower, these funky little flowers look great in a border, especially when planted en masse.”

I appreciate the book’s attitude to plants that cure. Both authors are incredibly knowledge about plants as medicine, but they are cautious to blanket medical advice to the masses. Author Elizabeth A. Dauncey is a freelance plant toxicologist. Dauncey is the coauthor of Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants and the author of Poisonous Plants: A Guide for Parents and Childcare Providers. Melanie-Jayne R. Howes is a pharmacist and chartered chemist. She leads research in phytochemistry and pharmacognosy at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and is the coauthor of The Gardener’s Companion to Medicinal Plants. To learn more about the magical Kew Gardens check out my visit when I visited the massive estate on a layover.

The authors explicitly say that this book is intended to educate, delight and expand the reader’s understanding of the diverse plant life and not act as a medicinal manual or self-treatment guide. For those experiencing healthy concerns consult a physician. The authors who are well qualified to write this book provides an authoritative natural history of some of the most important medicinal plants.

The book has beautiful illustrations and colored photographs and diagrams. It is organized by body system, which feeds into a discussion of the compounds and plants employed for particular conditions, including heart and circulatory problems, fatigue and dementia, nausea and indigestion, respiratory infections, arthritis and joint movement, eye conditions, reproductive issues, and types of cancer. Most ailments and their plant counterparts are explained in two page spreads with colloquialisms that make you roll your eyes like, warts and all, the eyes have it, and get it off your chest.

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Plants that Cure examines how plant’s chemical compounds contribute to the functioning and survival of the plants themselves. I highly recommend the book to the budding botanist, herbalist or hobby gardener.

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