Medicinal Plants of the World. Ivan A. Ross, 1999. ISBN 0-89603-542-5 (cloth,US$99.50). xiii + 415 pp. + 3 pages of color plates between pp. 210 and 211. Humana Press, Inc., 999 Riverview Drive, Totowa, New Jersey 07512.
You are wondering about the title. "All of them, in only 415 pages?" No, of course not; only 26 species are treated.
I have no idea how many medicinal species there might be. I can get a clue from a Koeltz flier that I received in the same mail with this book: Giuseppe Penso, Index Plantarum Medicinalium Totius Mundi Eorumque Synonymorum, 1997, 1062 pages; in the tag line, it is said to be an index of over 12,000 medicinal plants. It may well be an index of medicinal plants of the entire world along with their synonyms. I haven't seen it. But it gives me a feeling for how far off the mark this book's title is.
One cannot help noticing what is omitted: not a single mint, no composites, no mention of marijuana, no mushrooms, no ginseng, no gingko, no St. John's Wort. The rationale for what to include, what to exclude, is nowhere explained. Ross' book treats the following: Abrus precatorius (Fab.), Allium sativum (Lil.), Aloe vera (Lil.), Annona muricata (Annon.), Carica papaya (Caric.), Cassia alata (Fab.), Catharanthus rosea (Apocyn.), Cymbopogon citratus (Poaceae), Cyperus rotundus (Cyper.), Curcuma longa (Cucurbit.), Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Malv.), Hibiscus sabdariffa (Malv.), Jatropha curcas (Euphorbi.), Lantana camara (Verben.), Mucuna pruriens (Fab.), consistently misspelled as Macuna, and therefore inserted here, Mangifera indica (Anacardi.), Manihot esculenta (Euphorbi.), Momordica charantia (Cucurbit.), Moringa pterygosperma (Moring.), Persea americana (Laur.), Phyllanthus niruri (Euphorbi.), Portulaca oleracea (Portulac.), Psidium guajava (Myrtac.), Punica granatum (Punic.), Syzygium cumini (Myrtac.), and Tamarindus indica (Fab.)
My motive for listing the included species is, if one of these is your research material, you might want to consult this book. For each species, there is an extensive listing of common names, including the country where it is called that, a brief botanical description, a distribution statement, traditional uses, chemical constituents, and pharmacological activities and clinical trials. Everything in the treatments is alphabetical, to the extent possible. There is some serious scholarship here.
But there is no index. Therefore, if you want to know whether antifungal activity has been recorded for, say, Lantana camara, you must first turn to the table of contents, find the page number, then look under the last category where each "activity" is treated alphabetically: antibacterial, antiestrogenic, antifungal, etc.
Nearly every statement has a reference to the literature, given as a superscript on the pattern of K23019 or M28527 and readable only through the bottoms of your bifocals. And you will find them all in the bibliography, fully 56 pages long in two-column format. (Well, almost all; I found one identified as A05153 that got omitted.) I have no idea what the origin of these reference codes might be, and it is nowhere explained. The author is an employee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and it may be these are identifiers in some kind of literature database maintained by that bureau.
Chapter 1 in all this is a sort of primer of elementary botany. Why it is there, I have no idea. It explains about leaf and stem, flower and fruit. But when the various terms are explained, the alphabetical arrangement is abandoned. You don't need this to follow the book, and it is not all that well done: "ventricillate" when "verticillate" was meant, "trifoliate" when "trifoliolate" was meant, and so on.
Most of the words that make up scientific names are derived from Latin or Greek. Because the species treated here came to the attention of science from their uses in folk medicine, it is not surprising that a goodly number of his generic names and specific epithets are derived from aboriginal languages, not from Greek or Latin; I make it about one third. Anyway, no translations or explanations of the Latin names are offered.
The implication is left (on page 1) that binomial nomenclature is an outgrowth of the first International Botanical Congress in Paris in 1867. Binomial nomenclature was just over a century old at that time. But the author's point is that common names are in no sense standardized, whereas Latin binomials are, more or less. "In an effort to familiarize readers with the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature system, the code's Latin binomial is used for each plant (page v)." Well, no, the binomials themselves are not in the code. The rules for forming the binomials are there, as are rules aplenty for deciding which binomial may be adopted. Many species (none of them here, I think) have half a dozen binomials that are equally correct according to the rules; the choice becomes a matter of taxonomic judgment and opinion. No synonymy is given in this book, but so far as I can tell that won't cause any trouble. Because so many workers in medicinal botany may start from the common name, the author helpfully includes almost 40 pages of cross references to common names, but only to those used in this book. Nonetheless, there are approximately 1800 of them, by my rough count.
When next you have guacamole, do not let cage birds have their free-flying exercise period in the same room; ground pulp of Persea americana is poisonous to the little guys, at least when fed by gastric incubation (page 246). Whether budgies and canaries will eat it voluntarily, I don't know. Some people are violently allergic to avocados (page 245). It is clear it's a dangerous world we and our pets live in.
Neil A. Harriman, Biology Department, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI 54901;email@example.com.