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Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons

Plants have been used to treat disease throughout human history. On a clay slab that dates back approximately five thousand years, the Sumerians recorded medicinal recipes that made use of hundreds of plants, including poppy, henbane, and mandrake. During the Middle Ages, monks commonly grew and prescribed plants such as sage, anise, and mint in their monasteries. And as the market for herbal remedies and natural medicine grows, we continue to search the globe for plants and plant compounds to combat our various ailments.
In Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons, Ben-Erik van Wyk offers a richly illustrated, scientific guide to medicinal and poisonous plants, including those used for their mind-altering effects. Van Wyk covers approximately 350 species—from Aloe vera and Ephedra sinica to Cannabis sativa and Coffea arabica—detailing their botanical, geographical, pharmacological, and toxicological data as well as the chemical structures of the active compounds in each. Readers learn, for example, that Acacia senegal, or gum acacia, is used primarily in Sudan and Ethiopia as a topical ointment to protect the skin and mucosa from bacterial and fungal infections, and that Aconitum napellus, more commonly known as aconite, is used in cough syrups but can be psychedelic when smoked or absorbed through the skin. 
With 350 full-color photographs featuring the plants and some of their derivative products, Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons will be an invaluable reference not only for those in the health care field but also for those growing their own medicinal herb gardens, as well as anyone who needs a quick answer to whether a plant is a panacea or a poison.

See sample pages from the book (PDF format).

304 pages | 350 color plates | 6 1/4 x 9 1/4 | © 2014

Biological Sciences: Botany, Natural History



Reference and Bibliography


"Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons can be used as a guide for the novice herbalist, the seasoned botanist, or anyone with an interest in learning about how plants can heal (or kill). . . . The book is easy to navigate with hundreds of color photographs and chapters divided by poisonous plants, healing plants, mind-altering plants, and more."


"Phytomedicines is beautifully illustrated, with an accessible reference section, and it fulfills the authors’ pledge to provide a general reference book for pharmacists and lay public alike. . . .  [A] welcome addition to any budding botanist’s bookshelf, and a potent reminder of our complex relationship with plants."

Shaoni Bhattacharya | New Scientist

Table of Contents



Traditional systems of medicine


Functional foods and nutraceuticals

Plant-derived chemical compounds

Mind-altering drugs and stimulants

Plant poisons

Plant parts used

Dosage forms

Methods and routes of administration

Extraction and analysis of compounds

Quality control and safety

Efficacy of herbal medicine

Pharmacological and toxic effects

Regulation and legal aspects

Overview of secondary metabolites

Photographic index of plants


Further reading

Acknowledgements and photo credits


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