Bitter Roots: The Search For Healing Plants In Africa

Paperback | January 17, 2014

byAbena Dove Osseo-asare

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For over a century, plant specialists worldwide have sought to transform healing plants in African countries into pharmaceuticals. And for equally as long, conflicts over these medicinal plants have endured, from stolen recipes and toxic tonics to unfulfilled promises of laboratory equipment and usurped personal patents. In Bitter Roots, Abena Dove Osseo-Asare draws on publicly available records and extensive interviews with scientists and healers in Ghana, Madagascar, and South Africa to interpret how African scientists and healers, rural communities, and drug companies—including Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Unilever—have sought since the 1880s to develop drugs from Africa’s medicinal plants.
           
Osseo-Asare recalls the efforts to transform six plants into pharmaceuticals: rosy periwinkle, Asiatic pennywort, grains of paradise, Strophanthus, Cryptolepis, and Hoodia. Through the stories of each plant, she shows that herbal medicine and pharmaceutical chemistry have simultaneous and overlapping histories that cross geographic boundaries. At the same time, Osseo-Asare sheds new light on how various interests have tried to manage the rights to these healing plants and probes the challenges associated with assigning ownership to plants and their biochemical components.   
           
A fascinating examination of the history of medicine in colonial and postcolonial Africa, Bitter Roots will be indispensable for scholars of Africa; historians interested in medicine, biochemistry, and society; and policy makers concerned with drug access and patent rights.

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From the Publisher

For over a century, plant specialists worldwide have sought to transform healing plants in African countries into pharmaceuticals. And for equally as long, conflicts over these medicinal plants have endured, from stolen recipes and toxic tonics to unfulfilled promises of laboratory equipment and usurped personal patents. In Bitter Root...

Abena Dove Osseo-Asare is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:January 17, 2014Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022608602X

ISBN - 13:9780226086026

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Table of Contents

Introduction: From Plants to Pharmaceuticals

1. Take Madagascar Periwinkle for Leukemia and Pennywort for Leprosy
2. Take Grains of Paradise for Love
3. Take Arrow Poisons for the Heart
4. Take Bitter Roots for Malaria
5. Take Kalahari Hoodia for Hunger

Conclusion: Toward Bioprosperity
Acknowledgments
Persons Consulted
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

"In a refreshing and innovative approach to bioprospecting, Bitter Roots helps to fill this gap by telling the stories of six African healing plants—rosy periwinkle, Asiatic pennywort, grains of paradise, Strophanthus, Cryptolepis, and Hoodia—all of which have been the subject of commercial investigation. By taking us on a historical journey from colonial exploration and exploitation to the contemporary controversies within which such plants are located, Osseo-Asare shows how multiple innovators have contributed toward the shaping of scientific knowledge. Through meticulous ethnographic research, she demonstrates how class distinctions allowed some parties to claim credit for drug discovery at the expense of others, highlighting the complexity of natural product research in African countries. Bitter Roots is not only engaging and provocative, but also provides new perspectives on old stories, in a region that has received little attention."