Drs Acharya and Shrivastava have achieved in this book the multi-faceted objectives of furthering the knowledge and documentation of the vital yet potentially disappearing practices and peoples of traditional herbal medicines, as well as pleading for the establishment of respectful institutional structures which will help to preserve the people, their practices and prevent the destruction of an unquantifiable treasure to humanity.
I have greatly valued Dr Acharya’s work over the years, publishing his articles as inspirational tributes to the healing powers of herbal medicines. However, I guess that, much like the rest of the scientific and medical community, I had possibly pigeon-holed its subject matter as somewhat obscure Ethnobotany, and the documentation of remote Indian tribal knowledge of the healing power of plants. And, as a busy and over-worked publisher of a monthly magazine, perhaps I hadn’t really grasped the vital importance of this work to global conservation and the preservation of the life-enhancing medical knowledge of traditional herbal practices.
As I have read this book, my realization has deepened that the task of attempting to unite the hostile and diverse universes of so-called allopathic (western, drug-oriented) medicine with natural, traditional, non-drug treatment approaches, which I have engaged in for about two decades is possibly not so far away from the task of the authors in attempting to learn, document, preserve and conserve traditional herbal medicines and the indigenous peoples with the expertise to apply them to human health.
The scope of this book is truly impressive, reviewing the key historical Ethnobotanical work in Madhya Pradesh, Guarat and Rajasthan, with regard to the geographical locations, tribal populations and the plant species recognized and utilized for their medicinal potential. The authors highlight the importance of India as a major Asian country in terms of the diversity of systems for the traditional knowledge, a wide variety of species (17,000), including 7,500 as known as medicinal plants, and possessing the oldest and richest cultural traditions associated with the use of traditional folk herbs.
The authors extend the working definition of traditional medicines to integrate diverse health practices, knowledge and beliefs, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises applied to maintain well-being, treat, diagnose or prevent illness. They describe the districts and their characteristics, the healers, and the central importance of plants both to traditional medical practices, and more recently, as sources of plant-derived drugs by the pharmaceutical industry. The authors cogently argue and describe how it would be possible to conserve traditional medicine knowledge, how plants with medicinal and commercial potential value can be identified and how the entire structure of tribal communities, healers and the coming generations could be established as Traditional Medicine Centres by Governments.
Helpful Tables listing numerous disorders and the names of the remedial plants useful in alleviating or curing these complaints, including the common and scientific names of plants, as well as a useful glossary of terms, makes this book entirely readable by both the scholar and the lay person wishing to deepen their knowledge of herbal medicines.
Drs Acharya and Shrivastave are passionate in their idealism to preserve an important repository, document and grow knowledge and help Mankind. The authors highlight eloquently the intense and approaching international, indeed global deadline to prevent the disappearance of species of trees, plants, roots and seeds, as well as indigenous healers with traditional knowledge. They suggest measures which could be implemented to help further prevent the rape and destruction of habitat, the exploitation of plants and remedies for financial and commercial uses and ultimate destruction forever of tribes, people and their way of life.
The substance of the authors’ message include the integration of the traditional herbal medicines knowledge base, the ending of hostility between biotechnological and traditional disciplines and business interests, and the creation of a unity of purpose to document, catalogue, preserve and develop traditional knowledge and train the next generation and preserve these precious resources for all of Mankind.
Dr Acharya writes in the Dedication about how his life was saved when he was critically ill as an 8 year old boy by a now-deceased, and possibly forgotten herbal healer from the Changotola village of Balaghat District, Madhya Pradesh, India, to whom he was brought by his father who couldn’t afford expensive surgery and medical treatment. When he returned more than a decade later to express his gratitude to this healer, he discovered that he had died; hardly anyone knew about him and that his knowledge base had probably died with him. This has been a seminal event which has helped to spur Dr Acharya on in his quest to document this knowledge, the tribal peoples expert in its use, as well as to develop a sustainable system to preserve, nurture and pass it on to future generations.
There is an urgency to communicate the importance of projects such as these, as well as others internationally. Once precious plants, people and ecosystems are destroyed, our medical knowledge is stripped of vital information known to mankind over millennia, and we are all the poorer.
Reviewer: Sandra Goodman PhD
Publisher: Aavishkar Publishers and Distributors – Jaipur