A timely study of alternative medicine
Title: Medicinal Plants of Barbados
Author: Damien H. Cohall
Publisher: University Press, Jamaica
Reviewer: Dr Glenville Ashby
Conventional medicine has been slow to wholly embrace an alternative protocol in the field of wellness. For good reason, some might argue. Despite accusations over its ethical practices, the pharmaceutical industry rakes in billions of dollars annually and is a hawkishly protected enterprise.
Over many millennia, though, the medicinal properties of plants have been sought and ably used by shamans and healers. Interestingly, by the turn of the 20th century and more so today, the need to revisit indigenous cultures has taken root. The fight against cancer, in particular, has been catalytic in reframing the dietary and nutritional debate.
One can argue that Jethro Gross' perennial work, Back to Eden, and the growing acceptance of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Western societies have legitimised the curative properties of plants the world over. The rapidly growing trend towards organic consumption and the significance of traditional and indigenous cultures have begun to challenge the magnetic hold of conventional medicine. That natural treatments to communicable and non-communicable diseases are becoming mainstream is hardly deniable.
Indeed, Back to Eden seems more than a title of a seminal undertaking. In fact, it may well describe a groundswell of consciousness towards natural living and healing, after a long period towards modernisation had eclipsed folk culture.
In light of this new reality, Damien H. Cohall's Medicinal Plants of Barbados couldn't be more timely and relevant.
Of marked interest are the social factors that influence the reliance on medicinal plants. Cohall cites the Christian identity of the island as a key contributory factor. The biblical references to herbs as healing agents sanctioned by God are crucial in understanding the Barbadian optics on this matter.
Benefits of herbs
And in identifying the plants' phytochemical properties (antioxidant and antibacterial agents that are the chemical components used to establish drug compounds), Cohall's work validates the long-standing folk beliefs on the efficacy of herbs. "Sixty-six per cent of the medicinal plant entries identified by Barbadians as being used medically contain pharmacological active phytochemicals," and more important, 51 per cent contain the said ingredient consistent with their reported use.
Medicinal Plants of Barbados is replete with tables that identify the scientific and 'common' name of plants, their local preparation, and their drug compound and efficacy in the treatment of chronic ailments, such as hypertension, cancer, diabetes, bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. Colour photos make for easy identification, especially for the untrained eye. Appendices, inclusive of a glossary and Study/Questionnaire serve to reinforce Cohall's thesis.
The ability of the public-health sector to efficiently respond to challenges that include interfacing with natural medical therapies requires flexibility and vision. Unquestionably, Cohall's undertaking promotes this endeavour. Yet, it scratches the surface of this complex study as Cohall himself concedes with the following: "The nature of the work emphasised the phytochemical analysis more than the holistic application of the whole extract and, hence, crude extract were not reported in the review. Additional chemical and pharmacological investigations need to be done on these plants to identify the bioactive constituents that are related to the indications for the specific illnesses. As expected, some studies reported the chemical profile of the plants but did not associate any of the chemicals constituents with folklore use."
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