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African Herbal Pharmacopoeia

African Herbal Pharmacopoeia by Brendler T, Eloff JN, Gurib-Fakim A, Phillips LD. Port Luis, Republic of Mauritius: Association for African Medicinal Plants Standards; 2010. Softcover; 289 pages. ISBN # 978-99903-89-09-8. $125.00. Available in ABC’s online catalog #B583.

Africa has been and continues to be a significant source of medicinal and aromatic plants for the world’s food, drug, herb, dietary supplement, and cosmetics markets, and in the past decade numerous African plant materials have established a strong international market presence. People around the world enjoy Africa’s culinary contributions. These include the peanut (Arachis hypogaea, Fabaceae), yam (Dioscorea spp., Dioscoreaceae), watermelon (Citrullus lanatus, Cucurbitaceae), okra (Abelmoschus esculentus, Malvaceae), and many other foods and flavors including coffee (Coffea spp., Rubiaceae). In North America, there is little recognition of the many contributions that Africa has made to modern culture, i.e., perhaps beyond the domain of a few ethnobotanists, pharmacognosists, and a growing number of people in the herb and dietary supplement industry.

In recent years, many African medicinal herbs have become increasingly popular in the United States and elsewhere as dietary supplements, food supplements, natural health products, therapeutic goods, traditional medicines, and even conventional drugs—i.e., depending on the regulatory system of the particular country. These herbs include the following: the formerly popular and controversial diet aid hoodia (Hoodia gordonii, Asclepiadaceae), the antioxidant red tea rooibos (Aspalathus linearis, Fabaceae), the anti-malarial cryptolepis (Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, Asclepiadaceae), the 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan-containing griffonia (Griffonia simplicifolia, Fabaceae), anti-inflammatory and analgesic devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens, Pedialiaceae), sausage tree (Kigelia africana, Bignoniaceae), the anti-tonsillitis and anti-bronchitis umckaloabo (Pelargonium sidoides, Geraniaceae), the difficult-to-sustain prostate aid pygeum (Prunus africana, Rosaceae; syn. Pygeum africanum), the anti-depressive and mood-enhancing sceletium (Sceletium tortuosum, Aizoaceae), and many others.

With this increased popularity comes an inevitable need for enhanced quality control for the raw materials, including tests for identity and potential accidental or intentional adulterants. Numerous books have been written in the past 30 years describing the various ethnobotanical uses of many African medicinal plants, and, more recently, as more of the plants are being made into phytomedicines subjected to modern scientific scrutiny including a few controlled clinical trials, books are including references to such research. But to this reviewer’s knowledge, this is the first collegial and interdisciplinary effort to compile information in a pharmacopeial format in an attempt to provide the increasingly interested herb community with a reliable, authoritative compendium of standards and analytical methods.

In fact, the authors/editors note in the foreword that there have been several previous attempts to develop an African herbal pharmacopeia. However, such attempts were not successful for several reasons: (1) The attempts were based on limited regional plants; (2) plant selections were somewhat random; (3) the attempts were made by academic researchers with little or no input from growers, producers, and others in the emerging medicinal plant industry.

The authors of African Herbal Pharmacopoeia are well-equipped for the task. Brendler is a co-author associated with the German group which translated a version of the German Commission E Monographs (not the American Botanical Council’s version in 1998), which was later modified into the first and later editions of the PDR for Herbal Medicines. Professor Eloff is leader of the Phytomedicine Programme at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, while the Mauritian scientist Dr. Gurib-Fakim is an expert on the botany, chemistry, and pharmacology of plants of Africa and the Indian Ocean. And Mr. Phillips has vast experience in the development of regional and global trade of medicinal plants, particularly indigenously used plants from developing countries. These editors worked for more than 6 years with more than 30 African medicinal plant experts who contributed to and/or reviewed the various entries.

The book is written and published under the auspices of the Association for African Medicinal Plants Standards (AAMPS), a nonprofit group developed for the purpose of creating this book, the first step toward establishing uniform and widely accepted standards for these plants.

The AHP covers 51 of what the editors consider Africa’s most important medicinal plants. Curiously, one of Africa’s key medicinal plants, yohimbe bark (Pausinystalia johimbe, Rubiaceae) is not included, and African herbaphiles will no doubt find at least one of their favorite plants missing, but such is the fate of a volume like this; it is limited to what the editors/publisher can appropriately cover. And, to be fair, the editors employed a rational process for determining the plant entries, using a number of selection criteria, the aim being to create a set which appropriately represents native/indigenous plants from all regions of sub-Saharan Africa. The 51 plants include those that are already commercially relevant–internationally or nationally–or contain the potential to be so, as well as sustainably collected or cultivated plants, and plants that are considered relatively safe, etc. The plants included herein were whittled down from a lot of 120 nominated species (of which yohimbe was one). Presumably, some day, a second, expanded edition will become available. The editors do note that they are planning an online version which will contain inevitable new research.

Each monograph spans about 4 to 5 pages. The format includes the obvious information on nomenclature, botanical description, distribution, ethnobotany, chemistry, quality control markers and test methods, pharmacology, safety data, therapeutic information, market data (information not regularly found in a pharmacopeia), regulatory status in various countries, future prospects for the development, references, and much more.

Graphics include color photos of the plants as well as thin-layer chromatography plates, plus black-and-white images of chemical structures, high-performance liquid chromatography profiles, near infra-red spectroscopy, distribution maps, and more. The high-quality printing is on coated paper; the book is intended for long-term use in the library or the laboratory.

A small weakness of the book is the inconsistency in the family names in some of the monographs. For example, Griffonia is listed as being in the Leguminosae family, which is accurate if one were to choose the more outdated nomenclature, while Fabaceae is becoming the more preferred term. Cyclopia spp. is also listed as being in the Leguminosae family, while Cajanus cajan is noted as in the Fabaceae. Clearly, this occurs when various monographs are assigned to different editors, either without imposition of a style-sheet or at least a managing editor knowledgeable enough with the subject matter to be able to make appropriate edits for the sake of consistency (although one of the editors assures me that the book’s nomenclature was decided to conform with the International Plant Names Index, one of the most “widely accepted standards”). However, despite this somewhat arcane nomenclatural glitch, this book provides an excellent resource for industry, academia, and government regulators, and any others who intend to research the 51 plants covered by this first edition.

—Mark Blumenthal Founder and Executive Director, American Botanical Council Editor-in-Chief, HerbalGram Austin, TX