Having lived amongst several of the groups of indigenous peoples of Amazonia, I have observed both the quantity of medicinal plants which they use and the efficacy of many of their cures. I have been treated by these people for intestinal upsets, parasites, cuts and bruises, headaches and other minor ailments and have personally experienced the healing powers of the rainforest plants. Since so many of our modern medicines were also derived from plants and such a small percentage have been accurately analysed chemically, it is certain that there are many more to be discovered.
Whether a wonder medicine is developed from a plant or a local herbal remedy is harvested from the forest, there are many problems that need to be resolved. Historically indigenous peoples or even the countries in which they reside have benefited little from the development of medicines from their plant resources. When a herbal medicine becomes popular it can be over-exploited and the very resource threatened with extinction as is clearly shown in this volume for some Chinese medicinal plants by He and Sheng and for African plants by Cunningham. On the other hand the development of both pharmaceutical products and the harvesting of local non-timber forest products could be of great benefit to local peoples and to developing countries when properly controlled.
This volume brings together a most useful collection of papers by some of the real experts in medicinal plants and on the issues of their exploitation. It draws attention to the problems involved in a sensitive way and reflects well the new attitudes of contemporary ethnobotany which seeks both to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and to conserve their botanical heritage. At the same time, however, this does not exclude the sustainable use of these plants. I am impressed by the wide geographical coverage that we have here and that the authors are well balanced between those from the developed and the developing world. This is a volume of interest to many people far beyond those directly working with medicinal plants. It raises issues of concern for conservationists, developers, forest managers, researchers and legislators. It is a most valuable contribution and FAO is to be congratulated on including a book of such topical concern in its series on the use of non-wood forest products. Anyone interested in the exploitation of forest medicines should read the chapters in this book before embarking on any project.
Professor Sir Ghillean Prance FRS
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew