Bitter RootsThe Search for Healing Plants in Africa

Bitter RootsThe Search for Healing Plants in Africa

Abena Dove Osseo-Asare

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226085524

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Bitter Roots is a history of drug discovery from plants across different African countries. It reconsiders the history of pharmaceutical patents, biopiracy, and bioprospecting to show that African medicine inspired new phytochemicals and probes the responsibilities of multiple innovators to compensate rural communities through benefit-sharing agreements. It traces the geography of economic , chemical, and botanical exchanges of rosy periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), pennywort (Centella asiatica ), grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta), arrow poison plant (Strophanthus hispidus), Ghana quinine (Cryptolepis sanguinolenta), and Hoodia or (Hoodia gordonii ). Scientists at universities and research institutes in Ghana, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Nigeria, and South Africa competed with traditional healers and herbalists. African plant experts also competed with biologists, botanists, and chemists in Canada, England (United Kingdom), France, India, Jamaica, the Philippines, and the United States of America including researchers at the firms Bristol-Meyer Squibb, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, La Roche-Posay, and Unilever. The book maps the distribution of plant specimens during the Early Modern, Atlantic Slave Trade, Pre-colonial, Colonial, and National (Independence) Periods. New plants entered pharmacopeia and materia medica from the late nineteenth century when colonial wars in Africa coincided with the rise of the pharmaceutical industry. During the twentieth century, research into cures for cancer, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, HIV/AIDS, impotence, leprosy, leukemia, malaria, and obesity led researchers to re-examine ethnobotanical evidence in areas with high levels of biodiversity. The book concludes that African scientists direct chemical prospecting and proposes the concept of bioprosperity to express a more equitable sharing of profits.