288 pages, 37 b/w photos, 1 b/w illustration
For over a century, plant specialists worldwide have sought to transform healing plants from African countries into pharmaceuticals. And for equally as long, conflicts over these medicinal plants have endured. In Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa, Abena Dove Osseo-Asare draws on publicly available records and extensive interviews with scientists and healers in Ghana, Madagascar, and South Africa to interpret how African scientists and healers, rural communities, and drug companies – including Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Unilever – have sought since the 1880s to develop drugs from Africa's medicinal plants.
In Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa Osseo-Asare recalls the efforts to transform six plants into pharmaceuticals: rosy periwinkle, Asiatic pennywort, grains of paradise, Strophanthus, Cryptolepis, and Hoodia. Through the stories of each plant, she shows that herbal medicine and pharmaceutical chemistry have simultaneous and overlapping histories that cross geographic boundaries. At the same time, Osseo-Asare sheds new light on how various interests have tried to manage the rights to these healing plants and probes the challenges associated with assigning ownership to plants and their biochemical components.
A fascinating examination of the history of medicine in colonial and post-colonial Africa, Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa will be indispensable for scholars of Africa; historians interested in medicine, biochemistry, and society; and policy makers concerned with drug access and patent rights.
"In a fascinating look at modern and traditional medicine, the author tells the stories of efforts to commercialize pharmaceuticals from six African plants."
- Science News
"By choosing to investigate colonial and postcolonial science through scientific work with plant medicines, Abena Dove Osseo-Asare deepens our understanding of the power relations not only between African and European or American scientists but also between healers and these indigenous and foreign scientists. Her detailed account of transnational scientific collaborations will be a lasting contribution to the field of science studies."
- Stacey Langwick, Cornell University
"Bitter Roots is a book for our times: an age of bioprospecting and biopiracy, with hope for partnerships bringing bioprosperity. Abena Dove Osseo-Asare's remarkable investigations clarify both the facts and the issues through the example of how the roots of several plants associated with Africa have been used, studied, and remade. She notes the slippery entanglements between traditional and scientific practices and, in the process, stalks not only knowledge but justice. Informative, bold, and sensitive."
- Harold J. Cook, author of Matters of Exchange
Introduction: From Plants to Pharmaceuticals
1. Take Madagascar Periwinkle for Leukemia and Pennywort for Leprosy
2. Take Grains of Paradise for Love
3. Take Arrow Poisons for the Heart
4. Take Bitter Roots for Malaria
5. Take Kalahari Hoodia for Hunger
Conclusion: Toward Bioprosperity
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Abena Dove Osseo-Asare is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.