A leading medical ethnobotanist tells us the story of her quest to develop new ways to fight illness and disease through the healing powers of plants in this uplifting and adventure-filled memoir.
Plants are the basis for an array of lifesaving and health-improving medicines we all now take for granted. Ever taken an aspirin? Thank a willow tree for that. What about life-saving medicines for malaria? Some of those are derived from cinchona and wormwood.
In today's world of synthetic pharmaceuticals, scientists and laypeople alike have lost this connection to the natural world. But by ignoring the potential of medicinal plants, we are losing out on the opportunity to discover new life-saving medicines needed in the fight against the greatest medical challenge of this century: the rise of the post-antibiotic era. Antibiotic-resistant microbes plague us all. Each year, 700,000 people die due to these untreatable infections; by 2050, 10 million annual deaths are expected unless we act now.
No one understands this better than Dr Cassandra Quave, whose groundbreaking research as a leading medical ethnobotanist – someone who identifies and studies plants that may be able to treat antimicrobial resistance and other threatening illnesses – is helping to provide clues for the next generation of advanced medicines. In The Plant Hunter, Dr Quave weaves together science, botany, and memoir to tell us the extraordinary story of her own journey. Travelling by canoe, ATV, mule, airboat, and on foot, she has conducted field research in the flooded forests of the remote Amazon, the murky swamps of southern Florida, the rolling hills of central Italy, isolated mountaintops in Albania and Kosovo, and volcanic isles arising out of the Mediterranean-all in search of natural compounds, long-known to traditional healers, that could help save us all from the looming crisis of untreatable superbugs. And as a person born with multiple congenital defects of her skeletal system, she's done it all with just one leg. Filled with grit, tragedy, triumph, awe, and scientific discovery, her story illuminates how the path forward for medical discovery may be found in nature's oldest remedies.
Cassandra Quave, PhD, is the author of The Plant Hunter: A Scientist’s Quest for Nature’s Next Medicines. Dr Quave is Curator of the Herbarium and Associate Professor of Dermatology and Human Health at Emory University, where she leads anti-infective drug discovery research initiatives and teaches courses on medicinal plants, microbiology, and pharmacology. As a medical ethnobotanist, her work focuses on the documentation and pharmacological evaluation of plants used in traditional medicine. Dr Quave’s research is supported by the NIH, industry contracts, and philanthropy. She is a Fellow of the Explorers Club, a past President of the Society for Economic Botany, a recipient of the Emory Williams Teaching Award, and Charles Heiser, Jr. Mentor Award. She is the host of Foodie Pharmacology, a podcast dedicated to exploring the links between food and medicine. Dr Quave has authored more than 100 scientific publications, two edited books, twenty book chapters, and seven patents. Her research has been the subject of feature profiles in the New York Times Magazine, BBC Science Focus, National Geographic Magazine, Brigitte Magazin, NPR, PBS, and the National Geographic Channel.
"Quave remains determined, resourceful, and cognizant of the alliances that have enabled her life's work [...] [She] exhibits a deep humanity and humility in her writing. This, along with her thrilling adventures – often with children in tow – spurs the reader on. In the end, she succeeds in demonstrating that plants are an underutilized resource for drug discovery and in communicating the many joys and challenges that accompany a career in science."
"This book is fascinating for anyone who is curious about the potential impact that plants, waiting in the wings for scientific discovery, can have on our health [...] [It] is a wonderfully engaging memoir of how Quave first ventured into science and ultimately the field of ethnobiology [...] [that] is inspiring and easy to grasp even for those who have no grasp of – or curiosity about – science."
– The Marin Independent Journal
"In the war against infectious diseases, Quave is a fierce combatant, exhibiting focused determination, admirable flexibility, and persuasive enthusiasm in this candidly personal narrative."
"[A] spirited, globe-trotting debut [...] Nature-minded readers will find themselves immersed in – and inspired by – Quave's poignant tale."
– Publishers Weekly
"Quave's inviting memoir demonstrates grit and determination and explains some of the fascinating and critical uses of plants for healing (including possible uses against antimicrobial resistance and even COVID-19)."
– Library Journal (starred)
"A fascinating account of [Quave's] development as a scientist, her research into the pharmacological potential of plants used in traditional medicine, the challenge of balancing work with motherhood, and her lifelong struggle with disability and infection [...] highly compelling."
"Cassandra Quave takes us on a fascinating and deeply personal journey to seek out modern medicines from the botanical world. As a scientist she is scrappy and tenacious, and as a writer she is eloquent and disarmingly honest. Fans of Hope Jahren's Lab Girl will devour this engrossing narrative about Quave's quest for the next cure."
– Amy Stewart, bestselling author of The Drunken Botanist
"Cassandra Quave is a woman with incredible grit and courage."
– Temple Grandin, bestselling author of Thinking in Pictures
"In The Plant Hunter, Cassandra Quave traces her fast-paced and barrier-breaking path to become a scientist, and takes us on a romp through jungles, swamps, deserts, and mountains in search of the holiest of botanical grails: tomorrow's life-saving medicines. We need more scientists like Quave – resourceful, good-humored, and ready to solve Earth's most pressing problems."
– Daniel Stone, National Geographic writer and bestselling author of The Food Explorer
"Be forewarned: there's no putting this book down once you turn the first page! It's an absolutely fascinating and remarkable account of one heroic woman's personal journey into the healing power of plants, full of world travels, medical knowledge, plant wisdom, and scientific insights. Exceptionally well written, thought provoking and inspiring, this is adventure at its finest."
– Rosemary Gladstar, herbalist and author of Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs
"An enthralling account of an inspiring tragedy-to-triumph story about becoming a leading scientist in search of plants that heal. Highly recommended!"
– Mark J. Plotkin, President of the Amazon Conservation Team and author of Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice
"The Plant Hunter moved and amazed me. Cassandra Quave is flat-out heroic. We see her pursue her passion under grueling conditions that would make most of us blanch, even if we did not sport a prosthetic leg, as Quave does. Lance a boil on your own inflamed limb in the jungle as a college student on your first international research trip? Tote your first baby along as you conduct fieldwork essential for your doctoral research? And perhaps most challenging – juggle the demands of running two labs, securing grants, teaching and mentoring, and being a mother to three children? Quave does it all, and she shares her inspiring story with humor and grace."
– Victoria Johnson, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of American Eden
"Like an intricate game, The Plant Hunter is a book that contains many books within it: a magical memoir and a journey of dogged discovery, a profound romance and a stirring call to action. Above all, it is an urgent plea to recover knowledge that has almost been lost to us, and to honor the untold generations whose ancient wisdom might save our lives."
– Maryn McKenna, Senior Fellow, Center for the Study of Human Health and author of Big Chicken