Customer Reviews: Common Medicinal Plants of Portland, Jamaica
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on March 24, 2011
Common Medicinal Plants of Portland, Jamaica (2nd Edition). Austin, Summer and Michael B. Thomas, eds. 2010. CIEER (Centre for International Ethnomedicinal Education and Research), Inc. i-vii + 102 pp (paperback). ISBN 978-0-9729594-0-7.

This book edited by Summer Austin and Michael B. Thomas is a useful guide to 47 of Jamaica's most common medicinal plants, each discussed under the categories of botanical description, plant part(s) used, preparation method(s), and use(s), and all the plants are nicely illustrated with a black and white photograph and drawing. Its focus is Jamaica's mountainous, wet, heavily forested northeastern parish of Portland and the community represented is the Windward Maroons. In fact, the Preface is written by Colonel Wallace G. Sterling, the Leader of the Windward Maroons, and two of the three principal Jamaican collaborators--Lloyd Harris and Lloyd G. Henry--are Maroon herbalists. The third collaborator who did the drawings is a Portlander described as a local artist, craftsman, environmental educator, and activist.

This book is a reliable guide based on the fieldwork of Summer Austin who was a Peace Corps worker in Portland. The text is well written. Voucher specimens were collected and the plants were identified with the assistance of George Proctor and Keron Campbell of the Institute of Jamaica herbarium. In addition to being a reliable guide for researchers, the book (and its interactive website) was also intended to be a "permanent documentation" of Maroon medicinal plants to serve "as a useful educational tool for local schools, regional training programs such as healthcare workshops, and teacher training programs" (p. vii).

Given the importance of the Maroons in Jamaica's history and culture--Nanny of the Windward Maroons being the only heroine of the seven "National Heroes"--an introduction to the Maroons and the mountainous landscape that was essential to their successful resistance to slavery in Jamaica would have been a welcome addition to the book.

Common Medicinal Plants of Portland, Jamaica is much more a report on plant use based on interviews with herbalists rather than an assessment of medicinal plant use in Jamaica based on a review of the large number of studies done by independent scholars and researchers of the University of the West Indies. One of several glaring omissions from the references is Payne-Jackson and Alleyne's 2004 book Jamaican Folk Medicine: A source of Healing (published by the University of the West Indies Press).

One cannot help wondering if it is appropriate to refer to "common medicinal plants of Portland" when the plants discussed include such familiar economic plants like mango, banana, avocado, guava, and the like. Would it not be more accurate to refer to plants used medicinally in Jamaica including medicinal plants proper?

John H. Rashford
College Of Charleston
South Carolina, USA
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