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HALL OF FAMEon October 4, 2003
Plants Of The Gods is a comprehensive reference work on psychoactive plants. It provides a definition of plant hallucinogens and information on phytochemical research on sacred plants, geography of usage and botanical range, the chemical structures of these substances and the use of hallucinogens in medicine.
The plant species discussed include the Amanita (Fly Agaric) mushroom, Atropa (Deadly Nightshade), Yellow and Black Henbane, Mandrake, Cannabis Ergot, Datura, Iboga, Yopo beans, Ayahuasca, Yage, Brugmansia, Peyote, the San Pedro cactus, the Morning Glory plus what the authors term "the little flowers of the gods" which include the various types of Psilocybe mushroom.
The text is enhanced by a wonderful variety of color and black & white photographs, illustrations and quite impressive paintings. The section Overview Of Plant Use consists of tables listing every plant's common name, botanical name, historical ethnography, context and purpose of usage, preparation and the chemical composition and effects.
Plants Of The Gods is a great and detailed investigation of entheogenic plants from around the world. This valuable reference book concludes with a bibliography and index.
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VINE VOICEon April 28, 2005
There are plenty of books scientific (or otherwise) on the actions of hallucinogenic plants (from every possible viewpoint). What sets this book apart is providing a sound description of the chemical properties of plants together with the spiritual context in which they are used.

It isn't packed with biochemical formulae, but at the same time has enough information on active ingredients to provide a starting point for understanding and further research (if desired). For those interested in biochemical properties of plants CRC Press publish a range of comprehensive but expensive guides.

The author also provides a cultural context, describing how the plants are/were used by societies both past and present during religious rights. Folklore is also very well covered (my main interest with this book - as an aside there is little of culinary interest within text).

The pictures of plants (and people) are superb. There are also some fascinating diagrams (world map showing indigenous hallucinogens), and a pictures showing illustrating the role of hallucinogens on aboriginal and western art.

The writing style makes this work much more accessible and enjoyable to read than other texts. The text is supported by excellent illustrations. Plants of the Gods is in a class of it's own.
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on July 8, 2000
Plants of the Gods is a condensed ethnobotanical encyclopedia of hallucinogenic drugs with nicely illustrated cultural/art/chemical information . This book illustrates why these psychoactive plants have been so important, nay, a necessity of primordial human consciousness and experience because of their medicinal, teleportal, and communicative capabilities. It even includes a beautifully annotated color-picture field guide lexicon. It begins with a history of plant hallucinogens and then explores their cremonial/ritualistic use in various cultures around the world, creating a sense of their cultural AND artistic importance in other societies that ACTUALLY RESPECT and don't abuse them. Plants of the Gods leaves you with a sense of respect for these plants when you realize that smoking pot in some basement just to break rules is like a rites of passage sacrament practiced by many tribal cultures who know the importance of this experience which we seem to have neglected and even outlawed. Thoroughly descriptive, yet easily digestible,it reads more as a quick refrence guide /bedtime story than a book-"book", but is captivating and informatively engaging at the same time.
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on August 5, 1999
This book is a great resourse for people interested in ethnobotanicals. The illustrations are excellent. The reference to the cultural context in which these plants are used helps the reader understand a bit more about how these plants are used but not abused. There is one error I noted. The captions denoting the structures for iso-LSD and lysergic acid hydroxyethylamine should be interchanged.
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on June 27, 2007
Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers
by Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann, and Christian Rätsch

Publisher:Healing Arts Press/Inner Traditions

Year:2001 (revised and expanded edition)


Categories:Book Reviews, Recommended Books

Reviewed by Jon Hanna, 6/26/2007

It may be a rare thing for a second edition of a book to warrant its own review, but such is definitely the case with the new edition of the Schultes' and Hofmann's 1979 classic Plants of the Gods. The updated version was produced as a German translation in 1998 by Christian Rätsch, and Healing Arts Press released the English translation of this in late 2001. It is a thing of beauty.

The primary and most dramatic improvement is the inclusion of numerous new photographs and art images. Although this second edition retains many of the same photos, it introduces a lot of new ones as well. In some cases, the item depicted-such as the statue of Shiva with Datura flowers in his hair (p. 11)-has been revisited with a higher-quality photo. Frequently, black and white images have been replaced with a similar image in stunning full-color. While this works superbly in most cases, there are a few situations-such as the replacement color photo of an aerial view of the Kuluene river (p. 24)-where the original black and white photo was much better. New psychedelic art is featured throughout from the likes of Pablo Amaringo, Walangari Karntawarra Jakamarra, Nana Nauwald, and Donna Torres. There are even some incredible watercolor paintings done by Christian Rätsch himself (think Codex Seraphinianus on acid)-where can we see more of his art!? A beautiful mural of an ayahuasca ceremony that graces a wall at the Cuzco Airport in Peru reminds us that some countries have a more enlightened attitude towards the use of psychoptic plants.

"Fourteen Major Hallucinogenic Plants" of the first edition has been altered to become "The Most Important Hallucinogenic Plants," and expanded to include new sections on Anadenanthera colubrina, ayahuasca analogs, Salvia divinorum, and Duboisia hopwoodii. There have been numerous expansions on the old chapters as well, including many additional species of the genera discussed. Six new plants have been added to the "Plant Lexicon," and this section has been vastly improved through the addition of color photographs. Previously, the majority of the plants described were depicted via illustrations, with only a few photo images; this situation is now reversed, with only a few illustrations. (It is a shame that there are any drawings remaining, although I suspect in some cases it might be hard to obtain photographs of the plants in question. Still, in other cases it should not have been difficult-photos of Banisteriopsis caapi, Lagochilus inebrians, Mandragora officinarum, Mimosa tenuiflora [= M. hostilis], Peucedanum japonicum, Scirpus atrovirens, Tabernanthe iboga, and Virola theiodora are all available via the web). The map of "Native Use of Major Hallucinogens" has been expanded to include Hyoscyamus sp., Duboisia sp., and A. colubrina, and the depicted range of Cannabis use has been increased.

Some problems that the original book had are, alas, retained or, in a few cases, exaggerated. The gutter of the book is too tight, causing one to crack the spine to get a full view; this was the case in the earlier edition as well. New layout glitches include shaded backgrounds for text boxes being placed too close to the edge of the text (in some cases touching it), and headlines that sit too close to the images. The problem of citing alkaloid contents as fixed numbers is still present (although in a few cases ranges are presented). Those with little knowledge on the subject might actually believe that all dried Trichocereus pachanoi plants have a 2% mescaline content, while this is actually the peak of the range that can be determined through a survey of the scant few published isolation analyses (which dips down to 0.33%, and even lower in published HPLC analysis), and may not be typical. In new cases when ranges are presented, such as the case with Mimosa tenuiflora root-bark said to contain 0.57 to 1.0% DMT, the information may not be correct. (M. tenuiflora has been reported to contain 0.31 to 0.57% DMT with specific analyses available in the literature of Gonçalves de Lima 1946 and Patcher et al. 1959, and there have been unsubstantiated counter-culture claims of 1% to 11%, see ER Vol. X, No. 3, 2001 and Ott 2001). Both the new and the old editions of this book are riddled with statements about alkaloid contents that are presented as if they were fixed amounts, when in reality alkaloid content can be highly variable.

Some new errors are introduced with this edition. Spelling mistakes are peppered throughout (they've misspelled author Hofmann's name on the back cover!), and awkward phrasings are not uncommon in those sections that were translated from German. In some cases, plants are presented as containing specific alkaloids that they do not have. For example, it is remarked that "The Turkey Red variety of the grass Phalaris arundinacea contains liberal amounts of DMT." This is in error, as this variety contains liberal amounts of 5-MeO-DMT, not DMT. Also, photographs of four cacti-Ariocarpus retusus, A. fissuratus, Astrophyton asterias, and Aztekium riterii-known in México as "peyote" are depicted, with the statement "They primarily contain the substance mescaline and other psychoactive alkaloids." This too is in error, as only A. riterii has been found to contain trace amounts of mescaline, and no mescaline has been found at all in the others. (It was interesting to see that Rätsch considers a heftier amount of mescaline, "0.5-0.8 gram" to be a dose, compared to the Shulgins' more conservative 200-400 mg dose listed in PIHKAL; I tend to agree with Rätsch.)

Any and all criticism of this book should be viewed as minor, as it is truly a marvelous work. Rätsch has taken a great book and made it better. Especially if you own the first edition, you owe it to yourself to pick up this revamp. It is visual delight, a joy to read cover-to-cover, and it will no doubt be revisited repeatedly for years to come.
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on January 19, 2008
If you're looking for information on how to prepare psychoactive plant medicine and, well quite frankly, how get high, this is not the book for you. However, if you'd like to gain more wisdom and insight into shamanistic practices around the world, this is a wonderful history that draws you into the mind of the shaman. I loved this book. It gave me new respect for the wisdom of those ancient people of whom we know so very little. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in shamanism and herbalism. It offers insight into not HOW but WHY psychoactive plants are ingested. Plant medicine is afforded the tremendous respect it so rightly deserves.
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on May 26, 2005
Excellent reference for the serious student. No, this isn't a manual of how to get high from plants in your backyard, nor should it ever be treated as such. Pick the wrong plant and you might well die. Excellent ethnobotanical, anthropological historical and chemical information combined with superb photography of plant species, cultural use and both historic and modern artwork.

The study of ethnobotany and entheogens deserves much more attention than it gets. These are not drugs. They are vital, important and sacred plants that command our respect.
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on December 5, 2005
As an ethnobotany-concentration student, I find this to be a very helpful book. It has beautiful illustrations, and a complete lexicon of poisonous/hallucinogenic plants with pictures and complete descriptions. My botany teacher who has his degree in ethnobotany currently is borrowing it from me and says it's a very good book, especially for its price.
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on November 7, 2007
This is a good book on the topic of psychotropic plants, though I have to admit that I'm a little shocked that the opium poppy wasn't included. Oh well. There are enough books on that subject that I'm sure if you really want to study the "black smoke" you can find another book to read. It presents an interesting subject in an approachable, readable format. My one complaint is that parts of it read a little too New Age-y, which irks me. But that's the way I am. Aside from that one (rather small) problem, I would readily recommend this book to anyone looking for an all-in-one look at this branch of botany.
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on August 8, 2002
The spiritual powers of healing and hallucinogenic plants are surveyed anew in Plants Of The Gods, a revised and expanded edition of a true classic which paring color photos of the plants with a wealth of solid botanical details. This revision covers the traditions of different cultures which use the plants, uses of hallucinogens in sacred rites and prayers, and solid coverage of the rituals themselves.
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