“In a fascinating look at modern and traditional medicine, the author tells the stories of efforts to commercialize pharmaceuticals from six African plants.”
"In a refreshing and innovative approach to bioprospecting, Bitter Roots helps to fill this gap by telling the stories of six African healing plants—rosy periwinkle, Asiatic pennywort, grains of paradise, Strophanthus, Cryptolepis, and Hoodia—all of which have been the subject of commercial investigation. By taking us on a historical journey from colonial exploration and exploitation to the contemporary controversies within which such plants are located, Osseo-Asare shows how multiple innovators have contributed toward the shaping of scientific knowledge. Through meticulous ethnographic research, she demonstrates how class distinctions allowed some parties to claim credit for drug discovery at the expense of others, highlighting the complexity of natural product research in African countries. Bitter Roots is not only engaging and provocative, but also provides new perspectives on old stories, in a region that has received little attention."
(The American Historical Review
"In a book that reads as an ethnographic whodunit mystery, Osseo-Asare masterfully threads five stories that describe the complexities of determining ownership of medicinal plant knowledge when this knowledge spans over time, communities, and countries. A product of years of field research in Africa interviewing healers, scientists, and community members as well as reviewing archived material, the author, a remarkable academic historian, in the end makes it clear that the overwhelming amount of twists and turns in the historical path that a medicinal plant can take on its way to becoming a drug makes it impossible to assign rights of intellectual property. . . . A must read for scholars as well as the general public interested in herbal medicine, from academics who specialize in African studies or medical history to researchers in the area of pharmaceuticals as well as policymakers who deal with ownership rights and patents."
(Manuel A. Aregullin, Cornell University Quarterly Review of Biology
“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)
“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)