Book Reviews
Book 26

Medicinal Flowers – Medicinal Flowers of India and Adjacent Regions

by Pandey G. pub. Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi 1992 ISBN 81-7030-351-7. 
Copyright © Tony Burfield  June 2004

I must admit to being rather drawn to the concept surrounding the title of this un-illustrated book, which, including the indexes, covers some 209 pages. Further, by now having a modest collection of Indian books on the natural flora, the essential oils, the spices and the vegetable drugs of this vast continent, I am struck by how many times the same piece of information turns up (often un-referenced!) across all of these books.

However, within the bounds of the references available to these hard-working authors (who I mentally picture sifting through tomes like The Wealth of India in order to compile scraps of information), one cannot be too critical. The achievement of Medicinal Flowers itself is to make an interesting collection of such pieces of relevant information all in one source book.

The book starts with a Prelusive Sketch, which describes amongst other things, the thematic object of the work, and how it is set out (: alphabetically by genus). We are informed there are some five hundred species entries from 212 genera within the text. Chapter One, entitled Plants Enumeration, is the major part of the book covering 159 pages. Most entries, which you can calculate for yourselves must average three per page, are just a few lines long. Nevertheless, to the aromatic plant researcher, or the ethnobotanist, or just anyone interested in flowers, perfumes or aromatherapy, there is some interesting material here. Dipping in here and there is fascinating. For example Aglaia odorata, the Chinese produced oil of which I have been recently studying, I now know, is grown in S. India and the flowers may find use in treating leprosy (and thanks to a US colleague, I now separately know, that the fragrance of the flower was chosen by the distinguished chemist Roman Kaiser to be diffused during the playing of Scheherazade by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov at an annual concert festival in Lucerne Switzerland! (Chem. & Eng. News July 14, 2003 p60). The many applications of the Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) are not let down by the Neem tree flowers, which have several uses also, including their utilisation in the form of a paste for killing head lice, and for eruptive skin complaints.

Lotus flowers (Nelumbo nucifera) also apparently have a number of uses – for example saline extracts of flowers, stem and leaves said to possess anti-bacterial properties. Reference in the book to previous production of Lotus perfume from the flowers is interesting since some of us are still looking for authentic (i.e. 100% derived from the named botanic source) lotus essential oil! Viola species get a relatively large entry with interesting reports of Viola pilosa use in ethnic preparations such as Joshanda, a household decoction against colds.

Chapter two is a source texts supplement, covering just over thirty pages  (Classical Compedia, Materia Medica and other Treatises) the scholarship of which I cannot unfortunately appreciate because it is in script language, which in my utter ignorance, I take to be Sanskrit (?). Again, it is to my disadvantage that I cannot make out much of Chapter three which deals with Classical terminology indicating floral features. Finally an appendix entitled Task approach: Medicinal flowers – perspectives and dimensions indicates 10 (huge) tasks, including surveys of the vast knowledge of the body of Indian literature, which might lead, in conjunction with a symbiosis of modern biological and medicinal science, to a Flowers or Arboreal type of medicine.

I really like the idea of this book, and I was sufficiently impressed to have bought several copies to sell at cost (about £6), since with such a good start in the subject of Medicinal Flowers, it would be such a pity to leave it there. Perhaps someone will expand the subject by writing a companion volume….!