Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest

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Penguin Books, 1994 - Medical - 328 pages
The fascinating account of a pioneering ethnobotanist's travels in the Amazon--at once a gripping adventure story, a passionate argument for conservationism, and an investigation into the healing power of plants

For thousands of years, healers have used plants to cure illness. Aspirin, the world's most widely used drug, is based on compounds originally extracted from the bark of a willow tree, and more than a quarter of medicines found on pharmacy shelves contain plant compounds. Now Western medicine, faced with health crises such as AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer, has begun to look to the healing plants used by indigenous peoples to develop powerful new medicines. Nowhere is the search more promising than in the Amazon, the world's largest tropical forest, home to a quarter of all botanical species on this planet--as well as hundreds of Indian tribes whose medicinal plants have never been studied by Western scientists. In Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice, ethnobotanist Mark J. Plotkin recounts his travels and studies with some of the most powerful Amazonian shamans, who taught him the plant lore their tribes have spent thousands of years gleaning from the rain forest.

For more than a decade, Dr. Plotkin raced against time to harvest and record new plants before the rain forests' fragile ecosystems succumb to overdevelopment--and before the Indians abandon their own culture and learning for the seductive appeal of Western material culture. Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice relates nine of the author's quests, taking the reader along on a wild odyssey as he participates in healing rituals; discovers the secret of curare, the lethal arrow poison that kills in minutes; tries the hallucinogenic snuff epena that enables the Indians to speak with their spirit world; and earns the respect and fellowship of the mysterious shamans as he proves that he shares both their endurance and their reverence for the rain forest. Mark Plotkin combines the Darwinian spirit of the great writer-explorers of the nineteenth century--curious, discursive, and rigorously scientific--with a very modern concern for the erosion of our environment and the vanishing culture of native peoples.

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User Review  - untraveller - LibraryThing

Great read that will probably lead to numerous other books about the region/subject. Interesting travel mixed w/ ethnobotany and conservation make for a book that is hard not to like. Read full review

TALES OF A SHAMAN'S APPRENTICE: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest

User Review  - Kirkus

In a captivating plea for more effective management of the rain forest's botanical, medicinal, and cultural resources, the chief ethnobotanist at Conservation International vividly recalls his ... Read full review

Contents

Through the Emerald Door
1
The Search for the Black Caiman
19
Among the Maroons
53
Copyright

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About the author (1994)

Mark J. Plotkin, Ph.D., was born and raised in New Orleans and educated at Harvard, Yale, and Tufts. Trained as an ethnobotanist, he has done extensive research throughout the lowlands of tropical South America. He is a co-founder of the Amazon Conservation Team, where he currently serves as president. Dr. Plotkin has previously served as a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution and at the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, the director of plant conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, and the vice president of Conservation International. His research has been featured in Life, Newsweek, Smithsonian, Time, and The New York Times as well as PBS's Nova and the Academy Award-winning documentary Amazon.

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