Polynesian Herbal Medicine



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Polynesian Herbal Medicine

W. Arthur Whistler

Softcover, 238 pp.

The use of medicinal plants dates to prehistoric times when ancient people found that ingestion or application of certain herbs and barks was effective in treating some of the ailments that plagued them. Herbal medicine is a part of virtually all cultures, and the South Pacific islands that comprise Polynesian are no exception. Even today herbal medicine is used at one time or another by a large percentage of the Polynesians living in Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, the Society Islands, Hawai’i, and New Zealand, especially during infancy and childhood. While plants used for food, shelter, dyes, and many others aspects of the material culture of Tonga are easy to see and study, the use of plants for medicines is more esoteric. To elucidate this poorly known facet of Polynesian culture, the author undertook a study of Polynesian herbal medicine, which involved interviews with over 75 local healers over a several-year span.

The book is divided into four chapters. The first, “Introduction to Polynesia,” includes sections on the islands, the people, the languages, and the migrations. The second chapter, “Traditional Polynesian Medical Practices,” includes sections on the applicable literature, the ailments of the ancient Polynesians, the epidemics, the causation of illness, medical practices, the treatment of injuries, Polynesian massage, and a summary. The third chapter, “Polynesian Medical Practices Today,” includes a discussion of current medicinal practices in five parts of Polynesia – Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, and Hawaii. The fourth chapter, “The Medicinal Plants,” comprises an enumeration and discussion of 90 of the most commonly used medicinal plants in Polynesia. These are arranged in alphabetical order by scientific name. Each species has a detailed, close-up color photo and the following information: (1) scientific name; (2) family to which the plant belongs; (3) English name or names (if any); (4) Polynesian names in Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, the Society Islands, and Hawaii; (5) a botanical description (6) distribution; (7) habitat in which the plant is found; and (8) uses, both medicinal and non-medicinal, in Polynesia and elsewhere in the world. Following the four chapters is a bibliography of pertinent literature, an index to the scientific names, and an index to Polynesian names.

This book is aimed at ethnobotany students, doctors studying herbal medicines, and anyone else who wants to learn something about Polynesian cultures and their herbal medicine heritage. The presence of color photos will greatly assist those wanting to identify the medicinal plants, particularly those species discussed in the other books produced by Isle Botanica, such as Tongan Herbal Medicine and Samoan Herbal Medicine. The book is not meant to be used as a practical guide for someone taking or administering medicine, since the information was collected with the understanding of the healers that it was not for this purpose, and dosage is consequently not given.