Osseo-Asare, Abena Dove. 2014. Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa. University of Chicago Press.

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April 20, 2018

Critical Commentary

AO: In this 2014 book by Abena Osseo-Asare, she uses publicly available records and extensive interviews with scientists and healers in Ghana, Madagascar, and South Africa to interpret how African scientists and healers, rural communities, and drug companies—including Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Unilever—have sought since the 1880s to develop drugs from Africa’s medicinal plants. She focuses on six plants--rosy periwinkle, Asiatic pennywort, grains of paradise, Strophanthus, Cryptolepis, and Hoodia-- to show that herbal medicine and pharmaceutical chemistry have simultaneous and overlapping histories that cross geographic boundaries. Osseo-Asare follows the lead of recent historians that have been recentering historical attention on the role of the assistants (rather than the leading scientific PI figure) in shaping scientific knowledge and pushes forward STS discussions about moving beyond individualized narratives of innovation and discovery towards fragmented, synchronous stories of shared creation across time and space that open up the possibility of infinite inventors. She calls for more historians to work on the articulation of how African traditional medicine has changed and moved over time (rather than notions that traditional medicine is static and localized).

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English