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Samoan Herbal Medicine: O Lāʻau ma Vai Fofo O Samoa

W. Arthur Whistler

Softcover, 116 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 Polynesian islands of Samoa (both American and independent Samoa) are no exception. Even today herbal medicine is used at one time or another by a large percentage of the Samoan population, especially during infancy and childhood. While plants used for food, shelter, dyes, and many others aspects of the material culture of Samoa are easy to see and study, the use of plants for medicines is more esoteric. To elucidate this poorly known facet of Samoan culture, the author undertook a study of Samoan herbal medicine, which involved interviews with over 30 local healers over a several-year span.

The book is divided into an introduction to Samoa (the islands, the culture and history, the flora of Samoa, and literature on Samoan medicine) and three chapters. The first chapter, "Traditional Samoan Medicine," includes sections on the medical problems, the causation of illness, the priest-healers, physical treatment, herbal medicine treatment, and the transition period between ancient and modern Samoan medicine. The second chapter, "Modern Samoan Medicine," comprises sections on health care in Samoa today, concepts of sickness and health, Samoan ailments, traditional Samoan healers, the current practice of herbal medicine, and the future of Samoan medicine. The third chapter, "Samoan Medicinal Plants," includes an enumeration and discussion of 82 of the most commonly used medicinal plants in Samoa, arranged in alphabetical order by Samoan name. The information given for each plant includes the following: (1) Samoan name; (2) scientific name; (3) family to which the plant belongs; (4) English name or names; (5) distribution; (6) habitat in which the plant is found; (7) a botanical description; and (8) the medicinal uses of the plant in Samoa. Following the third chapter is a list of literature cited, a glossary of Samoan medical terms, and an index to scientific names.

This book is aimed at ethnobotany students, doctors studying herbal medicines, and anyone else who wants to learn something about Samoan culture and its herbal medicine heritage. The book is much more detailed than the Samoan section in the earlier Polynesian Herbal Medicine written by the same author. Although Samoan Herbal Medicine lacks photographs of the plants themselves, many of these can be found in other books by Isle Botanica (e.g., Wayside plants of the Islands, Flowers of the Pacific Island Seashore, and Polynesian Herbal Medicine). The book is not meant to be used as a practical guide for someone taking or administering herbal 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.


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