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Tongan Herbal Medicine

W. Arthur Whistler

Softcover, 136 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 kingdom of Tonga is no exception. Even today herbal medicine is used at one time or another by a large percentage of the Tongan population, 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 Tongan culture, the author undertook a study of Tongan herbal medicine, which involved interviews with over 50 local healers over a several-year span.

The book is divided into three chapters. The first chapter, "Traditional Tongan Medicine," includes an introduction on the islands, their culture, and their history, and sections on previous literature and the ancient practice of Tongan medicine. The second chapter, "Modern Tongan Medicine," comprises a description of health care in Tonga today, concepts of sickness and health, and the current practice of herbal medicine. The third chapter, "Tongan Medicinal Plants," includes an enumeration and discussion of 77 of the most commonly used medicinal plants in Tonga, which are arranged in alphabetical order by Tongan name. The information given for each plant includes the following: (1) Tongan 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 Tonga. Following the third chapter is a list of literature cited, a glossary of Tongan medical terms, and an index to scientific names.

This book is aimed at ethnobotany students, doctors studying herbal medicines, and anyone who wants to learn something about Tongan culture and its herbal medicine heritage. The book is much more detailed than the Tongan section in the earlier Polynesian Herbal Medicine written by the same author. Although Tongan 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 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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