Bodleian Library publishes What Have Plants Ever Done for Us? Western Civilization in Fifty Plants

A new book by Stephen Harris, the Druce Curator of the Oxford University Herbaria, presents 50 plants that have been important to the development of the Western world, discussing trade, politics, medicine, travel and chemistry along the way.

Publisher Bodleian Library Publishing said: "Plants are an indispensable part of our everyday life. From the coffee bush and grass for cattle which give us milk for our cappuccinos to the rubber tree which produces tyres for our cars, our lives are inextricably linked to the world of plants. Plants have provided paper and ink, chemicals that could kill or cure, vital sustenance and stimulants.

Some, such as barley, have been staples from earliest times; others, such as oil palm, are newcomers to Western industry. Moreover, with time, uses change: beets, which have been used variously as a treatment for leprosy, source of sugar and animal feed, are now showing potential as biofuels. What may the future hold for mandrake or woad? With roughly 50,000 different plant species in the world exploited by humans, Stephen Harris has given us the significant few; fifty plants that illustrate the importance of the genus to life as we know it, not just as decorative accessories, but as vital organisms in both our evolution and in modern life. We remain dependent on plants for our food, our fuel and our medicines; for the very air we breathe. Their effects on our lives, as the stories in this wide-ranging and engaging book demonstrate, continue to be profound, and often unpredictable."

Included in the £14.99 book, published on 20 November, are Barley, Mandrake, Beets, Opium poppy, Brassicas, Cannabis, Bread wheat, Broad bean, Alliums, Pea, Olive, Grape, Papyrus, Yew, Rose, Pines, Reeds, Oak, Apple, Pepper, Carrot, Woad, Citrus, Nutmeg, White mulberry, Tobacco, Tulip, Chilli, Quinine, Cocoa, Potato, Tomato, Coffee, Maize, Pineapple, Smooth meadow grass, Lycopods, Cotton, Sugar cane, Coconut, Rice, Tea, Ragwort, Banana, Rubber, Sunflower, Oil palm, Soya, Corncockle and Thale cress.

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