cover image The Plant Hunter: A Scientist’s Quest for Nature’s Next Medicines

The Plant Hunter: A Scientist’s Quest for Nature’s Next Medicines

Cassandra Leah Quave. Viking, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-984879-11-0

Ethnobotanist Quave blends memoir, botany, and anthropology in her spirited, globe-trotting debut. “Since the 1980s no new chemical classes of antibiotics have been discovered and successfully brought to market,” Quave writes: “That’s where I come in.” Born without several bones in her right leg and foot, Quave spent time in and out of hospitals, where she nearly died of a staph infection before antibiotics saved her life. This sparked her interest in medicine, and Quave traces her journeys across the globe in search of plant information: she travels to the Amazon, where she receives an herb bath from a healer and reconsiders her relationship to medicine; to southern Italy where she studies the dietary habits of Albanian immigrants; to a Mediterranean island to collect plants in danger of disappearing, such as “purple flowering” Daphne sericea; and into her labs, where she tests her plants against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Her survey is packed with facts—readers will learn that they have willow trees to thank for Advil, that the cocoa plant is where numbing medication comes from, and the Madagascar periwinkle is the source for a chemotherapy drug. Nature-minded readers will find themselves immersed in—and inspired by—Quave’s poignant tale. Agent: Elias Altman, Massie & McQuilkin. (Oct.)