In 1914, and again in 1939, Britain’s supply of vital drugs and antiseptics needed by both its armies and its civilian population was cut off because German pharmaceutical companies dominated world markets. The drugs most difficult to replace were those extracted from plants, such as morphine from blue poppies, digitalis from foxglove, and atropine from deadly nightshade, because most of these plants were cultivated either in Germany or in lands controlled by its allies. Britain’s Green Allies uses contemporary newspaper articles, government documents and personal accounts to tell how, although the lessons of WWI were promptly forgotten before having to be re-learned in WWII, Britain succeeded in maintaining an adequate supply of the key drugs and other plant-based medical supplies in both wars. Britain did this by strengthening its own pharmaceutical industry and by utilising both its native plants and the botanical resources of its empire. Government, growers, the pharmaceutical industry, university researchers, and the public – members of the Women’s Institute, Boy Scouts, and Girl Guides – all did their bit to win their war.
Britain’s Green Allies will appeal to those interested in the history of WWI and WWII; the history of medicine; herbal and alternative medicine; and plants and their uses.