The Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier, FNIMH
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley, Limited
I first decided to buy the book in hopes that it would be a good, up to the minute, desk reference on Medicinal Herbs. It turned out to be a little more of a text book to study by and what some book publishers call a coffee table book. A coffee table book is a book as large as a magazine, hardbound and full of color pictures, which would be entertaining even to people not interested in the subject yet. It is a good study help because of the sections in the back on how to use and administer herbs.
The first section tells about how medicinal herbs work by affecting different systems of the body with a number of chemicals working together to effect change. The book does divide the body's system up a little differently than the Heart of Herbs Course, Making it a little confusing for those of us trying to study both texts at the same time. The authors system is:
The Skin, using herbs that are Antiseptic, Astringent and depurative.
Immune System, using herbs that are Immune stimulants
Respiratory System, using herbs that are Antiseptic, antibiotic, Expectorant,
Demulcent, and spasmolytics
Endocrine Glands using herbs that are adaptogens, hormonally active, and
Urinary System, using herbs that are antiseptic, astringent and diuretic.
Musculoskeletal System using herbs that are analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, and
Nervous System using herbs that are nerviness, relaxants, stimulants and tonics.
Circulation and heart using herbs that are cardiotonics, circulatory stimulants,
Diaphoretics, and spasmolytics.
And the Digestive Organs using antiseptics, astringents, cholagogues, choleretics
Demulcents, hepatics, laxatives and stomachics.
Having all of the systems spread out with the medicinal actions associated with each one helps me to understand the medicinal action a little better.
The next section explains active constituents. I never noticed it before but these active ingredients are arranged in ten basic classes: Phenols, Volatile Oils, Flavonoids, Tannins, Proanthocyanins, Coumarins, Saponins, Anthraquinones, Cardiac Glycosides, Cyanogenic Glycosides, Polysaccharides, Glucosilinates, Bitters, Alkaloids, Vitamins and minerals. The last two, most of us all ready understand.
After a short discussion on quality control of herbs, there is a long history of Herbalism. People have been using herbs at least since 3000 BC, in Egypt, the Middle East, India and China. In the early times, Herbalism was connected to spiritualism, but it began to break away about 500BC. Hippocrates (460-377 BC) believed that an illness was a natural rather than a supernatural occurrence. Herbalism was well founded by trade between Europe and Asia through India and the Middle East from 300 to 600 BC. In Europe up through the so-called dark ages, people seemed to have a very good understanding of Herbalism. On the other side of the world an Herbalism tradition developed in the Maya, Aztec and Inca Civilizations unbeknownst to the Europeans.
Between 1000 and 1400 AD, Universities, Hospitals and Medical schools were established which used Herbalism and in that time period Herbal medicine was the only medicine. International trade during the middle ages contributed to the development of herbal tradition, by making formerly exotic herbs available everywhere. Following the discovery of digitalis in the herb foxglove by Dr. William Withering, in 1795, techniques were developed to extract the chemicals out of herbs in order to use the basic medicines and gain better control over quality.
From the early 19th century, laboratory produced medicines began to supplant mother nature as a source of medications. In 1803, narcotic alkaloids were extracted from opium poppies and a year later insulin was extracted form Elecampane, and in 1838 salicylic acid (Aspirine) was extracted from willow bark. From 1850 to 1900, conventional medicine established it's own monopoly by trying to outlaw the use of medicines by any one not trained in a medical school.
As late as 1930, 90% of the medicines sold in drug stores, were of herbal origin, but in the last 50 years synthetic chemicals have taken over the medical industry. Now the tide is beginning to turn back toward Herbalism, due in part to bad mistakes and bad experiences in the use of chemicals such as thalidomide and in the poor state of health in Western Societies.
The next section of the book deals with the various herbal traditions, which have developed in such places as Europe, India, China, Africa, Australia, North America, and South America. Each location developed a slightly different tradition based on local tradition, religion and plants, as a combination of what was locally grown and what was brought in from other parts of the world.
The center section of the book is what I really wanted. It is divided into two parts, the first is a Materia Medica of the 100 most used herbs in detail with full color pictures of the herbs and the preparations. The habitat, constituents, actions, traditional and current uses are covered for each herb. The next section has another 450 herbs in it that are less commonly used or used only in a few places. The same type of information is included but not in such great detail as in the previous section. The only drawback to the Materia Medica sections is that the herbs are in alphabetical order but only by their Latin names.
The first herb is `Yarrow', because the Latin name for the plant is: Achillea millefolium and that is first in the alphabet. That would decrease the value of the book as a reference tool except that there is a General Index beginning on page 323 that lists all of the herbs in the book by their common names, even for the herb that have more than one common name. When I looked up Yarrow, it gave me page 56, in bold type, and that is where the material medica for Achillea millefolium is located.
I don't usually read an index to a book unless I am using it as a reference, but in this book, I noticed that behind the General Index is an Index of Herbs by Ailment. In this index, one can look up an ailment like Blood Pressure, High and be directed to: Blackcurrant 261, Buckwheat 301, eggplant 270, Garlic 301, 319, Ginger 301, Ginkgo 102, Hawthorn 90, Indian Snake root 260, mistletoe 283, olive 240. That index may be worth the $25.00 that the book costs to someone who is practicing as an herbalist trying to choose an herb to recommend for a particular ailment, especially if one herb does not help and a new one must be chosen.
In between the herb (material medica) sections and the index, there is a section giving the procedures for making infusions, decoctions, Tinctures (they make no difference between Tinctures and Extracts), ointments, creams and poultices. The procedures are very well illustrated as is the rest of the book, but the only thing new that they add is the use of a wine press to separate the oil or alcohol from the herbs after the infusion or extraction process. The last section before the index is an abbreviated guide of health problems and the herbal remedies that can be used to treat each group of problems.
I would recommend this book to just about any one but a very experienced herbalist. It is entertaining, easy to understand, and very informative.