This book and its New World sister are far more than herbals. To make a herbal of just this type, now, is a statement about the way medicine needs to go, and perhaps even civilization too. So it had to be done just right - which it has been.
Wood's approach is best conveyed in his own words:
'I have called this herbal "earthwise" to contrast it to other herbals reflecting the pharmacological approach. It is based on sources that the scientific approach ignores: historical uses, folk medicine, folk practitioners, the experience of actual herbalists, intuitive concepts of energy, plant properties, and medicine, daydreams, and dreams. It is, however, "scientific" in a broader sense of the word because it follows an organized and reasonably critical approach to understanding plant medicine.'
What a treat this book is! Respectful of every herbalist's approach, and of every herb, Wood places us back amidst a true and genuine western holism. Noting the systems of the Greeks, Chinese, and Ayurveda, he takes a simple approach (with which his readers will already be familiar) based on tissue states and actions. And Wood points out with perfect correctness that holism cannot take place without such an energetic approach.
Although, as he says, much of what was 'alternative' not so long ago is now 'complementary', and doctors are considering lifestyle and temperament issues just as much as biochemistry, even most 'holistic' western doctors haven't taken the plunge to a full western energetic concept as has Wood. They will look at bodily systems and say that all need to be addressed 'as a whole' - but (so far as I'm aware) most have had no overall concept by which to look at the human system as *one thing*, unless they were importing it from the East; this book will change all that.
Wood looks at *everything* about a herb. He wants you to understand its essence, its geist, its character and personality, the thing that makes a herb itself as a particuar entity. Of course he doesn't ignore molecular biology - why would anyone do that? - but he does acknowledge its huge limitations as a method of understanding the action of herbal remedies.
He will look at absolutely any piece of information that he can give which helps to form a picture of a herb - its taste is very important to him, for example, and in terms of indications he will give physical, emotional or mental symptoms as appropriate. Wood Betony, for example, is good for bronchitis or fear of vomiting, is traditional for demon posession, and thus good for those who are hysterical, good for 'tall persons, disassociated from their bodily instincts', etc. - from this plethora of well-organized detail a picture emerges, like a snapshot of 'what the herb is'.
This makes the herbal perfectly well suited for the amateur, but equally, more or less essential for the professional who wants to expand their knowledge, their instinct, and indeed their knowledge *about* instinct. Needless to say the list of herbs covered is very thorough (including bee propolis for example, or a dozen medicines made from grapes).
I have to say, the bibliography is no less interesting. The voices of Wood's favourite teachers and colleagues continue to ring through his work, passing on not merely particular information but also a general attitude - imaginative, awake common sense perhaps says it best.
This is a book about how to heal; it may yet heal, not just many of the maladies from which we suffer, but our relationship to illness, wellness and herbs as well.