The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines

(No Series)
  Nonfiction / Herbal

The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines is the first scientific quick-reference book compiled by two trained, experienced clinical pharmacists. In clear, everyday language, they share the most up-to-the-minute, reliable, and accessible information available on more than three hundred herbal medicines.

This book was one of the few I first purchased when beginning my walk with herbs and natural healing. The introduction clearly states that herbs are a useful medicine, with Avila and Fetrow explaining why this is so, backing up their opinion, and stating why herbs have been turned away from.

Regrettably, their opinion seems to change once you actually read past the introduction.

95% or more of the book is a standard reference, listed alphabetically by herb. Every herb is discussed very, very briefly - this is a minimal reference guide at best. A paragraph is devoted to the herb, then a list of its use, then side effects, then the ending warning. That's it, really. It seems more like this is an herb-warning book than an actual herbal, as the bulk of the page will consist of cautions/warnings/contradictions, and not actual use of the herb.

Amusingly herbs are mentioned that every herbalist knows not to take without being extremely experienced, as the plants are poisonous. This book does not really mention that, instead making it appear like people and herbalists use these poisonous plants all the time and shouldn't. When it is recommended that an expert be consulted, very rarely does it say, "consult your herbalist or naturopath". Instead it's primarily "consult your physician."

I echo the reviewer who states they list any possible side effect, like 1 in a billion. You can read side effects here that won't be mentioned anywhere else, no matter how long you look. They also don’t seem too fond in listing that some of these side effects are extremely rare, or common in almost every pharmaceutical drug out there – such as nausea, headache, - or that the symptoms can be mild. Even herbs which list almost zero side effects, WITH research listed that backs them up, they still find a way not to recommend it! They may say, while research shows this moderately works and is generally safe, you can try a prescription drug that works better. Seriously! It’s a no win situation! To top even this off, they state in many herbs that no research exists, while I know for a fact there are studies out there.

Sometimes wording is effective brain washing. The first herb mentioned, Aconite, is toxic. It has been used by people in the past to commit suicide, as has every other poisonous substance. Yet they did not word it that way. Instead, “In fact, this herb was once used as a poison in arrows and has been linked to many suicides.” Linked how, as in causing them? Is this a warning against the herb, as if the suicides are the herbs fault? Even in Aloe Vera, they say that studies indicate Aloe may be useful for healing, but are quick to point out in the same sentence that studies aren’t well documented. And of course the standard follow up with the FDA recognizing the herb as generally safe, but not recommending it for any condition.

In the beginning of the book under general precautions, they state that one should not take any herb during pregnancy and that one should not take any herb for any serious condition. It would difficult to find many herbalists, homeopaths, naturopaths, or other natural care providers who agree with the above statements. Books have been written on pregnancy and childbirth involving herbs alone, and research really HAS been done. Claiming they shouldn’t be used for any serious condition is dismissing them as folklore, right up front, intended only to try on mild, harmless sniffles and bruises. It creates a mind set; a subtle one, but still a mind set.

I didn’t get the recommendation to never take an herbal cocktail, as they call it, where more than one herb is in a formula. They claimed experts don’t know how herbs mix. (?) Which experts? Surely not experts who study phytomedicine or other non-biased research in combining herbs. As most pharmaceutical companies seem to be trying to push to promote ‘drug based herbs’ they can have control and profit over, standardization is recommended in products bought. For some strange reason, it also says not to buy products over the internet, in magazines, brochures or broadcast media. Do they think Walmart grows and does their own herbs, or other natural stores? From my experience, most of the “supplements” sold in those places are the lesser quality found anywhere.

The book finishes with a few indexes of natural health supplements, including royal jelly, bee pollen, shark cartilage, etc, and recommends not to use any of these. One of the biggest slaps in the face was their stating on bee pollen never having conclusive research; it is amazingly simple for anyone to type in the words bee pollen research, or something similar, and pull up countless supportive studies.

Sadly, this book is written by pharmacists and it shows. If the pharmacist were not bias, I would welcome his/her contribution, but this is - again - not the case. It almost seems like people are hired by the drug companies to pen herbals to subtly sway people away from seeking out natural healing remedies. This should be one of the bibles for those kinds. One of my favorite things to look forward to in an herbal is personal experience a clinician has had, and of course none is found here. I would doubt the authors use many herbs at all.

All this being said, there are redeeming points here and there on this book. Some of the side effects really do exist and it is nice to see a book not run from listing a potential reaction of an herb. Some books praise plants so much they almost seem afraid of listing real contradictions and issues that can be found with them. This book also discusses a very large amount of herbs, a welcome change from those that discuss "30" or less. Each herb had a great wrap up, listing other names it's known by and commercial products it is sold as. AND, finally, the book is very reasonably priced.

If you are interested in herbs and just starting out, I recommend a much less biased book, something that's actually fair and not so one sided. This one doesn't go into enough detail on any herb - what it does and why, or any credible personal usage - and it doesn't take the time to explain much else. It's a good reference for those who are looking for a list of side effects and precautions, and that already know a little on herbs and have other herbals lining their shelves, but that’s it as a bare minimum.