Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine


Medical Herbalism:  
The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine 
by David Hoffmann
Healing Arts Press, 2004


David Hoffmann, highly respected author of seventeen books on herbalism, has outdone himself with his latest offering. In writing it, the author intends to bring together “the modern scientific movement with traditional herbal practice.” Every health care practitioner of Western medicine in the United States should read this book.

The book is divided into two parts, with twenty-six chapters in all. Part one includes an introduction to principles and practices of holistic herbalism, with chapters devoted to herbalism’s place in relation to both holistic medicine and medical science, information on plant classification, six chapters on the chemistry of herbs, a chapter on toxicity and safety considerations, and a discussion of the preparation of herbal medicine.

Part two starts with a general model for a holistically based herbal practice, followed by a chapter on each physiological system in the body (the digestive system, the respiratory system, etc.). Each of these chapters provides a description of the various pathologies, an overview and treatment of the specific diseased condition, the actions indicated to remedy the condition, specific remedies and suggestions for herbal treatments with an explanation of the actions of these herbs, and a broader context for the treatment that places the herbs within a holistic approach to healing.

Part two also presents a chapter on herbs for the elderly, another one on herbs for children, primary and secondary actions of herbs, and a materia medica (herbal description) of 150 Western herbs. In addition to the chapter on toxicity, a small section on safety considerations is included for each herb. Seven appendices appear at the end of the book, which include a general glossary, examples of meanings of the Latin names of selected herbs, a cross-referenced list of Latin and common herb names, a list of pharmacy terms, weights and measurement conversion tables, sources for herbal information, and a taxonomy hierarchy.

The chapters are exhaustively footnoted, taking advantage of the most recent information on herbs. Though Hoffmann is impeccably credentialed, with twenty-five years of practice as an herbalist, he never adopts a superior attitude about herbal medicines in relation to orthodox Western medicine. Instead of seeing herbalism as “alternative” medicine, he prefers to call it “complementary,” as he believes that herbalism can and should work with medical science. Nor does he feel that herbs are magical panaceas for all our ills. Rather, he believes that herbs must be used within a context that approaches healing in a multi-faceted way, utilizing exercise, nutrition, spirituality, and general lifestyle activities along with the herbs as part of the journey toward wellness. He disagrees with the practice of using herbs outside of the holistic context, which effectively reduces the herb “to the status of an organic drug delivery system!”

A good example of the holistic approach comes from his chapter on the digestive system. He notes that constipation can be treated with herbs, but that the best long-term way to treat it comes from adding more fiber to the diet. Some of the more well-known laxative herbs, he reminds the reader, are anthraquio-none laxatives, which “exert their effects by damaging epithelial cells, leading to changes in absorption, secretion, and motility.” While short term use of them is likely safe, repeated or long term use of these anthraquionone laxative herbs (such as Senna leaves and pods, or Cascara sagrada bark), can cause damage to the body, and are also contraindicated for women who are pregnant or nursing. The author suggests various non-anthraquionone herbs that can help by stimulating bile production (Yellow dock and Dandelion root), as well as giving examples of dietary fiber that will help.

The overall tone of the book avoids sensationalism, while providing much thought-provoking material. He gently reminds us that we must be able to question herbal authority, noting that “questioning” is not the same as “rejecting.”

The only negative aspect might be that, at 600 pages, it could seem a little intimidating for individuals who are only beginning to explore herbalism. For mid-level to advanced herbal students, however, or for any professional health care practitioner, this book represents an outstanding contribution. Kudos to both author David Hoffmann and to Healing Arts Press for giving us this amazing volume. Leah Samul.

» Originally appeared in PanGaia #43

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Where to Park Your Broomstick: A Teen’s Guide To Witchcraft

Where to Park Your Broomstick:  
A Teen’s Guide To Witchcraft  
by Lauren Manoy
Fireside Original


Despite the cringe-worthy title, Lauren Manoy’s debut offering is enjoyable, perceptive and downright cool. I would call this book a dictionary of sorts, because Manoy has single-handedly scanned the vast horizon of everything Wiccan: the politics in collective religions, the art of name dropping, really neat and innovating spell-casting, political teen rights and ritual etiquette.

Read more: Where to Park Your Broomstick: A Teen’s Guide To Witchcraft

The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids

The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids is a worldwide group dedicated to practising, teaching, and developing Druidry as a valuable and inspiring spirituality.

The Order was founded in Britain almost 50 years ago by the historian and poet Ross Nichols, aided by the writer and founder of the Tolkien Society Vera Chapman, and fellow members of the Ancient Druid Order, which developed during the early years of the last century out of the Druid Revival which began about three hundred years ago.

The Order is essentially a Mystery School, and the term ‘order’ is derived from the tradition of magical orders rather than from the tradition of religious orders. Neither the Order nor Druidry is a cult. A cult revolves around a personality, a charismatic leader, or a particular deity or saint. The Order and Druidry have none of these characteristics.


Fritz wants the First Word

Dear Witches & Pagans,
Your “Heathens & Northern Traditions” (#24) issue is a delight! What an enormous amount of editorial work it must have been, pulling together all the disparate strains of modern Heathenry into so coherent a whole. I’m still working my way through it, and so far I’ve learned something new on nearly every page.

I found the final article, “Why I’m Not Heathen,” by (the intrepid and audacious) Raven Kaldera, especially interesting. It got me thinking about how much we can learn about different cultures — past and present — from the way they regard the gods of their native pantheons, especially those deities known for their cunning and craftiness.

Neal Stephenson, the author of Cryptonomicon (1999), The Baroque Cycle (2003-04), and Anathem (2008), has observed that cunning people have an almost universal tendency to attain power that non-cunning people do not. Cultures find this disparity fascinating, but react to it in different ways. For example, many Native American peoples basically admired their trickster gods, like Coyote and Raven, but regard them with some hesitancy and suspicion; cf. Tony Hillerman’s novel Coyote Waits (1990). In Norse mythology, as Kaldera notes, the trickster god Loki was the closest thing they had to the Christian Devil, and this is one source of his discomfort with modern Heathenry.

Both these examples may depend on these cultures’ attitude toward technology. This is especially obvious in contrast to the high value that Classical Greek culture placed on its own deity of cunning and craftiness, the goddess Athena. As the goddess who supported and advised successful warriors like Heracles and Odysseus (he’s the guy who came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse), she’s the goddess of warfare won by tactical cunning. Today we think of Athena as the goddess of scholarship and technology. In our modern world you might consider her the patron deity of academics — as well as hackers, techies, nerds, and geeks.

Since our own culture is made up of strains of belief from all these diverse sources, this may help explain our conflicted love-hate relationship with scholars and techies.

Pre-contact Native Americans liked their trickster gods, but they’d never coupled this notion with the idea of technological development. And to judge from their mythology, the Vikings would have instinctively hated academics and geeks. But the Greeks were different - they loved their techies. The Norse identified their own trickster god as a kind of Devil, but the capital city of ancient Greece was named for their deity of cunning, and the temple of Athena still dominates the landscape of modern Athens.

This is one important reason why I, as both a scholar and a geek, am so much more comfortable with those strains of Contemporary Paganism that are inspired by the art and the literature of the Classical Graeco-Romans. Likewise, I'm not surprised that some of modern Paganism's more popular varieties, especially the Norse and the Celtic, bear toward their clever and cunning deities an attitude quite similar to that of the Christians. Since everything we believe we know about Northern European religions has been filtered through the expectations of those Christian monks who wrote down virtually all the source material on which our understanding of these cultures depend.
— Fritz Muntean

The Wild Hunt

Since launching “The Wild Hunt” in 2004, Jason Pitzl-Waters has become one of the leading voices for analysis and insight into how modern Pagan faiths are represented within the mainstream media. In addition, “The Wild Hunt” has also conducted in-depth interviews with prominent figures within modern Paganism, academia, and religion journalism. Jason wants to raise the level of discourse and journalism on important issues within the modern Pagan and Heathen communities, while advocating a broader commitment to encouraging religious multiplicity and solidarity (where appropriate) with surviving indigenous and non-monotheistic faith groups.


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