The Complete Illustrated Herbal:
A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies.
by David Hoffman
pub. Mustard, 1999
Hardback, 256 pages, £9.99
ISBN 1 84164 167 7
The approach of this book is to look at herbal medicine in a holistic manner; restoring and maintaining wellbeing by treating the whole body with herbal remedies so that the body naturally fends off disease. Split into five sections you could read the contents as a book, or use as a reference source or textbook.
The author begins with a short section on 'The Holistic Approach' expounding the use of herbs to prevent disease, as body tonics and as a means to detoxify the body system, and to help enhance the body's defence system.
Part two is involved with the purely practical aspects of herbalism - gathering herbs and then their preparation. Covered are instructions on how to make infusions and decoctions, alcoholic and other tinctures, making your own herbal lozenges and ointments. Most steps are illustrated with a series of small photographs, and generally the photographic content and graphics throughout the book are excellent.
From here the author takes you on a tour of the chemistry of herbs - reviewing the pharmacology of plants and the functions of their constituent oil, acid and other components. Each of the groupings is accompanied by a graphic of the molecular structures, though mercifully we are not invited to delve into the inner workings of carbon chains and valencies.
The chemistry sections leads up to two very useful items. First is a section on the 'Action of Herbs' and the problems they treat. You will probably be familiar with terms such as diuretic and astringent, but what about those of a vulnerary (cut and wound healing) and a sialagogue (saliva stimulant)? In other herbals this reviewer has come across such classifications are usually appended as a glossary at the end of a book. How nice to be able to familiarise yourself with these terms as you start your exploration of herbal remedies.
The second very useful section at this point is the 'Therapeutic Index' which works in reverse; allowing you to look up a 'cough' or other condition and see what plants may be of use.
Part three of 'The Complete Illustrated Herbal' is the Herbal itself, featuring some 200 plants. As the author says, self-diagnosis is not advisable and professional advice should be sought. Each of the featured plants is illustrated with a photograph and accompanied by a short paragraph of descriptive text, followed by simple information on the parts of the plant used, collection, plus the constituents and their actions. Each plant also has a boxout which describes the 'preparation and dosage' for the plant in question, but the print size of these is very small and may cause difficulty for those with failing eyesight. A number of plants have cautions beside them.
'Systems of the Body' is the book's fourth section, and explores the use of herbs in relation to the body's circulatory, digestive, respiratory and other systems. The text provides some descriptions of preparations which may be used in the holistic approach to enhancing these systems.
The last part of the book is a simple 'Useful Information' section which provides a chart advising when to gather herbs, a glossary, list of further books to read, and a short list of herbal organisations and suppliers.
All in all 'The Complete Illustrated Herbal' is a practical and informative book, uncomplicated in its descriptions, nicely laid out and illustrated, and at £9.99 must be a pretty good investment for anyone wanting to explore the subject of herbal medicine or have a book of herbal remedies on the shelf.