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Botanical Medicine Review


Botanical Medicine Manual by Marisa Marciano. Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada: ProHealth Systems; 2016. ISBN: 978-0-9936191-1-3. Spiralbound, 432 pages. $39.95.

This practical reference book, spiral-bound for easy use, is part of the consistently professional ProHealth Systems series of clinical reference books and a “ready reckoner” for the serious student.

Marisa Marciano, ND, bills herself as “the naturopathic herbalist” and has made botanical medicine a specialty of her clinical practice for the past five years. She was recently appointed chair of the Department of Botanical Medicine at the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. She brings this practical experience of teaching and using herbs in clinical practice into every page of this handy reference book.

Written with the naturopathic student in mind, this helpful primer includes introductory chapters on how to study and learn about the many herbs required for professional exams; how to harvest, dry, and store herbs (I love that a reference to harvesting by moon phases is included); how to assess and critique herbal research; the practice of evidence-based medicine; what questions to ask when taking a patient’s case history; how to keep clinical case notes; metabolic and nutritional needs of the body; herbal actions; key plant constituents and their clinical applications; basics of herbal medicine making — whew, and that is only the first 83 pages!

This is a whirlwind account of the highlights of herbal medicine, but the writing is elegant and precise, the columnar layout allows for more text per page, and the first part of the book covers a surprising amount of ground quite comprehensively in relatively few pages.

The next 280 or so pages are dedicated to an alphabetical series of mini-monographs on the key 150 herbs required for the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX). This includes such standard-practice herbs as yarrow (Achillea millefolium, Asteraceae), calendula (Calendula officinalis, Asteraceae), lemon balm (Melissa officinale, Lamiaceae), comfrey (Symphytum officinale, Boraginaceae), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae). However, the adherence to NPLEX requirements means the book also provides monographs on melilot (Melilotus officinalis, Fabaceae), rauwolfia (Rauvolfia serpentina, Apocynaceae), cannabis (Cannabis spp., Cannabaceae), belladonna (Atropa belladonna, Solanaceae), and aconite (Aconitum napellus, Ranunculaceae) — herbs that are hardly standard for most herbalists and suitable for use by only qualified herbal or naturopathic professionals. Maybe at least separating these herbs into a separate section would have highlighted their potential dangers more effectively. Given that people who are not well-trained in botanical medicine may use this book, it is prudent to proactively point out the potential harm that can result if these herbs are misused.

Each monograph lists the Latin binomial, common name, botanical family, plant parts used, key active constituents, actions, key clinical applications, pharmacology, pharmacy, interactions, dosing, and safety. References are provided in each monograph. The material is concise and factual, and the essential parts are pared down for easier memorization, with occasional boxes that provide a little more insight (e.g., how the herb is classified in traditional Chinese medicine, or how it got its name). If I were still a student, this is exactly what I would want: just the facts, no frills; all the essential information presented in a simple and consistent manner, referenced and reliable, nothing extraneous.

Each monograph also includes a line drawing and, in a very nice touch, the reader is encouraged to color them as a way to learn the herbs. As an educator myself, I can say that this is an excellent and simple way to engage the learner and give visual cues for better recall.

At the back is a useful Latin/common name cross reference, an excellent summary of toxicity signs and symptoms, and potential adverse effects. There is also a good discussion of risks from using herbs, cautions and contraindications, a list of herbs to avoid in pregnancy, guidelines for pediatric dosing, a classification of the monographed herbs by botanical family, a summary table of drug-nutrient interactions, and a detailed listing of known herb-drug interactions. This is all useful, well-considered, and practical information, and one of the things that makes this book different from other books that provide monographs on herbs. Marciano’s clinical experience with herbs is evident from how she discusses dosing and safety. She is pragmatic and precautionary without being alarmist.

The last part of the book lists commonly used conventional pharmaceutical drugs. This section serves as a quick reference guide, but is so abbreviated as to be fairly pointless. Most students or practitioners will have much better reference materials for drug uses or can look them up online. This section of the book seems unnecessary.

Overall, this is a practical reference book, reliable and accurate, for use in clinical practice. For those looking for gorgeous pictures of flowers or quirky recipes for cough syrups, this is not the book to choose. However, for those looking for specific herbal doses or constituents, or to confirm the safety of an herb with a conventional drug, this book will serve as a useful desk reference.

—Chanchal Cabrera, MSc, FNIMH, RH (AHG)
Medical Herbalist,
Horticulture Therapist
Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada