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Miracle Cures.
Jean Carper. HarperCollins Publishers. 1997. 308 pp. Hardcover, $25. 00 ISBN 0-06-018372-1. ABC Bookstore #B280.

Take a title like "Miracle Cures" and a subtitle such as "Dramatic New Scientific Discoveries Revealing the Healing Powers of Herbs, Vitamins, and Other Natural Remedies," and the first word that comes to mind is hyperbole. At the International Pharmacy Federation 58th International Symposium held in Vancouver in early September, one speaker in the medicinal and aromatic plant section, pharmacy education seminar, flashed a slide of this book's cover across the screen as an example of what Dr. Varro Tyler calls advocacy literature. Beauty may be skin deep, but the "skin" of this book -- the title and subtitle -- mask the depth of information held between the covers. Jean Carper, one of the most reliable interpreters of the scientific literature on health topics for popular consumption, has produced a gem. Millions of Americans are turning to herbs and other dietary supplements for the first time, many with little more information than that provided by television sound bites. They are hungry for reliable information in a marketplace that's so confusing that few know where to turn. Carper's Miracle Cures is a good place for consumers to go for reliable facts. In addition to the best-known herbs, including St. John's wort, feverfew, echinacea, valerian, milk thistle, ginger, ginkgo, kava, kudzu, saw palmetto, licorice, and peppermint oil, Carper also covers other dietary supplements, such as vitamins C and E, OPCs, bee pollen, coenzyme Q-10 and glucosamine.

In twenty-one chapters, Jean Carper separates the mystery from the "miracle." In simple, easily understood language, Carper brings the subject matter into a comfort zone, giving consumers the confidence to make choices on using herb products. The chapter on Echinacea explains that it is not an antibiotic, but rather a substance that helps support the body's own immune defense mechanisms. Several "case studies," interviews with consumers who have had successful experience with an herb or dietary supplement, followed by interviews with experts in the field, put the information in a real-life context. She then explains exactly what the herb is, reviews the current scientific literature, not only from her interpretive perspective, but also through interviews with the scientists who conducted the research. No matter what the published results may be in a scientific study, it is always revealing to learn what the researchers really think about those reports. This element of the book h elps to put what could otherwise be hyperbole into its proper context. Dosage information and safety data is often based on the Commission E monograph English translations, soon available from the American Botanical Council. To the benefit of consumers, Jean Carper goes one step further when she gives an ingredient a thumbs up. Instead of telling consumers to simply seek out the herb, she provides a section called "consumer concerns" which points the reader to a specific product or group of products. Carper's book is friendly, accurate, reliable and on the leading edge of what consumers need to know about herb products. Besides the title, the only drawback to this book is the rather brief bibliography. Jean, we know that your files are deeper. Whether you are a professional or lay person in the herb field, this is a book that everyone will want to have. It comes at the right time for the consumer seeking new, dependable information.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Steven Foster