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The Encyclopedia of Popular Herbs - An Authoritative Guide to 40 Leading Medicinal Plants.
The Encyclopedia of Popular Herbs

by Rob McCaleb, Evelyn Leigh, Krista Morien. Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA. 2000. 576 pp. Hardcover. $29.95. ISBN 0-7615-1600-X.

This book is written by Rob McCaleb, cofounder and president of the Herb Research Foundation and cofounding editor of HerbalGram, and his two associate editors, Evelyn Leigh and Krista Morien, writers of many of the "Research Reviews" in HerbalGram and colleagues of McCaleb's at the Herb Research Foundation. They have created one of the most lucid presentations on 40 leading herbs sold in the dietary supplement industry here in the U.S.

While many popular herb books often parrot information from other sources extensive files that McCaleb has been collecting at the Herb Research Foundation since the early 1980s.

The book is written in two parts: Introductory material and the monographs. Part I contains a lucid explanation of the world of herbs, their potential and actual role in healthcare and self-care and some excellent advice for consumers regarding safety, what to look for in herbal product labels, and related tips for increasing responsible use.

The larger portion of this book contains the monographs on the 40 popular herbs. One of the most useful innovations that this book offers, especially compared with other publications of this type, is a five star rating system in which the various types of literature are rated by McCaleb and his coauthors to give the reader an at-a-glance assessment of the depth and quality of the literature supporting (a) clinical research, (b) laboratory research, (c) history of use/traditional use, (d) safety records, and (e) international acceptance. International acceptance, of course, refers to use of these herbs in conventional as well as traditional systems of medicine quick look, the reader can in two or three seconds get a general overview regarding the status of each herb in the aforementioned areas.

Another useful aspect of this work is the section, Primary Uses, which introduces each monograph with up to four or more bullets showing the primary clinical and/or self-care uses of each botanical. Often this kind of information needs to be extracted from pages of text -- a time-consuming process with some other books of this type. The monograph outline includes (aside from the five star rating system) history of the herb, international status, botany (including botanical descriptions and geographical locations), benefits, scientific support, specific studies (broken down by studies in various clinical areas or supporting specific indications), how it works, major constituents (chemistry), and safety (includes side effects, contraindications, and drug interactions, dosage, standardization, i.e., certain chemical parameters to which popular preparations may be standardized, either marker compounds and/or active compounds).

The number of references is relatively few, McCaleb having picked what he presumably considers to be primary references to support information. The number of references average about 11-19 per monograph, including original clinical studies and authoritative secondary publications (i.e., The Complete German Commission E Monographs and the AHPA's Botanical Safety Handbook). The book also contains crossreferences for indications and other therapeutic data as well as a general index. It will become one of the best publications in the market for novices in the emerging herbal movement, while it provides useful information to the professional who is seeking a quick review of the most popular herbs in the market.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Mark Blumenthal