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The New Healing Herbs


by Michael Castleman. Rodale, 2001. 464 pp., softcover. ISBN 1-57954-304-9. $17.95.

This book’s publisher claims that the first edition sold over one million copies! Any herb book with that kind of distribution merits mention here, as it did upon its original publication in 1991.1 The new book, featuring "the top 100 time-tested herbs," is now available with new information from Michael Castleman, a highly-gifted and responsible professional writer and author of numerous books in the health field, plus dozens of articles in herb magazines.

The first several chapters offer a summary of the 5,000-year history of herbs in medicine, and herbal safety. Then the 100 herbs are described in relatively brief two- to four-page sections. These include subsections on healing history, therapeutic uses, "Intriguing Possibilities" wherein the author describes additional potential benefits of each herb, "Rx Recommendations" where specific mode of administration and dosage is described, "The Safety Factor" which includes some out-dated Food and Drug Administration classifications on safety, "Wise-Use Guidelines,"and growing information for gardeners. Some of the herb sections include a "Medicinal Myth" section (e.g., some herbalists consider horsetail to be a nicotine substitute for tobacco smokers because of the presence of trace amounts of nicotine in horsetail). This myth-busting section is a valuable addition to the book that otherwise may tend to be a bit conservative on the safety side of things, as was the first edition, perhaps stipulated by the publisher’s attorneys. Speaking of myths, the book helps to perpetuate at least one: the "antibiotic" myth of goldenseal’s activity. Owing to its berberine content, goldenseal is considered antimicrobial, especially against about a dozen intestinal pathogens; however, it is not "anti-biotic" as that term is reserved in pharmacy to refer to anti-microbial drugs derived from fungi that can outcompete another potentially destructive pathogen, (e.g., the opposite of symbiotic).

An extensive therapeutic guide cross-references the herbs and their uses, with many "special precautions." The information in this book is, unfortunately, not referenced, although a "References" section appears before the index; this should have been called the "Bibliography." The "Wise-Use Guidelines" safety sections are unfortunately very much out of date, relying on old "Unsafe Herbs" and "Herbs of Undefined Safety" FDA guidelines that were abandoned over 15 years ago. Perpetuating this kind of misguided misinformation serves no useful purpose and results in more public confusion in an already confusing area. The author and his publishers would have been better advised to take their safety data from the rational conclusions of the experts on the German Commission E rather than the paranoid, unscientific, ill-informed, highly-criticized and appropriately-rescinded guidelines written by untrained staff members of the U.S. FDA in 1977!—Mark Blumenthal


1. Foster S. From Nature’s Pharmacy [book review]. HerbalGram 1991;25:45.