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Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria, 2nd edition, by Stephen Harrod Buhner. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing; 2012. Softcover, 914 pages. ISBN: 978-1603429870. $24.95.

Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria is by Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of 13 previous books. The second edition of Herbal Antibiotics is a fabulous, far-reaching book that is both terrifying and tantalizing. In addition to a new preface and prologue, the latest edition includes five extra chapters, more than tripling the length of the original text. I want to state immediately that this is an important book that should be read by as many people as possible. It should be on The New York Times’ bestsellers list. The book has two messages, one short and one long. The short message is: We are running out of medicines that work against infection. The long message is: We can manage without them; let me tell you how.

The book is divided into nine chapters. The first two chapters cover what Buhner projects will be the end of conventional antibiotics and the concurrent rise of resistant organisms. Thereafter, the book concentrates on families of herbs suitable for treating drug-resistant bacteria. The herbs are divided into three categories: systematic antibacterials, localized antibacterials, and facilitative or synergistic herbs. Each category covers a small selection of herb families, the species used, the common names, the plant parts used, preparations, dosages, contraindications, side effects, and the main properties. There is also a section on habitat, appearance, cultivation, and collection, followed by a section on plant chemistry, traditional uses, and a précis of some clinical trials.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It is packed with a great deal of fascinating information. Did you know that all the water supplies in industrialized countries are polluted with minute amounts of antibiotics (and other pharmaceutical drugs) or that honey has become medicalized? Yes, apparently in the United Kingdom, Medihoney® (Derma Sciences; Maidenhead, UK) is the only honey allowed in hospitals for use in treating wounds — to cleanse them of bacteria, dead tissue, dirt, and debris by drawing these particles into the dressing. As I currently live in the United Kingdom, I must remember to ask for it the next time I am unfortunate enough to find myself in a hospital with a wound.

Buhner clearly knows his subject. He has a wealth of experience to share, and he shares it with wisdom and humility — the signs of a great writer and healer. The book is written in an accessible way and, as a writer myself, I really appreciated how easy it was to read the book. Buhner writes fluidly and clearly, and it is effortless to follow his train of thought. The main thrust of the book is that we need herbal systemic antibiotics*, we need to know them as a category, we need to really know how to use them, and time is not on our side.

There are some wonderful quotable sentences, such as, “In declaring war on bacteria we declared war on the underlying living structure of the planet, on all life-forms we can see, on ourselves.” Also, “The medical model used by the West is unworkable. ” There were insights that had me gasping; for example, the suggestion that the plant genus Sida (Malvaceae) will be significantly useful for myeloma in the future, or that juniper oil (Juniperus communis, Cupressaceae) completely reverses tacrolimus (a drug used to prevent organ transplant rejection)-induced kidney damage in rats, or that bacteria can live in hospital cleaning fluid. As a one-time ICU nurse, this horrified me. However, Florence Nightingale would agree — she said if you are sick, don’t go anywhere near a hospital!

The section on how bacteria learn from each other and evolve was fascinating. Apparently, bacteria are not competing with each other, but cooperating in shared survival. This is the stuff of science fiction, except it happens to be true. I also loved the section on synergy and how plants can improve drug absorption. Buhner’s wonderful sense of humor had me laughing out loud. Fecal transplants are actually happening, and this is modern medicine? Yes, you read that correctly. However, Buhner’s sense of flippancy might put off some academics and lessen the seriousness of his message, which would be a shame. For example he writes, “Oops — sorry, got carried away again” on page 324. This is not the kind of thing readers of The New England Journal of Medicine or The Lancet expect, but that is where the readership of this information needs to go.

The book is well researched; there are 50 pages of references in the bibliography. It is a huge amount of work to list them in alphabetical order according to the chapter they relate to, but it was frustrating that references were not cited in the text. I think if they had been, this would have opened the reader-market to academics and medical personnel who are used to being able to look up a reference easily.

The book states that it is written for the layperson to “take control of your own health.” I certainly think the book will inform the public, and yes, they may be empowered to help themselves when conventional antibiotics fail. But I am not sure how many laypeople would feel confident enough to go out and pick the correct herb. Still, the book is an inspirational way to make people think hard about how long conventional medicine can stave off mutating pathogens. I would recommend it as an excellent reference guide, and I think the book should be required reading for all herbalists and naturopaths, nurses and physicians, pharmaceutical companies, think tanks, and funding bodies. On the other hand, perhaps we should keep it all to ourselves and inherit the earth!

—Jane Buckle, PhD, RN Director, RJ Buckle Associates, LLC