Natural Woman: Herbal Remedies for Radiant Health at Every Age and Stage of Life by Leslie Korn. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc.; 2020. Softcover, 320 pages. ISBN: 9781611806717. $24.95.
Author Leslie Korn, PhD, MPH, is both an expert healer with deep sensibilities and a scholar of the first order with impressive academic credentials. Her career has been devoted in equal measure to treating patients and educating herbalists and physicians on safe, evidence-based uses of herbs, other natural products, and a wide range of other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) options. In her new book Natural Woman, Korn offers a range of herbal remedies for maintaining well-being and treating maladies of the body, mind, and spirit. Korn’s book is more than yet another compendium of reviews of herbs. In addition to featuring concise sections on the science supporting different herbal remedies, the book is filled with a wealth of practical advice on how to select safe and effective herbal products (e.g., powders, tinctures, teas, and salves).
Chapter 1, “How Herbs Heal,” is a concise overview of the historical evolution of herbal medicine. Korn frames the wisdom of traditional herbal healing practices in the context of the benefits and limitations of modern science. The chapter also provides important caveats against combining certain herbs and medications, which may result in adverse effects, and a glossary of common herbal actions (e.g., adaptogen, bitter, galactagogue, nervine, etc.).
Chapter 2, “Preparing Your Herbal Medicines: Tools and Methods,” introduces readers to practical methods of growing, harvesting, and preparing herbs and describes the steps involved in creating herbal medicines for improving health and vitality. In simple language, Korn describes what goes into preparing a simple herbal bath soak from rose (Rosa spp., Rosaceae) attar, cordials for relaxing the mind and enhancing the digestive process, slippery elm (Ulmus rubra, Ulmaceae) lozenges for soothing a sore throat, a topical garlic (Allium sativum, Amaryllidaceae) ointment for treating fungal infections, and more. Chapter 2 also introduces readers to plasters, poultices, rubs, salves, suppositories, syrups, teas, tinctures, and vaginal douches. My favorite part of this chapter was a section on the medicinal uses of honey, which has established antibacterial and antiviral properties and has been used since ancient times to treat skin infections and various ailments.
Chapter 3, “Herbs for Day-to-Day Healing and Seasonal Rhythms,” describes the uses of herbs and essential oils for treatment of common physical maladies such as asthma attacks, headaches, colds, burns, and insect bites. Korn outlines the essential components of an herbal medicine first aid kit including tools and supplies for making and storing tinctures, teas, and salves. She describes the goals of seasonal cleanses for achieving optimal health and vigor at different times of the year. The steps involved in making various herbal preparations are presented in simple language. Korn’s description of a “spring cleanse” for nourishing and cleansing the organs following a prolonged period of inactivity is especially enjoyable and relevant.
Chapter 4, “Herbal Medicines for Everyday Use and Special Purposes,” is the heart of Korn’s new book. The chapter contains extensive discussions about various herbs and herbal formulas for treating everyday maladies and restoring optimal health. Korn describes a tea made with alfalfa (Medicago sativa, Fabaceae), nettle leaf (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae), and red clover (Trifolium pratense, Fabaceae) flowers for menopausal symptoms, artichokes (Cynara scolymus, Asteraceae) combined with garlic and ghee for strengthening the heart, and how to make an herbal soup for immune support and a “happy liver” smoothie to boost liver function.
Chapter 5, “Spice Medicine,” describes uses of common spices such as marjoram (Origanum majorana, Lamiaceae), oregano (O. vulgare), paprika (Capsicum annuum, Solanaceae), rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus, Lamiaceae), cilantro (Coriandrum sativum, Apiaceae), and savory (Satureja spp., Lamiaceae), and some spices that are less well-known in the United States, such as tamarind (Tamarindus indica, Fabaceae), star anise (Illicium verum, Schisandraceae), and epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides, Amaranthaceae). Korn then provides recipes for juices, soups, teas, and smoothies that are both tasty and have health benefits. As a grilled cheese sandwich fanatic, I was intrigued by the recipe for grilled cheese and epazote and am looking for a local source of this widely used herb native to Mexico.
Chapter 6, “Spirit Plants: Finding the Goddess Within,” discusses ritual uses of psychoactive plants, some of which have been used to expand consciousness in different healing traditions. The chapter begins with comments on the appropriate, safe uses of psychoactive plants and encourages readers to work with a qualified guide if/when using any spirit plant. Korn then describes the potential physical and psychological benefits of ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi, Malpighiaceae), cannabis (Cannabis spp., Cannabaceae), kava (Piper methysticum, Piperaceae), kratom (Mitragyna speciosa, Rubiaceae), peyote (Lophophora williamsii, Cactaceae), salvia (Salvia divinorum, Lamiaceae), and other spirit plants.
Chapter 7, “Herbal Medicines for Life’s Cycles, Health, and Dis-ease,” reviews herbs as aids for digestion, management of hypoglycemia and non-insulin-dependent diabetes, as tonics for stress, depression, and insomnia, for enhancing immune function, treating autoimmune conditions (e.g., lupus and some thyroid disorders), and managing pain and headaches. Other sections address bone health, postpartum depression, and female reproductive health issues, including premenstrual syndrome, irregular or heavy menstrual periods, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and fibroids. The chapter also includes reviews of remedies for enhancing heart health and reducing high blood pressure using recipes that are simple to prepare and contain herbs with established anti-inflammatory and/or anti-hypertensive effects. Korn also covers herbal remedies with known neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory benefits that can potentially enhance cognitive performance in some elderly individuals.
As a physician, I found the section in Chapter 7 on herbal remedies for childhood health problems especially informative. After remarking on “Clark’s rule” for adjusting herbal medicine doses in children to ensure safety, Korn introduces practical tips for managing common childhood ailments using low doses of widely available herbal remedies to minimize risk of side effects. Examples include an asthma mocha smoothie to calm inflammation in the lungs; the “bellyache rock” in which chamomile (Matricaria recutita, Asteraceae) oil is applied to the child’s belly followed by light pressure with a damp towel; a lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, Lamiaceae) diffuser for night terrors; a Chinese medicinal herb for bedwetting; and slippery elm bark pudding for colic in infants. The final section of Chapter 7 introduces readers to herbal remedies for enhancing comfort, reducing distress and anxiety, and alleviating physical pain that many individuals experience toward the end of life.
Chapter 8, “Herbal Rituals,” introduces readers to rituals in which herbal medicines are used to promote healing, celebrate important life transitions, and achieve heightened awareness. Korn distills practical suggestions on ritual uses of cedar (Cedrus spp., Pinaceae), copal (Bursera spp., Burseraceae), sandalwood (Santalum spp., Santalaceae), and sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata, Poaceae) from her in-depth knowledge of Native American indigenous cultures, and describes how to use herbs ritually to mark different life stages including birth, coming of age, menarche and menstruation, wedding ceremonies, welcoming an animal companion, and the loss of an animal or human. Rituals are described in simple steps and are accessible to readers who have no prior knowledge of such practices.
Although Natural Woman is about herbal remedies for women, the book is much more than a repository of information on herbs alone. Korn weaves an integrative tapestry that encompasses a range of healing approaches informed by her expertise as a master herbalist, nutritionist, spiritual healer, massage therapist, and yoga practitioner.
The publication of Natural Woman is an important milestone in women’s health care. I bow to Leslie Korn for her tireless work bringing practical knowledge of healing herbs to the public, and, with this book, to women everywhere.
James Lake, MD, is the founder and former chair of the American Psychiatric Association Caucus on Integrative Psychiatry and author of a series of 10 short self-help books on alternative approaches in mental health care and five textbooks on integrative mental health care. His most recent book is An Integrative Paradigm for Mental Health Care: Ideas and Methods Shaping the Future (Springer, 2009).
- Moncrieff J, Wessely S, Hardy R. Active placebos versus antidepressants for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;1:CD003012. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003012.pub2.
- Kaptchuk TJ, Eisenberg DM. The persuasive appeal of alternative medicine. Ann Intern Med. 1998;129(12):1061-5. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-129-12-199812150-00011.