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The New Holistic Herbal.
by David Hoffman. 1991. Element Books, 42 Broadway, Rockport, MA 01966. Illustrated sofcover. 284 pp. $15.95. ISBN 1-85230-193-7.

This is the revised edition of a book, that, unfortunately, due to poor distribution, we did not review in HerbalGram when it was first released in 1983 and 1985. The previous edition (titled The Holistic Herbal) was published in Great Britain by the Findhorn Press, an offshoot of the famous Findhorn community whose reverence for remarkable abilities with the plant world were made famous by the book, The Magic of Findhorn. Being British, the now northern California transplant, Hoffman, draws heavily from English and European herbal tradition, plus his "holistic" influences from his residence at Findhorn.

This book is "holistic" in several senses of the term. First, the author inspires the reader to a level of reverence to the macrocosm of human, plant, earth connectedness usually not found in "herbals." Hoffman is obviously influenced by the emergence of Gaia conversation, drawing his ideas from David Bolm, J. E. Lovelock, and even the Bible. Hoffman's view of man-plant-Earth is one of inseparability of each aspect -- an increasingly popular "Green" position that parallels Wendell Berry and the new earth-centered ethic:

"Herbalism is based on relationship -- relationship between plant and human, plant and planet, human and planet. Using herbs in the healing process means taking part in an ecological cycle. This offers us the opportunity consciously to be present in the living, vital world of which we are part; to invite wholeness and our world into our lives through awareness of the remedies being used. The herbs can link us into the broader context of the planetary wholeness, so that whilst they are doing their physiological/medical job, we can do ours and build an awareness of the links and mutual relationships."

Accordingly, Hoffman sees the use of herbs in modern healthcare as being more than the simple administration of natural drugs. He exhorts the reader to alter lifestyle along with the use of herbs to effect positive health outcomes. "It is a therapeutic and moral mistake to use herbalism to relieve people's physical distress and illness only for them to return to and continue in patterns of thought, behaviour, work, and culture that are the sources of the disease....A holistic approach to health care includes understanding and treating people in the context of theft culture and community....Most importantly, holistic medicine transforms its practitioners as well as its patients."

Hoffman's book is divided into three parts: The philosophical underpinnings of holism, the various bodily systems, and the "herbal" wherein the reader can look up an herb individually for its actions, uses, preparation and dosage, and cautions (when applicable).

Plus, there are numerous indices and chapters on subjects such as the chemistry of herbs, actions of herbs, herb gathering, and making simple remedies. Indices include English common names and botanical names. This is a good introduction to herbalism for the beginner or intermediate student, and for the "advanced" health professional it provides an opportunity to consider herbs in particular and therapeutics in general, in a new, earth-friendly light.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.