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Redundant Reprint: Herbal Medications.
David G. Spoerke, Jr.. 1991, Woodridge Press Publishing Co., Santa Barbara, CA. $9.95.

Woodridge Press Publishing Company of Santa Barbara, California, released a paperback publication in 1980 entitled Herbal Medications by David G. Spoerke, Jr., for $5.95. The book, whose author was then an Associate Clinical Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Utah, was declared on its cover to be "a practical, descriptive guide book to the active principles of more than 200 medicinal herbs."

Steven Foster, in Herb News (the predecessor of HerbalGram) Spring 1981 reviewed Herbal Medications rather less than enthusiastically, pointing out particularly a lack of attention to the proper Latin binomal designations of certain plants -- notably Gotu Cola (properly, Gotu Kola). The herb is incorrectly designated as Cola nitida (Kola), instead of Centella asiatica (L.) Urb. (Hydrocotyle asiatica L.); the content of this treatment should be listed under Kola (Cola nitida) and transferred to its appropriate alphabetical niche in the text. (Note that Kola contains caffeine, while Gotu Kola does not).

The publisher of Woodridge Press wrote to Foster in the fall of 1981 thanking him for a copy of the review and acknowledging Foster's "careful and analytical approach" to book reviews. One would have hoped that Woodridge Press would then have been exhorted to acquire proficient scientific consultants/reviewers for their future publications. Alas, no such luck!

This year Woodridge Press released Herbal Medications by David G. Spoerke, Jr., its cover bearing a color photograph of the same plant (Red Elderberry) portrayed on the earlier edition of Herbal Medications -- but in different perspective. The 1991 version proclaims itself to be "Information from Science -- and the traditional uses of more than 200 Medicinal Herbs." The cover, which incorrectly identifies the author as a Ph.D, also carries an endorsement by Jane Brody -- apparently such a household word as to not identification -- who says the book is "a succinct compendium that is easier to use (than what?) and appropriately cautious about herb safety."

The 1991 version is without the two pages of color photographs of fifteen plants which graced the 1980 edition (although three of the six on the back cover are retained),and its frontispiece indicates Spoerke is no longer associated with the University of Utah, being now Director/Editor of the POISlNDEX(R) Information System and Consultant to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.

The publication data are virtually identical in the two volumes, but the 1991 version does not disclose the existence of the 1980 publication; the only indication of an earlier association is the -addition of "1st rev. ed." to the Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data. The volumes are almost identical in physical dimensions, both 192 pages long, and the tables of contents are identical in content and pagination. Woodridge Press seems to have perpetrated at least a deception, at the increased price of $9.95, after 10 years which have seen some remarkable developments in medicinal plant science. The differences between the two texts amount to relatively minor additions to the "Known Principles," "Mode of Action," and "Comments" segments of the entries, as well as some occasional adjustment of the Toxicity area to record added toxic symptoms and correct the poisoning record. Commendably, the Valerian constituents, valepotriates, valerenone and valerenal, all at one ti me claimed to contribute to Valerian's depressant effect (but now thought of doubtful significance), are included in the recent version.

I found the following comparisons interesting:

Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius):

1980 edition: "Recently it has been recommended the plato be smoked to produce a sedative-hypnotic effect"

1990 edition: "Recently it has been said that the plant may be smoked to produce a sedative or euphoric effects."

Mormon Tea (Ephedra nevadensis, E. trifurca):

In the 1980 version of the book, Ephedra species are claimed to all contain the stimulant ephedrine. The 1990 version, however, says that the "Ephedras may (emphasis mine) be stimulants" and that they actually contain "the related norseudoephedrine." The final entry of the book, Yohimbe, (Corynanthe yohimbe), under "Alleged Uses," is stated to have "been recommended as an aphrodisiac (evidence lacking to document this)" in the 1980 version of the text, but the parenthetical reservation is removed from the 1990 edition. Is Spoerke implying that evidence to document Yohimbe's aphrodisiac effect was provided in the 80s?

Page 19, on which the first plant is treated -- Agave (Agave lecheguilla and other species) -- is absolutely identical in both versions and contains the mystifying sequence (under "Mode of Action"), "Saponins may be gastric irritants and visceral dilators as well. Absorption through intact mucous membranes is poor; therefore, systemic hormone therapy or as immunosuppressives. These include hecogenin, manogenin, and gitogenin."

One of the few notable modifications is the treatment of Echinacea on page 62. While Spoerke still does not include the most widespread Coneflower species E. purpurea, he notes that 1988 studies demonstrated "some immunological effects in animal experiments." But the treatment does not adequately summarize the salient results of echinacea research to date. The popular migraine prophylactic Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) fares a lot worse: after ten years, during which two orthodox British clinical trials (in 1985 and 1988) established feverfew's potential as a migraine treatment, Spoerke still, strangely, prefers the common designation "Bachelor's Buttons" and the outdated Latin binomial Chrysanthemum parthenium: The feverfew variety widely regarded as efficacious is patently not a "button," Centaurea cyanus, also termed "cornflower." The 1991 treatment is a reproduction of 1980's, with no mention of migraine, and concentrates instead on alleged pyrethrin constituents.

Comfrey is said to contain "two alkaloids, consolidine and symphytocynglossine!" What about symphytine and the other major pyrrorizidine alkaloid (PA) constituents of S. officinale -- and S. uplandicum (Russian comfrey), which contains probably the most toxic of Symphytum alkaloids, echimidine, banned in Canada. Alarmingly, Spoerke says that "toxicity is unlikely even after ingestion of moderately large quantities." The worldwide concern over PA hepatoxicity would seem to warrant more responsible comment from a prominent and respected expert in poisons.

Belladonna (Atropa belladonna), implicated in poisonings due to adulteration of four different plants, is not cited; also, Datura, another major cause for tropane alkaloid poisoning, is not specifically mentioned; a passing acknowledgment of belladonna is made in the treatment of Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), more usually known as Black Henbane: "A mature plant contains 3/4 hyoscyamine...Similar to belladonna in its action...."! The report of Colts-foot (Tussilago farfara) being implicated in a fetal poisoning is not recorded.

Despite Foster's 1981 objection to citing Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) as currently used for hallucinogenic purposes, that "Alleged Use" persists in the 1991 version of the book. Duke (Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, CRC Press, 1985) reports that "an outbreak of periwinkle smoking in Miami" took place in the 70s, which he attributed to publicizing by Emboden (Narcotic Plants, Macmillan Publishing, 1979) of euphoria and hallucination as side-effects of vincristine-vinblastine therapy. The uses of these two aklaloid consitituents of periwinkle are not mentioned in Spoerke's treatment, although they are widely regarded as the two most important anti-cancer drugs developed from plants: vinblastine is recommended for generalized Hodgkin's disease and resistant choriocarcinoma, while vincristine is used in the treatment of childhood leukemia.

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum): The important anti-retroviral and potential treatment for HIV infection and AIDS, hypericin, is described only as a dye -- although it is currently undergoing clinical trial in the U.S. But the ancient use of the plant as a cure for demonics is repeated!

Ginger (Zingiber spp.): This common food item is universally regarded as Zingiber officinale. No mention is made of its effectiveness in treatment of motion sickness, in which it has been judged superior to the conventional pharmaceutical, dramamine, in a 1982 study.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is not included in Herbal Medications, even though it was estimated that ginkgo product sales in 1989 exceeded $500 million in Europe and Asia; preparations of the plant are claimed to increase cerebral and peripheral circulation and are popular for treatment of problems associated with aging. The three major plant sources of the essential fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) -- namely Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), Borage (Borago officinalis), and Black currant (Ribes nigrum) are also not mentioned. However, I was introduced to Thunder God Vine(Tryptergium wilfordii) (LeiKung Teng), applied externally as an insecticide.

The Ginseng treatment is replete with errors, inaccuracies and omissions. The only species cited is Panax quinquefolius, now known as American Ginseng. Asian (Korean, Chinese) Ginseng (P. ginseng) is not listed. Ginseng is said to contain "a mixture of several saponin glycosides including ginenosides (sic) and panaxosides." Actually, Asians have tended to use the designation "panaxosides" for "ginsenosides." Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), regarded as exercising tonic and "adaptogenic" effects similar to ginseng, and popular, particularly among Russian athletes, cosmonauts and workers over the past decade, is excluded from Spoerke's attention.

Horsetails (Equisetum spp.) are reported to be "toxic in excesses," but their generally recognized thiaminase activity -- destructive of thiamine (vitamin B(1)) -- is not mentioned. On the basis of this activity, the Health Protection Branch of Health and Welfare Canada has recently banned from sale all horsetail products on the basis that they pose the threat of irreversible brain damage to persons deficient in vitamin B(1). (HPB is willing to approve horsetail with thiaminase removed.)

Mandrake, American (Podophyllum peltatum) (Mayapple). The important lignan derivative, podophyllotoxin, is listed as a constituent of the plant's resin, but mention could have been made of etoposide, the semi-synthetic derivative of podophyllotoxin, which is used today to treat small-cell lung cancer and testicular cancer.

Also, I found the medicinal commentary on Aloe unsatisfying and confusing in parts.

A number of fundamental errors and inaccuracies, which might have been forgiven in a maiden effort, are unpardonable in such a gross reproduction after ten years:

Hop -- but "Hops are an aromatic bitter. Both of the bitters the plant contains have antiseptic properties."

Goldenseal (Hydrastis spp.). The monotypic H. canadensis, universally regarded as the relevant species, is not specified.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foengraecum) is actually T. foenumgraecum.

Chamomile (Anthemis flores, A. nobilis): English or Roman Chamomile, formerly designated A. nobilis is today known as Chamaemelum nobile.

Matricaria (Matricaria chamomilla): German or Hungarian Chamomile, formerly designated M. chamomilla and Chamomilla recutita, is today known as M. recutita.

Celery Fruit!?

Burdock (Lappa or Arctium lappa)?

Oddly, Maté is given the Latin designation, Ilex paraguariensis St. Hill, in repetition of a 1980 blooper. St. Hill is the only taxonomic authority cited in the entire text -- and, improperly, in italics.

In summary, Herbal Medications, 1980 was a variously flawed volume, whose only redeeming aspects appear to this reviewer to have been a readable, attractive type and presentation, along with fairly detailed accounts of toxic actions, the speciality of the author. However, even in the area of toxicity, as illustrated by examples cited earlier (Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Belladonna), the text has been found wanting. Pharmacists and other interested readers would be better served by consulting Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal's Herbal Medicine column, along with texts such as Tyler's The New Honest Herbal and Duke's Handbook of Medicinal Herbs.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By D.V.C. Awang