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Adverse Effects of Herbal Drugs, Volume One.
Edited by P.A.G.M. De Smet, K. Keller, R. Hansel, R. F. Chandler. 1992. New York Springer-Verlag. Softcover. 275 pp. $72.00. ISBN 0-38753100-9.

The title of this book will no doubt raise a few eyebrows among herbalists and create considerable interest among health professionals and research scientists. The authors constitute an international group of researchers intent on explaining potential adverse reactions associated with the ingestion of herbal remedies. But before herbal enthusiasts become paranoid and allege that a "hatchet job" is being done, they should note that in the preface on the very fast page the authors acknowledge the potential and actual therapeutic role of herbs in modern health care. The authors note, "The encouraging results with the herbal remedy feverfew as a lactic anti-migraine agent is a recent illustration that botanical medicine can still provide exciting therapeutic discoveries."

They go on to say that it is "not our intention to place botanical remedies indiscriminately in an unfavorable light. We do not seek to dam up the `green' wave that is sweeping over our society. We do consider it important, however, that this wave be appropriately channeled, and with this basic attitude we have assumed editorial responsibility. One of the current reasons cited for the current revival of natural medicines is a widespread fear of side effects of synthetic drugs. This fear is often associated with an intuitive feeling that naturalness is a guarantee of harmlesness. However, it is a serious error to assume that anything deriving from (sic) is necessarily beneficial and benign."

A good portion of the book is dedicated to discussions regarding pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) in five different genera of plants, most notably in Symphytum species. Additionally, five chapters discuss sesquiterpene lactones found in arnica, chamomile, and feverfew. Other genera discussed in this work include garlic, eucalyptus, fennel, wintergreen, pennyroyal, alfalfa, peppermint, ginseng, and others.

The relatively high price tag for this work will no doubt inhibit its widespread sales. Nevertheless, this is an port, book on an important subject and as such should be included in the library of every responsible herbalist, medicinal plant researcher, herb company, and anyone else interested in the beneficial and sometimes potentially toxic properties of medicinal plants.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.