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Out of the Earth: The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine.
by Simon Y. Mills. Viking, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. 1992. 677 pp. Cloth $30.00. ISBN: 0-670-83565X.

Simon Mills, joint director of the Centre for Complementary Health Studies at Exeter University, has indeed produced an "essential book of herbal medicine," for patient and practitioners alike. Mills's approach is pragmatic. In Part 1, "Roots," he explores the many facets of herbal medicine as conceptualized both historically and in a modern context. He explains exactly what herbal medicine is all about In the introduction he correctly points out, "Most modern texts on the subject [herbal medicine] in English are appallingly devoid of academic rigour, substituting lazy simplicities instead." "Herbs do not shine on such a stage," he states. Mills attempts to set the record straight; to catapult herbs into a contemporary understanding, one in which the whole of society can encompass herbal medicine, rather than just its cultural fringes. He focuses on distilling the best of traditional beliefs. This is not a book about what science can extract as individual chemical compounds fro m plants for the development of "new drugs" in modern medicine. Rather, it honors and explores the concept that an herb's effects are based on the often subtle and difficult to quantify "sums of its parts," rather than isolated components. The natural products scientist. too, will find food for thought in Part I of the book, where the author explains the concepts of traditional pathology (explanations of "cold," "heat," "dampness," etc.), to better comprehend concepts, sometimes arcane, as viewed by the modern herbalist. Mills also explains concepts of "herbal physiology" such as "perception and response," "assimilation and rejection," "circulation" and "removal" through lymph and tissue drainage, the bowels, kidneys, bile, respiratory system, etc.

Part II is called"Branches," the purpose of which, in the words of the author, "is concerned primarily with the practical consequences of choosing to apply herbal remedies as medicines." The major theme here is how do herbal medicines work? It also explores practical modern concepts of the state of research on the safety and efficacy of herbal medicines, as well as dealing with issues such as quality and identity standards, and choosing the proper dosage form and preparation. Various indeces and appendices follow the main text. This book takes traditional concepts of herbalism out of a sometimes dogmatic and prejudiced past, and weaves useful concepts of tradition with pragmatic contemporary use. Out of the Earth is essential for understanding herbal medicine.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.