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Herbal Medicine: Second edition, revised and expanded
Herbal Medicine: Second edition, revised and expanded

Herbal Medicine: Second edition, revised and expanded, Rudolph F. Weiss, Volker Fintelmann. 2000. 438 pp., illustrated hardcover. ISBN 0-86577-970-8. $59.00. ABC Catalog #B006.

Dr. Rudolph Weiss’s Herbal Medicine has been a standard text for western herbalists since its first English edition in 1988. It has been one of the only, if not the only, western herbal texts based on extensive clinical experience by a medical professional, rather than a compilation of past writings of the older herbalists, a rehash of works from early 20th century physicians like the Eclectics, and quite a bit of other second- and even third-hand writings.

It is a pleasure to see the work brought up to date and published in a more quality binding with better paper quality and added color photographs. Here are some improvements over the first English edition:

The new edition has better overall organization and indexing, with an added prescribing index. I especially appreciate the added clinical utility of organizing herbal remedies for a given ailment group by action types. For instance, herbs under "Acute and Chronic Respiratory Tract Inflammation" are organized under Demulcents, Expectorants, and Antispasmodic Cough Remedies.

The color pictures and hard-binding make the book enjoyable to use. More modern scientific studies are woven into the text to support clinical and empirical uses in this edition, and an emphasis is placed on the regulatory status of herbal remedies, based on the German Commission E and European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP). This is not surprising, given that the second author, Fintelmann, has the important role of chairman of the Commission E. The new edition includes more realistic discussions about some of the unproven herbal remedies, like borage (Borago officinalis), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), and Egyptian water lily (Nymphaea lotus) as psychotropic herbs, included in previous editions that have no place in modern clinical therapeutics.

The language itself is more precise, but sounds like a translation from the German, whereas the previous English edition was often a more enjoyable read.

While granting these improvements in the new edition, I find myself wishing for a blend of the new and old English editions in one book. What I miss most is Weiss’ personal clinical experience, anecdotes, and, especially, his clear grasp of how herbal medicine is different from modern drug therapy (its safety and gentleness) which pops up in some of the best places in the first English edition. These features are the main reasons why Weiss’ work was so popular among herbalists everywhere. He brought an exceptional clinical experience and repertoire, as well as a surprisingly holistic view of healing, to the work. Some of this feeling is retained in the new edition, but precious little. These aspects could be emphasized in the next edition, and would likely increase circulation of the book. Many scientific compilations have been written on herbs of late, but few textbooks summarize a highly-skilled clinician’s experiences and observations, especially from the German perspective, unique in that Germany is a country where herbal medicines are freely-prescribed by doctors and herbalists alike, and paid for by the national healthcare system.

If we do accept the new edition as a more modern, science-based work for clinicians, founded less on Rudolf Weiss’ years of clinical work, then it is useful in itself. Perhaps, in this light, it shouldn’t be strictly compared with the first edition. In its own right, this edition is clinically useful, especially because it contains more clinical experience than most other current texts. However, one would hope for some refinements in a further edition, such as clearer color photographs with better compositions, and especially, since this work leans much more heavily on the current scientific literature, more up-to-date citations. For the most part, the new edition is already several years out of date. Over the last 10 years many phytomedicines have seen a profound increase in the number and quality of randomized, controlled clinical studies. The next edition, if the publishers want to continue with this orientation, should include a critical look at this literature, including meta-analyses, and more emphasis on "evidence-based" herbal medicine.

Meanwhile, this current edition can be recommended for any clinical herbalist, or student of herbalism, especially in England or Europe. For the North American or Australian markets, the book remains quite focussed on herbal practice in Germany, and misses much of the Eclectic and international influence that makes herbalism so exciting and vivacious. Still, the book is worth studying, and will surely add some gems to the clinical repertoire.

Bottom line: Still one of the best manuals on clinical western herbal medicine, despite its mostly European focus. – Christopher Hobbs L.Ac., A.H.G.