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The 5-Minute Herb and Dietary Supplement Consult, by Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD

The 5-Minute Herb and Dietary Supplement Consult, by Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins: Philadelphia, PA. 2003. 474 pp., hardcover, includes references and index. $59.95 ISBN 0-683-30273-6.

With the wealth of information on herbs and supplements floating around the library shelves, through cyberspace, and over the kitchen table, it is extremely difficult to know how best to use it. Both patients and providers must devote an immense amount of time to analyzing the available data to learn when and how to use herbs and supplements, and when not to use them. This latest book, written by a physician who is well-versed in the field of herbal medicine, is targeted to healthcare providers, and offers a most valuable 5-minute consult on each herb.

The consult opens with a "10-second take," listing what the herb or supplement is, whether it is generally safe, along with a terse summary of uses. Next the "Basics" are presented, with entries containing the Latin name, plant family, and common names, along with a description, part used, known active constituents, and mechanism/pharmacokinetics. The "Evidence" section follows, with clinical trials and animal or in vitro studies, and notes on claimed benefits and actions. Risks are presented – including adverse reactions, drug interactions, pregnancy/lactation, and animal toxicity – followed by dosage. Rounding out the consult is a section on common questions that might be asked of a provider along with answers, written in an engaging and entertaining style.

For fennel, one of my favorite GI system herbs, in response to the question "why haven’t you mentioned that this plant resembles hemlock?" comes the reply that "It is traditional when talking about fennel to warn foragers that the wild fennel resembles hemlock. I have not mentioned it because it is difficult for me to believe that anyone paying the slightest bit of attention could confuse the two plants. Although the leaves are somewhat similar (as are many members of the parsley family, Apiaceae) hemlock smells rank; fennel smells like licorice."

The final section of the book contains many reference tables designed to assist the practitioner. This book is recommended for every healthcare provider, from the novice regarding the clinical use of herbs and supplements to the most experienced. Consumers also will find Dr. Fugh-Berman’s up-to-date and to-the-point discussions of the herbs and other supplements highly valuable. I recently heard an after dinner speaker offering the following formula for success – "stand up and be recognized, speak to be heard, and sit down to be appreciated." This book follows this dictum in a most pleasant and useful way.

– Michael J. Balick, PhD Vice President and Chair, Research and Training Director and Philecology Curator Institute of Economic Botany The New York Botanical Garden Bronx, NY