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Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine

Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine, 2nd edition, by Kerry Bone and Simon Mills. London, UK: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier; 2013. Hardcover, 1051 pages. ISBN: 978-0-443-06992-5. $128.00.

While Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda have highly developed and internally consistent models for using herbal medicines that have persisted largely uninterrupted for centuries, Western herbal medicine has suffered from the lack of a clearly established and cohesive model due to centuries of historical influences and medical politics that have interrupted and interfered with its evolution.

Enter Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. The first edition of this textbook established it as the seminal general botanical textbook. It met a need among health professionals for an herbal model that could be applied in modern practice, while respecting the language and values of traditional Western botanical practitioners — and incorporating this traditional language into a modern herbal model.

The second edition of Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy (PPP2) has reinforced the singular place of this book as a premiere textbook defining the practice of Western botanical medicine, whether for herbalists, naturopaths, pharmacists, physicians, or others incorporating herbs as primary or adjunct therapies in clinical practice. Kerry Bone and Simon Mills have accomplished the monumental task of providing not only necessary updates from the burgeoning scientific literature, but also emphasizing wellness and individualized therapy, creating a textbook that is current and relevant. The authors’ focus on a patient-centered model puts this textbook at the forefront of what the practitioners of the Western medical model are just now realizing has been missing.

The understated subtitle — Modern Herbal Medicine — captures the essence and underscores the importance of this text. By creating an amalgamation of traditional underpinnings and contemporary science of herbal medicine, PPP2 presents a complete framework for applying botanical medicines in the modern clinical practice, and as such, provides an effective and much-needed working definition of “modern herbal medicine.”

Those who are inclined toward an evidence-based, scientifically driven model of herbal medicine will not be disappointed. PPP2 provides substantial scientific validation for the clinical roles of botanical medicines, foundational materials on the pharmacologic basis of botanical actions, and safety data, including potential herb-drug interactions for commonly used herbs. More classically or traditionally inclined herbalists also will relate to PPP2, as it provides a structure by which to understand and apply botanical medicines. Perhaps what I appreciate most is that the synthesis of traditional and modern information is achieved without a greater valuation of either — there is no hierarchy of science over tradition, or romanticization of traditional knowledge.

At more than 1,000 pages — replete with 50 comprehensive plant monographs and more than 10,000 citations — PPP2 elucidates the fundamental concepts of traditional herbal medicine while providing a thoroughly researched reference on botanical safety, appropriate dosing, and applications for over 100 clinical conditions. Importantly, the book steps away from the cookbook model of herbal prescribing typical of many herbals, and instead focuses on individualized treatments as best one can in a book that remains manageable in size and cost.

Since 2007, I have offered a comprehensive women’s herbal training program with nearly 800 students in over fifteen countries on five continents. Because my course offers continuing education credit to health professionals, a rigorous textbook on botanical medicine is required. PPP2 is that text.

My primary critique is that PPP2 is heavy on botanical monographs describing therapeutic properties of the covered herbs. While these have been updated and currently are state-of-the-art, botanical monographs run the risk of becoming outdated quickly as new information on botanical mechanisms of action is constantly being published. A regularly updated Internet database of the monographs would be a valuable asset to the book (though this would require significant additional diligence and work by the authors). Additionally, I find the inclusion of some herbs that are rarely used by the Western herbalist or physician — such as melilotus (sweet clover, Melilotus spp., Fabaceae), poke root (Phytolacca americana, Phytolaccaceae), and chelidonium (Chelidonium majus, Papaveracea) — to be less than valuable. The omission of other herbs such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, Solanaceae), rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea, Crassulaceae), and butterbur (Petasites hybridus, Asteraceae) — which are fairly popular and well researched — is unfortunate. Also, there is the rare error, such as referring to eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus, Araliaceae) by its outdated common and former commercial name, “Siberian ginseng,” which I can only assume they did because the name persists commercially (though not in the United States, where the name is not permitted, per the terms of federal law). However, all of these problems are small exceptions to the overall quality of the book.

While there is a plethora of herb books from which I could have chosen for my women’s herbal training course — including some that are less costly — I chose Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy because it represents a distinct and refreshing departure from an alarming trend in which anyone with a computer and access to a publisher can present themselves as a botanical expert. Authors Kerry Bone and Simon Mills are indeed bona fide authorities in the clinical practice of herbal medicine, in addition to being seasoned researchers, authors, and teachers. Consequently, they bring an authenticity and utility to the material that is too often missing in other herbals.

“Bravo” on the successful delivery of a second edition of this book, which surpasses even the excellence of the first. The bestowal of the American Botanical Council’s 2013 James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award upon this deserving volume was an apt choice.

—Aviva Romm, MD The UltraWellness Center Director, Herbal Medicine for Women Medical Director, American Herbal Pharmacopoeia Lenox, MA