David Hoffmann's The Herbalist CD-ROM offers the computer-literate herb consumer an entertaining medium to learn about herbs, their actions, body systems, history, and basic principles, while listening to Jim Duke's bluegrass tunes from his Herbalbum in the background. The user has a choice between Duke's Ginseng, Witch Hazel, Wild Wind Flower, and Chamomile tunes, to play while searching for herb information -- pleasant way to open up any reference task.
The opening venue is a color picture of a shack on a pond, with buttons that lead the user to the herbal materia media, human systems, actions, basic principles, appendix, contents, and index. The history button does not take you to herbal history, but your history in touring the CD-ROM.
The "Basic principles" section contains textual information on different aspects of herbalism. It contains 30 different subjects ranging from the Gaia hypothesis to glycosides. The bibliographical text sections offer the reader information on how to find and use information resources in print and on-line. A section on how to use the library is included as well. Hoffmann provides an extensive list of scientific periodicals, many obscure, in which one is likely to find medicinal plant information. A list of abstract, bibliographic, and data base services is provided as well. Given the fact that the CD is slightly dated, quite a number of the addresses in the herb newsletter section are now incorrect. A complete list of the American Botanical Council's Classic Botanical Reprints (Vol.s 1 & 2) is a welcome feature. The bibliography button brings forth a rich display of information resources. One of the great features in Basic Principles is dosage ranges of various herbs from the Br itish Pharmacopoeia, British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and the United States Pharmacopoeia. There is a tremendous amount of resource information in the 30 entries in the basic principles section.
Unfortunately, the text is poorly designed, with little attention to layout, making it difficult to read. I have found that this is a CD problem in general. Designers spend all of their efforts on the "multi media tasking" design, and very little attention to design of text. Text gets dumped in, but not designed with the attention a professional book designer brings to text. Don't toss out your books yet.
Clicking on the "Human Systems" button takes you to a list of over 180 different body systems plus disease and condition topics. These generally brief entries discuss what herbs are effective in the treatment of specific conditions and often contain references. Here again, you have dumped-in computer text with little attention to design. A number of the entries have pink audio buttons, leading to short voice recordings of David Hoffmann. Unfortunately, many are difficult to hear even at the highest volume, as the author's voice tends to drop off at the end of words and sentences. If there's anything going on around you the audio sounds like little more than mumbling.
The "Human Systems" section of the CD contains a tremendous amount of valuable information for the consumer seeking information on herbal approaches to various diseases and conditions, while helping to understand the functions of body systems.
Back to the Pond for a view at the "Actions" section. Here we find actions of herbs defined, with lists of specific herbs which will produce the action. This is quite a comprehensive treatment of this subject area. Under "nervine," for example, we find ten separate subcategories. Again, audio buttons are provided, though I found in a number of cases, they did not work. Like the previous sections, this one is a valuable source of information.
The herbal materia medica is the heart of the CD, containing information on over 160 herbs. Each entry contains information on names, habitat, collection, part used, constituents, actions, indications, combinations, preparations, and dosage. A separate citation button brings up a screen of references of books (with page numbers), and journal articles listed alphabetically by journal name. There's a good deal of valuable obscure references under such herbs as Angelica. I wanted to look at the Echinacea references but nothing happened when I hit that button.
A thumbnail color photo of each herb is provided. Click on the thumbnail version, and it enlarges so that one can view more detail. The photos are highly variable in quality -- many are extremely amateurish snapshots which would never get past most art director's rejection files. Worse than that, a high percentage are misidentified and misrepresented. There's a purple flowered vetch, for example, that looks to me like Astragalus membranaceus. I find no caption for the photo to correctly identify the species. It appears that a photo of the potentially toxic Eupatorium ragosum is represented as Eupatorium perfoliatum. The Lycopus photograph seems to be some species of Verbena. Not even close! The Geranium maculatum is a Geranium, but not G. maculatum. I don't know what it is that's represented as Lobelia, but lobelia it is not. Wood betony is not a Betonica species, but a Pedicularis species, and on and on it goes. The photography is so unreliable that my recommendation would be n ot to waste your time clicking on the photo buttons. This CD should not go through another pressing without cleaning up this horrible photographic den of sins.
The index and table of contents are well done and are useful ways to navigate through the information. The appendix includes citations, cross references of plant names, a glossary, explanation of suffixes and prefixes, and as an added bonus -- several dozen herbal poems by Jim Duke. Another useful feature is that the program allows you to print out text on individual entries or to print the window currently open on the screen. A "notebook" feature allows you to create your own notebook of information from the text sections of the CD and save it on your hard drive for future reference.
There's a tremendous amount of great material packed into this useful information resource. Aside from the clunky bells and whistles, such as the voice features and the photographic debacle, this is certainly a CD worth having.
Article copyright American Botanical Council.
By Steven Foster