Harvesting the Best of the Botanical Book Bloom

Varro Tyler, PhD, professor emeritus of pharmacognosy, Purdue University School of Pharmacy.

NEW YORK—Books on botanical medicine are multiplying almost as fast as the botanical medicines themselves.

While there is no one single reference that pulls together everything you want to know in an easy-to-use format, you need not turn your office into a branch of the National Library of Medicine in order to get the reference material you need.

Speaking at Columbia University's Botanical Medicine in Modern Clinical Practice course, Varro Tyler, PhD, professor emeritus of pharmacognosy, Purdue University School of Pharmacy, reviewed recent herbal medicine reference books. What follows is a list, by no means complete, of references that fit with his generally conservative, evidence-based orientation. He believes they can provide clinicians with solid, scientifically-grounded guidance in the practice of herbal medicine.

The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines, M. Blumenthal, sr. editor. American Botanical Council, 1998. $165.00: "This is the most accurate information available in the world today regarding the safety and efficacy of herbs. It should be in every physician's office," said Dr. Tyler. Issued by the German government's equivalent of the FDA, and covering 380 medicinal plants, these monographs provide a wealth of data from the early 1970s to the mid-1990's. They're divided into 254 Commission E "approved," and 126 non-approved herbs. The major criticisms of this seminal work are that some early material is outdated, and that it lacks original literature citations.

A new edition, Herbal Medicine: the Expanded Commission E Monographs, issued last year by Integrative Medicine Communications ($49.95), has eliminated monographs on lesser-known plants, and focused on the US herbal hit parade. In addition to its lower price, a major plus is full references. But the lower cost and new features come at the expense of completeness. Both editions of "Comm E" are available on CD-ROM.

A Dictionary of Natural Products, GM Hocking. Plexus Publishing, 1997. $139.00: At nearly 1,000 pages, this is the most comprehensive listing of medicinal plants on the market, featuring common and scientific names of, "every plant you've ever heard of." Dr. Tyler deemed it, "indispensable for those interested in identifying names and uses for medicinal herbs."

CRC Handbook of Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants, LD Kapoor, CRC Press, 1990: Though some material is slightly outdated, this is "the best Ayurvedic guide on the market today." Its broad coverage and solid referencing make for an excellent way to get to know the most popular Ayurvedic plant medicines.

The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs, 2nd ed. KC Huang, CRC Press, 1999, $149.95: A good source on an increasingly important topic. Though lacking in references, it provides an excellent guide to the chemistry, therapeutic actions, potential toxicities, and clinical uses of individual Chinese herbs. Cross-referencing between Chinese and Latin nomenclature is particularly helpful. "This is the volume I turn to first, when I want information on obscure Chinese herbs," Dr. Tyler said.

Botanical Safety Handbook, M McGuffin, et al, eds., CRC Press, 1997, $44.95: Compiled by the American Herbal Products Association, this provides broad coverage of safety issues associated with the most commonly used medicinal herbs. Though somewhat "soft" in that it lacks extensive toxicological analyses, and needs some updating in light of recent studies, it is a useful safety backgrounder.

Natural Dietary Supplements: A Desktop Reference, DJ McKenna, ed., Institute for Natural Product Research, 1998: "Desktop" is right, since the large looseleaf format of this book does not fit easily into most bookshelves. But it provides thorough and very detailed coverage of 34 common medicinal plants, including in-depth epidemiological data.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, editors of the Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter, Therapeutic Research Faculty, 1999, $92.00: This thousand-plus pager offers really comprehensive, thoroughly referenced coverage of every herbal supplement you're likely to encounter. There is extensive detail on safety and adverse effects, and excellent coverage of non-herbal dietary supplements as well. "My only qualm is that the soft cover tends to wear out. A volume of this size really needs a hard back," said Dr. Tyler.

A Practical Guide to Natural Medicines, A. Pierce, William Morrow & Co., 1999, $38.00: This reasonably priced volume gives broad monographic coverage of common herbs and other supplements. It has a handy 1–5 numeric rating system for safety and efficacy of each herb. Though references are mostly to secondary sources, it provides a useful introduction to herbal medicine and is a book one can confidently recommend to patients.

Phytotherapy in Paediatrics, 2nd ed., H. Schilcher, Medpharm Scientific Publishers, 1997, $35.00: Though comprised primarily of generalities and reiterations of Commission E material, this book hits a very important topic. "There is very little known about the safety and efficacy of herbal medicines in children. The author is very fine and scholarly, but there's not much scientific information available to him," said Dr. Tyler. "This is the best book on the subject," though it is clearly a field that warrants further work.

Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine, V Schulz, et al, Springer Verlag, 1998, $49.00: "This book is the response you give to the people who say, 'There's no data on the efficacy of herbs,'" said Dr. Tyler, who was involved in the English translation of the original German edition. Packed with pharmacologic and pharmacokinetic detail, dose ranges, and key points from the best clinical trials, it is an indispensable compendium for physicians.

Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals, M. Wichtl, et al, CRC Press, 1994: With a special focus on medicinal herbs taken as teas, this book contains information not available elsewhere on where medicinal plants come from and how products are derived. It also includes excellent illustrations. Some basic material is missing, but what is included is very thoroughly explored.

Tyler's Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals, 2nd ed. JE Robbers, VE Tyler, Haworth Herbal Press, 1999, $19.95 softback, $49.95 hardback: Dr. Tyler organized his own book as a starting point for health care professionals. Introductory chapters describe the 80–90 most common herbs, followed by sections classifying them according to the conditions and disorders for which they're used. "It is all evidence-based and has all the references."


Many of these titles, and a host of other botanical books, CD-ROMs, videos and educational guides can be purchased from the American Botanical Council. Call 1-512-926-4900, or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , to order books or request a catalog.

Haworth Herbal Press
10 Alice Street
Binghamton, NY 13904-1580
T. 1-800-HAWORTH
F. 1-800-895-0582
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CRC Press
200 NW Corporate Boulevard
Boca Raton, FL 33432-9896
T. 1-800-272-7737
F. 1-800-374-3401
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Plexus Publishing, Inc.
143 Old Marlton Pike
Medford, NJ 08055
T. 609-654-6500
F. 609-654-4309
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
3120 W. March Lane
Stockton, CA 95208
T. 209-472-2244
F. 209-472-2249
email: www.naturaldatabase.com

Integrative Medicine Communications
1029 Chestnut Street
Newton, MA 02464
T. 877-426-6633
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Springer-Verlag New York
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
F. 212-473-6272
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

William Morrow & Co. Publishing
1350 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019
T. 212-261-6500