Medical Herbalism by Hoffmann

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press, 2003. Hardcover, large size 666 pp.

This is simply the most comprehensive reference work on holistic herbalism from a clinical perspective in existence. Hoffmann, who has authored 17 books and is a past president of the American Herbalists Guild, has admirably succeeded in making yet another seminal contribution to the field of herbalism.

The eleven chapters of Part 1 focus on the scientific foundations and wider philosophical context of medical herbalism (phytotherapy), which are often ill understood even by practicing herbalists. The fifteen chapters of Part 2 deal with practical therapeutics in regard to the major physiological systems and their possible pathologies. This includes an herbal materia medica covering 150 most commonly used plants.

In suggesting many valuable prescriptions for specific problems, the author is eager to point out that these are not be regarded as formulaic but that each situation is unique. This, of course, ties in with the holistic approach of herbalism, which considers each individual as a self-healing system and the therapeutic application of herbs as a process of facilitating self-healing. In his definition of holism, Hoffmann includes what he calls “spiritual factors,” which “might take the form of appreciating an uplifting sunset, feeling touched by poetry or art, believing in an established religion, or simply experiencing a dogma-free joy in being alive” (p. 9).

Herbalism, like other “alternative” or “complementary” approaches to healing, has had its share of antagonism vis-à-vis the medical establishment. Hoffmann shows both wisdom and maturity when dealing with this ongoing issue. In his own words: “It is time for herbalists to lose what might be described as our ghetto mentality; a sense of inferiority developed through years of cultural disdain for and active suppression of our therapeutic modality. However, this will also entail abandoning our negative, knee-jerk reaction to the ‘system,’ which often takes the reprehensible form of an arrogant condemnation of medical doctors and a delusion of standing on higher moral ground” (p. 12).

He is rightly critical of the tendency among some herbalists “to embrace marketing trends and fashionable theories by rushing to try new protocols” (p.13). He encourages patient experimentation and observation to combat marketing hype and false claims and to make phytotherapy more efficient and safe.

This well-researched, incredibly knowledgeable textbook could be said to usher in a new, critical phase in the development of herbalism.

Copyright ©2007 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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