Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care by Maria Noël Groves. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, LLC; 2016. Softcover, 336 pages. ISBN: 9781612125350. $24.95.
Readers today live in an era of self-care. Many individuals are looking beyond conventional systems of medicine for answers, and numerous options for self-experimentation, empowerment, and information are available online and elsewhere. The internet brims with ideas and thoughts on using plants for self-care, although there is little consistency in the quality of the information.
The practice of herbal medicine has roots in self-guided care. Samuel Thomson’s New Guide to Health, or Botanic Family Physician, published in 1822, guided the average farmer and homesteader to be their own herbalist, and a plethora of unpublished herbal traditions describing treatments and medicines have been passed down through oral tradition. Today, many individuals are removed from bio-regionally bountiful medicinal plants and the tradition of herbal medicine as continuous self-care, which has left some hungry for the cultural knowledge of the past.
Body into Balance steps into this role with grace. Full of images that depict plants and herbal practices, it evokes the spirit of the early self-care texts and adds a modern spin. Author Maria Noël Groves systematically addresses modern health concerns and presents dietary, lifestyle, and herbal self-care recommendations for health-conscious individuals.
After introducing the “Foundations of Good Health,” which offers details of basic wellness care, Groves explores the common functional aspects of the body, providing fundamental information on maintaining health, as well as herbal medicines that may be employed for common conditions. Many of the sections are delightful, such as “The Respiratory System: Breathing Deeply,” in which Groves elaborates on how an herbalist might view the maintenance and support of this dynamic system through a look at different imbalances and herbal approaches to correcting such dysfunctions. This section also contains a useful chart displaying a detailed materia medica for the respiratory system as a reference tool.
Beyond the sections on health and disease, there are recipes and explanations of complementary therapies, and an attractive and useful section dedicated to medicine-making that provides the instructions and details needed to begin a foray into self-care practices.
At times, the text comes dangerously close to making a number of medical pronouncements without the typical provision of evidence to support them. There is a very fine line today between folkloric and empirical understanding of herbal actions, and the evidence base and mechanisms of action that reinforce them, and this book struggles at times with that distinction. How can a text targeted to a non-medical audience offer self-care for complicated medical conditions without sounding too technical and prescriptive? Is it appropriate to suggest self-care for complicated medical conditions? How can we explain how an herb actually works in the body in a general way without being inaccurate or overly simplistic?
Given the safety and overwhelming, common-sense benefits of the herbal therapies discussed, Groves’s recommendations put trust in the consumer to navigate their own health care choices. But it is far from a shot-in-the-dark approach: The content here is a product of extensive training and clinical experience.
Trust in the individual is a recurring theme in this book, as when Groves discusses support for people with cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and other serious conditions. Always careful to remind readers that these conditions are not to be self-treated, she proceeds to provide information for readers to make their own choices about the botanical aspects of their care. While patients may be delighted by this clinical-based information, the recommendation to seek out the care of a trusted and skilled herbal medicine professional could have been made more frequently. This would have better enforced the fact that while self-care is a pillar of health, there are limitations to the practice, and professionals who specialize in herbal therapies are available for support.
There is a distinct dichotomy of herbal health care books today: Some focus on the professional and are thick with terminology and references, and others are directed toward the “lay person” and consist of general language and are tradition-oriented. This book ventures into a bit of unknown territory and is a bold guide meant for all. It lays down the simple principles of how an herbalist would evaluate and support the individual. Despite the discomfort of those who may prefer a distinction between the standards for medical literature and for works prepared for general consumption, this book may be just what the ever-hungry body of patients, searching the internet for answers, needs at the moment.
—Bevin Clare, RH, CNS
Master’s of Science in Herbal Medicine,
Maryland University of Integrative Health;
American Herbalists Guild