Clinical Herbalism: Plant Wisdom from East and West by Rachel Lord. New York, NY: Elsevier; 2022. Softcover, 576 pages. ISBN: 978-0-323-72176-9. $59.00.
This is the first major published work by herbalist Rachel Lord, RN. At 576 pages, it is a tome that was inspired by her desire to have such a text during her formative years as an herbal practitioner and in her work as an herbal educator, which spans more than 35 years.
Most people who are aware of the history of herbal medicine in North America know that the practice was an integral part of early American culture. Many do not know that the formal education of herbal practitioners mostly disappeared around 1935. This was marked by the final publication of The Eclectic Medical Journal and the closing of the last college of Eclectic herbalism. Many of us who had an interest in herbal medicine more than 40 years ago lacked a clear path to education in this field that would allow us to realize the full potential that medicinal plants have to offer within the context of public health. Still today, education for herbal practitioners is marginalized. Few formally approved education programs exist outside the licensed disciplines of naturopathic and traditional Chinese medicine. There are no direct pathways to the legal practice of clinical herbalism per se in the United States, and students and many practitioners lack a step-by-step, structured curriculum that can provide a well-rounded educational foundation for all aspects of practice. Clinical Herbalism is one herbalist’s attempt to fill the void.
The text consists of 30 chapters divided into five major sections that address most aspects of herbal medicine. It rightfully begins with the philosophy at the heart of most modern herbal practitioners: the belief that the pursuit and sharing of herbal knowledge is more of a heart-centered calling than a profession, and it is a calling that inherently embodies a desire to be a steward of the earth.
Part 1 provides a brief history of the world’s herbal traditions, a detailed introduction to botanical taxonomy and nomenclature required for identifying medicinal plants, the basics of wildcrafting, cultivation, and preparation of medicinal plants and products, and an introduction to Chinese medicine and early humoral theories of Western herbal traditions.
Parts 2-4 introduce the reader to the concepts of materia medica and therapeutics, the two primary pillars of herbal medicine. The materia medica section is sparse relative to what it could be, but it provides a model that can be applied to the chronicling of other botanicals. The therapeutics section is more robust and most valuable in providing students with a detailed overview of how botanicals are used for various physiological systems and also includes a discussion of herbal safety. Part 5 ends with a brief discussion of the legal aspects of practicing herbal medicine in the United States and how an herbalist might navigate the legal quagmire that exists.
The text covers a tremendous amount of territory that I believe achieves the author’s goal of helping seasoned and budding herbalists chart a course in the art and profession of an herbalist. The content is exemplary. A textbook so rich in content would have been better honored had the publisher presented it with a hardcover and better-quality paper and color. Still, it is a deserving addition to the collection of any herbal bibliophile and is as complete of a reference curriculum for herbal education programs as exists in the current herbal medicine literature.
Roy Upton, RH, DipAyu, is the president of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.