Book Review: The Information Sourcebook of Herbal Medicine

| August/September 1995

• By David Hoffman, editor
• Crossing Press
• PO Box 1048
• Freedom, CA 95019, 1994
• Hardbound, 308 pages, $40. ISBN 0-89594-671-8.

With the proliferation of books, computer databases, and popular and scientific articles on herbs, sifting through information to find the facts you need has become increasingly difficult. Herbalist David Hoffman has produced a comprehensive sourcebook that serves as a guide to information about Western herbal medicine. The four major sections comprise a detailed bibliography of herbalism and herbal pharmacology; a glossary of herbal, medical, pharmacological, and pharmaceutical terms; a useful guide to computer databases for the herbalist; and—the bulk of the book—Medline citations for com­monly used medicinal herbs.

Medline is the on-line database service of the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, the largest medical library in the world. If you have a computer and a modem, it is easy to access through Grateful Med, a software package available for IBM-compatibles and Macs for less than $30. In the Medline database, you have almost instant access to abstracts of articles in more than 3500 medical journals published since 1966. In a chapter titled “On-line Herbalist”, Hoffman shows you how to navigate Medline and other databases for a wealth of information about herbal medicine and medicinal plants.

Hoffman provides a general overview of Western herbal medicine, or phytotherapy, and its sociopolitical context. He explains how information is handled in the orthodox medical community and how that affects the herbalist. His road map to information services includes explanations of the Dewey decimal and Library of Congress classification systems, newspaper and periodical indexes, information available from industry and government, antiquarian book dealer services, bibliographies about a variety of pertinent topics, and a list of peer-reviewed journals, newsletters, and relevant organizations. The glossary includes a list of scientific and common herb names and an explanation of the meanings of binomial names but contains a number of unfortunate spelling errors.

The book is limited to information resources relevant to the therapeutic practice of Western herbalism. It does not include information about traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda (traditional Hindu medicine), or other non-Western sources.

At a time when the herb community is often accused of being unscientific, Hoffman’s book provides a window into the vast array of resources available about herbs as legitimate, well-researched, safe, and effective therapeutic agents. It is a great addition to any herbal library.

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