The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone

By Alex Zorach

This is a book review of The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone, published by Churchill Livingstone (2004).

Summary & Strengths

This book is a reference text on individual herbs, with a focus on safety, side-effects, and precautionary considerations. However, it does not focus exclusively on safety issues--it does provide a fair amount of discussion of the use and efficacy of various treatments--particularly in the context of weighing whether the evidence of the efficacy of a treatment is sufficient to justify or outweigh the possible risks of undesirable side-effects.

The book is easy to use, well-organized, and the scientific references are detailed and thorough. Every fact is adequately sourced, and discussion of cited studies is nuanced and demonstrates that the authors have critically examined each study and included it in context. This book shows a tremendous amount of work, breadth of knowledge, and critical research ability on the part of the authors.

About the Authors

Simon Mills, who has spent most of his time in the UK, is the author and co-author of a number of books pertaining to herbalism. He has founded, advised, and participated in a number of organizations related to alternative and complementary medicine, herbalism, and acupuncture.

Kerry Bone is a practicing herbalist in Australia, and has also co-authored a number of books related to herbalism. He has also done considerable work in the area of chemistry, including industrial chemistry.

Possible Weak Points of the Book

Overall this is a useful and scientifically rigorous book, and I can only find subtle criticisms or suggestions for improvement. My main comment is that the subject material, including the choices of which herbs are included, seems to exhibit a strong bias towards western herbalism (the herbs which originated in the traditions of western Europe). Although some herbs from other herbal traditions are included, there are many important herbs that are fairly mainstream within the context of Chinese, Ayurvedic (Indian), Native American, or other herbal traditions, which receive little or no attention in this text. Since this book comes from a western herbal tradition, this focus / bias is to be expected--but it may frustrate some readers who might look up a plant like, say, holy basil (tulsi), which has entered the global mainstream in recent years.

In Conclusion

This book would be a useful reference for herbalists and everyday readers alike, including people who casually like to drink herbal teas as beverages or for health and medicinal purposes. However, if you are going to buy a single book on herbalism, I would not recommend this one--because it focuses on safety, it is not the best introduction to the subject, and if you are going to own only a single reference I would recommend something else. But if you already own a few books on herbalism, this may be a good purchase.

Also, although this book is relatively recent, herbalism is a new and developing area and I hope a new edition will come out sooner or later, as it may become dated as time goes on. There are already many relevant studies that are considerably younger than this book.

Alex Zorach
Article by Alex Zorach
Alex Zorach has no relationship to any company or website selling or receiving affiliate payments associated with this book. Alex Zorach has an M.A. in Statistics from Yale University, and is interested in herbal and alternative medicine, and is the creator of, a website for rating and reviewing teas, which has extensive information about herbal teas and their medicinal uses and health benefits. Read about herbal tea on this website.

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