Cover image for Tyler's honest herbal : a sensible guide to the use of herbs and related remedies
Tyler's honest herbal : a sensible guide to the use of herbs and related remedies
Foster, Steven, 1957-
Personal Author:
Fourth edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Haworth Herbal Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxi, 442 pages ; 23 cm
General Note:
Rev. ed. of: The honest herbal / Varro E. Tyler. 1992.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
RM666.H33 T94 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Here is the fourth edition of Tyler's Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies, providing essential botanical information as well as folkloric background of herbal remedies in a clear, accessible style. Unlike other herb books, this book gives you a serious evaluation of both the positive and negative features of the use of the most important herbs for therapeutic purposes. This new edition features additional scientific data on herbs that will enable you to make wise, informed choices about the benefits and risks of herbs currently on the market.

Viewing herbs from a scientific standpoint, the authors assess herbs based on available scientific information and include the latest details on advocacy literature and the new regulatory environment. Each write-up includes descriptive information on the source of the plant, its traditional uses, and an evaluation of the relevant and current literature which helps support or disprove intended use of the plant. This new edition of Tyler's classic Honest Herbal provides you with all of the following features not found in any of the previous editions, such as:
the voice and experience of medicinal plant specialist Steven Foster, one of the most respected authorities in herbal medicine
research and information about cat's claw, celery, garcinia, grape seed, kava, pygeum, and wild yam
what you need to know about the latest clinical trials on many best-selling herbs, including black cohosh, echinacea, garlic, ginko, ginseng, St. John's wort, and saw palmetto
hundreds of new, supporting references from scientific studies on herbs and other dietary supplements

Containing candid evaluations and insight into the current and thriving herbal market, this guide also provides you with a complete summary chart that allows you to quickly access the risks and benefits of the herbs discussed. Tyler's Honest Herbal will help you distinguish fact from fiction in the world of herbal therapies and remedies and lead you to safe and effectiveness of these natural resources.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Originally published as The Honest Herbal in 1982, Tyler's Honest Herbal is still the classic herbal guide for consumers and health practitioners alike, fully referenced with the latest peer-reviewed scientific data. As in previous editions, great emphasis is placed on safety concerns when taking herbs. Tyler's Herbs of Choice, a new edition of the 1994 Herbs of Choice, discusses the therapeutic application of herbal remedies for over 100 health problems. Objective and scientifically sound, it augments Tyler's Honest Herbal, although the titles do not need to be bought together. An added bonus is the useful chapter on "Herbal Regulations," as reliable and understandable information on this topic is hard to find. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Alfalfa Anything green that grew out of the mould Was an excellent herb to our fathers of old. Rudyard Kipling "Our Fathers of Old" Stanza 1     Apparently our fathers of more recent vintage were the ones to ascribe therapeutic value to this plant. It is still difficult to understand how alfalfa, or lucerne, as it is known in Britain, ever gained a reputation as a medicinal herb. The leaves and flowering tops of Medicago sativa L. are not discussed in any of the classic American scientific works on natural drugs. Even Grieve's A Modern Herbal , a comprehensive work of English origin, scarcely mentions the plant. Of course, this perennial member of the family Fabaceae is one of our most common cultivated forage plants, being fed to animals either as hay or in a dehydrated form. While there is little or no research on alfalfa's health benefits for humans, there is a vast scientific literature on its value as a dietary supplement for lactating cows.     Travelers may be familiar with the odor and taste of alfalfa and not even know it. Anyone who has driven Interstate Highway 80 across Nebraska during the summer months and passed through Lexington and Cozad (the alfalfa capital of the world) has noted the peculiar green haze in the air and has smelled the pungent dust from the enormous alfalfa dehydrating plants that abound in that area.     Apparently someone in the recent past decided that if cattle could grow strong and healthy by eating alfalfa, the plant must have therapeutic value for human beings. That person was Alexander L. Blackwood, MD, of Chicago, a homeopathic physician, who evidently thought if it would fatten cows, it might fatten humans too. In the early twentieth century, it was introduced by both homeopathic and eclectic physicians as a remedy to "increase the appetite and the flesh." Its virtues were extolled by Ben A. Bradley, MD, as quoted in a booklet by Dr. Blackwood: I find in Alfalfa, after about seven years' clinical test in my practice and on myself, a superlative restorative tonic , but it does not act as a stimulant, after the manner of alcohol, cocaine or other habit-forming drugs. It rejuvenates the whole system by increasing the strength, vim, vigor, and vitality of the patient.     Consequently, the herb is now widely advocated for consumption in the form of a tea or as tablets or capsules of the dried plant itself for a variety of ailments. We read testimonials to the efficacy of alfalfa tea in the cure of various types of arthritic conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. Advocates also tell us that large quantities of alfalfa tablets taken before meals will prevent the absorption of cholesterol, thus benefiting our arterial blood flow and especially our heart. Claims are made for the effectiveness of the tea in treating diabetes and in stimulating the appetite and acting as a general tonic. A recent study evaluated the effect of an alfalfa aqueous extract (1mg/ml) on insulin release in streptozotocin-diabetic mice. At a dose of 62.5g/kg of body weight, an insulin-releasing and antihyperglycemic activity was observed.     Scientific or clinical evidence in support of all but antidiabetic claims is scanty or totally lacking. There is one report that saponins of alfalfa root, which is not the part of the plant generally used, prevented an expected increase in plasma cholesterol in monkeys. Counterbalancing this, however, is evidence that alfalfa saponins are hemolytic and may interfere with the utilization of vitamin E.     Because of its importance as an animal feed, alfalfa has been the subject of numerous and detailed chemical analyses. They have revealed the presence, in addition to the aforementioned saponins, of such constituents as fiber, protein, fats, minerals (calcium, phosphorus, iron, etc.), organic acids, vitamin [K.sub.1], a small amount of vitamin C, various pigments including chlorophyll, and the like. Although some of these compounds do possess minor physiological activities, none is of significant therapeutic value, at least in the amount present in reasonable quantities of the herb. Considering the absolute lack of any proof of their utility in human medicine, alfalfa tablets, which presently may be purchased for a penny a piece, are still a bad buy. If you enjoy the taste of alfalfa sprouts in salads, they are refreshing and generally harmless, so feel free to eat them, at least in moderation.     There is good reason to insert the words "in moderation" in the last sentence. Since 1981, it has been recognized that eating very large quantities of alfalfa seeds daily could produce irreversible blood abnormalities (pancytopenia) in human beings. Subsequent studies have shown that systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an inflammatory connective tissue disease, can be induced in normal monkeys by feeding alfalfa seeds or sprouts. Also, persons suffering from clinically inactive SLE may have that condition reactivated by taking quantities of alfalfa tablets. It seems likely that a nonprotein amino acid, L-canavanine, contained in alfalfa may play a role in causing the blood abnormalities and in inducing or reactivating SLE in persons having a predisposition to that condition. These latter individuals should be very cautious about consuming any alfalfa product, and since predisposition may not always be recognized, moderation seems generally advisable. Chapter Two Aloe ... the public must learn how to cherish the nobler and rarer plants, and to plant the aloe ... Margaret Fuller     Although she was thinking of the plant in another connection when she wrote these lines, Margaret Fuller's advice about aloe may be taken quite literally by those seeking a handy, homegrown remedy for minor burns, abrasions, and other skin irritations. There is a vast folk literature indicating that the fresh gel or mucilage of Aloe barbadensis Mill. (family Liliaceae), otherwise known as A. vera (L.) Webb & Berth. or A. vulgaris Lam., promotes wound healing on external application. It has also been taken internally for a variety of maladies.     A continuing source of confusion to persons interested in herbs is the fact that aloe is the source of two products that are completely different in their chemical composition and their therapeutic properties but which have very similar names that are sometimes interchanged. Aloe (aloe vera) gel or mucilage is a thin, clear, jellylike material obtained from the so-called parenchymal tissue making up the inner portion of aloe leaves. It is prepared from the leaf by various procedures, all of which involve its separation not only from the inner cellular debris but, especially, from specialized cells known as pericyclic tubules that occur just beneath the epidermis or rind of these same leaves. Such cells contain a bitter yellow latex or juice that is dried to produce the pharmaceutical product known as aloe, an active cathartic.     Aloe gel (mucilage) is used both externally and internally for its wound-healing properties and as a general tonic or cure-all. This is the aloe product commonly incorporated in a wide variety of nonlaxative drug and cosmetic products. Aloe latex or juice, usually in its dried form, is employed as a potent cathartic. Unfortunately, the mechanical separation processes employed are often not completely effective. As such, aloe gel is sometimes contaminated with aloe latex, thus inducing an unwanted laxative effect following consumption of the so-called gel. In addition, advertisements prepared by copywriters who do not understand the vast difference between aloe gel and aloe juice often use the word juice to describe the thin mucilaginous gel.     To confuse matters even more thoroughly, there is still another product called aloe that is entirely different from the two just described. That is the aloe of the Bible, the so-called lignaloes or aloe wood, a fragrant wood from an entirely different plant that was once used as an incense. It has nothing to do with the aloe we are discussing except that some persons try to glamorize aloe gel by incorrectly ascribing to it a biblical origin. The names may be the same, but the plants referred to are not. Actually, aloe latex has been used as a laxative for about eighteen centuries, but neither it nor aloe gel is referred to in the Bible.     Having disposed of these nomenclatural difficulties, let us return to the use of aloe gel (mucilage) as a wound-healing agent and all-around remedy. Although many sources agree that the gel possesses some activity in its fresh state, there is controversy over whether this activity is retained during storage. Commercial processors claim that the stability problem has been overcome, and a "stabilized" product is incorporated in a wide variety of preparations, including juices, gels, ointments, creams, lotions, and shampoos.     However, at least one scientific test failed to verify any beneficial effects of a "stabilized" aloe vera gel on human cells. Fluid from fresh leaf sources was found to promote significantly the attachment and growth of normal human cells grown in artificial culture. It also enhanced the healing of wounded monolayers of the cells. On the other hand, the "stabilized" commercial product not only failed to induce such effects but actually proved toxic to the cultured cells. The investigators who carried out these studies concluded that commercially prepared aloe vera gel fractions "can markedly disrupt the in vitro attachment and growth of human cells."     Review of several other studies led to the conclusion that a number of them did provide evidence to support the use of aloe vera gel, and some preparations containing it, for the treatment of various types of skin ulceration in humans and burn and frostbite injuries in animals. More recently, a cream base containing aloe was found effective in preserving circulation in the skin after frostbite injury. Stabilized aloe vera was shown to produce a dramatic acceleration of wound healing in patients who had undergone full-face dermabrasion.     It is postulated that aloe may function in such cases by inhibiting bradykinin, a pain-producing agent; also, it apparently hinders the formation of thromboxane, whose activity is detrimental to burn wound healing. Aloe gel also has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Studies on the mechanism of action of aloe gel or partially purified extracts in vitro on skin wound-healing repair processes provides evidence that aloe stimulates fibroblast and epithelial cell growth, induces lectinlike responses in human immune cells, and stimulates neuronlike cell growth. Still, relatively little is known about the identity and stability of the ingredients responsible for these effects. A glycoprotein fraction has been shown to promote cell growth in human and animal cell media, while a polysaccharide fraction did not stimulate growth. Many compounds of aloe are probably subject to deterioration on storage, so use of the fresh gel is the only way to be certain of maximal activity.     In addition, various commercial preparations often contain minimal amounts of aloe. One way to determine the relative quantity present is to determine the position of aloe in the list of ingredients stated on the label. If it is not near the top, the amount present is probably quite small. Also, be cautious about preparations labeled "aloe vera extract," which may be highly diluted or "reconstituted aloe vera," meaning that the product has been prepared from a powder or liquid concentrate.     Aloe gel (often incorrectly designated "juice") is described in the popular literature as a cleanser, anesthetic, antiseptic, antipyretic, antipruritic, nutrient, moisturizer, and vasodilator and is also said to possess anti-inflammatory properties and to promote cell proliferation. Recommendations for internal use range from the treatment of coughs to constipation; externally it is used primarily for burns, for conditioning the skin, and even for headache. A salesman drinks it to "detoxify" his system. One Arkansas physician applied it to relieve the symptoms of poison ivy. The utility of aloe in treating many of these conditions has not been verified.     Mixed results have been published on the traditional use of aloe juice in treating diabetes. A controlled clinical study involved seventy-seven volunteers who were administered one tablespoonful of aloe juice, or placebo, twice a day for up to forty-two days. A significant reduction in blood sugar and triglyceride levels was observed in the treatment group. Cholesterol levels remained the same in both groups. This conflicts with an earlier study that was unable to support benefit of claimed efficacy in diabetes mellitus or in gastric ulcers.     In the 1990s, a body of scientific literature has arisen providing a rational scientific basis for aloe's use in treating minor wounds and burns. This provides a foundation to support an impressive body of folklore attesting to aloe's healing properties on external application.     Many people keep a potted aloe plant on the windowsill in the kitchen so that a leaf can be cut off and the freshly exuded gel applied to minor burns. Since the safety of such procedures has never been questioned, it is a therapy that has much to recommend it. Also, the treatment is inexpensive and overcomes the potential problems of stability and retention of the gel's desirable properties following commercial processing and storage. Chapter Three Angelica     All parts of the tall, perennial, herbaceous plant Angelica archangelica L. (family Apiaceae) contain a very pleasant-smelling aromatic volatile oil, which probably accounts for the continued use of the root, fruits, and leaves of this and other closely related species of Angelica in folk medicine. Angelica atropurpurea L. is the one commonly employed in the United States.     The drug has been recommended as an antiflatulent (antigas treatment), a diuretic, a diaphoretic (sweat producer), and a counter-irritant. It has also acquired some reputation as an emmenagogue (promotes menstrual flow) and abortifacient. A recent study on the effect of the essential oil on skeletal and smooth muscle contractility in vitro failed to show any response. There is no proof that the drug is particularly effective in any of these applications; severe poisoning has resulted from large doses of the root administered in an attempt to induce abortions.     At present, the most important application of angelica root and seed is in the flavoring of various alcoholic beverages. It is a component of a number of herb liqueurs, such as Benedictine and Chartreuse. Together with juniper berries and coriander seed, angelica root is one of the principal flavoring ingredients in gin.     The purplish stems of angelica are sometimes collected and "crystallized" with sugar to make a pleasant-tasting confection. Those who consume them or any other parts of angelica should be aware that the plant contains, in addition to the fragrant volatile oil, a number of furocoumarins, e.g., angelicin, bergapten, imperatorin, and xanthotoxin. On contact with the skin, these so-called psoralens may induce photosensitivity (to the sun), resulting in a kind of dermatitis. Studies have shown that these compounds are photocarcinogenic (cancer-causing) in laboratory animals and are acutely toxic and mutagenic even in the absence of light. Investigators have now concluded that psoralens present risks of such magnitude to humans that unnecessary exposure to them (via consumption or contact) should be avoided.     Photochemotherapy of psoriasis with psoralens and long-wave ultraviolet light is sometimes used with dramatic results. However, because of the potential toxicity of the psoralens, the treatment is reserved for severe, disabling psoriasis that does not respond to other therapies. For the same reason, the use of angelica as a self-selected drug cannot be recommended. However, angelica root is approved in Germany for the treatment of loss of appetite, flatulence, plus a feeling of fullness and mild gastrointestinal tract spasms leading to peptic discomfort. The basis of the Commission E's recommendations is unknown. To make matters even worse, novice collectors may also confuse angelica with water hemlock ( Cicuta maculata L.), an extremely poisonous plant. Copyright (c) 1999 Steven Foster and Varro Tyler. All rights reserved.