Cover image for Dr. Duke's essential herbs : 13 vital herbs you need to disease-proof your body, boost your energy, lengthen your life
Dr. Duke's essential herbs : 13 vital herbs you need to disease-proof your body, boost your energy, lengthen your life
Duke, James A., 1929-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
[Emmaus, Pa.] : Rodale Reach ; [New York] : Distributed to the trade by St. Martin's Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
ix, 260 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library RM666.H33 D846 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Anna M. Reinstein Library RM666.H33 D846 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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This work shares the secrets behnd the 12 herbs on the top-12 herbal list of the American herbalist, Dr James A. Duke. Herbal combinations, stories and native lore, as well as dosages are offered.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

The author of a comprehensive guide to herbal remedies (The Green Pharmacy) narrows his focus to 13 herbs that are the major components of his own health regimen. According to Duke, who worked as a specialist in medicinal plants at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Station, herbal remedies are often safer, cheaper and easier to use than synthetic drugs. Duke believes the herbs highlighted in this volume are ones that will improve overall health for "many, if not most, people," from children (with precautions) to adults. They include herbs that can improve eyesight (bilberry), boost the immune system (echinacea and garlic), detoxify (milk thistle) and serve as antidepressants (St. John's wort). In individual sections, Duke lists the physical problems that each herb targets and explains how the herbs work in the body. The appealing layout balances the more scientific information on research, dosages and possible side effects. Duke's dynamic narrative and personal anecdotes will likely gain the confidence of readers who feel shortchanged by the impersonal manner of many doctors and the limitations of conventional medications. The greatest value of the book, however, may be how Duke extracts a manageable group of herbs from the seemingly endless array being touted in the marketplace and offers a practical plan for integrating them into daily life. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Excerpt Herbs for Good Health First the word, then the plant, lastly the knife. --Aesculapius of Thassaly, Greek god of healing, circa 1200 B.C. By the time they reach their seventies, most people take seven different synthetic medications every day. All last year, I took only seven. (They were all over-the-counter Aleve tablets for my arthritic knee.)     I think I've chanced upon a better way to maintain health, a way that's much better than the prescription drug path.     Chalk up much of my good fortune to good genes, good diet, good exercise, good stress management, and a measure of good luck. The rest of it, I'm firmly convinced, stems from ingesting herbs and herbal supplements.     Will herbs and their phytomedicines improve your health and reverse illness? Should you bother to read this entire book to find out? Follow along with my "Five Ifs," and you'll know right away.     If you can afford to go to your doctor and pay for all the medications he or she prescribes     If you can communicate with your physician comfortably and have faith in him or her     If your doctor correctly diagnoses your ailments     If you have one and only one health problem     If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you're not deficient in a vitamin, mineral, amino acid, essential fatty acid, or any other nutrient     ... then put this book back on the shelf. You don't need it and couldn't appreciate the advice contained herein. Your doctor's manmade magic silver bullet may actually help you. It really may be one of the best possible medicines for you. Iffy Propositions     Still with me? Thought so.     I can be so seemingly brazen because few people can answer each of these five ifs positively. Let's fill in a little detail behind each of these conditions.     Means . More than 10 percent of all Americans can't afford to go to a doctor or pay for a prescription. Across the world, 80 percent of all people lack such financial means. Some 43 million Americans, as of July 1999, have no health insurance. (For more information, see "Cheaper by the Duke's Dozen" on page 4.)     Communication . The average HMO doctor spends about six minutes with each patient. He or she probably spends more time making a sandwich during a commercial break.     I was shocked when I heard the following sorry statistic, from none other than former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D., who spoke at the World Med Conference in the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area in 1996. After asking a question, male physicians interrupt a patient's answer in an average of 14 seconds. Female physicians are somewhat more polite, interrupting rambling patients after about 40 seconds. No wonder surveys report that most people feel they can't communicate effectively with doctors.    Accuracy . In detecting Lyme disease, physician's diagnoses are wrong 50 percent of the time. They bat somewhat better or worse with other ailments. Twenty percent of all hacking done at doctors' offices are undiagnosed cases of whooping cough (pertussis), according to a 1996 issue of Science News .     Sickness . Few of us have one and only one ailment at any given time. Whether we (or our doctors) know it or not, several things are usually wrong.     Nourishment . We all like to eat, and we all think we eat rather healthfully. But no matter how well-fed you might be, there's a good chance you don't ingest optimum amounts of many nutrients. A lot of us are deficient in basic vitamins and minerals.     In contrast to the pharmaceutical industry's perfect poster person, I offer you myself: Though I still can afford my doctor and my doctor's prescriptions, I try not to buy into the deal. I talk quite plainly and am easy to understand. I'm never presumptuous enough to diagnose, but I can make guesses and take wild stabs that are sometimes correct. I have a handful of health concerns of my own for which I'd like answers. And while I can chow down with the best of them, I still don't think I or anyone else can consume sufficient amounts of some fundamental nutrients solely from food. I've learned enough in my day as a botanist to know that the vegetables, fruits, and plants we eat often are almost bereft of nutrition (especially given how breeders and the food industry process them). What's Really Safe?     Every once in a while, you'll hear a story on the evening news about someone dying from an extreme allergic reaction to something he or she has eaten. In 1998, about 100 people died in the United States after ingesting common, ordinary nuts. In the same period, fewer than 100 Americans died after consuming an herb in some form, and more than 90 percent of these people were intentionally abusing certain of the more potent members of our herbal pharmacy. To the best of my knowledge, no one died in the United States in 1998 from ingesting an herbal product in a safe, recommended dosage.     Yet critics of phytomedicine cite safety as a primary concern. The faultfinders apparently want zero jeopardy and absolute safety from herbs. I guess we can therefore expect that from their preferred medicines, synthetic drugs, right? Hardly. Once those things ricochet around inside the body, they kill by the thousands.     In 1994, between 70,000 and 130,000 people in the United States died because of the pharmaceuticals they took--pharmaceuticals that were properly prescribed and duly taken. It has been implicated that, every year, complications from taking commonplace nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) cause about 7,600 deaths.     Of all people admitted to the hospital, 30 percent will suffer an adverse effect to a properly prescribed drug, according to the Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Project. Anywhere from 3 to 28 percent of all hospital admissions are related to a bad reaction to a medication. In other words, bad reactions to medications will kill 3 out of every 1,000 people who go to a hospital, according to a 1997 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association .     Let us not forget the emotional toll exacted on thousands and thousands of families that lose a loved one in the blink of an eye simply because that poor person followed doctor's orders and took some synthetic substance.     True, few, if any, herbal supplements have been proven safe and effective--at least not in strictly conducted American studies. But average people have been conducting their own informal studies on herbs for millennia, and we get fewer than 100 deaths a year, primarily from ill-advised, intentional overdosing. In ironic contrast, ostensibly above-average scientists have been conducting rigidly controlled experiments on synthetic medications and making exacting calculations for the last several decades, and we get thousands and thousands of deaths. Let the Best (Medicine) Man Win     As early as a decade ago, more North Americans went to alternative or unconventional practitioners than to orthodox, by-the-book primary-care physicians (an estimated 425 million visits, compared with 386 million). People spent about $13.7 billion on unconventional therapies back in 1990, most of it ($10.3 billion) unreimbursed by an HMO, according to a 1993 report in the New England Journal of Medicine .     And the numbers are rising. People wouldn't continue with alternative therapies if they didn't like the service they received or they weren't helped. Perhaps they're not being harmed quite so much. At the very least, I believe, one explanation is a more comfortable experience. Usually, alternative practitioners are more laid-back. They understand the deleterious impact of stress, and they're not going to look over a shoulder nervously at the clock, wondering what their bosses are going to think about the bottom line if they spend too much time with you. They're not impatient with patients. They take the time to listen to you and answer your questions.     But service with a smile doesn't completely explain why people are drawn to alternative practitioners and herbal medicines. The better reason is, simply, that herbal medications work. I see proof every day. I hear about it all the time from colleagues. And I read about it in medical journal studies, many of them done in Europe and Japan, where the bulk of the herbal research is being conducted. In the rest of the world, herbs are regarded as the rivals they truly are to prescription drugs.     In Germany, for instance, physicians and pharmacists are required to study herbal medicine in school as a condition to get a license. General practitioners, especially, routinely prescribe natural, plant-based medications. The German government has also established a panel of experts, called Commission E, that has evaluated more than 300 medicinal plants specifically to give doctors and consumers therapeutic guidance in how to safely and most effectively use herbs. The entire collection of reviews has been translated into English by the American Botanical Council and gathered into a book. The German Commission E Monographs , as it's called, has quickly become a standard reference for what herbs to take and how.     Why are natural plant chemicals worthy pharmaceutical rivals? Because they often work on the same physiologic pathways and principles as their prescription counterparts. The big difference is that phytochemicals work along several circuits simultaneously and naturally. The pharmaceutical usually is a single substance that works on one circuit or two. I think of it as the difference between a shotgun and a bullet. The magic bullet is precision-targeted and has no regard for how it might disrupt the rest of the body. Herbs are shotgun blasts that contain thousands of natural active phytochemicals--some that will help with the correctly diagnosed ailment, others that will help with undiagnosed and unknown problems, and still others that are just plain good for you that you probably need anyway. If you don't need them, your body still will make good use of them. Everyone into the (Gene) Pool!     You might look like a person, but you're actually just a big jar of genes, those strands of DNA and RNA (ribonucleic acid) that determine the traits and functions of proteins and other genetic material. Like viruses and bacteria, your 100,000 or so genes are always trying to reproduce themselves. Over the ages, they've seen just about everything, and they always attempt to maintain a good equilibrium, which includes good health. Disease, on the other hand, upsets the apple cart, introducing a disequilibrium.     Your ancestors--not just your great-grandparents or even your great-great-great-grandparents, but your distant evolutionary relatives--grew up and evolved with thousands of phytochemicals. (What's a phytochemical? The prefix phyto - simply means "plant-based," so a phytochemical is any chemical or substance that comes from a plant. Phytomedicine is medical care based on plant therapy.) Your kin and mine, distant and near, consumed these natural compounds and survived on them, learning by trial and error what was edible, what was poisonous, and what fell into the intermediate category we now describe as medicinal. In ways we can hardly fathom, they passed on to you and me genes that are familiar with these chemicals. As far as we know, our genes may be utterly dependent on some of these substances. Your chromosomes might be crying out for some of them that your diet no longer provides.     You and I, in other words, evolved with these disease-preventing, illness-treating foods and phytomedicines. We didn't evolve with synthetic drugs. Our genes encountered synthetics for the very first time fewer than 200 years ago. It's Not Nice to Rule Mother Nature     Even with a semi-synthetic medicinal monstrosity that's partly based on a natural compound, our genes aren't likely to get a deja-vu sense of vague familiarity and friendliness. Trust me, plants have been around a long time, and many, many mutations have come and gone. I'll bet that evolution and mere chance have already tried most of the chemical variations that medical science has tried or could possibly try. If such variations (mutations) aided plant survival in the grand evolutionary scheme of things, the modification would have remained. If not, the plant or its offspring didn't thrive and may have died, along with the mutation.     But science, hell-bent on improving upon Mother Nature and trying to reinvent her already discarded misshapen wheels, keeps tinkering with phytochemicals. I could give many examples, but I'll relate an anecdote about the mayapple.     As a treatment for venereal warts and other viral disorders, the mayapple has a long history in both folk medicine and real medicine. But only in 1984 was its medicinal value affirmed with the approval of a mayapple-derived drug (etoposide) for testicular cancer.     Research had uncovered four chemicals, called lignans, in the mayapple's rhizome, the underground stem that a non-botanist would call the root, that proved to work synergistically against the herpes virus. Not content to leave well enough alone, some scientist in some lab got the bright idea to chemically alter one of the lignans. I'll wager that in the last several thousand years, evolution already tried and ditched that very same alteration.     I don't really think the change made the resulting new compound any better or, at least as far as we know right now, any worse. But it for sure made it proprietary. And that meant it could be patented. The patented substance has since sold for more than a billion dollars, often as high as $400 million per year.     It's difficult to patent a natural phytochemical, because Mother Nature already holds the patent on it. And you can't make much of a profit unless you hold the patent. By modifying, for better or worse, a natural compound, you can obtain a patent much more easily. The industry's driving force, in other words, is not so much human health and well-being as it is corporate patentability and profitability. Hissing in the Wind     In the last decade or so, hardly a day has gone by without news of another marvel of nutritional medicine. The evidence is so overwhelming at this point that it's beyond dispute. It wasn't that long ago, though, that medical journals and so-called quackbusters, those self-styled guardians of public welfare, proclaimed that vitamins enriched only your urine and the bank accounts of the supplement makers. But at the same time they denounced nutrient supplements, fans of pharmaceuticals were buying up supplement companies, and more and more physicians started taking the very vitamins and minerals that they wouldn't prescribe to their patients. Did the drug firms and the doctors know something that they didn't admit?     An analogous situation exists today. A few die-hards out there still denounce vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, but they and their protégés have shifted focus, taking aim at herbs and loudly telling us that medicinal plants are dangerous, useless, unproven folklore, wives' tales, and witches' brews that certainly won't help and might hurt. At the same time, pharmaceutical giants are gobbling up herb manufacturers and trying to isolate and patent certain active ingredients (magic silver bullets).     We're not trying to kill vampires and werewolves here. We don't need silver bullets. The gentler phytomedicinal doses from herbal supplements, even herbs grown in your backyard, are the crowning achievement of thousands upon thousands of years of research and testing. They're efficacious. They're safe. I've dedicated the rest of my life to compelling American medicine to fairly compare its drugs to nature's and acknowledge this truth. Duke's Dozen for Better Health     Without further adieu, here is Duke's Dozen--a baker's dozen, given that I've chosen 13. These herbs are the ones that I'm most likely to take day to day, the ones that many, if not most, people will find improve their health.    Bilberry . Whatever reason you have for sore eyes, this blueberry relative is quite a sight. I don't understand how carrots stole the limelight from this plant's tiny round fruits, which contain mighty antioxidants that have long been associated with averting vision disorders, including macular degeneration, retinopathy, and retinitis. They also may deter cataracts and glaucoma.     Celery and celery seed . This is my main mandatory medicinal plant, the only one (besides coffee, also a medicinal plant) that I take every day of the year. For more than three years, celery has kept me free of my one big health problem: gout. Though big in Australia, few others have acknowledged celery's ability to prevent this most debilitating joint pain. As long as I take my celery seed extract, I no longer need the antigout medications that I depended on for most of two decades.     Echinacea . Echinacea is the herbal equivalent of vitamin C. To Plains Indians, echinacea was a cure-all. They, along with many other Americans up through the nineteenth century, used it for just about every health problem that cropped up. They were probably right to do so. Science now documents that the purple coneflower, as it's also known, enhances the immune system, fights viruses, and kills bacteria. Whether you have a cold, a sore throat, the flu, bronchitis, or anything in between, you want echinacea. The American medical establishment says echinacea won't prevent colds or the flu. The American medical establishment, I think, is wrong.     Evening primrose . In Europe, this night-blooming plant is a favored ornamental flower and a favored medicinal plant. In the United States, most people dismiss it as a weed. The discrepancy in perspective sort of sums up the difference in mindset on either side of the Atlantic regarding herbal medicine.     Oil of evening primrose is one of our best sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential omega-6 fatty acid sorely lacking in the average person's diet. Without GLA, our bodies couldn't manufacture prostaglandins, highly therapeutic compounds responsible for, to name just a few functions, controlling abnormal cell growth; relaxing blood vessels; balancing the immune, glandular, and nervous systems; regulating body temperature; and metabolizing cholesterol.     For women, evening primrose brings relief from nagging premenstrual nuisances. For me and a lot of other older men, it contributes to a healthier prostate gland. Regardless of gender, the plant's oils promise to retard the nerve deterioration so often seen in diabetes, the skin inflammation of eczema, the bronchial restriction in asthma, and the head-hammering pain of a migraine. The herb also provides the antioxidant bioflavonoid quercetin, which helps your heart, and the amino acid L-tryptophan, a natural antidepressant and sedative.     Garlic . Based on personal experience, I can attest that these pungent cloves do indeed ward off vampire bats (and, presumably, vampires). But the herb also keeps away more imminent threats, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, bacteria, and viruses.     I take garlic as an echinacea adjunct, because it, too, bolsters the immune system. To me, it's nature's version of synthetic penicillin. Many other people will want the cardiovascular protection it confers without the serious consequences its pharmaceutical rivals impose. Or perhaps you might benefit best from its ability to help your liver dispose of toxins.     Ginkgo . Good health has kept me in circulation all over the globe, and ginkgo biloba, of late, has been helping to keep my blood in circulation. The concentrated extract from this tree's leaves improves blood flow from your brain to your feet, plus strategic points in between.     Poor circulation is a hallmark of aging. Better blood flow helps to maintain sharper mental function, deterring Alzheimer's disease and other types of age-related mental decline. It prevents the heart from working unnecessarily hard and preserves feeling and dexterity in the hands and feet. It even helps sustain sexual function in the genitalia. Studies, you'll learn, show that ginkgo extracts work just as well as some anticoagulant and anti-Alzheimer's drugs.     Hawthorn . Virtually complete cardiac care comes in this crab apple-like container. The phytochemicals in hawthorn berries address almost every facet of heart disease. They help stabilize heart rhythm, maintain good blood pressure, keep arteries clear of blockages and allow blood to circulate fully, fight high cholesterol, minimize chest pains, counteract fluid retention and tissue swelling, and avert shortness of breath.     In case the doctors out there don't understand plain English, I'll rephrase in more pharmaceutical terms: Hawthorn provides the ABC's and even the D of mainstream cardiac care. Top this, if you can:     A. Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors     B. Beta-blockers     C. Calcium-channel blockers     D. Diuretics     I once smoked like a chimney, and though I've long since given up cigarettes, I'm sure some cardiovascular damage has been done. I also still regularly put myself through an insanely taxing schedule. Stress and cigarette smoking are both major contributors to heart disease, and that's why hawthorn is one of my most trusted herbs. (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 Rodale Inc.. All rights reserved.

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