Saturday, 10 November 2012

Helpful Herbs for Health and Beauty (Barbara Griggs)

--The blurb--
"Herbs have a myriad of uses, and not just for cooking. Herbs are also incredibly useful for healing the minor medical miseries of life (and some of the major ones too) and in many cases, they are more effective than the pharmaceutical alternative.  Nothing zaps a sore throat faster than Propolis, sorts out a painful gum infection more efficiently than a shot of Marigold or takes the sting out of sunburn better than Aloe Vera.  For as long as people have been able to pick berries and forage for food, herbs have been used for medicinal purposes. There is even evidence to suggest that Neanderthal Man knew about and used herbs. Country people the world over have always relied on them, especially when no other doctoring was available.  And you don't need to be a trained herbalist to be able to use them. It’s simple. All that is needed is information, inspiration and a little savvy and that’s where Helpful herbs for health and beauty comes in! Discover the many medical uses of nature's bounty, and also find out the canny natural beauty tricks that really work."

--The review-- 
Homeopathy and herbal remedy garners a range of different views, from those who dismiss it all as sheer quackery to those who shun traditional medicine in its favour. Barbara Griggs, the author of Helpful Herbs for Health and Beauty, does not quite fall into this latter category, but offers us so many solutions for everyday illnesses and injuries that don't involve talking to someone in a white coat that it's hard to not sit up and listen.

Sensible and realistic, Helpful Herbs serves as a Bible for all ages and ailments, as well as seeming to cover every eventuality. Its many short chapters are easy and readable to consult, although the 'how did it go?' section is awkwardly named. It presents a good combination of familiar and new ideas, enabling readers to already feel slightly expert while learning new things.

Some of the recommended herbs are repeated often, but this is hardly Griggs' fault, as many of them have multiple uses, and this won't be so obvious if you are using the book encyclopaedically, rather than reading it chronologically. Some information is also covered less well, with more expansion being required: how are novice readers supposed to know, for instance, how often to use the greasy hair remedy, or whether to use this in place of shampoo or in addition to it, or what a 'reliable' brand of herb is? While it's refreshing to not see an author name-dropping, a little more guidance in this area would have been appreciated.

Nonetheless, the author is extremely informative and authoritative without being patronising, and gives plenty of useful information on incompatibilities between different herbs, as well as regularly advising readers to consult qualified herbalists if unsure and to continue to see traditional doctors for more serious illnesses. Griggs' advice is backed up with plenty of statistics and published research, and her own long publishing history is equally reassuring. At times contradictions are present: for instance, valerian is not to be used if the patient is depressed, but at the same time, it can be used to help sleeplessness caused by anxiety. The author indicates that she is aware of these contradictions, however (and there are not many of them in any case). There are also one or two omissions: chicory (which can help to treat sinus problems and gastroenteritis), for instance, is a commonly-used substitute for coffee, and while herbal tea is talked about a lot, no mention is made of this. A chart at the end of the book of ailments and solutions would have also been greatly prized, although the bibliography, suppliers list and list of herbalists is excellent.

Helpful Herbs is in the end an honest guide: magic is not promised, and caution is urged. There is plenty of food for thought here - far more than the "52 brilliant ideas" promised by the book series name. It utilises an international approach, with tips taken from around the world, and covers health, beauty and well-being, thus making it truly all-encompassing. Highly recommended.

other works by Barbara Griggs
Baby's Cook Book (1979)
Home Herbal: A Handbook of Simple Remedies (1983)
The Food Factor (1986) 
Superfoods (1990; with Michael van Straten)
The Superfoods Diet Book (1994; with von Straten, Mason, and David)
Green Pharmacy: The History and Evolution of Western Herbal Medicine (1997)
The Complete Woman's Herbal (1999; with Anne McIntyre)
The Green Witch: A Modern Woman's Herbal (2000)
Superfoods for Children (2001; with Michael van Straten)
Superfoods Super Fast (2006; with Michael von Straten)

(cross-posted to Bianca's Book Blog)

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