April 4, 2018

Herbal Formulations for Health Professionals

A book review
Our editor-in-chief reviews the first volume of a book written by a highly esteemed former professor. The book's holistic, individualized, and practical content make it a handy reference; readers will be eager to move on to the second volume.

Twenty years ago, I sat in class listening intently as Jill Stansbury, ND, articulated the multisyllabic Latin taxonomy of plants and their pharmacological actions with ease. She seamlessly blended the information on plant constituents, pharmacology, and energetics (eg, drying, warming). The result was a portrait of each medicinal plant. Fittingly, the botanical drawings in our notes were sketches she had done by hand, in great artistic detail. Rounding out this experience, the lectures sometimes opened with a song, Dr Stansbury singing with guitar in hand. She was affectionately known as a Renaissance woman.

How many of us former students of Dr Stansbury still refer to our class notes? Mine are in black binders: Pharmacology of Botanical Medicine, Botanical Medicine Materia Medica, and Advanced Botanicals. They contain botanical pearls that cannot be found online, or in any other single compendium. For this reason, I have always kept them nearby.

Needless to say, I was excited to hear Stansbury had written a book. Come to find out, it was not just a book, it is the first volume of a 5-volume set titled Herbal Formulations for Health Professionals. I’ll review this first volume in detail here, but for those thousands of students Stansbury has taught over the last couple of decades here is the short review: This is much like your class notes morphed with a transcript of her lectures, highly polished and containing even more clinically useful details and asides. (Her drawings of plants are even interspersed throughout.)

Throughout the volume, there are continual reminders of how to simplify formulas to treat each unique individual.

Volume I of this series is titled Digestion and Elimination: Including the Gastrointestinal System, Liver and Gallbladder, Urinary System, and the Skin. This is a logical place to start and is in keeping with nearly all traditional medicines. As Stansbury writes on page 2, “Optimizing the health and function of the emunctories will benefit many other organ systems and ameliorate many other health problems outside of these emunctory organs themselves.”

The above quote brings me to an observation: Stansbury's voice permeates this book. She does not use small words for fear of losing the reader. She does not resort to a journalistic style of bulleted sentences with the assumption that modern attention spans are blunted. Instead, she writes as she speaks, with a command of language and an expectation that you are as intelligent as she is. After all, the audience is meant to be professionals, and as such, botanical nomenclature and clinical terminology are appropriate. I found this level of precision and respect for the reader refreshing.

Chapter 1 begins with a brief overview of the naturopathic philosophical approach to symptoms, including understanding the biochemical terrain, the role of a “healing crisis,” and the harm in suppressing symptoms. Shortly thereafter, the focus turns to the title of the chapter: The Art of Herbal Formulation. Using a traditional triangle approach, Stansbury simplifies the thought process. There is a base herb (nourishing/tonifying) and 2 others to direct the formula for the given patient and their presentation. This simple beginning can then give rise to more complex combinations as the practitioner masters their herbal knowledge. Several cases with similar Western diagnoses but very different herbal indications are juxtaposed to emphasize how to customize formulas for the patient, not merely the condition. Taking the case, reasoning through what the desired herbal actions are and applying this to the individual is conveyed in great detail. This is a valuable lesson for beginners and a useful reminder of a foundational approach for any herbalist currently practicing.

Ensuing chapters are divided logically by system: gastrointestinal and biliary conditions, liver and gallbladder conditions, renal and urinary conditions, and dermatological conditions. Each chapter contains herbal formulations and ends with a materia medica of plants relevant to the chapter. This makes it easy to use as a quick reference book. In keeping with the holistic approach and individualized formulations Stansbury advocates, many conditions are further divided by nuances in their presentation. For example, “excessive/hot” gastritis "might necessitate demulcents and anti-inflammatories” while those with “atrophic/cold” gastritis “would benefit from cholagogues, bitters and warming herbs.” Throughout the volume, there are continual reminders of how to simplify formulas to treat each unique individual. Coming from Stansbury, even the well-versed among us can feel a sense of validation.

Stansbury writes that the intent of this compendium is “to help students refine their formulation skills” and “to create an easy to use reference that practitioners can rely on in the midst of a busy practice day.” With this in mind, there are insertions of side bars with appropriate nutritional supplements (eg, for fatty liver) or homeopathic remedies (eg, for skin conditions). Stansbury is a clinician, seeing patients for over 30 years. This makes including other natural remedies that may be helpful almost compulsory. No healer can resist the opportunity to pass along useful, pertinent advice that may help patients.

This first of 5 volumes by Stansbury has me eagerly awaiting Volume II. That is has taken this long for Stansbury to be ready to write such a text is a testament to her integrity. So many people claim to be experts these days, it can be hard to recognize someone who has actually mastered their craft. There is no doubt Jill Stansbury, ND, stands as a true master herbalist, healer, and teacher.

She concludes her introduction with “It is my sincere hope that this book helps you in your clinical work and efforts to heal people.” To that end, I can only say I’m grateful for the gift.

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