In other writings, I have listed ten signs that identify irrational recommendations for the use of herbs. These signs — which I call false tenets — can be used to distinguish between rational use (true herbalism or pharmacognosy) and irrational use (the pseudoscience which I call paraherbalism). Humbart Santillo has assembled the almost perfect paraherbal — a single volume that espouses nine of the ten false tenets:
- The foreword by the late Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D., restates the fictitious medical-conspiracy-against-herbs theory by noting that belief in modern medicine’s credo prevented people from even mentioning herbs.
- Omission of facts about the toxicity of such herbs as comfrey (p. 107) implies that there are no harmful ones.
- The introduction by macrobiotic guru Michio Kushi restates the erroneous belief that whole herbs offer more than just an active chemical constituent by claiming that they contain “energies” in addition to active chemical principles. He states that the real contribution of herbs to therapy is largely in this energy aspect.
- Page 350 advises us to use “a pure 100% organic vegetarian diet” and to “avoid all inorganic foods.”
- Page 17 recommends eyebright as an eyewash. This is an example of the “Doctrine of Signatures,” the ancient belief that the form and shape of a drug source determine its therapeutic virtue.
- Pages 5 through 11 espouse yin-yang theory and four-humor diagnoses-notions as nonscientific as those of astrology.
- Chapter 12 is devoted to homeopathy. Located therein is the enlightening statement that “Medicinal activity is a distinct property of all drugs.”
- The book either ignores or passes over lightly the toxicity information gathered from animal tests on coltsfoot (p. 106), comfrey (p. 107), and sassafras (pp. 173- 174). Santillo calls poke “an excellent herb, it should be used with caution.”
- Anecdotal information is used liberally throughout the book.
The only false tenet missing from Santillo’s book is the assertion that God created herbs for the specific purpose of curing disease.
I might be willing to overlook Santillo’s lapses in syntax — “Potent herbs can produce toxic effects in large amounts,” (p. 46) — or spelling — “Principle Therapy,” (p. 296). But I don’t think kindly about his recommendation of cabbage-leaf poultices or castor oil packs for internal tumors or, if pain is present, the consumption of wild lettuce and valerian tincture (p. 351 ) to alleviate it.
Santillo’s knowledge of the herbs themselves is superficial. Mormon tea (p. 116) is obtained from Ephedra nevadensis Wats. not, as he maintains, E. vulgaris. Chaparral (p. 103) is not “one of nature’s best antibiotics.” The garlic-in-olive-oil preparation (p. 123) he recommends for infections would be ineffective because the antibiotic allicin is rapidly destroyed under such conditions. Valerian is not a stimulant, even initially, in human beings (p. 117). That effect is reserved for cats. Further, a 1988 study indicates that the volatile oil is not the sedative principle in the drug.
The chapter on “hydrotherapy” repeats much of the information and uses many of the classifications developed by Father Sebastian Kneipp, who originated the specifics of the procedure. However, Father Kneipp’s name is not mentioned. Many of Santillo’s recommendations seem to be little more than paraphrases of the same information found in J.K. Kloss’s 50-year-old work Back to Eden. Kloss is included as one of the 12 references in Santillo’s book. The average age of the 11 references for which publication dates are noted is now 24 years. Despite all this, the book jacket describes the book as “The First American System of Herbology.”
Santillo’s biographical sketch lists a B.S. degree from Edinboro State Teacher’s College and four other “degrees”: Doctor of Naturopathy, Health Practitioner, Iridology Certificate of Merit, and Master Herbalist. The sketch also describes his study of oriental medicine, myopractic therapy, medical botany, and concept therapy.
Dr. Tyler, who died in 2001, was the Lilly distinguished professor of pharmacognosy (the science of medicines from natural sources) at Purdue University. A world-renowned authority, he wrote The Honest Herbal, an evaluation of popular herbs, and was senior author of the textbook Pharmacognosy. This article was adapted from his review in the July/August 1991 issue of Nutrition Forum Newsletter.
This page was revised on October 7, 2001.