Handbook of Medicinal Herbs
H A N D B O O K O F
1284_frame_FM Page 2 Thursday, May 23, 2002 10:53 AM H A N D B O O K O F
James A. Duke
Mary Jo Bogenschutz-Godwin
Peggy-Ann K. Duke
CRC PR ESS
Boca Raton London New York Washington, D.C.
Peggy-Ann K. Duke has the copyright to all black and white line and color illustrations.
The author would like to express thanks to Nature’s Herbs for the color slides presented in the book.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Duke, James A., 1929-
Handbook of medicinal herbs / James A. Duke, with Mary Jo Bogenschutz-Godwin,
Judi duCellier, Peggy-Ann K. Duke.-- 2nd ed.
Previously published: CRC handbook of medicinal herbs.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-8493-1284-1 (alk. paper)
1. Medicinal plants. 2. Herbs. 3. Herbals. 4. Traditional medicine. 5. Material medica,
Vegetable. I. Duke, James A., 1929- CRC handbook of medicinal herbs. II. Title.
[DNLM: 1. Medicine, Herbal. 2. Plants, Medicinal.]
QK99.A1 D83 2002
This book contains information obtained from authentic and highly regarded sources. Reprinted material is quoted with
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Printed on acid-free paper
By the time this second edition is published, the ﬁrst edition of the Handbook of Medicinal Herbs
will have been out more than 15 years. The second edition is designed to present most of the old
information plus new information on the more important of those original 365 herbs. I submitted
the ﬁrst edition under the original unpublished title, Herbs of Dubious Salubrity. I intentionally left
out many of the completely safe culinary herbs, spices, and food plants that are clearly medicinal.
I also intentionally omitted some strictly dangerous herbs, such as foxglove, that were too unhealthy
for use in unskilled hands. I did include several obscure hallucinogenic plants of dubious salubrity.
I did, or should have, dropped some of these because they have little medicinal importance. Some
poorly documented species, such as Mimosa hostilis and Phoradendron leucarpum, for example,
were retained with fragmentary entries, so as to at least mention species from the ﬁrst edition that
might better have been dropped.
Now I think I have the most important herbs well covered here. In edition two, which I will
refer to frequently as my Herbal Desk Reference (HDR), I have tried to concisely corral the data
on some 1000 herbs in as little space as possible, striving to make a reliable, referenced resource
to parallel the PDR for Herbal Medicines. I use the three-letter abbreviation, HDR, to indicate the
second edition of my Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, because I compare and contrast it to other
important sources, which are also represented by three-letter abbreviations. (See the reference
With this edition, I have tried to cover most of the widely mentioned medicinal plants, whether
they are extremely salubrious or extremely toxic. Without counting them, I estimate we include
more than 1000 of the most important herbs, including the more important herbs from the young
Native American and the European traditions (including most of those approved by Commission
E (KOM), and almost all of those included in the PDR for Herbal Medicine (PHR for the ﬁrst
edition, and PH2 for the second edition). Unlike Commission E and the Herbal PDR, which seem
to stress European and American traditions, I include proportionately more herbs from the older
African, Ayurvedic, and Chinese traditions as well, not wanting to slight any major medicinal plant
from any major tradition.
Let me explain the new format for the second edition. First, a common name appears, usually
but not always in English, followed by a recently accepted scientiﬁc name, with the authority for
the scientiﬁc name. Then follows a safety score, X, +, ++, or +++. An X means I don’t recommend
taking it at all, or realize that it is so dangerous that it should not be taken without expert guidance.
But for litigious reasons, I give some potent medicinal herbs the X (amateurs beware!). A single
plus (+) indicates that I do not consider that the herb is, overall, as safe as coffee. I score two
pluses (++) for those herbs I think of, overall, as being as safe as coffee. I score three pluses (+++)
for those herbs I believe to be safer than coffee. In the ﬁrst edition, I related the plus sign to a cup
of coffee, ﬁguring that 1, 2, or 3 cups per day of an herbal tea from the herb would be as safe as
1, 2, or 3 cups per day of coffee. I often drink more than 3 cups of coffee a day, especially while
I worked on this project! Clearly, this is an oversimpliﬁcation. Too often, some parts of a plant are
more helpful or more toxic than other parts of the same species, and different ethnic groups or
cultures may use parts differently. The safety scoring is a continuation of the same scoring system
I used in the ﬁrst edition. Some scores have been upgraded a bit, some have been downgraded.
Often, there are some comments on synonymy and other nomenclature difﬁculties that arose
in completing this opus. I inject these following the nomenclature line. Here you may ﬁnd some
proven and/or suspected synonyms, or notes of related species that may be included in this species
concept, especially by nontaxonomically trained authors. I have often used, as ﬁnal arbiter of
scientiﬁc names and sometimes common names, the nomenclature database at the USDA (www.ars-
grin.gov; curator, Dr. John. H. Wiersema: email@example.com).
Unfortunately, the new American Herbal Products Association (AHP) book on nomenclature
arrived too late for our consideration. Attempts to standardize common names, although admirable,
are often aggravating to special interests. It was with some misgiving that I arranged this book
alphabetically by common names, when the ﬁrst edition was by scientiﬁc name. It generated big
headaches for all of us who think more along the lines of scientiﬁc names. Would it be under
mulberry or black mulberry, chamomile or German chamomile? Some plants have dozens of
common names. Several have suffered almost as many scientiﬁc names, such as, for example,
feverfew. Hopefully, you will ﬁnd it easy to use.
In the Activities and Indications sections, parenthetical numbers are followed by three-letter
abbreviations (abbreviation of source) or an alphanumeric X-1111111 to identify PubMed citations.
A parenthetical efﬁcacy score of (1) means that a chemical in the plant or in an extract of the plant
has shown the activity or proven out experimentally (animal, not clinical) for the indication. This
could be in vitro animal or assay experiments. A hint: not real human proof! Nothing clinical yet!
I give it a score of (2) if the aqueous extract, ethanolic extract, or decoction or tea derived from
the plant has been shown to have the activity, or to support the indication in clinical trials.
Commission E (KOM) and Tramil Commission (TRA) approvals were automatically given a score
of (2) also, because they represented consensus opinions of distinguished panels. The rare score
of (3) for efﬁcacy means that clinical trials exist to show that the plant itself (not just an extract
or phytochemical derivative) has the indications or activities. The solitary score of (f) in many of
the citations means it is unsupported folk medicine, or I have not seen the science to back it up.
The three-letter abbreviations are useful short citations of the references consulted in arriving at
these numbers. I have by no means cited every source. However, unlike KOM and hopefully better
than PHR, we indicate at least one source for every indication and activity we report.
Thus, we have a score for Safety and a score for Efﬁcacy, the latter backed up by the three-
letter abbreviations or citations, often PubMed citations. In addition to our three letter abbreviations
for the frequently consulted texts, we occasionally cite articles cited from the PubMed database
with their unique abstract number, preceded by the letter X. For example, I received a paper showing
that ginger contained several COX-2 inhibitors. I looked in the PubMed database to ﬁnd the unique
abstract citation number, PMID: 11437391, which I shortened for database purpose to X11437391.
So, all alpha-numeric (X-numerical) combinations will refer you to the source in the PubMed
database. Whenever I update one of my Herb-a-Day columns, I automatically search PubMed for
>species name AND 2000 <, which automatically gives me the post 1999 abstracts. In 2001, I
search for >species AND 2001<. Then I order hard copies of those articles that look promising for
Often, many more than 10 sources were involved in my decision-making. In many instances,
I limited citations to three, typically the ones that were most important at arriving at my scores.
Not wanting to blow my own horn, my own books were ﬁrst to be deleted from the list when it
exceeded three. In preparing this edition I realized that for patent litigation, the earlier citations
were most valuable, so at the last minute I added several older references, such as DEP, FEL, HHB,
and MAD. For example, even I was surprised when I read about Remifemin in HHB (1973, p. 12),
three decades ago, since Remifemin seems so new here in America. But in my mind it is just
another native American remedy, coming back home to us, slightly upgraded, after having been
better studied in Europe than it has been in America (other examples include evening primrose,
passionﬂower, and saw palmetto). DEP and FEL citations are more than 100 years old, and might
be useful in challenging frivolous patents.
One very important abbreviation, WAM, might as well be viewed as MOM, meaning pediatric.
This comes from the excellent book, Kids, Herbs, Health, by Dr. Linda White, MD, and Sunny
Mavor. So, if you are looking for an herb that has been suggested by a pediatrician, scroll down
to WAM. Ditto for PIP, Hans Schilcher’s Phytotherapy in Paediatrics.
This is an evolving system that changes as new science validates the folklore, often resulting
in an upgrading of the indication or activity. Occasionally, bad news about the plant will result in
my lowering its safety rating, from +++ to ++, or ++ to +, or + to X. This does not constitute my
recommendation of an herb. It merely indicates how I think the herb compares with others, based
on the literature surveyed. As a botanist, I cannot legally, and do not, prescribe. But I ﬁnd mechanical
searches of the Handbook of Medicinal Herbs to be an extremely fast way to ﬁnd the better herbs
for a given indication.
We have used the same abbreviations that are used in my database at the USDA (http://www.ars-
grin.gov/duke). I much prefer the abbreviations used there because they do not get you into as
much trouble when you e-mail a query to the taxpaying public. For example, the preferred abbre-
viation of microgram, at least with some publishers (including CRC), but not me, is µg. Too often,
if I put that abbreviation (or use an italicized u) in an e-mail, the u or µ disappears and the reader
receives g instead of ug or µg, giving an often dangerously high reading, a million times too high.
Ditto for ul or µl (microliter) as opposed to ml (milliliter). And with uM and mM, micromole and
In a sense, my scored second edition is a loner’s approach to a Commission E, but I am the sole
member of the ﬁctitious commission, Commission U.S. for us, here in the good old USA. Note that
unlike the ratings in, for example, APA, my ratings assess the efﬁcacy of each activity and indication.
I’ll keep revising the scoring for an online version as new information, positive or negative,
comes in on the safety or efﬁcacy of the herb, or chemicals it contains. So, like the allopaths, health
announcers, and reporters, I reserve the right to change my mind as I oscillate from side to side
of the pendulum on my long, tedious, treacherous, and tumultuous trip, veering like a coiled
caduceus, deviously toward the truth.
Users will ﬁnd it easy to search and ﬁnd which herbs score highest for efﬁcacy and safety. The
three-letter abbreviations will lead them to some, but by no means all, of the sources I consulted
including the one(s) or some of them that led me to the numerical scores for efﬁcacy. The scores
are my own. Only rarely did all the cited and consulted sources agree; but one of the indicated
sources provided the evidence that led me to arrive at the assigned score. By no means should
these scores be attributed to anyone except me.
THE APA RATINGS
A warning: my highest ratings are my best ratings. With the American Pharmaceutical Association
(APA) and the American Herbal Products Association (AHP), the converse is true: the higher the
number, the lower the rating. APA’s best, (1), is veriﬁed by large clinical, randomized, placebo-
controlled, double-blind, human trials. That too would have gotten approval, we assume, in Commis-
sion E. That would get a (2) in my HDR, if the study were of an extract of the plant, but a (3) for
example if the study were of the natural whole herb, such as garlic or onion. The APA (1) and the
HDR (3) scores are rare indeed. Their number (1) means “Years of use and extensive, high-quality
studies indicate that this substance is very effective and safe when used in recommended amounts
for the indication(s) noted in the ‘Will It Work For You?’ section.” Unfortunately, they often mention
unapproved, unstudied folklore in this section, even clearly noting that it was unapproved. With APA,
(2) is a large, clinical human trial, but not necessarily double blind and placebo controlled. That would
also get a (2) in my HDR, if the study were of an extract of the plant, but a (3) if the study were of
the whole herb, rather than the extract. And the third one is hard for me to believe, but here is the
quote, “large, placebo-controlled animal experiment.” That would get a (1) in my HDR. The APA (4)
is for in vitro studies, which I suppose includes studies, e.g., of isolated phytochemicals. Those score
(1) in HDR. The APA (5) is for decades or centuries of well-known folk use, but no supporting studies.
That would get an (f) for folkloric in the HDR. APA (6) is a large collection of case histories, which
would also get an (f) in HDR. At the bottom of the APA ladder is the personal anecdote, which of
course, also gets an (f), even though it has not yet evolved into folklore.
THE AHPA CLASSIFICATION
A few speciﬁc comments regarding the American Herbal Products Association (AHP). Although I
like the way they handled some perplexing little details, such as idiosyncratic allergies, trivial
quantities of toxic substances, etc., I’m a little alarmed by their ‘Class 1’ deﬁnition. Why alarmed?
Because I feel that all drugs, whether they be synthetic, phytochemical, nutritional, or herbal, “can
be safely consumed when used appropriately.”
Class 1: Can be safely consumed if used appropriately.
Class 2: Herbs with the following use restrictions apply; unless otherwise directed by an
expert qualiﬁed in the use of the substance:
(2a) External use only
(2b) Not for use in pregnancy
(2c) Not for use while nursing
(2d) Other restrictions as noted
Class 3: Herbs with signiﬁcant data suggesting labeling: “To be used only under the super-
vision of an expert qualiﬁed in the appropriate use of this substance.” Labeling must
include proper use information: dosage, contraindications, potential adverse effects and
drug interactions, and other information pertinent to the safe use of the substance.
Class 4: Herbs with data insufﬁcient for classiﬁcation.
Why don’t I like that ‘Class 1’ deﬁnition? My interpretation of ‘Class 1’ deﬁnition is that
all herbs are ‘Class 1’ and can be safely used if used appropriately (appropriate is safe). Similarly,
I think we could say appropriately for many, if not most, herbs what AHPA says of labeling
information that should be required for aloe, “Do not use this product if you have abdominal
pain or diarrhea. Consult a health care provider prior to use if you are pregnant or nursing.
Discontinue use in the event of diarrhea or watery stools. Do not exceed recommended dose.
Not for long term use.” (AHP, 1997)
A subset of American phytomedicine advocates argue that we should emulate the German
Commission E’s Standard of Excellence. Which one? Two versions came out in 1998, purporting
to be authentic English presentations of the Commission E conclusions. There were some differ-
ences; e.g., Blumenthal’s very careful book (identiﬁed as KOM in this book) states that hyssop is
unapproved by Commission E, while Gruenwald, in the second edition of the PDR for Herbal
Medicine, says hyssop is approved for colds, fevers, and gallbladder and liver complaints. In the
title line, where I evaluate safety, I scored hyssop with three pluses (+++), meaning that I think it
is safer than coffee as an herbal medicine. As to efﬁcacy, I had decided to let Commission E
endorsement rank 2 in my Activities and Indications columns.
This example of divergence between the published “Commission E” interpretations of
hyssop (and there are more than ten English interpretations of Commission E now) is just one
of many that I encountered as I traversed most of these interpretations. It really raises a serious
question again that I raised for myself back in the early 1980s as I was working on my Medicinal
Plants of China. Clearly, I was capable of working only with the English translations of Chinese
books on medicinal plants, embellished by three trips to China. I assumed that by the time I
had compiled most of the information from ﬁve different books, there would be little new
information as I traversed the sixth. But diminishing returns had not yet set in. There are a few
major discrepancies in recent translations of romance language, scientiﬁc German, as with
Commission E. How many more can we expect in translations of ancient Chinese, Hindu, and
Sanscrit writings that are thousands of years old? Small wonder we often encounter differences
One can only be thankful that these books have survived because they document millennia
of empirical wisdom. The best of the herbal medicines have survived and the worst have been
marginalized. That took thousands of years. You can almost say the same of pharmaceuticals:
some have survived, while some of the worst have been marginalized or withdrawn. But none
of the pharmaceuticals have survived more than 200 years with us. But the ~140 herbs
mentioned in the Bible have been with us 2000 years. A recent study showed that humans
have been active in the Biblical area for at least 1,700,000 years. So, the genes of some humans
have experienced many of the phytochemicals from Biblical plants for nearly 2 million years.
More new synthetics hit the market each year, to your peril, but few new herbs surface in a
given year. Mankind does not want bad medicine. Man empirically selects the good and rejects
the bad. I feel strongly that many of the herbs treated in this book are as good as the competing
synthetic pharmaceuticals, and almost always cost less, in dollars and in side effects. Until
the better of these herbs have been clinically compared with the pharmaceuticals, neither your
physician nor mine, nor you nor I, knows for sure which is best. Meanwhile, pharmaceuticals
will kill more than 100,000 Americans a year, as per JAMA, a propharmaceutical journal, while
herbs will kill fewer than 100, as per the conservative Washington Post in an antiherb article
(Gugliotta, March 19, 2000). On May 1, 2002, the Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA) suggested that adverse drug reactions may be the leading cause of death in the United
SYNONYM: In some cases I list one or more taxonomic synonyms often following the USDA
Nomenclature database, curated by John Wiersema http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/tax/taxgenform.html.
ACTIVITIES: Most of the published biological activities that crossed my desk are listed
alphabetically, with each activity followed by the “f” or numerical score for efﬁcacy, followed by
the citation for the source.
INDICATIONS: Most published indications that crossed my desk are listed alphabetically,
with each indication followed by the “f” or numerical score for efﬁcacy, followed by the
citation for the source. It was with some trepidation that I converted more speciﬁc terms such
as arthritis to arthrosis, and bronchitis to bronchosis, but I think that was a more economical
(space-wise) way of presenting the data. Classically, the sufﬁx “itis” means inﬂammation, and
“osis” means ailment of. Thus, arthritis is inﬂammation of the joint, and arthrosis is broader,
meaning an ailment in the joint. Where some author just said “for joint problems,” that became
“arthrosis,” but where they were more speciﬁc and said inﬂammation of the joint, it means
the more speciﬁc “arthritis.” Toward the end we aggregated both under “arthrosis.” Many
people will dislike that I converted all the more speciﬁc -itis entries to -osis, rather than
somewhat redundantly include both.
DOSAGE: I have attempted in this edition to give the range of published dosage ranges I have
encountered. With good editorial prodding, I have gone back to my sources to see if they speciﬁed
which plant part. In some cases my sources were not speciﬁc as to plant part. And sometimes one
source speciﬁed one part, another source identiﬁed another part. A few dosages were taken right
off the bottles of herbs. If there are dangerous published dosages given under dangerous herbs, I
have indicated with an “X” that it should not be taken except with a skilled practitioner on hand.
null of the dosages originate with me (except for an occasional “food farmacy” comment,
indicating that the herb is eaten as food); they are from the literature, as indicated by the usual set
of abbreviations. Several do, however, represent dosages said to have been approved by Commission
E, especially those cited with the abbreviations KOM, PHR, and PH2. I suppose by appearing in
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