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 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.