Book Review

My original copy of Michael Thomsen’s Phytotherapy Desk Reference (ISBN: 978-0-646-82443-7) is herb-stained and dog-eared. So it was with much excitement that I received the latest edition of this little gem.

The book, as with the previous editions, has been designed not as an exhaustive materia medica but rather as a desk reference for the busy herbalist. It contains short, precise descriptions of 236 of the most commonly used herbs in Australia and New Zealand.

Michael Thomsen is herbalist and naturopath with over 30 years’ experience. Originally from Denmark, he completed studies in naturopathy and herbal medicine in Sydney, graduating in 1986. He has worked in private practice as a herbalist and for over ten years worked as a consultant to the herbal medicine industry both in Australia and overseas. He is the original author of the popular Phytotherapy Desk Reference now in its 4th edition having sold 16,000 copies worldwide.

“The intention is to provide practitioners with a limited number of reliable therapeutic actions with some reliable indications for each herb and with the information organised in such a way as to be a valuable clinical tool”.

The short monographs also provide the main active constituents, the qualities of the herbs, known drug interactions and any caution or contraindications, as well as the recommended dosage for liquid extracts.

As a quick reference index, this book will prove invaluable to students and practitioners alike. In this updated edition, the herbs have been grouped together under their therapeutic actions and indications.

The actions and indications have been chosen based on traditional use, classical and recent texts, modern research, published monographs and general consensus of practising herbalists and naturopaths. This 5th edition provides a maximum of just three main actions for each herb, making it an easy to use resource.

The dosages listed are generic adult dosages and need to be adjusted for specific use/synergy and, obviously, for children.

For many herbalists, the introduction of Chinese and Indian herbs into the modern practice of phytotherapy has renewed the interest in the energetics of herbs. To further support the exploration of the energetics of herbal medicine, the qualities and occasionally tastes of the herbs have been included in the monographs.

The information regarding the energetics of the herbs has come primarily from Culpeper, Bensky and Holmes (see bibliography). For example, Culpeper and others grade the degree of intensity – Zingiber officinale (ginger) is thus hot in the third degree, whereas Achillea millifolium (yarrow) is only warm in the first degree.

As stated, this is by no means an exhaustive materia medica of our herbal compendium, but it’s an extremely useful reference guide for students and practitioners with anything from a rudimentary to an extensive knowledge of herbal medicine.

In addition to the printed page, Michael has created an online version which makes it handy for the technophiles.

This handy desk reference is bound to prove as popular as Michael’s previous four sold-out editions.

Mim Beim -

Phytotherapy Desk Reference 5th Edition ISBN: 978-0-646-82443-7 Soft-cover, spiral bound. 200 pages. 233 Monographs.
Only $65. Includes delivery by standard post.

Rest of the world get your copy from Aeon Books


Access short, precise descriptions of over 250 of most commonly used herbs in Western herbal medicine and key herbs from the Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as important medicinal plants from New Zealand/Māori Aotearoa.

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