Herb-CD4 (CD-ROM), fourth edition
20 December 2017 (online)
T Brendler, J Grünwald, C Jänicke (eds) Phytopharm Consulting GmbH, Medpharm Scientific Publishers, Stuttgart, 2001 - www.herb-cd.com Price: € 77, ISBN: 3887630920 Runs on MS-Windows-95, 98, NT, 2000 System requirements PC, at least 64 MB RAM, 800×600 pixels
This CD-ROM, produced in Germany by a consultancy specializing in herbal remedies, is a rather nattily designed library of herbal medicines, encompassing folk, herbal (Western, Indian and Chinese) and homeopathic medicine. In fact there are two parallel libraries: a botanical one and medicinal. For instance, the plant Aesculus hippocastanum L. (Linnaeus) is cross-referenced to the drugs Hippocastani folium (horse chestnut leaves) and Hippocastani semen (horse chestnut seeds). The initial display is long and narrow, taking up about 8 cm of the left-hand side of the screen. It is simply designed and nicely colour- coded, in two languages, English (which reads very well) and German.
The ‘Plants’ menu is searchable either by scientific name or vernacular name, the latter includes Indian names as well as German, English and other European familiar names. The use of search strings speeds things up, the name you’re after being narrowed down as each letter is typed, or you can go straight to the starting letter by clicking on an alphabetical table. Searching the scientific names can be restricted to specific families of plants, such as the Solanaceae, or by language for the vernacular names. The list is comprehensive, containing over 900 plants; 16 different species of Aconite were listed, for instance. It includes poisonous plants only used in folk medicine and homeopathy, such as Actaea spicata (ominously marked with a skull and crossbones)!
Once your plant of interest has been selected, its name appears in a ‘Display’ box which when clicked, brings up a second window containing the information for that plant. I couldn’t quite understand why the extra click was needed, other than to ensure you had the plant you wanted; a direct click would surely have been as good. But this was a minor irritation.
The second window contains eight labels relating to the plant selected. General contains an introductory paragraph with a short account of its history, use in contemporary folk medicine, and the parts of the plant in medicinal use. Etymology, Synonyms and Vernacular Names give interesting historical insights into each plant name. Botany and Habitat include times of flowering and harvesting, and its range of habitat displayed graphically on a world map. Good-quality digital photographs of most plants are available (sometimes more than one for each plant) which may be printed and would be useful in illustrating talks (the company producing the disk also have an 1200-image archive, not available with this disk).
The Drug window which runs in parallel with that for Plants contains over 1000 drugs. A useful feature is that next to each drug name there are symbols indicating the type and strength of scientific evidence for its use. Drugs can be searched from the main menu by scientific or vernacular name, constituents, indications (e.g. all herbs used in abdominal pain), or by a choice of pharmacopoeias including the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia.
Drug information is broken down into 12 sections, similar to the headings expected in any pharmacopoeia. Usage gives the most common indications in herbal, folk medicine and (where relevant) homeopathy. Dosage is given for both herbal and homeopathic use. The herbal dosage is useful, giving a typical range of doses and mentioning standardization where this is generally used (as with hypericin for St. John's Wort). I wondered why the authors bothered with homeopathic dosage, since it was the same for every drug (5–10 drops or 1 globule per day) and there was no discussion of potencies (puzzling indeed for the lay reader or herbalist unfamiliar with homeopathy!)
Use Restrictions discusses side effects and drug interactions. Specifications gives pharmaceutical information about the commonly used preparations, such as dosage forms, stability and storage. Substances gives the known constituents of each plant. Indications are given both for herbal and homeopathic use. For homeopathy, a few specific uses are given for drugs such as Aconite (‘acute inflammatory illnesses, cardiac palpitations with anxiety states and painful peripheral nerve disease’), but the long list of indications for Lycopodium seems a pointless exercise. Finally, the German Commission E monograph, where available, is given in full. These are the short reports prepared by the Government-appointed commission to advise on use of herbal medicines, including a brief summary of the relevant evidence.
A list of relevant Literature completes this section. Unfortunately for English readers, the titles of papers (often in German) are not translated, and are not referenced in the text, which limits their usefulness. The list could have been improved by being at least subdivided into sections, say, clinical trials, animal or in vitro work, and so on. The Literature section from the Drugs menu and the Substances section of the Drugs menu are also featured in their own right, separately colour-coded, on the main menu. This allows rudimentary searching of the literature database by first author or by a keyword in the title. There is also a Glossary with simple definitions of terms used throughout, and a brief Help section.
Overall, I found the program well-designed and easy to use, and the information comprehensive, readable and interesting. Despite being a commercial product, it was free of any direct selling or advertising. For a homeopath, its usefulness is as a source of background information on herbs also used as true homeopathic remedies (such as Aconite), as a materia medica for mother tinctures and low potency remedies used on essentially herbal indications (such as Crataegus and Convallaria), and as a point of comparison for those plant remedies which fall somewhere in between the two (such as Calendula and Valeriana). The high-quality photographs add a pleasing extra dimension.
As a source of information on homeopathy itself, it would leave homeopaths frustrated and herbalists bemused, a paragraph in the introduction explaining the absurdity of the concept of a homeopathic ‘pharmacopoeia’ along conventional lines would have helped. For those wishing to study herbal medicine in more depth, this program is a useful addition to the usual textbooks, with the most useful feature being the easy cross-referencing.