Herbal medicine, and going dark

Herbal medicine and going dark

This blog is going to “go dark” (go offline) for the next few months, possibly permanently.  I am sorry if this is a disappointment to those of you who follow it regularly, and I am flattered that so many of you have signed up to follow it and seem to think I have something useful or entertaining to say.  I don’t want you to think that I have been arrested, or hospitalised with severe depression, or changed my mind and become an economist, so here is the reason.

There seem to be many events occurring which are pointing towards some sort of global crisis in the near to medium term: Brexit, Trumpism, the rise of nationalism and religious fanaticism around the globe, continuing global economic instability, continuing political instability in the Middle East, imminent peak oil in Saudia Arabia, the imminent collapse of the US shale oil fracking industry, and so on…   I feel a bit like many people probably felt in 1860, or 1913, or 1938: there is something big and bad just around the corner, even if it’s not clear exactly what and when.  Or in the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, I sense “a great disturbance in the Force”.

I would like to do something useful in response to this.  One (arguably) useful thing I have done is relocate myself and my family to a large rock in the middle of the Irish Sea.  OK, I know some of you are not on board with that one, but let’s move on.  The other thing I would like to do to benefit my fellow citizens is complete a project which I started in 2010, which is my book on Post Peak Medicine.  You can download it here:


It is still very much a work in progress.  I would especially like to finish the section on evidence based herbal medicine.  This is intended to be a bridge between traditional and orthodox medicine, or herbal medicine rewritten in a form which conventionally trained physicians can understand and have confidence in.  Too many herbal medicine textbooks state “Plant X is reputed by (insert name of indigenous people) to be a cure for diseases A, B, C, D and E” but no evidence other than “traditional knowledge” is put forward to support these statements.  I would like to research the controlled trials which have been done and try to sort out the herbal medicines which have a genuine physical effect from the ones which have only placebo effect.  This is going to be a marathon task as there are hundreds of herbal medicines to sort through, it is going to take a lot of time, and I’ve decided I don’t have the time to do that and also keep writing a monthly blog.

Here are a couple of examples of why this is useful.  Take a look at this article on making your own colloidal silver, beloved of survivalists:


It’s reputed to have antibacterial properties.  The trouble is, controlled clinical trials show it doesn’t work.  So you can save yourself the time and trouble of making colloidal silver, and use your silver for something more useful like bartering for food.

On the other hand, the herb Valerian has been shown in controlled clinical trials to be an effective hypnotic and sedative.  And that’s what we’re going to need going forward into the Long Emergency: not cholesterol lowering drugs, or antihypertensives, or appetite suppressants, but lots and lots of sedatives.

“Evidence based herbal medicine” started life as a chapter in the Post Peak Medicine book, but it now looks as though it is such a large subject that it needs a separate book in its own right.  Therefore, if you visit the Post Peak Medicine downloads page (see above), you will now find two download links, although the second one is currently empty.

Splitting the book into two has the additional advantage that I can show “Evidence based herbal medicine” to more people than “Post Peak Medicine”.  Herbal medicine is an acceptable topic for mainstream discourse, even if it is still viewed as a bit eccentric.  Discussions about the end of economic growth, or peak energy, or the collapse of industrial civilisation, are definitely not acceptable in mainstream society (yet), and I would guess, probably won’t be until the facts are so obvious that it’s impossible to continue to ignore them.

If you want to know about the progress of the book you can download the latest version from the website or email me at PeakDoc  (at) postpeakmedicine.com.  And with that, I’m signing off.  Have a Merry Christmas, a sedated New Year, good luck, and as always:

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

5 thoughts on “Herbal medicine, and going dark

  1. Well, as you know, I’ve always disagreed with you about this, at least in one respect. In the first place, evidence-based reports are going to come up fairly blank, as you suggest. But more important is that I think there’s considerable fertile ground to be covered between evidence-based (empirical) and mere hearsay. I covered that middle ground in the long process of writing my first book, “Survival Skills of the North American Indians,” specifically the chapter called “Medicine.” As I was reading the many anthropological and other reports on native groups, one thing that jumped out at me was that some herbal treatments were used over a much greater geographic area than others. There was a distinct clustering of “popular” vs “less popular” herbs. Secondly, I noticed that the popular herbs tended very much to be herbs for which there is modern medical evidence. A familiar example is a group of “volatile oils.” These are found in various members of the mint family and the various forms of Artemisia (in the southwestern US) and a number of coniferous trees (the resin).

    So, yes, admittedly I’m not showing you test tubes and litmus paper. But to say that the above “semi-empirical” (?) forms of evidence are invalid is like saying that “the Brits drink tea and the Yanks drink coffee” must be false because I haven’t hauled in enough Brits and Yanks in statistically valid samples and filmed their behavior long enough, using all the jargon of modern statistical analysis.

    And any anthropologist will tell you that “out in the field” is largely brushing the flies away and hoping to get home alive. What comes out in the anthropological report, much later, is far more squeaky-clean than what was done to get the evidence. But it’s getting the evidence that’s rewarding, not sitting behind a desk long afterward. (Well, I had to toss in one pointless digression, just to keep you mystified.)

    • There’s a standardised rating system called GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation – academics just love acronyms) which is widely used for grading clinical research and guidelines and which I would like to apply, maybe in a modified form, to herbal medicine. It doesn’t say “because there is no evidence, therefore it doesn’t work” but it tries to take a structured approach to grading recommendations roughly as follows:

      Quality of evidence: high, moderate, low, very low
      Strength of recommendation (to use or not use a treatment): strong, weak.

      They may look similar at first glance, but the “strength of recommendation” bit includes things like cost and side effects. So, for example, if there is high quality evidence that a treatment works, but it also has a high incidence of side effects, it would probably get a weak recommendation (if any).

      Here is the link to the GRADE guidelines working group:
      but infuriatingly a lot of it is behind a paywall so you can access it if you are a British Medical Association member (which I am) but not if you are an unwashed grunt (no offence). I would like mainstream physicians to at least start considering taking herbal medicine seriously, and this seems a possible way to start, because I’m using tools which they are already familiar with.

  2. Hi
    Thanks for your blog and book so far. Its been an interesting read in interesting times.
    A reference you might find useful in your herbal research is;
    Herbs and Natural Supplements
    3rd ed. by Lesley Braun and Marc Cohen.
    It contains good references to clinical trials.
    Good luck in your endevours.

  3. I will miss your posts. You’ve been a light in the coming turmoil. I’ve always lived close to the earth. I’m a peasant – always have been and always will be. In the many decades of this life style I’ve seen first hand the changes to our soil, water, crops, and livestock. We have less soil, markedly reduced clean water, more wind, significantly less nutrients in our food crops, and a rapid decline in animal health and quality. We’ve also lost common sense in people. My best wishes to you. I agree with your goals. I’ll follow the progress of your book.

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