Herby book list

I thought I’d keep a list of all the books I have that have inspired my journey into understanding herbs and their relevance to human health.

Herb Books

Aarathi Prasad (2017) In the bonesetter’s waiting room, Wellcome Collection. A fascinating tour around ancient medical traditions in India and how many are brought to life still today. Plus the integration of Western and traditional medicine within India.

David Kennedy (2014) Plants and the human brain, Oxford University Press. A detailed and scientific look at plant phytochemical and their brain interactions. The book looks at different phytochemical groupings (i.e. phenols, alkaloids) and the scientific basis of their function, whether they are interacting with the human central nervous system, acting as stimulants, hallucinogens, deliriants, relaxants or cognitive enhancers.

Biren Shah and AK Seth (2017) Textbook of pharmacognosy and phytochemistry, CBS Press. More of an overview of how plants are turned into pharmaceuticals. Values of different plant families, phytochemical groups, collection, adulteration, quality screening.

Amritpal Saroya (2017) Contemporary phytomedicines. CRC Press. This book was well-referenced but was more of a set of notes on active plant compounds and their chemistry. I thought aspects were poor – for example a chapter on clinical research did not provide useful advice. Good as a reference source.

Peter Wohllenben (2016) The hidden life of trees. William collins. I love this book. I’ve learned so much about our own human-microbe interactions by reading about how these vital communities keep trees alive, and are integral to how they communicate.

Elizabeth Williamson (2003) Potter’s herbal cyclopaedia. Daniel. An update to a previous compendium of around 700 plant species and their medicinal use. An A to Z of botanical species, parts of plants used, medicinal use and references.

Elizabeth Kemf (1993) Indigenous peoples and protected areas. Earthscan. Such an important record of people and their relationship with the earth. Some insight into use of plants but more about cultures and changing lives. This book interested me as we over-emphasise Chinese and Indian approaches to plant use, and there are richnesses within many other populations.

Claire Loewenfeld and Philippa Black (1974) The complete book of herbs and spices. BCA. General information on herb sourcing, storage and use, plus an A to Z of many herbs and spices with emphasis on medicine and culinary use.

Virgil J Vogel (1970) American Indian medicine. Oklahoma. In-depth look at the natural medical practices of Indigenous North American People, including the impact of later settlers to these areas. Well researched look at the use of plants and contribution to medicine and pharmacology.

Peter Frankopan (2016) The Silk Roads. Bloomsbury. Wonderful book carefully crafted into digestible chapters on the history and tribulations of trading between East and West. Details on how spices, materials, animals, religious practices and much more were fluidly exchanged over the last two thousand years or so, and impact of climate crises (e.g. rising sea levels) one thousand years ago. Lots of fighting of course as well signalling the fall and rise of civilisations.

Dietmar Aichele (1980) A field guide in colour to wild flowers. Octopus. I loved this book when I received it as Christmas present in 1981 and I love it now for identifying wild plants in my back garden and out and about. Gives botanical details of the plant and medicinal use.

*Andrew Pengelly (2004) The constituents of medicinal plants. CABI. The one book I would absolutely not do without. It discusses major plant compounds and relates their chemistry to the plant medicinal use, and it does so simply and clearly.

Matthew Wood (2016) The Earthwise Herbal Repertory. North Atlantic Books. This book is for herbalists so takes a historic view on the use of plants, and then relates their use to each body system and common ailments. I probably understand this book least of all right now as it relates the approaches used by herbalists and alternative ways of classifying tissues and disease.

Albert Coffin (1845) A botanic guide to health and the natural pathology of disease. Scholar’s choice. A reprint of Albert’s collection of notes relating to the traditional medical practices of Indigenous American people. Following Albert’s philosophical approach to life, the human body and disease, the book focuses on characteristics of herbs (e.g. astringent, tonic) and then individual plant species. A historical reference piece.

Jekka McVicar (2007) Jekka’s complete herb book. Royal Horticultural Society. As it says on the tin, the book covers cultivation, modern-day varieties and mingles with culinary and medicinal use of all the herbs we love today.


River Cottage Turmeric Talk

Please find a PDF of my talk on Turmeric here.

Title page of my Turmeric Talk.

PDF of Turmeric Talk (14MB)

Just click on the link to open or right mouse-click to download.


Midwifery Open Educational Resources

Here is a spreadsheet containing OER (variety of content from video to textbooks) suitable for midwifery training. The basic science resources should be relevant to early stage midwifery training, whilst obviously the more practical and clinical learning would need to be recontextualised to meet the requirements of different healthcare providers and national standards.

Link to Excel spreadsheet:
Midwifery and Nursing OER Oct2018

Do use the comments or Twitter to suggest OER.




Transparency of herbal clinical research

What is the state of herbal clinical trial reporting?

The Declaration of Helsinki states that  “every research study involving humansubjects must be registered in a publicly accessible database before recruitment of the first subject” (1).

Open When I Feel Like It

Alan Levine Flickr, CC BY-2.0. “Open when we feel like it”.

However it is widely acknowledged that many clinical trials are not registered in a publicly accessible database, and that many results are not published at all  (2). Of 224,000 study records on only 23,000 reported results despite an FDA ruling for US research stating that results should be published within a year of completion, ‘The Final Rule’ (3). The #AllTrials campaign, part of the Sense About Science  organisation, advocates for honesty and openness about clinical research and estimates that about half of the clinical trials carried out are never published in a journal, i.e. not only sharing the results but also the finer details of the study participants and methods.

Where to find clinical trial information?

A number of clinical trial registries exist where details of trials are publicly shared, and where the results can be uploaded and links to full publications listed. (managed by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institute of Health (NIH)) (UK NHS) (WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform) (International Clinical Trials Registry India, WHO India)

There are probably others which I’ll list here in due course.

Professional guidelines for researchers

In the UK, professional bodies and societies advocate for transparency in clinical trial reporting. The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) issued a new code of practice in 2012 on clinical trials transparency encouraging the registry of new trials and publication of results within set timeframes, and provide  useful accompanying toolkits to assist researchers and trial managers.

The British Pharmacological Society ‘Pharmacology Matters‘ bulletin recently shared an article by Sile Lane from #AllTrials explaining how lack of rigor to publishing trial results leads to inaccurate evidence on which vital health decisions are made, and that patients and volunteers on clinical trials are being betrayed as their data is never used or reused.


How does herbal clinical research fair?

So for my field of research the golden question is what is the picture for Ayurveda traditional herbal medicine? This area of research is usually under even more intense scrutiny regarding the availability and quality of evidence. Also without pharma-scale investment, each piece of work is precious and adds to a much-needed evidence base.

I looked for all trials relating to ‘Ayurveda’ on and sorted for all ‘completed’ reviews. The full dataset was downloaded into Excel as a .csv file (available here –> Ayurveda Clinica Trials BLOG). For this search term there were no results returned from NHS Gateway or WHO international registry.

In total, 18 studies were retrieved ranging from several Phase 2 (small scale human clinical trials) to others that were not categorised. Of the 18 studies that indicated they were ‘completed’, four updated their records accordingly instantly on the date of completion. The average time for records on to be updated was twelve months, with the longest time for any further information to be posted being four years.

Only one trial indicated that the entry ‘has data’, meaning the authors have the option to share data on the system and/or provide a link to a full peer-reviewed publication. However, five others had shared results but not updated the system (below).

How many had published their results?

By searching for the unique identifier for each study (the NCTXXXX number) using Google searches and the PubMed database, the results from the clinical trials could be tracked down. In total, six had published their results in peer-reviewed publications. PubMed generally incorporates the identifier within the meta-data for each publication to help with retrieval of clinical trial information. Of these studies, all of the main outcomes were positive findings.

Therefore in this small sample, there was a publication rate of results of 30%, compared to a report rate of 50% estimated by #AllTrials.

Engagement with the clinical trials registry was poor with records updated slowly or not at all, and a tendency to not share study data and outcomes there.

What next?

By searching for the registered names of individual authors, it could be assumed that in a couple of cases, the researchers may have left their institution. Aside from that we do not know the motivations as to why indivituals and their organisations choose not to share the findings of their work.

Further work is needed to understand why researchers do not report their study findings, despite the clinical trials registry platforms such as that run by the NIH, NHS or WHO making the process simple. The question is who is ultimately responsible, the researcher, organisation, and how can full registration and reporting of trials be enforced? Also do all researchers from around the globe have access to technology infrastructure and have digital skills to utilise these systems in an equitable manner?

(1) WMA (2013). WMA Declaration of Helsinki. Available:

(2) Mayo-Wilson, E., Heyward, J., Keyes, A., Reynolds, J., White, S., Atri, N., … & Ford, D. E. (2018). Clinical trial registration and reporting: a survey of academic organizations in the United States. BMC medicine16(1), 60.

(3) Zarin, D. A., Tse, T., Williams, R. J., & Carr, S. (2016). Trial reporting in ClinicalTrials. gov—the final rule. New England Journal of Medicine375(20), 1998-2004.

Added comments

Useful article

Useful organisation


Jazz knows no boundaries (mostly)

Here is a blog post about #International Jazz Day which was this week. The headline and accompanying narrative that “jazz has no boundaries” caught my eye. The history of jazz indisputably was founded on many boundaries, and in the early music the musicians and audiences were segregated. I’m not a historian but that jazz was founded that way needs to be recognised when we think about the music that we love. Google “jazz knows no boundaries” then you’ll find pages and pages of items telling us just that. But really?

Jazz Day








Looking back through the various hashtag timelines it seemed clear to me that even in 2018 it doesn’t cross all boundaries – not gender.

I’ve been playing for over 30 years. I can’t tell you the name of a single female trumpet or trombone player. I never studied music so know my education is lacking, but even as a regular player, few names spring to mind. In all my jazz playing days I’ve never experienced another female musician in the band (apart from singers). Today in my more informal jazz jam circles, there certainly are a few more which is awesome.

How many female jazz musicians can you name who aren’t singers?

I’m struggling apart from some of the early piano players like Winifred Atwell, and the inspirational band leader of the all female band in the 1940’s, Ivy Benson.

The Wikipedia page on “Women in Jazz” lists 20 instrumentalists.

The Wikipedia page on “Women in Jazz” lists 20 instrumentalists.

Part of the challenge we have is in providing an accurate and unbiased account of females in jazz history in the first place.

I had a Tweet in response from someone who seems a really nice man which helped point out to me what might have been limiting me all these years. Someone else thought I was talking about jizz. I genuinely hope the next generation of musicians is having a different experience, but I’m not sure as other replies mentioned misogyny and shameful attitudes even in young male players today. So sad.

Aside from the blatant inequality of perhaps not being offered a gig in the first place due to being a woman, attitudes could be quite subtle and some male players would comment on my appearance (and those who know me know how little I give a *stuff* about that). Comments like “you need large lungs to play the saxophone” were making an obvious reference. Thick skin and rapid retorts were called for (nicely honed from a career in science I might add).

There is more subtlety that I see around me even today – particularly when I lived in a nearby city, but I must add not at all in my new-found jazz and music circles where I live now. Those guitarists who can only play in E loudly (you might know the ones I mean) would provide me with entire gigs often where I was left without a solo. It was a good reflection of their personalities I used to think.

So I do think #jazz has a problem, although I’d say I’ve never been professional and on balance would say I’ve had an amazing experience playing the most wonderful music on the best musical instrument in the world. I love jam sessions now where I can pick and chose which lovely folk I wish to play with. But sadly it is just like any other work environment, you will always meet a few pieces of detritus along the way.

But more females please. And if you are male and in a band, or your sister / daughter / niece plays in a band, just ask how they are finding it. And let’s create a better account of awesome females in jazz.

If you share some awesome jazz lady instrumentalist names on Twitter I will personally try to research them all and update Wikipedia. (Hopefully one of my Wikimedia pals will help me learn how to do this)!!!!!


Sax Keilworth