A Modern Herbal

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Against allopathy
Alternative medicine
Clinically unproven

A Modern Herbal is an herbalist book written by Maud GrieveWikipedia and first published in 1931.

It is divided into three sections: herbs and plants, poisonous herbs, and recipes. Naturally enough, the book contains much misinformation, as many (if not most) of the medical indications are bogus.

However, the toxicity assessments range from totally off to pretty accurate. (Many herbs are described both as medicines and deadly poisons, which suggests that modern-day alternative medicine's extreme avoidance of even minute amounts of potentially toxic substances is a recent innovation in herbalist thought.)



Tobacco is claimed to be an antiseptic and a treatment for things like asthma, parasites, and (emphasis added):

Tobacco was once used as a relaxant, but is no longer employed except occasionally in chronic asthma. Its active principle is readily absorbed by the skin, and serious, even fatal, poisoning, from a too free application of it to the surface of the skin has resulted.

The smoke acts on the brain, causing nausea, vomiting and drowsiness.

Medicinally it is used as a sedative, diuretic, expectorant, discutient, and sialagogue, and internally only as an emetic, when all other emetics fail. The smoke injected into the rectum or the leaf rolled into a suppository has been beneficial in strangulated hernia, also for obstinate constipation, due to spasm of the bowels, also for retention of urine, spasmodic urethral stricture, hysterical convulsions, worms, and in spasms caused by lead, for croup, and inflammation of the peritoneum, to produce evacuation of the bowels, moderating reaction and dispelling tympanitis, and also in tetanus. [..] [it] has proved very effectual. A cataplasm of the leaves may be used as an ointment for cutaneous diseases. The leaves in combination with the leaves of belladonna or stramonium make an excellent application for obstinate ulcers, painful tremors and spasmodic affections. A wet Tobacco leaf applied to piles is a certain cure. The inspissated juice cures facial neuralgia if rubbed along the tracks of the affected nerve.

It is obvious that tobacco cannot cure any of these diseases, but the documentation of toxicity is tolerable, though no mention is made of tobacco's carcinogenicity.[1] In recent years there has been interest in the medical establishment in nicotine as a treatment for many disorders including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, depression, ADHD, pain, and obesity, but there is little overlap with the uses for tobacco that Grieve suggests.[2] Also, the nicotine warning (and thus the listed side effects) are not based on traditional herbal knowledge; nicotine was not known to be a component of tobacco until scientific research on the subject was conducted in 1828.[3] If the research had never been conducted, the entry would probably have been much more positive.


Aconite is described as "one of our most useful drugs", capable of curing "cold, laryngitis, first stages of pneumonia and erysipelas;" and relieving "the pain of neuralgia, pleurisy and aneurism [sic]".[4] The book describes it as being "a deadly poison", and mentions that "Aconite poisoning of wells by A. ferox has been carried out by native Indians to stop the progress of an army. They also use it for poisoning spears, darts and arrows, and for destroying tigers."[4] Aconite is currently unproven as a treatment for any conditions.[5]


See the main article on this topic: birthwort

Another herb listed is birthwort, which has relatively recently been found to cause cancer and kidney failure.[6] In A Modern Herbal, no mention is made of any possible side effects:[7]

Said to be useful as an aromatic stimulant in rheumatism and gout and for removing obstructions, etc., after childbirth. Dose, 1/2 to 1 drachm of the powdered root.

---Other Species---
Aristolochia cymbifera from Brazil and Mexico is said to have medicinal properties similar to the official species [A. officinale]. Butte affirms it is a depressant to the sensory nerve centres and is useful in neuralgia and pruritis; it was formerly considered alexiteric, antiparalytic, antiperiodic and aphrodisiac.

A. argentina root is used in that republic as a diuretic and diaphoretic, especially for rheumatism.

A. indica is used as an emmenagogue, antiarthritic, stomachic, purgative and vermifuge, and in the East Indies is used for similar purposes as the American and European species.

A. sempervirens is said to be used by the Arabians as a remedy against the poisonous effects of snake-bite.

A. foetida in Mexico is used as a stimulant to foul ulcers.

A. serpentaria used in bilious, typhoid and typhus fevers, smallpox, pneumonia, amenorrhoea and fevers of a septicaemic type. It is often given in combination with Peruvian Bark, rendering it more active and preventing ill effects on the stomach. It is also used in North America, as are several other varieties of the species, as an alexiteric and for the bites of mad dogs.

No hint is given as to the toxicity of the herb, because, naturally, anecdotal evidence (even over hundreds of years) was not able to detect it. If herbalists had had their way, we'd have used birthwort instead of inventing the smallpox vaccine.

Lesser celandine[edit]

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) is said to be effective both internally and externally for piles and abscesses. Not mentioned is the fact that the herb can cause severe irritation of the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts when taken internally, and of the skin when applied topically (it may even cause blisters).[8]

Yerba mate[edit]

Yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis) is a "Tonic, diuretic, diaphoretic, and powerfully stimulant. In large doses it causes purging and even vomiting."[9] No side effects are listed. But actually, yerba maté can cause cancer when taken long-term or in large doses, in addition to its caffeine-related side effects.[10]


Germander (Teucrium spp.) is a "Stimulant, tonic, diaphoretic, diuretic," and is allegedly good for for gout, fevers, uterine obstructions, dropsy, ulcers, and snake venom poisoning.[11] Germander may cause liver damage, cirrhosis, and hepatitis.[12]


Comfrey (Symphytum spp.) is used internally as an expectorant, for "intestinal" and "lung troubles", whooping-cough, diarrhea, dysentery, and internal hemorrhage, and externally, for sprains, swellings, bruises, severe cuts, boils, abscesses, ulcers, and swelling. It is described as a "gentle remedy", and the author assures us that "In some parts of Ireland" comfrey is eaten for "defective circulation" and is "regarded as a perfectly safe and harmless remedy."[13] In reality, internal use can cause fatal liver damage, and topical use (especially on open wounds) is discouraged, as comfrey's toxic chemicals can be absorbed through the skin.[14] Oral comfrey products are banned in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and Germany.[14] In rodents, orally administered comfrey is carcinogenic (for what that's worth).[15]

External links[edit]


  1. Tobacco, A Modern Herbal.
  2. Nicotine as Therapy, Tabitha M Powledge, PLoS Biol. 2004 Nov; 2(11): e404. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0020404
  3. Medicinal uses of tobacco in history, Anne Charlton, J R Soc Med. 2004 June; 97(6): 292–296. PMCID: PMC1079499.
  4. 4.0 4.1 [1]
  5. ACONITE, WebMD.
  6. Aristolochia, WebMD.
  7. Birthwort, A Modern Herbal.
  8. Lesser Celandine, WebMD.
  9. Paraguay tea
  10. Mate, WebMD.
  11. Wall Wermander, A Modern Herbal.
  12. Germander, Livertox.
  13. http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/comfre92.html
  14. 14.0 14.1 Comfrey, University of Maryland Medical Center.
  15. Metabolism, genotoxicity, and carcinogenicity of comfrey by Mei et al., J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2010 Oct;13(7-8):509-26. doi: 10.1080/10937404.2010.509013.