First Do No Harm

An Herb is More Than its Active Ingredient

When I first started researching alternatives and herbs, etc, I ran across the work of Professor James Duke, a leading herbalist. In his career he's investigated, tested, and categorized more herbs than possibly anyone. He's all over the web today, he still teaches and writes, and his books are often recommended and quoted.

I read a short article by him that has never left me. Every choice I make in wellness is influenced by Dr Duke's simple words. I am honored to pass his message on to you. I'm sorry that I cannot reference this article; I've remembered the meat, not the packaging. I'm sure the good doctor will forgive me.

We live in a world of reductionism. The reigning demigods of science are constantly searching for a key component. In any study, "science" wants to know what factor worked. For example, I had been told for years that holism (treating the entire person, rather than the illness with everything it takes to heal body, mind, and soul) cannot be tested because we would never know "what worked."

If a patient is healed using holism, what was it that worked? Was it this? or that? or the other? Science wants to know. The patient doesn't care.

When it comes to medicines, many of which come from herbs, here again we have reductionism, for the pharmaceutical industry does not use an herb, but rather the herb's "active ingredient."

The entire herb is reduced to an active ingredient.

Here is where Dr Duke gives (in a paper I found but did not save) a great example: the May Apple.

The May Apple is toxic, well parts of it. It has been used as a cancer cure among early Native Americans. The May Apple has also been used to protect potatoes from potato bugs. It is ground up and placed over the plant and around the plant, and potato bugs stay away.

Reductionists, or scientists, decided to hunt for the active ingredient and, as always, they eventually found it, created a powder from it, which they placed over the potato plant and around it, and sure enough, the bugs stayed away. Everyone popped open Champaign bottles and they celebrated.

That is, till the next year.

The second year that the powder was placed over and around the plant, the bugs came back.

This does not happen when the entire plant is used: ground up and placed over and around the potato plant. The bugs do not return. Not the second year, not the third, not ever.

There is just something about an entire herb that you will not get in the active ingredient only. It is as if all phytochemicals within a plant, within an herb, within a fruit, work like a finely tuned orchestra. The orchestra plays a much more robust rendition than any solo performance, and can even drown out a single instrument.

Duke introduced me to a concept called synergy. Synergy means the sum is greater than the parts. Or mathematically, one plus one is greater than two (1 + 1 > 2).

We see it in the May Apple, and you can see it in a carrot. A carrot has many wonderful phytochemicals. A large carrot can have 4 mg of vitamin C; 13 mcg folate; 8666 IU vitamin A; .5 mg of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol); 10 mcg of vitamin K; 4157 mcg of Beta Carotene; 2028 mcg of Alpha Carotene; 1.4 mcg of lycopene; and 149 mcg of lutein + zeaxanthin. [From the USDA web site:]

Now 4 mg of vitamin C isn't much to write home about, or .5 mg of vitamin E. You can get a lot more beta carotene in a pill than in one carrot. But a carrot was created by, depending on your belief system, nature or God. Whether you believe in natural selection or creationism, the food we have is the best possible source of nutrition these bodies need. Anything we do to this food can only bring down the nutritional value. The benefits from a carrot are more than all its parts added up. You won't get as much as from a pill, but you will get what your body needs in the best form and the best way your body needs it. You can't ask more than that.

And as to the studies on holism...

I used to answer the critics who bombarded me with, What will you prove? you won't be able to prove what worked," by saying, well, let's compare all our unknowns to your known, and see which works better.

Dr Gonzalez, a one time conservative oncologist who believed thoroughly in chemotherapy and radiation, is performing a study right now that is very close to what I'd suggested (above). Dr Gonzalez studied the food therapies of Gerson and Kelly and has created a food therapy for some of the deadliest cancers around. He's doing a study right now comparing the life spans of patients using his food therapies against the life spans of those patients (with the same cancers) using standard chemo and radiation. He is not doing this study to find out "what worked," but rather which works best. The study is ongoing. When it is completed, you will be among the first to hear about it.

If you have or know someone who has liver or pancreatic cancer and has not started chemotherapy and would like to know more about Dr Gonzalez's study, they should call his office at: (212) 213-3337 or visit his site at

UPDATE: Dr Gonzalez's study has ended because the good doctor has passed away.

In the meanwhile, eat your carrots.


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