Here is a review of my book Leaf to Life: Unlock nature’s secrets to true health by Matthew Wood, one of the most revered American herbalist and an excellent teacher of herbal medicine I ever encountered. He is also the author of six acclaimed books on herbal medicine, published by North Atlantic Books, in Berkeley, CA:
‘In Australia I crossed paths with Sebastian Liew, one of the most unique and talented practitioners of natural healing and herbalism I have met in my travels. Born and raised in Singapore, Sebastian is a Western herbalist and naturopathic healer. He is deeply learned in the German systems of naturopathy and “Hildegard medicine.” He has studied long with Dr. Wighard Strehlow, the foremost exponent of the medical teachings of the twelfth century German Abbess, mystic, musician, polymath, and herbalist, Hildegard von Bingen. At the same time he has investigated and incorporated into his practice herbal lore from India, Tibet, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and the Americas. Ironically, legal limitations prohibit him from using herbs of the Chinese pharmacopeia! Ah, the craziness of laws. But such limitations make him an even more vigorous and skilled practitioner of Western herbalism.
In Leaf to Life Sebastian Liew completes a full, detailed examination of the basic philosophy and practices of nature cure, natural healing, or naturopathy. For the serious student of self-health, this is a wonderful and comprehensive guide to good health practices for mind, soul, and body. It is also appropriate for the practitioner of natural healing who wants to develop a deep, serious, comprehensive understanding of our art and practice. It is not light reading; it is serious reading. Anyone who thinks natural healing is based on superficial, fad thinking, should be gifted a copy!
There are many brands of herbal medicine, and many strands within even a specific tradition such as the Chinese, Ayurvedic, or Western systems. There is the profound energetic model of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, the mechanist/scientific approach of modern phytotherapy, and the simple energetic and empirical model of Western herbalism. Within the latter tradition we find the deep wood lore of the Native American people with their spiritual attunement to Nature, the specific medicine of Dr. Scudder, the “food medicine” of the ancient Greek doctors, the rich, pragmatic lore of Hildegard medicine, the kitchen herbalism of wise women, and many other byways and paths. Sebastian Liew has made himself conversant with a number of these traditions, but Leaf to Life emphasizes a simple array of easy-to-use, safe herbs that could best be described as “condiments,” or herbs that are a little more active than foods and less active than the herbal powerhouses of the Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Western pharmacopeia. He introduces us to galangal, amla, fennel, nettle, coriander leaf, and others, as well as the ancient grain spelt emphasized by Hildegard herself. Sebastian’s approach reminds me of the herbalism of the Mediterranean – culinary herbs that give flavor or are used on the side while eating sumptuous and healthy meals – except that his selection has an Eastern emphasis. Yet, almost all these herbs are also well known to the Western palate. In his practice he uses more complex ingredients, but he maps out a simple herbal strategy for the health-conscious layperson or the Western herbalist wanting a general, practical approach to health. But I am jumping ahead.
The author takes us through nine credos or basic guidelines of natural healing and seven methods, including mental attitudes, general dietary good advice, herbalism, environmental concerns, exercise, and the other foundations of natural medicine.
One of the auxiliary benefits of Leaf to Life, which I did not anticipant, was that it adds to the literature of Hildegard medicine. Sebastian Liew is an accomplished practitioner of this approach, which is too little known and described outside of German literature.
I recommend this wise, comprehensive, and thoughtful work to all who are serious about the practice of Western herbal and natural healing, either because they need healing or because they are practitioners desiring to deepen their understanding of our wonderful art and science. ‘
Matthew Wood, M.SC. (Herbal Medicine), Registered herbalist (AHG)