Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul, by Ross Heaven and Howard Charing (Destiny Books, Rochester, VT, 2006), $16.95.

The effects of Western medicines last only as long as the course of drugs continues, "whereas plant medicines lead to a permanent change through the relationship you establish with the essence of the plant." Shamans explain the reason for this difference: "It is the spirit of the plants that matter, not their chemical properties." Comparing a wide variety of practices from areas as diverse as Greece, Turkey, North America, Haiti, Ireland and Peru, Ross Heaven and Howard Charing create a cross-cultural distillation of plant shamanism to reveal the essential core of the techniques and the basis of the healing process. Believing that "illness is a messenger of disconnection, rather than a condition itself," shamans work to remove the spiritual cause of a condition and restore the patient to a sense of balance using the plant as an intermediary. However, "it is the shaman’s intention and the cooperation of the plant" that decides if the plant is to function as a healer or a foodstuff. Believing that hallucinogenic plants lead us deeper into ourselves rather than away from ourselves when respected and used in a proper ritualistic context, Haven and Charing discuss ayahuasca, known to "free the soul from corporeal confinement, allowing it to wander free and return to the body at will," and San Pedro cactus, used as a mediator between man and the gods. Confessing that plants that can heal can also harm, Heaven and Charing reference more subtle practices safe for everyday, such as utilizing serotonin in a banana for enhanced dreaming or creating a mojo bag to garner greater financial success: wrap High John the Conqueror root (or nutmeg) in a dollar bill, add frankincense and a little sugar and tie them all in a green bag.

The Water Prescription: For Health, Vitality and Rejuvenation, by Christopher Vasey, ND (Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT, 2006), $12.95.

No matter how tantalizing the bottled water companies make their commercials, dehydration remains an overlooked but significant issue for many Americans. Surprisingly, dehydration occurs even when one ingests copious amounts of fluids, and can lead to issues varying from fatigue and weight gain to constipation, digestive disorders, high blood pressure and acne. Diets high in dry or concentrated foods (breads), fat or salt appear to be the primary culprits, as well as overeating and high stress, all of which dramatically increase the body’s need for pure water. Unfortunately, drinking soft drinks actually results in a net loss of liquids for the body. While coffee, tea and chocolate beverages all bring in liquid, the majority of water is used to flush out the toxins included in the drink. Therefore the best drink remains simply water. If the banality of water plays into your lack of proper hydration, try herbal tea or carbonated water. "But I’m not thirsty," you say. Alarmingly, the sensation of thirst, when ignored for a period of time, gradually diminishes so that many dehydrated people no longer experience thirst. Others confuse the feeling of thirst for hunger because the accompanying fatigue feels like low blood sugar. For those seeking proper re-hydration, Christopher Vasey, a Naturopathic Doctor, specifies the amount and type of water (tap, distilled, or low mineral, possibly served with a bit of sugar or salt) depending on your type of dehydration, and even details a method of using drinking water to lose the weight gained by under-hydration.

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