Maybe you pinned some herbal remedy that seems easy enough to try. Or you tried a syrup or tea that your friend made, and you’re hooked. Either way, you find yourself where all of us herbies once were at the beginning – wanting to know more, but not sure where to start. There are plenty of herbal remedy books to choose from, but at first, it’s not easy to spot the trustworthy sources.
I started taking a correspondence course by Rosemary Gladstar, which was a great way to find my bearings. No need to sign up for a class though, especially if you’re just wanting to dip a toe in to see what you think. There are materials out there so you can play.
There are fantastic resources online, but when I’m in my kitchen I tend to prefer a paper book, open in front of me. These are the ones I reference over and over again, and I’ve included how I use each one.
There is some overlap between them. For example, all will have information on preparation methods, and all will have at least a few recipes. I’m highlighting the best features of each one.
Methods of Herbal Preparation: The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green
This book is packed with information in a style that jives with my brain – charts, lists, etc. I love the way it’s organized. This is the one I reach for when I’m not sure which preparation to use with a specific herb (because there’s a chart for that!) or if I’m trying a preparation method for the first time.
Herbal Remedies by Body System (and a great place to start!): Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman
After just a few months of experimenting with herbal remedies, I’m not yet great at mentally recalling which herb relaxes my tension headaches or which one soothes my scratchy voice after I got too excited at the soccer field. Since David Hoffman’s book is organized by body system, I reach it when I have a specific issue I want to address.
Hoffman’s book also has a nice overview of preparation methods, as well as a pretty fantastic listing of herbs and their benefits. Holistic Herbal serves as a starting point so you can get to know the plants as you try them.
Alphabetized herbal reference: The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine by Brigitte Mars
Brigitte Mars’ reference is like a reverse Hoffman search – instead of searching by ailment or action, you search by herb. With so much detail on each plant, it’s become my go-to resource for getting to know the ins and outs of the herbs I use most.
Additionally, I love love love the index of Alternative English Common Names. Say someone asks you about melissa. A quick look-up reveals that melissa is also known as lemon balm, and yay! You already know all about lemon balm because it’s taking over half of your backyard so you may as well use it. If you’re me.
One more thing then we’ll move on. (Can you tell I love this reference?) The Desktop Guide also has a Glossary of Physiological Effects, which helps you link specific plants to their action. When an herb description says it’s a parturient, would you know that it assists in labor and delivery? Because I didn’t know that, until I opened it up to the Ps and found a medical action I didn’t know so I could make this point. Useful, yes?
An old one: Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss
Back to Eden was my $1 used bookstore score, and I challenge you to find a cheap one too because it’s been in circulation for 77 years!
I refer to this classic reference when I find conflicting information in my newer sources. Since a lot of herbology is based in tradition and experience, there’s a bit of variation between how herbalists use certain plants (it’s not profitable to for the big funding agencies to sponsor herb research, but we’re seeing more studies lately). The level of agreement between sources is high, but there are some small details that vary depending on your reference. Kloss’ book adds weight to one side or the other when I need more information.
As a bonus, Kloss has a famous liniment that’s supposed to be fantastic for topical infections. I can’t verify, because I just mixed mine and it needs to macerate for another week, and even then we’ll have to wait for some skin issues to test it. But, it contains some pretty powerful ingredients and those who have used it attest to it’s effectiveness. The recipe is in there!
For recipes: Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar
As I said, I’m in Rosemary Gladstar’s correspondence course, so I’m waving my Team Rosemary flag. Biases aside, I do believe her information is among the very best out there. Her writing speaks to everyone from the novice to the expert and everyone in between. Her recipes are simple, powerful and fun to make. If I had to choose only one, I’d choose Rosemary’s book because it’s for everyone. No exceptions – everyone.
For digging deep into a health concern: Rosemary Gladstar’s entire library
I know, I know, Team Rosemary flag again! She has more detailed references if you want to learn more about dealing with specific issues. Though I wouldn’t start with these books, they would be a logical next step after you’ve done some basic experimenting. I listed only a few, but she has an extensive library that’s worth a look.
I’m anxiously waiting a shipment so I can make some digestive bitters and honey throat candy.
So, is that enough to get your feet wet? Any more gems I need to add to my library? I have a trip to the used bookstore coming up soon and I’d love some suggestions!