If I had to choose only three books to recommend to someone just beginning their Traditional Western Herbalism (TWH) studies I would first cry about having to choose only three books (#booknerdproblems), then, after a period of tears and snorfeling, I would get on with it.
I've started to share some of my favorite books from my library with the #HerbLibrary hashtag on instagram. Join in the fun and tag your herbal books with #HerbLibrary and tell us why they are your favorites!
So why do I recommend the following three books to an absolute herbal beginner? First, they are easy to read and are broad in their scope. They are written with the beginner in mind with plenty of tools to help someone understand basic TWH terminology as well as simple instructions for making herbal remedies. Second, each book addresses common health complaints that can be addressed with simple herbal remedies like a cup of tea or basic herbal oil. And, finally, they are inspiring as any great herbal book should be. All of these books are easily a series of classes within themselves and are ones that I still reference. Of course there is a special magick and the benefits of oral tradition when you sit in-person with a teacher during a live class, but the first few years of my herbal studies were solely within the realm of books (youtube hadn't even been created yet, kiddos, and you would travel around the interwebs via things called webrings to find related sites). Books are brilliant gateways to start (and continue and develop) your herbal studies through. I hope you're feeling inspired!
My Top 3 Herb Books for Absolute Beginners
Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family by Rosemary Gladstar
Rosemary Gladstar is a legend within the TWH community and rightfully so. She revived modern TWH in the United States, creating California School of Herbal Studies, the International Herb Symposium, the New England Women's Herbal Conference, the Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center, and United Plant Savers. She did all that while writing (and continuing to write) some of the best herb books you could have the honor of gracing your bookshelves. Oh, and Traditional Medicinals tea that you see stocked in most holistic food stores - she co-founded that company, too.
I could've recommended a number of Rosemary's books for this post (including a newer one geared specifically towards beginners called Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use which is really great), but her Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health is such an excellent compendium of knowledge. She covers everything from everyday complaints to creating your own beauty products to making remedies for all stages of life and the end of the book is a very user-friendly materia medica. The recipes are excellent and one of the appendixes is dedicated to remedy-making techniques including dosage information. My copy of her book (which was previously titled Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health, and Vitality) is well-loved and I have been recommending it to my students for years.
The Complete Herbal Tutor: The ideal companion for study and practice by Anne McIntyre
I am such a fan of Anne McIntyre. She has written more than one of my favorite books on herbalism. McIntyre also possesses deep knowledge within both TWH and Ayurveda helping both traditions to converse with one another (her book Dispensing with Tradition: A Practitioner’s Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way is a treasure!). What is great about McIntyre is that she possesses a very organized mind which lends itself well to print. Her Complete Herbal Tutor is concise, clear, abundantly useful, and is one of the books that I ask my apprentices to buy.
The book covers a brief world history of herbalism, herbal preparation techniques, and a healthy materia medica. What I really love about The Complete Herbal Tutor for beginners is that she organizes her study of herbs by body system so that you are given a coherent introduction to body systems along with looking at herbal remedies for common complaints all from a holistic, the-body-is-an-interconnected-intelligent-being (instead of a machine) point-of-view. The chapter on the respiratory system, for example, looks at general health of the respiratory system and then discusses herbal remedies for such complaints as the common cold, asthma, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and more. The book is also beautifully illustrated with easy to understand graphics as well as photos of the herbs featured in the book.
Anne McIntyre is a practitioner who is both deeply comfortable with medical studies, terminology, and perspectives as well as being enamored with the more mystical sides of herbalism. If you're into herbal remedies with a floral focus, she has also written another one of my favorite herbals, Flower Power: Flower Remedies for Healing Body and Soul Through Herbalism, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, and Flower Essences.
Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger
I wanted to include at least one book that focused more on herbal stories than recipes. A book on herbal being rather than doing. I had heard about Judith Berger's book and how wonderful it was supposed to be long before I ever held a copy in my hands. It had been out of print for a long time and used copies were ridiculously expensive. I got lucky one day, though, and thrifted a cheap copy. It is truly as delightful as I had been told and I am so happy that it has been re-released as an ebook. Berger writes a chapter for each month of the year, weaving in reflections of her Brooklyn childhood, with stories of plants friends she has made of the years along with sweet and simple recipes. It is important to be told and read stories about herbs for that is the way that we have collected and passed on herbal knowledge for longer than our modern materia medicas. To re-member how to be plant stories and be materia medicas and be the possibilities of healing.
It was hard choosing which herbal book that focused on story to put on this list, but in an agreement to myself (#selflove) I have promised to write about some of my favorite herbal stories and autobiographies in a later post. Berger's book is one of the friendliest which is why it made the list - it feels like a warm cup of tea and a chat with a good friend.
So those are my top three recommendations, my brave-hearted beginners!
* LET'S ALL GO TO POWELL'S AND BE AMONGST THE BOOKS AND BUY TOO MANY AND THEN GO AND GET TEA TOGETHER. OK? OK!