"In Western civilization, our elders are books." -Gary Snyder
So speaks one of my own elders, whom I know only from his books. He is right and more than that. In this world where many of us are cut-off from multigenerational living and learning, from the Land, from seasonal practices, natural rhythms, even from our own right to understand and tend to our own bodies, books can be our spirit guides, teachers, food, medicine, and bridges to lands unknown.
Whether it's our love of fiction, or our hunger for learning, books are an iteration of an ancient tradition - passing knowledge onto others through storytelling, by connecting filaments of ideas and intellect into meaningful patterns.
When folks ask me how to get started in plant medicine, my first advice is always "Go outside.' but the second is "Get a good bio-regional field guide.". You can get pretty far with those two, but I suppose that the third might be "Get a book by Rosemary Gladstar. And a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer."
Another question I get a lot is "What are your favorite herbal books?"
Asia Suler answered the question rather perfectly recently, listing, not necessarily the most practical tomes, but the ones that were the most impactful in setting her on her path (Braiding Sweetgrass was on her list as well, and I can't stress this enough: you should read it. It is the single most moving, elegant, hopeful and meaningful book about plant-human-relations.).
As always, her reframing is spot on, because often we get our most profound insights from unusual sources. In that spirit, I've divided my choices up into three categories:
Necessities & Basics / Study Buddies / Odds & Ends
Necessities & Basics
These books are my stalwarts when I'm looking for inspiration, advice, or reminding myself of how to do something, or what actions I might be looking for. This is a pretty limited selection, but they are the books I pull out the most often. There are herbal books on my shelves I've literally only cracked open a few times, but these ones are stained with Elderberry and spices and pencil marks, and their spines cracked and wrinkled. Anything by Rosemary and Susun is a great guideline to herbal wellness, especially for us women. Often at the Apothecary, I recommend folks with kids buy one of Rosemary's recipe books, because they're really easy to follow, and have lots of simple recipes, that delight little makers.
I've found the The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook indispensable. It is thorough and methodical, but not in the slightest intimidating, and I often pop into it for quick refresher, when I'm creating something new. I also love the quick reference & revision reminder that Feather Jones's little booklet is.
"The Herbalist's Way" is a balanced guide to all aspects of Western Herbalism, with plant lists, tips for harvesting & growing inspiring interviews, lore, and practical tips. Most importantly, though, it espouses an over-arching philosophy of how to be a plant-medicine person.
Books I get into for specific answers, or to stretch my mind, or for a more clinical study. I have to admit it: I'm both intimidated and intrigued by the constituent- , chemistry- & body-systems-heavy learning. Which is exactly why I love Stephen Harrod Buhner, who bridges the worlds of intuition and intellect so easily. His work makes so much sense for me and some of these heavier treatises still read a bit like mystery novels where you just want to figure out the solutions yourself and are forever finding clues, and staying on the edge of your seat.
My anatomy books are not the newest, or best, but they are handy reference. Honestly, I'll take recommendations in this realm, but I will say do find yourself an secondhand anatomy book, just to have on hand if you didn't take Bio in high school or college (I went to art school and all I got was a meddling understanding of the human body ;)
As for The German Commission E Monographs, well, let's just say that they're a fascinating lens to look through. I also have a few translations of Soviet Russian clinical studies, which I find fascinating. They're part folk healing, part science, and often very different from Western herbal tradition.
I would also say that this section should also have my books on Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Herbalism, Acupuncture & other healing modalities, but honestly I don't have any idea whether the books I have are the best ones. All I can say is that I heartily recommend dipping into complete systems, even if you're not planning to practice in those systems, or modalities, because there's so much fertile crossover, & cross-pollination.
Odd & Ends
These are books from which I've learned a lot from in a more non-linear, and inspired way.
These three are sort of perfect together, if you're interested in the perspective of how we can be in service of plantfolk, and learn to better follow their communications. Which, in my opinion, any aspiring plant person should be. It is an invaluable view in shifting away from "using" herbs in place of allopathic medicine, and discovering how we can be a part of their journey and experience.
I also have a cook book by Jeanne Rose, that's pretty good. I love her surprisingly modern (the books are from the 70s/80s) take on "self-care" and beauty, and taking care of our bodies with plants and home remedies.
Amber of Aquarian Dawn turned me onto this magical little book by Judith Berger a long time ago, but since it was kind of rare, I had to bide my time, and boy am I glad I did! It's a tome that never fails to inspire, no matter what season, or what place I am with my medicine making and self care.
These books are obviously just a small sampling of my personal favorites, because, let's be honest: there is no end to the herbal books I love, because there is no end to the learning that we do in this realm. I also didn't include any books that are in Finnish, or are more in the realm of Witchcraft, Shamanism, or other ancestral medicine, even though those books also have informed my plant medicine, and continue to help me grow and learn. (That's a whole other post, obviously.)
But wait, there's more!
What's interesting to me, is that while we fuss a lot about the death of reading in our digital culture (and not without good reason), in addition to these books, many of my favorite written resources exist online. And what's more, the internet also offers a return to the more traditional spoken teaching.
Gothenburg's printing press was revolutionary only because it made the spreading of information further and wider possible; the invention of the internet in it's current form does much of same. Online study and referencing makes being a solitary practitioner, or hedgewitch a lot more connected, and the community the internet offers can be a life-saver for many starting out on this path. Don't get me wrong, the internet is super powerful medicine, with extremely adverse side-effects, but if used correctly, it is an amazing resource.
As I've noticed my own concentration vain, thanks in great part to the constant flow of information and interaction, I've also discovered for myself how vital it is to continue reading for long, focused periods at a time. I read both books and online resources, and strive to go for at least hour and a half at a time, if I'm really studying. Just as social media and the inflow of information has reprogrammed our habits in media consumption, we too can reprogram ourselves for a slower pace and deeper learning. Reading pieces from start to finish, fact checking, and note-taking are all good study habits from high school we can still practice in this brave new world.
Practicing good concentration in our flitting, scrolling, blue-lit world can yield mighty benefits for herbalists, wild-crafters, and witches. I've said this before, but one of my favorite things about the online herbal community is how generous the people in it are. From lessons, to podcasts, to videos, to short written pieces like the one you're reading right now, most folks who sell products, courses, books, & classes online, also create amazing free resources alongside them. Whether they're short posts on social media, links, or in-depth articles, these resources can help us refocus, catch our interest, and uplift our spirits.
Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in addition to their powerful classes they have a mighty blog chock-full of information about common magical medicinal (get 10% off with my code "gardenwitch"* on both their classes till tomorrow)
Herbal Highways Podcast! Radical, powerful, informative, affirming, kind and great at reframing herbalism!
United Plant Savers is an important resource and we can be an important resource to them! If you want to join plant folk, become a member.
Much more awesome linkage to lovely witches, herbalists, homesteaders & cool folks in my reads section (which, by the way, used to be a feature on every blog that I rarely see anywhere these days. Share your links and uplift your friends, y'all, information is power!).
Now it's your turn: What are some of your favorite herbal books & resources?!?!?
*if you buy any of their classes using my code you'll be supporting both them and me. As an affiliate I get a cut for every class sold with that discount. Thanks for supporting plant people!