Top Books for Herbal Medicine

Reader Contribution by Kellsey Trimble
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Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Madeline_Steinbach

Healing herbs and their many medicinal wonders have always fascinated me. What fascinates me even more than medicinal herbs, though, is that we have in the past several decades turned to expensive pharmaceuticals to treat our many ailments instead of referring to time-tested herbal medicines. A lot of conventional pharmaceuticals are indeed rendered from natural sources, but through processing, those beneficial compounds that were once found in herbal remedies are now synthesized in a laboratory in order to mass produce other drugs. It’s similar to processed food versus real food. Processed food at one time came from a natural source, but over the course of time the desire to mass produce food has led to low-quality food made in lab kitchens rather than grown on farms and cooked in kitchens.

Now before anyone gets too mad at me for saying that I claim all pharmaceuticals are bad, I will beat you to the punch and simply say that there are many conventional pharmaceutical drugs that have saved lives and improved the quality of life for many. There are certainly always those exceptions to be made. However, I believe natural and holistic medicines are far too underutilized and could do wonders in preventive healthcare, as well as treatment when used correctly. And these improve quality of life at a far lower cost in the long run than conventional medicines.

 
Cover courtesy of Touchstone Books

Probably the foremost voice on herbal medicines would have to be herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. I remember my mother buying her first book, Herbal Healing for Women, back in the early 1990s. She’s since expanded her published works to include books covering medicinal plants and herbs specific for natural beauty, stress and anxiety, and common ailments. Medicinal Herbs is a great guide for herbalist beginners. She touches on identifying beneficial plants, how to grow many of them, and how to put them to use when you need them. Gladstar has been teaching and practicing herbal medicine for more than 35 years, and her talks on herbal remedies at the Mother Earth News Fairs are always packed. She is a great conversationalist and this comes through in her books. It feels like she’s right next to you helping make your first tincture.  

 

Cover courtesy of Storey Publishing

The best advice I’ve heard when deciding what should go in your home apothecary is to determine your most common personal and family ailments, and build your apothecary around this. The Herbal Apothecary by JJ Pursell is a great book to get you started. Pursell walks the reader through 100 medicinal plants, how they can help, how to use them, and how to store them to maintain their freshness and potency for as long as possible. This gem of a book has a lot of neat tricks when it comes to harvesting and processing your herbal medicines.

 
Cover courtesy of Timber Press

When you’re ready to dive deep into traditional healthcare and herbal medicines, you’ll want to check out Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech. This is a fantastic reference guide for beginner to veteran herbalists, and it’s chock full of species, their uses, and recipes. With an extensive list of plants, author Cech has continued to update this book to include the latest in herbal healthcare.

My home apothecary wouldn’t be complete without these books and few of my other favorites on hand for quick reference. These three titles make a great starter kit for those getting their toes wet in tinctures, and they complete any herbalists library.


With Rosemary Gladstar’s expert advice in Medicinal Herbs, anyone can make their own herbal remedies for common ailments, such as aloe lotion for poison ivy, dandelion-burdock tincture for sluggish digestion, and lavender-lemon balm tea for stress relief. Gladstar profiles 33 of the most common and versatile healing plants and then shows you exactly how to grow, harvest, prepare, and use them. Stock your home medicine chest with safe, all-natural, low-cost herbal preparations, and enjoy better health!

Incorporating traditional wisdom and scientific information, The Herbal Apothecary includes advice on growing and foraging for healing plants, as well as recommendations for plant-based formulations to fight common ailments, such as muscle strain, anxiety and insomnia. Step-by-step instructions show you how to make your own teas, salves, capsules, tinctures and other essential herbal remedies. Whether you want to treat a wound or fight the common cold, taking charge of your health and well-being begins here.

Originally published in the year 2000, Making Plant Medicine has become a preferred herbal reference for learning to make standard herbal tinctures, teas, syrups, oils, salves, and poultices. The formulary still includes such important favorites as: arnica, astragalus, burdock, calendula, dandelion, echinacea, elecampane, gentian, goldenseal, hawthorn, ma-huang, jiao-gu-lan, lobelia, nettles, sage, stevia, and St. John’s wort. The fourth edition includes 28 new herbs, including aloe vera, andrographis, Ashitaba, brahmi, Chameleon plant, hops, osha, and rhodiola. May your personalized copy soon be anointed with the happy splatter of homemade herbal remedies!