After twenty years of reading herb books, it takes a lot to make me excited when something new is published. Henriette Kress’ first book written in English (she has published others in Finnish and Swedish) makes me want to sing, shout and dance with glee. The title, Practical Herbs, says it all. It exudes common sense and you know the author is speaking from long years of personal experience with every sentence she writes.
Henriette is unique. As a child she moved from Germany to the Swedish-speaking part of Finland and is fluent in four languages. Originally graduating from Helsinki University in Economics in 1991 and working as a finance manager for a multinational corporation, she gave it all up to study with the late Michael Moore at the South Western School of Botanical Medicine, graduating in 1998. She is now a member of the American Herbalist Guild.
After completing her studies, she returned to Helsinki to become a practicing herbalist, teacher and author as well as setting up the most comprehensive herbal website which is used and valued across the world. She also runs a medicinal herb email discussion list which I joined 1996 and has provided me with the majority of my herbal education. In 2009, she was the keynote speaker at the National Institute of Herbal Medicine AGM in Preston where delegates could not get over how young she was to have so much knowledge!
The book begins by taking the reader through the basics of herbalism – how to choose, pick and dry your herbs, then how to make and use herbal teas, oils, salves, tinctures, vinegars and syrups. Henriette also includes a list of why your process hasn’t worked or produced something you weren’t expecting and how to put it right if possible. I have never seen this kind of information in any other book and shows she does not include anything she has not done herself.
Henriette has written about the herbs she grows in her garden or which grow locally to her Helsinki home. The book is illustrated throughout with beautifully clear photographs so you can easily recognise the plant or follow the instructions for a process.
Twenty three plants are discussed in detail in Practical Herbs ranging from the well-known calendula and St John’s wort to completely new to me plants such as Beggarticks (Bidens radiate) and Maral root(Leuzea carthamoides). She also describes the plant families and their actions - carrots (carminatives), mallows (mucilaginous), mints (anti-inflammatory) and roses (astringent)- and how they can be interchanged one with another depending on what you have available to you at the time.
Every herb is described by name, family, when to harvest, its habitat and appearance and its important constituents. She explains how to pick and process, including such gems as “If you go looking for this species, take a lot of patience with you.” Each plant’s effects and uses are discussed together with recipes and how to include the herb in your food.
The book is peppered with pages headed “Quick Help for small troubles”. These include painful menses, advice for the flu season, digestive upset, earache, itching, bleeding, toothache and sciatica – all subjects which arise and can be addressed in a home situation. Henriette doesn’t expect her readers to suddenly become experienced professionals. There are wise words of caution such as not to take too much dandelion if you have low blood pressure and to be sure to consult a doctor if you have bronchitis.
What really excited me the most was Henriette’s discussion about Echinacea. I knew you could not use the small root system until the plant was three years old, but I have been loath to sacrifice my plants so have been using the entire aerial parts in my syrups and tinctures, thinking I was producing a much less effective medicine. My joy at discovering that Henriette also uses the flower and, most importantly, considers the seedpods to be as effective as the roots was unbounded!
I began this review by describing Henriette Kress as unique. She has an uncanny ability to provide the struggling “amateur” with confidence. She believes in personal experience and knowledge over book-learning and “scientifically proven” research findings. She has said that “herbs don’t read books” but if they could, they would be proud of what their champion has written.
Practical Herbs by Henriette Kress was published on November 18, 2011 as a pdf file or paperback. Currently it is only available from her website for $5.50 or $32 plus p&p. Discussions with Amazon are continuing.