Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Resources for UK herbal beginners: Books and Websites



I am often asked, “Which herb books would you recommend?”  

To help answer the question, several years ago I posted a list of suggested reading for people new to herbs based on my own fairly extensive library.  Since then a number of books aimed at herbal newcomers and some more specialist books have been published so I thought it was time to update my list and share the results.

Before I start suggesting titles, I do have some thoughts you may wish to consider before you go parting with hard earned money or putting in inter-library loan requests.

Firstly, it’s as well to do some research about the author before you decide to follow their teaching. They may be experienced, have the most wonderful writing style which really harmonises with your way of thinking and be lauded by everyone you have ever heard from but if they don’t live in the same country or continent you may find their favourite herbs are not ones you have easy access to. Their climatic conditions and local challenges may not be yours. 

If you limit yourself to their writing you may learn a whole load of skills and competencies but never have a chance to use them which can lead to frustration.

Their access to mainstream healthcare services may be very different from yours. They may have an insurance based health service rather than one free at the point of use. They may be offering a herbal service to communities who have no other access to healthcare in a “rich country” or in a “poor country” with a long cultural history of using plants for medicines.

 They may have a culture of using suppositories as their main method of delivery of pharmaceuticals whereas you have never had experience of doing this to another person and may not feel comfortable suggesting to your nearest and dearest they really should let you treat them in this way.

They may live in a country where it is illegal to sell alcoholic extractions unless you are a qualified pharmacist or illegal to buy them unless you have a herbal qualification. This may leave you wondering if you should or can use alcohol in your herbal journey when the rest of the world seems to prefer this medium above anything else.

They may have decided to augment their herbal training by learning an “Eastern” energetic approach as opposed to Western. This is usually either Ayurvedic (from the Indian subcontinent) or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or could be South American or Tibetan. You then have to decide whether you will follow your teacher’s energetic leanings or learn a different energetic approach based on your own location.

You also have to ask yourself what you want to learn from their books. Do you want something which teaches you about recognising plants in their growing space? Do you want to know about the medicinal uses of plants and how to prepare them? Do you want to be inspired by a herbalist’s story? Do you want to know about treating a particular sex or age group? Do you want something to recommend to someone else who is afraid of herbs?

No one book will give you everything. Reading many books will not necessarily make you a skilled and competent herbwife or herbalist. You have to work with the plants themselves to achieve that. Books are wonderful resources and there are now amazing websites available written by herbalists who want to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with the world.

Read everything you can but make sure you augment this knowledge with personal discussions both locally and online so you can practice what has inspired you until you feel comfortable to start sharing your knowledge with others.

Books for complete beginners
You cannot go wrong with these books. They are all simple, straightforward, good illustrations, easy to read and the recipes/formulae work.

Bruton-Seal, J & Seal, M Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest & make your own herbal remedies 2008 Merlin Unwin Books Ltd ISBN 978 1 873674 99 4
Bruton-Seal, J & Seal, M Kitchen Medicine: Household Remedies for Common Ailments and Domestic Emergencies 2010 Merlin Unwin Books Ltd ISBN 978 1 906122188
Julie is an experienced UK medical herbalist who practices in East Anglia. These two books are relatively new, with stunning pictures taken by Matthew and easy to follow recipes.

Hoffman, D The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal 1996 Element Books
ISBN 1 85230 847 8
David is American but trained in the UK. This was the first herb tutor I ever bought. It’s very safe, gives practical information which is easy to follow and replicate. All his books contain basically the same information so you can swap one for another. I still refer to it if I’m wondering how to treat a new condition.

Kress, H Practical Herbs 2011 Tamerprint Oly ISBN 9789526757506 
Kress, H Practical Herbs 2 2013 Tamerprint Oly ISBN 9789526802503
Henriette is an experienced Finnish herbalist who trained in the US with Michael Moore. Her books are sensible, straightforward and ideal for the herbal beginner. They are available as a downloadable .pdf as well as paperback.


McIntyre, A The Complete Herbal Tutor 2010 Gaia Books Ltd ISBN 9781856753180 Anne is one of our UK Herbal Elders. All her books are easy to read with a plethora of interesting and useful information. This book has beautiful illustrations, comprehensive materia medica and she references all the attributes of each plant which has lead me to new books and authors.

Ody, P The Complete Medicinal Herbal 1993 Dorling Kindersley ISBN 0 7513 0025 X The second herb tutorial I bought. Again, all Penelope’s books are very safe and practical. This one has interesting case studies to illustrate uses and a table of doses for children at various weights and ages which I found useful.

Shaw, N Bach Flower Remedies : A Step-by-Step Guide 1998 Element Books ISBN 1 86204 106 7
Shaw, N Herbal Medicine : A Step-by-Step-Guide 1998 Element Books ISBN 1 86204 196 2
Shaw, N Herbalism: An Illustrated Guide 1998 Element Books ISBN 1-86204-224-1
Shaw, N & Hedley, C Herbal Remedies 1996 Parragon Books Services Ltd ISBN 1-84164-0549
Chris Hedley and Non Shaw are husband and wife who have practiced herbal medicine since the 1960s in London. They have been teaching and sharing their herbal knowledge for many years and are beloved by the international herbal community. Their books are easily accessible and full of delightful surprises, being far more comprehensive than the layout suggests. I just wish they would write many, many more!

Wardwell, J The Herbal Home Remedy Book 1998 Versa Press ISBN-13 978 1 58017 016 1
Joyce’s book is the only American book which I’ve included in the complete beginner section because it’s very good and gives you confidence to go and make your own remedies. The only drawback is that she uses some trees which are not local in the UK.

Useful Herbal websites
There is a plethora of herbal information available on the internet. Many websites are attached to commercial outlets and unless you know the author of the information I would suggest you verify it using another source before you believe it.

The websites I am recommending here are all written by people I either know personally or have proved to me they actually know what they’re talking about.

A wonderful, online resource put together by professional UK herbalists who are trying to keep the tradition of folk medicine alive.

Henriette Kress’ website is full of good, solid herbal information and wonderful photos. You can also join her email discussion list for herbal medicine and browse the archives.

Jim is a herbalist in Michegan who teaches all over the US. His website is full of interesting herbal information and links to useful articles written by others.

Kiva Rose Hardin is an American herbalist living in New Mexico. She is an advocate of bioregionalism and folk roots herbalism. Her articles are lively, interesting and enthusiastic.

Susun Weed is an American herbal icon with a wealth of experience, knowledge and information. Don’t be put off by her written or verbal mannerisms.

Rosalee de la Foret is an American herbalist who provides interesting articles on herbs and works with John Gallagher of Learning Herbs.

Ali English is a trained medical herbalist living and practicing in Lincolnshire.

Lucinda Warner practices herbal medicine in the south of England.

This blog is written by Debs Cook, who used to manage the UK Herb Society website. She and I have been herbal friends for many years and her knowledge of herbs is sound. She also writes her own blog, Herbal Haven


3 comments:

Barbara said...

Such an inspiring list!

There are so many herb books available - not all are created equal.

Nice to have the wheat pre-sorted from the chaff.

Thank you Sarah!

Selina Baihn said...

g'day
what a great list, have been on the look out for more herb books & information, there's quite a bit to go through there. did acquire a good little book just before xmas, which has many simple recipes in it & easy to use; Herbal Remedies by Christopher Hedley & Non Shaw.
thanx for sharing
have a great day!

Kathy said...

Thank you for this list, I am a rank beginner and am hesitant to follow just anyone, I got to you on a referral and appreciate your referrals to others!