February’s Blog Party: Gems from the Herbal Library

by Danielle Charles

Today is the perfect sort of curling up by the fire with a book type day – snowy, cold and oh so blustery. The wind is howling outside and shaking the windows and the snow is being hurled around in little mini tornadoes. It’s wonderful – truly perfect book weather. I love it.

You see, books have always been a passion of mine. There is a deranged sort of comfort I derive from simply having them around me – no matter if I have read them or not. After all, I certainly don’t trust my brain to hold all the information I need (I can hardly remember how old I am and I’m only 26 – or is it 27?). The fact that they are there when the day will come (and it surely will) that I will need them reassures me in some very deep and profound way.

So you will understand my difficulty then, when I began trying to select books for this post.  I started by pulling my favorites down off the shelf, and quickly realized this method wasn’t working when I had pulled nearly all of my books down. In the end, I gave up on picking a few, and decided to just go over the top and tell you about as many favorites as I could before my fingers refused to type anymore!  Here they are:

Some of my earliest books are still my favorites:

The Family Herbal by Rosemary Gladstar was one of the first herb books I purchased when I began to study herbal medicine many years back, and it played an enormous role at that time in sparking my love affair with herbs. Indeed, I think beyond anything else, this book was what defined my style and passion as an herbalist – a sort of “medicine as food” mentality where herbs become a part of one’s lifestyle and daily rhythm rather than a temporary presence during illness.  Rosemary’s magic infuses every page of this book with beautiful photos from her apothecary and gardens at Sage Mountain, delicious recipes for everything from beauty products and cooking with herbs to remedies for  a wide variety of common ailments. The book is described on the cover as, “a guide to living life with energy, health and vitality” – and I think that really says it. This book has and continues to deepen my sense of joy and creativity in using herbs, as well as  comforting, healing, inspiring and teaching me so often throughout the years.

A Woman’s Book of Herbs is written by Maine herbalist Deb Soule, the founder of Avena Botanicals – a biodynamic herb farm and maker of some of the finest herbal products I’ve ever used. Deb is like a garden fairy  (in fact she probably is one), full of passion, wisdom and inspiration for the plants she so lovingly tends. Her book is devoted solely to the  health of women – so nurturing and encouraging to read, as well as deeply empowering to the powerful healing energy of the feminine. She writes about herbs as though they are her close friends (indeed they are), and she knows them intimately. The book is filled with her sing song voice, her passion, loads of delicious recipes and covers a wide range of health concerns for women.


Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth by Sharol Tilgner was a book I used often when learning my herbs and medicine making skills in school, but is still one of the first book I reach for today as a clinical reference. The first section is filled with concise, well-researched materia medicas on 170 herbs that include not just the clinical research, contraindications and dosage ranges – but also energetics and specific indications (it’s not easy to find a book that provides both!). The second half is full of recipes for the herbal formulas made by her company, Wise Woman Herbals, organized by body system; one of the best sections on determining dosages that I have ever come across and a detailed how-to guide for a variety of herbal preparations.


Healing with the Herbs of Life by Lesley Tierra is an herbal from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective. It contains so much wonderful energetic information both on the herbs themselves, the human body, disease states as well as on foods. This book is truly a tome on Chinese medical theory, and has immensely deepened my understanding  of herbs and health. It continues to be an important reference for me in understanding the energetic patterns giving rise to symptoms and disease in my clients as well as selecting the most appropriate herbs based on energetics.

Books to intimately know an herb:

The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood allows one to understand a plant on a deep and personal level – as though the plant is an old friend. Indeed, the plants I have learned from Matt are some I use the most often because I know them so dearly. A great book to curl up with and read when you want to learn through the enchantment of a story teller.

Flower Power by Anne McIntyre is a compendium of monographs on flowering plants – speaking of them each from a historical, herbal, homeopathic and flower essence perspective. After reading an entry, you feel you understand the full spectrum of the plant: from the physical down to the mythological and  energetic. It also contains beautiful photographs.

Also, be sure to head over to Henriettes herbal where you can gain access to classic Eclectic texts (those written by the Eclectics: a branch of physician in the early 20th century that blended homeopathy, herbalism and conventional medicine). Their writings on plants are truly evocative and provide an experienced based perspective that you won’t find anywhere else.

There are also the books I value as a practitioner and clinician:

There are several books written by Simon Mills and  Kerry Bone that have become intrinsic to my practice, namely Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy and The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. I simply couldn’t function without them as reliable reference sources for  sensible safety information and the marriage of traditional understandings with research and science. These may be a little dense and science heavy for the average reader – but are wonderful assets for the experienced herbalist.

Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman is a tremendous book full of more information than one could take in a lifetime. It contains lots of information on phytochemistry and pharmacology (how plants work based on their chemical compounds) and a wide range of information on therapuetics with some rather wonderful perspectives, such as this wonderful excerpt:

The role of the human immune system is not simply to resist the dangers present in the environment. Rather, it is part of the complex and beautiful dance of elements flowing back and forth between the human body and the rest of the world. Seen within the context of ecology, both human and environmental, immunity is about harmony.

Weiss’s Herbal Medicine: Classic Edition by Rudolf Fritz Weiss is an amazing book written by a German doctor and herbalist. The book is based upon over 40 years of clinical experience using herbs – and contains all those little gems that can only be gained by such – the type of information you won’t find in most herbals. A great book for the clinician to broaden their understanding of herbs and how they can be used to heal.

Herbal Vade Mecum by Gazmend Skenderi is a great quick reference. It contains a materia medica on nearly any herb you might want to look up, with a quick synopsis on constituents, phytochemistry and common uses. Not by any means a great resource for getting to know an herb deeply – but does allow one to refresh their memory, verify a haunch, or quickly access safety info for a wide number of plants.

The Practicing Herbalist written by Margi Flint is basically a gathering of experience and wisdom gained through years of practicing as an herbalist. It contains guidance for all those confusing aspects of starting a practice – from how to keep books to organizing your office and apothecary – as well as a compendium of energetic analysis information (tongue, pulse, face, etc) with lovely illustrations. As a bonus, the book is strewn with her beautiful etchings, making thumbing through the book inspiring as well as informative.


And then a few books of herb-lore, myth, ethnobotany,  and history for fun:

Botanica North America by Marjorie Harris is a beautiful book categorizing the flora of North America by ecosystem. The book is full of the most vivid, beautiful photography and contains botanical and ethobotanical information on a wide variety of common plants for each species. Having lived in several ecosystems of the US, this book has helped me to deeply connect to and understand the plants that surround me. A feast for the eyes!




The Meaning of Trees by Fred Hagender is a beautiful book full of delicious photography of old, twisted mythical looking trees from around the world and the mythology that surrounds them.

Witchcraft Medicine is a fascinating book about the wild medicine of the “witch”: the women who used plants for healing and visioning. The book speaks about how human’s separation from nature and subsequent view of nature as “other, wild and frightening” is directly correlated to the shift of the “witch” from “healer” to an evil sorcerer. A truly great read, with some fascinating perspectives on plants and much information on the “dark” plants used for visioning and connecting with the spirit realm.

Green Pharmacy by Barbara Griggs documents the evolution of Western herbal medicine through history – from the ravings of Paracelsus and the tragic love story that turned Nicolas Culpepper into an herbalist to the stories of modern day herbalists. A really fascinating read that sheds some light on the patchy history of our Western traditions.


So, I know I’ve nearly written a book on herbal books – but honestly, could I have left any of them out? 🙂

Don’t forget: if you want to participate in the blog party, please send me your post to teacupandco (at) gmail (dot) com by tomorrow before 6 pm, when I will post all the entries here. Can’t wait to hear about your favorites!