I get asked this question all the time: What are your go-to herbal books? And honestly, it’s tough because there are so many good ones out there! But having a resource library is KEY if you’re interested in herbs at all. Books are where all the magic happens. Online you can get lost in a whirlwind of rabbit holes, without knowing who to trust! Although, don’t get me wrong- there are some wonderful online resources to behold, but that’s for another post. Here are some of the books I reference almost daily, and feel totally confident to apply whatever I find inside.
1. Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals (Volumes 1-4) by Dr. Jill Stansbury
Where have you been all my life!? That’s what I thought when this series of books recently came to my attention, because they’re that good. (Thanks to my awesome apprentice Heather for introducing them to me!). I can’t believe I didn’t know about them earlier! I find myself referencing them constantly. There are 4 volumes that each tackle their own set of body systems (Volume 1: Digestion and Elimination; Volume 2: Circulation and Respiration; Volume 3: Endocrinology; Volume 4: Neurology, Psychiatry and Pain Management, with a Volume 5 coming out shortly!) These babies are packed with detailed herbal tea, tincture and food recipes that help spark ideas when I’m creating a protocol for clients. I love the way they’re organized because they have an amazing flow, are backed by research (in addition to traditional use) and are just downright interesting. I find myself fascinated regularly when I’m diving into these herbal resource gems. In my books, these are a definite must-have in your herbal library (See what I did there? I'm not one for puns, but I couldn't help myself).
2. The Earthwise Herbal Repertory by Matthew Wood
A fantastic “quick reference” guide for looking up herbs that have an affinity for specific organ systems, with great specificity at that. What do I mean? Well, here's an example- for joint pain, Wood breaks down his categories like this, followed by all the herbs that are helpful for the specific categories: Joints (Arthritis), Joints (Inflammation, Synovitis), Joints (Injured, Frozen), Joints (Rheumatoid Arthritis), Hands, Wrists & Fingers, Palms (Plump Part, Red)...and on it goes! So as you can see, very specific. The herbs he deems as being the most well-suited to the condition are capitalized. So when you’re trying to figure out what herbs might be useful in a formula, this book is a great place to start to get the herbal juices flowing and give you a head start on narrowing down your herbs.
3. The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine by Dr. Vasant Lad & Dr. David Frawley
Honestly, this book is my bible. I LOVE this book because it’s packed with incredible knowledge about a lot of our western herbs, but from the perspective of Ayurveda. In case you don’t know, Ayurveda is India’s holistic medical model that has been around for thousands of years. It has a very sophisticated way of classifying people based on their constitution (dosha) types, and similarly matching herbs that will balance out the health conditions that arise from these doshas. I use an Ayurvedic approach when working with clients, so this has been a game-changing book for me. It has this SUPER handy chart at the back with hundreds of plants listed, their effects on the doshas and therapeutic effects in the body. Plus, it’s a compact book that won’t break the bank!
4. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health by Dr. Aviva Romm
Ok, I know I’m saying I love all of these books, and this one is no exception. Because I work with women’s health the majority of the time, this is one of my absolute GO-TO’s for anything related to the female reproductive system. If you’re not familiar with Dr. Aviva Romm, she’s a powerhouse- a midwife, herbalist and physician all rolled into one, with a love for solid research. As a side note, she has an amazing blog as well, that I find myself referencing on the regular. This book has tons of formula examples, case studies and monographs that are pure gold. If you're looking for a resource guide for anything related to balancing hormones and the reproductive system, this is a solid investment that will keep on giving!
5. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy by Simon Mills & Kerry Bone
If you’re a herb nerd that loves the science and research behind plant medicine, then this book is 100% for you. What I love about it, is the authors break down all of the herbs in the book in their respective monographs, complete with modern research findings. But Mills & Bone don’t stop there, they include a section titled: “May also be used for: Extrapolations from Pharmacological Studies”. This is where they list other uses for each herb that may not have been directly researched, but that based on recent clinical research findings would make sense to consider when formulating herbal protocols. Plus, every monograph has botany, key constituents, pharmacodynamics, therapeutic uses, clinical trials, interactions, side effects and use in pregnancy and lactation. Like I said, if you dig science, this puppy is going to be right up your alley.
6. Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann
One of the first herbal books I ever bought, this is a great place to start if you’re looking for an all-encompassing herbal reference book. Hoffmann covers a lot of ground and gives more than the basics in this 600+ page book! I’ll just say right off the bat, for those of you who like to know the “WHY” behind how plants work as medicine, this book has got your back. The book addresses some really important concepts including a fairly involved “intro to phytochemistry”, which breaks down how different “medicinal molecules” give herbs their healing properties. As well as a pharmacology section that explains why herbs have certain actions in the body like cholesterol-lowering, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, phytoestrogens, and many more. Herbal actions are explored in depth (super important to know your herbal actions if you’re going to work with plants!) and there’s a decent set of herbal monographs at the end of the book. There’s a small section on elderly care, children’s care and even a medicine making section!
7. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston & Steven Maimes
If you’ve been in my community a while now, you know that I love adaptogens and think they’re a foundational part of any good herbal formula. What are adaptogens? If you need a deep dive, check out my article here- Adaptogenic Herbs: The Stress-Busting Gems of the Herbal World. But in a nutshell, adaptogens are a special category of herbs that help your system cope with stress more effectively. And given where we’re at in this particular point in history, who doesn’t need stress support!? In this book, Winston & Maimes break down exactly which herbs are considered to be adaptogens and why. They go over the mechanisms of stress, how it affects specific body systems and exactly how these herbs work in the body to decrease its impacts. That in and of itself is worth buying this little gem! But on top of that, you’ll learn about specific categories of herbs that compliment adaptogens beautifully, which includes nervines (herbs that nourish and calm the nervous system) and nootropics (herbs that help to enhance cognitive function and clarity). All of which are really beneficial to learn about and include alongside adaptogens to truly support someone along their health journey. Of course, there are monographs of all of the herbs, which include scientific research, traditional use, actions, properties, preparation and dosage for each herb. I think this is one of the most important class of herbs out there, so I’m a big fan of getting really familiar with adaptogens!
8. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood (+ The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants)
These two books are essentially one massive book broken into two volumes, and they cover a wide range of plants, in the form of monographs with interesting twists and turns! If you aren’t familiar with Matthew Wood, he has a very unique approach to how he works with plants, and that’s reflected in his list of specific indications for each of the herbs in this book. I’m often surprised by some of the ways he suggests to use certain herbs, because it’s not always typical, but can open up doorways to new ways of thinking and working with plants. I love these books because every herbal monograph includes: taste, tissue states (energetics), specific indications, preparation and dosage and cautions. And in good Matthew Wood style, every herb starts out with personal experiences, case studies or interesting traditional uses that will have you thinking about herbs in a whole new light than what you may have learned before. As with all things, having a variety of perspectives pops you out of any ruts you may get into, and these books will definitely do just that!
9. The Natural Pregnancy Book by Dr. Aviva Romm
I love this book! Of course, I work with pregnancy a fair bit, so this is a resource guide that I’m constantly referring back to. Aviva Romm (as I mentioned) is a woman who wears many hats including midwife, herbalist and physician- so when it comes to caring for pregnant mamas, I trust what she says! It’s a fantastic book that breaks down common pregnancy symptoms, along with general, dietary and herbal recommendations for each one. In addition to the list of “herbs safe for pregnancy” and “herbs to avoid during pregnancy”, there are tons of recipes and case studies, which makes this book just down-right handy. If ever you’ve wondered: “Is this herb safe to take in pregnancy?” or “How can I holistically support a pregnant person safely?”, this book is pure gold. You’ll catch me taking photos of entire pages and sending it to pregnant friends and clients on a regular basis.
10. The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook by James Green
Last, but certainly not least, this book is my go-to for anything to do with medicine making! You’ll learn everything you need to know about how to make your own medicine at home: infusions, decoctions, distillation of hydrosols, flower essences, vinegars, tincturing, ointments, lotions, salves and even really fun things like wine infusions and herbal jellos! I find every section really thorough and easy to follow. On top of it, you’ll find super helpful lists to help you through your medicine making journey. For example, in the tincture section, Green includes a REALLY handy chart: “35 Herbs and a Fungus That Are Well Prepared as Tincture'', along with specifics like what plant part to use, weight to volume ratios, ideal alcohol percentages and dosages. If you have any intention of making your own herbal remedies, whether they be for yourself and your family or for paying clients, this book is a must-have on your shelf.
And there you have it! All of my favorite books on one list! Now off you go to stock up your herbal library ;)
Here's to your wild, wonderful (and a little whacky!) herbal learning adventure,