I finished reading Practical Herbs by Henriette Kress yesterday and then spent the rest of the day marveling at what a great approach it is to teaching herbalism to the beginner as well as inspiring the seasoned herbalist with new insights and approaches.
The first section of the book is appropriately called, the Basics – and it covers that extremely well with chapters on everything from picking herbs to preparing them in just about every common herbal form imaginable (infusions, oils, salves, vinegars, etc.). There are more than a few herbal books out there and considerable more online resources discussing all of that or you may feel you already know all you need to know – so you might be tempted to skip that or skim by without reading with due care.
That would be a mistake. Really!
Because within every part of the book are Henriette’s keen humor and insights which are worth the time spent in a careful read. I chuckled out loud at several points in the book and I can’t recall when I last did that in any beginning herbal book or any herbal book for that matter.
One of the nice details is her sharing of tips, tricks and shortcuts for work with herbs. Most any beginning herbal books will lay out the essentials of how you make a tincture, decoction, etc. But as with anything in life there are sometimes easier ways to do things or problems that pop up that are never mentioned in such books. She shares these useful insights gained from her practice (thus perhaps another aspect to the title “Practical” Herbs!)
The bulk of the book is her take on about two dozen herbs. It may not be an all encompassing encyclopedia of 100s of herbs, but she covers them in better depth than any other book. Many of the plants she talks about are often the backbone of herbal medicine (or should be!) Interspersed throughout are short side bars and one pagers on different conditions and the best way to treat them and informative extra information. For each plant she discusses all the essentials and more including cultivation, habitats, look a like plants, uses, preparation, harvesting, recipes and more. She also includes several great color photos of each plant as well – no poor drawings or blurry photos to be found here!
I really appreciated her ability to step beyond herbalism when the more appropriate solution is found elsewhere. Here’s one of my favorite from the chapter on nettles:
“A word about sex drive, if you do the cooking, laundry, the cleaning, and keep track of the kids where your other half watches sports on the telly, a lack of libido isn’t surprising. Get your partner to do the housework for a week or two, and you’ll get it back. (Your mate might be too tired, though.) See to the basics before you start looking for magic pills or herbs.”
Not only a great truth, and funny, but I appreciate the broader awareness of attending to the basics of one’s health and happiness as being the first place you go when looking for healing. Too often, I’ve seen the trend of treating herbal remedies (wonderful as they are) in exactly the same destructive way as mainstream Western medicines are – magic pills to cover up things but deal with the true underlying problems.
Overall, an excellent book which I’ll be referring to repeatedly over time as a reference or just for the pleasure of looking at old plant friends in new ways.
Sadly you aren’t likely to find it in your local bookstore in the US or at Amazon – but you can buy it directly from the author!