Most herbalists I know love books. We spend hours in used bookstores, surfing Amazon and exploring local libraries. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight to be found in the written word.
Like so many areas of our lives these days, the vast number of choices of herb books can be overwhelming and some people aren’t sure where to begin.
The following recommendations are titles I have used over the years and continue to use for reference, guidance, inspiration and to double check on my own hunches at times. These are works that have proven helpful, even essential, many times over. They make up the core group of the hundreds of references on my office bookshelves.
If you are not sure where to begin, begin here.
“The Male Herbal” by James Green, 2nd edition
There are few books on men’s health from an alternative perspective and even fewer that focus on herbs. Fortunately for us, this particular book was written by James Green. Even in a crowded field, this would still stand out as a masterpiece. One of my all times favorites, a real gem. Anyone who is male or has a father, male partner, brother or son should have this book. Good for all levels.
“Herbal Healing for Men” by Rosemary Gladstar
A recent publication (2017), this book shares Rosemary’s personal work with men and herbs over 40+ years. Like she does in most of her books, she shares specific herbs, formulas and herbal pharmacy tips.
What makes this book stand out is her stories of listening to men in a way that allows them to open up about where they need help. Her commitment to men’s health is evident and elevates this book far above the usual “saw palmetto for the prostate” approach.
A similar title “Herbal Remedies for Men’s Health” was published by Rosemary in 1999. Her most recent work is much more in depth and shows her personal growth and the overall development of the herb community in North America during the interval.
“Women’s Herbs, Women’s Health” by Christopher Hobbs and Kathi Keville
Full of practical advice and many years of clinical experience as well as tried and true herbal formulas. There are several excellent quality books on women’s herbal health. This is my well worn favorite, the one I refer to most often in my clinical work. The highlight of this book for me are the many formulas that can be used directly or taken as inspiration for a more personal blend.
“Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health” by Aviva Romm
A very thorough and well referenced professional level textbook on women’s health. The information level and writing style reflects that of an MD and long time herbalist who works to combine the two approaches to healthcare.
“New Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way, Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90” by Susun Weed
This book has been the standard in its category for many years. Every herbalist I know has this book in their library for either clinical or personal guidance about menopause.
Note: There are many books on women’s herbal health and many of them are very well done. I have included the three that have been most helpful in my work.
“Naturally Healthy Babies and Children” by Aviva Romm
Written by an MD-herbalist-midwife-grandmother, this book has a wonderful combination of sound medical advice combined with years of herbal experience and the personal viewpoint of someone who has actually cared for a crying child at 2 AM.
“Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook” by Dina Falconi, Illustrated by Wendy Hollender
This book is a gem, both in content and visually. The author includes many of the edible staples of North America in the first section of the book. This information is accurate, well organized and accessible. What makes this book’s content special is the recipe section in Part II. The author includes Master Recipes for salad dressing, soup stock and many other dietary staples. These base recipes can be altered in many ways by a creative cook and I have found them quiet useful. However, what makes this book a gem are the illustrations. While they are botanically precise, they are also beautiful enough to frame. A visual delight for all levels of foragers and a true masterpiece.
“The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants” by Samuel Thayer
The author lives what he teaches which is especially important for wild foods. Not specific to the Southwest but still very helpful.
“Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate” by John Kallas
This is the best book I have ever seen for wild greens and includes plants found in most places in North America. The book is limited to greens as other plants will be addressed in future volumes. Accurate, well organized and user friendly. I love this book.
“Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by Euell Gibbons
An old time classic. The author is the real deal and includes a vast array of foods harvested over several decades. This can often be found in used bookstores for a few dollars.
“Southwest Foraging” by John Slattery
Published in 2016, this is an excellent book for its region. The author is an experienced and respected forager and educator and the writing reflects his many years of hands-on work in the field.
“Botany in a Day” by Tom Elpel
The main focus of this book is to teach the field of plant identification in a way that is accessible to everyday folks. He succeeds very well. Clear instructions for understanding families, genera and species and well illustrated. His approach is slightly different than standard academic texts but every bit as accurate and often more useful.
The author has been an instructor in the bushcraft and herb communities for many years so he includes some general yet helpful information in those areas.
This is the book I use for teaching botany in my own classes and I have personally found it to be quite helpful over the years, A standard text in many herb schools.
Excellent for beginner botanists. Because his format is a bit different from academia, it might be initially confusing for those with a college level taxonomy background.
“Field Guide to Forest & Mountain Plants of Northern Arizona” by Judith D. Springer, Mark L. Daniels and Mare Nazaire
Written for the serious botanist, this book succeeds very well in doing exactly what the title promises. Each plant has a pen & ink drawing while color photos are included for some.
The trilogy by Michael Moore:
“Medicinal Plants of the Mountains West” (2nd edition)
“Medicinal Plants of Deserts and Canyon West”
“Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West”
This collection is a true masterpiece in the herb world. Written for practicing herbalists who want to get their hands dirty in the outdoors and learn plant medicine beyond the classroom walls. These titles give the reader field guides for all the life zones west of the Great Plains. The Pacific West book includes many plants found in the southwest.
“Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest” by Charles Kane
I like his writing style: very concise, organized, no-nonsense. The information here is backed with experience and clinical work. Extremely well done. The best work for Sonoran desert plants.
The one weak point is that the plants included are limited to about 5000‘ and lower so the title is slightly misleading. Good for all levels of experience.
“Making Plant Medicine” by Richo Cech
Gives extensive information on exactly what the title says. One of the best sources on this topic. Also includes good materia medica. Although it is written clearly enough for beginners, you will never outgrow this book.
“The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual” by James Green
Exactly what the title says. Green’s deep love for the healing plants and his connection to nature shine through on every page. Very opinionated in a good way. Most likely, this book has more information for preparing herbs than you will ever use. Still, an incredible reference.
“Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art” by Kathi Keville and Mindy Green
A very well done introduction to the field of volatile plant oils. Accessible enough for the total beginner, yet has very accurate information as it is written by two women with 50+ combined years of experience. A good first book for oils.
“Aromatherapy for Bodyworkers” by Jade Shutes and Christina Weaver
Despite the title, this book is great for anyone who wants to take their understanding to a deeper level in working with oils. One of the more in-depth titles I have seen in this field. Highly recommended for the serious student.
“Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health” by Rosemary Gladstar
This is the book I recommend if you are only going to read one herb book in your life. A wonderful introduction to the green world by a very respected elder in the herb community. Great for beginners. Very basic, easy to understand yet thorough. Many time tested formulas and recipes. Includes a chapter on basic medicine making.
“Herbal Constituents: Foundations of Phytochemistry” by Lisa Ganora
The only book I know of that is focused specifically on the chemistry of our herbs and foods and how these chemicals are beneficial to our health. Holistically oriented, which is much appreciated for a chemistry book. An excellent introduction to the worlds of amino acids, polyphenols and lipids.
“Medical Herbalism” by David Hoffman
This was written to serve as a college level textbook in herbal medicine and it succeeds very well. A tremendous resource for people who have made herbs a part of their everyday life and have an herbal background upon which to build.
A Series by Christopher Hobbs
Christopher has written several shorter booklets on individual herbs. The ones I have seen are Valerian, the Ginsengs, Usnea, Saw Palmetto, Vitex and Echinacea. These are good for more detailed information on energetic uses, historical uses and some of the research. They can often be found in used bookstores for a few dollars and are worth the investment if you are interested in the specific herb. Good for all levels.
“Nutritional Herbology” by Mark Pedersen
Academic work emphasizing the vitamin and mineral content of herbs. Contains helpful charts and information not found elsewhere.
“Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief” by David Winston & Steven Maimes
The best book I have found for energy herbs that doesn’t require prior training in either Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine. Well referenced and user friendly. Most articles on adaptogens include this work in the bibliography.
A Series by Paul Bergner
Paul is one of my all time favorite teachers and authors. He has the special gift of blending science with a deep connection to nature. These books are all written in an easily readable style. Some of my most referenced books, good for beginners but you will never outgrow these.
“The Healing Power of Minerals”
Simply put: Why we need them – Why we are deficient – How to get them. At least 90% of the people I know would benefit from this book.
“The Healing Power of Ginseng”
Explains ginseng and many other tonic herbs that strengthen the body and are often misunderstood and misused. One of the first titles available for Western Herbalism on this topic. A recent re-read shows this book has aged very well.
“The Healing Power of Garlic”
This is the most complete work on garlic I have seen. Looks at this plant from the Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western scientific perspectives with a lengthy bibliography for the research oriented.
“The Healing Power of Echinacea and Goldenseal”
Like his other works, this book clears up myths and confusion: this time with plants for infections. Essential reading for working with colds, flu and many other contagious diseases.