My favorite herbalist books…aren’t herbalist books!

One of my absolutely #1 most frequently received questions is “What are the best herb books?” And for awhile I have tried to have a mental list of my top few to share, cause, you know, I do love books. BUT. I have noticed, as time goes on, that more important to my learning has been resources other than herb books. Varied resources make well-rounded people. It is all too easy to get into a place where we are just reinforcing our previously held beliefs rather than challenging them! S
eeking out critical thinking resources, movement and alignment resources, food books, magazines, blogs and classes and online or IRL conversations are examples.
By no means do I want to toss out every herb book, as I do believe in references. What I am saying is, they are a beginning, not an end. They are old news–and old can be beautiful…or inflexible.
My very favorite “herb book” is a giant binder stuffed full of my favorite printouts from websites, blogs, class notes and online articles. This includes writing from some of my favorite herbalists like Jim McDonald, Kiva Rose, Renee Davis, 7Song, Paul Bergner, Rebecca Altman, Sean Donahue and David Winston-and more-curated by myself and organized in absolutely no reasonable order at all.
I also print out my favorite Plant Healer articles and keep those in a binder.
I printed out the VCIH journal and suggest it.
I print out AHG Journal articles.
I print out my own classes, blog posts and pieces of writing to refer to at times.
I rip articles out of magazines and stash those in a binder too, so I don’t end up with stacks upon stacks of magazines. (hoarder alert!)
I keep books and resources about critical thinking handy, as I believe that knowing how to research critically is more important than having every plant and illness memorized. I look at printed words as a “maybe” rather than as “if it was printed, it must be true”.
I also suggest books about movement and mobility, as I do not believe in fixing problems with herbs that could be fixed without. I am a rabid promoter of movement-as-medicine and I find anatomy and physiology to be a fun afternoon read.
Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers is one I refer to often. I also appreciate alternative anatomist Gil Hedley. (look him up!)
My very favorite resource for movement information is Katy Bowman and I strongly recommend her website http://www.Katysays.com and her books-I refer to Alignment Matters often. She has recently started a podcast too, which is fun for you busy types.
I am a big fan of http://www.Mobilitywod.com and the book Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett. I have a big stack of fitness and movement books, magazines and blogs that I refer to often such as Tabata Times, Breaking Muscle, the CrossFit Journal and I like the New York Times wellblog.
I am a fan of MovNat and the primal movement movement–from the book Original Strength to EvolveMovePlay.com to Mud and Obstacle magazine and Trail Runner I looooove the many resources out there for human movement outside of freakin Planet Fitness!
I’ve recently enjoyed the Liberated Body blog and podcast too.
I also like food resources, and I have a stack of delightful cookbooks and food books. There are some up-to-the-moment magazines such as Paleo that I seek out regularly and I love the book Death by Food Pyramid by Denise Minger.
Food is a big part of our overall health and there is an amazing amount of bullshit involved in the marketing, availability and discussion around food. So again, I say “critical thinking!!!!”
I also like to read about Science, Psychology, Biology.
I admire the author and psychiatrist Gabor Mate and I suggest his books In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and When the Body Says No. I take an interest in trauma and how it effects us, as well as religion and spirituality.
I enjoy learning about the history of health and health care, attitudes towards health and wellness in other places, cultures and times and the history of our use of plants and plant medicines.
And finally, I find books about life and philosophy to be important. I believe herbalists are called upon to be leaders– in whatever style works of course, and I believe self-reflection and dealing with our own crap helps us to be better listeners and helpers. In NO way does this mean herbalists are not just as wack as other people–but that ideally we are working on it in order to lead, teach and serve. So I read and think about leadership, teaching skills and philosophy.
Since you made it through, I will indeed share my very favorite herb books:
The Earthwise Herbal 1 & 2 by Matthew Wood
21st Century Herbalists by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman
Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
Invasive Plant medicine by Timothy Scott
Herbal Therapeutic by David Winston
Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green

Blue vervain
Blue vervain

Foraging: the ultimate bio-hack, Part one

I am a forager, and I am ready to help change our cultural ideas towards foraging. Currently, it seems to be either some crazy caveperson shit that went out of style millennia ago, cute peasant desperation or trendy yuppies foraging flowers for raw vegan cupcakes. Well. Foraging is actually a deep, dark, self-empowering and abiding source for healing our mind, body and spirit. OK? Powerful. Bam.  Play-based or functional styles of movement and some “natural” or healthier diets, basically eating mostly whole foods and cooking them at home, when integrated flexibly into our modern lives, are both steps in the right direction. Herbal medicine can be a step in the right direction. But a missing link is time spent foraging. Now notice that I did not say hunting or gathering–both of which CAN be part of foraging, but don’t have to be. You can forage for something but choose never to harvest it out of respect for a limited or endangered plant, animal, fungi. Heck, you can forage for cashmere sweaters at the thrift store, wild ducks in a swamp or nice buttocks (look but don’t touch!) at the jogging path. “Take a mental picture, it lasts longer.” Get it? It is the behavior of scanning and seeking, not just the act of harvesting-and I propose that it is a nourishing practice. All movement is a key part of my anxiety management protocol. Herbal medicine is too. But let’s use ALL the tools, people. Here it is: I believe time spent in nature scanning the land for a particular plant, animal, fungi or insect has the potential to support healing in a deep and meaningful way. The action of foraging feeds a part of the brain that we’ve allowed to get a little dusty here. I hypothesize that using our vision like a forager gives back to us a type of healing unavailable anywhere else. It is an antidote to too much time spent in front of screens. Don’t believe me? Try it. Go outside and scan for something. Give it some time, an hour, 10 hours, whatever. Sweep your eyes back and forth across horizons. Learn to identify signifier species. Move up and down varied terrain. Hide. seek. Get too hot or damp, get a freakin bug bite, put something in your basket. It’s play! It’s work! It’s your birthright, baby. And I will say, though I don’t want to, that you probably should not eat anything you haven’t identified or-God forbid-have “identified” with some shitty cel phone photo in a freakin Facebook group. Remember, learning how to forage and identify plants is a life skill and should NOT be farmed out to some strangers who don’t give a rat’s ass about you. In fact, it is part of the medicine! Don’t give away your potential superpower to know plants. Go forth, people, and forage yourself into a brave new you.

Red eft power animal
Red eft power animal
wild Yarrow, cultivated Yarrow
wild Yarrow, cultivated Yarrow
Catahoula
Catahoula

A Little Ode to Herbal Elixirs

I have been making more elixirs here lately. I tend to make mostly very “serious” tinctures- very strong single-plant extracts with a high proof clear alcohol and very little stuff and nonsense- I never make “kitchen sink” style combos. But. I have learned that I like exploring–combining a bit here and there. A rooty bitters blend, a relaxing summer nervine blend or a soothing multi-resin massage oil. 

I am always on the lookout for plant combinations that may be interesting–it sharpens the observational skills and spurs creativity. I find that harvesting plants has an element of intimacy, of communication and that is what I wish to communicate with my elixirs. I am finding that this sensual input is sacred, it is nourishing, and elixirs can be an expression of that!

So, what is an elixir anyway? I see them as a liquid (usually alcoholic) preparation, based on one or a few herbs which includes something sweet (think a splash of honey or fruit, not soda-sweet) and uses our creative interpretations of taste to maximize on the taste-properties of the plant. So ideally, the sweetness is bringing out the properties of something– not covering anything up.

I see elixirs as building, toning, adding and balancing to body and mind. There may be a focus on sensuality and grounding or relaxing and gently supporting thought or creativity. I believe it is a good idea to stop and have a thought or two about what you are trying to accomplish with it in order to build a great combo.

Moving beyond the practicalities, let’s get into the poetry. Elixirs can be a voice of the plants merging with the art of the medicine maker. If a tincture is a technical drawing, useful and sturdy, an elixir is a soft-focus landscape, a watercolor, an installation…a sacred merging. The plant artist merely gilds the Lily of taste, adds a touch of expression to what is already there. You should taste the restraint.

Elixirs are tangible but they are also an idea. Each one is a portal which requires a bit of imagination to truly appreciate. An elixir can be based on a legend or myth, a story or hope, a magical idea come to life, a liquid representation of pollination or of life force incarnate–plant sex in your mouth and in your brain. It  speaks poetically of the will to live and to survive. 

An elixir is a gift from earth to plant, from plant to medicine maker and from medicine maker to community and should be received with an open mind. It contains a darkness to explore-as plants, people and the earth all do.

Ultimately I see an elixir as an acknowledgement of some of the layers of communication going on between plants and beings–scents, tastes, shapes are all pointing us towards ideas and actions, cycles of life and nature, beliefs and openings in the armor.

Ripeness speaks. Pollination tunes up its orchestra. Sweetness sings.

Elder and Rosa Rugosa
Elder and Rosa Rugosa
Angelica
Angelica
Ground Ivy
Ground Ivy
Sweet Cicely
Sweet Cicely
Sweetfern
Sweetfern
Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle
raspberry
raspberry
Cacao-Rose
Cacao-Rose