Chestnut Herbal School

Kathi Keville’s Favorite Herbal & Aromatherapy Books

Written and photographed by
Kathi Keville, American Herb Association Director

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Whether it’s e-books or a bookshelf in your home, having your own herb library is a valuable resource. Turn to trusted book and blog authors, but be wary of random information on the internet. I’ve selected some of my favorite beginning herbal medicine books to entice your herbal journey.

When I stepped on to the herbal path, I purchased every herb book available. That may seem like quite a feat, except that in the early 1970s I could only find four books on herbs. Times have changed. These days, I look over 150 new herbal books a year to write reviews for the American Herb Association Quarterly. That’s a lot of new books about herbs, and many of these books have the advantage of innovative design that enhances their presentation and are based on up-to-date science. Yet, so much of what we herbalists do is not new, and many older herbalism books remain invaluable resources.

 

Herbal Medicine Books for Beginners

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The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants by Guido Masé
This may sound like a foraging book, but it takes readers more into the lab than the wild. It brings together a worldwide selection of popular herbs to create teas, spirits, tinctures, and healing foods. Through his conversational style, Masé advocates restoring herbs into our daily lives to promote physical, mental, and spiritual health. He dives into philosophical questions like how we co-evolved with medicinal plants. His medicine is based on three classifications: aromatics such as peppermint (Mentha piperita), bitters like dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and tonics, which happily include chocolate (Theobroma cacao)! This herb book discusses how each herb is uniquely adapted to work with different elements of our physiology. Along the way, we get a good dose of philosophy and a wonderful glimpse at how historic and modern herbalists interact with plants.

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Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health, and Vitality by Rosemary Gladstar
What’s not to like about Rosemary Gladstar’s herb books? Her clear, compassionate writing style has won the hearts of many a beginning herbalist. This book—one of numerous stellar beginning herbals from Gladstar—is my favorite since it’s her most extensive book. It covers subjects ranging from skincare and relieving stress to herbs for children and adults. It guides you in creating your own herbal concoctions, including a home medicine chest—an excellent herbal preparation starter project. She profiles herbs and their uses and discusses their relationship to the ecosystem. The best part is that anyone can prepare her many easy but effective recipes.

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The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green
I’m glad to see this updated version. I always recommend this herb book to my herbal apprentices as they embark on making herbal first-aid kits. Plus, I find Green’s down-home, rambling philosophical style and wry humor entertaining. He emphasizes how herbal medicine-making is fundamental to every culture on the planet, and is accessible to us all. He thoroughly examines ingredients and formulas so you can make just about every type of herbal product imaginable. An in-depth discussion demonstrates valuable comparisons about extracting herbs from different percentages of alcohol, glycerin, vinegar, honey, and more.

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Body Systems Herbals

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The Country Almanac Home Remedies by Brigitte Mars and Chrystle Fiedler
These seasoned herbalists organized their book according to body systems. Having written both types of books, I know this is a much harder task than an A to Z of herbs. Most beginning herbalists find it far more useful to look up a problem rather than an individual herb. To create a holistic format, this book kindly adds nutritional, lifestyle, flower essence, and homeopathic suggestions to help you quickly find an herbal prescription for any of 50 conditions.

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Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann
Hoffmann does a splendid job of covering herbs according to body systems. There is much clarity in guiding readers to choose the most appropriate treatment with plenty of comparisons between one likely herb candidate and another. You can start out making the suggested formulas, and then graduate to customizing your own for specific situations. All of this comes from a very experienced herbalist and prolific author of many excellent herb books. This may not be your very first book on herbs, but it will bridge that gap between beginning and more advanced books when you’re ready.

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Herbal Encyclopedias

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Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier
Beautifully illustrated encyclopedias in large-book formats transform learning about herbalism into a visual feast. This one from a medical herbalist from the UK takes readers on a worldwide tour of medicinal herbs. As with any encyclopedia, so much material is covered that in-depth coverage of any one aspect gets sacrificed. However, since the overview of medicinal herbalism is so comprehensive, this makes a perfect beginning herb book. You can look up treatments for 200 health concerns. The herbs used to treat each concern are shown in a stunning photographic index. There’s also Chevallier’s Herbal Remedies Handbook (2018), which is smaller but still rich in botanical photos.

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National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants by Rebecca Johnson, Steven Foster, Tieraona Low Dog, MD, and David Kiefer, MD
This is one amazing herbal encyclopedia! You can’t go wrong with such an impressive team of authors. And Foster’s incredible botanical photography in this big-book layout makes for a winning combination. This book happily has chapters organized according to body systems. It presents the world’s most effective herbs to treat particular conditions. Preparations, dosages, active ingredients, cautions, and a few cultivation guidelines are all there. I also appreciate the inclusion of folk stories and scientific findings about traditional remedies worldwide. I’m partial to this book, but there’s also National Geographic’s newer Nature’s Best Remedies (2019). I recommend any of Dr. Low Dog’s Healthy at Home published by National Geographic Books and any of Steven Foster’s wonderful herb books.

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The Illustrated Guide to Herbal Home Remedies by Jessica Houdret
Here’s a large format encyclopedia. Hundreds of photos beautifully illustrate how to create all sorts of medicinal herb products. The advice even includes beauty care and aromatherapy. A helpful chart displays conditions treated with essential oils. This is all presented in a step-by-step format ideal for a beginning herb book. You can easily look up either an herb or the condition to treat—great for cross-referencing and understanding what to use when. Houdret has written many picture-filled herbal encyclopedias, like Herbs for Healing (Lorenz Books, 2017). There is repetition, but the beginning herbalist can’t go wrong choosing any of them.

 

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Aromatherapy

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Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by Kathi Keville and Mindy Green
Yes, it’s true. Our book is still my favorite aromatherapy book—and that of many other aromatherapists. We strove to make it easy to follow and practical in order to be the best aromatherapy book for beginners, while also providing a reference for the more experienced herbalist. So, there are lots of recipes that explain the importance of each ingredient and extensive charts—even I still refer to them today. The reader has recipes to follow but can also learn to craft their own formulas. Almost every aromatherapy book includes a materia medica listing of essential oils, but our book also covers their use, safety, preparation, formulation techniques, chemistry, measurement conversions, and it incorporates herbs. For a compact version, there’s my revised and updated Pocket Guide to Essential Oils (Crossing Press, 2000; Ten Speed Press, 2020).

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Fragrance and Wellbeing by Jennifer Peace Rhind
Since Rhind’s books are not how-to guides, they are likely not your starter aromatherapy books, but they shouldn’t be far behind. This awesome book delves beautifully into both historic and modern clinical uses of essential oils, and how each essential oil influences our moods. Aromatic plants are grouped according to their characteristic scent, such as spicy or floral. This helps formulators who are trying to layer scents, as well as anyone trying to understand how aromatherapy works. Commentary from aromatherapists and herbalists is embedded in the text to let the reader know the source of each idea. I also recommend Rhind’s Fragrance and Wellbeing, Listening to Scent, and Aromatherapeutic Blending: Essential Oils in Synergy.

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The Aromatherapy Beauty Guide: Using the Science of Carrier and Essential Oils to Create Natural Personal Care Products by Danielle Sade
If you’d like to make your own skincare formulas, here’s your guide. This artistic, spacious presentation is well-organized and packed with reliable information. The A to Z describes essential oils and carriers. The impressive 100 recipes contain herbal ingredients alongside oils, with the use of each clearly explained. An entire page is devoted to the main compounds of each essential oil. This is one of the few starter books that doesn’t shy away from chemistry, which is really the nuts and bolts of how it all works. There are numerous applications and safe amounts suggested.

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Specific Topics

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Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston
Winston, a clinical herbalist who runs the Center for Herbal Studies, definitely knows his herbs. His excellent guide outlines over a dozen adaptogenic herbs from around the world. An herb’s origin, traditional and clinical uses, actions, properties, preparation, and dosage are all documented. Read down the handy tables to find ginseng (Panax ginseng) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Adaptogens play an important herbal role since they act on the entire body, including the mind and immune system. This book also branches out into nervines, restorative tonics, and nootropic herbs to use as adjuncts in reducing stress-related disorders. Advanced herbalists will glean much from this awesome book, but since the information is so well presented, it also makes a suitable herbal introduction.

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The Herball’s Guide to Botanical Drinks: Using the Alchemy of Plants to Create Potions to Cleanse, Restore, Relax and Revive by Michael Isted
My alchemist heart loves this book! It comes from an eclectic herbalist, nutritionist, and aromatherapist who draws from his worldwide travels and obvious love of botanical history. Full-page photographs display 50 herbal drinks, including non-alcohol variations. Well-crafted medicinal recipes are organized according to their healing attributes, such as cleansing, restoration, energizing, and even love! The Vedic Tonic Water lightly ferments turmeric (Curcuma longa) and ginger (Zingiber officinale) with a touch of lemon for a sparkling soda with your choice of bitters. If I had to choose a favorite, there’s ancient Egyptian kyphi incense/medicine with cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) turned into a hydrosol. Or, the 13th-century Queen of Hungary Water transformed into honey-based oxymel. Herb descriptions are brief, but come with instructions for making tea, tinctures, and glycerites.

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Women’s Herbs: Women’s Health by Christopher Hobbs and Kathi Keville
I want to include at least one of the several good herb books on women’s health, so I’m choosing my own book. Honestly, it’s my favorite. Each chapter takes an in-depth look at a different condition to suggest not only herbal healing advice, but advice about how diet, nutrition, and exercise play an important role in healing. The book is loaded with herb and aromatherapy formulas along with nutritional and lifestyle suggestions depending upon the situation. Of course, there’s lots of advice on regulating hormones naturally and keeping a woman healthy throughout her life.

An internationally known herbalist and aromatherapist, KATHI KEVILLE has been an herb book reviewer since 1981. She is director of the American Herb Association, which offers a very informative AHA Quarterly filled with current news and studies on medicinal herbs. Her 16 herb books have published in nine countries and seven languages. Kathi has conducted medicinal herbs and aromatherapy seminars in North America and Europe for 45 years and leads an Aroma~Herbalism tour of Tuscany. Her Green Medicine Herb School in California’s Sierras is surrounded by her 500-species herb garden. Kathi is a member of United Plant Savers, an American Herbalists Guild founding member and received National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy honorary membership. She has written 150 magazine articles and is a consultant to the aromatherapy and herb product industry. Kathi hosts the Garden Forum radio show and co-hosted “Everybody Nose” on Dish TV’s Veria Channel.

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