Chestnut Herbal School

The Best Herbal Medicine Books for Beginning Herbalists

Compiled by Meghan Gemma, Juliet Blankespoor, and Sarah Sorci
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor

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There is a veritable sea of herbal medicine books to choose from these days. It can be a tempestuous situation trying to select a few that will meet your present needs. Want some insight from our team of professional herbal book worms? We’re bibliophiles through and through at the Chestnut School, and we read just about every herbal we can get our hands on. We’ve got old school favorites that will forever grace our top shelves, and we’re continuously coming across fantastic new finds. If you’re curious which books make the cut for us, take a peek at our hand-picked selections.

To bring ease to your browsing, we’ve created a handful of categories:

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If you’re looking for books that go even deeper, see our article on Herbal Medicine Books for Advanced & Clinical Herbalists.

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ACCESSING BOOKS: We recommend purchasing from small and/or BIPOC-owned bookstores whenever possible. Here is one list of Black-owned bookstores, many of which offer an online store. Some books on this list may be more difficult to find and/or be more expensive, since they are offered by smaller publishing houses with smaller print runs. For tips on affordably accessing books, visit our Herbal Books Hub.

*Titles by BIPOC authors or co-authors (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are written in purple.

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Assorted herbs

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Our Favorite Herbal Medicine Making Books

The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green

Detailed instruction in making herbal medicines: tinctures, medicinal oils, salves, etc. Expect a good bit of philosophical waxing to accompany this foray into medicine making.

Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech

Geared towards the herb gardener. The first section of this book covers basic medicine making techniques. Part two, “A Gardener’s Herbal Formulary,” offers materia medica for over one hundred plants, including information about conservation status and related species. Cech’s playful storytelling adds flair to this practical book. Order the 4th edition from Strictly Medicinal Seeds.

Herbal Materia Medica by Michael Moore

Contains a brief outline of major medicinal plants, giving preferred media, strengths, common dosage ranges, possible side effects, and ecological status. This is great to reference when you want to find the appropriate proportions and dosages for your tinctures. Access this resource for free at the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine website.

The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne

An in-depth yet highly accessible medicine-making guide that includes favorite formulas from the authors. Comes with suggested uses and dosages for a long list of herbs.

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General Herbals & Herbal Medicine Books for Beginners

Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes

An in-depth discussion of adaptogens with detailed monographs for many adaptogenic, nervine, and nootropic herbs.

Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease by Donald R. Yance

A scientifically based herbal and nutritional program to master stress, improve energy, prevent degenerative disease, and age gracefully.

Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal by Rosalee de la Forêt

This book offers an introduction to herbal energetics for the beginner, plus a host of delicious and simple recipes for incorporating medicinal plants into meals. Rosalee shares short chapters on a range of herbs, highlighting scientific research on each plant.

The Business of Botanicals: Exploring the Healing Promise of Plant Medicines in a Global Industry by Ann Armbrecht Forbes

In a world awash with herbal books, this is a much-needed reference, central to the future of plant medicine itself. Ann weaves a complex tapestry through the story threads of the herbal industry: growers, gatherers, importers, herbalists, and change-making business owners and non-profits. As interest in botanical medicine surges and the world’s population grows, medicinal plant sustainability is paramount. A must-read for any herbalist.

The Complete Herbal Tutor: The Ideal Companion for Study and Practice by Anne McIntyre

Provides extensive herbal profiles and materia medica; offers remedy suggestions by condition and organ system. This is a great reference guide for the beginner to intermediate student.

Foundational Herbcraft by jim mcdonald

jim mcdonald has a gift for explaining energetics in a down-to-earth and engaging way, and this 200-page PDF is a compilation of his writings on the topic. jim’s categorization of herbal actions into several groups (foundational actions, primary actions, and secondary actions) adds clarity and depth to the discussion. Access the printable PDF and learn more about jim’s work here.

The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life by Robin Rose Bennett

A beautiful tour of some of our most healing herbs, written in lovely prose. Full of anecdotes, recipes, and simple rituals for connecting with plants.

Herbal Healing for Women: Simple Home Remedies for All Ages by Rosemary Gladstar

Thorough and engaging materia medica. This was the only book Juliet brought with her on a three-month trip to Central America and she never tired of its pages. Information is very accessible with a lot of recipes and formulas.

Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family by Rosemary Gladstar

Great beginner reference and recipe treasury written by the herbal fairy godmother herself.

The Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve

This classic text was first published in 1931 and contains medicinal, culinary, cosmetic, and economic properties, plus cultivation and folklore of herbs. Available for free online.

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And last but not least ... our very own Juliet Blankespoor’s forthcoming book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating & Handcrafting Herbal Remedies. This book is the first of its kind, bursting with information on growing and using healing plants, and lushly sown with seeding charts, medicine-making instructions, propagation techniques, and soils and substrates.

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Folk Herbalism & Herbal Traditions

 

African American Folk Healing by Stephanie Mitchem

An excellent study of African American healing that sheds light on a number of folk practices (herbs, rituals, and charms) and traces their evolution from the time of slavery through the Great Migrations. Mitchem also explores how these practices have continued into the present, and their relationship with alternative medicines.

 A Reference Guide to Medicinal Plants: Herbal Medicine Past and Present by John Crellin and Jane Philpott

Based on the teachings of southern folk herbalist Tommie Bass, this guide is a treasury of old-timey herbal wisdom and little-used local medicinals. The authors interview Bass and include his thoughts about specific plants verbatim. Additional scholarly commentary includes some helpful details about safety. Featuring over 700 plants, the book blends folk wisdom with modern scientific research. An excellent reference for those interested in the historical uses of herbs.

Working the Roots: Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing by Michele Lee

An exceptional review of the Black and Native American healing fusion that has taken place in the Americas. Features fascinating interviews with traditional healers and herbal materia medica.

African Ethnobotany in the Americas edited by Robert Voeks and John Rashford

Provides a comprehensive examination of ethnobotanical knowledge and skills among the African diaspora in the Americas, and explores the complex relationship between plant use and meaning among the descendants of Africans in the New World.

African American Slave Medicine: Herbal and Non-Herbal Treatments by  Herbert C. Covey

Covey explores how enslaved African Americans tended to their own health during the years before and surrounding the Civil War. Using interviews with formerly-enslaved individuals, he documents many plant-based and non-plant remedies used by African American folk practitioners. This book links each referenced plant or herb to modern scientific research, offering insight about the value and effects of these remedies.

African Medicine: A Complete Guide to Yoruba Healing Science and African Herbal Remedies by Dr. Tariq M. Sawandi, PhD

A combination of West African healing wisdom, spirituality, and modern science, this book presents the history, philosophy, methodology, and medicinal usage of African and Caribbean herbs, roots, and gemstones to address chronic diseases.

American Indian Healing Arts: Herbs, Rituals, and Remedies for Every Season of Life by E. Barrie Kavasch and Karen Baar

Blends plant lore, history, and living tradition drawing on a lifetime of study with Native healers by herbalist and ethnobotanist E. Barrie Kavasch. At the heart of the book are more than 60 easy-to-use herbal remedies, plus guidelines for assembling a basic American Indian medicine chest.

The Cherokee Herbal: Native Plant Medicine from the Four Directions by J.T. Garrett

From Chestnut student Jared Wolf: “J.T. Garrett is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina. He is a strong medicine man and well-respected. The book talks of how medicine came to be among my people and how plants took up for us. He does not give the ceremonies used or the words that must be said, as that is sacred. However, he includes many plants and how they’re used, plus good stories for folks to learn about.”

Folk Wisdom and Mother Wit: John Lee—An African American Herbal Healer by John Lee and Arvilla Payne-Jackson

This book includes ethnobotanical information, illustrations, and materia medica about the herbs used in African American herbal medicine, and explores John Lee’s approach to folk medicine. The contributions of European colonial, American Indigenous, and African practices to the development of contemporary African American folk medicine are discussed, as well as a possible marriage of biomedicine and traditional health care.

Handbook of African Medicinal Plants by Maurice M. Iwu

A fantastic review of more than 2,000 species of plants used in Indigenous African medicine, accompanied by full-color photographs and references from over 1,000 publications.

Hoodoo Medicine: Gullah Herbal Remedies by Faith Mitchell

Offers an account of a nearly lost African American folk culture. Mitchell explores herbal medicines used from the 1600s onward by slaves and their freed descendants in the South Carolina Sea Islands. The Gullah’s folk medicine combined African remedies with those learned from Indigenous communities in the US and European settlers.

Iwígara: American Indian Ethnobotanical Traditions and Science by Enrique Salmón

Features 80 plants used for food and medicine by North America’s Indigenous peoples. Salmón offers details about plant identification, harvesting, and medicinal uses, including how these plants appear in myths and stories. Beautiful photography and illustrations.

Leaves of Green: A Handbook of Herbal Remedies by Maude E. Scott

Born in 1918, Maude Scott’s herbal training began in early childhood when she helped her father collect and prepare herbal remedies. Her father, Abraham Lewis, was Cherokee and Kongo, and he learned herbal practices from his Indigenous mother. After moving to Florida with his family, Lewis traveled throughout the state supporting those in need with natural remedies. Scott has followed in her father’s footsteps, spending a lifetime teaching and working with clients.

Medicines to Help Us: Traditional Métis Plant Use by Christi Belcourt

An accessible, introductory guide to Métis medicinal plant knowledge. Features interesting beaded botanical art and painting, including 30 high-quality prints.

Native American Ethnobotany Database by Daniel E. Moerman

Thoroughly researched reference for fiber, food, and medicinal uses of North American plants by Native peoples. Available for free online. You can also buy the book if you prefer hard copy.

Secret Doctors: Ethnomedicine of African Americans by Wonda L. Fontenot

An exploration of the traditional medicine of African Americans in the rural southern United States, focusing on the original Louisiana Territory and its Indigenous and African American traditions. Fontenot also examines current challenges in the US healthcare system such as high costs, lack of access, and patient-doctor ratio, particularly for individuals of color and those in rural areas. The alternative health-care system is presented as a possible complement to our modern medical system.

Southern Folk Medicine by Phyllis Light

Explores the history, lore, healing practices, and assessment techniques of Southern and Appalachian Folk Medicine, written by a Southern Folk Medicine practitioner. Light discusses the commonalities that exist across different folk traditions, as well as the cultural influences that have shaped Southern Folk Medicine. Includes in-depth information about the constitutions and elements used in this system, plus guidance on discerning one’s own constitution.

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine by Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad

Offers an overview of Ayurvedic medicine, plus detailed materia medica for 108 herbs (including common Western and Chinese herbs) from an Ayurvedic perspective. The book includes another 160 herbs, plus helpful charts and diagrams.

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Herbals for Women, Babies, & Children

 

Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health by Aviva Romm

A comprehensive resource of medical and herbal interventions related to women’s health issues, with both traditional and scientific information. Geared toward the health care practitioner, this is the most advanced and detailed books on the subject.

Herbal Healing for Women: Simple Home Remedies for All Ages by Rosemary Gladstar

Thorough and engaging materia medica. This was the only book Juliet brought with her on a three-month trip to Central America and she never tired of its pages. Information is very accessible with a lot of recipes and formulas.

The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition, and Other Holistic Choices by Aviva Romm

Follows a woman’s journey from baby’s conception to birth, describing herbs that can promote and maintain a healthy pregnancy, along with those you should avoid during your term.

The Natural Pregnancy Book: Your Complete Guide to a Safe, Organic Pregnancy and Childbirth with Herbs, Nutrition, and Other Holistic Choices, 3rd edition by Aviva Romm

Addresses the common health issues of children, from newborns to pre-adolescents.

An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children & Infants by Mary Bove

A thorough and easy-to-use guide to keeping children healthy, including information about diet, herbs, and supplements. Includes recommendations and recipes for over 50 common ailments, with special attention given to the immune system.

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Aromatherapy

 

Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by Kathi Keville and Mindi Green

Juliet’s favorite basic aromatherapy book! A practical and thorough introduction to aromatherapy. This book offers a solid materia medica and explanation of how aroma affects human physiology, plus a range of recipes and suggested formulas for first aid, massage, hair and skin care, and more.

Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils by Gabriel Mojay

An aromatherapy guide that synthesizes Eastern and Western approaches to restoring emotional and mental health. Discusses the esoteric and energetic healing properties of 40 essential oils to help restore balance to the body and psyche. Colorful illustrations guide readers through massage or acupressure techniques.

The Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy: A Practical Approach to the Use of Essential Oils for Health and Well-Being by Julia Lawless

An encyclopedic book of aromatherapy techniques addressing a range of applications, from clinical uses to perfumery to cosmetics. Includes color illustrations and protocols for a range of health issues.

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Want more?? If you’ve still got books on the brain, check out our articles on The Best Books on Foraging Wild Foods & Herbs and The Best Herb Gardening, Farming, & Permaculture Books for Herbalists.

P.S. This book list is an excerpt from our 1,000-hour Online Herbal ImmersionTHE most comprehensive online program in sustainable, bioregional herbalism on the planet. The Immersion features our personal mentorship on:

  • Using herbs for health + healing
  • Growing the medicinal herb garden of your dreams
  • Foraging wild food + medicine
  • Plant identification
  • Medicine making
  • Holistic nutrition
  • Herbal careers + livelihoods
  • And more!

The program features 119+ videos, a gorgeous printable course manual that is 1,446 pages long, and over 100 scrumptious herbal and wild foods recipes. Ready to join us? You can find the course curriculum, student testimonials, and payment plan options here.

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Online Herbal Immersion Program

Meet Our Contributors:

Juliet Blankespoor

JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.

These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.

Meghan Gemma

MEGHAN GEMMA is one of the Chestnut School’s primary instructors through her written lessons, and is the principal pollinator of the school’s social media community—sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of herbalists, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.

She has been in a steady relationship with the Chestnut School since 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery; as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field; and later as a part the school’s woman-powered professional team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina.

SARAH SORCI grew up near the Lake Erie shores of Buffalo, New York, and is happy to be back in her home region. With a degree in Environmental Studies, sustainability fuels Sarah’s love for local, homegrown herbalism. Sarah has been part of the Chestnut team since autumn 2019, and she offers local classes through her business, Sweet Flag Herbs. Sarah loves connecting with the WNY herbal community as an Herbalists Without Borders chapter co-coordinator. She is also jazzed about her new writing project, A Nourishing Harvest, where she explores topics that support the safe, toxin-informed harvest of food and medicine.

Meet the Models:

AMBER BROWN is a Native Alaskan from the Tlingit & Haida tribe of southeast Alaska and the Nisaga of British Columbia. She now resides in the rich mountainous fold of the Cherokee Nation territory, in what is currently known as western North Carolina, where she homesteads with her partner and their three spritely children. Amber is a concoctress of wild food delicacies and puts her culinary expertise to the test at the Chestnut School by helping to create and test herbal and wild foods recipes. She is the Scholarship Coordinator for the school and also supports her team with modeling and photography assistance and various administrative tasks. Visit her website to learn more about Amber and her creations. Photo by Lynne Harty

CHIWA CLARK is a clay artist and has also worked with herbs since the early 80s when she was with Gaia Herbs in Massachusetts. It instilled a love of the plant and plant medicine world into her being. She now makes clay pieces of trees on plaques with uplifting quotes. Learn more about Chiwa’s pottery at www.riverartsdistrict.com/artist/chiwa-clark.

INDY SRINATH  is a Los Angeles based urban gardener, mushroom cultivator, and food justice advocate. She’s committed to increasing organic food access and health literacy in underserved populations. Find her work on Instagram @indyofficinalis.

Interested in becoming a contributor?

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© Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and chestnutherbs.com, 2011-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and chestnutherbs.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ready to build your botanical bookshelf?

Check out our Favorite Herbalism Books Hub. We’re happy to present seven special reading lists that highlight our personal picks. There are selections for every kind of plant person: beginning herbalists, advanced and clinical herbalists, herb gardeners, foragers, medicine makers, and budding aromatherapists.

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