When historians research a topic, we turn to a multitude of primary and secondary sources to understand it. I have found the same methods to be useful as I learn about herbalism. My primary sources are the plants and dried herbs. My secondary sources include books, articles, websites, apps, other herbalists, and more. Here is a growing list to aid your own exploration:
About Herbs: “This app, presented by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Integrative Medicine Service, provides evidence-based information about herbs, botanicals, supplements, and more.” In truth, this app does more than this. It offers two viewing options for each entry: the Professional and the Consumer. The Professional entry includes full scientific information and citations for studies. The Consumer entry is less jargonistic and aimed at providing clear and accurate information without the scientific apparatus. If you want to know whether there have been any “real” studies done about an herb or mode of therapy, this app is useful.
Robin Rose Bennett, The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2014.
Andrew Chevallier, FNIMH, Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, 3rd ed. New York: DK Publishing, 2016.
Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper’s Color Herbal (New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 1983): Culpeper is an important figure in the history of Euro-American medicine and the history of herbalism. First published in 1653, The Complete Herbal was the first medical text aimed at a lay audience. Culpeper had trained as a physician and then apprenticed with an apothecary. Frustrated with social and professional hierarchies of all sorts, Culpeper wanted to provide his patients and the general public with the knowledge to effectively treat themselves. The Complete Herbal is now in the public domain. In addition to the original text, this 1983 edition includes beautiful color illustrations as well as modern updates provided by editor David Potteron.
Thomas J. Elpel, Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, LLC, 2013.
Fall River Press, The Practical Herbal Medicine Handbook: Your Quick Reference Guide to Healing Herbs and Remedies. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2014.
Steven Foster & James A. Duke, Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
Maria Noel Groves, Body Into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2016.
Rebecca L. Johnson, Steven Foster, Tieraona Low Dog, MD, and David Kiefer, MD, National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: the World’s Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2010.
Melinda Myers, Gardening in Iowa. Franklin, TN: Cool Springs Press, 2007.
National Geographic. Nature’s Best Remedies. Time, Inc., 2018.
Penelope Ody, The Complete Medicinal Herbal: A Practical Guide to the Healing Properties of Herbs. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2017.
Lisa M. Rose, Midwest Foraging: 115 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Burdock to Wild Peach. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2015.
Lisa M. Rose, Midwest Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest, and Use 109 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2017.
Matthew Wood, The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2004): Starting from the premise that the underlying philosophies of Euro-American herbalism have been forgotten as the biomedical model took precedence, Wood sets to the task of reclaiming this lost knowledge. Tracing the intellectual history of Euro-American herbalism and its relationship to herbal practices in other cultures, Wood offers succinct, clear, and understandable descriptions of the underlying doctrines and how they frame herbal medicine.
Historical and Other Scholarship:
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions, 2013.
Abena Dove Osseo-Assare, Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa. The University of Chicago Press, 2014.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary 1785-1812. Vintage Books, 1990.