So, you’re wanting to start using herbs to keep yourself healthy? Great! But to begin with, you need to learn a bit about herbs because it’s not as straight forward as taking one herb for one ailment. Herbs have many chemical constituents, often several hundred in one herb, and often we don’t know which the active ones are. Most herbs have several pharmacological actions which can be used to treat many illnesses, but they work a lot better if you use several herbs with different actions together. Human bodies are also very complicated, which is why I believe herbs are well suited to treat diseases. Herbs are also not always safe. Many plants are poisonous, and even non-poisonous ones can be harmful in certain doses or certain situations. So it really helps if you know what you’re doing. Even a simple remedy like peppermint tea, which is generally very safe, can have negative effects and can for example increase heartburn.
You need at least a few good books to get you started. Maybe you can make do with one book, but no book has all the herbs in, so it’s good to get a selection. There are lots of good books out there, but also some that are not so good. The easiest is to check the author’s credentials, and to make sure they belong to a reputable professional body like NIMH (they will have the intials MNIMH or FNIMH after their name), this means they will have had a high standard of training and continued professional development. A lot of books are written by journalists, who may not have any training.
Here’s some that I’d recommend for people without any prior knowledge. They’re all great value for money.
Anne McIntyre: The Top 100 Herbal Remedies: Safe, Effective Remedies for 100 Common Ailments
Nice basic little book to start you off.
The 'Herbal Health' series by Jill Wright, titles as follows:
Anxiety & Tension
Arthritis & Rheumatism
Asthma & Bronchitis
IBS & Colitis
Migraine & Headaches
Small, inexpensive books on individual subjects, easy to understand but with lots of information. Explains pathology and conventional options of treatment. I very much recommend these if you have one of the conditions in the series. These books are sadly now discontinued and no re-edition planned, but you can still snap them up used.
Vicky Chown & Kim Walker: The Handmade Apothecary: Healing herbal remedies
Brand new book, only just released. Great for beginners. Lots of recipes, lots of photos and chapters on all the body systems, with a focus on native herbs.
David Hoffmann: Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine: Principles and Practices
This is the big guns. Excellent book, aimed at professional herbalists as well as the general public. Everything is very well explained. It has lots in that you won’t need, like a whole chapter on phytochemistry, but you can just use it as a reference book and just look up one condition or one herb. Lots of advice for prevention as well as treating disease. All the common ailments, with a focus on herbs from the UK and USA. The book is from 2003, so some of the medical opinions are obviously out of date now, like the chapter on cholesterol for example, but that’s a problem you’ll always have with books.
And if books aren't your thing, the Betonica website has a very useful list of courses - online and around the country, both short courses and professional ones. Heartwood do a very high standard online foundation course, give me a shout if you'd like 40% off the course fee.