The Gift of Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett

The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life
Robin Rose Bennett
North Atlantic Books, 2014

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Review by Rebecca Bailey.

In The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life, author Robin Rose Bennett sets a high goal: to write a 21st-century herbal that is practical for both rural gardeners and urban foragers, complete with a scientific look at the working systems of the human body and a thorough introduction to the concept of soulful healing. This book admirably and compassionately succeeds.

Bennett’s credentials for writing such a book are impressive. During her younger years, she studied with many well-known herbalists. Her biography states that she has been working as an herbalist in private practice since 1986, and that she has guest-lectured at prominent medical colleges throughout the United States.

The book’s organization is logical and systematic. The first four chapters cover the concept of healing, beginning with the statement that “All healing is spiritual healing,” and include the importance of ritual and ceremony in the healing process. The third chapter covers soulful healing. Bennett explains that “Soulful healing asks, while you are healing your body with herbs from the Earth, that you look for meaning in what is happening within your body as it related to your whole being . . . . The questions are: ‘What is the deeper teaching in this experience?’; ‘What is here for me?’; and ‘How can I make this experience an ally for my growth and transformation?’” (10). She goes on to stress the point that while we may see illness as keeping us from our path, “you cannot be off your path; your path is always under your feet” (11).

The largest, middle section discusses each of the body’s systems (the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, the respiratory system, and so on) and the herbs which are most nourishing to each of those systems

What are generally considered the most powerful healing herbs (hawthorn, nettles, dandelion, burdock, lavender, oats, slippery elm, etc.) are discussed at length with reference to the body system to which they provide the most benefit—for example, mullein with the respiratory system. Bennett’s approach to using herbs focuses on the “pro” rather than the “anti”; for example, she prefers terms such as pro-digestive and pro-circulatory to terms like antiparasitical or antifungal. “I think that affirming what the herbs can help us with is more in keeping with the energy and spirit of herbal medicine!” she writes (17).

Many examples of healing remedies are given throughout the book, case histories, if you will, almost all given from Bennett’s decades-long experience as a practicing herbalist, including how she has used herbs in support of her own health. If an herb is traditionally cited in the literature for a particular treatment but she hasn’t used it in that capacity herself, she says so, and gives a reference for the information.

This is definitely a North American herbal, specifically of the eastern United States. The majority of the herbs are common in the wild or easily nurtured in a garden; most can be bought dried in health food stores. Endangered plants, such as American ginseng and goldenseal, receive less focus here than in many herbals, which I find a respectful way of honoring the plants.

The last section of the book is called “Everything is Medicine,” a chronicle of the many common foods in our kitchens can be used to strengthen and tonify specific body systems.

I especially enjoyed some of the less-expected information, such as herbs for treating tick-borne diseases, herbs for dental health, and how to make an herbal electrolyte replacer with two very common ingredients. I learned more about my life-long ally dandelion, and found some great ideas for additional ways to use her flowers. The author’s recipe for mullein cough syrup is similar to the one my grandmother used, and even though I once loudly proclaimed that I’d rather be sick than swallow it, I’m thinking that it might at last be time for me to make some myself.

The book is readable and rational, spiritual, creative, and inspiring. It’s fun to read. The section on making herbal preparations is clear and easy to follow, references plentiful, stories well-told and to the point. If you’re in the market for a new herbal, to update or begin your library of traditional medicine, Robin Rose Bennett’s The Gift of Healing Herbs is an excellent choice, not the least because the author obviously loves people as well as plants. This readable and useful book is very highly recommended.

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The Witching Herbs by Harold Roth

The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden
Harold Roth
Weiser, 2017

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Review by Rebecca Bailey.

A plant is a sacred text,” Harold Roth writes in this wonderful book. The description, the plan, the story of the plant’s spirit,” he continues, and when you tend that plant and cultivate it and groom it, you indicate to its spirit that you are receptive to its contact.” (pp. 12-13). This book’s ambitious — and largely successful — goal is to marry the art of growing plants as a gardener with using plant magic as a practitioner of the Craft.

The thirteen witching herbs selected by the author are: poppy, clary sage, yarrow, rue, hyssop, vervain, mugwort, wormwood, datura, wild tobacco, henbane, belladonna, and mandrake. Roth relies on common names and does not emphasize the scientific binomials; in my reading, this is the book’s only significant flaw. While this is not a scientific text (although much good science is included, especially about plants’ chemical compositions), readers need to know exactly which species the author means. In this aspect, as well as others, the book’s primary audience is the intermediate to advanced practitioner.

His chapter “Cultivating Your Witch’s Garden” is a thorough introduction to establishing plants in your garden. As a lifelong gardener, I appreciate his emphasis on the spirituality inherent in bonding with plants we choose to cultivate. Roth’s self-deprecating humor shines when he confesses that although he can grow datura, he can’t grow a zucchini!

I like the way the author does not shy away from what he calls “the baneful plants,” especially those in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. He presents information on just what exactly makes them baneful, largely tropane alkaloids that can produce sinister hallucinations and behaviors and can even kill. “New Age approaches to the natural world have meant that many no longer expect plant spirits to have anything but calm and wise personalities” — in contrast, “datura gets a bang out of messing with people” (p. 178). The chapter for each baneful plant contains copious, explicit, and vivid warnings about their effects, from merely smelling the flowers to touching their leaves with ungloved hands.

This unique and well-written volume includes lore, cultural history, growing tips, instructions for magical uses of each plant and a comprehensive bibliography. A worthy addition to a green witch’s library.

I’ll give Harold Roth the last word: “No one can gainsay healthy witching herbs that you grow yourself. They are there as proof of your hard-won expertise. I hope this book leads you to experience the satisfaction, confidence, and knowledge that are born from the serious practice of growing the witching herbs and devotion to their spirits” (p. 245).

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Plant Magic by Sandra Kynes

Plant Magic: A Year of Green Wisdom for Pagans and Wiccans
Sandra Kynes
Llewellyn Publications, 2017

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Review by Rebecca Buchanan.

I love to garden and I love to bake, so I was very excited to lay my hands on an advance copy of Sandra Kynes’ new Plant Magic. I am happy to report that Kynes’ book is well-researched, easy to understand, and would make a great addition to the library of any witch, gardener, or baker.

The book is divided into two main sections: a lengthy introduction, followed by entries for each individual month. In the case of Plant Magic, it is vital to *not* skip the Getting Started section. Kynes lays out the importance of scientific names (“meadowsweet” for example, is colloquially applied to two very different plants), defines some basic botanical terms, discusses the role of the planets and stars and moon in plant magick, and analyzes the symbolism of the various parts of plants.

Each month, in turn, is divided into four sections: On the Calendar (sacred days and the plants associated with them), In the Garden, In the Wild, and In the House. January, for example, includes entries on New Year’s, Epiphany, and the Celtic Month of Rowan, witch hazel, eucalyptus, spider plant, and a winter wellness rite with thyme. The entry on witch hazel is further divided into a discussion of its common and scientific names, a description of the plant, its magical uses, its astrological influences, and its link to the ogham Emancoll.

I definitely recommend Plant Magic. It is one of the easiest-to-use manuals on the subject that I have ever seen. I do have a suggestion, though: if you buy a physical copy of the book, also grab a blank journal. Use it to take notes, jot down garden plans, and, especially, include photos of the plants. Aside from a lunar chart and illustrations of ogham and runes, there are *no* pictures in Plant Magic. (In the case of a digital copy, it should be possible to copy/paste and attach images in the margins, or create hyperlinks.)

Recommended, especially in conjunction with texts such as Roth’s The Witching Herbs, Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, Riotte’s Carrots Love Tomatoes, and Culpepe’s Herbal.

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