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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Women Healers of the World by Holly Bellebuono

Women Healers of the World: The Tradition, History and Geography of Herbal Medicine
Holly Bellebuono
Skyhorse, 2014

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Review by Jamie Wood.

This colorful, vibrant tome is a well-researched, eclectic portrayal of more than thirty women who have studied, safeguarded and taught herbal medicine for centuries. This kaleidoscope of our herbal inheritance emboldens the reader as they follow the journeys, spirit and knowledge of the brave and resolute women who have dedicated their lives to their unique discovery and sharing of plant wisdom.

Throughout the book, the healers consistently stress that direct experience with plants is essential to develop trust in the healing power of herbs and confidence as a healer. Their collective knowledge is derived from scientific labs to the forests, but all the healers view reciprocity and mutuality with plants as crucial to understanding and using the life essence of the land to heal and maintain health.

As the book presents five different traditions (Plant, Body, Spirit, Land and Handcrafting), readers discover a plethora of herbal practices and approaches to plant medicine. From this broad expanse of knowledge and story, the reader is drawn to the method and teacher that will bring out the healer in them. Within the Plant Tradition, the reader is introduced to influential herbalists and teachers in Western, Native Nations Medicine, Polynesian Medicine, Folk Medicine, Gypsy and Bedouin Traditions, Alchemy and Aromatherapy. In the Body Traditions section, readers learn more about healers in Ayurveda, Eastern Oriental Medicine, Midwifery, Allopathic Medicine and Pharmacology. Within the Spirit Traditions, a wealth of knowledge is presented about Flower Essence Therapy, Homeopathy, Gaelic Pharmacy, Shamanism and Spirit Medicine. Women leading Conservation, Gardening and Ethnobotany are discussed under Land Traditions. Under the Handcrafting Traditions, readers are treated to recipes with oils, pastes, salves, ointments, extracts, concentrates, water remedies, spiritual and ceremonial and what author, Holly Bellebuono, calls “earthly delights.”

Excerpts on etymology, mythology, specific herbs and their uses as well as descriptions of geography are sprinkled throughout the book. The etymology provides a “popcorn trail” to rediscover the deep connection to the power of words and highlights their journey through time to influence our world culture. Mythology grounds the information in the profound resonance of story that allows the plant wisdom to settle into the mind, body and spirit. Profiles on a variety of herbs introduce unique uses and the benefits and is rather like being introduce to a new friend at a party. Picturesque depictions of the healers’ homeland provide the framework that has inspired and guided these powerful women.

The power of this book lies in the legacy of these women and the long lineage of herbal knowledge to encourage and support the reader to become a healer in their own right. This book is a mentor, just as these women have relied upon their teachers, and provides a guiding hand, which moves from gentle to fierce, and instills a powerful confidence that we women have been healers for millennia and will continue to bring the healing powers from the natural world into the future.

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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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The Hearth Witch’s Compendium by Anna Franklin

The Hearth Witch’s Compendium: Magical and Natural Living for Every Day
Anna Franklin
Llewellyn, 2017

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Review by Sharynne NicMhacha.

This book is a true magical compendium, and an absolutely delightful volume to own! Every detail has been well thought out, from the cover art to the graphics inside, from the inspiring contents to inviting open spaces where the reader can mark down their own notes or experiences.

The main sections of the book include: The Witch’s Kitchen; Wine, Cider and Beer; Preserving; The Witch’s Home; Personal Care; A Witch’s Guide to Natural Beauty; The Witch’s Garden; Herbs for Healing; Home Remedies; Essential Oils; Magical Herbalism; Incense; Vegetable Dyes; and appendices containing information about color correspondences, planetary influences, and magical herbal correspondences.

One might expect a book of this type to contain just a few of these sections, or a number of sections that contain just a few recipes. This book is a cornucopia of knowledge, and the information is solid and plentiful. Each section contains excellent foundational information as well as unusual and enticing recipes.
The chapter on The Witch’s Kitchen contains daily food recipes as well as traditional foods for the eight holidays. The chapter about Wine, Cider and Beer cider provides brewing information and many truly magical recipes, including Rowan Wine, Hawthorn Berry Wine, Hedgerow Wine, and Honeysuckle Wine, to name just a few.

This is followed by a chapter on preserving, which provides guidance on making jams, jellies, marmalades and fruit curds (I grew up in Canada where lemon curd was spread on toast or crumpets). There is also information on making fruit cheeses and fruit butters, as well as fruit syrups, pickled foods, chutney and sauces. In addition, instruction is given for drying foods, making fruit leathers and other methods of conserving food. I was especially happy to see a section on non-alcoholic cordials, as not everybody wants to partake of alcohol before or during a rite (and children can partake as well!)

The chapter called The Witch’s Home contains alternative and natural home and cleaning products which are very useful indeed; good for you and your loved ones, and good for the planet as well! The next chapter is on Personal Care and provides the reader with recipes for bath bombs, bath teabags, milk baths, bath powders, natural shampoos and coloring rinses, amongst many other wonderful products you can create.

In the chapter entitled A Witch’s Guide to Natural Beauty, we learn about the uses of herbs and how to make facial scrubs and masks, facial cleansers such as Elderberry Cleanser or Cucumber and Honey Cleanser, skin toners like Violet Milk, moisturizers, skin treatments and more.

The next chapter brings us to The Witch’s Garden, with suggestions for creating gardens based on magical uses, winemaking, healing products, natural cosmetics, dyes and more. The author gives many ideas and tips for moon gardening and indoor gardening as well.

Next is Herbs for Healing, in which we meet the plants and learn how to make traditional herbal preparations. Home Remedies follows, with many useful and unusual recipes such as making a Meadowsweet Compress or a Castor Oil and Juniper Rub. This is very useful section, and different elements are listed with associated recipes and herbs. Perhaps you think you’ve already seen this type of book, but the information in this compendium includes tried-and-true recipes as well as many unique and alluring ones.

The chapter on essential oils is arranged alphabetically and contains information about magical virtues, deities, planets, elements and sun signs, as well as how to use the oils for health. It also describes how to make and charge magical oils with useful charts for different purposes.

Finally we come to Magical Herbalism, and teachings on gathering ritual herbs, identifying herbs, planetary correspondences and magical uses. In addition there are recipes and instructions for making potions, teas and herbal inks!

The chapter on incense making was very interesting and covered different categories like resins, essential oils, woods and barks, roots, dried berries, dried herbs, dried flowers, and seeds and pods. A wide range of incense recipes follows, some of which are associated with particular deities or elements, holidays or moon phases, and specific purposes like cleansing, banishing or abundance.

The last chapter discusses vegetable dyes and how to make a wide variety of dyes and colors from plant materials. This is a book you will return to time and time again, one of those books that you keep for a lifetime and in which you continue to discover new magic and marvels every time you open it up. Highly recommended!

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