The best herb books are the ones that speak to you. Just as every person needs a different set of plants, so too does every person need a different library of herbal books.
We are drawn to books that inspire us to commune with plants: authors who share personal stories that help us to build our own sustainable daily practice. We love more clinical herbal books, but you won’t find those types of books on this list. Instead, we’ve chosen books that get us excited about the outdoors, help us feel more comfortable and confident in the kitchen, and teach us about the history of herbalism.
Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide - This is the #1 rec for herbalists who are just starting out: it’s expert advice for a complete beginner. Gladstar covers so many concepts and offers dozens of delicious recipes. Her warmth radiates from every page offering practical advice for common ailments and the gentle encouragement you need as you begin your herbal journey.
Nancy and Michael Phillips The Herbalist's Way - This book is thorough and tender at the same time, offering a wide range of resources including how-to-instructions, anecdotes, and interviews with herbalists, plus issues herbalists face in clinical practice. It is a book to come back to again and again as a reminder that there is no straightforward path or one-way to become an herbalist.
Michele Lee’s Working the Roots - This book is a must-have for anyone un-learning and re-learning herbalism in the United States. It’s as much an essential reference book as it is a narrative journey in its deeply engaging recounting of Black-led and centered healing systems in the United States and their huge contribution to Western Herbalism. Interviews, extensive materia medica, advice on healing common ailments, and detailed medicine-making instructions make this book a valuable addition to every herbal library.
Rosita Arvigo’s The Urban Herbalist - When our founder Lauren attended her first herbal conference ever, she was lucky enough to have breakfast with Dr. Arvigo. This book is as generous as she was in that first encounter. Using plants commonly found in the urban Midwest United States, Arvigo shares her incredible knowledge of ethnobotany in terms every beginner can understand. Say hello to the abundance of healing plants growing and giving in our cities. This book is as valuable to the novice as it is to the seasoned herbalist.
Christine Buckley’s Plant Magic: Herbalism in Real Life - This book is already a classic for us! Buckley’s teaching is super approachable: she wants you to do herbalism in the way that makes the most sense for you and your community. This is a great place to start to learn everything from the basics of energetics to medicine. You’ll learn to work confidently with the plants stored in your pantry or growing wild and weedy just outside your door. This book is as helpful as it is lovely.
Erin Lovell’s Plants for the People: A Modern Guide to Plant Medicine is as beautiful as it is accessible and created by Wooden Spoon Herbs’ dear friend Erin. In 2019, our founder Lauren joined Erin and the book’s photographer for a five-day tour of the wild Southeastern United States. They met old-growth trees, medicinal plants, and everyone in between. Many, many of the photos in the book are from that trip. It’s not only one of our favorite herbal books, it’s also a precious memento.
Sarah Kate Benjamin and Summer Ashley Singletary’s Kosmic Kitchen Cookbook Summer and Sarah-Kate are two of our early inspirations. The Kosmic Kitchen blog showed many herb-curious people how to cook with herbs colorfully and deliciously. We fell in love with the whole vibe of their blog and then we became friends! Their amazing cookbook came out last year. From their own intimate relationships with plants comes a practical and intuitive approach to elemental theory, Traditional Western Herbalism, and Ayurveda.
Alicia Bay Laurel’s Living on the Earth - A good guide for a back-to-the-land lifestyle, this book is just plain useful. Its casual vibe helps to demystify lots of practices and pursuits that to a beginner can feel overwhelming: growing food, cooking outdoors, sewing garments, and making herbal remedies. Full of beautiful illustrations and hand-written notes, this book is like the gentle friend who has an answer to every burning “but how do I do _____” question.
Robin Rose Bennett’s The Gift of Healing Herbs - Robin's book is a testament to committing to the underdogs of the plant world: the plants we are meant to work with are those that are best available to us. Each page of this magical book is full of wisdom about being practical and flexible when it comes to an herbal practice. This book is about channeling our curiosity about our relationships with each other and the natural world in order to care for ourselves and our communities.
Maude Grieve’s A Modern Herbal vol I and vol II - Published in 1931, these books are maybe not as modern as they were 100 years ago, but the information enshrined in their pages is timeless. This is as much an herbal reference book as it is a historical document: a record of the folklore that survived to inform our understanding of the medicinal plants that humans relied on for thousands of years. This is a book you wish for and happen upon one magical day in a hole-in-the-wall bookstore near your house. And if you can’t wait for that magical day, it’s also one of the few herb books that can be found, free and lightly abridged, online.
Building an herbal library is like building an apothecary: you’ll learn what best supports you and that’s what will fill your shelves. Trusting your curiosity and letting it guide you is the best approach. Your herbal books will come to be a little garden of knowledge and skill that you nurture to grow over time.