Monday, June 3, 2024

Book Review: The Herbalist's Guide by Mary Colvin, RH

Book Review: The Herbalist's Guide by Mary Colvin, RH
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

If it isn't obvious, I adore plants, especially regarding their history, folklore, and medicinal uses. It's why I write my wildly popular Herbarium posts, so when I was given the opportunity to review The Herbalist's Guide: How to Build and Use Your Own Apothecary by Mary Colvin, RH I couldn't pass it up. This was another opportunity for me to not only learn some new information but also add to my growing collection of books on herbalism that I can reference for my own Herbarium posts. I pride myself in providing accurate historical and scientifically backed information, so the more resources I have, the better!

The Herbalist's Guide is broken up into 8 parts, each consisting of a couple of short chapters. Despite how this may sound, the book is short, with only 237 pages minus the glossary and index. These parts or sections include building foundational skills in herbalism, from harvesting, tools, preparations, understanding energetics, building an apothecary, and even a guide to 35 commonly used herbs. I'm not going to lie, the guide to 35 herbs was my favorite part of the book simply because I love quick reference guides when researching, writing, and creating my own remedies and profiles. Each of the herb profiles contains the plant's common and scientific name, taste, qualities, parts used, medicinal properties, a brief description and overview of the herb, an exercise, and fully colored photographs. The exercises for each herb involve creating a remedy with the plant, allowing you to slowly build your apothecary as you learn about the plants in question. Colvin suggests when learning about each herb to start with older material and compare it to modern herbals before looking at medical research/scientific articles from today. I love this approach as it builds a foundation rooted in history and science. Furthermore, Colvin suggests studying no more than five plants at a time to fully learn about them, instead of just memorizing information. As an educator, I completely agree. Overloading yourself with too much information at once and relying on memorizing information is not best practice and often results in an incomplete understanding and failure to retain the information. This is the last thing you want when learning about herbalism as it can result in poorly prepared or incorrectly prepared remedies that could cause more harm than good. True learning occurs through practice, repetition, and trial and error, so I encourage you to spend time working with one or two plants at a time, especially ones that are able to work together before moving on to others. How long you spend on a plant is up to you, but I promise you will know when you are ready to explore more. I've spent months, even years, working with a single plant before I felt truly comfortable moving on to another. While most plants do not require that sort of time, as an animist and witch I find it's important to develop deep spiritual relationships with the plants I wish to work with instead of approaching them as an object ripe for the picking. Exploitation of our resources, which Colvin wholeheartedly agrees with, is the antithesis of healing.

Book Review: The Herbalist's Guide by Mary Colvin, RH

As I mentioned earlier, each plant profile contains an exercise. This is not the only place you will find exercises. In fact, Colvin highly recommends working through the book one chapter at a time, from beginning to end, to fully develop the foundations of a healthy herbalism practice. There are numerous exercises and activities throughout designed to hone your skills before jumping into making remedies. These exercises include plenty of research, with excellent guiding questions to help you better understand scientific studies. Colvin's guiding questions are a great resource for anyone reading scientific or peer-reviewed sources, whether they are about herbalism or not. Unfortunately, reading such articles requires skills beyond those required to read and enjoy fictional works, skills many people simply do not possess. Discernment, critical thinking, and comparing information across sources are necessary to fully understand herbalism and ensure you are preparing the best possible remedies without causing harm to others. I absolutely love Colvin's suggestions and it's refreshing to see someone as passionate as myself about reading critically.

Furthermore, Colvin supports the use of modern medicine in conjunction with herbal remedies and bashes many of the essential oil MLMs, homeopathic practitioners, and more who completely disregard science and safe practices. I wish she had spent a little more time exposing homeopathy for what it is, but we can't all be perfect. For those unaware, homeopathy is NOT herbalism or the use of home remedies. Instead, it is the belief that like-cures-like and small doses that cure illnesses. It's a crock of horse shit (pardon my language) and a waste of time. Numerous studies have found it to be useless and if anything, a great example of the placebo effect. In essence, homeopathy would have you dissolve a single Advil into a bathtub full of water and drink a cup of that water every hour to cure your migraine. Every single homeopathic, over-the-counter "drug" on the market has been tested and found to be nothing more than sugar pills. They contain such small traces, if any, of actual medicine that they are rendered completely useless.

Colvin also includes legal information, specifically regarding the use of the word "apothecary," sustainably harvesting, and harvesting on private and government-owned land. This is very important information to know and understand, whether you plan to open a business or wildcraft. As always be mindful of local laws and research whether plants are protected in your area. A plant can be endangered in one area, but not in another so be weary of using only one source for this information.

Colvin ends the book with a list of resources, which includes information on finding seeds, connecting with local groups, continuing your education, and so much more. I love the addition of resources, as well as a complete Works Cited of the sources Colvin pulled her information from. This is a great jumping point for those wishing to dive deeper into the world of herbalism.

The Herbalist's Guide: How to Build and Use Your Own Apothecary by Mary Colvin, RH is a great introduction to herbalism and beginning your own practice. It is not, however, a complete and definitive guide, and even Colvin mentions this. If you are looking at getting started or continuing to grow your own practice, I highly recommend picking up Colvin's work to get started. You can find The Herbalist's Guide: How to Build and Use Your Own Apothecary by Mary Colvin, RH wherever books are sold.

Until next time,

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