Herb Books for Autumn Reading

In autumn we appear to be edging toward the end: the end of summer; the end of the year; metaphorically speaking, the end of life. Considered in the continuum of the earth's cycle, however, autumn also is a time of beginning, a time when soil receives seeds sown by plants past their peak of bloom. Autumn is traditionally a time of beginning in our schools as well. We determine in the fall our direction for the coming year. It is worth considering this model as we move through life, choosing what we want to do or know and sowing the seeds that will bring our dreams to fruition. In setting our own course of study, it is necessary to find reliable reference books to guide us in our journey. Toward this end, I have sought recommendations from herb and health food shops in the area, asking, "What is your favorite herbal reference book and why?"Gary Kleinman, the store manager in Chicago, was enthusiastic about "How to be Your Own Pharmacist," by Linda Rector Page. Easy to read and easy to use, this book is an extremely practical reference, according to Kleinman. You can pull this book off the shelf when symptoms develop and instantly put your finger on the information you need. It is a medical text, zeroing in on facts that are pertinent at the time of illness or injury, eschewing that which is superfluous in that moment, such as growing and harvesting tips. Kleinman said that although this book has been around for years, it has been recently updated and reissued. He is currently carrying How to be Your Own Pharmacist at his Downer's Grove location, and it will eventually be available at all Fruitful Yield locations. Author Page, has also written Healthy Healing, which Kleinman recommended as well.I spoke with herb buyer, Misza Wolf, who found it difficult to pare his list of favorites down to one. He chose two classic books, the first being The Herb Book, by John Lust. Wolf appreciated Lust's book for its complete coverage and because it consistently uses Latin names to avoid confusion. Neil Levin, at Sherwyn's Health Food Shop, echoed and expanded on Wolf's praise. He said The Herb Book has excellent indexes, calling it indispensable for cross-referencing as it contains a plant index by botanical or Latin name and a separate index by English or common name. It also includes a general index, where a specific function or group of plants can be referenced.Wolf's second selection was Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, which he felt provides an excellent supplement to The Herb Book. "Tierra deals with the energetics of herbs," Wolf said, from Ayurvedic properties to the Chinese principles of hot and cold. Planetary Herbology also includes many herbs that have only recently been "discovered" by the Western world.David Blood, manager of Walsh Homeopathics in Evanston, Ill., cited Tierra's book as his staff's most valuable reference book, dealing strictly with herbs. Annapurna owner, Cynthia Gran, and Barbara Hollek, salesperson for Plaza Health Foods, added their endorsements as well. Blood considered Planetary Herbology to be the most complete, classic, Western and Oriental medicine reference volume, and Tierra to be an "elder statesman" in American herbal studies. "Anyone seriously interested in herbs must have it," said Blood. Recently revised, the volume has a user-friendly format.Gran, also in Evanston, said Michael Tierra "has tapped into so many herbologies of various indigenous peoples, it makes for a very well-rounded book." The book closest to her heart, however, is Yoga of Herbs by David Frawley and Vasant Lad. (Her husband Gary Gran is a teacher of the Ayurvedic tradition at Evanston School of Yoga) One of the first books to explain herbs from an Ayurvedic perspective, Gran feels the book "useful in establishing personal balance and determining synergistic blends to treat specific conditions." Recommendations are dosha specific, explaining whether a certain herb increases or decreases one's dosha. For example, many people know that cayenne pepper is pungent and heating, and could correctly construe that it increases fire. For purposes of treatment, however it is also important to know that cayenne decreases earth and wind.Lisa McCaskill, assistant manager of Bonne Sante in Hyde Park, Ill., said The Yoga of Herbs is her personal favorite. She also favored the comprehensive information, which allows the reader to personalize recommendations, so that an individual can choose the best herb for him or herself and for the condition. The Little Herb Encyclopedia, by Jack Ritchason, is a best seller at Bonne Sante, according to McCaskill, and one the staff often uses for reference.Back at Plaza Health Foods in Norridge, singer, songwriter, and salesperson Barbara Hollek suggested Today's Herbal Health, by Louise Tenney, as a great beginners' book. "It's very easy to use. People are comfortable with it."Emil Mahler, owner of Southtown Health Foods in Chicago, also admired Tenney's work, though his volume of preference was The Herbal Handbook. "She starts with herbs and follows up with other nutritional advice. She cross-references herbs along with vitamins" that are appropriate in a given situation and discusses herbal combinations. The book covers a wide range of medical conditions, Mahler said, broader than most. Of course Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss is "like our bible," he joked.Or perhaps it wasn't a joke. Kloss' classic was referred to by two other sources in the same breath as the Bible. Marianne Sprouse, manager of The Grain Depot in Oak Park, cited it, along with Earl Mindell's Herb Bible, as two perennial favorites of both customers and staff.At Larrabee Herbs, customers come in with "well-worn copies" of Back to Eden, with "markers in them like parishioners with favorite Bible passages." Anita Bernas is a certified nutritionist and a second-generation owner of the store along with her husband Ken. She said the book has been a best seller for the 38 years they have owned the business. (Kloss' book was first published in 1939.)Nickell's Botanical Ready Reference, first published in 1911, is a book that her staff uses all day every day. "Customers come in with all sorts of unusual regional names for herbs, this book enables us to find the Latin name." She noted that Indian Herbalogy (sic) of North America, by Alma Hutchens, is also a favorite.Michael Winter, of Merz Apothecary in Chicago, reported that The Healing Herbs, by Michael Castleman, is one of their most popular herb books. He also liked Natural Healing with Herbs, by Humbart Santillo. "Many people operate under the assumption that all natural medicines are innately safe," said Winter. These two books are responsible in their presentation of possible risks and in providing appropriate warnings.Living Healthy with Homeopathy, by Pascal Frochisse, was not a surprising selection from Anwar Ladhani, who, along with his wife, has owned Better Health, Inc., a Chicago store specializing in homeopathic medicines. "For the person who wishes to educate himself about homeopathic medicine, it is an excellent place to start," said Ladhani. "It is well-organized and easy to use."Neil Levin, of Sherwyn's in Chicago respects herb books with scientific references. Herbal Tonic Therapy, by Daniel B. Mowry, "cites studies, not folklore," Levin said. He also admires the work of Michael Murray, author of The Healing Power of Herbs and co-author of Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Dr. Mowry will be Lecturing at the Lincolnwood Radison at 7:30 p.m., on September 10, sponsored by the Nutrition for Optimum Health Association (NOHA). Further information is available through Sherwyn's, at 773-477-1934.

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