Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Heal

We tend to think of chamomile as a gentle herb, with effects that are mostly psychological. A cup of chamomile tea is nice before bedtime, but is there anything to this pretty little herb beyond the relaxing ritual of a steaming mug?

Yes! I felt chamomile’s powerful effects firsthand when I began taking medicinal doses for stress and tension headaches (parenting two young kids is rewarding, but it’s no walk in the park). Chamomile, it turns out, is a potent nervine and antispasmodic herb, and a chamomile infusion has become my go-to remedy for stress.

I have Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee de la Forêt to thank for my newfound love of chamomile. Although there are a lot of great books on herbal medicine out there, Alchemy of Herbs is an ideal beginner’s guide: it’s both simple enough to put into practice immediately, and comprehensive enough to keep you learning and growing as a home herbalist for years to come.

The book begins with a discussion of what herbalists call herbal energetics, or the physical feelings that herbs and spices trigger in the body (for example, mint’s cooling qualities and the heat of cayenne pepper). It’s not enough to simply match an herb to an ailment, de la Forêt explains; you need to take the energetics of an herb and a person into account when figuring out which herb to use. For instance, cinnamon is great for stimulating circulation because it’s a warming herb, but it could produce unwanted side effects in someone with an already-warm constitution. The system might sound complicated, but de la Forêt includes a simple quiz to help you nail down your body’s energetics. She also recommends learning about herbs through taste and smell, and includes an exercise that you can use to acquaint yourself with a new herb.

The bulk of the book is devoted to descriptions of individual herbs. Some of them, like lavender and turmeric, are already well known for their medicinal properties, but others, like artichoke and even coffee, are surprising and useful additions to a book on herbal medicine. De la Forêt is careful to keep her assertions evidence-based, citing numerous human clinical trials, but her writing style is warm and engaging instead of dry and academic.

Probably the best part of the book, though, are the recipes. Each chapter has a few recipes that you can use to incorporate herbs into your meals, instead of relegating them to capsules and tinctures. My favorite recipes are the spiced cold-brew coffee and the sage chicken, but there are too many wonderful recipes to list here.

Many people think of herbalism as a watered-down version of pharmaceutical medicine, but Alchemy of Herbs demonstrates that herbalism is not only a whole different kind of healing modality--it’s also fun and delicious!

This book is also available on e-Media.

While you’re at it, check out these other books on herbalism:

Medicinal Herbs: a Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar

Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal by Rosemary Gladstar

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook by James Green

Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore

Common Herbs for Natural Health by Juliette de Bairacli Levy