The Sensory Herbal Handbook: Connect with the Medicinal Power of Your Local Plants by Fiona Heckels, Karen Lawton, and Belle Benfield. ISBN: 9781786782113. Softcover, 272 pages. New York, NY: Watkins Publishing; 2019. $22.95.
My library shelves are almost collapsing under the weight of herbal medicine books. They cover a wide range of subjects: plant chemistry, folk uses, medicine making, plant identification, and more. I reference them constantly and certainly get a lot more satisfaction from looking things up in a book than any amount of internet searching. You can imagine, then, the joy of diving into The Sensory Herbal Handbook by Fiona Heckels, Karen Lawton, and Belle Benfield — also known as the Seed Sistas.
This book is written by herbalists for herbalists, but also for anyone with a love of plants and the wild woods. As a practical guide for connecting to the plant spirits and the cycles and rhythms of nature, and as an informative guide to self-care with plants, this book draws the reader into a wonderful world filled with plant wisdom.
The Sensory Herbal Handbook teaches five core tools for deepening readers’ understanding of plants: sensory observation, enhancing intuition, interpretation of the intuitive experience, divining the plant characters and personalities, and using rituals, recipes, and poetry (what the authors call the “plant dream”) to express these findings. The book is structured to follow the seasons and explores herbs, related health conditions, seasonal rituals and practices, harvesting, and even cooking with herbs.
Instead of trying to cover every known constituent and every known action of dozens of herbs, filling the book with factoids and abstract references, the authors have chosen to focus instead on a handful of herbs, 16 in total, and demonstrate how to understand them deeply, and then how to apply that learning model to any other herb. This is an empowering approach with a focus on experiential learning and deep knowledge.
There are so many standouts in this book. The table of tastes, associated elements, chemical constituents, and indications for use is especially helpful. The plant meditation practices are profound. The poetry is inspiring. The recipes sound delicious. And all of this is illustrated lovingly with lush photography, beautiful line drawings, and clear diagrams.
Truly, this is a book to inspire, cherish, share, and use. Herbalists and plant lovers the world over will find simple and practical techniques for enhancing their understanding of herbs. Artists, poets, gardeners, and cooks, as well as herbalists, will all find much of interest in this lovely volume. I highly recommend it.
Chanchal Cabrera is a medical herbalist in clinical practice in British Columbia, Canada, and the director of the Innisfree Farm and Botanic Garden.