Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants by Scott Kloos. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press; 2017. Softcover, 416 pages. ISBN: 9781604696578. $27.95.
Despite the abundance of herb books on the market that attempt to identify and understand medicinal plants, many often do not bring anything new to the field. Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants by Scott Kloos is a wonderful new book with a fresh perspective. It is useful for both the outdoor enthusiast and herbal student. Kloos includes comprehensive identification and harvest methods for 120 herbs from the Pacific Northwest, including many common plants, as well as lesser-known plants.
Kloos is a hands-on herbalist, and his extensive knowledge and many years of field experience are evident in the book. The book has a broad scope, and covers useful medicinal herbs that grow in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. It covers a variety of different ecosystems to make it easier for the beginning student to identify plants. Kloos details medicinal herbs found in each environment throughout the extensive geographic scope of the book.
The book is arranged into four main sections. Introductory chapters include “Wildcrafting Basics,” “Herbal Medicine Primer,” and “Wildcrafting Season by Season.” These are followed by the heart of the book: 120 plant profiles.
In the “Wildcrafting Basics” chapter, Kloos takes care to teach ethical wildcrafting, and includes an ethical wildcrafting checklist, a crucial addition that is essential for maintaining healthy populations of wild medicinal plants. Kloos’s experience with the conservation of medicinal plants makes this book unique in its field. Any book about harvesting medicinal plants needs to discuss toxic plants, and Kloos makes sure to fully explain these plants in the region, and includes a list of what he considers the seven most toxic plants.
In the “Wildcrafting Season by Season” chapter, he gives a compelling list of what to harvest when, including a list of herbs to harvest mid-winter, late winter, early spring, mid-spring, and late spring. Only someone who is intimately familiar with the plants and the seasons can include such detail.
Most of the book is dedicated to 120 detailed plant profiles. Each plant profile includes the same eight categories: Plant Names; Photographs; How to Identify; Where, When, and How to Wildcraft; Medicinal Uses; Herbal Preparations; Cautions; and Future Harvests. The plants are listed in alphabetical order by common name, which is different from many guides that list plants by flower color or families. This A-to-Z listing is the easiest way to organize such a diverse group of herbs from such a wide region, from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Coast. I found the index incredibly useful for looking up specific plants, thus making the book very easy to navigate.
Kloos’s attention to detail is evident in his use of the most up-to-date scientific names. For example, fireweed, formerly known as Epilobium angustifolium (Onagraceae), is listed as Chamaenerion angustifolium, which is the correct revised binomial. However, Kloos has left out the name of the plant families, which I consider to be useful, but this is a minor omission.
The photographs are one of the most outstanding aspects of the book. Many pictures were taken by Kloos himself, making his passion for plant photography shine through. The pictures are often great close-ups and show important plant detail in splendid color, making identification and herb harvesting easier.
The section on “Where, When, and How to Wildcraft” in each profile is full of special information that Kloos has learned, including details that go way beyond the common field guide. For example, in the western red-cedar (Thuja plicata, Cupressaceae) profile, Kloos specifies that if harvesting from downed trees, it is important to check for the cedar taste, because the trees lose their sweetness and become bitter over time. This section truly makes the book shine with many unique gems.
In each profile, the “Herbal Preparations” section is solid but basic, and the detailed “Medicinal Use” section may be difficult for the beginning herb student. Kloos could have given a few more recipes and formulations for each herb. The book would have also benefited from more of Kloos’s plant stories. I know from my own experience that anecdotes often lay a groundwork upon which one can present the facts. The plant profiles, while excellent, do not have as much of Kloos’s personality as the beginning chapters; perhaps future editions will add to this.
Overall, this is an excellent book, full of useful information for everyone from the beginner to the advanced herbalist. It is a comprehensive overview of 120 plants, including many local plants that are well-known, in addition to native plants that are lesser-known. Kloos further enriches the book through stunning color pictures and detailed harvest and wildcrafting information. This book will inspire the reader to pack up collecting gear and head out into the woods. It would be best to pair Kloos’s book with an appropriate plant identification field guide for a specific area. That said, Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants is written by an herbalist and woodsman who has great passion for and personal knowledge of plants, making this a great addition to the Northwest herbal library.
—Glen Nagel, ND, RH (AHG)
National University of Natural Medicine