Classic Herbals of Traditional Medicine: The Primary Sources

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With the growing interest in natural curatives, there is certainly no shortage of herbals (herb reference books) on the shelves. With virtually every cultural traditional represented, and every new book touting its new-discovered ancient ?secrets,

With the growing interest in natural curatives, there is certainly no shortage of herbals (herb reference books) on the shelves. With virtually every cultural tradition represented, and every new herbal touting newly-discovered ancient “secrets,” it’s difficult for the novice to decide which sources to trust--but decide you must.  And while many modern publications such as The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants, by Frantisek Stary, and Jude’s Home Remedies, by Jude C. Williams are fine secondary reference sources (used for cross-referencing), they haven’t the authority nor tried-and-true dependability of the primary sources upon which these present-day compilations are based.  And one rule any aspiring herbalist (or herbologist) should adopt from the start is not to trust what’s found on the Internet, developing the habit of seeking reliable information as close to the source material as possible. To that end, here are the accepted “primary” sources every herbalist must acquire.

Culpepper’s Complete Herbal, by Nicholas Culpepper (first published circa, 1649)

Nicholas Culpeper (October 18, 1616–January 10, 1654) was an English botanist, herbalist, physician, and astrologer who set out to make medical treatments more accessible to everyday people by educating them about maintaining their health. His published works include The English Physician (1652) and the Complete Herbal (1653), which contain a rich store of pharmaceutical and herbal knowledge.

Culpeper spent the greater part of his life in the English countryside cataloging hundreds of medicinal herbs. After a short apprenticeship in an apothecary in St. Helen’s, in Bishopsgate, England, he set up his own practice.

Culpeper was known as a radical in his time, angering his fellow physicians by condemning their greed, unwillingness to stray from the invasive teachings of the ancient Greek physician Galen, and their use of harmful practices such as toxic remedies and bloodletting. The Society of Apothecaries were similarly incensed by the fact that he suggested cheap herbal remedies as opposed to their expensive concoctions.  His influence is demonstrated by the existence of a chain of "Culpeper" herb and spice shops in the United Kingdom, India, and elsewhere, and by the continued popularity of his remedies among New Age and alternative holistic medicine practitioners.

A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve (first published in 1931)

Sophia Emma Magdalene “Maud” Grieve (1858–1941) was the Principal and Founder of The Whins Medicinal and Commercial Herb School and Farm at Chalfont St. Peter in Buckinghamshire, England, and a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society.  Said to have had an encyclopedic knowledge of medicinal plants, she maintained an extensive herbal garden in Chalfont St. Peter, during World War I, coming to prominence for training people in the harvesting, drying, and preparation of medicinal herbs to help compensate for the shortage of medicinal supplies.

As President of the British Guild of Herb Growers, and Fellow of the British Science Guild, M. Grieve began publishing pamphlets on the cultivation of herbs and the uses of herbal medicines, the widespread popularity of which led to them being published in book form, A Modern Herbal. Today, she is credited with being instrumental in the re-establishment of herbal medicine in Britain in the 1900s and with contributing to the resurgent use of herbal curatives among the New Age community in recent decades.

Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss (first published in 1939)

Jethro Kloss (1863-1923) was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the ninth of eleven children.  Kloss, was a devout Seventh-day Adventist who took courses in hydrotherapy and electrotherapy at the famous Battle Creek Sanitarium run by Kellogg, and had deep respect for his views on healthful living.  As a young man he learned to study and follow the laws of nature, of life, and of health, this later becoming the essence of his teachings. Many of those who knew him considered his ideas on healing a bit fanatic for he believed that virtually every ailment could be cured with herbs.

In 1935, while living in Takoma Park, Washington, D.C., after several decades of studying and writing, Kloss published the first edition of Back to Eden, which was revised and greatly expanded for publication in 1939.  This second edition became extremely popular in the late 1960s and by 1986 had sold almost 3 million copies.  In it he set forth his method of natural self healing based on herbs, a diet that used no meat, dairy products, or eggs, and a life in harmony with the laws of health and nature. He recommended the use of soymilk in numerous healing diets and considered it far better than cow's milk, calling soybeans "The King of Beans."

In his foreword to his book, Back To Eden, Kloss sums up his life's purpose: I wish to bring to the notice of the general public the untold blessings which our Heavenly Father has provided for all the world. It can be truly said that people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. A lack of knowledge based on truth is accountable for much of the untold sufferings and miseries of humanity. God has provided a remedy for every disease that might afflict us. Satan cannot afflict anyone with any disease for which God has not provided a remedy. Our Creator fore-saw the wretched condition of mankind in these days, and made provision in Nature for all the ills of man.


Culpepper’s Complete Herbal, by Nicholas Culpepper

A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve

Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss

Images via Wikipedia and Azure Green

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