Book Title: Secret Medicines from Your Garden: Plants for Healing, Spirituality and Magic
Author: Ellen Evert Hopman
Publication Date: February 2016
Reviewers knowledge before reading: novice/enthusiast/expert
Books on herbalism are common in the pagan community. Many pagans I know, including myself, have picked up Beyerl's The Master Book of Herbalism or Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs or Culpeper's Herbal and been wide-eyed with excitement over all the wonderful medical and magical uses of herbs. This book is very much in that same vein with wondrous and varied recipes for both physical and spiritual health woven into Hopman's journey through learning the names and uses of plants.
The flaw with books about herbs and health and magic is a flaw that runs through many books and articles and is reflective of many pagans' greatest desire, to live in a close relationship with nature on a small farm or homestead. However, that's not how most pagans live. Most pagans are city dwellers, so many of the plants that we read about in these herbal works are not in our lived experience. We can commune with plants we find on the edges of parks and green spaces, in herb shops or natural grocery stores. We can build relationships with plants we grow in pots in our windows or on our patios or in our tiny dirt spaces, if we are in a position to have them. We can identify and gather plants we need when we are camping or at a festival. But no matter how many books we peruse or how hard we try, we are often disappointed by the bright picture painted in books on herbalism and the stark reality.
The reason that I would recommend this book, over so many others of its kind, is that Hopman acknowledges that reality. She addresses that flaw. She doesn't state the flaw and explain that she is addressing it outright, but she does many different things to show she realizes the reality. She mentions where to find plants out in the world that are not dependent on being on your property. She tells us how to gather those plants with respect and a eye toward conservation. She adds warnings about pesticides and pollutates.She has a section on herbs that you can use in your kitchen. And Hopman acknowledges all the ways her journey, her time and place, have influenced her work. She doesn't assume we can all replicate her work or her relationships. This isn't a "how to". This is a "you could,with what you have, where you are."
One thing that most herbal books lack are discussions of herbalism across the Unitied States. I live in a very different climate, with many different plants than the Northeastern US, where Hopman does her work and has learned her inspiring lessons. However, Hopman has addressed this too, by her brilliant explanation of the doctrine of signatures, and how the look of plants, how they grow and where, will give the herbalist the clues they need to use the plants properly. That was an invaluable piece I have not seen before laid out so clearly.
Hopman's section on bees and honey, as well as her section on animal magic and herbal correspondences is both well-researched and reflective of her experience with credit to her sources. Her section on trees is interesting enough for me to go out and buy her book Tree Magic. And there are no blocks of unreadable text, she has interspersed recipes for tasty and healthy foods and medicines throughout.
If you are looking for a book on herbalism that is relevant, interesting and beautiful, this is the book. Even if you don't live in the region that is primarily discussed, it has enough scholarship, interesting anecedotes and broad identifying tips that you could use anywhere to deepen your relationship with plants, our most visible and oldest partners in our relationship to the earth.