Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Review - The Handbook of Vintage Remedies

The Handbook of Vintage Remedies: The Modern Family's Guide to Herbal Medicine by Jessie Hawkins, MH
(Apparently they put out a new edition in April, and the new cover looks a little different - see the link at the bottom of this post.)

This is another of my must-have reference books that I go back to over and over again. I've read other "herbal pharmacy" type books, but I bought this one because it not only lists what herbs are good for what ailments, but also how to prepare and use those herbs for best effect (the only thing missing, in this Cheerful Agrarian's opinion, is how to grow them!) I find that most books of this type assume that you will be purchasing your herbs in pill - or maybe tea - form and taking them as you would any other pharmaceutical. I like that this book tells me (mostly) how to take my herbs straight out of the garden and use them (although I should note that you don't have to grow your own herbs to use this book. You can certainly use her instructions using purchased herbs; I just like that either option is available.)

The book begins with The Herbal Primer, a short section giving a basic overview of how the book is intended to be used. Chapters include What is Herbalism, Prevention, Immunity, Integrative Medicine, and Herbal Safety. Her philosophy of medicine resonated with me:
"Why do we use herbal treatments, if we are not 'against' the use of medical treatments? We use them because they are more effective and appropriate for many other medical complications or illnesses. When we face minor viral or bacterial infections, chronic health concerns and even acute medical problems, herbs offer another choice in medicine with fewer side effects (some would argue no side effects), a much better safety track record, and reliable results. Why turn to the 'big guns' when we are not facing such dire circumstances?
Herbs offer an intermediate course of action for those times that do not require advanced, usually risky interventions (such as surgery or strong pharmaceuticals), but do require a response for healing. Herbs have stood the test of time, are food-like substances and readily assimilated into the body. Unlike the 'new' drugs coming onto the market every couple of months, only to be removed due to dangerous side effects, most herbs have been taken in medicinal amounts for many centuries, if not more. When treating our loved ones and children, this is a safety record that is not to be dismissed."
After this introduction, the book is split up into two main sections. The first is entitled The Family Clinic, and is arranged alphabetically by problem (ranging from Acne to Yeast Infections). The second is the Botanical Apothecary, also listed alphabetically, but this time by remedy (from Arnica to Uva ursi). This is the section I go back to again and again. It seems like every winter, when the first cold strikes our family, I look back to the Cold/Flu listing ("What works best for a cold again?") Just last week I opened to the page on Athlete's Foot, since my 9 year old was complaining about that ailment (among other things, Hawkins recommends chamomile tea, (which I grow, so I had plenty on hand) which proved quite effective!)

Each entry in The Family Clinic begins with What is it? (it's very important to know what the problem is when you're trying to fix it!), followed by Prevention (so it doesn't happen again), and finally Treatments (most entries list several different options). In the Botanical Apothecary section, each entry first describes the herb, then lists When to use it, how to use it in Culinary Medicine (which I particularly appreciate, since I like to follow Hippocrates' advice to "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine your food."), Optimal Dose, and When to avoid it (which I find lacking in most herbal remedy books, leaving people open to the idea that "if some is good, more must be better!" Many don't seem to understand that if it's strong enough to help you in small amounts, it's strong enough to hurt you if you take too much, at the wrong time, or when you're taking another remedy.)

After these two main sections, there is a short chapter on harvesting medicinal herbs, a glossary of terms you may not be familiar with (What's the difference between a tincture and a glycerite, again?), a list of internet sites where you can find the herbs recommended in the book, a short chapter on Natural Cleaning (including recipes for homemade laundry soap, fabric softener, carpet cleaner, four thieves oil, air freshener, and even floor polish!), and one on skin care (also with recipes).

This book has been such a help to me, giving me confidence to treat my family's minor ailments here at home (which of course saves a TON of money - not to mention that we're not exposing them to the germs at the doctor's office!) with natural, gentle herbs I can grow myself.

If I can grow our own food, why can't I grow our medicine as well?

Note: I was not payed to review this book, I just really love it! But if you click on the link below and buy the book at, I will receive a small commission from the sale. Thank you for your support!

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

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