There are a handful of things that I can say I’m honestly addicted to. Potato chips are, admittedly, one of them. Buying crystals is another (guilty). Oh, and raw vegan cheesecakes (ugh, don’t even get me started). But if anyone got a peek at my amazon account they’d see where the real problem lies— Books.
Around my house there are piles pretty much everywhere. Next to my bedstand, my reading chair, my computer desk, the toilet… I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. I still get a special tip-to-toe thrill when I think about the day the book fair catalogues came to our desks in elementary school. I would take them up, pen in hand, with the same kind of zeal I imagine hoarders might feel when they stumble across a football field-sized fleamarket. Combing the pages and circling books for my wish list felt distinctly different from the ways in which I would absentmindedly mark up clothing magazines (which, in contrast to the book catalogues, I never actually convinced my parents to purchase from). It was as if my very self was changing just by imagining cracking open these tomes.
It felt less like marking a book I wanted, than circling an entire world.
The library at Terra Sylva
What would it be like to wear a skirt made of nettle and ride a horse at full speed across the moor? Or to navigate a ship by the milk of the stars? To speak to pelicans or to have everything taken away from you except your grandmother’s songs?
Books are more than just a way to learn, or transport yourself, they are a portal to accessing other whole fields of lifeline and thought. Books help us put aside the well-worn map of our own patterns of thinking, our well-thumbed beliefs and calcified knowing, and step into the beyond. Books show us the worlds that exist within worlds, and teach us how to look behind the corners of things. To see shoe scuff and chickweed and the way mica and starlight can, truly, be the same thing.
One of the most common questions I get is… what are your favorite herbal books? There are a lot of answers to this question. I could tell you about the books that helped me learn how to make medicine. The books that gave me the encyclopedic knowledge of herbs that I’m still cultivating and harvesting from. Or perhaps the books that taught me how to identify the plants and call them by name?
For me, though, reading and education in general has always been less about informational input or practical resource, and more about the concepts, sentences, or sometimes even single words, that struck me so deeply I was never the same. The best books I’ve ever read didn’t really “teach” me anything at all. They helped me remember. They made me cry, not with sadness, but with recognition. They washed my eyes so I could see clearly again.
I think when folks ask me for my favorite herbal books what they really want to know is, what are the books that made you the herbalist that you are? And that’s a different thing entirely. So, in honor of the new school season, and for all those bibliophiles on my list, I’m comin’ clean. Check out the video below to get a peek at my three favorite, slightly unconventional, herbal tomes.