Holly Bellebuono is well known for the informative workshops and walks she leads on the Vineyard, educating people about herbs both native and cultivated, and how to use them in various ways.
Now Ms. Bellebuono has compiled all this knowledge into an intelligent and informative book, gracefully written and illustrated, titled The Essential Herbal for Natural Health (Shambhala Publications Inc., 2012, paperback, 316 pages, sold at Island bookstores, Morning Glory Farm and Amazon).
The book is a handbook of sorts for anyone interested in learning more about how to use herbs in their daily lives, from making delicious, healthful teas to gentle remedies for colds, skin rashes and other common ailments. Its author provides readers with gentle exhortations to be in touch with what’s around us, and to open our eyes to how we can help ourselves.
The Essential Herbal for Natural Health is part recipe provider, part reference resource and part tour guide to the great outdoors. Ms. Bellebuono identifies 13 herbs — calendula, dandelion, elder, ginger, lavender, lemon balm, mint, nettle, plantain, raspberry, red clover, rose, and yarrow — as the essentials in forming a solid base for care and treatment. After providing introductory information about the plants, their properties and what they can be used for, she details instructions on becoming your own apothecary at home and what equipment is needed to create tinctures, oils, lotions, teas, compresses, powders and facial astringents.
Gently, she guides the reader through the possibilities for creation, and gives the reader confidence that the process of caring for yourself will be fun and gratifying.
More than half the book consists of recipes. There are offerings to be used every day, such as the Everyday Tonic for Vitality and Vigor and Circulation Celebration Cocoa. There are natural remedies for bee stings (a plantain poultice), headaches (a tea made of skullcap, lemon balm and passionflower herbs) and colds. The helpful author divides the latter chapters of the book according to bodily complaint, so you can quickly find the solution to your ailment.
But you don’t have to be sick or health-conscious to enjoy the recipes. Menemsha Mint Tea is meant to help with stomach problems, but it also just sounds like a delicious caffeine-free brew of peppermint, spearmint, hibiscus and chamomile that could be enjoyed every day.
There’s no doubting the author’s expertise: she has been a certified herbalist for 17 years. Her business ventures include operating Vineyard Herbs Teas & Apothecary, teaching an Herbal Studies program, leading herb walks and conducting speaking engagements nationwide. What makes the book a delight to read is that Ms. Bellebuono is such an enticing writer. She gives clear, specific descriptions and instructions. But then, in the next paragraph, her lush descriptions can transport the reader to a valley in North Carolina or a garden on the Vineyard. She makes the herbs as familiar and endearing to the reader as they are to herself. She describes nettle as “a gnome of sorts, living happily low to the wet earth” and mint as “the Buddha of the plant world, the bodhisattva, the healer who can transport us toward knowledge and wisdom.” Her care for both the natural world and for her readers comes through strongly as she guides even the most unknowing beginning toward knowledge. Quick referencing is made possible by how the author has divided her chapters, as well as by a good index in the back. The combination of these elements make for engrossing and pleasurable reading — while also providing practical, useful information.
Chances are that the plants named in Ms. Bellebuono’s book are recognizable to you. But you might not have thought about them before. Or maybe you never knew their names. Ms. Bellebuono hopes to make the reader aware of the healing powers available in our own backyards. Who knew that dandelion leaves are full of iron and aid with digestion? Think about that the next time you’re pulling them angrily out of your lawn.
The illustrations by Geninne D. Zlatkis, basic sketches printed in single-color ink, act as grace notes, so Essential Herbal doesn’t work well as a field guide, which may come as a small disappointment to some readers.
And for city dwellers enchanted by Ms. Bellebuono’s book, it maye be difficult to find the 13 essentials in fresh form. But most can be found in dried form at health food stores and the author provides instructions on how to create remedies with the use of dried instead of fresh plants.
Readers who aren’t creatively inclined can still share Ms. Bellebuono’s wish of good health. Vineyard Herbs Teas & Apothecary sells the author’s products — including some whose recipes are available in The Essential Herbal for Natural Health.
The Essential Herbal for Natural Health is bound to become a classic for anyone interested in natural healing. But it’s also an everyday, user-friendly guide that should be found in the kitchens and bookshelves of anyone seeking to live in a more healthy way. Holly Bellebuono is a pleasant, knowledgeable and enticing guide to that path.
Holly Bellebuono will be speaking at the Chilmark Library on June 27 and conducting workshops and walks at the Polly Hill Arboreteum throughout the summer.