Next on my list of books every green witch should have on their bookshelf is A Modern Herbal (Volume 1, A-H)and A Modern Herbal (Volume 2)by M. Grieve. Yep, it’s so good, it comes in 2 volumes. These volumes are also online at Botanical.com, but I still prefer a book to a computer.
Originally published in 1931, reprinted in 1971 and indexed in 1982, these volumes contain information on something over 800 herbs. Admittedly, we now know more about the medicinal uses of many herbs than was known back in the 30’s but what’s so great about these books is not only does Mrs. Grieve give a really good description of the plant, how and where it’s cultivated, and the medicinal uses and actions; she also gives a lot of historical information, superstitions, quotations, and the like. From some of the historical citations we can even extract some magical uses. This is one of the books I turn to for tidbits of interesting information when I’m writing about a particular herb.
Opening to the pages on Garlic, for example: “Garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks on the piles of stones at cross-roads as a supper for Hecate, and according to Pliny garlic and onion were invocated as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths.” And further down: “…if a morsel of the bulb be chewed by a man running a race it will prevent his competitors from getting ahead of him…” That’s just a sampling from one herb whose entry encompasses about three pages. There are some that run six or more.
As I said before, we know more about the medicinal uses of herbs nearly 80 years later but this is an invaluable reference for anyone interested in herbs. One caveat: Mrs. Grieve was English, some of her common names don’t match what I know them as, and her use of the Linnaeus names (the Latin binomial) is sometimes outdated from today. Sometimes you need to do a little hunting.