Martha’s Vineyard herbalist pens fun, instructional book on herbal health


“The Essential Herbal for Natural Health: How to Transform Easy-to-Find Herbs Into Healing Remedies for the Whole Family” by Holly Bellebuono, illustated by Geninne Zlatkis, Roost Books, March 13, 2012, 304 pp., $19.95.

Vineyard herbalist Holly Bellebuono has written a charming, useful, and fact-filled book gently introducing common herbs and their many wondrous practical uses to a wide audience.

While many books about herbs can be dauntingly esoteric, Ms. Bellebuono’s is accessible, fun to browse and read. Yet for all its appeal to the herbal novice or natural health beginner, the information, lore, recipes, and formulas will also be valuable to those already familiar with the subject.

Reading Ms. Bellebuono’s descriptions of basic medicinal herbs, their qualities and benefits, her clear explanations of how to prepare and use them, along with personal insights and recollections is like learning while sipping tea in the sunny kitchen of a wise woman neighbor – which is just what Holly Bellebuono is.Ms. Bellebuono, who lives in West Tisbury with her husband, Rocco, and two children, is a familiar smiling face at the West Tisbury Farmers Market, selling her handmade Vineyard Herbs, Teas & Apothecary products. She leads herb walks and workshops, women’s holistic health and life coaching programs, and offers a distance-learning herbal studies course.

Her book’s attractive cream and sage green design, delicate print, and perky line drawings enhance the message of herb use as a harmonious, nurturing, and creative addition to a healthy lifestyle. After introducing a baker’s dozen of mostly familiar herbs, Ms. Bellebuono provides instructions for making herbal items from medicinal tinctures, salves, oils, and compresses to aromatic bath salts, body lotions, and tasty, healthful teas.

More than 200 recipes and formulas range from the strictly medicinal to the healthful-while-luscious and also to the lusciously pampering. They are arranged in three broad categories: Recipes and Remedies for the Whole Family; for Healthy Living; and Herbal Delights.

Ms. Bellebuono writes of herbs and their uses with the ease and intimacy of her years of firsthand experience, describing them with respect and affection. Her enthusiasm and delight in growing, harvesting, processing, and using herbs is infectious. Each of the 13 introductions includes lavish descriptions of the plant, its growing habits, health benefits and traditional uses, its history and folklore. Some she personifies. Red Clover is “a sweet aunt who shows up in a pink shirt;” Raspberry is “a Mary Poppins midwife.” The usually pesky Dandelion turns out to be a great healer, “a persistent friend who won’t leave you alone.” The Elder Tree is a wise woman bearing her magical, immunity-enhancing berries.

The family section offers a wealth of recipes for the pregnant woman and new mother, to care for her body and soul through morning sickness, postpartum stress, nursing, and more. There are herbal formulas for common ills of infants and young children: cradle cap oil, soothing teas, remedies for diaper rash, earache, and the sniffles. Women’s health recipes treat anemia, support bone health, address hormonal imbalances, menstrual issues, and much more. Men are included with herbal suggestions for prostate and sexual health, stress, and body care.

A wide range of Healthy Living remedies includes herbal helps for issues from the common cold, digestive imbalances, cramps, wounds, and skin conditions to tonics for vitality and healing for mind and spirit. There are gentle herbal remedies for many troubles: cough syrups, insect repellents, teas for heartburn, stress, insomnia, headache, formulations for heart health and circulation.

Most fun are the Herbal Delights: pampering hair and lush skin treatments, warm beverages and cool drinks, delectable syrups, and other taste treats like Elderberry Cordial, Lavender Honey, and yummy Winter Herbal Cocoa.

Tuck this handy herbal guide among your cooking, health, and gardening books. Sip a cup of herbal tea as you refer to it again and again.

Author’s Talk with Holly Bellebuono, Saturday, March 17, 2 pm, Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Vineyard Haven. Tea will be served. Free. 508-693-2291.

Author’s Talk with Holly Bellebuono, Thursday, April 5, West Tisbury Library. Refreshments. Free. 508-693-3366.