Martha’s Vineyard herbalist broadens her reach in second book


Holly Bellebuono has done it again. Her newest book “The Authentic Herbal Healer,” like her earlier “The Essential Herbal for Natural Health,” is infinitely readable and understandable while imparting a wealth of information.

But while in the first book she intentionally kept her scope narrow, limiting the focus to recommendations and recipes for family, health, and household use of only 13 common and familiar herbs, “The Authentic Healer” takes a far broader perspective.

“If you are intrigued by the art and science of herbal medicine and want to use herbs to be healthier and maintain a more natural lifestyle, this book is an excellent reference,” writes Ms. Bellebuono. “It is brimming with guidance for combining herbs and is backed by up-to-date clinical research.”

But this book is not at all just about medicinal herbs. It will appeal to anyone interested in health in general and especially traditional, holistic health practices.

The 413-page book is organized by body system, closely focusing in on each one, including herbal healing for digestion, respiration, the heart, skin, immunity, the endocrine system, memory and cognitive thought, and more. Several chapters are dedicated to women’s health throughout the stages of reproductive life, one to men’s issues, and one to tonics.

The discussion of each system includes an understandable explanation of its workings, herbs, and how to use them for certain problems, and detailed possible formulas for a wide variety of illness and health issues. All make for good and practical reading.

The Materia Medica section begins with a glossary of terms used in herbal medicine and a list of phytochemicals. The comprehensive catalog of more than 130 herbs is packed with information including indications, contraindications, and preparation, along with fascinating notes from history and folklore.

Precise and crystal clear where she needs to be, anecdotal when it best gets her point across, Ms. Bellebuono delivers an awesome array of knowledge.

She relates personal experiences of using natural means to address illness, talks about the joys of harvesting and preparing herbs, and describes the steps she would take to treat family members for common symptoms.

The author cites scientific studies that have proven the efficacy of certain herbs in healing given conditions, but also suggests that clinical trials can be an inappropriate way to test herbal treatment. She explains that, as with any medication and especially natural, traditional therapies like herbs, many variables from predispositions and environment to trust in the healer can impact the outcome. Although some herbs have fallen short in tests, Ms. Bellebuono places faith in the fact that they have been used for centuries, across cultures, with positive results.

Ms. Bellebuono places strong emphasis on overall health. She states frequently that herbs do not provide “a magic bullet,” though an herbal remedy may be used for acute symptoms. Instead, she insists, herbs should be used as a component of an intentional, multi-faceted plan for attaining true health. Becoming healthy, gaining well-being and a vibrant life demands personal commitment and responsibility. The patient, rather than turning this quest over to a physician or natural practitioner, must take a strong role, according to Ms. Bellebuono.

An inspiring and useful chapter, Positive Self Empowerment, lays out a step-by-step strategy for achieving change. These powerful lessons are applicable to any area of life, from career and finances to family, spirituality, and health. A final fun section introduces Top Edible Herbs: how to forage for, harvest, prepare, and use them for enjoyment and health.

The impressive extent of the author’s knowledge of and comfortable familiarly with her subject is sure to silence any skeptic who may consider herbal healing a questionable trove of hippie lore. Turning to this book for information is like calling a wise friend for advice when you wonder what to do about the colicky baby, the persistent headache, painful periods, unsettled digestion, colds, flu, or countless other ills.

Ms. Bellebuono is a terrific storyteller, whether recounting her own experiences with healing or the health issue of an historical figure. She talks about herbs, their qualities and quirks, in an affectionate, intimate tone one might use for charming, sometimes mischievous, children.

A familiar face at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Markets and around the Island where she lives with her husband, Rocco, and two children, Ms. Bellebuono is soft-spoken, quick to smile, delighted to answer questions and share her knowledge. She lectures here and around the country, leads herb walks and workshops, conducts women’s holistic health and life coaching programs. She directs the online Heritage & Healing Herbal Studies program and Vineyard Herbs Teas & Apothecary LLC.

Like her earlier book, this new, larger volume transforms the use of herbs in everyday life from an exotic mystery seemingly known only to wise women and witches of old into something accessible to all. Although Ms. Bellebuono says the book is intended as a text and reference for nurses, midwives, doctors, and healing arts practitioners, it encourages and empowers all interested readers to add herbs to their resources for their own and their family’s health and wellbeing.

Ms. Bellebuono hosts a Girl Empowerment Retreat this Saturday, 12 noon to 5 pm, at Yoga Haven in Vineyard Haven. The event is for girls aged 12 to 15 and will instruct how to brew herbal tea and root beer, yoga, vision boards, facials, and more. $35. Email