If you’ve thought about starting an herb garden, right now, in the midst of this coronavirus social-distancing protocol, seems the best time to try it. Vineyard herbalist Holly Bellebuono’s newest book, “Llewellyn’s Little Book of Herbs,” is perfect for people who don’t have much experience with gardens.
From the get-go Bellebuono writes, “Growing and using medicinal herbs is for everyone — regardless whether you have acres to farm, a small yard, or a simple balcony or windowsill.” This little book begins simply and encouragingly to motivate anyone into learning more about the properties in herbs, and how they can enhance our quality of life.
Rather than delve deeply into the genus of these plants, Bellebuono gives the reader an herbal properties chart that tells us which herbs are analgesic (relieve pain) and which are emollient (soothing and cooling), which are sedatives (support sleep) and more. We find out that lavender not only smells lovely but also has healing properties, and that rose can calm the nerves.
“The actions of herbs — is it astringent, if you put a compress of an herb with astringent properties on a wound, would it dry it up? The opposite happens when you use an emollient,” Bellebuono explains. “I find that when you break it down into actions it’s easy to understand. I find that if you look at a plant’s actions and its effects it makes a lot of sense to people.”
Bellebuono knows of what she speaks (and writes). She’s been an herbalist for more than 20 years, starting first in the mountains of North Carolina, eventually making her way to the Vineyard in 2005. She founded Vineyard Herbs apothecary and sold products at the West Tisbury Farmers Market for years, eventually selling that business to one of her students. Now she still runs the Bellebuono School of Herbal Medicine, where students from all over the world study more clinical aspects of herbal medicine. She also writes, lectures, and is a presenter at conferences. And, Bellebuono is executive director of ACE MV, the Island’s continuing education organization.
“I grew up in a household that was very modern and not in tune with traditional practices,” she explains. “My mom was a registered nurse and my dad was a pharmacist, so there were a lot of medical careers.”
When Bellebuono was in grad school, she worked on a landscaping crew and that’s where she first learned about plants. There is a pharmaceutical aspect to studying herbs, she said, how they work with body chemistry and the nervous system. Nowadays, students can earn a bachelor’s degree in herbal sciences, as well as certifications in a variety of aspects of the field.
At the back of the book, readers can find the “Making” section, where you’ll find directions on things like brewing healing teas, making salves, lotions and creams. It all is presented in such an uncomplicated manner that you feel as if you can accomplish these “recipes” with ease, once you’ve got your own herb garden up and growing.
This little green gem covers every aspect from picking the best spot to start your own herbs to how to harvest them and store them to how to use them as medicine. Essentially, it covers everything a beginner needs to know.
Right now seems the right time to pass the knowledge about these productive plants along, and Bellebuono never loses sight of the fact that there’s more to growing than just harvesting.
“Getting your hands in the dirt is a very therapeutic exercise,” she says. “Planting seeds is something you can do alone or enlist your friends or children. And once the plants grow, you get a sense of fulfillment.”
“Llewellyn’s Little Book of Herbs,” by Holly Bellebuono. 254 pages with glossary. Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, Minn. Available through the publishers’ website or online.