Whether you are just getting started or an experienced pro, everyone that grows their own herbs needs a few good herb gardening books to use as a reference.
You can learn a great deal about gardening by trial and error, but it’s often easier to start with some basic information and learn from other people’s mistakes.
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Here are some books that will help get you off to a good start and a few suggestions for finding good books affordably.
Gardening Books With Helpful Sections On Herbs
These are a few of my favorite books I consult frequently in the garden. While they aren’t exclusively about growing herbs, they all have helpful sections for herb gardens.
Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver
Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver has been issued in several editions by different authors from the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to organic gardening.
I have the 517-page 1998 edition by Jeff Ball, who spends his life gardening and educating small-scale gardeners.
This book offers some basic information on improving soil, managing moisture, etc. But I most often use it as a clear, compact, and comprehensive reference book for specific issues.
The crop notes section devotes several pages to each herb or vegetable, describing everything from soil and light requirements to common pests and diseases to best harvest and storage methods.
There are also sections devoted to particular pests and diseases, suggesting a wide range of organic remedies.
Another Rodale’s book I consult regularly is Stocking Up–I have the 600-page Version III, from 1986, by Carol Hupping and the staff of the Rodale Food Center. This gives detailed information on various options for harvesting, preserving, and cooking with herbs and vegetables, and fruits.
Start With the Soil
Start With the Soil (1993; 274 paperback pages) by Grace Gershuny, another Rodale author, offers a comprehensive look at soil structure, drainage, nutrients, and acidity.
She describes how you can assess your soil without paying for a test and how you can remedy many possible problems cheaply and organically. I read this book straight through early in my career as a gardener and kept it around for reference for many years.
I also loaned it to many new gardener friends, and the last time I did that, it didn’t come back. This one is not specifically about herbs, but soil-building is essential to all types of gardening.
Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich (copyright 2000; 276 paperback pages) offers a compact, easy-to-read guide to organic no-till gardening.
This approach may be especially suited to herb gardens, which tend to contain many perennials, though I’ve also found it helpful in the vegetable garden.
He covers everything from starting a new plot to mulching and maintenance to the encouragement of earthworms.
I’ve followed much of his advice for the last fifteen years. My garden is not weedless, but it’s less overwhelmed than it once was, my soil is richer, and my back hurts less.
But I’ll pass on to you the caveats Fedco Growers Supply offers along with this book. While Reich is right about the benefits of sawdust mulch, he forgets to specify that this sawdust MUST be aged for a year before it is put on the garden.
Also, while he may be right that a border of pachysandra (bishop’s weed) will keep other weeds from invading your garden, the pachysandra itself certainly will invade–don’t try this.
The Best Reference Books For Herb Gardeners
This next section is the books written specifically about herb plants. They cover a wide range of topics and include herbs grown for culinary use as well for their medicinal properties or use in herbal remedies.
The Complete Book of Herbs and Spices
Sarah Garland’s Complete Book of Herbs and Spices (280 oversized pages, 1993, published by Reader’s Digest) is a comprehensive and accessible guide to the growth habits, history, and uses of herbs.
It begins with a plant-by-plant overview (organized alphabetically by Latin names). Then there are chapters on planning and planting herb gardens, cooking with herbs and spices, herbal cosmetics, and medicinal uses of herbs. There’s also a section on “household uses” which covers everything from cleaning surfaces and repelling insects to making potpourri and herbal dyes.
I like the breadth and concision of Garland’s information. Most of it agrees with my own experience and what I’ve read in Cooperative Extension sources.
One word of warning: do NOT follow this book’s instructions for making candles with dried herbs mixed into the wax. We tried this, and the dried herbs caught fire, with bad results for a favorite glass candle holder.
The Pleasure of Herbs
The Pleasure of Herbs by Pennsylvania herbalist Phyllis Shaudys (245 pages, 1986) is another favorite all-purpose herbal reference book.
It’s packed with recipes–for food of all kinds and also for pest repellents, pomanders, potpourris, and more. Shaudys also offers growing, harvesting, and cooking tips for every month of the year, as well as a basic encyclopedia of herbs.
Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide
Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide (216 pages, 2012) is just what it sounds like and has helped my family learn to use herbs for health.
Gladstar, who is an herbalist, writer, and educator, describes various ways of preparing medicinal herbs, including teas, tinctures, oils, salves, and compresses.
She also describes the best ways of growing and preparing 33 commonly used healthful herbs and spices.
I hear that Rodale’s has a 552-page 1998 Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs which has sold over a million copies. If it’s as well written as their other offerings, I imagine it is well worth reading.
Where To Find Inexpensive Books
Of course, you can buy these and other books new from bookstores or garden catalogs. But there are also cheaper options.
All the books listed here are available used online, many quite cheaply. Most of them are also available through my library system, which is not particularly comprehensive.
Ask your friends and relatives who garden to recommend and lend you books–I’ve done a lot of borrowing and lending in this way.
You can also find a trove of useful older books in thrift stores and estate sales or moving sales. This may well reveal useful herb books that aren’t in this article and that you might never have thought to look for.
If you’re reading books that contain firsthand anecdotes and accounts, pay attention to where the author is located. Plants that will grow and techniques that will work beautifully in one zone or in one soil type may not work so well in another.
Which Books Will You Add To Your Library?
Good books can give you a firm grasp of the basics of herb growing. They can help you choose the right plants and the right techniques for your location, your soil type, and your tastes.
Some can also help you learn from the author’s mistakes instead of having to make those mistakes yourself. Some are written in a lively personal style that will offer a bit of whimsy and flavor; others offer straight just-the-facts-ma’am information.
After a little exploration, you’ll find out what kinds of books work best for you.