Who cares about Ashkenazi Herbalism?

It’s been almost five months since our book was first published on April 6, 2021. And even though it hasn’t had a single formal review, Ashkenazi Herbalism is already in its third printing!

Here are a few of the overwhelmingly positive comments we’ve received from readers so far.

“This book changed my life”

“I cried with happiness reading this book”

“This book was just waiting to be written”

“A much needed book”

“This is an amazing book. So much information!”

“Such valuable information”

“Fascinating and well researched”

“This is a book that absolutely fills a previously empty niche”

“I am thrilled that this book exists”

“it's possibly the most impressive feat of research compilation ever”

“An excellent book and an amazing resource, since no comprehensive studies of Ashkenazi herbal medicine practices existed in prior to its publication”

Most of the written herbal information we are familiar with today is associated with specific cultures such as those from Britain, Ireland, Iran, China, India and the New World. So, when I began a formal program to study herbalism, I was frustrated by the lack of information regarding the natural remedies known by my ancestors, the Ashkenazim or the Jews of Eastern Europe.

This correlation between an ethnic group and the plants they would have known as medicine is an area of modern scientific interest called ethnobotany. Most of the world's indigenous traditional plant wisdom has been documented by ethnobotanical research. But there has never been an ethnobotanical study of the Ashkenazim, the Jews who had been settled in Eastern Europe for at least a thousand years.

The lack of such a study can be attributed to several factors. First and foremost, the Ashkenazi traditional healers who thrived in Eastern Europe were among the millions of souls who perished in the holocaust of WW2. Many of those folk practitioners were women. As countless studies have pointed out, historically, the lives of women the world over, have gone undocumented. And further, women folk healers' practices have traditionally been memorized and passed by word-of-mouth from one generation to the next. The Ashkenazi women folk healers of Eastern Europe practiced in this tradtional manner, and consequently we have no detailed written record of their craft. Because of this, in-depth research regarding these lost practices can be extremely challenging. Patience, skill, intuition and creativity can go a long way when searching for subtle clues hidden in the literature devoted to the history of the Ashkenazim.

As an herbalist looking for guidance from the Pale of Settlement's ancestral healers, I felt an intense pull to uncover what I intuitively knew was part of my heritage. Fortunately I had been a librarian for many years so extreme research has never intimidated me. And even more importantly, my spouse and co-author, Adam, also a librarian, was interested in this research as well. Our combined talents and obsessions are what ultimately made Ashkenazi Herbalism possible.

The initial impetus for uncovering these traditions was for my own herbal studies. Eventually it became obvious that these discoveries would be of interest to a larger community, especially herbalists of Ashkenazi descent who might find our work as meaningful and affirming as we do.

And after all our research, I have come to understand that the plants are not meant to be appropriated by anyone. They are living beings that exist in their own right. Like us, they are part of nature and the natural world. They’ve been so very generous in all they give, to us and to the planet. They don’t discriminate between peoples. They connect with anyone who is open to them, which is such a beautiful way to be in this world.

Please remember if you work with any plants, treat them with the utmost of respect and do your research by checking as many reputable sources as possible beforehand.

Also, please note that the materia medica section of Ashkenazi Herbalism is NOT meant as a working herbal but rather as a snapshot of a forgotten tradition. We've also traced the better known western herbal tradition for readers to be able to compare and contrast these practices for each plant monograph.