REVIEW: National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs — The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants

By Mindy

A focused herbalism text, written in part by medical doctors, covering 72 common herbs arranged by organ system. A particularly great book for the beginning herbalist. Still a very good reference for the expert.

Reading like a who’s who of alternative medicine, the authors of National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants have an illustrious pedigree: Rebecca L. Johnson, science author; Stephen Foster, renowned herbalist; Tieraona Low Dog, MD, integrative physician; and David Kiefer, MD, another integrative physician. Dr. Andrew Weil even wrote the foreward.

Much like this book also co-written and illustrated by Steven Foster, the photographs are abundant, uniformly beautiful, and informative. Often, each herbal entry has a full sized artistic quality image on the right hand page. While typically I think that this sort of illustration technique is a waste of space better suited for coffee table books than desk references, the photos in Guide to Medicinal Herbs are useful and detailed.

The high-quality, soft cover, 400 page book has a meaty but non unwieldy size of 10 x 7.9 x 1.1 inches. The book is highly stylized and smartly organized. It is a reference book rather than a field guide. While the book could be read from cover-to-cover, it probably won’t be…

Seventy-two plants are divided fairly evenly number-wise by effect on organ system, including: mental health & nervous system, respiratory system, heart & circulation, digestive system, joints muscles & skin, urinary & male health, female health, and wellness & perception. This alone makes the table of contents a handy cheat sheat!

Each monograph of every one of the carefully curated plants follows a uniform pattern that includes scientific and common names, botanical characteristics, cultivating tips, medical information and uses, warnings, and a practical recipe. Quick pictoral references indicate whether the plant is used in teas, tinctures, pills, topically, or as food. A historic timeline on the ethnobotany of the plant adorns the bottom of the first page of each entry. The outer edge of the pages provides the page number, a small photograph of the plant, and the scientific and common names, so you can quickly flip through and identify the info you are looking for.

The discussions are robust, with a focus on the scientifically provable, or at least commonly accepted medicinal qualities of the chosen plants. Unlike a lot of herbalism texts, the “How to Use” section provides specific concrete advice (e.g. “450 to 900 mg of parsley leaf, up to 3 times daily”). The fact that three medical doctors had their hands in writing the text explains the careful precision of the monographs. It also explains the lack of spirituality and mysticism; this is not the book for herbal essence enthusiasts!

The included seventy-two herbs are a mixture of domestic and foreign plants, all of which are rather commonly encountered by wellness enthusiasts in various media sources.  My only gripe is that the book covers a relatively small number of plants; eventually you will want a broader reference that covers more.  Overall, I like this book very much.

Check out our 2-part guide on Beginning Foraging !

Note: The Walking Herbalist is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This means that Marc will receive a small commission for each purchase on Amazon that you make after linking to it from this website. 

The Walking Herbalist has no affiliation of the authors or the publishers of this book at the time of the writing of this review. We purchased our own copy of this book for our own private use. This review is simply here to help our readers put together their own herbalism library, and other than possible commissions as an affiliate, we receive no compensation for this. 

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