Book Review: A Druid’s Herbal by Ellen Evert Hopman

Book Review: A Druid’s Herbal by Ellen Evert Hopman

I give this book a C grade. 

It’s hard to fault the book because there is a lot of information here that is accurate and enjoyable. It is clearly a work of love by someone who is a prolific author with a long history of practice in the Neo-Celtic, Neo-Druidic tradition. The book is well laid out and easy to read. 

It is lovely to look at, popular, and a favorite book to give as a gift. 

Because many of the sources are reputable, a lot of the information is accurate. Unfortunately, some of it is not, and some of it perpetuates false information that should be thrown away. This is why I give the book a “C” rating. It’s not at all harmful, but it contains misinformation that a devoted student of the Celtic path will want to avoid. It’s a good gift for someone not concerned with total accuracy and a bad gift for the serious practitioner. 

It is pleasant to have the herbs grouped by the Wheel of the Year and a nice attempt was made to use the Irish terms for the celebrations, however, here it falls short, for example positing Meán Geimhridh for Meán Gheimhridh, or the more correct Grianstad an Gheimhridh. Irish is a tricky language, tossing extra letters in to throw off the inexperienced and to baffle even the stout-hearted scholar. Those of us that love the language depend on published sources to help us be correct, this source is not reliably correct. The pronunciation guide lumps Irish and Welsh together under the title “Gaelic” and also includes words like “Yggdrasil” which aren’t any kind of Celtic or Gaelic at all. Traditionally the term “Gaelic” is reserved for what Americans know as Scottish Gaelic.

Much of the reliable information can be found in some of the respected sources that she lists in the bibliography. I have long relied on The Herb Book by John Lust and the Wisewoman Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susan Weed. Both of these books were produced by herbalists who devoted their lives to the craft of herbalism and they provide solid guidance for the medicinal use of herbs. Scott Cunningham’s books are an excellent source for the magical uses of herbs, which is entirely different from the medicinal path. I recommend those sources for anyone serious about medicinal or magical herbalism. 

While the book references some excellent sources in the bibliography, it provides no footnotes in the text, leaving the reader unable to pursue further on any of the concepts presented, in order to judge them on their own merits.

Some assertions appear to be false: “Druids do not celebrate unless in the presence of an oak, yew, ash or other sacred tree.” As a priestess on the Druid path, I can tell you that this is patently false. Also the notion of the “Celtic Tree Calendar” as used by anyone prior to the twentieth century had been thoroughly discredited. It’s not at all harmful, I make use of the concept myself, but it is a modern invention, not an ancient truth. 

It includes homeopathy, which is not herbalism. It is an entirely different area of study. It is not the slightest bit Druidic and it would be more respectful of homeopathy to deal with it on its own merits in a separate book or paper.

The author dips liberally into Egyptian, Greek and Hindu traditions to bolster information on herb traditions and uses, doubtless because relying on Celtic sources alone would not have made for a very satisfying book. 

For the record, here’s my evaluation of a few of the sources.

Sources I respect: 

Women of the Celts, Jean Markale

anything by Caitlin Matthews

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Scott Cunningham

Magical Herbalism: the Secret Craft of the Wise, Scott Cunningham

The Herb Book, John Lust

The Wisewoman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, Susun Weed

Sources I love but would never quote in a scholarly book: 

The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, Marija Gimbutas

Culpeper’s Color Herbal, Nicolas Culpeper

© Paulie Rainbow 2013