Book Review: Herbs of the Northern Shaman

Paganism is large Forest that includes a great many paths and practices that I’ll never tread. It can be easy to keep oneself isolated and protected in the groves that one is familiar with never adventuring further afield than necessary. To combat the stagnation this encourages, I try to at the very least read about practices that I am not familiar with. Reading Herbs of the Northern Shaman: A Guide to Mind-Altering Plants of the Northern Hemisphere by Steve Andrews and Katrinia Rindsberg was my most recent attempt at stepping outside my comfort zone.

I have never used anything that could be considered a drug besides sugar, caffeine, and limited consumption of alcohol. All of these substances are perfectly legal given my age and location. Since I work in a legal setting for my day job and generally prefer following the rules, I don’t mess with anything that could be illegal. However, I am well aware that there are many natural plants and herbs that work as drugs to produce different mental states. My work in gardening and with herbs allows me to glimpse the possibilities of using mind altering plants, many of which have been used in a limited way for other types of healing. I started reading this book with that as my only previous knowledge of these plants.

The book approaches the topic much like any other guide book to plants. The plants are in alphabetical order by common name and includes an index. Each plant starts with the common name, the Latin name, and other names it might be known by. Plants have lovely photos presented and include a brief description of appearance, although not enough to identify the plant in the wild by. Following this basic information, the authors provide descriptions about the type of altered state the plant produces and how one might go about using the plant. Historical or cultural uses might also be included. Each plant is given a different amount of attention. Sometimes, you have a great deal to work with and other plants leave you wondering where to get more information about it.

I was surprised by some of the plants listed. Things like Bittersweet, Burdock, Juniper, and Wooly Yarrow seem pretty innocuous. Yet, they were still mentioned in the book. Others like Tobacco or Cannabis was expected and included. A little over 60 plants were included.

Overall, I thought the book was interesting. It was organized well and presented in a clear way, even for a noob like me. There was a lot to learn from it. I don’t think it’s convinced me in anyway to add these plants into my regular practice, but that isn’t the aim of the book anyway. It’s purely meant for those who are already working with mind-altering products and are looking for a resource guide or hoping to expand into working with a larger selection of plants.

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