Henriette Kress has been generously sharing practical herbal information since 1995. Her website Henriettes-Herb.com is one of the oldest herbal websites around and hosts a massive amount of herbal information including many older texts. We are very honored that she is a frequent contributor in our HerbMentor forums!
Henriette is the author of two books, Practical Herbs and Practical Herbs 2. Her latest project is a series of herb cards entitled Practical Herb Cards.
Rosalee: Congrats on your latest project, Practical Herb Cards. Can you tell us more about what these cards are and how people can use them?
Henriette: They’re short blurbs on 52 herbs or herbal terms; the book gives a little more information and a lot more photos of the same themes.
You could use the cards to learn herb names, because the reverse side only shows a photo of the plant, without names. The front side then has both common and Latin name, and plant family.
You could use the cards to learn about herbs and their uses. The text gives you a summary of the most important uses (or those uses which popped up when I wrote it). It’s friendly, it isn’t overly cautious or scary, and the recipes included in the longer text are easy and work.
For more in-depth texts with lots more uses, oodles of recipes and proper cautions, there’s my books Practical Herbs and Practical Herbs 2. (Did you know that Practical Herbs recently was translated to Japanese? I’m so chuffed about that!)
Rosalee: I love that you also included a lot of energetics with these cards. For example, each herb card has a spectrum of energetics and you also have cards with herbal terms. Can you share more about your process and how you decided what to include in the cards?
Henriette: There’s a photo of the plant, of course, and then the name, family and Latin name. There’s also medicinal uses and, where appropriate, food uses.
The cards have a little round “plant family” icon and the background colors are the same within each plant family. So you can lay out all rose family cards and try to see how the plants are similar to each other, if you so like.
The used parts have their own icons – leaf, flower, root and so on.
And then, because I’ve been using Western energetics for a few years now (after attending one of Christopher Hedley’s weekend courses in London, and avidly reading jim mcdonald’s and Rebecca Altman’s texts on the topic), I thought that an energetics ruler – hot vs. cold and dry vs. moist – would make the whole even more useful.
Of course, we all have different takes on the energetics of various herbs, and there’s some particularly vexing ones (like peppermint), but by and large, I went with my feelings and my tastings of the herbs.
It’s worth noting that the cards show Western energetics, where bitter and sour are cooling and spicy (or aromatic) is warming. I’m told that Chinese traditional medicine thinks bitter is warming.
Rosalee: What gave you the idea to create the herbal cards? I know most of the photography and the layout was done by you, can you share more about that process? How long have you been working on these cards?
Henriette: I’d been doing “herb of the week” posts on Facebook from the start of this year. In March, I looked back on the images with overprinted text – and found them to be so boring! So I looked around for exquisite layouts. Your own herbal blurbs are actually very inspiring, but I didn’t want to upset you by copying that layout.
Then I found myself looking at the Pokémon cards that my little one collects. Collecting cards have a pretty cool layout: one large image, lots of various icons, pretty background colors, and a little text.
I’ve done the layout for almost all my printed texts, so doing my own version of such a card wasn’t all that difficult. It took a false start or two, but once I found what works I just went with it.
Collecting cards are a bit on the small side; these cards are a bit larger.
I asked the company that does my printing: could they print cards? No problem, they said, and sent me a sample of playing cards in their box.
Then I asked, what if the cards are bound in the book as cardboard pages, with removable cards? Let us think it over, they said. Then they asked, could I send them a PDF mockup of the book proper for them to try a few things? Of course, said I, and sent it along. And then they sent me a prototype and it was just utterly gorgeous.
Finally, because I can’t possibly do cards for all herbs (as I only know and use so many), I asked on a herbalist’s mailing list if people would like to write their own text for one or more cards. A few herbalists responded, so the text to four of the cards are written by other people.
(This is an invitation for upcoming cards: I’d love texts from herbalists on herbs they know and use. It’s 60 words for the card proper, 300 words for the longer text, and four print-quality photos for each card. Let me know if you want to contribute.)
Rosalee: You were one of the very first herbalists I found when I started going online for herbal information. Your site is a treasure trove of herbal archives and old herbal texts. For those who may not already be familiar with you or your site, could you share some of your background? What first got you interested in herbs? Who have been some of your herbal mentors?
Henriette: Really? Cool!
My grandma took her grandkids to the meadows and woods, picking herbs and berries, showing us what plant could be used how for various problems. I was very interested from early on, so for Christmas and birthdays, she’d send me dried herbs from her garden and herb books.
I didn’t find anywhere to study herbs when I chose what profession to learn, so I took the easy way out and went with economics.
I’d made the medicinal and culinary herb FAQs in 1994 or so, and got invited to make a website in 1995, on sunsite.unc.edu: they’d offer me space (for free! that was a very big deal back then, a website cost thousands of dollars a month), I’d do the rest. So I made Henriette’s herbal homepage, which is still going strong.
In 1998, I attended Michael Moore’s Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. (His legacy – the distance course – is free of charge now, thanks to Michael’s partner Donna Chesner. Sign up at swsbm.com and go for it, it’s brilliant!)
Back home in Finland, I started to see clients, write articles for magazines and newspapers, and I did a lot of lectures. It didn’t take long before I was responsible for the (5 week long) herbal part of a two-year school on alternative healthcare.
I had mentors. I’d call Michael Moore or London herbalist Christopher Hedley whenever I was baffled by a client’s problems. Both were very helpful.
Later on, I bought some of Paul Bergner’s distance course CDs. They really clarified the importance of nutrients and the how and why of insulin resistance, and changed the way I taught and practised.
Rosalee: In addition to writing books and creating herb cards, how else do you walk the path of an herbalist? Do you see clients? Garden? Teach classes?
Henriette: I see clients, have distance students (in Finnish and Swedish), teach a lot, have a garden with herbs I can’t buy (for instance Chelone, that’s such a nice bitter!). My website is a hobby; it’s enormous now. Because of that, any update from my local copy to the public site takes at least a day.
Rosalee: What’s it like to be an herbalist in Finland? Are people generally open to using herbs? Are there regulations there for practicing or selling herbs?
Henriette: Finns are very open to using herbs, as we’re still actively gathering berries and mushrooms and to some extent wild greens.
As a herbalist I can’t diagnose or treat, but I can correct imbalances.
There’s a lot of common sense rules: don’t “cure cancer,” don’t use toxic herbs and so on.
I think it comes down to, “first, do no harm,” which is fairly easy to comply with.
Selling herbs is more complicated. There’s rules for selling herbs for food uses, rules for tinctures, rules for traditional herbs (as defined by the EU), rules for herbs restricted by the medical authorities – but there are no rules for growing, picking and using your own herbs.
Rosalee: Is there a particular herb that you’ve been enjoying a lot recently? Or a favorite recipe?
Henriette: I love rose, nettles, lemon balm, elecampane … so many!
I’ve a lemon balm carmelite brandy recipe (it’s in this book and in one before that, and on my website too). It’s exquisite, I should make some more. Here it is.
And a rose elixir (rose, honey, brandy) is utterly lovely.
Yesterday, I made a ginger honey by pouring honey over thinly sliced ginger. Amazing how the herb turns the honey so liquid so fast! It’s to be used for coughs, for warmth, or just because. It’s quite tasty.
And I dug up some elecampane, which was good, because now we have snow.
Rosalee: We are living in an era where herbs and herbalists are becoming increasingly popular. Do you have any advice for people who are just beginning to learn about herbs?
Henriette: Follow your heart, and remember to have fun!