Review of Culpeper’s Color Herbal

Book Review: Culpeper’s Color Herbal, edited by David Potterton

This is an abridged version of Nicholas Culpeper’s original herbal published in 1682, versions of which are available online for free.  His goal in writing this was to make some herbal information available to common people so that, even if they were unable to go gather their own herbs, may at least be more knowledgable when seeing apothecaries and herbalists who were notorious for screwing people over.

I’ve always been interested in herbs and herbalism, but have lacked the knowledge (and honestly the motivation) to do much about it.  To remedy that, I’m trying to look through a variety of books on herbs this year.  Earlier this year I read a gardening book on growing and caring for herbs.  This month I wanted to focus a little bit more on herbal lore, and Culpeper is a staple as far as that goes.

For each herb in this book, part of Culpeper’s original writing is provided, including where to find it, when it flowers, its astrological correspondence, and finally medicinal virtues.  There is also an illustration of each by artist E.J. Shellard.  Lastly, the editor, David Potterton, lists modern uses.  With all of this, I found it a good broad introduction, but also a little overwhelming because so much information is being hurled at you in quick succession.

However, there are lists at the end of common ailments and the herbs to look up that help (both a list according to Culpeper and a separate one by Potterton).  These are really good for research, though not so helpful as far as practical knowledge.  In fact, that’s pretty absent in this book overall.  Potterton almost always says the herb being discussed is not suitable for domestic use and that one should consult a professional herbalist.  While this is excellent information because, yes, people have to be extremely cautious when using herbs, I was still hoping for a little more information.  I understand the reasoning behind it; after all, many people are inclined to think that herbs are harmless just because they’re “natural” which of course is foolish.

I also wish more information had been included on the astrological correspondences.  While I’m personally not really into astrology, I find the method of classifying ailments and bodily systems under different planets and star signs, popular in Culpeper’s day, really fascinating.  Classifying plants in a similar manner would help connect problems and solutions.  Unfortunately, though this history is touched on, there is no list of ailments and classifications to help the modern reader understand why certain things were categorized as they were.

If the density of Culpeper’s original work intimidates you, this is probably a good place to start, and has excellent visuals if you aren’t too herb-savvy.  If I continue to get into herbs and herbal lore, however, I will definitely need to tackle the full work.

For a full list of my pagan and magic related books, check out my Goodreads page.  The shelves and additions are a work in progress, but should be filled out in the next week or two.  I’m always looking for more Goodreads friends with similar interests, so feel free to send me a request!

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