J.T. Garrett,
The Cherokee Herbal:
Native Plant Medicine from the Four Directions

(Bear & Co., 2003)

The Cherokee Herbal: Native Plant Medicine from the Four Directions is a different kind of herbal book. While it provides the standard herbal listings for plants with their common and scientific names, plant family, details of where they commonly grow, distinguishing features, warnings about harmful effects and so forth, it also divides plants into four major categories of use by associated direction.

The four directions compose the Medicine Wheel. This encompasses everything about a person: inner self, family, ancestors, plant and animal helpers and spirit world. When these are all in balance, an individual is healthy. But "influences and interferences" within the Medicine Wheel can create disharmony or upset the critical balance. Cherokee medicine is about preventing or removing these negative elements and restoring balance and harmony to the Medicine Wheel. There are specific associations for each of the four directions. East is spiritual, south is natural, west is physical and north is mental. Likewise, there are "life values" and colors for each.

There are many considerations and factors for plant use. One major consideration is the "Rule of Opposites." This rule is based upon the flow of magnetic energy and the movement of life force within the Medicine Wheel and the Universal Circle. It roughly equates to the Chinese yin and yang. "The Rule of Opposites relates to intense energy coupled with the calm and cool to rest the body and spirit," according to Garrett.

The book includes a guide to Cherokee language and pronunciation and an introduction to the Medicine Way, and explains the origin of Cherokee medicine. Although these sections comprise three of the seven chapters, they only use roughly one-seventh of the book. The rest is devoted to the plants. Each direction chapter has an introduction that explains the medicine associated with it before beginning the plant listings. An appendix lists the plant formulas by illness or affliction. You could look up "headache" and find the formula here.

This is a fantastic book! I loved it and will be using it as a reference guide for the rest of my life. It is laid out well and organized quite nicely. The only thing that could have been improved was an index so you could locate the plants or afflictions and illnesses more quickly. Still, it is simple to use without an index once you understand the realms of the four directions. Garrett's four decades of research and study in the area are well reflected here. He has produced an excellent book that provides entertaining reading in addition to vital information.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 21 June 2003

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