One sunny California morning, an excited gaggle of herb students sat around the communal barn classroom at the California School of Herbal Studies, chatting freely and anticipating the day’s instruction on materia medica. Students quickly shuffled in and out of the common room hurrying to finish preparing their morning cup of herbal tea in time for class to start. There might have been a conversation about the merits of using Blood Root for treating abnormal skin growths, or an animated description of a medicine making experiment gone awry. As usual I sat at the front and center of the class eagerly awaiting for the day to begin, pen poised for note taking, and clipboard firmly planted on my lap. In front of me sat Richo Cech with an armload of his recently published book Making Plant Medicine, and a bag full of the most potent Berberis roots I’ve ever tasted, patiently waiting for us all to settle down. The year was 2000.
Over ten years later, this book remains my most trusted tincture-making reference books. In Making Plant Medicine, Richo Cech thoroughly outlines the process of making menstruum and provides useful insights on how to determine the solubility of a plant, estimate tincture yield, and calculate the finished alcohol content of tinctures. He also describes the processes associated with harvesting and processing herbs. While Cech explains both the folk and scientific methods of tincturing, it’s really his in-depth and thorough explanation of standard tincturing ratios that makes this book stand apart from other medicine making manuals. Even after learning and understanding the basic tenants of tincturing, you will find yourself picking this book up again and again to consult the herbal formulary, which features over 100 herbs according to parts used, tincture ratios and preparation, practical uses, dosage, and contraindications.
However, Making Plant Medicine is not only about tinctures. It’s a complete medicine-making book that provides hands-on instructions for preparing numerous herbal preparations such as vinegar extracts, herbal glycerites, infusions, decoctions, succi, syrups, salves, creams, poultices, compresses, and soaks. Most notably, these instructions are grounded in practical experience, and are replete with specific details and user-friendly tips that one only learns through years of experience and trial and error. Each time I consult this book I find myself picking up a few new nuggets of wisdom.
Probably the most enchanting part of this book is Chech’s vibrant stories about life on his farm and apothecary. There is something very endearing about the way he generously invites you into his life and opens the doors to his home and garden. His descriptions are so vivid and colourful that you can smell the thyme tea he is brewing, feel the hot onion poultice he’s applying, and hear the nature sounds in his garden during the full moon. And this guy is funny to boot. I found myself laughing out loud more than once, and smiling pensively at his vivid and animated stories.
Richo Chech’s manner and writing style are also very disarming and accessible. He humbly refers to himself as a “family herbalist” and shares refreshingly useful insights that are tangible and easy to apply. His knowledge is one that has been earned slowly through the experience of time spent learning his craft. It’s a kind of knowledge that seems to be falling out of favor in this bustling world of quick fixes and information overload. It’s a kind of knowledge that inspires me to master my own herbal craft. Even for this alone, Making Plant Medicine is a worthy addition to any bookshelf.