New book preserves relationship with plants through at-home herbalism

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The Artisan Herbalist by Bevin Cohen is available for $24.99 online and in bookstores.

By Kayla Nelsen

Bevin Cohen hand-crafts salves, teas and tinctures – from planting the seed to cold-pressing and infusing the oils in his home kitchen in Sanford, Michigan.

His newest book, The Artisan Herbalist, invites readers to do the same.

Herbalism, the use of plants for medicinal purposes, is a traditional practice that requires horticultural knowledge. Cohen calls The Artisan Herbalist a comprehensive guide to at-home herbalism through every stage, for beginner and experienced herbalists. It outlines the identification, name and biology of each plant before moving to uses and recipes.

“It’s a book that I wish I would have had when I started practicing herbalism,” Cohen said. “It covers all the foundational aspects of herbalism that I struggled to find 20 years ago.”

Learning about local plants is essential for herbalism, Cohen said. All of the photos in the book were taken by his wife, Heather, in their backyard – Small House Farm – on the Huron-Manistee National Forest border. Cohen encourages readers to follow suit.

“Just choose a plant and learn about it,” Cohen said. “Start small. Even when we look at our spice racks, we have so many herbs available to us right inside of our house already.”

Author Bevin Cohen. Image: Heather Cohen

The Artisan Herbalist aims to make herbalism accessible to all. It features 43 herbs that can be found anywhere in the world, all of which Cohen said he has worked with extensively.

“I really tried to condense 20 years of herbal experience into that book,” Cohen said.

Cohen began sharing his knowledge through presentations across Michigan. Eventually, writing books became a different way to pass along his expertise.

“Writing is an opportunity to share my experiences, ideas and knowledge with folks so they can keep that with them, whereas when I teach, it’s kind of a one time deal,” Cohen said. “A book is something that folks can take home and they can refer to time and time again.”

His first two books, From Our Seeds and Their Keepers and Saving Our Seeds: The Practice and Philosophy, outline the practice of seed saving through storytelling. The books feature a collection of Cohen’s experiences from his global seed-finding travels, as well as the stories of the seed keepers he met along the way.

“I like to teach through story,” Cohen said. “It’s important to really understand the history and culture that’s part of that plant before we just harvest it up and throw it in something like it’s an ingredient.”

The Artisan Herbalist author Bevin Cohen handles a bundle of fresh-picked catnip from their Sanford, Michigan, farm. Image: Heather Cohen

Teaching through stories is what Cohen said sets him apart from other herbalists – sharing personal experiences with plants is the first step in growing a relationship with them.

“To me, herbalism is all about relationships,” he said. “We can’t look at herbs simply as ingredients, as commodities. We have to acknowledge the relationship we have with these plants. I think that’s critical to a healthy foundation in the practice of herbalism.”

From the effects of climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic, global issues have fueled a noticeable resurgence in public interest for natural things, a craving for a relationship with the environment, Cohen said.

Community members prepare custom tea blends using hand-picked herbs provided by author Bevin Cohen at a recent presentation at the Briggs District Library in St. Johns, Michigan. Image: Kayla Nelsen

“These challenges that we’re facing right now have become opportunities to help us look at the world from a different perspective,” he said.

The Artisan Herbalist is available for $24.99 from the Small House Farm website and at most bookstores. Cohen’s next book, The Complete Guide to Seed and Nut Oils, a guide to culinary and medicinal oils, will be released in February.

Cohen will be at Howe Memorial Library in Breckinridge, Michigan, on Nov. 15 from 6 to 7 p.m. presenting “Making Teas, Tinctures and Oils at Home.” The full calendar of his speaking events may be found at http://www.smallhousefarm.com/markets-events/

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