Citing Herbal Sources

Lately I’ve been asked by several people about the correct way to cite sources or provide references within herbal articles. 

I don’t feel like I am the most qualified person to answer this I
thought I would take a stab at it. I would love to hear other’s comments
below or in their own blog posts. 

First I would like to break this up into two different categories. 

1. Citing sources when writing a book or a professional article (such as for the JAHG).

2. Citing sources in more informal circumstances such as blog posts, class materials/handouts, etc. 

The method of citations in professional circumstances is usually determined by the publication itself. They will provide you with citation guidelines such as which citation format to use. In these types of publications citations will be more frequent. You’ll need to provide citations for any claims you make, any studies you reference or any material that is not strictly your own. 

For the purposes of this article I am going to focus on more informal circumstances since this is what most commonly affects the herbalists I work with. 

Four Things that Need to Be Cited

  • Ideas and concepts learned from other sources. 
  • Quotes
  • Recipes
  • Any claims about herbs. (For example, instead of merely writing “studies show,” provide citations to specific studies.)

Why You Should Provide Citations

you look around at the majority of herbal articles written by
grassroots herbalists you’ll see that citations and references are few
and far between. Is it even necessary? 


Here are some important reasons why citations are important. 

1. Honoring and Respecting Other Herbalists

or referencing the original source who inspired you or who you have
learned from is a way to honor and respect that source of information. 

people may feel that saying they learned something from somewhere else
puts them in a bad light. Not at all! First of all we all learned
everything somewhere. None of us were born knowing any facts about
herbalism or any recipes or any diagnostics. We all had to learn this
from somewhere, whether that be another herbalist, a medical researcher
or a plant! 

the time to acknowledge our teachers is a way to honor and respect
them. I love to remember my teachers while I am teaching and writing. It
gives me a sense of purpose and helps remind me that I am part of a
greater whole. I don’t stand alone, I am standing on the shoulders of my
own teachers. 

2. You’ll Be Taken More Seriously

Are you trying to change people’s opinions? To help them see the value of medicinal herbs? 

an article with a lot of claims about medicinal herbs but without
supporting evidence will make people question the validity of what you
are saying. 

3. Not Citing Materials Reflects Poorly on Your Integrity

you are doing it out of ignorance or maliciousness, repeating
information that you learned from someone else or using other people’s
recipes without referencing that original source makes you look
dishonest and unethical. 

4. It Helps Prevent “Herban Legends”

The act of questioning long-held assumptions by looking for proof can help prevent herbal myths. 

has been a common occurrence that myths about herbs get repeated over
and over because no one has stepped in to question the validity of the
statement. An example of this is goldenseal. You will commonly hear that
goldenseal is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that is good for colds and
the flu. Yikes! 

his stellar book on Echinacea and Goldenseal Paul Bergner writes
extensively about why goldenseal is not an antibiotic. He cites
traditional sources as well as modern day studies to prove his point. I
wonder, would goldenseal have been as unethically over-harvested if it
hadn’t been wrongly portrayed as a “broad-spectrum antibiotic?” 

5. Using Copyrighted Information Without Citations Can Violate Copyright Laws

Up until now I’ve focused on why you may choose
to cite something based on your integrity and respect for other
herbalists. But the fact of the matter is that a lot of information is
copyrighted. Using copyrighted information as your own is against the
law. This most often refers to printed materials such as books and
magazine articles as well as electronic information, including ebooks
and even blog posts. 

How Do You Know You Need to Cite Another Herbalist or Source? 

Knowing when it is necessary to provide citations can be somewhat of a judgement call. 

knowledge is considered general knowledge that wouldn’t need to be
attributed to one single person. For example, you might say in an
article that rose hips are high in vitamin C. If this were an informal
article you probably wouldn’t need to cite that since that information
is readily found anywhere. If this were a more scientific or
professional article you may want to cite a study showing this to be

cite herbalists when I know I learned that specific piece of
information from them, whether that is an idea or concept. I also
attribute direct quotes and give credit for recipes.

What About Recipes?

Basic recipes such as how to make a syrup, an elixir or tincture don’t need to be cited. 

If you are using someone’s specific recipe then you need to give credit and you may possibly need permission. 

a general rule of thumb that, if you dramatically change a recipe in
three ways, then it can become “yours” and no citation is needed.
However, if you are highly inspired by someone’s herbal recipe then it’s
just good manners to say “This was inspired by…”

How to Cite Sources

Specific formats

a reminder, there are specific sets of guidelines for citations in
every profession. The APA format is specifically for behavioral sciences
but is a popular and easy-to-follow format. You can see a tutorial of
the APA format here

Another popular style is the MLA. This is commonly used in the liberal arts and humanities. You can read more about the MLA style here

Need help with formatting your citation? Herbalist and friend Victoria Debra Bray told me about this citation machine that helps you generate citations within a certain format.  


cite sources informally by citing the person and, if applicable, the
article, book, study or course where that specific information is
included. I generally cite this within the article as well as at the end
in a resources section. Keep in mind that this is truly informal and is
not up to professional standards. 

Attribution of Quotes

you are quoting someone word for word then you’ll need to attribute
that quote. This applies whether or not the quote comes from an article
or book or from a personal conversation. Here’s a guide on quote attribution in the MLA style

Can You Copy and Paste Entire Articles or Blog Posts Onto Your Own Website As Long As You Give Credit? 


There are two reasons why you should never copy and paste entire blog posts and put them on your own blog or website. 

first reason is that it is illegal to take an entire article and copy
and paste it somewhere else, even if you provide a link back to the
original source. It violates copyright law. 

second reason is that this really doesn’t help you and can actually
hinder you as far as search engines go. Search engines have little bots
running around to determine how far up sites should rank in their search
engines. If you have duplicated content on your site then search
engines will penalize you by putting your site much lower on the search
engine rankings. Unfortunately, if you steal my entire articles/blog
posts for your own site we both get penalized. 

you really want to share someone’s article on your own website the best
thing to do is include a paragraph to introduce the article along with a
link back to the entire original article. 


citations and resources within your herbal articles is a way to show
respect to your teachers and substantiate any claims you make. Besides
showing personal integrity, citations also mean that you can avoid
plagiarism of copyrighted materials, which can become a legal matter. 

most grassroots herbalists, using informal citations will probably
suffice; however, I could see a good argument for adopting professional
standards, especially for those who want to be seen as professionals. 

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