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2010 Book Reviews

Wild Drugs: A Forager’s Guide To Healing Plants by Zoe Hawes

Gaia Books, £14.99, ISBN 978-1-85675-310-4.

This book will appeal to anyone who is considering making their own herbal remedies by going out into the fields and hedgerows to gather the ingredients for themselves, for free. It really is a complete guide to all you need to know and more besides, it’s rare that a guide really lives up to its title, but this one does. The instructions and clear and precise, it deals with over 100 common ailments and over 50 different herbs that you can find in the wild from woodland, riverside, grassland, hedgerow and even the garden.

Zoe writes in a manner that avoids any confusion, and she packs in so much information in to the 256 pages of Wild Drugs that the reader really can't go wrong. Starting with information on the history of herbal medicine, she then takes you through how to harvest the different parts of the plants and how to forage safely and legally. Next you'll discover how to identify plants, helping you learn what the different leaf and flower types look like, teaching you a little basic botany that will help you understand what you’re looking for when a cordate leaf or a whorled flower is referred to in other books. Descriptions follow on the various plant families you'll come across with easy descriptions which can help you learn what plant belongs to what family just by looking at it.

Once you know how to identify, find and gather your herbs, you're then ready to discover how to use them and Zoe being a qualified Medical Herbalist is the ideal person to take you on this journey of discovery, she talks you through how herbs affect the body, their actions, explaining what is meant by the various herbal terms such as demulcent and nervine. Preparing the herbs is your next step and here once again Zoe explains what you have to do to get your foraged plants ready for turning into a remedy. This section is rounded off perfectly with descriptions of how to take herbs be it an infusion, tincture, ointment or syrup and each entry has the weights, measures and dose information you'll need.

A mixture of wild flowers, plants, trees and shrubs are covered and each individual herb entry contains useful and interesting information relevant to the plant, fact and folklore, what to look for, where to look, where to look for it, which part to harvest and what ailments it can be used to treat, which is invaluable information to me, I can recognise all the plants in Zoe's book, but what they are useful for treating escapes me for a large part of them. With each herb you also learn how to use it, any cautions or contraindications it may have and what other herbs it combines well with and you even get a foragers checklist to help summarise what you've learned from the plants main text. Many of the entries also include a suggested use and from Agrimony Wine to Yarrow Wound Salve there are lots of ideas for things to make using your freshly foraged bounty. Each entry also contains splendid photos of the plant being described.

The remedies for common ailments contains sections that deal with different parts of the body conjunctivitis, burns and mouth ulcers can be found under skin, eyes and mouth for instance and each ailment describes how it presents itself, lists the herbs that are useful to treat it and also provides remedy suggestions you can make yourself. Concluding with a list of 10 herbs that are versatile and should be in everybody's home herbal first aid kit, their uses and the types of preparations they can be stored in, plus a glossary of terms used in the book.

Wild Drugs should be on every herbal foragers bookshelf. This book is so much more than a list of herbs to use, there's something for everybody. From my point of view it's refreshing to have to hand a book full of plants that can readily be found locally be it in the garden or hedgerow, that use simple additional ingredients that once again are easy to obtain and walks you through making your own remedies, simply and easily whilst teaching you something without lecturing you or telling you before you can do A you simple must do B & C, which I often find irritating and sometimes condescending, Zoe doesn't, it's like having a foraging guide along with you who lets you get on with it but will help when you need it and put you right if you're going wrong.

Forget growing your own drugs, go out into Mother Nature's larder and let Zoe show you how to source and make your own Wild Drugs. I cannot recommend this book highly enough; if you're interested in foraging for medicine you need this book!

Review by Debs Cook

The Wild & Weedy Apothecary: An A to Z Book of Herbal Concoctions, Recipes, Remedies, Practical Know How & Food For The Soul by Doreen Shababy

Llewellyn Worldwide, £15.99, ISBN 978-0-7387-1907-8.

Welcome to the wild and weedy apothecary, a place where herbs hang in bunches from the rafters, potions brew in glass jars on the medicine hutch, and there’s always time for a cup of fragrant tea...” begins Doreen Shababy and herbs with a little bit of hearth and soul are what follows in this book. Doreen Shababy writes with a warm and friendly style that has you eagerly turning the pages to share her love of the earth and its herbal bounty. Encouraging the reader to be adventurous with herbs, and go beyond their normal boundaries to experiment with wonderfully fragrant teas, soothing salves and nourishing tonics, Doreen provides many remedies and recipes that are easy to replicate. The knowledge and experience that she has becomes apparent very early in the book and she continues to share her wit, wisdom and insight into the wonderful world of herbs.
Written in two parts the first part sets up what every Kitchen Apothecary needs to have in it, there’s a useful list of equipment and tools that are easy to obtain and will help make all your herbal dream goodies become reality and a good basic store cupboard is inventoried as well. She encourages the use of local herbs something that echoes in my own heart, and is something that I try to use more of increasingly these days. The book is aimed at the American market, so recipes are in cups and ounces but none of the recipes contain anything you can’t get over.

Part two is and Encyclopedia of Recipes & Remedies written in a simple ‘A is for Apple’ style, jam packed with history, folklore, uses and recipes both culinary and medicinal. Aromatherapy is explained; spice rack remedies are contemplated and herbal vinegar is made, used and gifted. As with any book that I get for review that contains recipes, I always try a couple of them to see how they work, what they taste like and this one was no exception I tried the Joyful Honey Carrot Cake which was delicious, made Lemon Balm Pesto which is sublime with fish or for dressing vegetables. The Mother’s Tummy Rub was well received by a newly pregnant friend who loves the smell and the way she feels after she’s used the rub and I’ve enjoyed the Roseberry and Pixie Flower tea blends and Walnut Pate, and there are still more recipes earmarked to nourish the body and soul. This is a book for the wild woman who likes her medicine to be spiritual as well as nutritional and wears starflowers in her hair.

Review by Debs Cook

The Honey Prescription: The Amazing Power of Honey as Medicine by Nathaniel Altman

Healing Arts Press, £14.99, ISBN 978-159477346-4.

Did you know that you can use honey to treat arthritis, bee stings, sunburn, constipation, diarrhea, hay fever and kidney and liver problems amongst other ailments? I was sceptical when I first heard about this book, I’ve seen so many clones of B F Beck’s “Honey And Your Health”, Museum Press Limited, 1947, that I thought this would be another one of them. Thankfully I was wrong and Nathaniel Altman‘s book showed me some things about honey that I never knew and took some of what I already knew to a greater level of understanding.

It begins with a chapter on the bee itself, its anatomy, hierarchy and communication, moving on to talk about just what honey is and what it contains. Honey’s use in medicine from Ancient Egypt right through to the present is discussed, how and why honey acts as such a good healer. There then follows a chapter of clinical evidence which makes for some very interesting reading indeed, with an array of studies showing how honey can be used as an alternative medication particularly useful in dealing with antibiotic resistant bacteria for example. The chapter on whether honey is safe to use for infants and diabetics makes interesting reading and Altman weighs up the evidence and presents recommendations.

The fact that honey is healing and nutritious is not a new concept to the human race we’ve know about its amazing properties for a long time now, but with this book you get to understand just why it’s so revered. There’s sections with recipes for medicinal and cosmetic uses of honey and the bees and the future section discusses why bees have become a threatened species, how we can help restore their natural environment and protect them. There is an appendix of honey varieties and a resources section.

If you’re a honey nut and want to know more about its history, uses and medicinal value and are curious about the latest scientific research then this book certainly makes an interesting read. Be aware that it’s written for the American market and when things such as native plants are discussed you get things like Scorpion Weed and Creosote Bush featuring on the lists, and a lot of the references and resources are American. My only criticism is there are some really nice photos in the book but they’re all black and white and tend to be on the dark side making it difficult to see some of the detail, especially on photos, more so line drawings.

Review by Debs Cook

Herbs For Home Treatment: A Guide To Using Herbs For First Aid And Common Health Problems by Anna Newton

Green Books, £14.95, ISBN 978-1-900322-42-3.

Anna Newton MNIMH, CPP runs a successful herbal medicine practice in Cheltenham and her book is useful whether you’re new to making your own remedies or you already have some experience using herbs and would like a resource to turn to time and time again. It’s an excellent and informative book that is clear and easy to follow and comes highly recommended by Brain Hay the managing director of Culpeper UK, Sebastian Pole the founder of Pukka Herbs and Jekka McVicar. It’s a comprehensive guide showing you how to use herbs to treat a broad spectrum of common ailments safely with many tips for improving your general health and highlights ‘must have’ herbs for treating various conditions.

Anna shows the reader why they should consider using herbs to treat their condition, advises what they should do to take herbs safely and effectively, how to use herbs sustainably without compromising the environment, what form of herbs you need to take your herbs in, the correct dosages and combining herbs There are detailed sections on treating ailments that affect the digestive, respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems, as well as chapters on slowing down the ageing process, reviving libido and recovering from serious illness. And there’s advice provided for consulting a qualified practitioner if you’re at all unsure about what ails you, rather than attempting to treat yourself.

This isn’t a herbal medicine recipe book, it’s a herbal treatment instruction book, that said, there are some recipes in the book for making your own remedies and they’re easy to make and easy to source the ingredients especially if you use the resource guide at the back of the book. If you want to make everything from scratch yourself, some recipes require you to make your own tinctures before you can progress to making the actual recipe such as the Home-Mixed Herbal Shampoo. There are sections on growing and drying herbs, making your own tinctures, infused oils, syrups and ointments and Anna guides you through making your own basic herbal first aid kit for travelling to Europe and more exotic and remote countries.

If you want to look after your own health using herbs, this book gives you all the information you need to do it in a practical and user-friendly way, which will inspire you to create your own remedies from your own herbs and help you glean a better understanding of why they work.

Review by Debs Cook

Collins Beekeepers Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses

Harper Collins, £30.00, ISBN 978-0-00-727989-0.

This highly educational and informative book contains 5 essential parts and has something for everyone, from the beekeeper to the person who likes to make use of bee products in the kitchen and home.
Bees and beekeeping history is the first subject to be discussed, drawing on bees in mythology and bee symbolism along the way. Historically beekeeping is traced back as far as the Mesolithic era and continues to the present day, taking a good look at the scientific advances in beekeeping over the years.

Part 2 teaches us how to understand and identify the honeybee, the life cycle of the bee and the life of the hive are also looked at in detail, as is the relationship between the bees and how they communicate. Part 3 has recommendation for plants to add to the garden for attracting bees with a view to producing edible honey from the plants detailed. If you want to begin keeping bees yourself but aren’t sure how to begin then this book can help covering everything from choosing your hive, feeding your bees, and harvesting your honey, concluding with the future of bee keeping. Part 4 looks at the many uses of honey including the medicinal properties of this nectar of the gods. The use of beeswax, propolis, pollen, bee venom and royal jelly are also covered.

Part 5 is brimming with recipes and home craft uses for honey and beeswax; already I’m a fan of the Curried Honey Sweet Potato Soup, the Honey Balsamic Salmon Fillets and the Honey Banana Cake. There are recipes for honeyed beauty treatments to, try the Cold Cream or Lemon & Honey Face Pack for a refreshing skin treat or if you suffer from tired feet the Peppermint & Beeswax Foot Treatment is well worth making up as is the Green Mountain Salve for back pain and rheumatism. This captivating book even describes how to make your own rolled beeswax candles, beeswax polish and crayons for the children.

Beautifully illustrated throughout with historic paintings, unique etchings and practical photography it shows the reader all they need to know about bees and beekeeping, I came away from this book with a better understanding of bees and a desire to keep my own hive one day, it’s hard to put down as well as all the informative information its full of charming bee trivia and fascinating folklore. A beekeeper friend told me that she recommends this book to everyone and wouldn’t be without it as it covers everything you need to know and is a joy to read and look at and I agree, if you only buy one book on bees, this is the one I would recommend time and time again.

Review by Debs Cook

The Cook's Herb Garden by Jeff Cox & Marie-Pierre Moine

Dorling Kindersley, £12.99, ISBN 978-1-4053-4993-2.

A delightful little book that takes the herb loving cook through the stages of choosing, growing, harvesting, storing and finally cooking with herbs. The ‘choosing’ section has plenty of ideas for pots and baskets of everyday herbs including Middle Eastern and herbal tea selections. It also contains a herb catalogue which shows a colour photo of the herb, general cultivation information, habit and cooking suggestion for over 60 different herbs.

The growing section outlines which herbs are hardy, frost hardy and half hardy, it also highlights which herbs will tolerate wet soil conditions, what condition suit each herb and which herbs are best grown from seed each year. Soil types, propagation, feeding, weeding and harvesting are also covered as are common pests and diseases that can plague any herb gardener. Tips for storing your herb harvest include ways of freezing and drying the herbs.

As is to be expected, my favourite section of the book is the recipe section, for the novice herb cook a variety of preparation methods are show. The recipes are straight forward and include butters, oils & vinegars, rubs, coatings, marinades, salads, sauces, soups, sweets, cordials and herbal teas. My personal favourites include the Citrus & Basil Marinade which tastes heavenly when used to marinade chicken. Cream of Herb Soup, Basil & Vanilla Custard and Angelica Liqueur also deserve a special mention. Since reading this book I’m now a fan of rose geranium tea, I’d only used rose geranium leaves in cakes and syrups before and had never considered making tea with them, adding a sprinkling of lavender to the pot gives a floral tea that is perfect to help you unwind at the end of a busy day.

This is a lovely book that both new and established cooks will enjoy. I would have liked to see some more complex recipes included, but that said, it does what it says on the cover and is a good basic guide for showing how to grow, harvest and cook your herbs.

Review by Debs Cook

Grow Your Own Herbs In Pots: 35 Simple Projects For Creating Beautiful Container Herb Gardens by Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell

Cico Books, £14.99, ISBN 978-1-907030-20-8.

Deborah gardens at her home in London and in the Cotswolds and is also a beekeeper and author of Organic Crops in Pots. Her latest book is perfect for someone who wants to turn a little piece of concrete jungle into a fragrant portable herb garden. After taking you through the basics of herb growing, choosing your containers and harvesting herbs from them, Deborah offers some planting ideas for cooks, health and decorative and scented herb displays.

New herb gardeners will find the list of herbs for the kitchen useful whether they are ‘basic’ or ‘adventurous’ cooks. I love the fact that suggestions are given for using a variety of containers from standard garden centre pots to old pans, teapots, fire grates, trugs and colanders, which in the current green climate is über eco friendly and a superb way to encourage recycling in the home and garden.

The book is really well illustrated and is set out project by project, listing everything you need to turn the project idea, into a herbal reality no matter what size your garden is. It’s certainly got me scouting around for suitable containers that I can use to add an extra dimension to my garden with well placed herbal displays. Whether you garden on acres or on a small patio or balcony this book can provide some wonderful ideas for growing herbs in pots.

Review by Debs Cook

A Year With James Wong by James Wong

Harper Collins , £16.99, ISBN 978-0-00-734530-4.

Have you ever thought of making chocolate tincture? James has and it's just one of the new inspirational recipes from A Year With James Wong. He teams it with homemade Rose Syrup to make a delicious Rose & Chocolate Shot, a drink that’s good for the heart in more ways than one!

James Wong is the sort of chap you can’t help but like, he has a bubbly enthusiasm for herbs and plants and enjoys the challenge of taking natural ingredients and turning them into remedies and treats for the body and soul. I enjoyed his first book, the recipes were easy to make and appealed to the kitchen herb wife in me. His new book is more of the same with added extras!

The book takes you through the basics of growing and making your own herbal goodies; this time it’s not just remedies and cosmetics, but items for the home such as Wood Polish that contains Rhubarb Root, and if you have pets, you can discover how to make your own Herbal Flea Powder, or treat your cat to a DIY Christmas toy.

James is a man who believes in suffering for his art, literally, at last year’s Herb Society conference, he explained the painful process of testing the Rose & Clove Hair Removing Sugar on his own legs! He works on his recipes until they’re perfect, although they don’t always work out as he explained about his attempts to make his own rosewater.

The recipes are broken down by ailment like last time; there are recipes for digestive, respiratory, dermatological, kids, muscular and joint, emotional and hormonal problems. One of the thing criticisms I had about his first book, was the number of ‘exotic’ herbs and ingredients in the recipes. So in this book it’s great to see UK natives such as Herb Robert, Meadowsweet and Horsetail feature in the recipes.

If you watched the GYOD for Christmas programme, you’ll be pleased to find all the recipes are in the new book. When my review copy arrived, I couldn’t resist trying out some of the recipes for myself. For the ladies who suffer monthly, I can highly recommend the Time of the Month Tea and the Oats & Almond Moisturizing Body Cream is heavenly. For men, my other half really liked the Witch Hazel Aftershave Gel for Shaving Rash and has requested that I make up some of the Anti-Dandruff Hair Oil for him to try. I still have a list of recipes I want to try as the fresh ingredients become available, but of the ones I’ve tried so far, as before I’m impressed.

This book puts the emphasis on Growing Your Own – with sowing and planting guides and season by season charts for sowing and harvesting, it enables you to grow and gather ingredients from your own garden and be able to use them fresh, instead of having to source dried ingredients. If you’re not a gardener, there’s a non-gardeners guide and also a guide to wild foraging and plant buying.

Throughout the book James offers additional tips and ‘gifting ideas’. There’s a ground breaking additional bonus to this book – in that its interactive – Some of the pages contain symbols for audio, video and images. By going online to the Harper Collins website you can get access additional content, such as videos of James talking about his recipes.
In James introduction, he writes that he hopes “to provide a complete tool kit that will get you off to a good start. Before you know it, you’ll be tinkering away like a botanical Willy Wonka...” An image I find appealing, it captures James sense of fun and his enthusiasm for making simple easy herbal goodies. Although with James you don’t need to use ‘pure imagination’ to achieve wonderful homemade herbal results.

NB: Herb Society members can find three recipes and photos from James new book in the Members Area, the recipes we’ve included are the Oats & Almond Moisturizing Body Cream, Honeysuckle & Jasmine Jelly for Sore Throats and Wood Polish, all containing honey or beeswax.

Review by Debs Cook
James Wong - Grow Your Own Drugs: A Year With James Wong

Photo copyright
Harper Collins

The Medicine Garden by Rachel Corby

The Good Life Press, £16.95, ISBN 978-1-904871-58-3.

Written for those of us interested in using natural remedies, foraging for free, and for those that feel a spiritual connection with nature, wanting to use the herbal bounty that surrounds them to treat their family’s ills. Rachel encourages the reader to look at what is growing locally when it comes to treating their body with herbs. Proving that you don’t have to travel much further than your own back garden to find your medicine! Rachel Corby isn’t a herbalist, and she makes that clear at the beginning of the book, that said, as the opening chapter unfolds you understand why she is qualified to write about medicinal herbs, as you read about her experiences with herbs in her life, several years in a herb nursery, a herbal apprenticeship with Stephen Harrod Buhner in New Mexico, English village courses and encounters with shamans and medicine men in Africa.

With interesting chapters on Wild Food as Medicine and Preparations & Dosages you begin well prepared for the journey ahead, working through a variety of herbs each entry gives you facts and tips, the plants medicinal actions, gathering advice, directions for preparing the herb, cautions and contraindications and recipes and suggested uses. Black and white for the most part the centre of the book contains some beautiful photographs of some of the herbs featured in the book taken by Stephen Studd.

Rachel looks at herbs in your flower border, vegetable patch, lawn, hedgerows, by the river and in the woods and meadows; in the appendix you’ll find a list of common ailments and the herbs you can use to treat them. Written with the beginner in mind, the recipes and remedies in this book are easy to follow, I particularly like the ‘Healthful Cocktails’ entry that accompanies some of the herb listings, for example the suggestion to infuse primrose with lungwort and thyme for treating coughs, gives you other ideas for using the herbs and for making more than just simple remedies. Don’t buy this book thinking it to be an herbal remedy recipe book, it’s much more than that, it’s a perfect companion for the person who wants to embark upon a herbal journey and form a lasting relationship with medicinal herbs.

Review by Debs Cook

Honey: The Ultimate Practical Guide To A Natural Golden Treasure, From Healing, Soothing, And Flavouring To Sweetening And Preserving by Jenni Fleetwood

Lorenz Books, £9.99, ISBN 978-0-7548-1859-5

We’re all familiar with Borage, Clover, Orange Blossom and Eucalyptus honey, but have you ever heard of, or tried Rubber, Cotton or Goldenrod honey? Man has been eating honey long before he ate bread, Jenni Fleetwood’s book covers myths and legends, the composition of honey, beekeeping through the ages and information on pollen, propolis and beeswax is given. For me the most interesting chapter was the one that covered the different types of honey, I never knew there were so many! From Apple Blossom to Tupelo, Jenni takes you through them all, showing you how to make infused honey such as ginger and mint along the way.

A chapter focusing on the ancient and modern healing uses of honey is of great interest and the DIY remedy recipes included are both easy and a delicious way to take your medicine. Honey has been included since ancient times; this book provides honey recipes for the bath, face, hair and hands. A chapter on using bee products around the home is full of tips for making your own beeswax polish, soaps, candles and even crayons for the children made very easily from beeswax and a few other ingredients.

The final chapter deals with cooking with honey and contains some delicious recipes; my favourites so far are the Spicy Honey Cake and the Vanilla Honey Fudge.
This is an excellent book, if like me; you want to learn more about bee products and their many uses. Beautifully illustrated with over 200 colour photographs and artworks, this is a sourcebook of honey ideas I'll be turning to time and again.

Review by Debs Cook

Herbs For Pets: Second Edition by Gregory L. Tifford & Mary L. Wulff

Bowtie Press, £19.99, ISBN 978- 1933958781

First published in 1999, this is a book I turn to whenever my pets are ill. This revised second edition contains the latest scientific information on hundreds of medicinal plants and natural therapies. The authors look at Western, Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal practises, focusing on North American herbs, their applications and contraindications. Information is given on learning how to grow a variety of herbs that you can use to maintain the health of your pet naturally.

The first chapter covers the Principles and Practices of Herbalism and talks you through using herbs naturally, toxicity of plants and how to tell when you should go and consult a vet, the most common types of herbal preparations for animals as well as a list of the basic herbs to have to hand for your basic animal apothecary.

Don't be put off by the fact that this is an American book, the information within is just as relevant to us here in the UK and almost all the herbs contained in the books Materia Medica, such as burdock, calendula and chickweed grow readily in the UK, or if they don't they are easily obtainable from a good herbal supplier.

Each herbs listed information includes its appearance, habitat, cycle and flowering season, parts used, primary actions, use, availability, most common medical use, propagation and harvest information. Cautions and comments are also given and each herb has its common and Latin names for correct identification.

The Herbal Repertory looks at many illnesses and disease that our pets can succumb to. Within this chapter are recipes for compresses, tinctures, tonics, oils, poultices, and salves that you can make yourself and use on your pet.

Review by Debs Cook

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