The Herbal Apothecary

I have been sent two very different books on healing plants to review this spring. The first is ‘The Herbal Apothecary’. It’s written by JJ Pursell, an American “board-certified naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist”, and published by Timber Press.

It begins with a brief look into the philosophy and history of herbal medicine, then walks you through the basics of human anatomy and the types of remedies that are used for particular parts of the body.

Chickweed, in The Herbal Apothecary

The main bulk of the book is “Plants from the traditional ways”, a directory of 100 medicinal herbs and how to use them. Before it dives into the herbs themselves, it covers the basics of the different types of phytochemicals (e.g. flavonoids, tannin), and the various ways of preparing herbs for medicinal uses. This is followed by an A-Z (by common name, with scientific names given along with alternative names). Each entry has colour photos, information on the medicinal uses, and brief information about identification and cultivation. Some of the plants are common in gardens, or are weeds, but others will be less familiar.

Contents of The Herbal Apothecary

The final two sections are:
“An herbalist’s laboratory”, which is about how to prepare herbs (including capsules, oils and linaments), and developing herbal blends; and
“Herbal treatment plans” for common ailments, including acne and insomnia.

This is a detailed and thorough book, looking at which herbs to choose for which ailments (and why), and how to prepare them. It would be a good reference book for someone who wants to really get into producing their own herbal remedies at home. It has an RRP of £15, but is currently available via Hive for £10.95, allowing you to support your local bookshop.

The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants

The second book is ‘The Gardener’s Companion to Medicinal Plants’, published in the UK by Frances Lincoln. It doesn’t give biographies for the three authors (Monique Simmonds, Melanie-Jayne Howles and Jason Irving), but its an RBG Kew book, so their credentials should be good. (In fact, I met Dr Monique Simmonds whilst I was doing my MSc in Ethnobotany; she’s deputy director of science at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, UK.)

This book dives almost immediately into the plants, and covers more than 270 of them, listed in alphabetical order by scientifc name (with common names given). Each entry has a botanical illustration of the plant, but there are two types. Long entries include a certain amount of cultivation information and a practical project illustrated with colour photographs. These are for very safe remedies, including marshmallow lozenges, calendula lip balm and chicory coffee. The recipes are listed in a separate table of contents, so you don’t have to go trawling through the book to find them.

Short entry from The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants

The bulk of the entries are shorter, containing information about the traditional uses of the plant and some of the modern scientific discoveries about their medicinal properties. There’s no information here on how you might pepare or use them yourself, or even grow them. Again, common garden plants and weeds mingle with species that will be less familiar. There’s no way of looking up plants by their use, or the conditions they may treat.

Mixed in with the plant entries are short articles on “the world of medicinal plants”, including using weeds as medicine and conservation and trade. They’re also listed in a separate table of contents, so you can find them again once you’ve read them.

Partial contents of The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants

This book would suit people who are new to the topic of herbal medicine, and are interested in an armchair fashion, or would like to begin by dipping their toe into safe herbal remedies, and to look into ‘food as medicine’. If you use herbal medicines then it may tell you all you need to know about the plants involved in them, but I don’t think it really merits its “gardener’s companion” title – it’s not a gardening book.

The RRP for this book is £14.99, and it is available via Hive for £11.59.

I was provided with hard copies of both of these books, for review purposes, by the publisher. My opinions are, as ever, all my own. I have no commercial relationship with Hive (and in fact, have yet to use them to buy a book, although I intend to), but feel that local bookshops are something worth supporting. It’s just that my ‘local’ bookshops are all a 15 minute drive away….