Monday, 13 February 2017

Book Review: The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants

or to give its full title "The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants. an A-Z of healing plants and home remedies." by Monique Simmonds, Melanie-Jayne Howes and Jason Irving.

I was pleased to be asked to review this book as I thought it sounded fascinating.
The authors of this very beautiful new reference book work at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and this was the location for much of the research referenced.  The authors have impeccable credentials to write this book: Professor Monique Simmonds is the Deputy Director of Sciences at kew and has worked on different aspects of medicinal plant research for over thirty years.  Jason Irving is a writer, forager and qualified herbalist and Dr Melanie-Jayne Howes is a registered pharmacist and chartered chemist.  Now this is interesting to know and clearly they want you to understand that there is good scientific research underpinning the information in the book.  It does help to know this if, like me, you are cautious about brewing up herbal teas from the garden.  On saying this I grew up knowing that dock leaves alleviate nettle stings and that rubbing willow on rheumatism gives pain relief.  This book is full of this type of information that many of us know from handed-down folk-lore, but with the science-bit that explains why it works.

The book describes and illustrates 220 plants with medicinal uses and also gives 25 home remedies.  Remedies such as St John's Wort oil which can be mixed into balms/creams and used for nerve pain and sunburn.  Or there is Meadowsweet tincture which can be used to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux.

Each plant is accompanied by a beautiful illustration.  The part of the plant to be used is listed as well as the traditional uses and medicinal discoveries.  This makes very interesting reading as (and I am sure this will not be a huge surprise to some of you) the reason why these plants have been used as herbal remedies down the generations is that there is something in their make-up that science can show makes it effective.
The index thankfully uses not only the latin name, but also the common name of the plants.  There is also a very useful glossary that is probably one of the most eclectic glossaries you will ever read.  I spent quite a while looking for unknown to me names of plants and then looking to see what they are/do.  It is a fascinating read, for instance:  Descurainia sophia, which sounds a bit like an exotic princess, is also known as 'flixweed' and 'the wisdom of surgeons'.  Once you read the latter name then if you are like me you have to read on.  The plant has traditionally been used for its healing properties and medicinally it has been found to have antibacterial activity.

I need to also mention that the book is pleasingly cloth-bound.  There is something really good about a cloth-bound book.  It is also a nice size to hold, not too big, not too heavy.  It has been well considered.  I know in these electronic-book days that these things may get to matter less and less but I still enjoy the physicality of books.

I also enjoyed dipping in and out of this book.  It is an excellent 'wet February afternoon and I cannot get out in the garden' book.  It would make a welcome present for anyone interested in plants and/or traditional remedies.

The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants is published by Frances Lincoln.

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