14 April 2013

Review: Home Herbal

I love herbs. I grow them, cook with them, heal with them, study them--I've even written about them for magazines. I've also watched them become mainstream, which is great except that as the popularity of herbs grows, so does the misinformation about them. I've seen posts online claiming that marshmallows soothe sore throats (clearly someone got confused between candy marshmallows, which are merely tasty, and marsh mallow aka Althaea officinalis, which has multiple medicinal benefits, including soothing sore throats). I've also seen more than one recommendation to apply straight essential oils to skin (essential oils always need to be diluted, with the possible exception of Lavender oil). I've even had a herb newbie claim that small doses of cyanide must be good for you because apple seeds contain cyanide and anything natural has to be good. The mind boggles.

Instead of trusting random information from the internet (come on now, do you really need to be told that hobby blogs and wikipedia aren't authoritative sources?), anyone who plans to make herbs a part of their life needs at least one (preferably many more) good reference books on the subject. I'm happy to say that Home Herbal is just that.

I was excited to read DK's Home Herbal even before it was offered to me for review. For a start, the book--written by several herbalists employed at Neal's Yard Remedies in the UK--is both accurate and useful. That alone makes it worth having in your collection, but there's more.

The first section of the book is devoted to individual herbs. Each entry is impressively detailed. I particularly like that there's info on where to get each herb: grow, forage, or harvest. This is also where you find out basics on what the herbs can be used for, how to prepare them, what they look like (the pictures are excellent), and any precautions you need to take. I can see myself consulting this book repeatedly.

The next section of the books covers specific uses of herbs. Say you want to know which herbs are good for healthy skin or for first aid--under each category you'll find the relevant herbs, as well as recipes using those herbs and what page they're on. Very handy, both for those who know nothing about which herb does what, or for those looking to find new herbs to try (or for those in a hurry who don't want to waste time browsing, although this book is ideal for that).

Next come the recipes--and there are a lot of recipes. Not only for foods and smoothies, but also teas, cordials, syrups, flavoured honeys (I'm definitely going to have to try Sweet Violet & Ginger Honey when the violets are up here), purees and tinctures. For external use there are recipes for lotions, scrubs, body oils, splashes, powders (including a talc-free baby powder), soaps, toners, balms, hair treatments--the list goes on.

The book ends with more-detailed info on growing and wildcrafting herbs, as well as some other basic info. In the end Home Herbal is a fantastic resource for those who are new to herbs, as well as those of us who know the difference between cat mint and spearmint. I'm experiencing a major resurgence in enthusiasm for my garden and in part it's due to books like this. I'm already well into seed-starting, including a number of new herbs to add to the ones I'm already growing. Come harvest time, I plan on keeping Home Herbal and its many recipes and information handy. And honestly, I can't wait.

If you hurry over to DK now, they're having sales in honour of Earth Day (on until 25 April)...

Home Herbal by Susan Curtis, Louise Green, Penelope Ody & Dragana Vilinac. Published by DK.

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