Botanical Books of Interest to Herbalists

A couple of interesting books have come my way, and so I am sharing some thoughts.

The Plant Lover's Companion
The Plant Lover's Companion
First, The Plant Lovers Companion: Plants, People, & Places by Julia Brittain¬† (David & Charles, 2006; $14.99). (Note that this book seems to have been published under two slightly different titles: actually the title and subtitle reversed.) Regardless, this compact encyclopedia has almost everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the history of plants and the people who have studied and collected them from Bartram and Linnaeus to Nuttall, Culpepper, and Monardres. Countries have entries as do organizations and botanical gardens such as the Royal Horticultural Society, Kew Gardens, Nymans, the Aboretum Kalmthout in Belgium, and Boskoop in The Netherlands.¬† (The U.S. is lumped together with North America.) There is a decidedly British slant on the contents, and botanical gardens in the U.S. (and other countries) are rarely mentioned. Perhaps the author feels we do not actually have any of note. Or perhaps this mini-pedia is a compilation of her favorite places, people, and plants in her native and not meant to be comprehensive at all.

But considering that most of the great botanical discoveries were made by our ancestors who traveled from Europe with the wave of settlers and returned to their native countries with curiosities from the New World, the focus of this book of factoids is appropriate and meaningful, albeit less than international. However, the great purveyor of cider whom we can thank for the spread of apple seeds throughout the New World is sadly missing.

Plants that are named for special areas, regions, or people are also listed, although do not expect any consuming amount of information; the majority of entries in the small book are a few sentences, although some entries such as countries, famous botanists and gardens, and well-known gardens are provided more generous space.

Look for a companion volume called Plant Names Explained: Botanical Terms and Their Meaning.

Lives of Trees
Lives of Trees
Also on my reading list this summer is a sweet little volume called Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010; $19.95) by Diana Wells. The author is an historian and not a botanist, which makes clear right up front.

The stories, delicately illustrated¬† in black and white by Heather Lovett, are delightful little praises to a hundred of the author’s favorite trees. Kudos to the book designer for a simple and elegant layout that draws you into each tree as you page through the book. They are in alphabetical order and you can start at Acaia and proceed to Yew, or you can use the index or table of contents to select your favorite tree by common or botanical name.

The lore of trees is fascinating and clearly Wells enjoyed her research which is full of interesting botanical tidbits. Linnaeus, for example, named the Cinchona (from whence we originally obtained quinine) for the Countess of Chinchon, the wife of the Spanish Viceroy to Lima, who was said to be have been cured of malaria by taking the powdered bark of this tree.


One Response

  1. Hi, I did not find another place to contact you on this site, so am writing you here.

    I am hoping you can help, I am looking for someone to wildcraft sida acuta for me. do you know of anyone? I need it for my work here and am having trouble finding a source.
    any help appreciated.
    thanks so much,
    stephen buhner

    Posted on May 12th, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Leave a Reply