If I see another herbal with the descriptors "complete" or "encyclopedia" I may refuse to open it. Get beyond that title, though, and Penelope Ody's new Medicinal Herbal begins to look and feel different from the rest of the pack. What sets this book apart from the many glossy-colored general books on herbs is both content and presentation. Without reading a word, one can't help but be struck by the presentation. The book is divided into several major sections, including short introductory chapters on historical aspects of the subject, and the relevance of medicinal plants in a modern context. Brief snippets give the casual reader an essential feel for the historical context, rather than any substantive information. This, given the book's obvious target audience, the uninitiated lay reader, is a positive. Another section of the book, "herbal remedies," includes the obligatory "how-to" instructions -- how to make herb tea, a compress, an herbal first aid kit, etc. The "Home Reme dies" section is essentially a compilation of expanded tables on the use of herbs for specific maladies from aches and pains to children's complaints. You'll also find sections on "other medicinal herbs" (filler pages), an interesting essay on "consulting an herbalist," an obligatory rather than substantive bibliography, and lists of useful addresses. The book features a foreword by HerbalGram's Mark Blumenthal.
The heart of the book is an "A-Z Medicinal Herbs" directory. This section, arranged by scientific name, treats more than 120 different herbs. It is a visual directory, with nearly every plant, still live, photographed against a seamless white background. Use of warming filters by the photographer give each photograph that "sunset-like" light quality. Lighting is carefully achieved as well to create a three dimensional feel. The only thing the publisher neglected in the sensory presentation is a scratch and sniff feature.
Along with the plant are images of its products, the dried herb, or dried useful part, tincture in a Petri dish, capsules, or the essential oil in a clear glass vial. The reader is given the chance to see what the herb really looks like. Accompanying the photo on each page are notations on character, constituents, and action, along with cautions, applications (e.g., infusion, tincture, compress, eyewash, and others), the plant part used, and a description of when it is harvested, how used, topped with an illustration and quotation from a classic herbal.
Another aspect of this book that sets it apart from others is its obvious synthesis of tradition, including historical European data, modern phytotherapy facts, and subtle nuances from Chinese and Ayurvedic traditional medicine systems, reflecting the author's training and interests. Those looking for an entry-level quick reference will find Ody's Complete Medicinal Herbal a book that can be recommended with confidence.
Article copyright American Botanical Council.