Botanica Poetica: Herbs in Verse by Sylvia Seroussi Chatroux, MD. Ashland, OR: Poetica Press (www.poeticapress.com), 2004. 111 pp. B&W line drawings. ISBN #0-9665524-2-3. $18.00.
Plants, and people’s relationships with them, have filled the prose and poetry of all ages and all languages. This is particularly true of medicinal and aromatic herbs, due to their magical and medicinal effects, sweet fragrances, and other special effects.
Dr. Sylvia Chatroux previously published a work of botanical poetry focusing on homeopathic preparations, many made from plants. This second volume pertains to the poetry of 111 medicinal herbs, some of which are also used homeopathically, but that is not the subject here. The author draws from some of the authoritative contemporary literature for some of the plants’ properties, so both folkloric and modern scientifically documented uses are put to verse.
Beautiful, classic, black-and-white drawings illustrate the small book, mostly woodcuts and engravings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some of which were supplied by the Lloyd Library in Cincinnati and some from An Illustrated Flora by Nathaniel Britton and Hon Brown.
Thumbing through the small volume for my first read, I curiously landed on devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus), the subject of a cover story in what was then the current issue of HerbalGram (#62), and which had also been the subject of a short profile on one of my favorite radio shows, Morning Edition on National Public Radio. I gratefully observed the synchronistic confluence of these three sources of devil’s club data.
Here’s Dr. Chatroux’s perspective on this herb, the most respected by some indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, particularly among some of Canada’s First Nations:
Devil’s Club to cleanse the blood
It’s a bonus to the health
Rejuvenate and stimulate
Endurance you will have in wealth
In a case of Rheumatoid
Arthritic joints that are aflame
A cold poultice you’d apply
Inflammation you will tame
For diabetes might have a role
The Native folk recommend it
Your sugar cravings to control
It’s a very striking plant
Mucous it can stimulate
In the family of Ginseng
It can help expectorate
Devil’s Club, a worthy tonic
Use the root bark for your tea
Adapt to life’s ups and downs
Cope with stress more easily
The author takes liberties with some of the herbs’ uses where she thinks they are justified by folklore and/or science; after all, this book is not intended to be an evidence-based review of clinically documented herb efficacy, nor a prescribing manual. This book is more about the appreciation of herbs and their benefits—and a way to have some fun with them!
Several copies of this small volume are certainly worth having – on the coffee table (in contrast to the oversized coffee-table books that hardly anyone reads), for the backpack, bathroom, wherever one reads. A truly excellent gift for the Holidays!