Book Review – The Medicinal Flora of Britain & Northwestern Europe

medflora This week’s post is a book review of a rather superb book that has been gracing my shelf since I started university, about eight years ago (a scary amount of time, that, which has gone past entirely too quickly for my liking!) The book in question is entitled ‘The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe’, by Julian Barker, and is an absolute must have for anyone fascinated, as I am, with all the lesser known and used plants that we have growing around us. It has always amazed me, as a herbalist, that we use so few plants when we have so many growing wild in our hedgerows, many of which have medicinal uses of their own but which have rather fallen out of fashion over recent years. Julian Barker’s book is a fantastic first point of contact for anyone wanting to re-engage with our forgotten plants, to begin identifying a few more of our local allies which have perfectly useful medicinal properties going for them which have been rather forgotten about over time, or thrown over for the latest fashionable plant from North America or China. The book is quite a hefty tome, at over 600 pages long, and is frankly probably heavy enough to break a window with if thrown with enough oomph, but its 600+ pages of fascinating information, covering herbs and plants ranging from the more commonly used Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) through to plants such as Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris), Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and Bears Breeches (Acanthus mollis) ā€“ and these are just the random pages I happened to open the book to! Illustrated with a plethora of beautiful pen and ink drawings, the book is written in a fairly approachable fashion, with snippets of information and boxes of current medicinal uses and dosages in pale grey, making it easier to find the information that you may be looking for. It also lists constituents where known, and any contraindications, plus descriptions and plant names. Each section of the book covers a different family and genus, with information about its general appearance, similarities between members of the same family, and where you may find it growing.

Lovely line drawings of dodgy umbelliferae...
Lovely line drawings of dodgy umbelliferae…

The only quibble I have with this book ā€“ and its a very minor one ā€“ is that it can be difficult to make head or tail of the index and find the plant you are trying to look up. So for example if you were to look up Borage, it gives number 289, which you might be forgiven for thinking is the page number. It is not, it is the number associated with the plant itself, so in this case, Borage is number 289 and is found in plant family 64. Not a problem at all once you get your head around this way of doing things, but something to be aware of when you are trying to look something up! All in all, this is a thorough, beautifully written and researched gem of a book that deserves to be on the bookshelves of any herbalist or plant lover who is fascinated and very much in love with our native flora, here in the UK. I highly recommend it, and it is one that I dip into regularly, even if I have nothing specifically to look up, due to its huge volume of information. Five stars.

1 Comment

  1. Its true, it is a really good book – there are so many herbs that are forgotten or no longer used for their original purpose. It’s my first port of call for finding alternatives to things I might not have in stock, or looking up what I can use interesting and exciting plants I’ve found while I’m out and about for.

    Oh, and I totally agree about the bizzarre index… I only really stopped looking for page numbers when looking up herbs about the time I finished my degree… it took me three years to stop going for page numbers and instead going for plant number!

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