Winter always seems to bring a little bit more time for me to delve into some of the multitude of books that I have piled onto shelves all over the house, and I thought it was high time I began reviewing some of my favourites!
This week I thought I’d take a closer look at one of the more recent additions to my herblary (which is what I have renamed my herbal library, incidentally!), which was actually only released this year in the summer. The book is called ‘Weeds in the Heart’ and is by Gloucestershire based herbalist Nathaniel Hughes and artist Fiona Owen. As an aside, I have vague recollections of meeting the author back when I was still training, as we both attended the Big Green Gathering when it was still running, in order to work in the herbal first aid tents – he as a full time herbalist, me as a dispensary mouse who pretty much said nothing to anybody. (My, how things change…!) He was an interesting chap at the time and it comes as no surprise whatosever that he has written such a gorgeous herbal.
The book covers a small selection of herbs but in a lot of depth – Wild Garlic, Primrose and Cowslip, Nettle, Cleavers, Dandelion, Ladies Mantle, Marigold, Lemon Balm, Horsetail, Chamomile, St John’s Wort and Rose are all included, and each section includes anecdotes, emotional and spiritual uses of the herb, recipes, scientific details about constituents and components, as well as meandering off down fascinating side trails of thoughts and ponderings, all of which open the eyes, widen the mind and utterly enchant. I love the fact that scientific knowledge and medical history can co-exist comfortably on the same page as spiritual work and lore – one of the few books I have come across that can happily blend each of these disparate and equally essential strands into a beautiful tapestry of a book. As the author himself says, this is not designed to be a typical herbal. It is far more than that.
The whole book is jam packed full of some of the most stunning plant paintings by artist Fiona Owen, which convey both an accurate botanical representation of the plants featured (all the way from bare shoots to flowers, stems, leaves, roots and seeds) as well as capturing an enchanting alchemy that each plant is a part of and passes on to us. There are a series of beautiful full page paintings with gilded sacred patterns on dotted through the book, each of which is so gorgeous and so full of details that I tend to spend ten minutes on each one every time I open the book, as there is always something new to look at.
Nathaniel’s writing is rich and introspective, full of magic and a vast amount of wisdom, but quiet and calm, the sort of thing to read slowly, with a cup of your favourite tea in one hand. The book is, to me, a book full of herbal magic, a herbal grimoire of sorts, but instead of being the showy spell casting sort of grimoire, it is full of quiet, root deep magic, the enchantment of summer days and winter nights, gathering and making and healing. When my days begin to become a bit too ‘rote’ and the magic has buried deep and hidden from me, this book never fails to bring it back again. I can’t recommend it highly enough to any of my herb loving friends and colleagues.
If you would like to order a copy of Weeds in the Heart, or the previous book on intuitive herbalism (which is also highly recommended, and will be reviewed in the future) you can visit http://weedsintheheart.org.uk/ where both the books and prints of some of the art can be found.