Book uncovers the roots of herbal treatments, the plants’ importance in modern medicine

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Since forever, people have looked to plants for healing. And plant-based medicine isn’t just the territory of herbalists; from your cup of tea to the prescription medicines you may rely on, medicines derived from or inspired by plants are all around us.

“Botanicum Medicinale” tells the story of herbal medicine with the help of gorgeous botanical illustrations and a wealth of knowledge about the history and future of healing plants. Written by British science writer Catherine Whitlock and designed by Lindsey Johns, it’s a veritable garden of information about plants and their medicinal properties.

It features 100 plants, each with a long history of medical use. There are the usual suspects (echinacea and cannabis) and some unexpected ones. Some of the plants are probably in your kitchen, such as pineapple – used for digestion and wounds – and cinnamon, which has antibacterial properties.

The book is stuffed with anecdotes and fascinating tidbits of knowledge about how the plants are grown, harvested and used. There’s the autumn crocus, a highly poisonous plant whose seeds and roots were used by ancient Egyptians to treat gout. Thousands of years later in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration approved its active ingredient for use as a stand-alone drug that treats gout, and its derivatives are being explored in a variety of clinical trials.

“Our chosen plants grow in different habitats and reveal the diversity of medical plants; many are beautiful and others are considered weeds,” Whitlock writes. “All have value.”

Whitlock is clear that her herbal guide isn’t a substitute for medical advice, and she offers warnings about particularly dangerous plants. The book’s strength lies not in its revelations about plants’ healing qualities, but their historical roots and their connections to modern medical knowledge and research.

This year, Americans have fallen in love with gardening in the face of lockdowns and covid-19-era anxiety. As the weather chills and winter sniffles loom, “Botanicum Medicinale” brings the garden inside – in all its soothing, healing glory.




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