Book Review

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am a bibliophile. That means I love books. Despite all the information available electronically these days, I much prefer a bound paper book to a keyboard & mouse – or an electronic book, for that matter. In addition, I am fascinated by the historical uses of herbs in both medicinal & folkloric aspects and will read virtually anything that addresses these subjects.

About a month ago, my wonderful husband got a bonus at work that, for various reasons, he had to spend now.  Although he could have spent the bonus several times over on things he wanted, he decided to spend part of it on my book wish list. (Did I say he’s wonderful? Is there a more superlative word?) One book in particular has been there for several years. Why? It’s expensive. (US$133 shipped from England – the least expensive I could find.) When I first read about it 2-3 years ago, I looked it up, choked on the price and added it to the “sigh, someday” part of the list.

Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe by Marcel De Cleene & Marie Claire Lejeune (ISBN 90-77135-04-9, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003) was originally published in German in 1999, and updated in 2000 and 2003. It was finally translated to English in 2007.

It comes in two hardbound volumes with a slipcase: the first is “trees” and the second is “herbs”. However, Rose, Rosemary and Sage are classified under trees. (Since I grabbed the “herbs” volume first, I’m not sure why. I’ll find out when I get to that volume.) It covers 44 herbs and 55 trees, although it actually covers more since, for example, they group onion, garlic, leek, etc., under one heading.

Under each herb and tree the authors give you not only the Latin binomial but the common names in English, French, German and Dutch (the authors are Belgian). They describe not only the herb itself but its habitat. Then they go on to describe the mentions of the plant in mythology, how it’s used in symbolism, some magical beliefs, historical medicinal applications and, briefly, how it’s currently used in medicine. They describe how the plant is used in industry & agriculture, and in the home & garden. Lastly, they have a “did you know” section with tidbits of information you might not otherwise have known. For example, under “Iris” they tell you, “Thieves and murderers were branded with a fleur-de-lis. An adulterous woman would also be branded with a fleur-de-lis on the cheek; however, the same did not apply to males.” There are countless drawings and many, many colored plates.

Everything is footnoted so you can go back to the original source (if you have access to it, that is). And the bibliography is extensive. Heck, I added three more books to my wish list just from their preface!

My copy arrived on Monday and I dug into it immediately. O.M.G. Friggin’ awesome. It will take me months to digest all the information in these two volumes. If you have interests similar to mine, add this one to your wish list. It’s a keeper!

Edit: Volume I is “Trees and Shrubs”. I’ll buy that Rose and Rosemary can be considered shrubs, and they term Sage an “undershrub” (?) but they also include Grapevine and Ivy in that volume. I guess they had to put them somewhere!