When I got my hands on a copy of The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr, I was pretty excited. There’s been a sharp increase in shared cultural herbal knowledge through the internet and increased globalization in recent decades that has expanded the world of herbs that are available in common grocery stores and herbal shops in…
When I got my hands on a copy of The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr, I was pretty excited. There’s been a sharp increase in shared cultural herbal knowledge through the internet and increased globalization in recent decades that has expanded the world of herbs that are available in common grocery stores and herbal shops in North America. Many of my favorite herbal reference books are older editions (pre-internet, kiddos!) that don’t include herbs used in Ayurveda or TCM traditions, and I have been looking for a new herbal to fill in those gaps.
The book begins with my favorite part: The Herbal Handbook. This section is delightfully practical and useful, and echoes my favorite part of John Lust’s The Herb Book with brilliant cross sections of different herbs categorized by their active properties (adaptogen, diuretic, tonic), organic compounds (menthol, citral, thymol), and a list of herbs that used to be used in Ye Olde Tyme Remedies that are no longer considered safe or useful – perfect for using to recreate centuries old recipes in a safer and more effective way, which is something that I enjoy doing!
The Herbal Handbook also covers other useful topics in a few paragraphs and bullet points, which I found a bit disappointing, as I was hoping for something a bit more in-depth. There’s short sections on harvesting times, propagation, preserving, and preparation methods. There are recipes for spice blends, tea blends and how to make them, edible salad herbs, and I enjoyed them, but I feel like they are too short.
As far as style and voice go, I feel as if this is two different books – one a well-researched, comprehensive herbal, and the other half a fancy cooking magazine. While this is a wonderful book, I feel like the magazine style spread takes away from its usefulness and accessibility. I would rather there be less full page images and more in-depth descriptions of the techniques provided. It feels odd to say, but I would prefer that the herbal be a bit more dry rather than presenting the herbal descriptions in a conversational tone.
Ultimately, this is a good resource despite my personal preferences and expectations. Stephen Orr knows his stuff, and has provided some lovely images to accompany his encyclopedic listing of over 900 herbs, as well as some recipes for food and drinks scattered throughout. A worthy reference book to add to the shelf, but pretty enough to be a coffee table book.
You can get your own copy here from Amazon, from Biblio, or use Indiebound to find a bookshop near you if you are in the US.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review, and the book purchasing links are affiliate links. They add no cost to you, but I get a small percentage to help keep Pixie’s Pocket running! Thank you!
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