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Review: Matt Wood, Earthwise herbal, old world plants.

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It's both a gem and a stinker.

Matthew Wood has published a pair'o books called "The Earthwise Herbal"; one being of Old World Medicinal Plants (Europe, Asia &c.), and one being of New World Medicinal Plants (North America, mainly).

As I'm in Europe, I grabbed the Old World tome first.

First off, the layout sucks, grand time.

  • Minor headings should be just that, minor. Not almost as large as the main headings ... as is, you have to really apply yourself to find a given herb, cos all the "Taste" "Tissue State" "Specific Indications" "Preparation" "Literature" and so on get in the way.
  • It's also always a nice touch to have the plant you're talking about in either the top or bottom part of the page, so that you can find things just by flipping the pages. As is, all that's written up on top is "Earthwise herbal" and "Materia medica". That's sort of kind of really very much less than helpful.

Secondly, it's a book for herbalists, but the rank beginner has no clue that this is the case.
For example, Matt Wood seems to use elderly (and extremely confusing) terminology, when there's clear modern equivalents.

  • Like, a "green" tincture is made of the fresh herb,
  • but a "fresh" tincture is made of the recently dried herb.
  • (In fact, I have no idea what the "fresh" tincture means throughout the book ... is this one fresh herb, or recently dried? A good editor would have spotted that one, straight off.)

Thirdly, it's silly to assume that rampantly abundant plants, when transplanted to other continents, are as abundant where they're at home.
For instance, the entry for Lycopus europaeus (Gypsywort) says (and that's ALL the entry):

      "This plant is used in Europe as a substitute for the American bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus), on the same indications. It is one of the most invasive plants I have ever come across. The association with gypsies should probably be considered a racial slur."
    • It's entirely possible that the substitution is the other way around: the mercadian species is used as a substitute for ours.
    • Not everybody will buy both books, so it's smart to either leave such entries out altogether (if that's all you have to say) or to be more expansive in both works.
    • And it's not invasive - in fact, it's crowded out by grasses, irises and the like, so a largish patch of Lycopus is a real find. Also, I do believe that Mr. Wood himself was politically incorrect with his insinuation that gypsies are invasive. They're not, at least not over here. They keep to themselves, they're great horsepeople, they make very good music, and the ladies have absolutely stunning dresses.

    Fourthly, and this is a major blunder: why oh why would you give numbers in the "Literature" part, pointing to the "Specific Indications" part, and then NOT number those same specific indications?

    • I quite like to know if any given indication was noted by, say, Kloss, rather than Michael Moore ... now, if I want to find out, I have to number those indications myself. That makes for a messy book, but it's entirely possible that the resale value in fact goes up, with such an enhancement.

    Fifthly, why not give both name and year, when quoting somebody? The "Reference" section at the back of the book is both extensive and divided into at least half a dozen different headings, so finding out when, say, "Hill" (or even "Hall") wrote something, is a bitch.

    Matt has obviously been diving into the past, and has neglected modern uses: under "Carrot seed" there's no mention about its use as a contraceptive (brought into current use by Robin Rose Bennett), and under "Nettle seed" there's no mention of its use as an adrenal tonic (yet, puzzlingly, here he mentions a case history by - Robin Rose Bennett).

    Under Tussilago farfara (Coltsfoot) Wood says that the plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which aren't soluble in water. Check the facts - PAs are unsoluble in oil, but they're quite happily extracted into water ...

    The good parts, then: there are quite a lot of very good hints'n'tips for the practising herbalist. It's a nice herbal, pulling together a lot of elderly and more recent literature, blended with some experience by Matt himself.

    Would I recommend the set, based on my own experience with those same old world herbs? Yep, but be prepared to be frustrated, again and again, as you read his plant entries. A good editor (and layout specialist) would have made this into an outstanding work, instead of the merely very good one it is now.

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