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Issue 253
March/April 2009
Economics of Place

Web Exclusives
Review

Hedgerow Herbal
by
Image: courtesy Flickr

Image: courtesy Flickr

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Green Books

Hedgerow Herbal

Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal Merlin Unwin Books, 2008, £16.99, ISBN 978-1873674994

A WALK DOWN a leafy lane in high summer may offer far more than the olfactory delight of honeysuckle humming with bees, or the delicate scent of wild roses. The plants we frequently call weeds, bear closer observation since their delicate form and attractive flowers are not just subtle in their beauty but powerful in their medicinal value.

Harvesting wild plants for food or medicine is a great pleasure and healing in its own right. We all need the company of plants and wild places in our lives, whether this is in an old wood, a remote moor or seashore, or even in our own garden. “Gathering herbs for free is the beginning of a valuable and therapeutic relationship with the wild,” so say the authors of Hedgerow Medicine Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal. It is a richly illustrated guide to the wonderful healing mysteries of the common plants we may overlook when admiring our carefully cultivated garden roses, lilac or rhododendron blooms.

The nutrients in herbs and many hedgerow plants are readily available to the human digestive: we absorb up to 48% of the vitamins and minerals in herbs and common plants compared to only 18% of fruit and vegetables. So next time you go for a walk, take time to bend down and look closely at cleavers, dandelions, wild strawberries or archangel, elderflower and shepherds purse. This book will act as an invaluable guide for healing, either to make your salad more nutritious, boost your immune system, staunch a bleeding wound or heal a common illness.

This wonderful countryside companion gives abundant information on the variety of ways to preserve hedgerow herbs such as essences, syrups, gels, tinctures or ointments and is full of fascinating folklore. “The creamy billows of meadowsweet’s flowers have been used for mead, wine, beer and syrups, and still make a good choice.” Queen Elizabeth I used meadowsweet as a perfumed strewing herb for her chambers. The flowers and tops yield a beneficial herb tea or tincture that is particularly good for an upset stomach and diarrhoea, and research on meadowsweet led to chemical breakthroughs in the nineteenth century. These included the identification of salicylic acid, and culminated in the synthesis and manufacture of aspirin.

The authors explore fifty herbs with helpful recipes and explanations of their healing properties. It is richly illustrated and is a complete guide to the preparation and preservation of the many plants that are abundant in the British countryside. Having read this book I find I walk in the countryside with new eyes and a far keener sense of observation, nibbling leaves and gathering seeds as I go. •

Virginia Kennedy is a freelance writer.

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