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Books

American Household Botany: A History of Useful Plants, 1620-1900

 

In this fascinating book, Judith Sumner rescues from the pages of history the practical experience and botanical wisdom of generations of Americans. Crossing the disciplines of history, ethnobotany, and horticulture-and with a flair for the colorful anecdote-Sumner underlines a part of the American story often ignored or forgotten: how European settlers and their descendents made use of the "strange" new plants they found. From "turkie wheat" (corn) to "tuckahoe" (a Native American source of starch), Sumner describes the transition from wonderment to daily use. 

 

Reviewers' comments:

 

"Sumner examines nearly two hundred years of American know-how, offering a captivating perspective on how plants have been used in the home. The foodstuffs of Native American agriculture and the gardens of European settlers are first studied, from the preparation of many kinds of grains to arrays of fruits, berries, and vegetables found in the kitchen gardens at Monticello. Early "herbals" and cookbooks provide background, which is supplemented by descriptions of botanical aspects such as toxic compounds or helpful medicinal properties. In great detail Sumner traces and documents preservation methods and wine making, and analyzes how the evolution of aromatic herbs and spices influenced the tastes and culinary habits of immigrants to the New World. A chapter on domestic medicine covers a fascinating cornucopia of plants cultivated for health, nourishment, and healing. Species that produce wood, fiber, and textiles are accorded equal attention. Attitudes toward the landscape and individuals who spread the word about botanical pursuits round out Sumner's well-researched study." Alice Joyce, American Library Association. 

 

"The subject as presented here is more than a factual history; it places these plants in the daily activities of people, from chores to rituals, and anchors them in a realistic landscape that has room for beauty as well as utilitarian function."—

Kim Long, Bloomsbury Review, May 2005 


"Well documented, authoritative, eminently readable, and a good resource for several disciplines."—Joann Karges, Sida, Contributions to Botany, September 2005 

"Sumner is an accomplished storyteller who weaves together fascinating information about plants and people."—Linda Askey, American Gardener, May/June 2005 

 

 

Available from Amazon.com

The Natural History of Medicinal Plants

 

Although we may be tempted to think of these and other plant chemicals existing primarily for our medicinal use, in reality they are defense strategies in a natural world colonized by organisms competing for survival. In this fascinating introduction to the botanical compounds used medicinally, Judith Sumner describes their biological and ecological importance as toxins and deterrents in protecting plants. An exciting chapter on the new field of zoopharmacognosy provides some interesting examples of birds, primates, and elephants that seemingly recognize and use plants as medicines. The author concludes with a thought-provoking analysis of the issues behind using medicinal plants to improve human needs without destroying the earth’s biodiversity.

 

 

Reviewers' comments:

 

The hidden chemistry of flora is revealed in this accessible introduction to the world of medicinal plants. Harvard botanist Sumner begins with an in-depth look at the folklore of herbalists in Europe preserved since the middle ages, and then discusses the discoveries of plant compounds such as alkaloids, which have been used for everything from easing people's pain (morphine) to driving them mad (ergotamine). Why plants produce these myriad compounds is still somewhat of a mystery, but Sumner explores such possibilities as defense strategies and chemical evolution. Some of her most interesting revelations are about the relationships that animals have with plants: their pharmacopoeia is much more advanced than we give them credit for. Sumner also provides a fair amount of information on what are now considered the most effective herbs for self-medication, and reminds readers that preserving biodiversity for the potential discoveries of yet more medicinal plants is a noble cause, even if it has a commercial bent to it, because plants literally contain the germ of continued life on this planet.    David Siegfried, American Library Association.

 

 

...The Natural History of Medicinal Plants will inspire a greater appreciation of the vast natural pharmacy of plant medicines." -- Biology Digest, December 2000

"If you are interested in medicinal plants, this will be a fascinating addition to your library." -- HomeGrown, November/December 2000

"One of the best histories available on the use of plants in medicine." -- Harvard Medical School Quarterly Review

"This is an easy to read book that will appeal to almost anyone interested in plants as medicine." -- Hawaiian Horticulture, Volume 3, Number 11, November 2000

 

 

 

 

 

 

Available from Amazon.com​