REVIEW: HERBS (Smithsonian Handbooks) by Leslie Bremness

By Mindy

Summary: Artistically stylized, informationally dense, photographically profound herbal. Best kept on the night stand for some bedtime plant meditation.  A serious text in a zippy, fun package.

Crawl into bed with this book. Seriously. It is the perfect size for a nighttime read (8.5 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches for those who really want to know!) And its fun.

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Lesley Bremness’ herbal, simply entitled Herbs, and one of the DK Smithsonian Handbooks (subtitled “The clearest recognition guides available”), packs a bunch into a modest 300 page space. The back cover brags that over 700 species and 1500 color photographs adorn its well-constructed pages.

The pages are arranged in a type of organized chaos that entice you to randomly thumb through the book, reading whatever plant caption or paragraph you happen to land on. Seemingly shotgun placement of photographs, wrapped with words, and text boxes dress each page.

Despite its sort of “devil-may-care” appearance, a second-glance solidifies that this book means business. Ms. Bremness arranges all of her monographs in a specific no-nonsense manner…like a type A personality hiding behind the type B exterior. A glance at the “How This Book Works” page at the beginning cements this notion.

Each plant monograph is arranged first by major plant type (defined as trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, annuals and biennials, vines, and other herbs). Then the species within each category are arranged alphabetically by their scientific name (a feature with pluses and minuses). Each monograph takes up approximately a half page box. The space within the box and its borders contain common name, plant uses, notable features, growing conditions and geographic location, usable plant parts, pictures of mature plant, growing habits, etc. I guarantee when you first look at this book, you will not realize how much information there is on each herb.

One of the best features is the various photograph of the usable parts of each plant (for example, photos of stems, roots, and leaves for a given herb).  The author isolates each photograph, removing the background. Stylistically, this makes the photo “pop” from the page in an artistic fashion. A small, thumbnail-size photograph shows the shape of the whole plant for reference.

The introduction offers a concise, thoughtful 20+ page look at typical herbalism and botany topics, including descriptions of plant parts, essential oils, the uses of herbs for cooking and healing, and gardening.  The book ends quickly with a glossary and a detailed index (which has scientific and common names).

This book is not a field guide. Nor is it really in my mind a comprehensive desk reference. I think it is more of an inspiration. It is a particularly great read for those with a somewhat lacking attention span who like their mind’s eye to jump from one area of a page to the next. Contrarily, it may not be as appreciated by focused linear thinkers who like to read in a uniform, line-by-line manner.

Put this book on your nightstand and ponder a few monographs before dosing off to sleep. Take in all of the fine details of the many annotated photographs. Lesley Bremness’ Herbs is a wonderful text, particularly inspiring to the budding herbalist. It would make a great motivating gift.  In fact, send a copy to your mom for an early Mother’s Day present!

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The Walking Herbalist has no affiliation of the authors or the publishers of this book at the time of the writing of this review. We purchased our own copy of this book for our own private use. This review is simply here to help our readers put together their own herbalism library, and other than possible commissions as an affiliate, we receive no compensation for this. 

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