I recieved a free copy of this book, unsolicited, for review purposes. This is the first time I’ve been given a free thing to review on my blog! I’m doing a fairly detailed review, if you just want to see what I thought of the book then scroll down to the section marked conclusions and read that.
Going into the book I know quite a bit about Fae, next to nothing about gardening, and a little bit about magical herbalism and herbal remedies.
As far as herbalism goes, I consider the best modern books on the subject to be Cunningham’s two works (Magical Herbalism and the Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs). However even Cunningham’s two books tend to be far from complete and at times are even incorrect. I’ve yet to find any herbalism book on the market that I would consider a complete source, or one I would consider an infallible source.
Because of this, herbal research tends to be a process of cross-referencing as many works as possible, considering the validity of each source, and finally applying practical research to the gathered information to come to some conclusions about the magical properties of an herb. So I was a little excited to have a new book to use as a reference in my own herbal research.
By the book’s title I was a little worried that it might focus either on Faerie Wicca (which I know little about) or the Fae Otherkin Movement (which I know too much about). Luckily the book doesn’t seem to be directly connected to either of these movements, although it is very faerie centric.
The book is pretty much split into two parts. The first part is a short thirty three pages covering various aspects of magick, faeries, environmentalism, gardening, and herbal remedies. The second section, the bulk of the book, is a description of thirty three different herbs.
The First Section
The majority of this section deals with various ideas about fae. I was a little worried that this, like most fae-centric books, would portray fae as something far beyond their station; as great, powerful and beneficial spirits worthy of exaltation and worship. Although the book is pro-fae (which I have nothing against, I think they are mostly wonderful, amusing, and at times helpful spirits) and casts fae in the best possible light, it never tries to elevate them beyond what they really are, and at times it honestly deals with the negative side of working with fae and fae energy (like having your keys stolen). My one main gripe with the portrayal of fae is that the book seems to confuse them with the individual spirits of plants. But fae isn’t just the name used for the spirits of plants by this particular author, at times what is described is clearly a fae spirit. Fae tend to be drawn towards beautiful areas of nature, like forests and gardens (and some specific types are drawn to less beautiful places like swamps), and they tend to like and even protect these places, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that they are plant spirits.
One of my major gripes of this section is its views on enviormentalism. This is a common gripe I have about authors who infuse their spiritual books with their political beliefs. I’m not really interested in politics, and as I’ve said before my personal political beliefs tend to be in opposition to most pagans on most subjects. I didn’t find any of the environmentalism to be enlightening or insightful, it was just something I had to put up with. I suppose if I was into that I might have found it more enjoyable, but it still would have just been preaching to the choir.
The worst part is when this environmentalism starts to tread upon the spiritual beliefs being expounded on in the book. For instance the author repeats a common yet naive spiritual belief that in ancient times people were more closer and friendly towards nature, and as such were more spiritual. This goes against the historical record and it’s continued accounts of man trying to control, civilize, and adapt nature to his needs through out history and across nearly every culture. It also dismisses out of hand many theories concerning urban spirituality, and that urban life, although different, is as spiritual and natural as anything inside so-called “nature”. Later it talks about how fae dislike urban life and what we’ve done with the planet. Yes fae like natural places like forests and tend to protect them, but they also like certain urban environments too. They love theme parks and are frequently found in them for instance, and they even tend to be particularly drawn towards certain malls.
Knowing nothing about gardening, I actually found a lot of the gardening information to be interesting. There is a rather long explanation on how to make compost I found particularly enlightening. But most of it I found too short to be truly useful, rather it just opened my eyes to the fact it existed if I wanted to do further research. For instance there’s a paragraph explaining companion planting, but the book only gives one example of this (garlic and roses). I suppose if I wanted to plant roses this would be useful information, but otherwise I’m not going to be able to use companion planting in my garden unless I research it more with other books.
Probably one of the most interesting sections though is the chapter which goes over the various systems that use herbs medicinally. Not only do I think that the information is a good introduction to the different systems, but this section cites the different books and authors which these systems are based on making it very easy for someone to do additional research on these subjects.
The first section actually has some really good and interesting parts concerning practical magic. There are some cool ideas and some cool new things to try hidden in the text. My only real gripe is that there is some boring and useless stuff (like the enviornmentalist issues) that you have to trudge through to get there. I’d rather these parts were replaced with more useful information, or even cut out completely so I can get right to what I really want.
The Second Section
Here’s the best part of the book, and what I think most people are buying the book for. I think the author and publisher agree because it makes up about four fifths of the book. It contains entries for thirty three different plants. The entries are limited to things you’d realistically grow in your garden (so commonly used herbs like dragon’s blood are missing) and, as far as my understanding of various herbs go, the section seems to have omitted any potentially toxic or dangerous herbs. Even Nutmeg, a common cooking spice which is actually toxic in small quantities, is missing.
The section consists of a short description of the plant starting with a general description and then going off into other topics which usually goes on for about a page and a half. Then we usually get one or two recipes that use that plant. Most of these are cooking recipes, but there are also recipes for things like floor cleaner, deodarent, and skin lotion.
Each entry starts out with the most common name of the plant, followed by its latin name, followed by other names, and finally which parts of the plant are used. The best part is that the book lists the Latin name. This is so important in these types of books because often times plants go by so many different names that it can be impossible to cross-reference one work with another or find the plant in stores unless you know the latin name. Also sometimes more than one plant shares the same name, and the only way to get the exact plant described is to check its latin name.
Next comes a general description of the plant, and sometimes (but not always) there is some gardening information included, like what tempetures and climates the plant grows best in. What you get from there is really a potluck. It almost seems like the author is just throwing in random information about the plant in a stream of concious way. This can be folklore about the plant, mythological information, magical uses, or medicinal information. Sometimes there is information on how to make teas or baths from the herbs, and there are actually a few rituals hidden in the text (which are really cool). In fact in the Dandelion section there is a page long meditation ritual described. Sometimes the sections just go completely off on a tangent, such as the section with Basil in which several paragraphs are spent describing the goddess Bridget.
There really is no consistancy of what you will or will not get with any particular plant. Sometimes it might mention the Greek mythology of the plant. This isn’t always the case though, even in instances where I know the plant was mentioned in Greek mythology. In the entry on Fennel, some time is spent talking about its Kabbalistic association. But no other plant has a Kabbalistic association mentioned, and in fact Kabbalism isn’t mentioned in any other part of the book. With Damania for instance (a shrub native to Central and South America) there is a short descriptive paragraph and then a short paragraph talking about its traditional use as an aphrodesiac, and then the rest of the entry discusses the Norse goddess Freya.
You never really know what you’re going to get out of any of these entries. It makes reading the entries fun, like searching for hidden treasure, but it also makes them all seem incomplete, like there was so much more the author could’ve gone into but didn’t. With each entry I felt like there was at least a page or page and a half of more of information that could’ve been included. How come only certain entries list the magical uses of the plant, or the mythology, or the historical uses?
The recipes are actually one of the coolest parts of this book. It’s another thing that gives the book value after you’ve finished reading it. There are dozens of different recipes to try. Most entries have either one or two recipes following it, but a few don’t have any recipes, and if you read the entry sometimes you can find a recipe in there. I can sum this entire book up in a sentence, “What it has in variety it lacks in consistancy.”
My biggest problem with the book though is that there are no citations and no bibliography. A lot of the information comes from folklore, mythology, and herbal medicine. I know this sort of information was not independently developed by the author, they had to of gotten it from a source and put it in the book. This sort of information is the stuff that is most valuable to me. But in order to know how valid that information might be, I need to know where it came from. Also if I knew where it came from, I could easily do more research on my own by reading the original text and intepreting it for myself. Ideally in a book like this every bit of unoriginal information would have a notation that would point me to its source. I really can’t stress how important citations are in a work like this, or how they make the work infinitely more valuable.
There are also the pretty pictures accomponying the entries by Lisa Steinke. Normally I would ignore this part of the book, but these pictures seem to be an important selling point in the press release.
These pictures have no practical value (like drawings of the plants would, for instance). They’re pictures of faeries. Not real faeries though. Essentially they’re drawings of pretty women in gowns with wings, each one supposedly related to the plant. I found these pictures to be typical of the faerie genre of drawings in popular culture (not something I’m at all into), and as paintings to be rather timid and boring. Even the women depicted, although pretty, were boring.
I’m actually surprised by how much I liked the book. My initial thought was that I would consider it to either be a good reference book on herbalism to use as a supplement with better books, or it would be completely useless. I thought it might be a useful gardening guide, but I found it rather lacking in that regard.
As an herbal reference book, it’s an okay supplemental reference. It has enough little details that I’ll probably look through it in the future when I’m researching different herbs. However it’s so varied and eclectic and at times limited that I’d hardly say it was a must buy. In fact I’d have trouble recommending the book solely on its merits as an herbal reference.
Where the book really shines though is with its practical information. There are cooking recipes, tea recipes, how to use plants medicinally, how to make wine, how to make floor cleaner and how to make skin lotion. There are also quite a few magical rituals you can practice hidden through out this book which I really didn’t expect to see and which is so totally awesome. These are the things you can come back to and use again and again after you’ve already read the book. And this is really where you get back your investment in a book, both the money you spent to buy it and the time you spent to read it.
Overall I wouldn’t rate it as a title you have to own, but still the book would make a positive addition to anyone’s magical library. There’s more than enough good stuff in the book to warrent spending the money on it. More importantly though there’s a lot of fun stuff in this book. There’s a recipe for making lavender chocolate truffles. How is that not totally awesome?