The Witch's Book of Simples by Melusine Draco - book review by Helen Brambley, Hedgerow Witch.
Folklore around the creation of herbal remedies is a fascinating subject. The fact that, if we look carefully enough, we find that nature provides the solution to a vast array of our minor ailments shows us how amazing plants are. This little book is packed full of information, both historical and practical, to support an exploration of single herb/plant uses.
It begins with a history of 'simples' and their uses through the years, how they were passed down and evolved from folk/pagan to Christian and also developed through international influences. What particularly hit home for me with this book is the author's obvious passion for recording traditional and old family remedies for posterity. There are so many old folklore sayings around growing and using plants that were merely passed down by word of mouth and these are in danger of being lost forever if they are not recorded now. It prompted me to think of all the little bits of advice my nan used to tell me, such as using dock leaves on nettle stings, which even now I'm not sure I told my children - how easy it is to lose this traditional country lore.
The book takes you on a journey through planning and growing your own herb garden, preparing and using these for minor ailments, including how to store any preparations. I discovered many interesting tips, such as using china or glass teapots and a china tea infuser for tisanes and not metal ones. The chapter that lists herbs for use in 'simples' is fantastic - herbs are helpfully organised in alphabetical order for ease of reference and contain added folklore, history, magical uses, superstitions and personal asides from the author which add interest for each one. The only downside is the lack of photos of the herbs, but then again there are so many apps for plant identification these days and the author emphasises the 'grown your own' method to avoid misidentification of plants if you are inexperienced anyway. Sensibly, the book contains several reminders that much folklore around herb use has since proved dangerous and uses the 'let the wise reader learn and the fool beware' disclaimer. That being said, the author also states that many old family remedies were safer then because in those days there was less chemical medication to interact with the herbs. A lot of the time, it is this interaction which causes problems.
The author's passion and in depth knowledge is communicated throughout the book and includes references to wider reading, with a comprehensive bibliography and list of recommended reads if you wish to explore further.
This lovely little book would be an excellent guide to those who have an interest in creating their own single herb remedies or want to learn more about the history of these. As long as you consult with a medical professional or qualified herbalist before trying any obviously! 4/5 cauldrons.