The Big Herbs by Paul Strauss. Gambier, OH: XOXOX Press; 2014. Softcover, 205 pages. ISBN: 978-1-880977361. $25.00.
In The Big Herbs, Paul Strauss tells the story of how he returned to nature, reclaiming land in Appalachian southeastern Ohio devastated by strip mining and nurturing it back to its original wild and abundant nature. Strauss has spent 40 years bringing the land back to life, creating a sanctuary for both flora and fauna, and bringing high-quality botanical medicines to a growing audience. In “Part I: Conceiving Sanctuary,” Strauss describes his trek across the American Southwest to learn from and be inspired by herbalists and Native American plant knowledge, the difficulties he faced in Ohio, and the slow but rewarding journey of seeing the land bloom again. “Part II: The Big Herbs” details the trees and shrubs that Strauss preserves on his sanctuary. These “big herbs” often are overlooked by herb books, but Strauss has a story behind the aspens (Populus spp., Salicaceae), oaks (Quercus spp., Fagaceae), maples (Acer spp., Aceraceae), and elms (Ulmus spp., Ulmaceae), and how humans can form a beneficial relationship with each one. “Part III: Maintaining Sanctuary” explores the duality of life and death on the land, as Strauss describes the natural disasters that both challenged and strengthened the ecosystem of his sanctuary.
The Strains of War: A True Story, and Still Growing…by R. Gage Amsler. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace; 2015. Softcover, 170 pages. ISBN: 978-1-514259696. $14.95.
In his intensely personal autobiography, Gage “Doc” Amsler shares his experiences as a combat medic in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan and his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since his discovery of a rare cannabis (Cannabis spp., Cannabaceae) cultivar in the Hindu Kush mountain range, Amsler has become a staunch advocate for veterans with PTSD and cannabis research, citing the poor quality of life of those affected, the lack of infrastructure for mental health care for veterans, and the untapped medicinal potential of cannabis. This book takes an on-the-ground look at the modern soldier, the fight for medicinal cannabis, and the daily realities of living with PTSD.
A Shakespearean Botanical by Margaret Willes. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press; 2015. Hardcover, 200 pages. ISBN: 978-1-85124-437-9. $22.50.
William Shakespeare’s enduring artistic legacy includes a deep knowledge of botanicals: He references fruits, herbs, vegetables, and flowers in his plays, giving insight into Elizabethan uses for plants in the home, garden, kitchen, and medicine cabinet. Willes presents Shakespeare’s words with beautiful illustrations from his contemporary John Gerard, an herbalist (1545-1612). As Falstaff contrasts chamomile (Matricaria recutita, Asteraceae) to youth, Juliet fears the shrieking of mandrakes (Mandragora officinarum, Solanaceae), and Oberon uses pansies (Viola tricolor, Violaceae) to drug a sleeping Titania, Willes gives a fascinating history of Elizabethan botany.
Healing Ways: An Integrative Health Sourcebook by Matilde Parente. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series; 2016. Softcover, 240 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4380-0637-6. $14.99.
Matilde Parente, MD, FCAP, guides patients through the intricacies of complementary health care, with an aim toward successfully integrating conventional medicine with natural therapies. In Healing Ways, she discusses how to combine mainstream medical therapies with high-quality, evidence-based alternative solutions, covering herbal medicine, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, and many others. The book is arranged by modality and includes common-sense precautions to help readers choose the safest and most effective mode of care for their individual needs. The section about herbal supplements includes basic material on popular botanicals, with a list of resources where readers may seek out further information.