Herb-A-Day by James A. Duke. Virginia Beach, VA: Eco Images; 2007. Paperback; 468 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0938423188. $12.89.
Herb-A-Day is a 460 page-long book of articles by James Duke, PhD, on over 135 medicinal plants from around the world, divided into sections by country of origin. Most are articles written years ago for The Wild Foods Forum and The Business of Herbs, but some are previously unpublished and many of the articles have been updated with new information.
Herb books typically fall into one of two categories: books for the layman that often are lovely to look at but only skim the surface of available information, and books for the professional that are often dense with statistical data and study details. The latter are necessary for an evidence-based approach to the use of herbs but typically make for dry reading. Jim Duke’s recent book offers a different approach. This book certainly discusses scientific studies, plant constituents, and their actions—indeed such information abounds—but the information is always enveloped in stories of the plants’ traditional uses and liberally spiced with comments on the politics of medicine, botany, and Jim’s general life experiences.
The book captures the wit of its author, his curiosity, and his story-telling skills. It evokes the joy that plants should provide us while competently discussing the scientific facts about those plants and their constituents. It is a tasty mix, complete with recipes, song lyrics, data tables, and lovely botanical illustrations by Peggy Duke. The book meanders like a brook in the forest, one minute deep and still, the next minute light and bubbly, occasionally muddy, but usually flowing swiftly from topic to topic. Jim Duke is, as Mark Blumenthal has been known to comment, a national treasure—and this book is uncensored James Duke. Overall, it reminds us that we should eat our herbs, play with our herbs, study them, enjoy them, and use them.
I like to read something pleasant as I drink my morning coffee before heading off into the day. This book worked really well for those moments. I could pick it up, chuckle at Jim’s wry sense of humor, learn a few facts, and be encouraged to contemplate a few ideas that otherwise would not have occurred to me. I think anyone, whether a lay or a professional plant person, will find the book equally enjoyable.
For the herb-savvy reader, this book contains information on the science supporting the medicinal qualities of plants (along with references to the studies discussed) while also noting that we should honor the value of traditional knowledge when assessing how to use plants. For those newer to the study of plants, it provides accessible, reliable information on the nature and botany of particular plants and their uses in folk medicine. And, should you have a friend or relative who is a bit afraid of using plants, the book provides a persuasive analysis of why we all should be much more comfortable using medicinal plants.