Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: Earth Magic

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Earth Magic
Author: Corinne Martin
Date: 1991
Publisher: Countryman Press
ISBN: 0-88150-184-0
Length: 222 pages plus bibliography, glossary, and index
Quote: “This is...a sharing of one person’s ex­perience in gathering and using herbs. The reader should avoid draw­ing generalized conclusions as to what will work successfully for any one individual.”
Do herbs work? In the sense that most medicinal herbs contain medicinal substances, there’s no question that they do. Will herbs work for you? Hard to say. It’s hard to predict how even controlled doses of medicinal substances will work in any given case. Prediction is even harder when it’s uncertain how much of the medicinal substance is in its natural form; we understand carotene well enough to say that you’ll get a good dose of it by eating a carrot, but there are larger and smaller carrots, drier and juicier carrots, carrots grown in different soils and under different weather conditions, and these different carrots contain different amounts of carotene and of other nutrients.Additionally your body might metabolize carotene differently than other bodies do, so you might need more or less carotene to get the same benefit from eating carrots. If you really study the properties of foods and herbs, rather than memorizing rules, it will start to seem that “the more we know, the less we know.”
Herbs work best as part of a natural lifestyle that’s aimed at preventing rather than curing diseases. The real “power herbs” are the ones, like carrots, that contain the substances the body needs to protect and repair itself. Some people would rather take some rare, probably foul-tasting, possibly toxic herb than use the cheaper, safer, more pleasant herbs found in their gardens, or even in the produce aisle at the grocery store...I don’t recommend this, myself.
The 52 herbs discussed in detail, in this book, are fairly common throughout North America. They are generally safe when used as discussed in this book, but their effects will vary. What Corinne Martin learned about the herbs she gathered and used in New England is only sometimes, not always, what she would have learned about the same herbs if she’d stayed in the Deep South; their seasons obviously vary and so do their benefits.You can use this book regardless of where you live, but as the author says, you must not be too dependent on it for advice on where and when to find herbs or what they’re most useful for. Even if you live in northern New England, you may find that your reactions to herbs differ from Martin’s, or that your symptoms came from a different cause, or even that there’s a difference between herbs picked in a wet year and herbs picked in a dry year.
The format of this book is distinctive. I find it distracting. The main text, which gives scientific descriptions of herbs and their uses, occupies a wide column and the author’s personal journal appears in a narrow column on the side. This does allow you to read either the journal or the reference work and ignore the other; if you’re reading through the book you might wish they’d appeared one after the other, so that the effect is less like the author’s two voices constantly interrupting each other.
Sections of text are also broken up with lined, blank pages for you to add your own recipes and results, in part so you can compare and contrast findings. E.g., “Willow: I have willow trees but have never used them. Most of us would have very little pain if we’d listen to the pains we do have. Common causes of headaches are dehydration, constipation, blood mineral imbalances, tension, or mild carbon monoxide poisoning—it’s almost easier to recognize what caused a headache, and cure it accordingly, than it is to pop an aspirin, much less brew willow tea for headaches. When pain can’t be immediately fixed, celery is easier to prepare than willow (just eat a celery stick) and about as effective. All the same I’m glad to have this information about willow just in case there’s a celery shortage some day.”
No, I don’t take anything for these outbursts of cranky criticism. I indulged this one because I think too many people try to use herbal remedies in an inefficient, ecologically unsound way, and are debarking too many willow trees. If you have to live with rheumatoid arthritis or some such horror, willow is for you. If you have headaches because you don’t drink enough water, please leave the willow for those who need it.
On the other hand, some real “power herbs” are undervalued because they’re common...treated like weeds, in fact. Plantain (not plátanos but the little lawn weeds) is wonderfully soothing and healing to any kind of cut, bruise, burn, insect bite, sting, scrape, blister, or other simple skin wound. Clover is hard for humans to digest raw, but contains vitamins and minerals that can be leached out and taken in medicinal tea. Dandelion tea is a natural diuretic contining potassium, useful for hypertension, diabetes, and premenstrual bloating. Dock roots can be dug in the autumn and used in medicinal tea, as Martin describes, or left to sprout in spring, when the young leaves are only somewhat sour and can be cooked like spinach, or left to grow in summer, when the ripe leaves become tough and bitter to eat but are still soothing and healing when rubbed on skin wounds. This book can encourage gardeners to find uses for several wild plants and weeds.
The “other” parts of plants gardeners prize for their fruit and/or flowers can also have medicinal value; this book discusses the herbal benefits of garden plants like violet blossoms, berry leaves, cherry bark, rose hips (seeds), and pine needles.

Some of the drawings of herbs aren’t the easiest to recognize I’ve seen, but overall this is an excellent first book of household herbs. Many people use and recommend this book. 

At last report Corinne Martin was alive, and active in the Maine Organic Gardeners and Farmers Association, so this web site offers Earth Magic as a Fair Trade Book. If you buy it here, by sending $5 for the book + $5 for shipping to salolianigodagewi @, we will send $1 to Martin or a charity of her choice. (The shipping charge is per package; if you order more than one Fair Trade Book at one time, you pay only one shipping charge and the living authors receive $1 or more for each of their books that fits into the package.)