Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

REVIEW: Northern Plant Lore

Eoghan Odinsson, Northern Plant Lore: A Field Guide to the Ancestral Use of Plants on Northern Europe, the author, 2012.
If she was still alive my mother would not approve of this review.
Odinsson’s work utilises three sources: Mrs Grieves, A Modern Herbal (1931), Stephen Pollington, Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant Lore and Healing (2000), and ‘German Commission e Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines‘ (1998). Pollington’s work is an examination of two manuscripts believed to be compiled in the late 10th or early 11th century in England. Thus the primary source of ‘northern’ plant-lore is English, and we have no idea how far this lore extended into other northern countries. The cures given in Pollington are checked against the Therapeutic Guide to see if they are still considered to be efficacious, and plant-lore is added from Grieves’ work. Any serious worker would surely have sought out a wider range of sources.
Odinsson thanks his wife Melinda for her ‘editing precision’ and his son Shea for his help with ‘research and editing’. One wonders what the original typescript was like before they set to work: the finished result is still extremely rough. Pollington’s foreword sets the tone when his first sentence starts ‘The practise of herbal medicine …’ The spelling of Latin, or Linnaen (sic.) names is usually correct (though Symphyti herba/-follii is given as a name for comfrey), but sometimes they are given in italics and sometimes they are not. Similarly quotes from other works are sometimes, but not always, italicized.
After brief introductory material the bulk of the book consists of a series of Plant Monographs, followed by an extensive index. The ‘Buckthorn (Alder)’ monograph confuses buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus); the monograph of yarrow is illustrated by a picture of lady’s mantle. Each monograph consists of an illustration, ‘quick facts’, a description of the plant, notes on cultivation, and historical notes, which include ‘medicinal uses – for ENTERTAINMENT only’.
It’s difficult to get past the poor editing and decide whether or not the underlying work is worthwhile. It’s difficult find a reason for the work – apart from providing a pastime for the author and his family when they compiled it: who is it aimed at? I’m not convinced that the book serves any useful purpose; its final pages give details of ‘Other great books by the author’, but I have no desire to investigate any of them.
My mother always said, ‘If you can’t say anything good about someone, it’s better to say nothing at all.’ Odinsson is a helpful correspondent who readily supplied a review copy of his work; I wish I could find something better to say about it.

Edited 12 October 2021.

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