The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

Guest post by Laura

Gardening and mixology are two hobbies in my household. I’m the gardener and my significant other is the bar-builder and cocktail-crafter. We both dislike drinks with inferior and artificial ingredients. This book seemed to be perfect for the two of us. In The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart provides historical and geeky botanical details about the plants around the world used to create drinks. She includes a multitude of cocktail, syrups, infusions, and garnish recipes as well. At home, we sometimes bring our personal copy of this book out to entertain our guests with trivia about some of the ingredients in the libations my S.O. creates and serves.

On a different botanical journey, Stewart tackles poisonous and intoxicating plants in Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. Over the years I have found lily of the valley, pokeweed, and snakeroot (see page 213 about Lincoln’s mother) in my backyard. They’re all poisonous when ingested and I wear gloves when pulling the first two. Briony Morrow-Cribbs’ illustrations are gorgeous and perfect for this subject.

From the origins of current illegal drugs to the possible botanically-related cause behind the Salem witch trial, Stewart explores the varied use of plants, including as murder weapon, judge and executioner, recreational, and religious. She provides a list of poison gardens but didn’t include the one I unexpectedly visited on the Blarney Castle grounds in Ireland. It was fascinating. Stewart also name-drops some well-known historical figures along the way in this book.

I enjoyed Wicked Plants but I have one major complaint. I understand using the terms “wicked” and “evil” are provocative and great promotional terms, but I strongly disagree with that characterization. Just as a wolf or other predator is not wicked, but rather has a natural role in its ecosystem, these plants are creations of nature and they evolved these defenses against predators. They shouldn’t be villainized because people are using these plants in ways that are wicked or illegal in our human cultural context.

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