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.
I read a lot of non-fiction about food and nutrition and, admittedly, there are a dizzying number of flash-in-a-pan diet/lifestyle books that villanize some foods and glorify others. The Plant Paradox is absolutely another book in a sea of books that touts the healing powers of food to reverse and prevent illness and inflammation; but you will definitely appreciate the nuance Gundry offers even though the books isn’t without some alarmist language, too (Gundry likens taking NSAIDs to dropping a grenade into the body…but honestly, maybe it is like that).
The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain offers new insights into food-related causes of illness. One thing that gives Author and cardio-surgeon Dr. Steven Gundry an edge–in addition to his rigorous research studies and research citations–is his admission that he changes his stance on what constitutes “healthy food” based on a changing body of evidence. Sticking to your guns is great if you’re not a cardio-surgeon when patients require that your practices are current and evidence-based!
First-off, people who follow a plant-based diet or lifestyle can rest assured that Gundry in no way vilifies plant-based living and eating: most of the food choices he recommends are still plant-centric. But there are certain plants you should avoid or pressure cook so as not to incur their wrath. So what’s the problem? Blame the lectins, those teeny, tiny little things that cumulatively wreak havoc in our bodies causing inflammation and auto-immune disorders. What in the world is a lectin, you may wonder? I, too, furrowed my brow at the mentioning of the word. Let’s have a look and go straight to the source. Although Gundry spends nearly 400 pages discussing what lectins are and why they’re so problematic, you might sum them up simply in one of his earliest statements that “they are large proteins found in plants and animals, and they are a crucial weapon in the arsenal of strategies that plants use to defend themselves in their ongoing battle with animals” (14). One of the most infamous lectins starts with the letter “G” and I’ll give you one guess! If you thought of gluten, you’re right! As you have witnessed, most grocery stores sell “gluten-free” variants of bread, baked goods, pasta, soups, and frozen entrees; but gluten is just one of many, many lectins. Gundry discusses how avoiding one lectin will do little to help individuals attempting to adhere to a gluten-free diet and lifestyle because they have not removed the other lectin-containing foods from their diets. And you better believe those little buggers are everywhere. To add insult to injury, most gluten-free foods are far more calorically dense and sugar-laden than their gluten-containing counterparts.
One major takeaway from the book is that making healthier food choices is less about what you add to your diet and more about what you remove to improve your health. Check out this book to discover Gundry’s recipes for a 3-day cleanse and what he refers to as the “Plant Paradox” program. If you like avocados like me, I think you’ll be happy to find that many of the 3-day cleanse recipes involve guacamole. There is also a list of lectin-containing culprits and lectin-free foods. Gundry also devised vegan and vegetarian variations of his recipes, for those who currently supplement their plant-based diets with copious amounts of beans, grains, nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, white potatoes, goji berries) and legumes.
One consideration with the Plant Paradox “diet” is that it’s somewhat restrictive and likely unsustainable. While it’s possible to loosely follow Dr. Gundry’s instruction, it would likely take time, patience, dedication, and extra cash-flow to implement and be in strict compliance with his plan (especially if you opt for pastured animals, for example). Someone who regularly eats grains, breads, and nightshades (or several other items from the “Do not eat” list) will require quite a few adjustments as they learn to navigate the boundaries of the Plant Paradox program. And something that Gundry likely takes for granted is simply the mental load of having to exert substantial thought into what you’re going to eat for every meal of every day. Grain-based foods, beans, and legumes are filling and cheap whereas “pastured” animal products are more costly (in comparison to their feedlot-raised counterparts). However, it’s reasonable to start with some small part of Gundry’s plan and try to implement that first, i.e. maybe you weed out the simple carbohydrates and refined flours from your diet first rather than trying to do everything at once. Everyone’s nutritional needs are very different, too, so while one person may suffer little or no consequence from regularly consuming the above-listed offenders, another may experience debilitating gastrointestinal issues. There is one thing I know for sure, though, and personally, when I replace the bread, flour, and dairy products in my diet with greens and velvety avocados, just to name a couple, there is a marked difference in how my gut responds. Happy gut, happy life!
Check this out if you like to stay on the up and up with new diet and nutrition information. This book is incredibly dense with a thorough bibliography if you’re inclined to reference some of Gundry’s research.
Physician-turned-journalist Don Colbert, MD offers intriguing and practical advice for optimum nutrition and wellness in Let Food Be Your Medicine: Dietary Changes Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease.Early on, Colbert shares the deceptively simple insight that we catch colds but we develop chronic diseases like Type II Diabetes or Cardiovascular disease. That is not a coincidence, either. In Latin, “Dis” refers to being “apart”, disjointed, or having a negative or “reversing force.” Ease refers “freedom from pain” or being in a tranquil or peaceful state. In essence, disease signifies a breaking away from a peaceful or tranquil state. The process of developing and solidifying disease, however, is complex and involves lifestyle & environmental factors, as well as the interplay of all systems of mind, body, and spirit.
I tend to gobble up books about food, nutrition, and wellness and am naturally obsessed with how the gut or the “microbiome”, i.e. the ecosystem living in the core of your body, is more powerful and influential over our general health & well-being than we once imagined. A discussion about the microbiome is another conversation entirely and is far beyond my scope of knowledge; but Colbert does not overlook discussing current research about the delicate ecosystem living between our brain and bowel. How curious that we may even begin to view our food cravings as tiny demands from the bacteria in our guts who have lives of their own? In essence, we are feeding them. You better believe they don’t always have your best interests in mind, either. The little “voices in your head” (or, gut, in this case) take on a whole new meaning. Read this book to dig in a little deeper as to how and why our microbiome is so influential and critical to our overall health.
Colbert mixes testimonial with current medical evidence to present a compelling argument for being mindful and deliberative when it comes to what we put into our bodies. Learn about his struggle with autoimmune disorders and how his quest to heal himself resulted in weeding nightshade foods (peppers, eggplants, tomatoes) out of his diet. Not all food is equal in its ability to nourish, heal, or harm, either, as you may know. We often take for granted that we do not innately know what foods are harmful or helpful. Many of us grew up in homes in which our parent(s) worked and perhaps did not have the time to prepare and cook whole, nourishing meals all week long. In short, eating “healthy” is not common sense. Failure to meet your daily nutrient requirements or to altogether make harmful dietary choices is not therefore some testament to your lack of willpower. Quite simply, many of us have to learn how to make better food choices, and that starts with education. If you have any curiosity whatsoever in how you can better yourself simply by changing what you put into your body, read this book.
This book is not a fix-all for all that ails you, nor does it substitute for the relationship you have with your primary care physicians or doctors. Part of what is working about healthcare is that we acknowledge that wellness involves the alignment of mind, body, and spirit or the non-physical part of a human being. Grey’s Anatomy sums up the dilemma well in one episode in which Dr. Preston Burke, esteemed neurosurgeon, argues with Dr. Cristina Yang that nurturing a patient’s spiritual state is equally as important as the medical intervention being performed, for the reason that human beings are not merely physical bodies. The non-physical parts of us require care and respect, too. Though Colbert’s book does not discuss the role of spirituality in health in great depth, he no-doubt weaves his own faith into the book (but it is not oft-putting for non-Christians). I can most certainly recall a time in my lifespan of thirty-six years when the words “soul”, “spirituality” and “Ayurveda” would have never made an appearance in a discussion about disease, illness, or health & wellbeing. But today? We are becoming more interdisciplinary & holistic in how we not only view but “treat” illness — and how we care for whole human beings (not just symptoms).
If you are even the slightest bit curious about how food can harm or heal, read this book. If you would be amazed by the prospect of eating a diet that custom made to fight diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, auto-immune disorders — read this book. Believe it or not, one of the most powerful statements that Colbert makes in this book is this: cancer, depending upon the type and staging, can and very well does constitute a chronic disease that can actually be managed like other chronic diseases not unlike COPD, heart disease, and diabetes. I don’t know about you, but aside from a cure that’s the very best next thing! Bear in mind, Colbert is not claiming to have a cure for cancer; but he lays out, in one case, a diet plan that is tailored not only to the cancer patient but to the specific stage of cancer in order to increase the chances of putting the cancer into remission…and we can do this with vegetables, micronutrients, plants–with the plentitude of healing, delicious foods that are available to us should we be inclined.
David Attenborough meets Lemony Snicket inTheBigBadBookofBotany, Michael Largo’s entertaining and enlightening one-of-a-kind compendium of the world’s most amazing and bizarre plants, their history, and their lore.
TheBig, BadBookofBotany introduces a world of wild, wonderful, and weird plants. Some are so rare, they were once more valuable than gold. Some found in ancient mythology hold magical abilities, including the power to turn a person to stone. Others have been used by assassins to kill kings, and sorcerers to revive the dead. Here, too, is vegetation with astonishing properties to cure and heal, many of which have long since been lost with the advent of modern medicine.
Organized alphabetically, TheBig, Bad BookofBotany combines the latest in biological information with bizarre facts about the plant kingdom’s oddest members, including a species that is more poisonous than a cobra and a prehistoric plant that actually ‘walked.’ Largo takes you through the history of vegetables and fruits and their astonishing agricultural evolution. Throughout, he reveals astonishing facts, from where the world’s first tree grew to whether plants are telepathic. Featuring more than 150 photographs and illustrations, TheBig, BadBook ofBotany is a fascinating, fun A-to-Z encyclopedia for all ages that will transform the way we look at the natural world. (description from publisher)
Inspiring and charming, The Plant Recipe Book by Baylor Chapman shows you how to create living arrangements using a wide variety of small plants. From single specimens to fanciful combinations, there’s a plant recipe for every situation.
Arranged by plant type, Chapman shows a number of variations for each. She sparks creativity with unique combinations and non-traditional containers. Each recipe is broken down showing the individual plants that are used, how the container is prepped and tips on arranging and planting.
From special occasion to everyday, these beautiful containers are interesting and unique. They’re also easy-care and long-lived, making them the perfect compliment to your indoor decor!
In Natural Companions, acclaimed garden writer Ken Druse presents recipes for perfect plant pairings using diverse species that look great together and bloom at the same time.
Organized by theme within seasons, topics include color, fragrance, foliage, grasses, edible flowers and much more, all presented in photographs of gardens that show planted combinations from a wide variety of climates and conditions. Natural Companions also features more than one hundred special botanical images of amazing depth and color created in collaboration with artist Ellen Hoverkamp using modern digital technology.
Filled with an incredible amount of horticultural guidance, useful plant recommendations, and gardening lore–all written in Druse’s charming, witty style–this book is a must-have for gardeners and lovers of plants and flowers. (description from publisher)
I always thought that Terrariums were very difficult to upkeep and required intense calculations to maintain their delicate ecosystems, but Terrarium Craft has since convinced me that Terrariums are my new super laid-back, always stylish best friends. In fact, according to Amy, Kate & Kate, I don’t even have to put living plants in my terrariums if I don’t want to–I could use pretty sands, rocks, crystals, and dried flowers to make super lovely displays. However, they make even the plant terrariums seem easy by using moss balls, air plants, succulents and other easy care plants and arranging them with sweet figurines, geodes, books and costume jewelry to create little whimsical, fairytale-like scenes. I want to live in their terrariums, but, until I find a shrinking raygun, I will just check out Terrarium Craft from the library and make one of my own. It will totally have a geode and an air plant and will be based on that classic Ringo Starr hit, Octopus’s Garden.
Wicked Plants: the Weed that Killed Abraham Lincoln’s Mother by Amy Stewart is a delightfully gruesome catalog of a great variety of harmful plants and just exactly what they can inflict on you. This alphabetical list of plants that can poison, strangle, paralyze, induce hallucinations or heart attack or merely cause pain and suffering is illustrated with appropriately gothic drawings. Many of the plants are surprisingly common – castor bean plants and angel’s trumpet for instance. Others are bizarre and nearly fantastical. Stewart’s writing style is witty and entertaining and her love and knowledge of all things botanical shines throughout the book.
Amy Stewart’s website has lots more info, including interviews with Amy and news about her upcoming events. Amy is the author of several thoughtful gardening-related books including the excellent Flower Confidential about the floral industry.
Don’t miss the chance to see some of those dastardly plants up-close when Vander Veer Botanical Park Conservatory features ten of them in their special exhibit, running concurrently with their annual Chrysanthemum Festival, mid October through mid November. Excerpts from the book will be featured in story boards displayed throughout the exhibit.
Conservatory hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 10am – 4pm. Admission is $1 for adults; children under 16 are free but must be accompanied by an adult. For more information about the display, contact Paula Witt at 563-323-3298.
Fight off some of that spring fever by cultivating a bit of green on a tabletop. From elegant, antique Wardian cases (named for Englishman Nathaniel Ward who created and popularized glass boxes for plants in the 1840s) to simple vases, Tovah Martin brings us the charming world of terrariums in The New Terrarium. You won’t find even a hint of crunchy-granola-1970s terrariums here (when these enclosed plant worlds were last popular) but you will find modern, playful interpretations of all kinds.
Martin firmly belives that any container, so long as it’s clear glass and has an opening large enough to accomodate plants, is just fine for a terrarium. As a result, there are fish bowls and aquariums, large flower vases, candy jars, Mason jars, even a covered cake stand on display here. There are also many beautiful examples of glass cloches (also called bell jars) that were once used to protect tender young vegetable plants in the garden, now in service to protect and highlight a beloved indoor plant.
Plant choices range from the exotic – such as orchids – to the more ordinary – African violets which are at their height this time of year and easy to find, or ferns. In fact, almost any plant – so long as it’s small enough – will thrive in the humid, controlled environment of a terrarium. The exceptions are plants that prefer dry conditions (cactus, succulents, herbs) You can even fill your terrarium with non-plant material – a favorite seashell or a miniature garden gnome. Martin lists favorite plants and how to grow them and gives on instructions on how to plant and care for your mini-garden. Populated with beautiful pictures, you’ll soon be on your way to bringing some of the outdoors in.
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