This book stands alone as the most thorough treatment of the subject I have ever come across since Mrs. M. Grieve's A Modern Herbal, first published in 1931. This book achieves the near impossible: it is an impepeccable resource for both scientific researchers and the average gardener.
Small's emphasis is on herb and spice plants grown in Canada and the northern half of the U.S.A., and he includes such diverse subjects as sugar maple and mint.
In the opening chapters, I particularly enjoyed the one dealing with the historical importance of culinary herbs. Some of it, but by no means all, I have read before, but Small brings it all together in a cohesive story that carries the reader from ancient times to the present day.
I also like the chapter on chemistry and nutrition. Although the chemical analysis given for individual herbs is over my head, this introduction at least affords me a layman's understanding of a complex subject.
Where most herb books gloss over the possible dangers of using herbs with a casual warning of "not to over do it," Small meets the subject head-on. Under the heading "Herbs, medicine and safety," he gives a well-balanced discussion of the good and the bad. Some of the information on natural plant toxins is a real eye opener. This chapter should be required reading for anyone who dabbles in making their own blends of herbal teas and such, especially if they are made up for sale.
The bulk of the book is given to covering 125 species in considerable detail. This information is given in categories, making it easy to quickly extract whatever you happen to be looking for.
In a work such as this, one expects a wealth of botanical information, but for the average gardener, listing all recorded modern English and French common names was a master stroke. Knowing that the "mugweed" you are talking about is my "sweet woodruff" can clear up much confusion.
Taxonomy, history, recipe sources (I love this touch), commercial importance, cultivation, chemistry, medicine and nutrition are all well covered.
As a final enticement, under "Curiosities" are collected all the myths, legends, and tales that have fascinated herb enthusiats throughout time.
If there is one book that all herb enthusiasts should have, it's this one!