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Dangerous Garden: The Quest for Plants to Change Our Lives [Hardcover]

David Stuart
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Hardcover, 1 Mar 2004 --  

Book Description

1 Mar 2004
Over the ages humans have sought out plants across the globe for many uses: to heal wounds, cure disease, soothe troubled minds, kindle love or evoke curious dreams. Gardener and botanist David Stuart tells the story of that search, and how the world of plants has interacted with the world of humans in the quest.

This is not only a story of soothing balms and heroic cures. Many plants have a dark side to balance the light, and most of the really powerful and effective plants are double-edged. They can heal or kill, calm us or enslave us, cure depression or roar us off to meet strange gods and monsters.

The relationship of humans and plants is a complex one. Stuart relates amazing tales of how the quest for plants has sparked wars, helped establish international trade routes and generated fortunes.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln; REPRINT edition (1 Mar 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0711222657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0711222656
  • Product Dimensions: 26.6 x 19.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 820,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Stuart fell in love with plants in childhood - the first plant he bought was Chamaecereus something or other (it's now classed as an Echinopsis). When it eventually flowered, he was amazed at its beauty, and began collecting all sorts of plants, wheedled from school friends, local nurseries, even surreptitious adrenalin-rush cuttings from Kew.

The obvious thing to do was to become a botanist. He couldn't leave his collection, so read botany at nearby Reading University, then went up to Edinburgh to do a PhD, on the genus Muscari. In between looking at chromosomes, he managed a marvellously educative collecting trip to Greece, where he found out a bit about life, but not much about grape hyacinths. Later, he spent time in Anatolia looking for rare members of the carrot family - rather less interesting still. [STOP-PRESS - after many decades swearing never to look at a grape hyacinth ever again, he's now begun to plant a couple of sorts in his Scottish garden).

Classical taxonomy being in decline, he went to Liverpool University to look at yet more chromosomes. That was something of a disaster, and he eventually managed to get a job back in his beloved Edinburgh. This was not especially interesting, and gardening somehow took over. He began restoring an urban Georgian garden (and its house), wrote a book on Georgian Gardens, sold the house, dumped the job, and bought a lovely but ruinous 17th century village house on the shores of the Firth of Forth at Belhaven.

As he started collecting garden plants that matched the age of the house, a book called Plants from the Past soon followed. Then more books, garden columns for the then main Scottish quality newspaper, then the Scottish section of the Sunday Times. So, at the present time, he has written fifteen well-received garden books ('Dangerous Gardens' was one of the US science mag. 'Discover' top 20 popular science books in 2004), and many hundreds of articles.

He now currently gardens in a tiny 18th century patch in a Borders village; the garden still has paths, seat, sundials and urns from the 1790′s. He is still writing about gardens and gardening, photographing, and doing some very occasional advisory and design work.

He's recently set up a tiny publishing business called Thistle Street Books (with a website of that name), to republish his back list as e-books, but also to publish new garden books, plant/garden apps for mobiles and tablets, and so on.

As well as the Borders garden, he also is fortunate enough to be able to mooch about in a pretty little garden in London, and something very nice in Lincolnshire - see his blog (davidcstuart.wordpress.com) for the latest entry, pictures, and slideshow of the three gardens and the ghost of a fourth.

Product Description


Here are wars, plagues, poisoners, poetry, moral campaigns, gourmets, explorers, charlatans, aphrodisiacs, gods, alcoholism, degradation, exploitation, epidemics, towering personalities, desperadoes and agony, to name a few. All this could hardly fail to be fascinating. A rare, absorbing book with the bonus of sumptuous illustration. A pleasure from first to last. (New Scientist)

... in an age when we seem to have all but forgotten how central plant products were to our lives before petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries, Dangerous Garden redresses the balance ... it is to David Stuart's great credit that he has managed to extract and distil so much information and package it in such an intelligible and readable form (Gardens Illustrated)

This book should be on the wish list of every medical professional and plant enthusiast (Kew)

About the Author

David Stuart is a biologist and botanist, and has been a nurseryman and a Times journalist. He lives in Edinburgh.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
THE IDEA FOR THIS BOOK arrived many years ago. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poisons, pox, pain and shamans 17 Jun 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fascinating. Stuart is a botanist and all-round plant-nut
who seems as interested in people as he is in flora. The
book is about people, in all their flawedness and craziness,
and their relationship with plants: to poison their husbands,
to get themselves lovers, to make lovers perform properly,
to cure themselves of plagues and poxes, to get high, to rid
themselves of tapeworms, and so on and on. All described with
an obvious relish, along with solid history and botany.
Deliciously salacious: on every page there are striking illustrations
of madmen, murderers, tapeworms, gods, and advertisements for
laudanum. Dip into the book anywhere and start reading to lose
yourself for hours.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant Surpirise 21 Nov 2010
This is the first time I write a review for any book I have purchased on Amazon. But I am enjoying this book so much, I wanted to share this information. It is enchanting read and full of interesting facts and stories. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history and botany. Happy reading!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Review 1 15 April 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This product arrived here on time, was as described and has been good to read about the history of garden plants.
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5.0 out of 5 stars BRILLIANT:-) 26 July 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Brilliant transaction, easy, quick and lovely book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Piqued my interest, now I want to know even more . . . . 8 Jan 2005
By C. Good - Published on Amazon.com
"Dangerous Garden" is an EXCELLENT book on the history of plants and how humans interact with plants, a topic that I stumbled onto only about a couple of years ago. The book is broken up into eight chapters that cover about 200 pages. There are lots of pictures and color plates, so each chapter is almost a stand-alone section that is just the right length to be read over an afternoon or spread out over a couple of nights at bedtime.

Each chapter covers a category of use or effect that humans have tried to get out of plants. The chapters are:

- The Great Afflictions, covering plants thought to affect diseases such as bubonic plague, malaria and leprosy.

- The Vital Organs, covering plants thought to affect vital organs such as the heart, stomach, etc.

- The Flight from Pain, or the search for pain-relievers, with an extensive section on opium.

- Chasing Venus, which is kind of self-explanatory.

- The Killing Plants, very self-explanatory.

- The Seven Ages of Man, meaning plants that are supposed to prolong life, maintain a youthful appearance, or otherwise slow the passage of time.

- The Mind, or plants that affect the mind and have been both revered and demonized because of it, including marijuana, cocaine, tobacco and qat.

- The Mysteries of the Gods, which covers plants used in religious and shamanic ceremonies, such as peyote.

The book is definitely not a lightweight and people looking for serious information will find a lot of worth. Plants are referred to both by their common name and their scientific names and the index covers both types of terms as well. The Bibliography includes books from 1516 to the 1990s, and the Author's Acknowledgments on the last page list a number of good websites as well.

Stuart discusses the historical uses of various plants and how some plants have gone from being cure-alls in the past to being either banned or sold in the grocery-store spice aisle now. He spends a lot of time on the concept of Janus plants, which are "two-faced" plants, meaning they can both harm and heal, and he also discusses fads in medicine, including a long period of time in the middle ages where if a plant had a visible effect it was thought to be better than one that didn't have a visible effect, so plants that made people sweaty, feverish, nauseous, sleepy, etc. were prescribed in amounts that are horrifying by today's standards.

Some authors talk down to readers, but this author absolutely does not and will jump from discussion of which 19th-century herbal contained which plant to discussion of the exact chemical names of the active alkaloids in a plant, if they are unknown than which other known alkaloids do they resemble, and what current research is being done and current uses and/or speculation.

There are also numerous little facts sprinkled here and there throughout the book which the author clearly can't spend much time on because of space but which are equally fascinating in themselves, such as:

- (pg 188) Morning glory has LSD-like components that have been much studied and have variable effects in mice, rabbits and humans, with some people feeling little effect and other getting a full "trip", although often an unpleasant one.

- (pgs 7-8) Rhubarb was once thought to be an aphrodisiac by the Romans and a cure for a form of malaria by medieval herbalists; until the mid-1500s it was only available to Europe as imported dried roots.

- (pgs 69-70) There was once a great hospital atop Soutra Hill in Scotland, south of Edinburgh, its first charter dated from 1108 (!) and it reached its epogee in 1462 and was finally closed in the 1500s, razed by the late 1800s and its drains, cesspits and middens began to be excavated in the 1980s.

I could go on for pages more, but I will digress. In short, if you like history and if you like plants, you'll probably like this book.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and informative read. 4 Nov 2005
By Serenity - Published on Amazon.com
I absolutely loved this book! Not only was it interesting and compelling reading but the book was full of incredibly obscure but very enlightening information about the usage history of the plants covered. Mr. Stuart also gave (in the majority of instances) the specific botanical names of the plants and other related species which is rare in non-scientific "History of Plants" books. The selection of illustrations was absolutely superb.

The only negative that I have about this book is that Mr. Stuart frequently listed vague references to scientific "studies" that proved his points about certain plants but there was no information, footnoted or otherwise, to definitively identitify these "studies". He also had a few scattered references to plants mentioned in unspecified publications. Who did these studies and who printed these stories? In a book of this nature, I expect to have facts and sources laid out a bit more thoroughly.

I still gave this book FIVE STARS because it was so much fun to read. I have lots of other books with which to cross reference and confirm some of the more vague references so I wasn't particularly distressed by the oversight although, in my view, if you are going to thoroughly research and document some things, then you should thoroughly research and document everything.

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Primer on Plants ands Humanity 1 July 2008
By H. Campbell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a good introduction to the complex history of humans and plants. Indeed, this is such an essential relationship, extending from basic foodstuffs and clothing to biofuels, narcotics and medicines, that one could argue this relationship has defined us as a species. The author reveals many plants that I'd never heard of as being candidates for either further research or potential as new snakeoils for a society willing to believe nature hides the next "magic bullet" against what ails us. The fascination of people with sex, immortality, intoxication and beauty will continue to compel mankind to seek succor and solace in the chlorophyll kingdom. The marriage can never be broken, to be sure, but a lack of understanding of what plants can realy deliver will often result in people's disillusionment with the initial promise of paradise. Little wonder that Genesis used a fruit as the symbol of man's hopes and dashed dreams.
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