Despite its glossy, attractive appearance and pleasant weight in the hands, this book is less useful and less interesting than it ought to be. It consists in the main of an alphabetical list by Latin name. Each headlined entry covers all the members of that Genus, so Papaver somniferum, the Opium Poppy, is jumbled up with Papaver rhoeas, the corn poppy, despite the fact that their uses and properties are quite different. However for no apparent reason Mentha pulegium, "Pennyroyal", is separated from the other Mentha (mints) and printed out of sequence before Melissa
The range of plants covered is large; too large in some ways. Herbs which are a normal part of British gardens sit alongside tropical and subtropical plants, with very little even in the small print to distinguish them; it is noted in passing that Cardamom requires a temperature that never falls below 18 deg C; this would mean artificial heat for most of the year, even in a conservatory. The information is not presented in a helpful form; Sweet Rocket is described as "a tall plant" though elsewhere the text admits it is 60-90cm, while only in the smallest print is mention is made of the height of Gingko biloba, a fairly fast-growing tree reaching, in time, 40 METRES or more. Hardiness is given by "zones"; this system is used in the USA because of its huge range of climates, but means nothing to most British gardeners.
The information on culinary and medicinal uses is similarly vague. No recipes for making remedies are given in the text, only phrases like "In Chinese medicine the root of (woad)...is used to treat meningitis..." which tells us a lot about Chinese medicine but little about woad. The entry for Prostanthera says "I am sure that a plant such as P.cuneata that gives off as much scent, and has obviously so much oil in the leaf, will one day have some use". But not yet, so why is it in the book?
There are 10 designs for herb gardens at the back; they are neither particularly attractive or imaginative, and are illustrated with very dull drawings. Extremely brief are the sections on caring for herbs, with a few tips on using them. The index suffers from having the Latin name and the English ones in the same typeface, instead of having one set in italics as usual; this makes it harder to use.
This book falls down in a number of ways. Though the pages are large, there is too much blank paper, the text is tiny and the photos, many of them simply window-dressing, take up a lot of the space. The "gist" is thus limited AND difficult to read. There are hardly any recipes or instructions for use, only vague remarks.
The one aspect of the book I don't take issue with is the red-triangled warnings. Any book on herbs should use these well. Having worked selling plants for many years, I've found people's enthusiasm for self-dosing is scary. When the first studies of Hypericum came out, it suddenly became clear that the people buying the groundcover St John's Wort (ie not the one used in medicine anyway) were planning to boil it up and drink it. This despite the fact that it is a herb to be used only when professionally prepared, and even then under medical supervision!
A smaller, cheaper book that does the same job better is Pocket Encyclopaedia of Herbs (DK Pocket Encyclopedia)