The Bellamy Herbal|
by David Bellamy
pub. Century/Random House, 2003
Paperback, 323 pages, £14.99
ISBN 0 7126 8369 0
No introductions needed for the author of this book, being one of Britain's best-loved botanists and conservationsists. What's more, Bellamy's father was a chemist so there is obviously a very personal interest in medicinal plants working here too.
That Bellamy magic - the quirky and friendly way of describing sometimes mundane or technical matters in a simple way that sheds light - is very much present. Two little snippets which demonstrate his friendly style come under the topic of body fat: 'Being male is now the main cause of early death by any means - from car crash to heart disease and even murder' [not really much hope for men-kind is there], and '...perhaps fat is a pretty cool thing to have as long as it's in the right place and there's not too much of it.'
However, Bellamy's friendly and very readable approach does not overcome this reviewer's major concern about the book as a 'herbal' in the context that many people understand [a reference source of medicinal herbs and/or a guide to herbal treatment]. Unbelievably there is no index to quickly refer readers to a plant they may remember reading about, or to any ailment. Instead, any reader seeking a quick answer must wade through chapters with headings such as: 'You and Your Hormones', 'Take a Big Breath' or 'Dem Bones'. Unless a reader is familiar with medical terminology they could spend ages looking for a reference to 'kidneys' - found under the chapter entitled 'The Waterworks'. Obviously somebody made the decision to design Bellamy's book in this format, but the end result does seem like an awful waste of nicely written and informative text.
As for actual content, it IS good! Bellamy takes the reader through the development of humans and their diet, leading naturally on to the story of how medicine has developed, and then on to the various component parts of the body. Where herbal plants relate to the content of a chapter the information is boxed out, providing the essential details of what makes the plant useful.