The Herbal Lexicon: In 10 Languages

Author(s) : Kate Koutrouboussis

The Herbal Lexicon: In 10 Languages

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Julian and Valerie Rutherford on 15/06/2020

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Book Review - The Herbal Lexicon by Kate Koutrouboussis

This is one of those books that beg the question: why did no one think of this before?
That wonderful source of all knowledge, Wikipedia defines a Lexicon as a 'word-hoard' of a branch of knowledge and this is just that. The words in question being the names, both Latin and colloquially in ten languages of plants that have uses in medical herbalism. No recipes, no methods of preparation, no uses, no contraindications, just the names that will help readers from different countries to communicate what they are using in their preparations. This is a book that anyone who works with herbs and people from other countries will find invaluable and a constant source of information that will allow the herbalist to connect with their customer/patient in their own language.

The method of using the book is clear and logical. If you know the Latin name, you can go straight to that in the main body of the book and there are the various names of the herbs in the ten languages underneath. However, if you do not know the Latin name, all is not lost. There are ten indexes in the back of the book, one for each language so if you know the local 'common name', you are signposted to the Latin name in the main body of the book with all the other common names in the various languages set out.

When talking about the history of herbs and other plants and 'natural remedies' this book is most useful in identifying not just herbs but it also refers to trees; birch, oak, horse chestnut, etc... spices; star anise, ginger, nutmeg, etc... resins; dragons blood, myrrh, frankincense, etc... seaweed: kelp and bladder-wrack and even fungi like ergot!

The ability to identify the Latin name and from that the local name of a species in any one of ten languages is the answer to a prayer that I have said on many occasions.
My own interest in this book comes from the fact that my wife and I portray the role of the medieval Apothecary in a living history context.

When we are demonstrating at events we often have visitors from overseas so when describing, say yarrow as a wound herb, that is fine for English speakers. Unfortunately, as happened to us at one castle, we were talking to a German family, only one of whom spoke English. It would have been so helpful to have been able to say "schafgarbe", rather than the energetic and convoluted pointing, waving, trying to find a similar plant and at the end of the day not being convinced that we had been understood. This book solves that particular problem 'in spades'.

There is also a bonus at the back of the book; a glossary of the various terms associated with the description and preparation of Herbal medicines, which is also very useful.

In conclusion this is, without a doubt, a book that will be referred to repeatedly by those who need to communicate to their clients, patients, customers or audiences in matters Herbal in languages other than their native tongue.

Julian and Valerie Rutherford