Australian Herbal by Penny Woodward

A practical guide to growing and using herbs in temperate Australia and New Zealand

Very nice book. Actually, “nice” is too insipid a word to describe this book. It is comprehensive, it is definitely informative and as usual I love that it is particularly for the Australian and New Zealander reader. Those who know me know that I prefer the use of common names for herbs as I believe it is the ‘common’ people who started the use of herbs and the ‘learned’ folk jumped on the bandwagon a lot later. As much as that is my believe, the Australian Herbal by Penny Woodward is a really good book for those who want to grow their own herbs. Yes, you will have to learn the botanical names, but if you are serious, it will be worth it.

The foreword, written by T.R. Garnett, makes the point “Herbs were used medicinally in the past because there were no other remedies available.” To which, of course, I take offence. Yes there was nothing else available but even now pharmaceuticals are made by synthetically replicating the properties of herbs which have been used since time immemorial. As much as I did not like that sentence I did appreciate it when he (or she) continued with “Penny …… is characteristically moderate in her advice about their [herbs] use. ‘I do use simple herbal remedies for minor ailments and I believe a balanced diet which includes a wide range of fresh herbs leads to better health…. And, at the very least, used in moderation, most herbs can do no harm’.” Yay, Penny, my sentiments exactly! I believe in a holistic approach to herbs and do think that if you include them in your diet, not just in remedies, there are a lot more benefits to be gained.

Now, off the soapbox and back to the book. It walks you right from propagating your own herbs, via planning and cultivation. It discusses the benefits of organic gardening and advises how to go about it.

The chapter on companion planting and using insect repellent herbs will be of great interest to the organic gardeners in the group. For those people who do not have the space for a spacious herb garden there is a section on growing herbs in containers.

Penny Woodward then takes the reader to harvesting and preserving the herbs that have been lovingly cultivated. She supplies details as to how one might wish to use herbs in the kitchen, with some very good recipes indeed. The section on medicinal uses is not to be sneezed at (excuse the pun) and it includes an excellent table, which is an easy to read reference. Last but not least there is also a detailed section on herbs as dyes, an intro to wild herbs and a section on Australian Natives.

Once you get past the botanic names issue, you will find that Australian Herbal by Penny Woodward is a great reference for any Australian/New Zealander who wants to know more about growing herbs and how to use them. It is easy to read and the pictures and illustrations make identification so much easier too. If you are serious about growing herbs, this is the book to buy.