Have you ever bought a book as a gift for someone and then kept it for yourself because it was so nice? Well, The Secret Language of Herbs by Alice Peck is that kind of book. If I had bought it as a gift, I would have kept it after opening it and taking a peek inside. Hopefully, I would have gone back and purchased a second copy to give as a gift, knowing that my friends would also love this little beauty.
Perfectly sized at 5 inches by 7 and 3/4 inches, the hardcover is lushly illustrated with yarrow on the front cover and thyme on the back. The hues are warm yellows and greens, and lend an overall dreaminess to the appearance.
The short 128 page book contains an introduction and four chapters, “Healing and Hope,” “Love and Joy,” “Protection and Guidance,” and “Ritual and Promise.” The bibliography provides in-depth sources of information on primary and secondary herbal resources.
In the introduction, Peck sets the tone of the book to teach us about the title subject: secret language of herbs. She describes how “herbs, like flowers, speak a special language all their own. It is one of healing and hope, love and joy, protection and guidance, ritual and promise.”1
While the secret language of flowers is more widely known, Peck cites a variety of sources for this compiled “language” of herbs. Whether citing the Bible or Shakespeare, First Nations peoples or ancient Greeks, botanists or shamans, Peck brings the resonant voices of the herbs to light, detailing their varied uses, associations and messages throughout many cultures and ages. Peck writes with authority, summarizing a great deal of resources, and pulling them together in a clear and easily understood style.
Each chapter provides in-depth detail on 14 herbs, except for the chapter “Protection and Guidance,” which only contains 11 herbs. A chapter index page details the herbs contained within each chapter and the page on which the information is held.
Flipping to the page for a herb, there is a short statement of the herb’s primary message, followed by several paragraphs of detailed information about the use of the herb across the ages, and different methods of preparation, use and consumption. Toward the bottom of the page is a final section starting with “If you love…” that describes traits of a person who enjoys the herb.
Thyme, for example, begins with the banner: “A call to Action / Activity / Passion.”2 The four information rich paragraphs about its various uses cite some magical history, uses in medieval times, how the ancient Greeks put thyme in coffins to ensure safe passage to the underworld, a few culinary tips, and an herbal hangover remedy. The final statement reads: “If you love thyme… you see delight in all around you. You love a mystery and can keep a secret, and are never afraid of what the future holds.”3 This format is used for the presentation of each herb in all four chapters.
Looking at the herbal information page, there is a beautiful illustration of the featured herb. The illustrations appear to be photographs which have been artistically enhanced and altered, producing a biologically accurate, luminous, work of art. The pictures alone made me covet this book. They induced a dreaminess that was both relaxing and pleasing.
On many pages, the entrancing pictures are overlaid with a quote relating to the herb, like the folk rhyme which pays tribute to yarrow:
Thou pretty herb of Venus’ tree
Thy true name is Yarrow
Now who my bosom friend must be,
Pray tell thou me tomorrow.4
I moved slowly through the four chapters, pausing to absorb the detailed information and enjoy the dreamy illustrations. I marvelled at how most of the herbs were common herbs, easily found. Many of these herbs are ones I grow in my garden. The Secret Language of Herbs inspired me to think of herbs differently, not just as culinary, medicinal or cosmetic ingredients, but as keepers of a secret language that conveyed emotional, spiritual and magical messages.
The bibliography excited me; I am both a book hound and a web sleuth. This detailed and extensive bibliography contained references to academic research, publications, books, magazines and websites where more herbal information is available.
While I have read many herb books, I found The Secret Language of Herbs to be unique. It provided me with information beyond what is usually contained in herb books. It enabled me to comprehend herbs as a tool for communication of sentiments, emotions and feelings, and a way to convey messages. It provided me with interesting and uniques bits of information, which augmented my existing herbal knowledge, and inspired me to view many commonly used herbs in a more magical manner.
The only shortcoming of this lovely little book is it is printed in a very small font, which made it difficult for my aging eyes to easily read. I had to find my “better glasses” and sit under good light in order to be able to read the small type.
But despite my age, and my failing eyesight, I can see that The Secret Language of Herbs is a book that I will keep and value for many years. It is also a book I will add to my list of great gifts for others. It is something that could find a home on a coffee table or nightstand, and be enjoyed by gardeners, artists, historians and herbalists. The Secret Language of Herbs is a gorgeous, beautiful, interesting and informative little book I recommend highly.