Herbals - or books listing plants that are useful to humans - aren't usually the kind of thing one can enjoy reading cover to cover. They might be great reference material, but they aren't exactly page-turners.
Herbs of the Northern Shaman,a guide to mind-altering herbs that could be growing in our own back gardens, is an exception to that rule.
Of course the subject matter - weird and wonderful stuff that people have got high on - is a bit more exciting than the average herbal dealing with cures for various unpleasant ailments. The anecdotes of the things people are reported to have done while under the influence of various substances certainly adds to the book's entertainment value, but it is a fascinating read for far better reasons too.
Author Steve Andrews - also known as songwriter The Bard of Ely - clearly has a love of the subject of all thing relating to shamanic plants and the folklore surrounding them. Herbs of Northern Shaman delves into the history of the magical, religious and ceremonial uses for herbs and there are literary quotes from ancient texts to 20th century drug-culture best-sellers.
The book is also really informative about the herbs themselves, where they grow, what they look like, their active properties, their medicinal, spiritual and magical uses and the dangers involved in taking them - as well as the effects they have on the mind.
Publisher O Books says on its website: "Herbs that can be used to affect the mental state of the consumer, as well as for their healing properties, have been a part of cultures and sub-cultures all around the world ever since our early ancestors first started experimenting to find out what various plants could be used for.
"Besides well-known psychoactive herbs such as Cannabis, Morning Glory and Datura, other plants that have been said to have mind-altering properties are also described, plants such as the Meadow Buttercup, the Lime Tree and the Rhododendron."
This publication by O Books is actually the second edition. The original versionwas published in 2000 by Loompanics, but is now out of print and second hand copies on Amazongo for around £50. The new edition has been updated to include additional species of herb and fungus, as well as a new collection of colour photos by Katrinia Rindsberg.
It does, very sensibly, include warnings about taking shamanic herbs. Steve Andrews states: "Many such plants are used as medicines as well as for their mental effects and there is an exceedingly slim line between beneficial tonic or cure and a toxic poison in many cases." Many shamanic herbs are, of course, illegal.
He goes on to state that the book is intended as an educational text for anyone seeking knowledge of the magic of the plant kingdoms and he is not condoning or advocating experimentation with or usage of such herbs. The book also includes a reminder that many plants are in danger of becoming extinct and that one should only get them from a horticultural supplier, not from the wild.
Links and previous related posts
Herbs of the Northern Shaman
Herbs of the Northern Shaman: A Guide to Mind-Altering Plants of the Northern Hemisphere