A History of Herbalism: Cure, Cook, and Conjure

A History of Herbalism: Cure, Cook, and Conjure by Emma Kay

Title:  A History of Herbalism; Cure, Cook, and Conjure
AuthorEmma Kay
Publisher: Pen & Sword History
Genre:  Cooking, Food & Wine, History, Nonfiction (Adult) 
Format:  Kindle
No. of Pages: 219
Date of US Publication: 20 July, 2022
My Rating:  5 Stars

My Thoughts 

An herbal history written by a food historian. This is exactly something I find utterly intriguing, and I eagerly accepted the opportunity to read an advance copy of this. 

Growing up, I was always fascinated by my Italian grandfather’s herb and produce garden - and helped him regularly, learning from his example and words. When I was playing alone, I would make potions. As I grew up, I studied herbs under a mentor for my own benefit and use, and once I became a parent and my youngest child was diagnosed with severe food allergies, given an epi-pen, and that one of her allergens would be so frequently found in many topical products, it was necessary to start making our skin care products and cooking everything from scratch. I started studying again, and became a certified herbalist over ten years ago. I’ve continued with my studies and recipe creation. What started out of need has become a pleasure. 

I came to this book from the viewpoint that I am always learning; I will never know enough of the earth and what she gifts us. And this book was fantastic. Thoroughly and wonderfully fantastic. While I did find the history in the beginning of the book to read a little dry; all the rest was fascinating, including the recipes. This is a book I’ll purchase to put in my bookshelf alongside my collection of helpful herbal tomes. 

All in all, this is a commendable, excellent resource, and one I especially recommend to herbal students, fans of history, and other people in the world who are as obsessed as I am with really old recipes, and gardeners. 

eARC kindly provided by Pen & Sword and NetGalley. Opinions shared are my own.


Food historian Emma Kay tells the story of our centuries-old relationship with herbs. From herbalists of old to contemporary cooking, this book reveals the magical and medicinal properties of your favourite plants in colorful, compelling detail.

At one time, every village in Britain had a herbalist. 
A History of Herbalism investigates the lives of women and men who used herbs to administer treatment and knew the benefit of each. Meet Dr Richard Shephard of Preston, who cultivated angelica on his estate in the eighteenth century for the sick and injured; or Nicholas Culpeper, a botanist who catalogued the pharmaceutical benefits of herbs for early literary society.

But herbs were not only medicinal. Countless cultures and beliefs as far back as prehistoric times incorporated herbs into their practices: paganism, witchcraft, religion and even astrology. Take a walk through a medieval ‘physick’ garden, or Early Britain, and learn the ancient rituals to fend off evil powers, protect or bewitch or even attract a lover.

The wake of modern medicine saw a shift away from herbal treatments, with rituals and spells shrouded with superstition as the years wore on. The author reveals how herbs became more culinary rather than medicinal including accounts of recent trends for herbal remedies as lockdown and the pandemic leads us to focus more on our health and wellbeing.


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