Book Review: Sauer's Herbal Cures: America's First Book ofBotanic Healing
Here's my latest book review -- use as you see fit, just give me credit/copy
of any publication it appears in as since no one is paying me for this, I
retain copyright. . .
Someday, I'm going to make a fortune in community gardening -- I just know
Sauer's Herbal Cures: America's First Book of Botanic Healing, 1762-1778
Translated and edited by William Woys Weaver, Routledge, 2001. ISBN:
In 1762, Christopher Sauer, a Philadelphia printer and business rival of
Benjamin Franklin, added the first pages of a serial herbal to the almanac
his press published each year so that the country folk who could not afford
his books would have "a small herbal at little cost" which reminded them of
how to use the plants in their own gardens to dose themselves and thus avoid
the high cost of doctors. Nearly 240 year later, the herbal remains a
useful adjunct for any gardener seeking to improve their health with the
plants at their disposal.
Of course, 21st century gardeners rarely bother with goose fat and rabbit
suet as binders, but recipes for ginger candy, lemon balm pancakes, and
cinquefoil butterscotch should persuade even the fussiest children to "take
their medicine." Distilled waters, cordials of all types, fancy herbal
vinegars and a luscious white wine simmered cherry butter should gladden the
hearts of adults. Livestock remedies, mostly feed additives and poultices,
are sprinkled throughout.
Why hasn't this herbal remained in common use? Sauer, member of a
Pennsylvania Dutch sect now known as the Church of the Brethren, published
in German. Suspicious that the American Revolution was an attempt by
English-Americans to deny rights to ethnic minorities such as himself, he
remained loyal to the British Crown. Unfortunately, when the Crown lost the
Colonies, his resentful business competitors (like Franklin!) saw to it that
Sauer lost his printing press. As English became the primary language in
Pennsylvania, there was little incentive to reprint a German language herbal
by a "traitor."
As anyone who's pored over Nicholas Culpeper's (1616-1656) herbal knows,
historical reprints may make fascinating reading, but they are horribly
difficult to actually use - especially when someone is sick. William Woys
Weaver, a scholar of Pennsylvania Dutch folkways, has not only smoothed the
herbal's original Baroque-era Swiss German into readable English, he
includes sections on Pennsylvania Dutch kitchen techniques, measurements, a
glossary of 18th century medical terms, an extensive index that references
plants, aliments and common uses, then tops it all off with individual
essays before each herb in Sauer's text that puts the plant's use in
context. Thus, while preserving the history of this 18th century document,
Weaver makes it both understandable and useful for the 21st century herbalist.
As Weaver himself says, "the Sauer herbal is rooted in the medical thinking
of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, yet in its own unique way, it forms
a bridge between that era and 18th century Colonial America. It is not a
product of the leading thinkers of that period, but rather a barometer of
the mindset of the working class. It is a people's herbal and that is what
makes it so fascinating to read over and over again."
Rosemary Gladstar suggests that anyone serious about herbal medicine should
consult at least two or three herbals for any condition. Along with
Penelope Ody's The Complete Medicinal Herbal, Sauer's Herbal Cures should
be on every herbalist's bookshelf.
Reviewed by Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden
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