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Dangerous Garden
The quest for plants to change our lives

David Stuart
Frances Lincoln
Distributed by Bookwise

WE gardeners tend to view our plants as friends - so the odd prickly or irritating encounter doesn't faze us. Our benevolence is such that it's easy to believe that if something's natural, it's got to be good for you.

Armed with history and with science at his elbow, David Stuart scratches away at cosy notions such as these. Many plants, he reveals, have a "Janus nature" - they both "kill" and "cure". And often, despite our absolute conviction otherwise, some do neither.

So Stuart pores over plague and leprosy, pain and ecstasy, childbirth and death, malaria and Aids, fertility and heart disease, exploration and religion, shedding light on our edgy relationship with the plant world.

Exploitation success and failure litter this relationship: rhubarb, mallow and the poison-nut tree did nothing for the 17th-century plague victim; willow trees, under the transforming magic of 19th-century German chemist Felix Hoffman, gave us aspirin and trouble-free pain relief; the scientific jury is out on the benefit of ginseng, but such is the demand for this plant that it's a rarity in the wild.

Stuart serves up quackery and delusion, poisonings and panaceas along with a range of plants found in our back yards: opium poppy, wolfsbane, Queen Anne's lace and foxglove.

This splendidly illustrated hardback prompts new respect for your garden. You may also see herbal remedies in a very different light.

Reproduced with permission from the former Weekend Gardener magazine. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH

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Last updated: March 1, 2021