By John Wyse Jackson
As a family we Jacksons are much given to producing books, but despite being a lifelong bookseller it is rare for me to recommend one of them quite as heartily as I do here. This is not from a sense of fraternal duty, nor as an expression of my own ‘generous nature’, but because I have never seen anything like it before. It is called Ireland’s Generous Nature: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland, and it is written by my brother, Peter Wyse Jackson.
Michael Viney, in his introduction to the book, remarks that in the early centuries, ‘the importance of plant knowledge was tempered as much by a continuing pagan respect for nature as by the herb gardens of the many monasteries. … More than half of the 925 native plants of this island have been useful to its people, but nowhere, until now, have their stories been gathered together so systematically, both for Irish readers and the wider cultural and scientific audience.’
This is the first ever comprehensive account of the historical and present-day uses of wild plant species in Ireland. It shows how plants have been used in virtually every aspect of human life on the island: food, clothes, medicine, construction, drinks, veterinary medicine, human health and beauty, and even death. Its 750+ pages carry 450 illustrations, including drawings, photographs, old and new, and fine botanical paintings by Irish artist Lydia Shackleton (1828–1914).
Peter, who until 2010 was Director of the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, currently heads the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis. In his book more than 1500 wild plants are detailed in a systematic list, with both their Irish and English names, and all their uses. It records a wealth of traditional knowledge about Irish plant use, knowledge that has been disappearing fast. Peter blends scientific and historical facts with myths, superstition, tales and many personally tested recipes. Many historical references have been included from a wide range of Irish literature, and many of the entries are illuminated by his own experiences with the plants.
Though scientifically authoritative, Ireland’s Generous Nature is a very entertaining, even chatty, read. Yes, it is quite expensive, but it is vast, and will repay you many times over in enjoyment and instruction.
Ireland’s Generous Nature: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland by Peter Wyse Jackson (ISBN 9780915279784) is available from most Irish bookshops (€60), and also, of course, from me, at Zozimus Bookshop, 86 Main St., Gorey, Co. Wexford, Ireland (Tel: 086 123 3137 Email: email@example.com).