Medicinal Plants of Iceland

Medicinal Plants of Iceland: Collection, Preparation and Uses by Arnbjörg Linda Jóhannsdóttir was published through Mál og menning in English translation by Keneva Kunz earlier this year. The book, first published in Icelandic 20 years ago as Íslenskar lækningajurtir, and republished in 2011, is a guide to the healing properties of native plants and herbs in Iceland.

Arnbjörg studied herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture in the U.K., and has worked as an herbalist in Iceland since 1987.

The tradition of using medicinal plants and herbs in Iceland is thought to have existed throughout the centuries and is mentioned in the Sagas. According to Arnbjörg, there are no records of Icelandic physicians having grown their own medicinal plants but they have been known to make use of them growing in the wild.

The guide naturally includes photographs of each plant (the book claims to cover all native medicinal plants in Iceland), information on where they can be found, the parts of the plant which can be used, the season in which they should be picked, their known medicinal uses and dosages as well as how they are used in Chinese medicine. A section on gathering and drying herbs and mixing of herbal medicines is also included in the latter part of the book.

As the author points out, it is important to carry photographs or illustrations of plants to compare as there are some which are difficult to distinguish from similar plants which are poisonous.

Arnbjörg also emphasizes the importance of not picking too much from one location as Icelandic flora is particularly sensitive. A list, but unfortunately no pictures, of 31 protected species which may not be picked or disturbed in any way is included in the guide.

Overall, Medicinal Plants of Iceland is interesting and user friendly and introduces readers to the perhaps surprising diversity in medicinal plant species available in Iceland and their uses at a time when herbal remedies and alternative treatments are growing in popularity.

What is missing is the Icelandic names for the plants, which would surely be helpful if the book is to be used as an actual guide in Iceland. An index to medical topics and ailments would also have been helpful.

Medicinal Plants of Iceland is available at Icelandic bookstores and on forlagid.is.

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Zoë Robert