Many years ago I purchased Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel to aid in my botanical studies. The majority of my herbal studies had been book work. I really wanted to get out and learn the plants hands-on. I lived in southern Spain at the time, where there were an abundance of beautiful wild herbs just down the road. I just needed to learn how to identify them. And I guess I was a bit lured by the title, I mean who wouldn’t want to learn it all in just ONE day!
I want to review this book sequentially because it is divided into 2 main sections and I want to cover each one separately.
Part I–The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
The first 15 pages of Botany covers the “evolution” of plants. After realizing how much time was spent on the “evolution” of plants, I was a bit skeptical as to whether any of the information in the book would be useful to me. As a Christian and an herbalist, I have found that I spend much time wading through information that is heavily laden with evolution and paganism. This is part of the reason that I have such a great desire to share with others as I learn, especially those young and tender. There are some great Christian herbalists out there, but they are few and far between. We need more knowledgeable herbalist to teach from a Biblical worldview.
Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I skipped over the entire “evolution” section and moved on to the heart of the book…the botany. Elpel teaches the reader to recognize plant families based on patterns in the plants, such as number of petals and stamens, types of stalks and leaves, etc. Once you learn to identify the seven largest families, you will have covered more than 45,000 species of plants! Elpel suggests getting a firm grip on these families before moving on. Once you have learned them, you can then proceed to profile any plant and use the keys provided in the book to narrow down the family and possibly the genus of the plant. It is then recommended that you use a field guide to discover the genus and species.
Part II–Reference Guide:An Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families
The second section covers a large amount of plant families. It is to be used after using the keys to determine the plant family. The characteristics of each family are explained and examples are given.
I liked the fact that Elpel provides many line drawings of the anatomy of each plant to help with identification.
Once the plant family is determined, descriptions are given for genera in the family. The key is using this book efficiently is learning to use the keys to determine the plant family.
The last heading in the book is entitled “The Medicinal Properties of Plants”. This section briefly covers the basic constituents of plants and offers commentary on how these constituents work with the body. While the general information is accurate, I found the narrative to be full of humanistic thinking. At several points, reference is made to accounts in Bible, but again, in a humanistic way. For instance, Elpel states that man is trying to “get back into the Garden”.
During his discussion of alkaloids, Elpel uses crude and vulgar language to describe ancient pagan rituals. There are also a few other places where the dialogue made me cringe. Honestly, this section of the book could be avoided all together. The information is generally covered in most herbal textbooks.
Much of the core botany information from the book can be found here, without any “extras”. Although I would be cautious with the material found on other areas of the website.