At last I can begin to relax as my book all about medicinal trees and shrubs is finally on its way. Permanent Publications will be issuing The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook in April this year. Looking back, I have been collecting information about trees for well over 10 years. At least, as rooting through computer files I found a provisional outline dated February 2009. It is quite a strange feeling to see the cover, and realise that this book baby is going to be publicly available quite soon! 

The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook cover

I am eternally grateful to everyone who has given support and kept the dream of this book alive over the years. What I wanted to create is a text that not only encourages people to notice the amazing medicinal possibilities of trees and shrubs but also gives practical advice on how to grow and use them. And I am especially pleased that the whole text is fully referenced so that students/teachers of forestry, horticulture and landscape design can use it as a resource on their courses. The staff at Permaculture Publications have done a great job of managing the book design with academic input alongside practical information and illustrations. 

The book is organised in two parts. The first half is about designing and establishing a medicinal forest garden with practical ways to save and use the produce, while the second part focuses on 40 detailed profiles of trees and shrubs. Much of the advice is based on our own experience with Holt Wood in Devon, UK, where we have transformed an area of redundant conifer plantation into a thriving forest garden. It has been a lot of hard work for myself and partner Kay, but lots of fun too.

Keeping fit in the medicinal forest garden

So what have I learnt along the way? Mainly that there are loads of fantastic people out there who are beavering away in gardens, smallholdings, agroforestry projects, natural landscapes, plant nurseries, research centres, herb organizations and more. They are all contributing in their different ways to the permaculture ethics of people care, planet care, and fair shares. Makes me proud to feel part of an incredibly broad and progressive movement. I could not include everyone in the book but have tried to give a flavour of possibilities by using case study-like examples throughout. I think it is helpful for others to see examples of what can be achieved, a good way to encourage transformative and regenerative development.

What suggestions would I give to other budding authors? Three things: (a) think about the bigger picture of who your book is for and why it is needed, essential if you want to draft a proposal for publishers; (b) get organised from the start, keep accurate references, date all your drafts and notes, and make lots of backups; (c) stay true to your vision and don’t be pressured into creating a book that someone else wants.

Forsythia hedge in Wells

What would I like to celebrate about the book? I think the images are brilliant. These photos were often quite a challenge to obtain but have turned out far better than expectations. The lion’s share of thanks for the images goes to Kay. I can remember our early search in 2019 for an image of forsythia (Forsythia suspensa) flowers – we wanted the medicinal species rather than a garden centre variety. We must have scoured a good part of the UK in our search, finally finding a glorious forsythia hedge near the Bishop’s Palace in Wells. For weeks afterwards we kept noticing bright yellow forsythia flowers everywhere that we went!