Maia Toll’s herbiary is such a unique compilation of beautiful descriptions, personal reflections, and stunning illustrations. An herbiary, as described by Toll herself, is a “collection of short writings about botanicals: medicinal, decorative, and whimsical.” Although the book addresses that these botanicals can possess healing powers, the heart and soul of the collection are the creative writing, symbolic ideations, and detailed illustrations. This book covers “guidance and rituals from 36 bewitching botanicals,” accompanied by stunning illustrations for each one.
I was overwhelmingly awed by this book, starting the second I removed it from the envelope. The cover illustrations and design are beautiful, colorful, and eye-catching with a metallic finish that makes the images come to life. I would not be surprised to find The Illustrated Herbiary on the shelves of Flourish and Blotts as the required textbook for Herbology. People like to say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but in this case, anyone judging Toll’s work after just one glance would not be disappointed. The writing inside is the perfect reflection of this book’s outer beauty.
The title page is paired with one of O’Hara’s illustrations from later in the book, a creative rendering of an anatomical heart sprouting branches, leaves, and flowers. It’s a wonderful take on the comparison between the imagery of the arteries and veins that fuel the human body and the roots and branches that are the life source of a plant. This brings to life one of the ongoing concepts from the book – that plants have a heart and soul of their own.
The main content breaks down 36 plants, herbs, and flowers into short and simple individual chapters. Toll describes each of these botanicals in a unique and charming fashion that leaves you feeling as if you know them all personally. With their individual personalities and human-like characteristics, you can’t help but begin to feel a deep connection developing to each one. Accompanying each description are mesmerizing illustrations with colors so vibrant that they seem to come right off the page. The art resembles that of traditional tattoos with bold and imaginative designs.
Each chapter also has sections for ritual and reflection to inform readers how they can use the knowledge gained from each individual flora to form a deeper connection with themselves. The ritual section suggests actions to help readers incorporate a certain concept represented by each botanical into their lives. Reflection is a series of questions to encourage readers to look deeper into themselves in order to learn from the meaning of these concepts. The book concludes with 36 herbiary cards and instructions on how to use them to illuminate understanding of any situations, issues, or questions that are currently on your mind.
This book doesn’t tell a story in the traditional sense, but it tells a story about the world around you, the beauty of nature, and how you can find that same beauty inside yourself.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Storey Publishing, for review.