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American Household Botany: A History of Useful Plants, 1620-1900

By Judith Sumner

Sumner is an accomplished storyteller who weaves together fascinating information about plants and people.

American Gardener

In this fascinating book, celebrated author Judith Sumner rescues from the pages of history the practical experience and botanical wisdom of generations of Americans. Crossing the disciplines of history, ethnobotany, and horticulture — and with a flair for the colorful anecdote — Sumner underlines a part of the American story often ignored or forgotten: how European settlers and their descendents made use of the "strange" new plants they found, as well as the select varieties of foods and medicines they brought with them from other continents. From "turkie wheat" (corn) to "tuckahoe" (a Native American source of starch), Sumner describes the transition from wonderment to daily use, as homesteads were built upon and prospered from the plants of the New World. It is a remarkable story of the interdependence of plants and the American home. Historians, herbalists, home gardeners, and ethnobotanists will find American Household Botany a treasure trove of original research and insight.

Awards for this book: American Horticultural Society Book Award

Media reviews

"Well documented, authoritative, eminently readable, and a good resource for several disciplines."

—Joann Karges, Sida, Contributions to Botany

"Sumner is an accomplished storyteller who weaves together fascinating information about plants and people."

—Linda Askey, American Gardener

"Historians, herbalists, horticulturists, ethnobotanists, cooks and home gardeners will find many items of interest written in a delightful and useful manner in this comprehensive book."

—Joanne S. Carpender, National Gardener

"History underground is unearthed in Judith Sumner's latest contribution to American studies. ... isn't nearly as dry as its title implies. In fact, the subject matter can get a bit dirty."

—Suzanne Moore, Wichita Falls Times Record News

"The book traces the history of the immigrant's dependence on these unknown resources and provides a very well written lively history of the settler's numerous ways of coping with and utilising plants."

—Michael Heinrich, Journal of Ethnopharmacology

"Historians, herbalists, ethno-botanists, and even home gardeners will find [this book] a treasure trove ... an absolute joy to read."

—Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen

"The book begins with foods cultivated by Native Americans, then discusses garden plots of European settlers that provided wood, fiber, and textiles. It gracefully merges history, ethnobotany, and horticulture, all spiced with colorful antecdotes."

American Herb Association Quarterly Newsletter

"Engaging and enlightening."

—Ilene Sternberg, Wilmington News Journal

"A fun and hearty read."

—Marion Owen, UpBeet Gardener Newsletter

"The subject as presented here is more than a factual history; it places these plants in the daily activities of people, from chores to rituals, and anchors them in a realistic landscape that has room for beauty as well as utilitarian function."

—Kim Long, Bloomsbury Review

"Readers will discover many intersting tidbits about the geographical origins, folklore, and uses of particular plants. ... Readers will gain a good general introduction to plant science and discover the multitudinous ways in which plants play a part in people's lives."

—D. H. Pfister, Choice

"American Household Botany is a great way to while away an afternoon. Each page is permeated with an abundance of fascinating facts and figures. ... [It] will amaze, delight, and inform."

—Lynette Walther, Camden Herald

"It makes a great gift for anyone who loves history or gardens or both."

—Mary Ann Newcomer, Idaho Botanical Garden

"A sprightly tome, well written, and well researched, covering a range of topics ... fascinating."

—Marvin J. Caldwell, Taxon

"It is a remarkable story of the interdependence of plants and the American home. Historians, herbalists, home gardeners, and ethnobotanists will find American Household Botany a treasure trove of original research and insight."

Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation Newsletter

"She has gathered often quite obscure information from a huge number of both primary and secondary sources for American Household Botany in order to tell utterly fascinating tales of ethnobotanical history."

HortIdeas

"This is a treasure of original research and insight."

—Russell Studebaker, Tulsa World

"Sumners findings make interesting reading."

—Suzanne Hively, Cleveland Plain Dealer

About the author

Judith Sumner

Judith Sumner is a popular lecturer for botanical and horticultural organizations, ranging from various garden clubs to the New York Botanical Garden. Her lectures are attended by inquisitive students of all ages, and she has been honored with awards for excellence in teaching.

Read more about Judith Sumner

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