The Domestic Alchemist by Pip Waller
Authored by Pip Waller and released earlier this year by Leaping Hare Press, the Domestic Alchemist seems to have been written for both the learned reader of herbalism, and the beginner.
Since the recipes for vinegars, soaps, deodorants and the variety of different gargles all appear straightforward, once the ingredients have been sourced, being a herbalist is not a prerequisite for successful results when following the recipes. One only needs the time and focus. Meanwhile the Blood Cleansing Formulas, Blood Thinning Mixes, Violet Salves for Tumours are more likely aimed at a practitioners level. The Domestic Alchemist can be praised then for its breadth of recipes.
The Domestic Alchemist is a 256 page, hardback, colour printed, household herbal. It holds 501 recipes split into eight categories including: house and laundry eco products, kitchen pharmacy, food and drink, beauty balms and personal care, and other various oddities. The book begins with a brief essay on the joy that tuning into the plant world can bring to life. It then continues with a list of utensils required to follow the recipes and turn herbs into remedies for day-to-day needs. Closing with a reasonably sized illustrated herb directory.
Pip Waller is herself a qualified medicinal herbalist and belongs the National Institute of Medicinal Herbalists. She is also trained in Plant Spirit Medicine, which is the method of healing that she primarily uses today. The Holistic Anatomy – The Integrative Guide to the Human Body, is a previous publication by Pip Waller. The Domestic Alchemist is being released in the U.S. as: The Herbal Handbook for Home and Health: 501 Recipes for Healthy Living, Green Cleaning, and Natural Beauty, with North Atlantic Books.
For the reader starting out on their exploration into the plant world, they may initially find themselves daunted by the many different names of herbs included in this book. After consultation with the herb directory at the back of the book, however, the reader will most likely find familiar faces in the horse chestnut, angelica, milk thistle, wild lettuce, and the dandelion, as they frequent most green spots, footpaths, and hedge-rows. Recipes like the dandelion coffee and wild green mess make use of these commonly found plants, which can easily be foraged. To say that all the plants in this book are foragable, though, is unrealistic.
It must also be said that the illustrations in the herb directory are not the clearest as they are particularly small so some of the detail has been lost, yet the directory does serve as a useful general guide. Besides, this publication is so very attractive, not to mention heavy, that it really isn’t suited to being traipsed across fields, held in one hand and potentially being dropped while a plant is being identified with the other. It is safe to say the The Domestic Alchemist is a kitchen reference and not a field guide. The real test into whether it fulfils this function can only be the test of time, once the recipes inside are tried.
Leaping Hare Press have done a wonderful job putting this publication together because the pastel colour scheme used throughout, with the illustrations on each page, which appear as etchings, provide a pleasant vintage feel in a kind of way that isn’t too ‘kitsch’ or ‘twee’. When one handles this text it looks and feels like a recipe book from a much earlier period, when it was common practice for the person providing care in the home to make many of the soaps and medicinal tinctures in-house.
The Domestic Alchemist contains recipes that are old, and the principles of making herbal remedies in-house is a practice commonly done many years ago but has since died out with the age of convenience. This is a craft that people have been taking on more and more, however, and with the right amount of application and time this book will aid the reader whose intentions are to fill their home with their own creations.