Book Review: Tree Medicine Tree Magic by Ellen Evert Hopman

Posted on May 20, 2012. Filed under: Book Reviews, Trees | Tags: |

“I am the Lorax and I speak for….”

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Stop.     You used to be cool back in the day, but now you shill for greenwashing companies, so away with you and let me get on with at little tree love today.

I’m embarking on a tree themed summer and as part of that I’m starting to line up some readings along those lines.  First up is Tree Medicine Tree Magic by Ellen Evert Hopman.

Cover to Tree Medicine Tree Magic by Ellen Evert Hopman

I generally prefer to review what a book is rather than review what it isn’t.  But I’m going to do that anyway.   This book is so almost what I wanted but not quite.  Not that it is a bad book, it is in fact good for what it is.  I just kept having moments where I felt a nagging feeling of something lacking or wanting something else or more.

The introduction to the book sets a great tone where she says:

“My purpose in writing this book is twofold.  First, I wish to remind the world of the beauty and poetry of the large trees that are being decimated everywhere to make room for parking lots and shopping malls, to make paper and wood products, and also through the destruction of rainforests and wildlands.  My second intention is to bring to public awareness how useful natural medicines are, how easy they are to prepare, and how available they are year round in our own back yards.”

In some ways the book does just that.  For each of the 19 major tree families she covers, there is a chapter with sections on:

  • Brief descriptions of individual species within that family
  • Practical Uses
  • Herbal Uses
  • Magical Uses
  • Poems between each chapter

One of the problems for me is the the black and white drawing for the trees.  They are fine drawings but linked with the limited descriptions they fail to invoke the trees discussed for me.  Let alone the majesty and power of them.  I’ll contrast it to a similar book The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore by Fred Hageneder (which I’ll be review before long) which has wonderful color photos that force you to pause and take in the tree.

There are times when I was reading on certain trees and felt them well covered but too often, I found myself thinking “Is that all? Isn’t there more to tell about that tree?”

At one point, she talks about Christmas and problems with attitudes toward  it as well as the killing of pine trees for it.  Then she relates her friend’s solution “to seek out the ugliest most asymmetrical tree” and that she found that “my little misshapen tree had a natural, windswept beauty that made it truly original and deeply loved.”   And I couldn’t help but think how I liked that story better in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

There are things that I wish had more explanation like when she talks of hawthorn:

“It is wise not to use hawthorn alone as it is a powerful herb.  Mix it with borage, motherwort, cayenne, garlic, and dandelion flowers for a long term heart program.”

Where I’d love more discussion of that since I haven’t seen or heard that warning before.  I’m not doubting her, but simply wanted more.  Mind you while I’ve used hawthorn by itself many times, I generally prefer it in blends myself including one of my favorites – hawthorn, eleuthero, licorice, milky oats and violet – I’ve never noticed a problem with using it alone.

But there are also profound bits like this scattered throughout:

“Large trees are a very valuable asset to the physical and mental health of society in general.  Tall trees act to conduct energy from the atmosphere to the ground, and vice versa.  Large trees in the neighborhood contribute to feelings of stability and strength for the community.”

I wouldn’t mind reading a larger essay along those lines.

I think in some ways I’m sounding harsher than is necessary because I suspect the book is partly just showing its age. It’s from 1991, out of print, and I’d love to see it revised and expanded.   A lot of its information can be found elsewhere, and sometimes more thoroughly, but in separate books.   If you already have good herbal reference books you’ll find the medicinal coverage, ID books will introduce to trees more completely, you can find books on the spiritual and magical aspects.

Nowadays, if you have other books that cover these things separately you don’t need to hunt it down.  (While back in 1991 it would have been the go to book, IMO.)  But if you happen to come across a good used copy, then definitely grab it as a nice addition to your herbal library.  There’s still wisdom and useful info to be found in there if you look for it.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

“I am the Lorax and I speak for Waki-Cola in our new Enviro-Bottle..”

Out, out damn Lorax. I’m dialing 911….

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3 Responses to “Book Review: Tree Medicine Tree Magic by Ellen Evert Hopman”

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I had the same reaction to the book. Everyone said how wonderful it was, but I kept thinking, “isn’t there more?” & “where is the romance?”. My favorite so far is Seeing Trees by Nancy Hugo. Thanks for having the bravery to write this honest review.


Seeing Trees by Nancy Hugo is a great book. I love it. I’d also recommend The Tree by Colin Tudge and Tree Medicine by Peter Conway – if you hadn’t checked those out yet.


Thanks for the recommendations! Just ordered Tree Medicine by Peter Conway.

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