Book Review: The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore by Fred Hageneder

Posted on June 12, 2012. Filed under: Book Reviews, Trees | Tags: |

Admittedly, I’m beginning to feel like Goldilocks in the quest for the just right book on tree medicine and spirituality. That said once more into the breech dear friends….

I just finished The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore by Fred Hageneder and enjoyed it it in many ways, but found it still not quite what I was hoping for.

The book drifts along the boundary between coffee table book and a reading book. It’s filled with big beautiful pictures of…. you guessed it TREES! The photos are generally magical and often invoked a deep yearning in me to be with the trees in the places shown. They aren’t ID style photos and generally couldn’t be used to ID the trees discussed in real life. But that is clearly not the intention of the author – instead they are meant to inspire that sense of magic embodied by our tree friends and not to stir up that intellectual labeling we so tend to do.

The book covers more than 50 trees (58 if you’re the sort that counts – which apparently I may actually be.) Which is fair coverage, but given it isn’t focused on a particular region means it isn’t remotely covering them all. (BTW, one thing that bemused me is that the book is alphabetical by the trees’ Latin names, but the table of contents only lists the common English names – not a problem just amusing.)

The chapters are structured in a very exact format with an introduction which covers very, basic botany followed by sections on:

  • Practical Uses
  • Natural Healing
  • Culture, Myth and Symbol

And a sidebar in each with sections on:

  • Symbolism
  • Divine Association
  • Astrological Association
  • Superstition
  • Historical Spotlight

But not every tree has every section in the sidebar.

I actually found the section on Culture, Myth and Symbol often the most interesting segments of the text and they increased my urge to learn more about those aspects. I’ll certainly be reading other books more specifically on those topics in the future.

The natural healing parts varied tremendously. Some were brief and forgettable. Other offered more interesting notions but none of them are quite detailed enough though to be a real herbal reference. But instead just served to offer some tantalizing hints of things to be researched. But still I really wanted a lot more coverage on that front. (I did find the uses for Tree Essences very interesting.)

The sidebars were not quite effective for me. If I were to try to put my finger on it, I think the format was too constraining and it felt like he was trying force some things to fit that really didn’t seem like they did. But every now and then there would be something I loved – generally in Superstition like this:

“In 19th-century England and France, the finger and toe-nail clippings of a person who had a fever or who was suffering from a toothache were buried under an ash tree in the belief that this would cure their affliction.”

I’m not sure why but that just really struck me. Reading more about some of the differing superstitions and folk beliefs about trees would be amazing and fascinating in itself. I’ll definitely search for some of those.

Overall, a beautiful book to enhance one’s appreciation of trees. Not essential for herbalists but a nice adjunct if you are interested in the non-herbal aspects of trees as well. A good part of my budding tree library.

Now to continue that quest for that mythical perfect book on tree healing and spirituality….

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4 Responses to “Book Review: The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore by Fred Hageneder”

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I always enjoy your book reviews, Michael!
And I think that YOU are going to be the one to write the perfect book on tree healing…. Some day!

Thanks! Who knows, maybe I’ll just have to… 🙂


Nice review! I like the way you write! I’ve put that book on my wish list! Woohoo!
I love books and native plants and I can’t say I love trees. That’s because I’m a prairie person, more acculturated to sunlight than to trees. In heavily treed places, I lose my bearings. While that’s a little sad, I’m a product of my upbringing in a prairie location in a floodplain. Go figure.
Thank you!

Thanks! Having always been along the Eastern seaboard where there were always trees, it’s hard to image prairie life! And maybe my attachment to life with trees is just a product of my raising as well. 😉


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