Organic Living - Books to read

Parragon, 4 -Queen Street, UK
Jenny Linford

Herbs are very versatile plants. Their wonderful scents, colours and flavours have been used by generations of human beings for thousands of years in cooking and cosmetics and for dyeing fabrics. They have always been known for their healing properties. Even now, scientists are still discovering why some herbs are very potent healers.

This “Guide to Herbs” contains a wealth of information about more than 100 of the world’s most widely used herbs. With the help of superb colour photographs and useful fact-boxes, the reader can learn about the appearance, origins and habitat of each herb. Medicinal, culinary and cosmetic uses (both traditional and contemporary) of the herbs are also presented in the guide.

Botanists use the term “herb” to refer to a plant with a stem that is not woody, yet the term has taken on a larger meaning. An experienced cook would consider herb as a plant used to add flavour in cooking, such as basil. On the other hand, many people may consider herbs to be plants that are extensively used medicinally, such as aloe vera.

Mankind, however, has used herbs in many other diverse and ingenious ways: as insect repellents, for strewing on floors and scenting linen, for cosmetics and perfumery, for washing, preserving and in embalming.

Herbs range in size from low-growing plants through shrubs and creepers to trees. Mankind’s history of utilising herbs provides examples of every part of the plants being valuable: Leaves, stems, flowers, fruits, berries, seeds, roots, bulbs.

Throughout history, all around the globe different cultures have made use of the plants that grew wild around them, with herbs being a wonderful natural resource. Indian Ayurvedic medicine views health as being a harmony between body, mind and soul. This system of medicine uses herbs extensively. The valuable traditional knowledge gathered by the Rishis and practitioners of Ayurveda for centuries has been documented in many volumes such as “Charaka Samhite”, ‘Bhojana-kutoohalam” etc. China, too, has a long history of using herbs medicinally. A seminal textbook was Li Shizhen’s “Compendium of Materia Medica”, a 53-volume work compiled in 1578 during the Ming dynasty and still referred to today. In the West, much herbal knowledge was passed down from the ancient Greeks and Romans. In North America, the Native American tribes had an extensive knowledge of the healing properties of the plants around them and some European settlers drew upon this source of information.

In the Guide, over 100 magnificent herbs are arranged in alphabetical order by their Latin names, with detailed information. Overall, this comprehensively illustrated book provides a highly attractive, informative and practical guide to this fascinating subject.

Bombay Natural History Society & Oxford University Press
K. C. Sahn

We depend on plants and trees for our survival - for food, clothing, shelter, furniture etc. UN Conference on Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972 marked the beginning of serious discussion about  the importance of trees. The subject was discussed at length at the Rio de Janeiro Un Conference on Environment, held twenty years after the Stockholm Conference. In view of the ecological imperatives such as the urgent need to control pollution and avert global warming, the great value of trees should be understood by all.

Thus, there is a need to provide information to common people about the importance trees. This book published by BNHS and Oxford Printing Press fulfils the said need.  The fact that the book is reprinted every year since 2013 strengthens this statement.

The book is intended as a popular guide describing the characteristics and distribution of trees of the Indian subcontinent. It covers 7 countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The main purpose of this book is to provide a means for the layman to become acquainted with the main trees of our forests and thus foster and interest in forestry and natural history.

The choice of trees is confined to important, indigenous, conspicuous and interesting trees of natural history interest. For example, karayani (Cullenia exarillata) of the “Ghats” of Kerala which is the habitat of the lion-tailed macaque, upas tree (Antiaris toxicaria), the poisonous milky later of which is used for poisoning arrows for hunting, tiger tree (Bischofia javanica) the soft bark of which is favoured by tigers for cleaning claws and many such trees associated with animals and birds.

The book contains a detailed introduction (15 pages). In the introduction, a brief account of the forest vegetation, geography, climate and hints on identification are given. The information on 153 species includes the latest valid botanical name, with well known synonyms, popular name, vernacular names in use in the countries covered; etymology indicating how the botanical name is derived; a systematic and comprehensive botanical description; phonological data giving the months of leafing, flowering and fruiting to aid seed collection, details of distribution of trees, “spot characters” by which is meant the outstanding diagnostic characters of species for quick identification, uses and propagation.

To aid recognition of trees described in this book, seventeen coloured plates by renowned photo graphers and seventy line drawings and eleven silhouettes by P.N. Sharma, one of the leading botanical artists of our country.

Glossary of botanical terms, Index of botanical names and Index of common names given at the end have added to the utility of the book. It is lucidly written and certainly helps the common man to recognise the 153 trees easily.


Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bengaluru
K. Ravikumar and others

Plants support and sustain all living beings on earth. They convert carbon-dioxide to oxygen that is absolutely necessary for all lives. They play an important role in maintaining ecological balance and keep the atmosphere in balance. Human beings are dependent on plants for all their needs like food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

India has rich and diverse plant resources with about 20,000 species of flowering plants. Out of these, nearly 8,000 plant species have been recorded as medicinal and hence India is considered as “Emporium of Medicinal Plants”. About 70% of our population still depends upon these plants linked to traditional medical practices for their primary health care.

The medicinal uses of these species are recorded in the 4 codified Indian systems of medicine: Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Tibetan (Swa-rigpa). They are also reported in the folk traditions of different ethnic communities across the country.

Karnataka State has a wealth of medicinal plant resources due to its diverse habitats. The State has long stretch of the Western Ghats and large dry Deccan region that support rich diversity of medicinal plants. Even though Karnataka has less than 10% of India’s geographical area it harbours 4,758 plants species belonging to 1,408 genera and 178 families, constituting nearly 27% of India’s floristic diversity.

India’s wild flora is facing significant decline due to habitat loss and degradation. This decline is threatening (a) availability of these valuable plant resources and (b) the linked knowledge base resulting from the long history of traditions and experiences of medicinal use. Therefore, there is an urgent need to properly document such resources and the related traditional knowledge, for the benefit of future generations.

This book has attempted a comprehensive and condensed compilation pertaining to 100 prioritised medicinal plants of the State of Karnataka. The criteria followed for the prioritisation of the species are popular usage and ease of access to the specific plant resource.

Each medicinal plant is presented in the book in a user friendly style. Colour photos of habit, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds of each plant given in the book make identification of the plant easy in the field. Botanical, Vernacular and Common English names help in knowing the plant habitat easily. Description of each plant and its parts, distribution of the plant and brief medicinal uses, provided in the photo guide make this publication very useful.

Medplan Conservatory Society (MCS), Bengaluru
Experts of FRLHT and MCS

We depend upon plants for our health care to a large extent. By spending their lifetime, our ancestors have found out and documented the healing properties of various plants growing in the neighbourhood. This cumulative knowledge has been meticulously passed on to generations through oral and codified traditions.

We are fortunate because we are present custodians of this collective wisdom. Different communities of India now know the use of more than 7,500 plant species (out of rich flora of India with about 8,000 botanical entities) to treat various ailments. It is our responsibility to maintain this invaluable knowledge treasure and ensure its transmission to our next generations.

We should accept the fact that the best quality medicinal plants are those derived from a home garden. They have a time-tested potential to provide a ready-at-hand solution to many of the primary ailments or health disorders.

Therefore, this book explaining common health problems and the use of 40 plants in their treatment is a welcome publication from MCS. The guide contains colour photos of 22 plants for easy identification.

The plants selected by us to grow in our “home herbal garden” should be native to our area. This guide provides description and uses of 40 different herbs, shrubs, climbers and small trees from which we can select plants suitable to our locality and needs.

It may be noted that Medplan Conservatory Society (Address: 74/2, Jarakabande Kaval, Post Attur, Via Yelahanka, Bengaluru 560106, email: is engaged in activities to spread information and generate awareness about the Traditional Healthcare. Accordingly, it has brought out many books, booklets, User Guides, Poster sets, CD-ROMs, DVDs, Magazine and other educational material in English and Vernacular languages.


Abhijit Prakashan, Mumbai
Suman K. Chiplunkar

This valuable guide on “Mudras”, presents the ancient Indian approach to health in a very effective way.  Suman K. Chiplunkar retired as Superintendent of schools in the Education Dept. of Mumbai Municipal Corporation and practices Mudras since the year 2000. She has conducted 220 workshops about Mudras in Kannada, Hindi, Marathi and English languages.

In ancient times, Rishis and sages in their meditation discovered that the whole universe is composed of five elements and hence all matter and creatures are composed of those 5 elements called - Pancha Mahabhootas. They are fire, space, wind, earth and water. The Rishis logically proved that the balance of these five elements in human beings established health whereas imbalance of these five elements causes disease. They also discovered the way to balance these 5 elements through the various gestures of fingers which are called - “Hasta Mudras”.

Our fingers emit electro-magnetic power which is arrested by Mudras. With the right positioning for prescribed periods, Mudras can rejuvenate the body, heal diseases and also help in spiritual awakening.

Stress and improper diet and lifestyle lead to in-equilibrium in body and mind. This causes disturbance in the balance of the five elements and invites diseases.

Mudras act as remote control and help to restore and maintain balance of five basic elements in our body and mind. This removes disorders in body and mind and enables us to regain health and happiness.

The purpose of the book is to promote the understanding of Indian genius in the field of health. Therefore, along with Mudras, the author has presented the Indian perspective in the following areas:
-Ayurveda and Health
-Nature and Nutrition
-Yoga and Health
-The Philosophy of Life and Health
-Sun Worship
-Gayathri (Mantra) Upasana

We should accept the fact that the laws of nature and the laws of health should not be violated. If we violate, we will be forced to pay a price for that violation. Because, human body and mind are not two different entities; They complement each other. Once we understand that we will realise the value of the Golden Path invented by our ancient Rishis and Sages is really worth following.

The outlook underlying the ancient knowledge contained in this book is that health means not only the absence of diseases but also ever functional. enthusiastic and positive way of life. Fortunately, Suman Chiplunkar has crystalised the essence of that ancient Indian knowledge on health and presented it in a lucid and easy to understand way in this valuable book. 

Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd., Bambhori, Jalgaon 425001
Bhavarlal H. Jain

Water is scarce and water resources are depleting all over the world. Every year we hear tales of terrible drought and human suffering from different parts of the world. In such a situation here is a tale of transformation of 650 acres dry land into “Paradise on Earth” with lush green trees and crops through watershed development.

Watershed development programmes assume greater significance, both for the Government and the farming community. Despite keen interest by all concerned, the progress is very slow mainly due to low investment in water sector, especially, irrigation projects. Some projects are successful where NGOs, through the involvement of local community, implement such projects.

However, the Jain Watershed development Project is an atomistic model, where the co-operation of the neighbouring farmers is not required as a large area is under one ownership. Anyhow, every watershed, large or small, does create enduring value.

The present document is an effort to make a focussed analysis and evaluation of the project that Bhavarlal Jain undertook as early as 1995. After two decades, the fruits of systematic implementation is there for everyone to see.

It is indeed a demonstration of the commitment to transform rain-fed dry wasteland into horticulture, agro-forestry and irrigated agriculture land. And that too, only with the help of integrated rainwater harvesting and watershed measures.

These measures ushered in a miracle. In early 1989, an old dug well was yielding only 200 - 400 litres of water per day in the project area. Later, the well dried up. Now, the various rainwater harvesting and soil conservation engineering structures created and maintained during the first 17 years of the Project, ensure (even in drought years) a minimum draft of average 15 lakh litres per day (1,500 cum/day).

The compete gamut of this research and development is conducted under the banner of “Jain Hi-Tech Agri Institute” (JHAI).

Now, the Watershed Project has become a pilgrimage center that is inspiring over 35,000 farmers and farm related visitors every year from India and abroad.

Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., London
Stefan Buczacki

This attractive book presents information on 130 herbs by horticultural expert Stefan Buczacki.  There is at-a-glance information on these herbs with advice on how to grow and their best uses - both culinary and ornamental.

In the first 33 pages, useful information on these aspects is given: Site and Soil suitable for herbs, Design and Styles of Herb Gardens, Plants and Planting, After-care and Propagation, Picking and Preserving herbs, Pest and Diseases Control. At the end, index is given in six pages.

However, this is a gardening book and not a cookbook or herbal medicinal book. It is written from the standpoint of a gardener who wants to grow a range of herbs to use in the kitchen but who also has an interest in those many others with medicinal roles. So, while general kitchen use have been indicated, recipes are not given. Details of the way that the herb plants are prepared for medicinal use are also not given.

To a botanist, the word herb is shorthand for the term herbaceous plant, which is one that differs from a tree or shrub in lacking any woody framework. Herbs are more demanding in respect of their soil and site requirements than many of the plants that we grow in our garden. Most of the herbs grow best in light, fairly free-draining, alkaline and not very rich soils and in full sun.

In the book, information about each herb is presented in two pages, facing each other, with two colour photos (one in each page) which help us to identify the herb and enjoy its natural beauty.

Bombay Natural History Society
Ranjit Manakadan, J.C. Daniel & Nikhil Bhopale

Specific identification is the basis of meaningful bird watching as much as of scientific field research. Howsoever significant a field observation, its importance is lost unless the concerned species is correctly identified. For the untutored beginner, good illustrations of birds, preferably in colour, are fundamental.

The truth of this was clearly demonstrated by Hugh Whistler’s pioneering “Popular Handbook of Indian Birds” first published in 1928, in creating and developing an interest in birds and bird-watching among the Indian public. It became so popular that second edition of the book had to be published in 1935, followed soon by a third and forth editions.

Then, the BNHS first published “The Book of Indian Birds” by Salim Ali describing 181 species of the commoner birds, all of which were shown in colour. The popularity of this book, largely due to this feature, enabled it to produce further editions every few years, each edition enlarged progressively by the inclusion of a few more species, till the latest, the 13th, published in 2002 containing the accounts and colour illustrations of 538species.

However, this represents merely a small fraction of our total 1,200+ avifauna, and it was desirable to illustrate many more species if Indian ornithology was to be better served.

Thus, we have this Field Guide, which is a revised edition of “A Pictorial Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent” first published by Salim Ali and  S. Dhillon Ripley in 1983.

Now, the Field Guide has 112 plates containing illustrations of 1,251 species. Another 100 odd species/ subspecies are discussed without illustrations.

The Field Guide with colour illustrations and wealth of information, is intended to generate interest in the avian wealth of the Subcontinent in more and more people to experience the joys of bird-watching.

Sankirtana Seva Trust, Hare Krishna Hill, Bangalore
Vegetarian Food Cooking Experts

Why more and more people prefer vegetarian food? The reasons are many. Some of the reasons are: wanting to live longer, to live healthier, to do our bit to reduce pollution, to protect Mother Earth’s natural resources, to express compassion and love for animals.

Vitamin B-12 made by bacteria is the only vitamin inadequately supplied by a plant-based diet. Studies have found that vegetarians get larger amounts of fiber, iron, many vitamins and other cancer-fighting compounds than meat eaters. Vegetarians have reduced risks of chronic degenerative diseases such as obesity, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer such as colon, breast, prostrate, lung and esophageal.

With societies across the globe becoming more health conscious these days, a meat-free diet has become the preferred diet.  Even extreme versions of vegetarianism such as veganism and raw-food diets have begun to shed their stigma. The Vedas, India’s ancient sources of wisdom, however, have always recommended such a lifestyle for the best physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

It is a fact that we are what we eat. The Vedic scriptures divide food into three categories: Sattvic - foods in the mode of goodness, Rajasic - foods in the mode of passion and Tamasic - foods in the mode of ignorance without considering the ill-effects. The Bhagavad-gita states that “sattvic" food is the purest food, creating positive vibrations that promote happiness and satisfaction. This type of food, when offered to the Lord, is called “prasadam”. It is the perfection of all cooking, as it cleanses and revives the self and promotes spiritual progress. It satisfies the senses, captivates the mind and enriches the soul.

This book presents “sattivic” recipes to lead healthy and happy lives, in harmony with the laws of nature, in compassion with our fellow beings and with spiritually elevated consciousness.

At the end, 2 lists are given: 1) Names of various food ingredients in English, Kannada and Hindi. 2) Approximate Nutrient Values of Common Cooked Food including rice, idli, plain dosa, masala dosa, paratha, upma, bajji, samosa, potato bonda, masala vada, uddina vada, dahi vada, vegetable cutlet/ puff, laddu, halwa, chikki.

Piatkus Books - Little, Brown Book Group, London
Dr. Vasant Lad, BAMS, MASc.

Ayurveda is an ancient healing tradition from India that dates back thousands of years and is now becoming increasingly popular in the West.

Actually, Ayurveda is the art of daily living in harmony with the laws of nature. It is an ancient natural wisdom of health and healing, a science of life. The aims and objectives of this science are to maintain the health of a healthy person and to heal the disease of an unhealthy person. Both prevention (maintenance of good health) and healing are carried out by entirely natural means.

According to Ayurveda, health is a perfect state of balance among the body’s three fundamental energies, or “doshas” (vata, pitta, kafha) and an equally vital balance among body, mind and the soul or consciousness.

Ayurveda is a profound science of living that encompasses the whole of life and relates the life of individual to the life of the universe. It is a holistic system of healing in the truest sense. Body, mind and consciousness are in constant interaction and relationship with other people and the environment. In working to create health, Ayurveda takes into consideration these different levels of life and their interconnectedness.

As a science of self-healing, Ayurveda encompasses diet and nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, rest and relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises and medicinal herbs, along with cleansing and rejuvenation programs for healing body, mind and spirit. Numerous adjunct therapies such as sound, colour and aromatherapy may also be employed.

The purpose of this book is to acquaint the reader with these natural methods, so he/she can make the lifestyle choices and learn the self-healing modalities that are right for him/her in order to create, maintain or restore health and balance.

Accordingly, this complete guide (326 pages) offers safe, natural alternatives to conventional medicines and treatments. Packed with practical advice and easy-to-follow instructions, and using strategies tailored to an individual’s unique mind/body type, this guide helps him/her to begin the journey to ultimate health and wellbeing. It also provides information on traditional Ayurvedic remedies which offer relief from a wide range of common ailments and chronic conditions.