Herbalism in Fiction

Herbalism in Fiction: A Discovery of Witches

I have the most oddly specific favorite sub-genre of books: fiction (be it fantasy, mystery, historical, or otherwise) that includes heavy doses of herbalism and lush, immersive description. So, in case there are others who adore this type of novel, I am going to begin sharing my favorite books that meet those criteria here on the blog. The first book I’m featuring is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (and the whole All Souls series).

The series follows Diana Bishop, a historian and witch who gets caught up in dangers and deceptions after discovering a lost magical book in the Bodleian Library. Having once shunned her powers, Diana must finally come to terms with them to find out what the book means and what it has to do with her. The story also centers around the two other types of creatures, vampires and daemons, and the dynamics and traditions between these three groups of otherworldly beings. Add in romance, ghosts, time travel, real historical figures, science, mysteries, intrigue, dark secrets, and also lovable characters and inviting settings, and you’ve got this thoroughly gripping series in as good a nutshell as I can manage to stuff it into. These books contain magical multitudes.

But I’m specifically here to heap praise on this series for its hygge herbology connections. There is so much to love in these books in that regard! I adore the very lovingly-detailed descriptions of the teas Diana loves and how she takes them, the scenes involving the harvesting and blending of a particular type of herbal tisane at a castle in France (I can’t elaborate because, spoilers), and the unique descriptions of each character’s particular botanical scent. There are viscerally-appealing, incredibly immersive descriptions of locations like dark, antiquarian libraries and cozy Oxford haunts that really stick with you. And don’t even get me started on the depth of detail in the installment that primarily takes place in Elizabethan England.

But far and away, my favorite parts of these books take place in Diana’s witch aunts’ colonial family home in upstate New York. You can hear every creak of the floorboards, smell the mixed scents of wood smoke and coffee and herbs, and feel the weighty presence of the family ghosts in every word. The aunts’ witch’s garden brims with herbs, and there just aren’t enough scenes spent in Sarah’s dark still room with dried aromatic plants and her old coffee-maker-turned-cauldron. The sense of safety and family Diana feels here, even if she tries to deny it at times, is utterly palpable to the reader.

So, all that wordiness to say, if you like this stuff, then read these books! They are my literal favorite books of all time and I will not disclose how many times I have read them. Until you get on the train and come back to tell me how right I was!

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