Molecules, Medicines and Mischief

8th July 2014

Cambridgeshire BFRP Dr Gwenda Kyd has just published a book based on the "Chemicals from Plants" Trail at Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

Molecules, Medicines and Mischief contains details of some of the uses of the plants on the trail, including three Bach plants: walnut, pine and willow.

Gwenda wrote the text, while the 130 photos of plants - or of things related to the stories in the book, including Sumo wrestlers, flamingos and an anteater - are by Mo Sibbons.

"Although plants produce a huge range and number of chemical compounds, the chemical world and the natural world can seem completely unrelated," Gwenda told us.

"The Trail aimed to show some of the chemistry at the root of everything that goes on around us. After it launched in 2012, I took several groups round and gathered a lot more information about the 26 plants and their uses and the idea for the book grew from this.

"I didnít want to write a chemistry book but rather a book of interesting facts which includes some chemistry, so I've included information on botany, history, folklore, herbal medicine and a lot more.

"Hopefully, anyone with a curious mind and an interest in plants will find something new."

Gwenda and Mo decided to self-publish as they had a strong idea about what the book should be like and didnít want any unnecessary delays in getting it published.

"I liked the idea of using a flower remedy as the publisherís name," said Gwenda, "and it wasnít difficult to decide on the most appropriate- Vervain!"

As well as the plants used in making Bach flower remedies, the book features plants used for food (e.g. garlic and carrots) and medicines (e.g. foxgloves and sweet wormwood).

"But I found most plants canít really be categorised as one thing," said Gwenda. "For example, the genus Opuntia - the prickly pears or paddle cacti - has fruits and pads that can be eaten, while the spines can be used as styli to play 78 rpm records, the flesh used to remove bacteria or heavy metals from water and to disperse oil spills and the whole plant used to host the insects from which we get cochineal dye and also as boundary fences.

"People have been quite ingenious in some of the uses theyíve found for the plants growing near them.

"It makes me feel optimistic for the future if we are prepared to look at the traditional uses of plants and learn what we can from them.

"The beneficial uses of plants are still largely untapped."

More information on the book at