Cana­dian botanist bases self-help on sci­ence

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Graeme Voyer

THIS is a book of help­ful tips for daily liv­ing, but with a dif­fer­ence: it is based on sci­ence. Au­thor Diana Beresford-Kroeger is a botanist and bio­chemist. She grew up in Ire­land, but now lives in Canada, just out­side of Ottawa. Af­ter writ­ing a pre­vi­ous book, The Global For­est in 2010, she met many peo­ple who asked her for ad­vice on liv­ing more har­mo­niously with na­ture. She wrote The Sweet­ness of a Sim­ple Life to pro­vide that ad­vice. The book is di­vided into three parts: Health and Food; Home and Gar­den; and The Larger World. Beresford-Kroeger in­cor­po­rates not only the Western sci­ence in which she is trained, but also abo­rig­i­nal heal­ing and the tra­di­tional wis­dom of Ire­land. The re­sult is a unique vi­sion of healthier liv­ing. She has a par­tic­u­lar pas­sion for trees, as any­one who read The Global For­est would know, and her pas­sion shines through th­ese pages. “All around the world and even at your own doorstep, there are trees that hold in­cred­i­ble medicines wait­ing to be un­locked,” she writes. She ad­vo­cates plant­ing trees in cities, cit­ing their many ben­e­fits. Winnipeg and its ur­ban for­est is sin­gled out for spe­cial praise, as­sert­ing that it is a les­son for the rest of Canada. She also com­mends Win­nipeg­gers for tak­ing steps to re­duce Dutch elm disease. Beresford-Kroeger’s em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of boil­ing drink­ing wa­ter il­lus­trates how she ap­plies sci­ence to ame­lio­rat­ing daily life. Wa­ter can con­tain pathogens, she ex­plains. Viruses, such as the po­lio virus, may be in wa­ter. Th­ese pathogens can be lethal, but boil­ing wa­ter de­stroys them. When wa­ter is boiled, she writes, the mol­e­cules rub to­gether, ef­fec­tively clean­ing them­selves. All the filth in the wa­ter is dropped to the bot­tom of the ket­tle, form­ing a solid known as a pre­cip­i­tate. Boil­ing wa­ter, then, is “a sim­ple way of be­ing safe and sound.”

Help­ful tips like this pro­lif­er­ate through­out Beresford-Kroeger’s nar­ra­tive, and they are all grounded in sci­ence. Her sci­en­tific learn­ing is prodi­gious, but she makes sci­ence in­tel­li­gi­ble for the gen­eral reader. Beresford-Kroeger has a vi­sion of the unity and in­ter­de­pen­dence of life on this planet. Trees, for ex­am­ple, pro­vide the oxy­gen ev­ery breath­ing crea­ture needs.

It is an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for this unity, a sense of hu­mil­ity and rev­er­ence for na­ture, that her book ul­ti­mately pro­vides.

Graeme Voyer is a Winnipeg writer.

The Sweet­ness of a Sim­ple Life Tips for Healthier, Hap­pier and Kinder Liv­ing Gleaned from the Wis­dom and

Sci­ence of Na­ture By Diana Beresford-Kroeger Ran­dom House Canada, 357 pages,

$32

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