Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canadian botanist bases self-help on science

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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.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2013 A1

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