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Human and herbal history intertwine like vines: Herbs have seen use in the kitchen and the infirmary as long as people have been experimenting with taste and treatment. Ethnobotanist Douglas Schar is a believer in the old-fashioned ways; his The Backyard Medicine Chest: An Herbal Primer (Elliott & Clark Publishing) advocates lavender over aspirin and calendula over store-bought pimple medication. Like many a skilled teacher, Schar takes a light tone and a common-sense approach; he proceeds from the general system (digestive, respiratory, skin, nerves, etc.) to specific complaints (constipation, cough, muscular pain, headache, bad complexion). Along with such oft-mentioned remedies as ginger, chamomile, and peppermint, he offers detailed treatises on the health- related properties of marshmallow (the plant, not the confection), burdock, and chasteberry. His simple and clear instructions cover the planting, cultivation, and harvest of 26 different herbs, as well as methods of distilling and storing herbal creams and tinctures.