Herbalism, also known as herbal medicine or botanical medicine, is an ancient practice that harnesses the healing properties of plants. With a history spanning thousands of years, herbalism offers a natural and holistic approach to health and wellness. If you’re intrigued by the power of plants and wish to explore the world of herbal remedies, this beginner’s guide will provide you with a solid foundation to embark on your journey into herbalism.
A quick note before we get started. There are thousands upon thousands of plants out there that have been used by herbalists worldwide since the beginning of time. These plants are given scientific names to help identify and categorize them into separate genus and families. And these names can make the whole “learning herbalism” thing seem impossible, unless you already have a background in botany or read and understand Latin fluently. Do not get discouraged by the technical jargon! Learning herbalism is a slow process, especially if you’re self-taught. As you become familiar with each plant, you will begin to recognize the genus and the families and the various properties that each provide.
Earlier this year, I got to forage with and meet Rosemary Gladstar. She’s an amazing woman who is a fount of information when it comes to herbalism. But while talking about one of her favorite plants, she forgot the technical name for it. Therefore, it’s important to remember that even the experts forget sometimes. That doesn’t make her any less of an expert though, it makes her human. So be easy on yourself as you start this journey. Anybody can learn herbalism!
(This web site is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider regarding a medical condition.)
Herbalism is the art and science of using plants to promote health and prevent or treat various ailments. It involves the study of plant properties, their active compounds, and their interactions with the human body.
It varies from Western medicine by many degrees. While herbalism focuses on the underlying cause of your symptoms, Western (modern) medicine usually focuses on treating just the symptoms.
Herbalism also focuses on health of the whole body. Healthy liver, brain, kidneys, lymph, endocrine system, and everything in between. Everything needs to be functioning properly in order to cure and prevent disease.
Study and Research
To begin your herbalism journey, it’s essential to study and research extensively. Familiarize yourself with the plants commonly used in herbal medicine, their botanical names, and their traditional uses. There are numerous books, online resources, and courses available that provide comprehensive information on herbal medicine. Look for reputable sources and be open to continuous learning as you delve deeper into the subject.
My suggestion is to start with one plant. Something that grows on your property or in a local area you like to frequent. Get a plant identification app, and find something you see a lot of. Start researching that one plant. What are its properties? Is any of it edible? Which parts? Is it medicinal at all? What’s its name? If you want an easy starting point, start by researching the medicinal properties of dandelions.
Connecting with Nature
Developing a connection with nature is fundamental to herbalism. Spend time outdoors, observe plants in their natural habitat, and familiarize yourself with their growth patterns, seasons, and unique characteristics. Consider starting an herb garden, no matter how small, to cultivate your own medicinal plants. This hands-on experience will deepen your understanding of plant life and allow you to develop a personal relationship with the herbs you work with.
I feel a spiritual connection with every plant I work with and I talk to each and every one. There’s something peaceful and euphoric about connecting with the very things in nature that are meant to heal us.
Safety and Ethics
While herbalism offers natural remedies, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and ethical practices. Always consult reliable references or professionals before using any herbal remedy, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions or are taking medications. Additionally, ensure that the plants you gather or purchase are sustainably sourced and not endangered.
It’s really important that you look into whether the herb you’re about to work with has any known side effects or interacts with other herbs or medications. St. John’s Wort, for instance, is a very well-known herb that became all the rage for “curing depression” in the ’90’s. However, it can cause some serious problems when taken internally, that most doctors and unskilled herbalists don’t talk about, or even know about. If taken in conjunction with prescribed antidepressants, it can cause serotonin syndrome (potentially leading to death). It can reduce the efficacy of birth control, heart medication, HIV medication, statins, other herbal remedies, and prescribed medications. I never recommend that people use it internally (there are many benefits for external use though!) because of the dangers of taking it.
Building Your Herbal Toolkit
Every herbalist needs a well-stocked toolkit. Start by assembling some basic equipment such as glass jars, measuring tools, a mortar and pestle, and a drying rack. These tools will aid you in preparing herbal remedies, including teas, tinctures, salves, and oils. Additionally, keep a notebook to record your observations, recipes, and experiences with different herbs.
Exploring Herbal Remedies
As a beginner, it’s best to start with a few commonly used herbs that have well-documented safety profiles. Some popular herbs for beginners include chamomile, lavender, peppermint, dandelion and echinacea. Learn about their properties, traditional uses, and methods of preparation. Research who should and should not take them. Experiment with making simple herbal teas and infusions to experience their effects firsthand.
While self-study is essential, seeking guidance from experienced herbalists or herbal medicine practitioners can greatly enhance your learning journey. Look for local herbalist communities, workshops, or apprenticeship opportunities where you can learn from those with practical experience. Connecting with like-minded individuals will provide support, inspiration, and valuable insights.
Herbalism is a vast field with countless plants and remedies to explore. Consider enrolling in herbalism courses or workshops to expand your knowledge and skills. This ongoing education will help you develop a deeper understanding of the intricate world of herbal medicine and its application in different contexts.
One thing to note is that in the United States there is no required “certification” for herbalism. So, if you’re looking at courses for expanding your herbalism knowledge, those that offer certificates are only doing so as an added bonus to encourage you to purchase their program. The actual certificate means nothing in the real (or legal) world of herbalism.
Embarking on the path of herbalism is an exciting and rewarding endeavor. It allows you to tap into the ancient wisdom of plants and empowers you to take charge of your well-being in a holistic way. Remember to approach herbalism with respect, curiosity, and a commitment to continuous learning.