Herbalism; a growing community. The recorded study of herbs go all the way back to 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. The study and use of herbs is the oldest practice in human history and the reason why we survived this long. Our bodies have complicated systems that help us physically and mentally react with herbs when ingested. However, we will not be going over the workings of the human body in this article. Instead, we will be looking at what is herbalism and the personal tips I can offer to the beginner herbalist.
Everyone creates their own path with herbalism, these are simply my tips I would like to share with you as someone who has been obsessed with herbs and their medicinal properties for years. Let’s start with the very basics.
What is a herbalism?
Herbalism is the practice or study of the medicinal/therapeutic use of plants. The motive with this practice is to use herbs as a form of alternative medicine, while learning about nature and ourselves along the way. This could include gardening, wildcrafting with herbs, trees, and in some cases even fungi. Essentially, harvesting anything that grows from the grown, studying it, and working with its different applications and properties.
Learning about how to use the plants that grow around us as our ancestors did can teach us a lot about our past while helping us create a better future. Studying herbalism brings history and research together, connecting us to our deepest roots.
When we choose to; plant, wildcraft, harvest, make herbal preparations, teach, or use herbs along our wellness journey, we can begin to understand the value of herbalism on a very personal level. We learn that true understanding will become our guide to the natural world, which is quickly becoming forgotten, exploited, and unappreciated.
Herbalism can teach us about nature and ourselves. Let’s take a closer look at the specific things we can learn from herbalism and tips for the beginner herbalist.
When we start to learn about herbs, we take a deep look into their many cycles, patterns, rhythms, and phases. We also, simultaneously, learn about our own cycles, patterns, rhythms, and phases. There are countless links to be made in regards to the similarities between the workings of the human body and plants. Understanding the cycles of these plants/herbs will help you understand your own. This is especially clear when you begin to learn about the medicinal property of a herb you are studying.
My first tip is to not only recognize the similar workings between you and your herbs but to also see the unique relationship between your body and your herbs. Listen to what your body is telling you when experimenting with different herbs. Our bodies speak to us all day long but learning to truly listen, to truly tune in, is when we can get more out of our herbal studies.
Look inward and study yourself, not just the herb you are working with. This is a superpower for the herbalist-learning about yourself and discovering your own being through the use of herbs as they have so much to teach us about ourselves. Tune into your mind, body, and soul. When you tune in, your practice will become much stronger, optimized, and offer you greater impact.
Spending time in nature is your homework
While a lot of herbalism may look like reading books/articles, listening to podcasts, completing online courses, cooking in your kitchen, etc. you should be spending as much time in nature as possible as this is where you will learn the most. This is especially true if you are like me and are more of a hands-on kind of person. Get hands-on and go outside!
Go sit with the trees, plants, and weeds. Listen to the wind, smell the air, and ground yourself to get a sense of the life of plants. They take their time, doing exactly what they need to do and nothing more. Most of all, they do their absolute best! How admirable!
Sit with these unique beings and listen deeply with your eyes and heart. Maybe invest in a magnifying glass so you can get up close and personal with the greenery around you as this will help you see them from a whole different perspective! Viewing plant life with an open mind and open heart will get you where you need to be in your herbalism. If you can master this step, you will go very far!
How does the saying go again? To learn about the plant, you must see the plant, feel the plant, taste the plant, be the plant…
‘‘Herbalism is a religion of nature, representing a balance of the head and heart.’’
– Micheal Tierra
Although it is easy to get excited and dive in head first, I found it more effective to start small and work my way up. Even though I am nowhere near where I would like to be with my herbalism, here are the 3 steps I took to go from the beginner to where I am today:
1) You can start by assessing all the herbs you already know about. This could be herbs in your kitchen, herbal supplements, common mushrooms, or even herbs in your beauty products. Get familiar with the herbs you are already using before introducing loads of new ones to your data base. Start with the basics!
2) Try working on individual herbs before learning about how they work synergistically. Pick a few basic herbs that you are already somewhat familiar with and study them like crazy. When you gain a good knowledge base for the workings of singular herbs, you can take the next step and start learning about the power of combining herbs.
3) One way that many herbalists start out, myself included, is cooking. Cooking is the most common use of herbs. Most people have at least a few herbs/spices in their kitchen. Learning about these simple herbs and understanding how to incorporate them into your food is a great starting point. After this, you can perhaps start looking at making your own tinctures and then continue to learn about harvesting your own herbs and applying them to your dishes and tinctures! Baby steps!
Keeping Herbal Records
Write down everything! Literally everything! Invest in a large notebook that can be used exclusively for your herbal records. This way you can have everything in one place and a complete guide to all of your favourite herbs. I use my herbal journal for reference and study. I spend a lot of time either writing or reading in my herbal journal and take it with me when spending time outside. Record recipes you make, tinctures you create, mushrooms you spot, thoughts/feelings about your time spent in nature…. Write it all down!
Experimentation is what has kept humans alive during our long history of evolution. We have been experimenting throughout our entire history which has led us to where we are today. This is the only way for us to expand our knowledge of herbs and grow the holistic knowledge-base. The way we learn more about herbs is through experimenting and thinking outside the box! Stay consistent and take a unique approach to anything and everything during your practices. There aren’t many set rules to herbalism, just go your own way and path your own path. This will take you further than you thought possible during this sacred journey.
Closing thoughts: Be Mindful
Academics tell us to memorize and learn fast, shoving information into the brain at an unrealistic rate. Herbalism, on the other hand, teaches us to take things one step at a time and not rush the process. You will likely learn a lot more when you slow down and smell the flowers.
Set a comfortable pace, read between the lines, listen with your heart, and lead with your soul.
Happy herbal healing, herb lovers!