Herbalism, the art of bringing the body into balance using the therapeutic properties of plants, is both ancient and universal.
But a rising awareness of the harmful effects of synthetic chemical-exposure in food, cosmetics and cleaning products, this traditional approach to self-care takes on modern appeal.
Want to connect more deeply with the natural world in your own backyard?
Interested in swapping harsh, synthetic cleaning products for ones with simpler, more natural ingredients?
Ready to get rid of your lead-laden foundation and try a more wholesome approach to makeup?
Read on for 10 ways to get started in herbalism.
Please note: The article below is intended for educational purposes. Never substitute random blog entries you found on Pinterest for professional medical advise. This post may contain affiliate links.
We often feel tempted to buy all the shiny things associated with a new hobby, but I recommend you begin your herbalism journey by getting to know your local vegetation.
Even knowing how to identify 5 or 10 plants and their uses provides invaluable knowledge to anyone interested in the study of herbalism.
Useful plants almost certainly grow freely in the landscape around you.
Google your area + foraging class and there’s a pretty good chance someone near you is teaching one.
Take a nature walk at least once a week.
Make sure you go prepared. Personally, even with all the technology available to me, I prefer to leave it behind and bring a good, old-fashioned notebook and pen with me.
A camera also proves useful.
Each time you go, make a point to find five plants you don’t know. But don’t touch them or sniff them!
Photograph them, make notes on where you found them and then identify them later.
Verify, verify, verify.
Many plants and mushrooms appear nearly identical to others but with vastly different effects—-some of them deadly poisonous.
Make absolutely certain you know what you’re working with.
When in doubt, double and triple check with multiple sources.
National and state wildlife parks usually offer reliable resources for identifying local plants.
If you’re not sure, ask!!
Watch out for the 2 P’s.
Pesticides and pollution. Although the most accessible plants often grow near roadsides, busy roads make poor collection sites. Run off and air pollution from the road contaminate plants.
Beware also of commercial landscaping pesticides, which diminish the quality of medicinal plants or render them totally useless.
Seek out remote collection sites with good environmental conditions.
Nothing teaches you more about a plant than actually growing it yourself.
It’s also the best way to know what’s in the soil, control pests naturally and be certain you have what you think you have.
Although many plants with high medicinal value are wasteland plants or considered weeds by traditional gardeners, if they grow wild in your area, they’re probably very easily grown on purpose. So even if your dubiously green thumb tends to wilt everything it touches, you’ll probably have more luck with them than you would a more delicate garden plant.
Rather than completely overhauling your life (which, like any other life resolution, tends to set one up for failure), focus on one area at a time.
Once you become conscious of the chemicals around you, you start to phase them out quite naturally.
When deciding where to begin, think about where you sustain the most chemical exposure in your day-to-day routine and change that first.
For example, a stay-at-home mom might start with cleaning chemicals. Simple recipes that use basic ingredients like vinegar, essential oils, water, and baking soda, make a huge difference in lowering the toxicity of your household.
You need not get a degree in chemistry to switch from Tide pods to a more natural laundry detergent or swap your spray bathroom cleaner for some vinegar and lemon juice.
Once you master one area, move on to the next. You’ll be making your own bath products before you know it.
Do your grocery shopping in the woods.
Once you mastered some edible plant identification reliably, try foraging on your nature walks and cooking at least one meal a week with foraged food—even if it’s just a garnish.
Take caution before you put anything your body to make sure you know what it is and that it’s not contaminated. Wild onions are a good start. Their distinctive odor makes them hard to mistake for something else.
Learn to dry, cure and store herbs.
Many useful herbs are only in season for a few weeks out of the year. Learning to store and cure them is pretty crucial to having them when you need them.
Start with leftover kitchen herbs. Especially if you buy them in the grocery store.
Because personally, I have never in my life needed all the basil in the bunch.
If it’s dangerous, just don’t.
Natural does not mean safe. Cyanide and lead are both naturally occurring.
But you don’t want either one in your teacup.
Same goes for herbs with toxic side effects or dangerous trade-offs. There are lots of them.
Likewise, the idea of a purer experience makes trying to treat your own medical condition tempting. Don’t.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t advocate for less invasive treatment alternatives with your doctor or question him/her thoroughly before making medical decisions.
But for goodness sake, when it comes to your health, talk to an expert.
Learning how to use herbs, roots, flowers, resins and oils in a practical way forces you to recognize the inherent value of nature.
Make a point to donate to environmental causes, take an active stand in your community when short-sighted policies threaten natural habitats and advocate in your own home for a cleaner, greener, more sustainable lifestyle.
Hug trees and they hug back.