So, You Want to Be an Herbalist? My Best 8 Tips on How to Start Using Plants to Heal Your Life
Recently my husband and I went to a CVS drugstore to pick up more medical supplies for our preparedness efforts. My husband was amazed at the fact that we didn't need ANY of the OTC medications on any of the shelves. Eyes wide, he pointed out, "I knew you handled a lot of our medical needs, but this is crazy! You make all this stuff."
Yes. I do. And I'm proud of that fact.
It all started many years ago. Accidentally.
The essential oil craze had taken hold of my friends, and I decided to start dabbling with the oils. My gosh! I realized they work! They weren't a hoax after all! One success after another, after another, and I realized there was something to these special plant essential oils.
Then another friend mentioned this "weird" natural herb store down the street from the school where I worked at that time. His eyes grew round when he stated in awe: "They even have these things called tinctures!"
I just had to go visit this store called Herbally Grounded. When I walked in and saw all the mysterious bulk herbs, the rows upon rows of medicinal tinctures made with plants/herbs, and all the amazing natural healing tools and resources they sold, my journey into herbalism began in ernest. (Plus that place smelled A-Mazing!)
While continuing to experiment and use essential oils, I started taking coursework on herbalism, studying every chance I got! My own personal library of herbal resources grew and grew, as did my passion for all the incredible ways plants can heal our bodies, minds, and even help with our spiritual health.
If you are interested in empowering yourself and your family in the area of learning how to keep yourselves healthy and thriving naturally, here are my best tips for the beginning and aspiring herbalist.
You might also be interested in these articles: What is a Tincture, and How to Make a Tincture, 8 Powerful Herbs for Your Heart, How to Make a Pain Relief Salve, How to Make Manly Man Tea, (and more on the website).
Note: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article. If you click through and make any kind of purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for helping support Healing Harvest Homestead---Heidi
If you are interested in learning more about using plants to heal, here is some advice for you:
Advice for the Aspiring Herbalist
1) Just Start, Already
Yep. The best thing you can do is start now. Right now, purchase a really good book or two for the beginning herbalist and read, highlight, and experiment. Start making your own infused oils. Start making your own herbal teas! Start creating your own tinctures. Then experiment on yourself!
Once you discover how satisfying and exciting it is to make your very own plant medicine and find that, YES! It actually works, you may never want to take allopathic medications again. In fact, you may never need to! Mr. V. and I have not taken any OTC or Rx medications since 2012.
(Well, except for my brief stint on blood pressure medication after being scared into it by my well-meaning doctor--I only lasted about six months on that stuff because the side-effects about killed me! Now I handle my blood pressure naturally, without Rx meds.)
Bottom line is: Start learning now! There is never a better time. You will never be less busy. Start reading! You might want to graduate to coursework! Go for it!
Use those herbal concoctions you create! Go ahead! Try them! You will probably find, as I did, that most of the things you make work really well. And some don't. You'll learn so much about your own body and the bodies of your family members. You'll develop an intuition about plants and what works best for the people in your life as well as yourself.
I remember like yesterday when I made my first tincture: Willow Bark tincture. My plan was to use it for headaches to replace the Ibuprofen we took fairly often. I made the tincture, let it sit in my sunny window, shook it lovingly every day, then finally the day came to strain it.
The next time I had a headache, and I went reaching for those Advil, I remembered: "Wait! I have the Willow Bark tincture all ready to go!" I tried it. IT WORKED! It worked faster and better! And I knew what was in it! I was hooked!
How awesome is that?
Then I tried it on some of my friends. My friends know that if they come to my house, they may be asked if they want to be a guinea pig. One friend had a little headache, and I gave her some Willow Bark Tincture. Her headache was gone in a flash!
As you start using your herbal preparations: salves, teas, tinctures, syrups, poultices, and more, and you find that they work, your confidence will build, and you will be naturally inspired to continue your learning journey.
Bottom line: Use your herbal creations. Share them with open-minded friends. Just be sure you are aware of any contraindications the herbs may have for specific people or interactions with medications.
3) Build a Resource Library and Use It
Googling is great. You can find a lot of information on the internet. If you use the internet for knowledge and information, be sure you check your information against at least three sources for validity. Some people say some crazy things out there in the inter webs.
But the best way? Buy your own books, and build your own library.
There is something about holding a real book in your hands, written by an experienced herbalist who's been working in the field for many years, that bespeaks of the credibility of the practice. Writing your own notes in the margins, highlighting information you want to remember, dog-earing pages---these things make your learning personal and special. Grow your library of resources!
After you purchase your first one or two beginning books, and you discover you are in love with using plants for healing, you'll automatically want to grow your library of resources. I have over 45 books dedicated to plant medicine, medicine creation, identifying and foraging herbs, creating natural products, using essential oils, and more! I can't list them all here, but all the books you see in the Amazon ads in this article are books I have, love, use, and are among my favorites.
Also, here are some links to books every beginner needs: Making Plant Medicine, Medicinal Herbs, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, any book by Michael Moore (he writes books for specific areas of the country), and The Herbal Dispensatory.
4) Organize Your Herbs, and Keep Them Organized
As you begin working with herbs, you will begin to develop a family apothecary! You'll find yourself with jars and jars of lovely herbs! Trust me on this: once you get over about 25 different herbs, you are going to want some kind of system to keep them organized and easy to find. (Find out how to store herbs here.)
At this point I have hundreds of herbal jars in my cupboard and on my shelves in many different-sized jars. Here are a couple of strategies for keeping them organized:
Label Every Jar
Trust me on this: You will not remember what those green leaves in that one jar are six months from now. You just won't. Label every jar with the common name of the herb, the Latin name, whether it's organic or wildcrafted, it's source (company where you bought it as well as the country of origin), and the date you stored it away in the jar.
Especially if you ever sell your creations, you'll need this information for FDA labeling requirements.
Alphabetize the Jars
This is kind of a no-brainer. I have mine alphabetized loosely. However, I have some very large one-gallon jars full of herbs I use often, and they don't fit on the shelves with my smaller jars. So, I have two sets of alphabetized herbs.
You can also organize them in groups by body system, plant type, etc. However, some herbs, such as chamomile, have such a wide range of benefits, it would be difficult to put that jar in just one group. The best way is a simple A-B-C order.
Be sure you can see your herb jars. It's really easy for a jar to get tucked away in the back of a cupboard, and you'll find it a couple years later (Ahem.). It will be full of stale herbs at this point, and be best for the compost heap.
However, if you have a shelving system where you can see your herbal jars, this is less likely to happen. Mr. V. made me some 2x4 mini shelves to fit into our large cupboard, and this allows some to sit higher than others, allowing me to see them.
5) Buy Quality Herbs (Or Grow or Forage Your Own)
Herbal medicine is only as good as the quality of the herb used. If you are going for the cheapest herbs you can find, you are bound to be disappointed. Be sure you find a great source or three you can trust to always carry quality, freshly dried herbs.
There is absolutely no point in storing and using herbs that are stale, oxidized, or have lost their "life." Fresh herbs are best, if you have access to them. However, most of us must turn to dried herbs, especially during the winter months. Drying your own fresh herbs is second best. And finally, if you're purchasing dried herbs, find a great source! My personal favorite is Starwest Botanicals. Their quality is excellent, they provide a wide variety of options for each herb, and their customer service is amazing and fast.
6) Research Before Using
Even highly experienced herbalists continue to research their herbs. As you gain experience and confidence, for most of the preparations you make, you'll know the herbs intimately and won't need to research.
But for the beginning herbalist, doing a quick review of every herb you use is important for several reasons. It reinstates the knowledge in your brain, helping you remember it.
7) Create Your Own Materia Medica
The words, "Materia Medica" mean "healing materials" in the literal sense. Nowadays, herbalists use the term, "Materia Medica" to mean an herbalist's personal bank of written information on specific herbs, their properties, how they can be used, any contraindications, and dosages. Information on each herb may include common and Latin names, where the herb originates, how it's grown, and which parts of the herb are useful for what.
When you create your very own Materia Medica, you have your own personalized bank of herbal information. Since you created it, you are more likely to remember what you've experienced and learned from using the herbs too.
If you are interested in starting your own Materia Medica, but feel like you'd like more of a guideline, you can actually take a course from the Herbal Academy of New England (HANE). Their Materia Medica course used to be free, and possibly still is. Here is a link to the Materia Medica course from HANE.
8) Take Courses and Keep Learning!
I'm a big fan of continual learning. I'm actually enrolled in four different courses at this very moment! I love learning. If you have discovered you have a passion for creating and using plant medicines, you might want to go a step further and enroll in a quality course. Do your research, though, because like anything else, some herbal schools are better than others.
You have to know what you are looking for, too. Are you looking for the science of herbalism? Or are you looking for a more New Age-y groove? Some herbalism courses actually include spell-work. So look into the school, and make your own determination about what you desire.
For myself, I enjoy schools that focus on the science of plant medicine and that provide information on human body systems. After taking a few courses, I highly recommend the Herbal Academy of New England. Their teachers are excellent, the directions are clear, and there is an accountability system in place with quizzes.
In fact, I'm currently taking two of their courses: The Intermediate Course as a fun review, and the Advanced Course for more clinical work in herbalism. It's very challenging, and I'm enjoying both of them! I just finished the Craft of Herbal Fermentation, where you learn how to infuse your fermentation practices with herbs. Totally fun!
Final Thoughts on Tips for Becoming an Herbalist
I've always loved plants. I used to grow them in my bedroom when I was a kid. I practiced all kinds of propagation methods I knew to do at the tender age of 12. I loved helping my dad in the garden, watching the seeds emerge. I learned how to use plants well, for food, at a young age. But we didn't use plants for healing. I didn't grow up naturally with this knowledge, as other more fortunates do.
So when I discovered the wide world of using plants for healing, health, and even acute situations, I found one of my great life passions. I wish I could express the pleasure I've gotten from working with my herbs.
Besides the pleasure factor, another thing I realized early on in my plant medicine journey is how empowering it is to know about the healing properties of plants and be able to heal yourself as needed. Have a UTI? I can handle that. Have a bad cold/flu? That too.
That foray my husband and I took into the CVS drugstore? What an eye-opener! I didn't realize it had 1) been so long since I'd even been IN a drugstore, and 2) we don't need any of the ointments, rubs, or medications to be found there---except maybe hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol. :-)
What do you think of plant medicine? Where are you on the continuum of belief? I'd love to know what you think! Please leave a comment, question, or thoughts in the comments section!
Hugs and Self-Reliance,
P.S. If you haven't signed up for our newsletter yet, I hope you'll do so now! I'll be sending you two eBooks (one is about essential oils and one is on how to use herbs to relax), and you'll never miss a thing!
Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical doctor. The statements in this article, elsewhere on my website, or in any publication are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or health issue. They are simply for informational purposes and are my personal opinions based on experience and study. Please see a medical professional for any health issue and before using herbs.