Herbalism 101: Embracing Ancestral Wisdom & the Power of Plants

Herbalism 101: Embracing Ancestral Wisdom & the Power of Plants

Many of us go about our day to day lives without notice of the Yarrow that abundantly grows on the side of the freeways, or of the ways in which certain plants are specific to certain seasons. Little do most us know, that this nature at work, providing us with everything that we need to live resilient, healthy and thriving lives. Humans have lived amongst plants for thousands of years, and without plants, there would be no humans. 

The more that know about the natural world around us, the more we will understand ourselves, and the more hope we'll be able to carry for a happy and healthy life. If you're interested in learning more about herbalism and they many ways you can utilize it in your life but aren't sure where to start, then this comprehensive guide is for you.

What is Herbalism?

Herbalism, otherwise commonly known as "Herbal Medicine" or "Phytotherapy", is a time-revered medicinal practice that involves the use of plants, plant extracts, and plant-derived substances to heal and promote overall well-being of the mind, body and spirit.

Herbalism is a practice that many of us use in our daily lives, often times without even knowing it. Many modern day remedies are progressions of herbal medicine, including Aspirin and Cough Syrups. We drink certain teas when we're sick, and others when we need digestive help. Even treating sunburns with Aloe Vera is a practice of herbalism!

Herbalists draw upon centuries of knowledge, passed down through generations, to identify and utilize the therapeutic properties of plants and herbs. Herbalism encompasses a wide range of preparations, such as teas, tinctures, salves, and capsules, each designed to target specific ailments or support specific bodily functions.

Getting Started with Herbalism:

If you're new to herbal medicine, here are some steps to help you get started:

Educate Yourself: Begin by learning about common medicinal herbs and their uses. Nature is powerful, so it is of great importance that you truly understand the plants that you are working with. Books, online courses, and workshops can provide valuable information.

Start Simple: Don't feel overwhelmed by the vast number of herbs available. Choose a few versatile herbs and get to know them well. The best way to learn is by using the herbs and paying attention to how they affect your mind, body and spirit. Some well-known beginner-friendly herbs include chamomile, peppermint, lavender, and ginger. Experiment with making teas, tinctures, and infusions. 

Consult a Professional: If you have specific health concerns or conditions, it's always a good idea to consult a qualified herbalist or healthcare provider. They can guide you on the best herbs and practices for your needs.

Grow Your Own: Consider starting a small herb garden. Growing your own herbs is a rewarding way to connect with nature and ensure you have fresh, high-quality plants.

Practice Reverence for Nature and its Plants: Use herbs responsibly and sustainably. Respect plant populations and their natural habitats. Support companies and farmers who prioritize organic and sustainable practices.

    Understanding Basic Herbal Preparations:

    Understanding the difference between different basic herbal remedies is  fundamental. Here are a few basic herbal preparations that you'll undoubtedly come across as you venture into the world of Herbal Medicine:

    Infusions: Made by steeping herbs in hot water, similar to making tea. This method is ideal for delicate parts of the plant, such as leaves and flowers.

    Decoctions: Involves simmering tougher plant parts, like roots and bark, in water to extract their properties.

    Tinctures: Concentrated extracts made by soaking herbs in alcohol or vinegar. They are the most potent form of herbal medicine and have a long shelf life.

    Salves and Balms: Used for topical application, these are made by infusing herbs in oil and combining with beeswax or other thickeners.

    Understanding the Different Modalities of Herbal Medicine:

    Herbal Medicine is practiced all over the world, in thousands of different communities and cultures, meaning that there are many different systems or modalities of herbalism (in the same way that there are many different cuisines). It's important be respectful when choosing which system or modality to practice, remaining aware that the rituals and knowledge you are practicing are not your own. Many cultures have been marginalized and oppressed when it comes to their healing systems and traditional knowledge, customs and practices - so being mindful of this while practicing is critical.

    Ayurveda - Ayurvedic medicine, or Ayurveda, is a traditional system of healing that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. It focuses on achieving balance in the body, mind, and spirit through a holistic approach. Ayurveda emphasizes the use of natural remedies, including herbs, diet, yoga, and lifestyle changes, tailored to an individual's unique constitution or "dosha" (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha). This ancient practice aims to prevent disease and promote wellness by aligning with the rhythms of nature and the body's natural processes.

    Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) - Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient system of health and wellness that has been practiced in China for thousands of years. It is based on the concept of balancing the body's vital energy, known as "Qi" (pronounced "chi"), which flows through pathways called meridians. TCM incorporates a variety of practices including herbal medicine, acupuncture, dietary therapy, and exercises like Tai Chi and Qigong. The aim is to restore harmony between the opposing forces of Yin and Yang and to ensure the smooth flow of Qi.

    Indigenous American Medicine - Indigenous American Medicine encompasses the diverse traditional health practices of Indigenous tribes across North America. Indigenous American medicine is deeply rooted in spirituality, where an individual's health is intimately connected to their sense of purpose, gratitude, generosity and their treatment of Mother Earth, following the wisdom of the Great Spirit.  Although the name suggests there is one standard system of medicine, practices, rituals, and medicine varies from tribe to tribe. In most tribes, there is a recognized Shaman, Healer or Practitioner that is spiritually ordained and attends to the tribes health and wellbeing needs. 

    Traditional African Medicine & Herbalism - Traditional African Medicine is considered to be the worlds oldest modality of health and wellness. While practices and rituals will vary across different African countries and cultures, Traditional African Medicine is largely religious and spiritual. Illness is believed to encompass the relations between God, ancestors, the living and the universe. 

    Western/Traditional European Herbalism Western European Herbalism originates from Druid, Celtic and Pagan traditions as well as Ancient Greek & Roman practices. It integrates folk wisdom with scientific knowledge, striving to restore balance and harmony within the body. This tradition has greatly influenced modern herbal practices, blending ancient knowledge with contemporary research to create effective, natural treatments.

    Many herbalists blend various aspects of different modalities to develop their unique approach to herbalism. Some find that one particular modality resonates with them more than others and choose to focus exclusively on that. There is no definitive right or wrong way to practice herbalism, as long as you maintain respect and mindfulness toward the plants and the cultures from which you draw your practices. 

    Building Your Own At-Home Herbal Apothecary:

    Starting your own at-home apothecary as a beginner herbalist is an exciting and rewarding endeavor, but it can be difficult to know how to begin! Here's a few tips for getting started with your at-home apothecary:

    • To begin, it's crucial to ensure the quality of the herbs you purchase; look for organic, sustainably sourced herbs from reputable suppliers, and always check for certifications and reviews.
    • If you choose to forage, do so ethically by harvesting in small amounts, leaving plenty for the plant to regenerate and for wildlife. Never take the first, and never take the last! Also make sure to be aware of which plants are at danger for extinction and refrain from foraging these. 
    • Understanding the best use of fresh versus dried herbs is essential: fresh herbs are ideal for immediate use in teas and tinctures, while dried herbs, which have a longer shelf life, are perfect for infusions, capsules, and salves.
    • Familiarity with each herb's properties and safety is paramount—research thoroughly and start with well-known, gentle herbs like chamomile and peppermint.
    • To keep your apothecary organized, store herbs in airtight amber (light proof) glass jars, labeled with the name and date of harvest or purchase, and keep them in a cool, dark place to preserve their potency. This approach ensures that your home apothecary remains a safe, effective, and sustainable resource for your herbal practice. 

    Here's our some common herbs to begin with and a few of their uses:

    • Chamomile - Calming, Anti-Inflammatory, Digestion
    • Peppermint - Calming, Anti-Microbial, Digestion, Anti-Nausea
    • Calendula - Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Microbial
    • Lemon Balm - Calming, Sleep, Digestion
    • Ashwagandha - Calming, Adaptogenic, Cognitive Function
    • Siberian Ginseng - Stimulating, Adaptogenic, Energizing
    • Lavender - Calming, Sleep, Anti-Bacterial
    • Dandelion Root - Nourishing, Digestion, Cleansing
    • Elder Flower/Berry - Immune Support
    • Ginger - Digestion, Anti-Nausea, Immunity
    • Turmeric - Anti-Inflammatory, Pain
    • Stinging Nettle Leaf - Nourishing, Anti-Inflammatory, Prostate Health
    • Echinacea - Immune Support, Anti-Inflammatory
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