Herbal Education

How To Research Herbs In Four Simple Steps

January 8, 2013

How To Research Herbs In Four Simple Steps | Growing Up Herbal | Learn how to find the herbal information you're looking for in four simple steps.

Have you ever come down with some sort of ailment, and you’d like to approach naturally through the use of herbal supplements? Unfortunately, you have no idea how to figure out what you need? You probably feel like you have no clue how to research herbs let alone how to end up using them. Am I right?

If so, stress no more because today, I’m going to tell you how to research herbs in four simple steps. These are the exact steps I take when I’m looking for herbal information that can help support my body through acute and chronic ailments.

How To Research Herbs In 4 Simple Steps

1. Research The Ailment

First, I start by looking up whatever issue I’m dealing with. You see, the more I know about the issue (what it is and how it affects my body) the more I understand how to use herbs to support me during this time. 

As I’m researching, I’m taking notes on the ailment such as common signs and symptoms, the various body systems that are affected, recommended home and medical treatments, possible nutritional links, etc. I want to know as much about what I’m dealing with as possible.

2. Herbal Actions & Energetics

Once I know more about the issue at hand, I write out a list of possible actions and energetics that I feel would help counter the problem and support my body during this time, and I put these actions in order from most important to least important. For example, if I have a sore throat, I may be looking for anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, demulcent, astringent, anodyne and lymphatic actions that have cooling, moistening energetics.

This helps me to find the right kinds of herbs to help support me through this specific issue.

3. Identify Supplements

At this point, I feel like I have a good understanding of the issue at hand. I also know the possible herbal actions and energetics that I need. Next, I’ll look at books or go to trusted online resources such as Herb Mentor or the Herbarium. There, I’ll look for herbs with the actions and energetics I need. 

I start by writing each of the actions I need in a separate column on a piece of paper. Below each action, I create a list of herbs. If we go back to my example of a sore throat, my list of herbal supplements for the anti-inflammatory action may look as follows.

  • chamomile
  • ginger
  • goldenrod
  • licorice
  • marshmallow
  • tulsi
  • turmeric

Once I have my lists complete, I write out each herb’s energetics to the side. Now my list may look like this:

  • chamomile – cooling
  • ginger – warming, drying
  • goldenrod – cooling and warming (balancing), drying
  • licorice – cooling and warming (balancing), moistening
  • marshmallow – cooling, moistening
  • tulsi – cooling and warming (balancing)
  • turmeric – warming, drying

Once I have my herbs in the appropriate categorized, I start eliminating those that aren’t the right fit. Back to the sore throat example. If my sore throat is hot and swollen, I’ll be looking for herbs that are cooling and moistening. This means I’m going to automatically mark off any herbs that are warming or drying, and this will help narrow my herbal choices down a bit. *NOTE: Herbs that are warming and cooling (balancing) are okay to keep. These are often adaptogen herbs or herbs that work according to what the body needs.

Here’s what my current list looks like:

  • chamomile – cooling
  • ginger – warming, drying
  • goldenrod – cooling and warming (balancing), drying
  • licorice – cooling and warming (balancing), moistening
  • marshmallow – cooling, moistening
  • tulsi – cooling and warming (balancing)
  • turmeric – warming, drying

Next, I look to see if there are any herbs that fall into more than one column and have some of the same actions I need. If there are, then these may be the right kinds of herbs to use as they will do more than one thing.

4. Create A Formula

Now that I know which herbs will give me the actions I need, I put them together using a tea blending triangle which is one of many different ways to formulate herbal blends. Tea blending triangles are easy to use, and they help you create effective, thorough herbal formulas that will give you the results you’re looking for. Not only that, but they help you figure out the right amount of herb to use in your formula.

You can learn more about how to create your own herbal formulas using a tea blending triangle here.

Once I have my herbal formula figured out, I then try to decide which herbal preparation is best to use. Of course, this will vary depending on my particular situation. Back to the sore throat example. If my throat’s sore due to a dry cough, an herbal syrup or tea may be the way to go. However, if my throat’s sore due to an infection, a tincture may be better suited for the situation.

So there you go, mama. This is how I research herbs for a particular issue that I or someone I know is dealing with. I hope this breaks down this overwhelming task enough for you to follow if you need to.

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  • Reply ashlee January 8, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    what are your favorite books to use when researching herbs?

    • Reply Meagan January 8, 2013 at 4:31 PM

      My favorites are Practical Herbalism, The How To Herb Book, The Green Pharmacy, and The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. I have a ton more, but those are the first one’s I pull.

  • Reply Jill's Home Remedies January 8, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    I do the same thing ~ grab my favorite herb books!

    • Reply Meagan January 9, 2013 at 8:49 AM

      I also like to use Google, but you have to be careful about the mixed info there. I’m also a part of a membership site for herbalists, and it’s a great place to find information!

      • Reply Jen January 19, 2013 at 2:33 PM

        May I ask where (the membership)?

        • Reply Meagan January 19, 2013 at 10:14 PM

          Sure… I’m a member of HerbMentor.com – it’s great. I love it and highly recommend it. There’s soooo much info there. I’m just picking at it a little bit at a time.

  • Reply ashleyK August 25, 2014 at 5:50 AM

    Can you recommend any free sites that discuss herbs/herbal remedies? (Other than yours- which I love! Looking forward to posts as you do your course!)

  • Reply Carol January 13, 2015 at 1:22 AM

    Thanks for sharing Meagan! I think it’s important to have herbals that have somewhat different insights, at times. As we know, there are as many ideas .. as there are herbalists, it seems (lol).

    Also.. if we are discussing a simple situation, like a cold, flu or toothache, for example, I agree that this
    process works well. I would say, though, that there is a science and an art to creating great formulas.

    Formulae in books that have been shared with the readers, are ‘generic’ and although we need to generalize when we share ~ years of experience plus studying “how to formulate” is a valuable skill. Having said that, and not to complicate further; I’ve studied with many herbalists over 20 years and 2 in particular ~ very different approaches.. and then there’s what I’ve learned.. so 3 methods run through my mind.. Each client/friend/situation differs and creates a need for another level of understanding. Add in energetics and a little Ayurved or TCM and it’s a ‘party’ of ideas!

    It seems important to allow the excitement of our green allies to surround us and inspire us ~ and to guide us towards the teachers who await. I don’t hesitate to refer clients to other herbalists with more experience in a particular area or who are specialized.

    All this to say.. I agree with your post and thank you for sharing your ideas with us! I encourage everyone to embrace our beloved plant friends, to respect the immense power of the plants and to exercise caution when formulating for anything more than basic tonic + nourishing remedies unless working with experienced practitioners. Green blessings.. I hope my comments are received with the respect I am sharing… with a good heart and intent.

    • Reply Meagan January 13, 2015 at 9:56 AM

      Thanks for your comment Carol, and I TOTALLY respect your opinion. It has me reviewing this post and seeing how much I’ve grown as an herbalist since I wrote this 2 years ago. It really needs an update! At this point, I can see how my research process is different from this post since I’ve learned to take human constitutions, tissue states, and energetics into consideration. It definitely complicates matters some, and I’ll get around to updating it in the near future!!

  • Reply Gillian September 3, 2015 at 11:09 PM

    Thank you so much for this!

    I’ve wanted to start using herbs for the longest time but always get overwhelmed by all the infinformation give up.

    Amazing how one teeny post (that’s really just stating the practical steps right?) can make such an impact.

    Thanks again. Can’t wait to get started digging in!!!

    • Reply Meagan September 3, 2015 at 11:48 PM

      You’re welcome Gillian! I’m so glad you found it helpful.

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