Herbalism is sometimes referred to as “the people’s medicine,” but what does that mean exactly?
It means that learning about and using herbs is easy enough for the average person to grasp—yes, even the person with no medical or science background! It means that you—yes, YOU—can be empowered to take charge of your own health naturally, and plants can be a key part of that journey!
With that said, if you are new to herbalism, or you’ve been dabbling in it for a while, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the herbs out there, the herbal lingo, how to go about finding the right herb(s) for your needs, the act of stocking the home apothecary, learning to make all the preparations, so on and so forth.
And you know what? That’s understandable. There’s a lot to learn which is why many herbalists refer to this practice as a journey, but a journey doesn’t have to be a long and arduous one. It doesn’t have to be traveled alone. And it certainly doesn’t have to feel directionless.
If you are new to herbalism or are feeling a bit overwhelmed by all there is to know, I’d like to share 3 of the best ways to simplify your herbal studies with you today. These three tips will help you to not only reduce the overwhelm you’re currently experiencing, but they will help you to become a BETTER herbalist as well!
3 Ways to Simplify Herbalism
1. Use Local Herbs
As you may be learning, there are a lot of herbs in the world. There are Western herbs, Ayurvedic herbs, Chinese herbs, and more! Thousands upon thousands of plants exist and most all of them can be used in herbalism, not to mention incorporating trees and mushrooms into your practice as well!
One of the easiest ways to simplify your herbal studies is to start by focusing your studies on local plants only—at least at the beginning.
While getting to know local herbs at the beginning of your herbal journey not only narrows your focus from thousands of plants to hundreds, it’s more like 10-20 if you focus only on what’s growing in your yard. Yes, I’m talking about those herbs growing right outside your front door (granted you don’t use any sort of weed-killer).
Once you’ve finished with one herb, you can move onto another. Sooner than you realize, you’ll have quite a few herbs in your home apothecary as well as a lot of practical information you can use when you need it.
In fact, it’s better to know 20 ways to use a single herb than it is to know a single way to use 20 herbs. I can’t remember which herbalist passed this wise advice on to me, but I want to share it with you today, so you can benefit from it as well!
2. Follow “The Least of These” Principle
The second way to simplify your herbal studies is to use gentle herbs that have very little if any, side effects or safety concerns. This makes using the herb and getting to know it well a bit easier on you.
Nutritive herbs and nourishing tonics are two great categories of herbs that fit this description. Nutritive herbs, such as chickweed (Stellaria media), nettles (Urtica dioica), and oats (Avena sativa), are food-like plants, and they can be used in larger doses and for longer periods of time. Nourishing tonic herbs, such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), and mullein (Verbascum thapsus), are gentle herbs that nourish and normalize a specific organ or an entire body system. Nourishing tonics can also be used daily in large doses for long periods of time.
Now just because an herb is gentle doesn’t mean it’s not as good as a stronger herb. Many herbalists start their clients on formulas using these gently, nourishing herbs. The actions of these types of herbs either work to help the body maintain balance or to offer a gentle nudge back towards balance when needed. These gentle herbs can be quite effective when used properly.
Once you have a good understanding of these gentle herbs, you can begin exploring stronger herbs to round out your herbal materia medica (a collection of plants you have studied and know how to use well).
3. Keep Herbal Preparations Simple
The third way to further simplify your herbal studies is to focus on making and using simple herbal preparations.
Many new herbalists get excited to start using herbs, and in doing so, they begin to follow herbal recipes and formulas that contain multiple herbs. While this approach can be a good way to familiarize yourself with making different herbal preparations or help you stock your home apothecary, it doesn’t really help you with your herbal studies. Here’s why.
When you use herbal formulas, you are getting the flavors, energetics, and actions of many herbs together. This makes it very difficult to differentiate how one herb works from another.
Instead, it’s better to make a simple herbal preparation of one single herb and use that to familiarize yourself with the herb’s characteristics, energetics, and actions. This will help you learn more about that specific herb without getting mixed messages like you would if you were using multiple herbs.
Simple herbal preparations take the form of basic infusions, infused oils, tinctures, or glycerites. They can even be a simple herbal pastille! When you use these preparations consistently, you will become more familiar with how they work in your body. This information will help you in the future when you consider using this herb again, whether by itself or in an herbal formula.
Understanding how an herb works or tastes in a simple herbal preparation can also give you an idea of how much or little of an herb to use without needing to search your herbal books or an online source for dosing information.
The Herbal Journey
Looking back, I can see that herbalism has taken me on a journey unlike any other. It has filled me with excitement and empowered me to live a simpler, more natural lifestyle that’s aligned with the God-given cycles and rhythms nature. It’s been full of mystery and hidden secrets that have been revealed to me along the way, and it’s been paved with wisdom from those who came before me.
Herbalism is deep and vast, and some concepts are more complicated than others. While it pays to take the journey slowly, giving yourself time to stop and focus on a difficult concept here or a new herb there, it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming one. Mastering herbalism takes a lifetime of study, use, and practice—if one ever truly masters it. My tidbit of wisdom for you is not to rush it. As Emmerson would say, “It’s not the destination; it’s the journey” that counts!
The world of herbs is truly a wild and wonderful one, and I’d like to invite you to join me on this journey.
The Art of Simpling is now Open for Enrollment
Learning ALL there is to know about herbs can become OVERWHELMING and COMPLICATED quickly. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Instead, when you focus on keeping things simple and work on developing a strong herbal foundation, learning, understanding, and retention take place. Basically, the puzzle pieces start fitting together.
One of the BEST ways I’ve found to do this is through the traditional practice of “SIMPLING.”
Simpling focuses on learning about and using a single herb in your local area for an extended period of time as a way to develop a PERSONAL relationship with the plant. In the herbal world, we call this type of relationship an “herbal ally.”
In the modern herbal world, it’s easy to rely on what others teach us about herbs a bit too much. While learning from those who’ve gone before us is a GOOD thing, if we solely rely on the knowledge and experience of others, so much that we neglect to develop our own relationship with the plants we work with, this can handicap us more than help us.
So I vote for bringing back some of our ancient traditions like simpling and drawing upon them in the modern herbal world!
Starting Monday, May 18th, I’m sharing how YOU can simplify your herbal studies through the practice of simpling, and I’m here to walk you through the process every step of the way in my 6-week herbal eCourse, The Art of Simpling.
We’ll be exploring:
- What “simpling” is
- How to use herbs safely
- How to create an herbal monograph to keep track of what you learn
- The difference between herbal actions and herbal energetics
- How to create various herbal preparations
- Getting to know herbs using your five senses
- How other herbalists have used simpling to learn about herbs
- How to compare preparations and find the best one to use
- Practices and rituals surrounding simpling
- The difference between spontaneous and applied intuition, and
- SO much more!
So throw your hands in the air, and let’s do this thing together! Click here to learn even more about this herbal course and to grab your seat for the 2020 session of ￼￼The Art of Simpling.