This is a question I like to ask many of my students. What is growing around you? Many people only know what they themselves have planted. What about the plants nature provided? There are many herbs that go unnoticed on your property, on the sidewalk, in the trails, or in the meadow next door. Many are considered weeds and killed or discarded, but provide many benefits to you and your family. You can learn many things from the plants growing in your yard. Maybe, it showed up because the soil is depleted in some way. It could be that you or someone in your family needed it. Whatever the reason is for the plant being there, it is a good idea to learn more about it. The start of the new growing season is the perfect time to introduce yourself to many of the plants in your area.
I am always asked, “Where can I start learning about herbalism”. My answer is always,”In your own backyard”. Not everyone has the money to go to school, or buy a lot of books, learn from a distance, or train with someone experienced in herbalism. However, everyone has nature surrounding them. One of the first steps in learning about herbs is noticing what is in your own yard. Pick 5 herbs growing near you to begin with, and learn everything you can about it. Some examples could be the violets that are spreading through your lawn, the large amount of ground ivy in your yard that you can’t get rid of, the red clover growing in your garden, the plantain near the playground, the blue vervain by the pond, and the sassafras trees growing near the edge of the woods. Here are 5 herbs that you can harvest yourself and make into medicine for your family. But first, you need to know how to identify the herb, how to harvest it, how to prepare it, and how it can help you.
The local library is a good place to start if you don’t have the internet. Find pictures of local plants in field guides that you take with you on plant walks. My personal favorite field guide for my area is Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Steven Foster and James A. Duke. If I don’t know the plant, I take a picture, or I try to look it up in this field guide. Identification is very important in herbalism. Make sure you have the right herb before you use it! The next step is to find out what part of this herb is harvested. Is it the leaves, the flowers, the root, or the whole herb? When is the best time to harvest it? How do you harvest it? Is it best to harvest fresh or have it dried before making your medicine? Should you make a tea, or tincture with this herb? Every herb is different, and studying each individual plant is necessary. After you know that, then you need to understand what this herb can help you with. Does this herb provide anti-inflammatory properties, or is it a diuretic? Does this herb mix well with any medications you might be taking? Is it safe to use if you are pregnant or nursing? What are the recommended dosages? These are all important questions to answer.
Once you have learned about its medicinal uses, you could also find out more about its history and growing habits. After learning about your herb, you can proceed to make your medicine. I like to have a journal with each herb’s name, how I prepared it, and how it worked for us. I like to keep records so that I can go back and repeat what I have done. Keep track of how much herb is used to prepare it, and the exact recipe for future preparations. You can even write down what you have used that herb for, and how quick it worked. This not only helps with the memory, but with the learning process as well.
Not only do you want to begin to learn about an herb, you want to have experience with it. This is the best teacher! No amount of book learning can replace tasting the herb yourself, experiencing the sensation, or feeling the rewards of each herb individually. You just might find that you want to continue the learning process, and a new fire has been lit! I wish you joy in your journey!