Go to any health food store and you will undoubtedly find a section for herbs. They are often displayed as supplements in the form of tinctures and capsules and some stores will also sell the individual loose leaf and roots of herb. Just seeing this dizzying array of herbs can be overwhelming and confusing for anyone who is interested in using herbs for their health effects. But starting your personal path as an herbalist doesn’t have to be that complex. Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
1- Start experientially. One of the best ways to get interested in herbs is to start getting to know them directly. Pick a few herbs that you have been interested in and then get to know them through drinking them as teas, taking them in tinctures and visiting them in gardens or in nature. Start with herbs that are generally mild that are unlikely to have any strong side effects. Get to know them one by one so you can feel how they affect your mood and your energy. Some great herbs to get started with are peppermint, chamomile and nettles.
2- Engage your five senses. Learning about herbs is enhanced by engaging all your five senses of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. To really develop a relationship with the plant world, it’s best to get up, close and personal. Whenever you can, go out and visit herbs in their natural setting. See if they prefer light or shade, if there’s only a few plants or many in a big community. Are they tall or short? Are their flowers large and showy or small and secretive? Then smell them. What kind of odor do they give off? Pungent? Aromatic? Musky? Tear off a small leaf and hold it in your hand. Feel the texture. Is it rough? Smooth? Then chew the herb for a moment. (Make sure its a safe non-toxic herb). How does it taste? Salty? Sour? Sweet? The smell and taste of an herb gives us clues to their personality and will help us understand what they are good for. The last sense is hearing. Sometimes this means hearing the environment where the herb is living. Are there birds singing? Children playing nearby? It can also mean tuning in really carefully to an herb. Maybe you will actually hear a message from the herb itself.
3- Make a dozen friends. Instead of looking at an herb book and trying to learn 100 different herbs, start by choosing just 12 herbs. As a long time herbalist I find myself returning to some tried and true herbs over and over again. I am acquainted with hundreds of herbs, but I am still only deep friends with no more than one or two dozen. Get to know 12 herbs by spending time reading about them in herb books and in visiting them in nature. Study them deeply, explore their uses and use your five senses to really connect to them.
4- Start a Daily Practice. Becoming an herbalist is like learning a foreign language. It takespractice, practice, practice. Learn about herbs and how to prepare them by reading herbal books, exploring on line content and watching videos on a daily basis. I also like to prepare an infusion of tonic herbs such as oatstraw, raspberry leaf or nettles everyday as a daily way of connecting to the plant world as well as a way to nourish my body.
5- Share your knowledge and love of herbs. Any chance you get, offer a cup of tea to a friend. Talk about the herb’s benefits, what its good for and how it can help improve health. Soon people will know you as a neighborhood herbalist.
6- Go Deeper. Once you have started your journey, there are a number of ways to go deeper. One of the best ways to become an accomplished herbalist is to attend a school of herbal studies that will teach you about botany, anatomy and physiology, different illness patterns, plant morphology and chemistry as well as traditional and scientific uses of herbs.
7- You’re on your way. There are no rules for becoming an herbalist. It simply takes time, devoted study, regular exploration and practice. But above all, becoming an herbalist means sharing your love of herbs. Get started today!
To get started as an herbalist, here are a number of books that I love deeply and are great for beginners.
The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman. This is a wonderful comprehensive book that describes different organic systems in the body and the best herbs for different illness patterns. It also has nice simple write ups of many common herbs.
Healing Wise by Susun Weed. A deeply profound and entertaining book that will introduce the reader to the Wise Woman Tradition of healing and herbalism. The book also gives great in depth accounts of a few herbs such as dandelion, chickweed and nettles.
Family Herbal by Rosemary Gladstar. This is a beautiful book that details some of the best herb combinations and treatment strategies for different health conditions.
The Herbs of Life by Lesley Tierra. If you are interested in traditional Chinese medicine as well as herbalism, Tierra has written a very easy to understand book that includes write ups of dozens of herbs as well as the best ways to prepare them.
The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook by James Green. Green has written a fantastic book on different ways to prepare herbs as medicines. As an herbalist I return to this book again and again when I am making herbal preparations.