Becoming an Herbalist
Begin right where you are! Bloom where you are planted. Sometimes doing something or becoming something requires just a very slight shift in consciousness.
Perhaps we are already what we aspire to become. We just have to take a closer look at our lives and what it was that brought us to this crossroad. Herbalism, or phytotherapy, is the use of plants to support the body’s own healing. Herbalism is practiced by almost everyone, everywhere in some way consciously or unconsciously. This is most definitely true for women who have traditionally been the food preparers and caregivers for their families and communities. Women practice herbalism when they tend their gardens, feed their families whole foods or comfort the ailing with teas and other home remedies. This is not to mention that cultures from the beginning of time and all around the world practice and rely heavily or solely on herbal medicine.
Becoming an herbalist is nothing more than using what grows on the earth as food and as medicine. It’s Earth medicine; what could be more natural? There are so many ways to use plants as medicine, we can eat them whole as food dried or fresh, consume them in vinegars and oils, drink them in teas, infusions, decoctions, cordials and wine, take them in capsules, pills, tinctures, powders, extracts and syrups. We can use herbs externally as poultices, ointments, salves, liniments, creams, soaps and lotions. We can make toothpaste, shampoo, conditioners, hydrosols, bath salts and medicinal oils. We can make sachets out of lavender, pine, rosemary, cedar or other aromatics to use for sleep, to repel insects or for the therapeutic application of aromatherapy.
Herbalism is traditional medicine. Herbalism was here long before our current Allopathic Medical System which is only about 200 years old. There is archaeological evidence that medicinal plants were used as medicine some 60,000 years ago (1). The first written records of herbal medicine use appear 2800 BC .
To say that we are all herbalists is to bring it back home, back to our kitchens and gardens and back into our own hands. History has not always been kind to herbalism or to herbalists and some of the negative connotations associated with the practice of herbalism still linger. Without addressing religious, political or cultural oppressions from the past or indeed of today, let me just say here and now that herbalism is as natural and as necessary as breathing or eating. Humans are part of the same ecosystem; we are made up of the same elements and chemical constituents that exist in the plant world. The compounds in plants work synergistically in the body to promote health and healing. We are meant for each other. What’s not to love here!
So now that we’ve established that we are all innate herbalists at heart, let us give credit where credit is due. Herbalists that choose to make herbalism their life’s work are some of the most dedicated, hard working, charismatic, gifted, caring and talented people on the planet.
Herbalists come from all walks of life and cross all socio-economic barriers; some are self taught and some are formally educated. Some hold degrees and some do not. Some herbalists are growers and harvesters while others are makers of products, wild crafters, Stewards of the earth or herbalist-healers.
One does not need a degree, or certificate to practice as an herbalist-healer but one does need to study and learn: the general principles of organic chemistry, botany, phytochemistry, anatomy, human physiology including the gastro-intestinal, cardiovascular, urinary, respiratory, musculoskeletal, nervous and the reproductive systems. A practicing herbalist must also understand pathology and pharmacology. They must be familiar with Materia Medica, the efficacy and safe use of herbs including: seeds, berries, flowers, leaves, stems, roots, rhizome and bark.
Because health and healing are very dependent on the food that we eat, herbalists must also have knowledge about whole foods and nutrition. Most importantly, herbalists will have been trained or will have learned to treat individuals as individuals and not diseases. Herbalists will know that they are working with a person who is experiencing an imbalance that has manifested in symptoms expressed in body, mind or spirit. Herbalist-healers will take a full history, noting past injuries and illnesses as well as a physical assessment, they will want to know about your diet and your elimination, they will observe your color, the way you walk and talk, they will want to know what you do for a living, for pleasure, for exercise, they will want to know about your home, your family and your stress levels. Herbalists will paint a portrait of the whole person and treat holistically using an herbal formula designed specifically for that person in order to help their body heal itself.
The main systems of herbalism from which all other forms are derived are: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Native American, Ayurvedic and Western and European herbalism. However herbalists are hugely individualistic and there are as many ways to practice herbalism as there are herbalists.
As you begin to appreciate herbalism and become familiar with some of the wonderful herbalists out there you will come to know and recognize their special qualities and ways of practicing. Naturally you will be drawn to beliefs and methods that feel right for you. There are so many wonderful books, teachers and schools to help you in your pursuit. There are conferences, workshops, herbal programs, plant walks and travel opportunities to take part in.
Lastly, I just want to add that herbalism is a journey, quite literally a magical journey and one that will never end or grow old. Herbalists live in harmony with the earth’s cycles and nurture a connection to all living things. They witness birth, life, death and re-birth in the plant world time and time again. For every season there is a sense of wonder and astonishment.
Plants, trees and flowers will keep you company and they will be your best teachers……..but, ya gotta get out there and feel the energy! Get your hands dirty and your tongue initiated with the taste of wild things……..Oh, I just have to say it…..let the Ruckus begin!
Become an Herbalist or just recognize that the herbalist in you is already present. Take that knowledge and grow, don’t be intimidated or impatient as it will take a lifetime but you will never be alone and you will never be bored.References: Solecki, Ralph s. (Nov. 1975) Shanidar IIV A Neanderthal flower, burial Northern Iraq Science 190 (4217) 880-881 Interested in becoming an herbalist? Check out our programs!