Herbalism 101

Herbalism is as ancient as life itself. It predates recorded history, oral history, and even humxn beings. What is herbalism? Broadly, herbalism is the practice of taking plants to bring oneself back into balance. One could even argue that the consumption of vegetation, i.e. simply eating fruits and vegetables, is herbalism. More specifically, though, herbalism is the earliest system of medicine known, and the foundation of all other forms of medicine. It is the study of plants: their energetics, flavors, patterns, affinities, and actions. It is the study of the body: its energetics, systems, patterns, afflictions, and processes. And it is the act—the art, really—of weaving these wisdoms together with intention and intuition to help bodies to heal themselves, to balance and re-balance patterns of disharmony, with the support of plants and their practical magic.

What is an Herb?

Technically, an herb is an herbaceous plant used for medicine, flavoring, food, scent, or cosmetics, which does not have a woody stem, bears seeds, and dies down to the ground after flowering. However, when it comes to herbalism, an herb refers to any plant or plant-part (seed, bark, root, stem, heartwood, leaf, flower, pistil, etc), moss, lichen, seaweed, nectar, resin, or fungi that offers known medicinal benefit and is used for such purpose. Importantly, herbs are organisms; whole beings, with an essence that is more than the sum of its parts.

History of Herbalism

The history of herbalism is intertwined with the history of humxns and humxnoid beings; herbaceous plants have been around for about 125 million years, though the earliest humxnoid beings didn’t appear until about 5 million years ago. Until about 12,000 years ago, all humxns were hunter-gatherers; this period of the humxn species, the longest yet, was an extensive and effective clinical trial into the medicinal and otherwise powerful properties of plants. From this period came knowledge of the plants that produce the best foods, medicines, poisons, dyes, cloths, fuels and weapons, and hallucinatory or spiritual experiences–all of which shaped the humxn mind, body, and society.3 The next period of humxn development, marked by the birth of agriculture (about 10,000 years ago) and the founding of more permanent settlements, set the stage for a more scientific approach to herbal medicine. The written history of herbalism is more than 5,000 years old, but there are many examples of ancient, preliterate uses of herbal medicine.

Stone Age Herbalism

There is archaeological evidence that dates the use of medicinal plants back to the Paleolithic age, about 60,000 years ago.A Neanderthal burial found in Shanidar, Iraq, revealed a man buried on a bed of herbs and flowers, including Grape Hyacinth, Yarrow, Ephedra, Henbane, Thistle, Marshmallow, and more. Similarly, studies on Neanderthal tooth plaque confirm that Neanderthals masticated herbs like Yarrow, Chamomile, and Poplar.3

The discovery of Otzi, the iceman from the Late Neolithic-Early Copper Age 5,300 years ago, confirms early herbal wisdom. He was found frozen and virtually intact down to hair and tissue, with a satchel containing food, tools, and medicinal plants. Specifically, Otzi was carrying Birch Polypore, a fungus with vermifuge, antibacterial and antiviral properties, and dried Sloe Berries from the European Blackthorn, which are a metabolic stimulant, high in Vitamin C, anti-inflammatory, carminative, anti-microbial, and immune boosting. Both are surmised to be remedies for his Whipworm, a parasitic nematode, and his Lyme Disease. The fact that the Sloe Berries were pre-dried from the autumn before–as they were not in season at the time of Otzi’s death–suggests deliberate use and thus, Otzi’s empirical knowledge of their medical benefits.4

Ancient Herbals

Note: Written herbals help us piece together the history of herbalism, but they are not close to the whole story. Many peoples did not write down their herbal knowledge or experience, and we who are herbal devotees must hold space for and respect the vast and incomprehensible saga of humxn interactions with herbs of which we will never be aware.

The first written record of medicinal plants dates back to over 5,000 years ago, recorded on clay tablets by the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia. These tablets described a dozen herbal recipes, which incorporated over 250 plants. Though it wasn’t the first ancient Egyptian herbal publication, the Ebers Papyrus, containing recipes for over 850 herbal medicines, was written in 1500 BCE. It’s among the oldest written herbals to survive intact.6

Ayurveda, a system of medicine from India and the surrounding areas, is a tradition at least 5,000 years old, with invaluable written medicinal texts which date back to about 400 BCE. Notably, one of these ancient texts, The Charaka Samhita, mentions over 300 herbs, many of which are still used in contemporary Ayurvedic and now western practice.3

Around 200 CE, the near mythical figure of Chinese emperor Chi’en Nung is credited with compiling the foundational materia medica of classical Chinese medicine, Pen Ts’ao Ching, which lists over 350 herbs, and is believed to record traditional practices dating back to about 2700 BCE, or 5,000 years ago. Many herbs included in the Pen Ts’ao Ching are still used in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) today, and more than a few can be found in the materia medicas of modern, western herbalists.3

Around 450 BCE, Empedocles, a Greek philosopher, wrote On Nature and The Purifications, which developed the “Four Roots Theory,” an exploration of earth, air, fire, and water, which became a guide for medical understanding of energetics in the west. Plato, a later Greek philosopher, developed these ideas into “The Four Elements” and Hippocrates, a Greek physician, further developed them into “The Four Humors” of the humxn constitution around 400 BCE. Hippocrates is also credited with separating medicine from religion or spirituality; his theories (The Hippocratic Oath) continue to influence western medicine today.6

The Rhizome of Herbal History

Tracing the history of herbalism is like trying to trace a mycelial network; it’s nearly impossible to give a fair and representative overview to the many, many interconnected pathways, influences, cultures, and medicinal practices. Just as any herbalist worth their salt knows, healing isn’t linear and the history of healing traditions certainly isn’t either! There is no definitive chronology because the use of plants in healing is more or less intrinsic to humxns. Even when we say: western herbalism, Ayurveda, TCM, etc, all of these herbal traditions have incorporated wisdom and plant life from all over the globe.

From time immemorial up to about the 18th century, which harkened the start of the Industrial Revolution, there is not a distinct separation between the practice of medicine and the practice of herbalism—the primary remedies across the globe were diet, plant and animal-derived medicines, and surgery.3 With the exception of surgery, most medicine was what we consider natural medicine today. Over this period of time, of course, much advancement was made in terms of herbal preparations, herbal knowledge, and understanding of the physiology of the humxn body. Many texts were written, medical universities and learning centers were established cross-culturally, and different philosophies and schools of thought were explored.

 

Herbal Aids for Spring

 

Traditional Systems

From the rhizome of prehistoric herbalism emerged many traditional systems of medicine, which were specific to their regions, developed in dialogue with their cultural ideologies, and incorporated the herbs native to their lands. All of these herbal systems are still in practice today.

Africa

Africa is a large and diverse continent with countless, localized traditions of herbal healing; from ancient Egypt, it’s one of the homes of the earliest herbal transcription. Typically, African traditional medicine focuses on not only physical health, but spiritual, moral, and social aspects of the client’s being. Secrecy surrounds the practices of many traditional healers across the continent, with herbal recipes, ceremonial procedures, and spiritual erudition being passed down only to apprentices or initiates. Largely, African herbal medicine uses resins, gums, roots, barks, and seeds in greater proportion to leafy, herbaceous plants due to the climate and topographies. Traditional herbal medicine is still the most popular and accessible form of healthcare in Africa; in many countries, including Ghana, Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Kenya, traditional healers are used by over 80% of the population. In many rural areas, they’re the only medicinal support available.5

It’s important to acknowledge the horrific disruption and fracturing the slave trade enacted on the African herbal tradition. Many enslaved Africans carried herbal knowledge with them to the U.S. and therefore, much of post-colonized U.S. herbalism (especially in the Southern states) is imbued with traditional African herbal knowledge, owing this tradition an unfathomably great debt.

The Americas

Deep in the rainforests and up in the mountains of South America, rich herbal and spiritual traditions were born and remain in practice. The often entheogenic, ceremonial Shamanic practices of Peru, though they now draw “international ayahuasca tourism,” are still wildly popular today, and markets across South America sell healing herbs and spices employed by medicine peoples and civilians. Cinchona bark, once the only effective treatment against malaria, is native to Western South America. In Central America too, herbalism is alive and well; curanderismo is a traditional Mexican American healing system that holistically treats disorders through religious, spiritual, and health-related means.3 Curanderismo and practices like it are sought-after and accepted today.

Throughout the Americas, colonization has played a large part in the disruption and dissemination of herbal healing traditions. Indigenous and First Nations people of the Americas have experienced and continue to experience violence, cultural trauma, disenfranchisement, and genocide. However, long before the Europeans arrived in the Americas, indigenous people were practicing herbalism; North American tribes, from the Southwest to the Northeast all have rich, herbal traditions. Like many traditional healing cultures, First Nations peoples broadly believe that illness is a sign of misalignment in both spirit and the physical body—ceremony is at the center of Indigenous healing practice. Western herbalism is a vibrant practice today thanks to the generosity of Indigenous herbalists, who stewarded such plants as Juniper, White Pine, Yarrow, Black Cohosh, Echinacea, California Poppy, and so, so many more.8

China

From China, we have Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, perhaps the most integrated system of ancient medicine in modern society. Traditional Chinese practitioners aim to restore a balance between two forces, yin (passive) and yang (active), which define the humxn body and the universe as a whole. TCM views a person as healthy when harmony exists between these two forces; illness is a result of breakdown in the equilibrium of yin and yang. Qi is understood to be the life-force of the body, which may need to be manipulated to regain balance. TCM practitioners also tend to combine herbs with body work, such as acupuncture or acupressure, moxibustion, cupping, or gua sha. In TCM’s pharmacopoeia, there are thousands of medicinal plants, but also dried animal parts like snakeskin scorpions, insects, and deer antlers.6

In general, TCM is still widely accepted by mainstream Chinese society, and even by other countries and societies globally. China has standardized the processes for receiving TCM certification, and TCM services are often offered in western style hospitals and clinics.A few of the more recognizable and much loved Chinese herbs (to the western practitioner) are: Astragalus, Licorice, Reishi, Ginger, Schisandra, and Dong Quai.

India

Ayurveda, the Indian system of vibrant living, is also alive and well in modern society. Ayurveda, like TCM and other traditional systems, is the adherment to the practice of ayur (life) and veda (knowledge), which includes herbal medicine. Ayurveda involves the use of earth-based elements to re-balance the root cause of dis-eases. The philosophy of Ayurveda aims to prevent unnecessary suffering and live a long healthy life. Unlike modern pharmaceuticals, which use mainly synthetic chemicals designed for specific target receptors, Ayurveda involves the use of organic means like diet, herbs, spices, minerals, meditation, yoga, and emotional balance to eliminate the root cause of the disease and by creating a healthy life-style to prevent future imbalance. Ayurvedic herbs like Ashwagandha, Shatavari, Bacopa, Turmeric, and Tulsi are incorporated into modern herbalism today.3

The Middle East

The Middle East is home to the earliest known herbal transcription, from the ancient Sumerians. Around 1,000 CE, Persian physician Hakim Ibn Sina developed the Unani-Tibb medical system, which was founded on the Greek Four Humors system and Middle Eastern folk herbalism. Unani is a Persian word meaning ‘Greek’ and Tibb is an Arabic word meaning ‘medicine.’ The Unani-Tibb system is still practiced today, and incorporates much loved regional herbs like Nigella, Cumin, Coriander, Garlic, Willow, Frankincense, Cedar, Aloe, and Henna.8

Europe

Like other continents, European herbalism arose through an amalgamation of different folk traditions and influence from the ancient Greek systems of medicine. Monasteries and religious institutes were also places of medicinal study; in the 11th century, German abbess Hildegard von Bingen wrote the herbal texts Cause and Cure and Physica. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, an explosion of printing made written accounts of herbal practice widely available and the translation of texts from Greek and Latin into common languages allowed the public to become much more educated in this area. The first herbal book to be printed in English was an encyclopedia of sorts, known as The Grete Herball, first printed in 1526.2

Modern Herbal Medicine

While most systems of herbal medicine never truly faded away, by the industrious 19th century, the western practice of medicine had largely moved from the use of herbs and botanicals into the realm of “heroic medicine” like purging, bloodletting, and the use of toxic minerals such as arsenic and mercury. In the U.S., the Eclectics and the Physio-Medicalists continued to offer herbal remedies and more subtle, less invasive therapies, often at odds with the new standards. During this time, different medical factions competed for prominence, respect, and reputation until the formation of the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1847.6

Though the AMA had two formal propositions for medical education: one, all doctors should have a “suitable education” and two, a “uniform elevated standard of requirements for the degree of M.D. should be adopted by all medical schools in the U.S.”6 However, the AMA did not hide its real goal of building a government-enforced monopoly for the purpose of dramatically increasing modern physician incomes, motivated by increasing competition from homeopaths and herbalists. In the year prior to the AMA’s founding, the New York Journal of Medicine stated that competition with homeopathy caused “a large pecuniary loss” to allopaths. In that same publication, the dean of the medical school at the University of Michigan wrote to complain about competition because it made being a physician “arduous and un-remunerative.” In 1848, The Massachusetts Medical Society wrote that physicians should be “looked upon by the mass of mankind with a veneration almost superstitious.”3

Thus, the AMA set out to “standardize” medical education with specifics of operation, not met by many of the herbal or homeopathic medical schools. The schools that could not meet these standards were shut down; in particular, this eliminated many schools that served women and Black and Brown students.6 (Note: In 2008, the AMA acknowledged this, and half-heartedly apologized for “its past history of racial inequality toward African-American physicians.” which persisted at least into the 1960s, and probably continues today.) Between 1910 and 1935, more than half of all existing American medical schools merged with large universities or closed. Homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, osteopathic medicine, and Eclectic medicine were in strong competition to allopathic medicine. Schools offering training in any of these disciplines were forced to drop these courses from their curricula or lose their accreditation.3

Thus, due to legal reasons and societal favor, the practice of herbalism waned from the early 1900s until somewhat recently, around the 1960s and 70s, when it found a resurgence with the back-to-the-land movement. Since then, herbalism has become increasingly more popular, and herbal remedies can be administered by licensed practitioners of osteopathic or naturopathic medicine. Of course, the herbs are always available to us, no prescription required. We can find them not only in the grocery store or apothecary, but also in our gardens, forests, meadows, and backyards!6

How are herbs different from pharmaceutical medicine?

More than 50% of modern-day pharmaceuticals are directly derived from phytochemical constituents, or plants, including the top 20 best-selling prescription drugs in the United States today. However, it’s not legal to patent a plant, so there isn’t much grandiose financial incentive to invest in herbal medicine. Instead, pharmaceutical medicines are made (note: the following is a simplified overview of the process) by isolating a single phytochemical molecule (usually the most prevalent or dense molecule, often referred to as the “active constituent”), modifying and synthesizing it (this is where companies can patent a drug), then binding the synthesized molecule with the mode of application, like granulate powder for pills or sugar for syrups or liquid-like saline solution for injections, etc. These forms of medicine are targeted to work directly on specific bonding sites in the body. As herbalist Matthew Wood writes in his herbal tome, The Earthwise Herbal,

“Herbs are slurries of organic chemicals that act on multiple pathways simultaneously to effect general physiological changes. They are not purified molecules (like drugs) that act on single molecular bonding sites. Thus, they are suited to general physiological changes, rather than specific molecular lesions. However, a plant is not just a slurry of chemicals; it is directed by an innate intelligence, just as we are not slurries of chemicals. Even allergies and viral infections, though they may originate in very complex single molecules and produce characteristic molecular lesions, present a “slurry” of symptoms that also need to be seen as having a holistic identity.”8

Essentially, herbs provide more holistic, full-spectrum medicine, whereas pharmaceuticals provide targeted but perhaps more reductionist medicine. For example, aspirin contains a derivative of the phytochemical compound salicin from White Willow Bark. But the aspirin contains only that phytochemical compound, whereas the White Willow Bark contains many other phytochemicals like polyphenols and flavonoids, which also have antioxidant, fever-reducing, antiseptic, and immune-boosting properties.7 Thus, a whole plant extract will provide what’s called an “entourage effect,” where the entirety of the extracted constituents will work in different ways to provide balanced, nuanced, holistic support.

Research & Studies on Herbal Medicine

Unfortunately, modern research and studies on herbal medicines and herbs tend to be underfunded, improperly conducted, or improperly reported. Herbalism seeks to treat the whole person, taking into account their constitution, energetics and emotional, spiritual, and physical being. Doing double-blind placebo controlled studies in which all participants receiving the herb get the same, standard dose certainly can’t replicate that intricate level of care. Sure, there are countless studies that do prove the efficacy of herbs. Elderberry works wonders on colds and flus; for example, one study found that 93% of flu patients given Elderberry were completely symptom-free within two days whereas those taking a placebo did not recover for about six days.7 But the science just proves what traditional wisdom already knew.

What is an Herbalist?

An herbalist is a professional caregiver who connects people with plants, who sees people and plants as whole individuals irrespective of the disease or condition they have, who empowers others innate healing power through the use of interventions like herbal preparations, diet, and lifestyle. An herbalist is someone who dedicates their life to working with medicinal plants in some way. Herbalists are indigenous healers, scientists, naturopaths, holistic medical doctors, researchers, writers, herbal pharmacists, medicine makers, wild crafters, seed-savers and farmers, among others.

Decolonizing Herbalism

Currently, in the U.S., the practice of herbalism is not regulated. To some, this may sound dubious, but I’d ask you to question the reasons for your fear or doubt. Standardization does not equal safer practice, instead, it hides racism, supremacy, power, and greed behind an official name and logo. Let’s learn a lesson from the formation of the AMA, and the harm caused by these types of patriarchal, capitalist, supremacist institutions.

Let’s not standardize the study plants and people! Let’s empower Black herbalists, Indigenous herbalists, and herbalists of color; let’s support the queer herbalists, trans & two-spirit herbalists, non-binary herbalists, women & womxn herbalists. Our wisdom is in our bones; our ancestors were herbalists. We are intuitive beings with a great capacity to heal. Herbalism is for everyone, always.

Training

There is no one way to become an herbalist! I cannot stress that enough. Yes, there are many herbal schools, and many of them are wonderful places to start. However, there are also one-off classes, weekend-long trainings, apprenticeships, books, webinars, herb farms, elders, and the herbs themselves, just to name a few. I’d suggest learning from as many different herbalists with as many different styles along the way. I’d also suggest first learning and working with the herbs of your ancestry, if that knowledge is available to you.

How do Herbalists Practice?

Just like there is no one way to become an herbalist, there is no one way to practice herbalism! Many herbalists have private practices through which they see clients one-on-one. Some herbalists work in apothecaries or clinics. Some herbalists travel around spreading medicine or using herbal first aid. Some herbalists make medicine, teach, write, grow herbs, or just get to know herbs. Within practice too, every herbalist is different. Some use very low doses of herbs, whereas some herbalists use high doses. Herbalists will focus on different areas of the body, use different tools for assessment, and give different herbal preparations.

Types of Herbal Preparations

The following is a list of some of the more common herbal preparations. Please note this is an overview and certainly not exhaustive or comprehensive!

Infusions

Essentially, tea. Infusions of herbs are generally steeped, covered, for longer than a regular cup of tea (15 minutes to several hours), however, so that the medicinal qualities of the herb are present in the water. Infusions are a great way to incorporate tonic herbs into daily life; I often recommend that clients make overnight infusions of herbs like Nettle, Oatstraw, Red Clover. To make, pour 12 oz of just boiled water over two tablespoons of dried herb then steep covered overnight, strain, and enjoy.

Decoction

A decoction is like an infusion in that it’s a water extract of herbs and, essentially, tea. However, decoctions involve simmering the herbs for at least 15 minutes, but up to several hours. I usually reserve this method for roots, berries, mushrooms, and barks. To make a decoction, simmer about a tablespoon of dried herb per 12 oz of water, for about 30 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

Syrups

Syrups are a wonderful way to get the medicine down, especially for children. To make, start by with a very strong decoction: 1 oz of herb per 16 oz of water. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain & add 8 oz of honey. Bottle & store in the fridge.

Tinctures

Tinctures are a go-to preparation in most herbalists’ apothecaries; simply, they’re alcohol extracts of an herb. To make, chop herb and add to a glass jar, then pour alcohol (like vodka, or something 80 proof) of choice so that the herb is fully submerged in liquid. (Dry herb – 1 part herb : 5 parts liquid, Fresh herb – 1 part herb : 1 part liquid). Seal jar tightly, & label with date, percentage alcohol, herbs. Shake daily for 4-6 weeks, strain, enjoy. You may use vinegar or food-grade vegetable glycerine in place of alcohol.

Powders

Powders are just dried powdered herbs. I like to use a prebiotic powder blend with Marshmallow root, Burdock root, and Elecampane for clients with certain digestive issues. To make, simply dry the herb then grind it in an electric grinder or blender until it’s powder! Mix into liquids or foods and enjoy.

Poultices

A poultice is a topical application of macerated herb mixed with water or oil, and sometimes clay. I like to use a Comfrey poultice on sprained ankles, or a Jewelweed poultice on Poison Ivy. To make, finely chew up or mash the herb, add a small amount of water, then apply the paste to the affected area and wrap with gauze or cloth.

Herbal Oils & Salves

Herbal oils and salves are one of the best ways to apply herbal medicine topically. To make, add garbled dry herb to a glass jar, then pour oil of choice over it, making sure the herb is completely submerged. Seal jar tightly, & label with date, oil, herbs. Keep the oil in a warm or sunny place for about 3 weeks, shaking daily. Strain & enjoy. To make the oil into a salve, melt 1 oz of beeswax into 8 oz herbal oil. Pour into tins or short jars.

Steams

Steams are an effective way to get herbal vapors into your nose and upper respiratory system, lovely for decongesting during allergies or colds. To make, simply simmer herbs in a pot, then take the pot off the stove & place in a sink. Drape a towel over your head & lower your head over the pot so as to create an enclosed tent. Inhale the herbs, being careful not to get burned. A similar practice can be used for vaginal steaming, sit or hover over the pot with a towel enclosing the steam.

Baths & Soaks

Herbal baths and soaks are a delightful way to relax the muscles, soothe the spirit, and imbue yourself with herbal magic. To make an herbal bath (or foot soak, if you don’t have access to a bathtub), combine herbs of choice with an equal amount of epsom salts and/or sea salt either directly into the bath or into a muslin bag. Run warm water to desired fullness, and submerge yourself.

Flower Essences

Flower essences are vibrational medicine that work on the emotional -spiritual body. They are infusions made from the flowering part of the plant, steeped in the sun to capture the energetic imprint of the flower, then preserved with alcohol (usually brandy). To make, add pure spring water to a glass bowl or vessel. Calmly and intentionally harvest a flower’s blossoms (asking permission of the plant first!). Using a stem and/or leaf (not your fingers), place the flowers on the surface of the water, then place the glass vessel on the ground in a peaceful place in full sun. Let the sun fix the vibrational qualities of the flowers into the water for several hours. Next, strain the flowers out of the water and add an equal part of Brandy or alcohol preservative of choice. This mixture is the “mother essence” (do not dose directly from this mixture. First make a stock, then a dosage bottle). To make a stock bottle, add 10 drops of the mother essence to a 60 mL bottle filled with 50:50 spring water and alcohol. To make a dosage bottle, add one drop of essence from the stock bottle to a 15 mL bottle filled with 50:50 water and alcohol. Take a few drops from the dosage bottle to experience your flower essence.

Where do herbalists get their herbs & what do they do with them?

Wild Crafting

Wildcrafting is the practice of foraging for useful plants from their natural, wild habitat for edible or medicinal purposes. Many herbalists wildcraft, and it’s a good way to understand where your herbal remedies come from, and to identify plants. However, the “wild” is shrinking every day, and wildcrafting should only be done ethically. This means only harvesting a plant once it has given you permission, only harvesting a plant when it’s very abundant or invasive, and only harvesting what you need, and less than 10% of what you find. Be cautious not to harvest plants from places where chemicals are sprayed, and be certain that you’ve correctly identified a plant before eating it or using it medicinally. Never wildcraft plants that are sacred or endangered.

Cultivation

Cultivation, or growing your own herbs, is a much more sustainable approach to harvesting fresh herbs. However, cultivation isn’t accessible to everyone, of course. If you can grow your own herbs, great! But if you can’t, try reaching out to local farms or folks with big gardens and offering to weed in exchange for herbs. Oftentimes, people weed out the medicinal herbs we seek!

Processing and Storage

To preserve herbs, they can either be made into one of the above preparations or dried in a drying room or dehydrator or simply by hanging. Herbs, when properly dried, should retain some of their color and shouldn’t appear brown or moldy. Once properly dried, store herbs in sealed glass containers to keep out insects, dust, and mold. Always make sure to label and date your herbs, and store away from direct sunlight.

Safety & Regulations

Always purchase herbs and herbal products from a trusted source. Herbal products are regulated by the FDA, but only as dietary supplements, and manufacturers don’t have to seek FDA approval before selling dietary supplements. This doesn’t mean they’re unsafe, but do your research before taking a new herb or herb product. Only purchase herbs from people you know, or reputable businesses.

Medical Interactions & Contraindications

Although rare, certain herbs may interact with certain medications. For example, do not take St. John’s Wort if you are taking certain pharmaceuticals, as it lessens the efficacy of many drugs. Do not take herbs containing coumarins if you are on blood-thinning medication. Do not take Licorice root if you are hypertensive. Always consult with an informed herbalist or a physician if you are concerned about contraindications or medical interactions.

How do I find an herbalist?

Herbalists are all over! To find an herbalist in your area, do a quick internet search, or check-in at your local herb shop, acupuncture place, or wellness center. If you’d like to work with a specific herbalist, send them an email or check out their website for their rates and schedule. You can also contact one of our Resident Herbalists at The Alchemist’s Kitchen or book a free consultation.

 

Herbal Aids for Spring

 

Sources

  1. Adelmann, Marlene. “HILDEGARD VON BINGEN” – Link
  2. American Herbalists Guild. “Herbal Medicine Fundamentals.” – Link
  3. Herbal Academy. “HERBAL HISTORY: ROOTS OF WESTERN HERBALISM” – Link
  4. Hunt, Patrick. “Otzi the Iceman’s Medicine Kit Included Sloe Berries (Prunus Spinosa)” – Link
  5. Ozioma, E et al. “Herbal Medicines in African Traditional Medicine” – Link
  6. Saba, Heather. “HERBALISM: A HISTORY – HOW HERBALISTS OF THE PAST PAVED THE WAY FOR TODAY” – Link
  7. Vickers, A et al. “Herbal medicine.” The Western journal of medicine vol. 175,2 (2001) – Link
  8. Wood, Matthew. “An Exploration of the Conceptual Foundations of Western Herbalism and Biomedicine” – Link

Micaela Foley

Micaela Foley is a practicing herbalist and writer currently living in Providence, Rhode Island. She attended both ArborVitae School of Traditional Herbalism in New York City and Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine in Northern California. Her herbal work is focused on accessibility, community healing, and issues of social justice. Her writing aims to be holistic, an attempt to interweave the scientific, political, spiritual, poetic, ancestral and contemporary. Follow her on IG @mickfoley_official and @quintessence_herbs.

2 Comments
  1. WOW, what a wonderful and informative article. Thank you for this great intro, I feel like I learned so much and am inspired to foray into experimenting and further educating myself about herbalist practices. Well done!

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