The verb “to know” has different levels of meaning. One can know the name or location of a city but to really know a city means something very different. We can know a person’s name but not really know the person.
This is also true of our relationship with plants. We can know the plant’s botanical name and recite a long list of facts about it. To truly know the plant on a deeper level, one must spend time with the plant and interact with it.
This is missing in many people’s use of herbs.
Five Ways to Know a Plant
These all play a role in knowing plant medicine deeply.
None offer a complete picture by themselves.
~ Scientific Research from Books & Websites
The written word conveys a great amount and depth of knowledge but the knowing is academic rather than personal.
An instructor, guide, mentor or elder can share what they know and this can be very helpful. But this is knowledge from the instructor, passively learned. It is also limited.
~Traditional Uses, Folk Medicine
While often dismissed by the academic community, the principles of folk medicine are amazingly accurate and helpful. They have stood the test of time, sometimes for centuries. Cultures, generations and family lineages have grown, harvested, used and observed these plant medicines repeatedly. Most academic research verifies traditional herbal use and explains it from a more modern perspective such as chemistry or physiology.
~Clinical & Community Herbalism
In the clinical herbalist community, typically an office space is rented and a formal business is begun. Here the herbalist is working with total strangers. Much effort is given to learning about the individual client and following this person’s progress while using plants and making diet and lifestyle changes. The challenge for many clinical herbalists is that many clients don’t bother with repeat visits or they are often of a short duration. This makes recording positive or negative reactions difficult.
For the Community Herbalist, have people close to you use the plant in formula or by itself.
Observe the results.
Keeps records, either mental or written.
This is an excellent way to learn about herbs because you see the clients often and get immediate and frequent feedback from them.
Interact with the plant, one to one.
Grow it, harvest it, photograph it, sketch it, prepare it, taste it, use it for medicine, use its for food.
Do this over time.
When combined with the other ways of knowing or learning, this provides a complete profile of the plant.
Many herbalists forget to do this.
None of the challenges of the follow-up with a clinical herbalist exist with personal use of herbs. You, as the herbalist, are able to do endless follow ups with yourself and record and fine tune the herb formulas as needed. Personal use along with the long term and ongoing relationships of family and friends make these types of interaction the most beneficial for learning herbal medicine. These are basic to all other ways of learning.
This is the essence of Community Herbalism.
Using Herb Monographs is a primary way to know an herb. Quality monographs incorporate most or all of the above characteristics. The length of a monograph can range from a single page to a booklet. Most are in the 5-10 page length.
The following monographs were authored by recent graduates of the Foundations of Herbal Medicine program. They are shared here in the hope that readers will find them helpful on their own herbal path.
Herbal Skin Care
9:30 – noon in Flagstaff
Join us for this informative class that shows you how to make:
in your own kitchen.
Foundations of Herbal Medicine
Our flagship program – now in its 25th year.
Runs one weekend a month from February thru November, 2020.
Additional field study during the summer months.
One of the longest running and most in-depth herb programs in the region.
Ultimate Survival Skills
June 5-7, 2020 near Flagstaff
Learn a variety of outdoor skills that will give you the confidence and ability to safely spend more time outdoors and away from the crowds.
While not specifically an herb course, the skills learned during this weekend are directly applicable to foragers and wildcrafters.