10 Tips for Exploring Herbalism

With a recent rise in popularity and mainstream acceptance, we hear more about herbalism now than ever before. While this is exciting and validating for us in the herbalism world, it can be intimidating for those who want to come play in our sandbox. Let me just say, the sandbox is plenty big for everyone and you are welcome!

The real question for us to explore is: how can I get started with herbalism? Good news, you already have! Chances are, you’ve been dabbling with herbalism for a very long time but just haven’t realized it.

  • Ever taken ginger or peppermint for an upset belly? That’s herblaism.
  • Ever added honey to tea when you had a sore throat? That’s herbalism.
  • Ever see berries while out on a walk and know not to eat them? That’s herbalism.
  • Ever give catnip to a feline friend and watch them go bonkers? That’s herbalism.
  • Ever smelled flowers and felt a profound emotion or memory? That’s herbalism.

Herbalism is so much more ingrained in our lives that any of us truly realize and that is a wonderful thing! If you’re interested in exploring herbalism deeply, with more intention, there are endless paths to do so. Here are 10 ways to get started now:

1 – Pick up a book from the library – There are countless herbal books available and more are being published seemingly everyday. Explore the Natural Living, Alternative Health, or Home Remedy section of your local library and see what you can find. Thrift shops can also be great places to start or expand your herbal library when on a budget. Do be aware that some info may change over time and it is always best to have multiple sources and as much information as possible.

2 – Ask Mom/Grandma – Have a conversation with the people who raised you and ask them what home remedies they used when you were a kid. Maybe you got ginger ale for a sick belly (herbalism), had a boo-boo kissed with a loving touch (energy work), or maybe you were talked to in utero (spirit connection).

3 – Go to an event – Local herbal groups and guilds will often put on classes, lectures, demonstrations, workshops, plant sales, and more for very reasonable costs. It can be intimidating to go to a gathering for the first time but just bring a notebooks, pen, and open heart and you might find a whole new group of herbie friends.

4 – Browse supplements – Next time you’re at your local co-op or vitamin store, take a walk through the supplements. See what you recognize and what is new to you. Make some notes and research what you saw. You may or may not be interested in taking any supplements but this can be a fun way to see what kinds of products are out there and what companies are touting as the benefits of each herb.

5 – Get online – There are wonderful communities online that share information, support each other, and practice what they preach. Search #herbalism #herbalist #herbal and you’ll find some amazing pockets of the internet doing really cool stuff. You might even find a local farm, CSA, or apothecary you can support and patronize.

6 – Take a class – Whether you’re more comfortable online or in person, there are more options than ever when it comes to herbal classes. Many herbal business and organizations offer a wide variety of classes for all levels of experience and interest. Classes can be pricey so do be sure you are invested before you send that payment. If committing to a 250 hour course for a week’s salary isn’t appealing, look for webinars, mini-series, free intro sessions, and other ways to test the water before you jump in.

7 – Have a friend over for tea – This might be my favorite way to see if a friend is herbal minded. Brew up some yummy tea and work into conversation a fact about an herb in the tea. If they give you a blank stare, no worries, you still taught them something. You might find that your friend responds with another herbal fact and now you’re deep into a conversation about what you’re going to grow in your tea garden this Spring. This might feel a little sneaky but I find it is okay to be a bit coy when you’re trying to feel out a situation. Others might just jump into a conversation about herbs but I’ve gotten enough uncomfortable smiles from friends to know that not everyone is where we’re at. Do what is most comfortable for you.

8 – Go for a walk – Find a local park, hiking trail, or public garden and go for a walk. See what plants you recognize and what ones catch your attention. Bring a sketchbook, camera, or your phone to document what you’re seeing and how it is making you feel. Learning what local plants are in your area can be a great jumping off point for deeper exploration. A field guide can be handy along with phone apps to help identify plants, trees, and other wild growing plants.

9 – Buy a plant – Having live plants in our homes and work spaces can be quite powerful. Not only do houseplants help to clean the air and even out energy, they’re pretty. Do not underestimate the aesthetic power of plants, especially flowers, to enhance our moods and alter our emotions. Name your plants, talk to them, ask them what they need. Cultivating a relationship this intimate and powerful will likely lead you to learn some new things about yourself along the way.

10 – Talk about plants and ask questions – Yes, it can really be that simple. Tell a coworker about your new houseplant and where you got it, talk with a friend about your nature walk and what you observed, share a new herbal ally with someone close to you. The more you engage with plants and herbalism, the more you’ll see it all around you and how it supports you everyday. In addition to sharing what you’ve learned, stay curious and ask questions. Inquire with the co-op employee in the supplement isle about what their favorite remedy for a headache is, chat up your local greenhouse owner about what you could be planting in your space at this time of year, ask a stranger in the herbal section of the bookstore if they have a recommendation. Just like learning and developing any hobby, skill, or interest, the more you stay engaged the more you’ll see how much there is to engage with.

When digging in to herbalism, there are a few things to be aware of but the most important thing to on the watch for is bad information. It’s everywhere. Seriously. We’ve all seen on our social media feeds about the miracle properties of turmeric to get rid of inflammation or how cucumbers will magically slim you down. This is crap, mostly. Yes turmeric and cucumber are awesome but they’re not, and nothing else is either, a magic bullet for any ailment. Our bodies, minds, and spirits are complex webs of everything in the universe and we often need nuanced answers for in depth questions. Honor yourself with research, time, and intention into finding what will truly benefit you. Consult a Naturopathic Doctor, medical Physician, or Certified Clinical Herbalist before you begin a supplement or drastic change in diet.

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