Thirty years ago I would have said that Herbalism was taking capsules of dried plants, and a few teas and foul-tasting tinctures, so that I didn’t get sick. Today Herbalism is much more widely known than it was in the 1980’s, but perhaps it’s no better understood. Let’s look at this!
Yes, Herbalism is plants. You can quibble about mushrooms and resins and a few other not-exactly-plant items, but basically we’re talking “go out in the woods or the fields and gather” items here. Except, not really.
To really get a handle on what Herbal medicine is about, I need to ask you to try something: Set aside your understanding, your ideas about medicine and disease and wellness. They’re perfectly valid thoughts, but I want you to try to imagine an entirely different way.
People are complex- just check out the online reviews of restaurants or gyms or anything else. No one thing is for EVERYONE. And plants are just as complex as we are- did you know that the only chemical difference between our blood and chlorophyll is that where we have an Iron molecule, the plants have a Magnesium? We inhale what they exhale, they make the water cycle the entire planet depends on, and the exact same plant can vary widely in its growth habits and chemical makeup depending on where it’s grown. I’m the same- I’d be very different living in the far North, or on a tropical island, or in the middle of a city, based on the choices, opportunities, and resources available to me.
So what is Herbalism? I nominate this idea: It’s The Act And Art Of Living With Plants As Food And Medicine To Maximize Your World.
"Act and Art"
Herbalism definitely has a big knowledge component- you need to know your plants. How many plants is up to you, though.
A dozen or two well-chosen plants could cover pretty much everything you’d need, and some herbalists work well with 6-10 individual and combination remedies handling almost all of their client’s complaints. On the other end of the spectrum, there are honestly thousands and thousands of plants to choose from.
The “art” of herbalism is inseparable from the knowledge base. Facts, research, and “proof” inform us right alongside intuition, inspiration, and experimentation.
Every single herbalist I know balances the science and the art that underpins the “knowing” of their plants differently, beautifully, and dynamically, allowing change to morph their practice over time. Practicing herbalism is a dance with all the information- known and unknown- out there.
"Food and Medicine"
Food and medicine is the same thing! That tomato you grew is tasty, it fills your belly, and it provides you with vitamins, minerals, and other molecules like lycopene and beta carotene that support different functions in your body- they’re medicine.
Often the difference between food and medicine is just the dose. A little mug of hot water with a Chamomile teabag is a nice beverage, but a jar of fresh flowers covered in cold water steeped overnight in the fridge makes a fragrant, uplifting apple-sweet drink that delivers all the muscle-relaxing and petulance-overcoming benefits of Chamomile’s volatile oils. And a mug of long-brewed Chamomile tea, dark and earthy and bitter, helps move full or constricted digestion along.
Good food- whole, clean, organic, and consistent- seasoned and spiced with further good foods, becomes your medicine
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Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
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This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition or mental or emotional condition. Working with us is not a guarantee of any results. Paula Billig owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.