The Experiential Herbalist
In a workshop I listened intently as the herbalist spoke about getting to know the taste, temperature, and actions of herbs on a personal level. I was both intrigued and challenged. Except for a few herbs that had piqued my interest, much of my knowledge seemed intellectual. I too wanted to live and breathe herbs. How did he get to know so many and so much about each herb, and how they synergized with other herbs, and which ones would help people in the best way? He knew them intimately because he used them!
There is no time like the present to increase our herbal experience. So if you’re ready to “step it up a notch,” then get started intentionally using them. Pick one herb each month to add into daily life. In only two years you could have an in-depth knowledge of 24 herbs. Now this may not sound like a lot, 24 herbal simples? However, once you start combining these herbs the effects will multiply and so will your “experiential knowledge base.” Here are some suggestions:
- Keep a notebook and journal about each herb. Record everything you can think of about your herb selection.
- Taste? Bitter, sweet, salty, sour, lemon-like, acrid, etc.
- Smell? Minty “green”, floral, apple-like, etc.
- What does it look like as a plant, cut and sifted herb, powder? Color, texture, etc.
- Part of the plant? Root, leaf, aerial parts, flower, whole plant, etc.?
- Texture? Prickly, smooth, silky, gritty, etc.
- Does it taste differently as a powder, tea, tincture, etc?
- What are its herbal actions as a single herb (herbal simple)?
- Does it act differently as a hot tea or a cold beverage? Effective cold/hot or not? Bitter when steeped too long? How much tea is effective? Is a tincture or capsule a better delivery method, something else?
- How long does it take to work? Immediately, 15 minutes, ½ hour, 2 hours, a day, daily for week, month, etc.
- Is it drying, moistening, or neutral?
- Is its temperature hot, warming, neutral, cooling, cold, etc.?
- How does it make you feel? Energized, tired, relaxed, edgy, think clearly, etc.
- Is it aromatic? If so, how does the scent affect you? (Lavender, peppermint, chamomile, etc.)
- What are its herbal actions when mixed with another herb or herb combination?
- You can ask many of the same questions here that you did of the herbal simple.
- How is the herb different in a compounded form? Stronger/weaker? What ratio did you use? How might you change that ratio for a better effect?
- How do different herbs or combinations bring out the best, or worst in this herb?
- Which herb combinations taste better or worse?
- Is the herb or herbal combination safe for children and the elderly? How about pregnant or lactating women?
Be encouraged to try the herbs and form your own opinions before beginning your research. You might find that you perceive an herb slightly different than others, and that’s okay. It is not always a matter of right or wrong. Learning HOW to know herbs is an invaluable skill. As we gain knowledge, we gain intuition. So don’t let the reading of Materia Medicas become like reading a love story about someone else. Take the opportunity to fall in love yourself!
If you have a question, suggestion, or an experience of getting to know an herb of your own that you would like to share, please do so, in the comments below!
May the joy of knowing herbs be with you!