Co-authors Amanda Luna & Jean Pullen
Exploring the Layers of Herbalism
Curious about herbalism, but don't know how to get started? In this article, we will walk you through our recommended Discover how to:
- ask permission of the earth
- introduce yourself to the plants growing near you
- understand which plants you are called to work with
- notice what is right under your nose
- go deeper with the plants that call to you and more!
HERBALISM CONTAINS SO MANY RICH LAYERS THAT IT IS HARD TO KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN. IF YOU WISH TO DEEPEN YOUR UNDERSTANDING, WE RECOMMEND STUDYING THE PLANTS THEMSELVES, READING PLANT GUIDES, CULTIVATING PLANT FRIENDS AND MENTORS, AND INVESTING IN COURSES, IMMERSIONS, AND CLASSES.
As with any relationship, we believe it's important to start with introductions, meeting the plants and the land with which you will be practicing herbalism. Greeting the earth first, try saying hello, introducing yourself, stating your intention, asking permission, offering your gratitude and maybe giving a little offering. The offering can be as simple as giving love to the land, or you might offer something like a flower, stone, or other found treasure. It’s not about the material gift so much as the intention behind it. Next, you can apply the same practice of making introductions and asking permission to the plant you are called to work with.
WHAT EXACTLY DO I MEAN BY “CALLED TO WORK WITH?” This is the part where you let go of expectations, judgements or preconceived notions about herbalism and what its “supposed” to look like. Take a big breath in and out and ask the earth which plant you are meant to connect with. Wherever you find yourself, take note of the herbs that are closest to the place you are inhabiting. These are likely to be your first plant allies. I remember the first time I read The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. I was thrilled to learn how plants have such a beautiful intelligence and can listen and respond to the environment around them. Nowadays, I love walking through our gardens, observing and singing to the plants. I can feel how their beauty connects me to love, gratitude, and the present moment. It’s moving to look at a forest and see how all the different plants and species grow and coexist together.
“Herbalism is the study and practice of botany, ethnobotany, pharmacology, phytochemistry, biology, chemistry, ecology, anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, permaculture, farming, gardening, medicine making, cooking, first aid, community health, counseling, psychology, conservation, restoration, activism, alchemy, history, mythology, allegory, storytelling, and for some . . . witchcraft.” —Sarah Marie Wu “When I first started my herbalism journey, I was living in the United States, in Massachusetts. I took my herbalism teacher's advice and looked to what was going on near me, in the grass. I thought at first there was nothing but grass. Then I looked deeper, and I found plantain, ground ivy, violet. I was amazed at what was right under my nose.”
ONCE YOU DISCOVER WHAT IS NATURALLY GROWING AROUND YOU, DIVE INTO THESE PLANTS.
Meet each of them with the curiosity of a child. Instead of asking, “what do you do?” Ask, “who are you?” You can apply what’s called the doctrine of signatures to each plant you meet. The doctrine of signatures basically entails observing the characteristics of the plant and taking note of how they may be related to systems within your body.
We are processing Gota Kola
For example, Gotu Kola’s leaves resemble kidneys, and their stems and root networks almost look like nerve endings and veins. Interestingly enough, Gotu Kola has been found to be very beneficial for treating urinary tract infections, skin disorders, and circulatory disorders. It has been used for centuries in India and China to treat nervous disorders, rejuvenate brain cells, remedy general colds and flu, address lung problems, and overcome stress and fatigue. (- 1 Ed Bernhart.)
1 (Costa Rican Medicinal Plants and Trees: Ed Bernhart)
(The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants: by Andrew Chevallier)
Starting with the information you gather from the doctrine of signatures using your own intuition, write down how you feel this herb can be used. You can also intuit the energetics of the plant, for example, if it is grounding or stimulating.
NEXT, CHECK YOUR SOURCES.
More often than not, you may be surprised at how spot-on your hunches were when you investigate your plant’s proven scientific uses. Remember that it is important to use several sources to research the herbs you're working with. Some books that are very helpful are:
Rosemary Gladstar’s Beginner’s Guide to Herbalism
Susan Wise Healing Wise (Wise Woman Herbal Series)
The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants: by Andrew Chevallier
I would also recommend researching the way indigenous peoples used this herb. The folklore and magical stories are not only interesting, but they reveal more about who this herb is, not just what they do.
According to Medicinal Botany, the top twenty best-selling prescription drugs come directly from plants. There are thirty-five thousand to seventy thousand medicinal plants that we know of, many more that we don’t yet know about, and others that we will never know about because they are extinct. Many medicines have not made it into modern medicine but are sacred and valuable to so many cultures around the world.
“For the last four years, I have often read Ed Bernhardt’s Medicinal Plants of Costa Rica before bed to get sleepy and learn about the medicinal properties of plants. We collected fifty-one of the ninety-two medicinal plants listed in the book. I love reading about how to ally with plants for healing. I like to think of food as medicine, and farmers as doctors.” —Jean Pullen, Regenerate Your Reality
FINALLY, MAKE IT A DAILY PRACTICE.
Plants are our allies, and they have been a key part of my personal healing path. Our very survival on this planet depends on them.
I use herbalism each day, tuning in to my body and its needs, and I preventatively take my plant medicines through soups, sauces, teas, ferments, and tinctures. I still believe a balance of modern medicine and herbal medicine is necessary. I just avoid pharmaceutical drugs or synthetic substances unless they are completely necessary, as in the case of a life-threatening emergency.
Most healing must come from within, going to the root of the problem instead of temporarily patching up symptoms until the next warning or dis-ease presents itself. But herbalism isn’t only about healing illness; it is also about supporting our day-to-day wellness. During my menstruation, for example, I make myself basil and mint tea. I drink turmeric and ginger every day to keep my body’s immunity high. I could go on and on here, but I highly recommend taking courses or reading about a few plants to assemble your own personal apothecary of go-to remedies. Instead of taking pharmaceuticals as soon as you feel unwell, consider looking into herbal remedies and allowing your body to heal with rest and regenerative plant medicines.
Herbalism is a huge and multi-layered practice, but we hope this article gives you some guidance on where to begin. Start by paying attention, getting to know the plants around you, and weaving them into your daily wellness practices. The more you learn, the more you will want to learn. When you feel ready, we highly recommend signing up for courses or workshops to go deeper and learn from the wisdom of herbalists near and far!
We are here to inspire, educate, live regeneration in action, and share stories & experiences with you. We are grateful to continue to collaborate and grow with so many heart-centered and nature-focused beings, and we want to invite you to a very special event:
Co-Author: Amanda Luna Co-founder & Land Steward of EcoMaste, Yoga & Herbal Alchemist, Women’s Sovereignty Mentor and Founder of Amanda Luna Living. Amanda Luna is a self proclaimed “plant person” with a deep love and curiosity for nature. She has painted her life with a broad palette of interests, experiences, talents and knowledge that is ever-evolving. As a land steward and co-founder of Ecomaste, she gets to put her energy into holistically developing the land, permaculture and landscape design, supporting the regeneration, beauty and vibrancy of the environment. Co-Author : Jean Pullen is a multi-talented artist, yogi, gardener, cook, musician, writer, and entrepreneur. Jean is best selling author of Regenerate Your Reality book, partner and director at Jungle Project, and a Soil Advocate at Kiss the Ground. Jean believes we can be part of the solution and that we all can play our part by living regeneration and coming back to our essence of love.