Where to start in the wide world of herbalism.
Most of us probably don’t think about the first time we were introduced to herbs. They are so ingrained into culinary culture that we grow up never questioning when we threw in a pinch of pepper, or a handful of rosemary, into a dish.
My love for herbs started with a simple love for flavor, and many hours spent watching the food network with my mother as a teenager. It was, at least, one thing we could relate over in my angsty teen years. I’ll never forget a dinner party recipe that called for a red pepper infused olive oil. It was in every dish, coating the chicken, in the veggies, and even in the chocolate mousse. It was hot, and delicious.
Later, I discovered centuries of knowledge supporting not just the yummy flavor, but also the healing properties of the herbs & spices I loved so much (and many more I had yet to discover). I now know that in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) red peppers have been used to treat digestive problems, circulatory problems, infections and arthritis.
Dipping your toe in
For me, cooking was my gateway to herbalism, and a slow trickle of cultural knowledge. Herbalism may not be as ingrained in western culture as it is in India or China. I learned from a fashion magazine that lavender is wonderful for stress, and from a biology professor that peppermint could improve mental focus. Essential oils have become hugely popular as well, bringing knowledge of many of these plants into the public eye. Hooray!
Beyond just aromatherapy, herbs can be incorporated into your daily life in countless ways, leaving many newbies to wonder…where to begin?!
If you have access to the internet, or a library card, you already have everything you need to start exploring the wide world of herbalism. We will be introducing some of the basics here this month & next, so be sure to subscribe to our blog to get a weekly dose of herbalism right to your inbox.
What is an herbalist?
An herbalist is an individual whose life is dedicated to the economic or medicinal uses of plants. Herbalists learn many skills, including wildcrafting and/or cultivation of herbs, diagnosis and treatment of conditions or dispensing herbal medication, and preparations of herbal medications.
Education of herbalists varies considerably in different areas of the world. Lay herbalists and traditional indigenous medicine people generally rely upon apprenticeship and recognition from their communities in lieu of formal schooling.
Legendary Contemporary Herbalists
Classic texts can be wonderful, but traditional ayurvedic & chinese medicine texts can be a bit overwhelming for the newbie. Like any field, there is jargon to learn and foundational concepts to absorb.
Since anyone with a laptop & a blog can portray themselves as a pro, here are a few incredible herbalists whose teachings our founder, Mark Highlove, suggests checking out as you embark on your herbalism journey. Much of his studies started here! Any articles or texts you come across written by or recommended by these three herbalists you can feel confident are reliable sources of herbal knowledge.
We’d consider Rosemary the queen of western herbalism. In her 40 year career she has markedly changed the practice of American herbalism for the better. She has written numerous books, founded schools of herbalism, and started a foundation dedicated to preserving the ecological sustainability of medicinal plants.
Rosemary has coined, named, and popularized several common herbal remedies such as “Fire Cider” and “Zoom Balls” that have become part of the modern herbalists medicine kit.
Vasant Dattatray Lad is a leading practitioner of Ayurveda, which includes the herbalism practiced in India. Lad is an Ayurvedic physician (a graduate degree that combines western medicine with Ayurvedic teachings), professor and director of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and has written numerous books & articles.
He travels the world, consulting privately and giving seminars on Ayurveda, its history, theory, principles and practical applications.
Dr. Michael Tierra, O.M.D. is a pioneer in the study of traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine in the West, Michael is credited with bringing the hugely popular herb echinacea back into common usage in the United States. His expertise comes from over 30 years of practice and study in North America, China, and India.
Dr. Tierra is the founder of the American Herbalists Guild, and author of numerous books on health and herbal healing.
Other notable contemporary herbalists
It would be an ambitious task to catalog all of the incredible humans practicing herbalism today. Here are a few whose teachings I have found beneficial to my fledgling studies. Their books are the reason the shelves of my home apothecary are overflowing today with amazing herbal concoctions!
There are surely countless more incredible herbal thought leaders we haven’t included here. If we have missed anyone you think is noteworthy, please leave suggestions in the comment section below, we would love to learn about them and incorporate them in future revisions!
Rosalee de la Foret
Rosalee is a skilled practitioner and master at teaching the “energetics” of plants. Her teachings make grasping what these herbs do, how they work in our bodies, and how they affect us as individuals really accessible.
Her recently published book Alchemy of Herbs, is a great starter book for individuals looking to explore the energetics and medicinal qualities of herbs while incorporating them into recipes perfect for the whole family.
Lana Camiel is a college professor, drug information pharmacist and herbalist. Her teachings combine the logic & scientific backing of a pharmacist, with years of herbal knowledge–and quite a few tasty recipes too! It’s hard to remain skeptical of the efficacy of herbs after reading her blog.
Guido Mase & Jovial King
Guido & Jovial, founders of Urban Moonshine, are two talented herbalists whose book DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor is a perfect guide when embarking on creating your very own home apothecary. It’s a great guide for learning about the properties of different herbs, how to mix them, and a fabulous guide for building your own stock of tinctures & bitters at home.
I hope this gets you excited about all the amazing herbal knowledge out there for you to explore. Next week, we will go deeper and explore the similarities and difference between Chinese medicine, Ayurveda & western medicine.
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