I believe that every home needs an herbalist. Home herbalists are not clinical herbalists who work with clients professionally; a home herbalist is a family herbalist. She maintains knowledge of common illnesses & natural remedies and basic first aid. Home herbalists incorporate the use of plants for both medicinal and nutritional purposes.

Home herbalists recognize the importance of lifestyle behaviors and promote healthy diets, daily movement, the balance of activities, and stress management for themselves and their families. They use their herbal knowledge to treat common illnesses like colds, influenzas, basic respiratory & digestive complaints, skin problems, and first aid applications. They may make a variety of herbal remedies such as teas, tinctures, and salves from herbs that they may have grown and wildcrafted. They may also make herbal body care products, avoiding the expensive and mildly toxic commercial brands. They incorporate plants into their daily lives, supporting and nourishing their bodies. They understand the basics of anatomy and physiology and can recognize symptoms of viral and bacterial infections. Home herbalists recognize that wellness always begins with a healthy lifestyle. 

Healing foods form the basis of wellness. Photo: Bluebird Provisions form Unsplash
Healing foods form the basis of wellness. Photo: Bluebird Provisions form Unsplash

The most important skill that home herbalists have is the ability to critically research and read information. It’s not about knowing every medicinal herb in North America or exploring the latest exotic cure, marketed by a corporation. In fact, home herbalists are likely more traditional, even ancestral, in their approach to wellness: they eat lots of plants, including herbs, move and exercise every day, take time to relax, avoid processed food and addictive substances, and they pay attention to what their bodies tell them.

Their knowledge and awareness empower them to work collaboratively with professionals in the healthcare system. They may challenge conventional thinking and unnecessary medical practices but they know how to research and critically review alternatives so they can make informed decisions.

They may have been mentored by an elder family herbalist, they could be self-taught or they may have taken an introductory course or a series of classes and workshops. They may limit their skill development to wellness and simple remedies or they may continue their learning and offer their expertise to their communities. They respect the limits of their knowledge and are aware of symptoms that require a healthcare professional. 

The Benefits of Home Herbalism

Incorporating the study of medicinal herbs as part of the overall goal of being more self-reliant offers both obvious and not-so-obvious benefits.

  • As knowledge increases, so does awareness. Home herbalists are tuned into the patterns and indicators of wellness and illness.
  • Increased knowledge and awareness empower herbalists to be partners rather than patients with our healthcare professionals.
  • Unhealthy practices and foods are replaced with healthier habits and nutritional meals.
  • Over time, lifestyles are changed and our role within nature becomes central to our lives. 
  • Home herbalism is rooted in seasonal living.
  • Homemade herbal remedies are free of synthetic chemicals and are far more sustainable than over-the-counter products that are made in faraway factories.
  • First aid and plant knowledge is critical when living in or visiting remote landscapes.

Having a home herbalist in every home can not only affect our current health crises but can change the future of healthcare and wellness in our country. Empowering individuals to be in charge of their own health and to question the current acceptance of chronic illness and expensive medicine is the best way to change the healthcare system.

What a Home Herbalist Should Study

There are online courses available that offer introductory knowledge of western herbalism. The one place I do not recommend is social media which is rife with bad herbal advice offered by people who don’t know the basics. I have seen dangerous information offered as a fact by people who are not trained to give herbal advice. How do I know they aren’t trained? Because trained herbalists know that herbal medicine is not a one-size-fits-all nor is it a replacement for medical diagnosis or prescribed drugs. My advice is to invest in learning the fundamentals of herbal medicine which include the following 

Anatomy and Physiology: Knowing the basics of the human body and how it works is necessary. There are courses, textbooks, and videos that can help with this knowledge. Herbalism is focused on our body systems: what they do, how they do it, and what imbalance in those systems looks like.

Invest in a human body coloring book – color and label to your heart’s content. (Note that coloring has been linked to stress reduction and it’s a great way to spend time with the other learners in your home.)

Botany: A home herbalist needs to know how plants are organized and named, their different parts, and how the medicinal constituents are created. Growing a small medicinal herb garden is one of the best ways to develop this knowledge.

Cottonwood leaf bud releasing its aromatic resin (Photo: SK)
Cottonwood leaf bud releasing its aromatic resin (Photo: SK)

Medicine-making: Learning to make tea blends, tinctures, salves, and other remedies is the creative part of herbalism but the good news is there are herbalists that are selling their handcrafted remedies if you don’t have the time. 

Herbal lip balms (Photo: SK)
Herbal lip balms (Photo: SK)

Western Herbalism Fundamentals: This is key to understanding how herbal medicine is practiced. Without this knowledge, herbs are often used like modern drugs and the results are disappointing.

Herbs: So often this is where herb consumers start and end. It appears in the form of a question like this: “I heard that herb x will help eliminate diabetes. How much should I take?” This kind of thinking and use also gives herbalism a bad reputation because an herb didn’t work like a drug. An herbalist knows that diet and exercise need to be addressed before supportive herbs can be used.

Lemon balm (Photo: SK)
Lemon balm (Photo: SK)

There are hundreds of herbs used medicinally but a home herbalist does not need that level of knowledge. First, look around your region for native plants and non-native weeds: you may be surprised at the amount of medicine growing freely. Study them and their medicinal uses. Then consider what you want to use regularly and finally consider the type of remedies and herbal products you want to make and use. I suspect most home herbalists use less than twenty medicinal herbs on a regular basis.

Check out my article Herbal Medicine 101 and my evolving list of Herbal Learning Resources.

Looking for a local school to attend classes in person? Mountain Rose Herbs offers a list of schools that offer both online and in-person classes: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/resources/herbal-education

The American Herbalist Guild offers an overview of herbal education here. https://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/herbal-education-faqs-frequently-asked-questions

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