Podcast 120: How To Practice Herbalism Every Day
Last week we urged you to look at learning herbalism like learning a language or instrument – something that requires daily practice. This week, we’re sharing some specific practices you can do to build your herbal skills on a daily basis!
You can take lessons in herbalism, and study to learn – but the key here is, a little bit each day is better than “a lot” which happens only rarely. Building a habit of reading a few pages of an herb book, watching a half hour video lesson, or listening to an audio lesson on your commute every day will serve you well.
Another way is to make space to experience your herbs daily. Drink tea, take tincture, taste them, smell them. Even better, do this while you’re studying to enhance your learning, to root it in your body and give your mind a touchpoint to return to. This strengthens memory!
A helpful motto (especially for those who are allergic to regimentation) is “Don’t miss an opportunity.” Whenever something new-to-you comes up, take the chance to come up with an herbal plan of resolution. First, learn all you can about what’s happening. Then, try to identify energetic patterns; that helps you select applicable herbal actions. Then you can come up with a set of herbs to do the job, and finally you can decide how those herbs will go to work – what preparations and formulations will best match the situation. (Then you start that cycle over again, to expand or refine!)
It’s all about building habits – whether habits of daily activity, or habits of response to new events. Put those habits into place now, and your confidence and capability will grow every single day.
Did we mention that studying individual herbs every day is a great habit to get into? With our Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course, you can do just that! Each of the 90 herbs we cover in this course has a video lesson, plant profile document, and a quiz to test your knowledge. It teaches you much more than “just” the individual plants, too – key concepts in herbal energetics, medicine-making, and pathophysiology are woven into every lesson. Check it out, and watch the first video (all about ginger) for free!
As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!
Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn. And this is Minnie cat.
And we’re here at the Commonwealth center for holistic herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere. Thanks to the power of the podcast. All right, everybody. So, this week we’re going to talk about how to practice herbalism every day.
Yeah. Last week we were talking about that herbalism is experiential and you can’t really learn it unless you actually do it. It’s not enough to just read about it. So this week we really want to focus on, great, how do we do it? How do we do more of it? How do we, how do we exponent our experient?
There we go.
Yeah. What does that look like in real life? Yeah. So that’s what we’re going to talk about. But first we want to just remind you one more time that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and research further.
And we want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. And that the final decision when considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours. All right. So how do we start practicing herbalism every day?
How do we do it?
Well, I think the first thing is to take lessons.
Yeah. Learn some things.
Right? Yeah. So obviously we have an herb school and we teach herb classes. And in our school we try to make our lessons to be in chunks that will fit like into a lunch break or a tea time or something like that. We teach all of our courses by videos so that you can really see what’s going on, and also so that you feel like you have that classroom experience. We try to make them family friendly so that you can watch them even if you have kiddos around. And we also make sure that we have live interactive time with our twice-a-week video conference Q&A sessions. We have audio files so you can review on the go. All sorts of different ways of getting the information into you.
Wow, aren’t we great? No, wait. That’s not what we’re saying.
Incorporating Herbal Learning into your Life
No, but what I was going to say was that it doesn’t matter if you take classes with us or with another herb school or whatever, but be looking for that part. Be looking for how can you make your herbal lessons in as many different methods that fit into your life as possible. So if your life means a lot of commuting, than having lessons as audio files that you can listen to while you’re commuting, to like do your review or whatever could be really effective for you. And that could be the way that you work it into your life. Or having classes that are family friendly so that it’s totally fine if your kids are coming in and out of the room might be what works really well for you. Because maybe you want to involve your kids in this learning in as far as they want to be involved.
Right, right. Yeah, and I mean, the real point here is to have multiple modalities and to be ingesting some information every day. Just like we were talking about ingesting some herbs every day. So you know, whether that’s reading. If you have a good enormous Materia Medica herbal book and you read a couple of entries in there every single day, then you’ll get a lot that way. And one thing that we think is really critical about the study of Materia Medica is that you’re not only learning about the single herb that you’re reading about right now. With a good material Medica you’re going to be connecting that to other herbs that are similar to it. You’re going to be thinking about other herbs that might be helpful for a condition or a problem or imbalance that that herb can correct, and how multiple different plants might work together in different ways. So studying Materia Medica is not just a matter of memorizing facts about plants.
Oh my goodness, yes.
And you know, again, in our own course on Materia Medica we cover about 90 herbs. And it’s not that you come away with that just knowing 90 different plants in their own little boxes. We tried a lot to make connections between them, to talk about which herbs are good friends to each other. And other things like that to try to broaden the educational experience of it. So, you know, again if you’re getting that daily exposure to new information, then that keeps it live, that keeps your brain making new connections. And every time you go to sleep then you’re going to start to knit those different ideas together and start to get new things happening.
One thing I want to emphasize here is that if you create a habit it will happen, right? Or if you already have a structure of habits in your day and you find a way to integrate your herbal learning into that structure, like listening to the lessons on your commute, for example, or committing to I am a person who watches herbal videos at lunchtime. That’s what I do on my lunch break. Whatever it is, if you build it into life in a sustainable way, intentionally, that will be much more successful than just saying, Oh, I should study this every day, right? If you just say, I should study this every day, that is setting you up for guilt because then it’s not going to happen and you’re going to feel bad about it. And you’re going to be like, aaaaugh, I’m so terrible. I didn’t study this today. But instead, if you just build it into your habit, every morning I get up, I walk the dog, I make my tea, I sit down and I watch a video for 15 minutes. And then I do whatever the next thing is. I feed all the animals, whatever the next thing is. If it’s built in that way, and you really do it every single day, then it will happen. Yeah.
Practicing Daily with your Plants
That’s the way it goes. All right, cool. So another way that you can have herbalism in your life on a daily basis is to get some daily practical experience with your plants, right? And so obviously that means drink your tea every day. You know, or find other ways to get your herbs into your life. And actually let’s talk about a couple of different ways with that. So one could be like a longterm intentionally chosen formula that you’re like, these are going to be my friends for the next week at least, or month, season. Whatever seems appropriate for you.
Let’s have an example of that. So maybe you have been hearing about Nettle and you’re like, wow, this sounds like a really important, impressive herb that can do a lot of great things in a body. I think I’d like to try that. But you’re not necessarily going to get that full experiential learning from just one quart of a long infusion of Nettle tea. So maybe you sit down and you say, okay, I have seen a lot of writing and a lot of teaching about Nettle and its effect on endocrine health. And also I have seen a lot of people talking about Nettle and its effect on hair growth and just healthy hair in general.
Resilience, you know. Less breakable and everything.
And those are two things that I care a lot about because let’s say, Oh, I have like some thyroid issues, maybe like subclinical hypothyroid. Like I’m always sort of struggling with it. And my hair is thinning and maybe it sorta just doesn’t look as good as I want it to or it won’t grow or whatever. So those are things about Nettle that are really important to me. Okay. Well I’m going to make a note of the targets that I’m trying to get to. I’m going to gather some baseline information. Like these are the baseline symptoms that I’m trying to focus on. So with regard to that sort of imagined, like in our example here, this low thyroid function, maybe you’re thinking, well, I always feel a little bit fatigued. I always feel cold and I always feel a little on the sluggish side hormonally. Like my responses are just a little sluggish. And then on the hair side, okay, well it’s thin in these ways. And actually just take a picture. Like it’s so easy to these days. You don’t have to wait for the film to develop. You just snap a picture and then you have it. And now you have some baseline information. And then you say, okay, well what am I going to do about that. For the next month or….
two months maybe. Especially if we’re talking about hair growth, we probably want a little bit longer than a month. For the next two months I’m going to drink a long strong infusion of Nettle every single day. A whole quart of it every single day. Okay. That’s your plan. And then maybe you say, Oh, but also I run a little dry, so I’m going to put some violet in there or some Linden in there or something. Marshmallow to moisten it up.
Or some seaweed.
Ooh, or some seaweed because that’ll moisten it up and provide extra minerals for hair growth.
And maybe even boost some thyroid function.
That’s really true.
Okay. But if you’re going to do that, you might need to add a little smidge of ginger too, just for the flavor. All right. So now you have your plan. You’ve chosen an herb and you have a reason why. You’ve written down all of your baseline starting information for your own body. You have a plan of exactly what you’re going to do every day for the next two months. And now you do it. And at points throughout those two months, maybe every two weeks, just do a reassessment. How am I feeling right now? How is this going for me. Have I noticed changes? What’s my current baseline? And then am I surprised when I compare that to the baseline when I started? So that kind of overall intention, long term work while you’re keeping some data. That really takes this from something that somebody wrote about and maybe you trusted them because they’re a person you trust, to I feel this in my body and I have the data to back it up. Yeah.
Writing Things Down
Yeah. It’s really important to write things down about this because humans are very adaptable and that’s a strength in many ways.
It’s a good thing.
But it also allows us to adapt to whatever our new condition is and forget about what it was last week or last month or certainly anytime longer ago than that. Especially on that experiential level of like, how do I feel today? How do I assess myself from the inside. And sometimes with things that you can observe as well, it’s easy to just forget like, Oh yeah, I used to have a lot more split ends. And now I went to the hairdresser and they didn’t mention it once.
Right? Or I went to the hairdresser and she said, Holy cow, your hair has really grown since last time. You know, like whatever. Or somebody at work mentioned that my hair looked nice, you know, whatever.
Yeah. So, you know, it’s just easy to forget where things were when you started. And one of the problems with that is that it can lead you to think that what you did didn’t make that much of a difference.
That’s the big key. We see that so often. We will work with a client and Oh one pops to mind with migraines. And the person was having at their baseline migraines that were bad enough that it was interrupting their plans four to five nights a week. So they would get home from work and maybe they were going to go to a yoga class or whatever. But the migraine was bad enough that they had to cancel their plans and go to bed four to five nights a week. So we came up with all the different things they were going to try. And after a month they came back and they said, I did every single thing. And I did it really faithfully and they had the notes and whatever. And they said, but I really don’t think it’s making much of a difference. And I said, Oh, okay. Well how often? How often do you get migraines now? Oh, I don’t know. I guess I haven’t really had one in a couple of weeks. Oh, when you had the last migraine, did you need to get in bed and stay there? Oh no, I guess I was watching a movie and I just noticed I had a migraine and I said, okay, that’s really important information. Let’s go back to the baseline when we started and see how this is different. And then we read together what she had written on her initial intake and she was like, wow, I guess this has made a huge difference in my life. But she was really shocked to see how much she had just grown accustomed to her new normal and didn’t really like notice that the changes had happened as they were happening because it was a progression.
They come on gradually, you know? So, yeah, it can slip right by you.
Yes. So take those notes.
Yeah. All right. So that’s one option. And that’s when you’re like, all right, here’s this thing that I want to work on. Here’s these herbs that I’ve learned about enough to know that they could help me out. So I’m going to go through that. I’m going to keep my notes. I’m going to compare my initial state and my baseline and get there. Now you may be thinking, that’s cool, but I’m actually pretty healthy right now. I’m just interested in learning herbs. I want to help people. I don’t have any like major issues that I’m out here trying to solve. Don’t worry. There’s a method for you too. Right? And so we usually call this herb of the week or herb of the month. And again, it could be the season, whatever time frame you’re looking at. But this is where you’re engaging with that herb every day. You know, again, maybe drinking tea or taking tincture or doing other things to get it into you. But having that ongoing experience with the plant itself. And while you do that, you want to also be studying your herbs, right? And that can be reading books, it can be listening to podcasts, it can be watching video classes. You know, all the different methods that you’ve got to learn and to study. But doing them concurrently is really helpful. If you’re reading about an herb while you drink it, then more of that information will stick in your head. And you will make connections between the cerebral thoughts about the herbs and ideas that you’re taking in and the flavor, the taste that you’re taking in at the same time. So we really encourage people to read their books with their herbs together, you know?
Yes. You know, that reminds me, I don’t know if it is still the case, but Mountain Rose Herbs, which is an online herb shop, they used to have at the bottom of every page of their website…
This is best viewed while sipping a cup of tea?
Yes, exactly. Remember, because websites used to say this is best viewed on Firefox or best viewed on whatever.
Yeah. way back when.
And so they had at the bottom it’s best viewed while sipping tea. But that’s really true. Like having your tea or whatever way you’re getting the plants into you in that kind of really organized way so that you are studying it cerebrally and studying it experientially. So that you are like actively organalecting, that’s my new….
Yeah, from the word organoleptic which is to say done with your senses. And so people talk about organoleptic assessment of the qualities of their herbs. And actually that’s both kinds of quality, right? That’s like how good is this particular batch I got, because I use my senses. I look at the color, I smell the scent of it.s I taste the flavor of it and that tells me, yeah, this is really good Sage leaf. But also the qualities of the herbs. Like I taste the pungency of this sage. I taste the astringency of it. That tells me information about the herb. That it’s going to stimulate and move things in the body. That it’s going to tighten up membranes. So both kinds of quality there.
Right? And because we know that the way the things that we can taste and smell in an herb are direct reflections of the chemical makeup of the plant, not just which chemicals are present, but also the extent to which they’re present. So for example, you could have some Rosemary that’s really old and doesn’t have much flavor anymore, and then you could have some Rosemary that is like really vibrant and really super Rosemary-ie. And that you can determine organaleptically which one is better. You do this all the time, right? You determine organaleptically whether an apple is sweet or not, Whether it is a good apple or whether it’s kind of mealy and has maybe been stored for too long. These are things that you can determine with your own physical senses that you don’t actually need a microscope or a chemistry lab to determine. We could look at those things. We could look at an apple underneath a microscope and determine that it is no longer food because it has gone bad. It has a bruise, it has whatever. Or you can just taste it or look at it with your eyes and be like, Oh, this one’s covered in bruises. I’m not eating that.
Yeah. We don’t need to reduce it to a slurry and then get some scientists to tell us how much polyphenol oxidase is present to know that it’s turned Brown. It’s probably not that great.
Yeah, it’s probably not good anymore. And we think that’s totally normal when we’re assessing food. And when we open up the refrigerator and we pull something out and we are determining whether or not we want to consume it, whether or not it’s still good. We don’t have to send our leftovers to a chemistry lab to determine if it’s safe to eat them or not, right? We just look at them and we say, yep, that looks pretty fresh, right? I think that’s dinner. But we don’t have a lot of confidence doing that with herbs. And yet it’s exactly the same skill. So this is how you build that confidence. You sit with your tea every day. And maybe at other times in the day you’re drinking it in the background without thinking so much about it. But that at some point during the day, you are taking time to simply sit there to taste it with a lot of focus, a lot of intention. To be thinking about what you are tasting. And then to be matching that up with what you’re studying. That is how you really get the information into your body. You can read a million things that say that, I don’t know, Elecampane is warming. You can read it in many books. But that is not the same as feeling it in your body. Like really feeling it. And when you feel it in your body, you will not forget it. If you study it, then three months from now you may or may not remember it. But if you feel it in your body, you will remember it.
Yeah. And you know, when you’re studying herbs, it’s good to keep your own notes, both to like reorganize the information that you’ve gotten and to put it into a format and an arrangement that makes sense for you and targets the things that you’re most interested in. But also include in there your own tasting notes, include your own experiences with the herbs. We always think that that’s very important. And oftentimes, one of the most interesting things when we have students do this kind of assignment, to write a monograph about an herb, and to compile information from a dozen different sources including their own experience with the plant. And a lot of interesting things come out that way. You know, one thing we talk about with students a lot is that not everything that any herbalists knows about went into their book. And that’s definitely true for us and our book. And that’s, I think true for everybody. You know, all the way back to you know, Galen or Avicenna, or you know, the people who write the founding texts of these different traditions. You could have 12 volumes and still not get everything that you know out onto the paper. And a lot of these are also practitioners and they’ve got clients to deal with and other things to help out with and all that, or herbs to grow, or whatever it is. So you know, a book or a website or a pod or whatever else is a great source of info, but it’s never going to be the whole thing. And so don’t be surprised if you discover things or experience things with an herb that you’ve never seen written down anywhere. That doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. It doesn’t mean that you got confused or mistaken or whatever. It just means that somebody didn’t write that down or you just haven’t seen that book yet.
Right. And so if that is the case. If you start to notice something and you go crazy researching and you can’t find that anybody ever wrote that, that doesn’t matter. That’s fine. The next step is can you reproduce it in your body? And if it is continually happening in your body, the next step is can you reproduce it in somebody else’s body? And so you start to give it to somebody else and ask them, well, how do you feel when you drink this? And every body is different. So like if all I did was experienced something and then give it to Ryn and ask if he experienced the same thing, the answer is likely to be no. Because Ryn runs really dry and I run really damp. So it is entirely possible that I may experience something or not experience something that he does experience, especially if we’re talking about herbs with any kind of astringency. An herb has to be really astringent for me to say, huh, that’s pretty astringent. But it doesn’t have to be very stringent at all for you to say, wow, this is drying me out.
Yeah, For sure. I mean, that’s true about about, you know, both positive and adverse reactions to a given plant.
Right. Yeah. And I’m just thinking about 7Song was once talking about…7Song is an herbalist in New York. And he has practiced for a jillion billion years. And he likes to talk about Skullcap and how in his own body Skullcap does absolutely nothing. It’s like drinking water. It’s no effect whatsoever. And yet it is one of the number one most important herbs in his practice because he finds it so effective in everybody else’s bodies. Just not his. It doesn’t do anything for him. But I dont know, I mean he’s not too uptight, so maybe that’s why.
Never Miss an Opportunity
Yeah, he’s pretty relaxed most of the time. At least he looks that way. All right. So, yes. So having a program of study, having a program of experience with your herbs, these are great ways to get them into your life, and to practice on a daily basis. If you’re allergic to regimen then don’t worry, we’ve got something for you as well. And this one we can kind of sum it up by saying don’t miss an opportunity.
Yes. so another way to say this is, you know, because it is a little funny. Herbalists, when somebody gets sick or when they get sick, sometimes we get very excited. Sometimes it’s like, Oh good. And people are like, what? And it’s like, no, no, no. I’m really excited because now I get to try out this thing I was reading about. And that can seem really strange to people. They might be like, why on earth are you excited? But it’s really true. If somebody is injured or if you are injured, if some virus is going around even if you don’t have it, make a plan. Because that like sitting down and doing the work to put a whole plan together about what you would do, even if you don’t actually get the chance to do it, is how you take all of the stuff that you have learned and synthesize that into a plan of action.
Right? So yeah, even if you don’t put it all the way into practice. If you don’t actually…maybe it happens like this. You were hearing from a friend of yours about how they were hiking and they they got some poison ivy. And then they came home and then they had the, the oozy goo and all that stuff. That’s what they’re called, right? And it was so unpleasant and they were very, very unhappy and upset about it. So maybe they’re not interested in you being like, Oh, I’ve got some herbs for that. Maybe they are.
Or maybe this happened a month ago and you’re only hearing about it now. That’s fine.
But you can still take that as an opportunity to say, all right, what would I have done if that was me in that moment, you know. I would look around the forest and say, all right, is there any jewel weed here that I can put on this poison ivy right away? Because that works really well. And if not, then well we’re out here, we’re going to camp for a couple of days. We can get a fire going and there’s a bunch of Oak trees around here. So I can, you know, find a down limb and I can strip off some bark and I can cook that up and make a nice, astringent Oak bark decoction. And then I can soak a cloth in it and put that onto my poison ivy exposure spots. And that’ll help too. So it’s a way to practice. And it could be theory like this or it could be that you actually get to get to go out and do it. Go out and try it.
Yeah. It doesn’t have to be hypothetical. It can in fact be real. But just don’t like, even if all you have is a hypothetical situation, don’t let that opportunity pass you by. Grab right onto it and let that be a chance for you to synthesize your learning into an actual practical plan.
Right. Now, when I was giving my little poison ivy example, I already had some ideas in mind about what herbs I might turn to. If you’ve never learned about herbs for poison ivy, then don’t worry. You just get to start at a earlier step,
Right? Or what if it isn’t the herbs that you don’t know about, but what if you’ve never encountered poison ivy and you don’t know what that is like. So that might seem a little strange, but in this particular time…
I mean, it’s a North American plant and there’s a bunch of other continents.
Oh, well, yeah, that’s true. YEs.
So some people have never encountered it, right? That’s real.
Well I was going to say right now, as we’re all thinking about coronavirus, nobody’s ever dealt with coronavirus before. So everybody was at the same starting point of this is new for everyone. And even if we know lots of plants. And even if we have thorough plans for what we would normally do for a cold or a flu or a this or that, nobody knows what coronavirus is like, especially in the beginning. So, the starting point is always do a bucket of research. Research what the thing is that you’re going to deal with. And research…well let’s start with that. Starting with researching what is the thing that you’re going to deal with?
Researching & Energetics
Yeah. And so for example, with the coronavirus, we started research with reports that were coming out of China, right out of Wuhan when that was first being reported. And some early case reports were coming out of there and people were describing the progression of the illness. And you know, this has all kind of evolved and become more detailed as time has gone on. But even with some of those early reports, there were things that were interesting or gave us a frame of reference to start from.
Yeah. Things we were really looking for was the direct symptom reports. Because as herbalists we don’t so much work with the same types of diagnostic information that doctors might work with. Some of it we both share, but some of it maybe is a little bit unique to herbalism. So one of the things that I was very interested in and trying to get information about was, is this a kind of a situation in the lungs where we would be seeing dried up stuck mucus or wet boggy gurgly phlegm that came up with every single cough. Right. That is a big differentiator. I was trying to figure out, is this a dry situation where people are getting dried out or is this a wet situation where there is like phlegm and mucous and drippy snot coming out of everything. So that kind of information is going to help us make decisions about what herbs we might want to choose when we get to that point. And there are a lot of different factors to focus on, but I’m just like sort of thinking about that one in particular as something that we were very interested in getting information about.
Right. You know, another one in that same range would have been like, does this give people like hot, extensive, ongoing fevers, or do people just lose vitality and become super, super flat and pale and things like that. Right? And if you’ve got some familiarity with energetics, then you may already be kind of like seeing through the words we’re using here and being like, Oh, they’re looking for damp and dry. They’re looking for hot and cold. And that’s the next thing to really think about. Like, once you’ve got some idea around, okay, what is the problem? Where does it come from? What kind of symptoms does it present with? Then we can work through that data or that information and try to identify energetic patterns.
Mm. And that’s something the internet is not going to tell you, right? Let’s say, just as a quick example, that you’re researching a sprained ankle. The internet is not going to tell you that it’s hot and damp. The internet may tell you, or any other form of research may tell you, that a sprained ankle is likely to be swollen,and might tell you that there’s going to be inflammation. But you have to then take that and think about, well, what does that mean? Well, inflammation,n that means that there’s heat in the area. And swollen, that means that there’s a lot of extra fluid in the area. Okay, I see here a pattern of dampness and I see here a pattern of heat. And so when you’re looking, even when we were looking at the new coronavirus presentations, they weren’t saying, Hey, this is a dry illness, or, Hey, this is a damp illness. We were having to look at people and what they were reporting. And when we were seeing cases of, Oh, a dry cough. Well, that’s an indicator. When people were saying that this doesn’t seem to present with a runny nose. Okay. That’s an indicator. These sorts of things were helping us understand, all right, we’re dealing with dryness here, right?
Yeah. So if this is an area that’s not super familiar to you, then don’t worry. We do have a solution for that. We have a course on energetics and holistic practice in which we get into a bunch of details around how to sort out these patterns and especially about how to observe them. How to go from, this is what I see, or this is what the individual describes over to figuring out what kind of pattern that matches with, and then what to do about it.
Yes. All of the courses, I’m not sure if we’ve listed this today, but all of the courses are at commonwealthherbs.com Or you can fined the whole catalog at online.commonwealthherbs.com. But that one is the Energetics and Holistic Practice course.
That’s right. Okay. So we’ve done some research. We’ve got some idea about what’s going on. We’ve got some thoughts around what kind of energetic patterns are there. And that helps us to figure out what kind of herbal actions we want to get involved here.
Right? You might be thinking, Oh great, so what herbs do I need? And, and it is so common to start thinking that right at the top. Like, Oh, what is the herb for a sprained ankle? What is the herb for coronavirus? Well, you don’t know that yet because not every sprained ankle is the same. Not every person gets exactly the same set of symptoms. It doesn’t matter what it is. Now every person is getting exactly the same thing. So going through that step of identifying what you’re really seeing from an energetic perspective is key, because then you’re working with what you actually see.
Translating Information into Herbal Actions
Right. Yeah. So, you know, the sprained ankle, you’ve got that swelling, you’ve got that heat going on there. And it helps to know that the heat, the inflammation itself, is part of the healing process, and to understand a little bit about why that’s running the way it is. The more of this kind of physiological information that you have or understanding that you have, the better you can help, right? So here we don’t necessarily want to give really cold herbs that are like herbal ice, you know, to turn off inflammation because we know that’s part of the healing process. But we do want to make sure that the fluids keeps circulating, because that’s what allows that process to really be complete and effective. So we’re going to think most importantly there about herbs that can circulate fluids and drain lymph and keep the blood moving. And now we’ve got a whole range of herbs that might be occurring to us. You know, you might be hearing that and thinking, Oh, right, well Cayennes really going to move some blood. Or Calendula or Alder is a really good lymphatic mover and we could apply those there. So this point is key though. You start with the actions that you want. What is the effect that you want to take place? And then after that you start thinking about individual herbs that can do that job.
Right. And also you might have a big list of individual herbs who can do that job, but they’re all doing it in slightly different ways. If we think about the sprained ankle, Cayenne is going to move fluid around and Calendula is going to move fluid around. But they’re doing that in very, very different ways. And so then you need to consider, all right, well the action that I want is moving fluid around. Let me write down every herb I can think about that moves fluid around. And now you’re going to look at that list and instead of just taking the thing off the top, you’re going to say, all right, all of these herbs are doing this job in somewhat different ways. Which one of these ways would be most beneficial for me to work with? So maybe cayenne would be ideal. It’s going to bring a lot of heat, but it’s also going to bring a lot of movement very quickly. Or on the other hand maybe you’re thinking this is so inflamed already that it’s like, if I just put my hand on it, it’s super, super hot. I don’t actually want to add any more heat to this. I would really rather work with something like Calendula.
Or maybe Witch Hazel.
Yeah. Even cooler. Or Rose or something that is going to get the fluid moving without adding any extra heat to the situation.
Right. And if we were to, you know, again, take the coronavirus for an example. Again it doesn’t present the same way in everybody. But in a lot of cases it seems to come with this with this dry cough with some thick kind of like rubber cement paste mucus that’s hard to motivate. And so we’re thinking there about directing some fluid toward the lungs to thin out that mucus, to make it easier for you to cough it up and out and get rid of it. And also to like, just kind of scrape it off of the walls of your lungs so that you can actually get air exchange through there, you know? So when we know that, then we know there’s lots of herbs that can help, right? There’s lots of herbs that can do those jobs for us, but they do them in different ways. So if we look at something like Mullein or Pleurisy root or Marshmallow, these herbs, they’re going to help to direct more fluid to the mucus membranes right there in the lung. And just kind of move it in there, move it into that direction. Herbs, on the other hand, like Thyme or Oregano. Those herbs are more stimulating, more activating, and they have a cutting quality to them.
Yeah. Like a putty knife, sort of scraping the pasty mucus up off the lungs.
Yeah. And whereas those first herbs, the moistening herbs, there you want to drink a lot of tea to get that effect. You know, that’s going to be the way to go at it. Those aromatic herbs, those spices there. You’ve got to breathe in that steam to get the best effect from them for your lungs, right? So, once you’ve figured out some herbs that you want, that’s also going to help you do the next step, which is how are we going to deliver our herbs? Right? Sometimes by this point it becomes apparent. Like I was just saying, if I have decided that, or if I realized, well, I don’t have any Marshmallow at home today, but I do have a bunch of Thyme, that’s my choice. There it is. Right? And then that in turn says, all right, the best way to work with this herb is going to be to boil a pot of water, throw in some Thyme. Breathe in that steam. And then if you don’t drip any snot in there, you can drink it afterward.
Right. And that’s the best way to work with it for pasty crud in the lungs. But if we were working with Thyme for a fungal infection on the feet, for example, which it also has lots of great effects on, then our preferred method might be a foot bath.
Yeah. Breathing steam is not really going to help with your fungal foot infection.
No, no, exactly. And if we were wanting Thymes warming effects to improve digestion, then we would want to eat it or drink it as tea to get that action going. So you can see where any given herb, the preparation of the herb, is going to be a big factor in what type of effect you’re going to get with that herb. And so that plays a big role in your decision making process as you think about what you’re working with and how you are going to get the herb to the problem site, to the place that you’re having trouble.
Trying It and Assessing
Yeah. All right. Well, you know what. So we’ve gotten that process so far, right? And that’s, we start with researching what is going on here and trying to identify some patterns. Thinking about those in terms of herbal energetics. And then choosing actions to match the pattern that you see. Choosing herbs that can exert that action. And then choosing a method. There’s one more step though or maybe two more steps. So one is to do the thing and the next one is to assess how well it worked. And then you know, go back however far in that process you need to, to start a new cycle,
Right? Because you can get all the way through the process and have a plan. And if this is a theoretical exercise, then maybe you have to stop there, because maybe you’re not going to be able to implement your plan, because you’re working on an issue where the person already went to a doctor, or the person already resolved the issue or whatever.
Or it was, you know, back in January. And we were just hearing about this new novel coronavirus. And nobody in the U S had seen it yet or realized that they had, maybe, is another way to say it. But you know one thing that you can do at that stage, if you don’t have the possibility to work directly on the issue, is to talk to other herbalists about it, right? So, I mean, there are some Facebook discussion groups, there are some good mailing lists that have been going for more than 20 years now. If you’re in any of our courses, you know, we have our own communities that you can participate in and you can share your ideas with others. So that’s something that’s really valuable as well. Right? And it’s also kind of helpful for those cases we mentioned earlier where you experience something with an herb that you’ve never seen anybody talk about. Share that with your community of peers. Right? Share that with people who are alive and practicing now. It may be that this is something that historically wasn’t common, but is now a thing that many people have observed. And if you ask, you’ll find out.
Yes. But then whichever way, whether you are doing this in theory or whether you are actually implementing it, that whole try it. Make your observations. Gather your data and then reassess. That is critical because if you don’t do that part, you’re not refining your work, right? It’s sorta like you can do your homework. You can, if you’re in school and you’re having a spelling test, you know, whatever, you can write it all down. But until somebody looks at it to see if you did it correctly, you don’t really know. You just wrote it down. You might know for sure that you did it correctly, because sometimes you do really great on a test and you’re like, I nailed it. I know. But sometimes you don’t know. And this is one of those times. So you’ve really got to try it and then make some assessments. And if it didn’t work, that’s okay. That just means that you get another chance to go through this process. And if it did work, that’s fantastic, but you can still go through the process again, if you really, really want to be all Hermione Granger about it, which I definitely recommend. And then you can say, great, I came up with a plan and it worked and I’m thrilled. Now let’s say that I don’t have any of the herbs that I just was able to work with because I ran out of them. Now I know they work, but I’m taking them off the table. Now I need to make my plan again and see if I can do it without any of the herbs that I worked with the first time, even though I know they work. Because what if I’m in a situation where I don’t have access to those herbs? You guys, that happens. It actually happens kind of a lot.
Practicing Being Adaptable
This is such a good practice. It’s one of the absolute best ways to be more adaptable.
Yeah. I mean it’s happening right now. It’s funny because we we got into the habit of intentionally allowing our school apothecary to run low on things and intentionally waiting a little too long to place the next herb order so that we could get our students accustomed to having to work with the plants that they don’t usually turn to. And having to work with whatever is leftover and see if they can still be effective herbalists with the herbs that are left over. And that was a really great exercise. But now what we’re seeing is that everyone is experiencing that. Because as coronavirus got to the U.S., suddenly all of the herbs were so backlogged that a lot of them had to stop taking orders and a lot of stuff was sold out. And so people were like, well I can’t get anything? I only have what I have. Or I only have what I can get at the grocery store or whatever. And so I think that for years now we’ve been creating this…I don’t even want to say scarcity model because normally we try to stay away from scarcity models.
It’s just a challenge to stay adaptable.
Yeah. This adaptability challenge, that sounds so much better. And it’s just been hypothetical because we know that you get into this kind of situation, but right now I feel like the entire, you know, United States herbal community as a whole, and maybe this is happening in other countries too, is starting to experience this for real, as in like, Oh, I can’t order anything right now.
It’s funny. For me, one of the ways this has been showing up is I’m like, come on spring, let’s go. I’m ready to go out and to get some common weeds. And to harvest them directly and to work with them. And talking to students and people out there and being like, all right, not just what’s in your apothecary right now, but what’s in your spice rack? What’s in your refrigerator? What’s in your yard? You know, and I think this is good in a way.
Yeah. I have been like, okay, I’m starting to see Dandelions, great. If we can’t go to the grocery store, we’re going to be all right.
Yeah. All right, cool. So, yeah, so that’s a whole chain of thinking and experimenting that you can run through whenever an opportunity arises. And that again, is a great way to practice herbalism every single day. There it is. Cool. So we love to hear from listeners and viewers, so if you have other ways that you work with herbs on a daily basis, then reach out to us. We’d love to know. We’d love to hear about it. For this week, our shout outs go to the janitors and the trash collectors and all of the people who do that kind of work because you too are critical employees. You too are essential figures in our society. And I think that we were aware of that before. We tried to be, you know. But I think a lot of people are kind of waking up to that reality now in a new way. Sometimes when we think about different jobs that people do in the world, we try to think about them in the context of like the world as a body, you know? And so those who are out there doing the cleanup work after all the rest of us, you’re basically the lymphatic system of our hospitals and of our communities. And we just wouldn’t get by without you. So thank you.
It is such a critical function and I think that right now we’re really starting, like some people are starting to really take note that people who do jobs that maybe you don’t normally pay attention to, it turns out that they are so critical. And people are starting to reevaluate their feelings. And recognize like, Oh, Hey, this person should be paid well and they should have really good benefits because their job is critical. And I hope that maybe we’re starting to realize that all people are important. And all people deserve to be paid fairly and paid well and have benefits and all that stuff. But yeah, really thinking about the jobs that we do and how they serve the greater body of the community is, I think, a really beautiful way to be thinking about. So if you are part of the lymphatic system of our communities out there, we are so grateful to you. Thank you so much. Yeah.
All right everybody. Well, that’s it for this week with the Holistic Herbalism Podcast. We’ll be back next week with another episode for you. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other, drink some tea.
And practice herbalism every day.
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