Podcast 156: Herb of the Month – An Essential Herbalism Learning Method

Herb of the Month is one of our most powerful learning methods for students of herbalism – and honestly, it’s great for experienced practitioners too! It’s deceptively simple: just choose an herb and work with it extensively every day for a month, in as many ways as you can come up with. At the same time, research the herb as far and wide as you can. In this way you can foreground your own direct experience with the plant, while also exploring the variety of possibilities the herb presents to you.

Some of our most important herbal allies are developed through an Herb of the Month practice! Very frequently, there are aspects of an herb’s qualities, actions, and nuances that can only be appreciated through visceral exposure. Just reading the words on paper, or hearing them in a recording (or classroom), doesn’t set up the same kind of sense-memory. Herbalism starts, after all, with the plants – not with their names, or lists of their chemicals, or their precise categorization according to an ancient schema. Herbalism began with people, and with plants – and for each one of us, it’s important to go back to that direct contact to make the deepest connections possible.

Mentioned in this episode:

Herbs discussed include: chamomile, dandelion, burdock, chicory, schisandra, centaury, catnip, tarragon, anise hyssop.

Our Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course is an exploration of 90 of the safest, most accessible, and most effective herbs we know. Any one of them would make a fantastic Herb of the Month! It’s a great way to learn the key features of important herbs and to see them in their fullness, rather than pigeon-holed into a “what’s that herb good for” category. The course comes with access to our twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, discussion threads in every lesson, and plenty more goodies in our online learning community.

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.

This episode was sponsored by Mountain Rose Herbs. We thank them for their support!


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:02):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:16):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:16):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:20):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of podcast. Yeah. Well, this is going to be a good one. Today our topic is herb of the month. Not like here’s your herb for this month, but what does herb of the month mean?

Katja (00:00:35):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. This is not like we have declared that a particular herb is the herb of April or March or whatever.

Ryn (00:00:43):
Yeah. You get to pick your own.

Katja (00:00:44):
You pick your own. Yeah, No, this is a learning…tool?

Ryn (00:00:51):

Katja (00:00:51):
Method. Yeah. That we have been doing for basically ever that we encourage all of our students to do. I think it is really one of the most effective ways to really learn herbalism in your body. Not just in your head with a bunch of facts that you have to try to remember, but like viscerally learning herbalism.

Ryn (00:01:18):
Yeah. So it’s actually very simple. You know, you’re going to choose an herb. You’re going to work with it extensively for a month. And at the same time, you’re also going to research it thoroughly. But don’t worry. We’re going to give you all the details.

Katja (00:01:29):
Yeah. It’s very simple. But we’re going to tell you step-by-step.

Ryn (00:01:33):
Yeah. And share some tips and tricks we’ve picked up over the years. But first let’s remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (00:01:42):
The ideas is discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or a federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (00:01:53):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs your experiences and goals. So we’re not trying to present a dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (00:02:09):
And 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 some ideas to research further.

Ryn (00:02:19):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey, but it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make.

Katja (00:02:34):
Well, you know, as you’ll see in just a moment as we get into this whole herb of the month thing, one of the most important parts of this whole process is the herb.

Ryn (00:02:48):
Yeah. You’ve got to have your herb. You gotta have it. You can’t just learn the herb by just reading about it. That’s the whole point here, right? So if you’re not sure where to get your herbs, don’t worry. You’re in luck, because you live in 2021.

Katja (00:03:04):
And Mountain Rose Herbs is here to help you. Actually, Mountain Rose Herbs has been here to help you for a long time, like since 1987…

Ryn (00:03:12):
I should know, because it’s on the boxes everywhere. Yeah, but they’ve been around, right? They’ve been around and they’ve been building up their inventory, and not just that, but more importantly, their relationships with the growers and the farmers and the people who put the herbs in the trucks and get them everywhere.

Katja (00:03:28):
You know, actually a lot of their herbs come from small farms in the US as we have more and more small herb farmers. I know that Foster Farms here locally, just up the road in Vermont, they sell a lot of their herbs to Mountain Rose Herbs. So when you are ordering from Mountain Rose Herbs, you may also be supporting small farms.

Ryn (00:03:50):
Yeah. And they have a lot of herbs available, right? And that’s helpful actually, if you’re not sure of who to start working with. You’re like, okay, you get to the end of this episode, and you’re like, all right, ryn. You’ve convinced me to do herb of the month, but I just, I don’t know where to start. Well, you could go over to MountainRoseHerbs.com. You could browse through their inventory, and just see what captures your attention.

Katja (00:04:11):
That is literally how Ryn discovered his love of centaury.

Ryn (00:04:17):
One of my memorable herbs of the month. Yeah.

Katja (00:04:19):
Yes. It will work for you too. So as we go through this whole process of how to do this exercise that really will help you learn herbs better, if you are thinking, great, I just need a place to get some herbs. Then you can check out MountainRoseHerbs.com. And you can let them know how much you appreciate that they sponsor our podcast.

Ryn (00:04:43):
Yeah. Thanks very much. All right. We also wanted to put a shout out to all the folks who’ve been leaving us reviews on Apple podcasts and all of the various other platforms that folks can leave reviews on. Thank you so much. It’s really lovely to read them.

Katja (00:04:59):
Yes, we see them, and we’re so grateful that you’re all here. And I really wish that there was a way to reply to the comments directly. Like, I just want a little button that I can push or like click so that I can like automatically send a little response back saying, thank you so much for writing this. Or sometimes people leave comments that I’m like, wait, I want to talk to you. I want to chat about that. And so many interesting things in there. Anyway, thank you so much. We really appreciate you.

Ryn (00:05:30):
We do. Yeah. And hey, if you have a second, and you want to rate and review. Let people know what you think about our pod here, then that helps us. That does help other people to find the pod. Folks who are out there looking for herbalism podcasts, help them, help them get here. Yeah. We appreciate it.

Katja (00:05:49):
All right. So here is how to do the whole herb of the month thing, or like maybe to start off for a minute, why you would want to. We were talking about visceral learning. I think that our culture has really normalized book learning. And don’t get me wrong, I mean, there’s a lot you can learn from books. Books are really cool. We have a couple of them. We have more books than anything, so I’m not like knocking on books. But it’s not the only way to learn. And with herbalism in particular, if you only learn from books, you didn’t really learn it. There really is a completely different dimension. Like you can know a lot of facts, you can have a lot of details. But when you learn the herbs by practice, by actually consuming them and feeling what that feels like in your body over time, that is when you really truly know it.

Ryn (00:07:03):
Yeah, there are things that you can learn, you know, in this way of direct experience with the plant that you can’t really learn them by reading or listening. I mean, in some sense you could say like, all right. When you taste an herb that’s bitter, it’s going to stimulate your digestive secretions. And you can read that a hundred times in a bunch of different textbooks. And you can hear a lot of different teachers say that in their classes on the digestive system, on cocktail bitters, and like all kinds of different times. It’s going to come up, right? But that’s different from tasting bitter herbs and feeling your stomach start to move around and start to growl at you and that kind of thing. One of them is a concept or an idea, and you’ve got that stored in a particular kind of conceptual memory, right? Another is a physical experience. And so it’s going to register on an entirely different level.

Katja (00:07:53):
I think a lot of people also, we hear this a lot from students when they’re doing the materia medica course online. That course has 90 different herbs in it. And students, somewhere around 15 or 20 herbs in, they’re like, I don’t know how I’m ever going to retain all this. And the reason is that you can’t retain all of it in your head. You have to retain it in your body. And the students who really drink your tea, all of a sudden they start to realize like, wait, you’re not going to forget it. You’re never going to forget what an apple tastes like. And that is the way to retain herbal information as well, is when you hold that experience in your body. It’s no longer about facts that you tried to memorize and you might lose in your mind somewhere like underneath the whatever pile of stuff you put in your head. When it’s in your body, you really don’t forget it.

Ryn (00:09:01):
Yeah. So this is a good practice for everybody, you know. For brand new students, yeah, absolutely. But also for experienced clinicians. I mean, I sometimes find it difficult when I am interested in an herb I haven’t worked with yet to really hold on to it. I’ll watch somebody’s class. I’ll read a bunch of different things from a couple of books I’ve got. I’ll be like, okay. I think I’ve got it. And then it’ll slip away, right?

Katja (00:09:23):
I’ll be like, so what have you been doing lately? He’s like, I’ve been reading about this plant. And I’m like, Oh, cool….and nothing.

Ryn (00:09:30):
Yeah. But if I’m like sipping the tea at the same time. And I’m reading about the astringency of this herb, and I’m tasting it at the same time. I’m like astringency. Yeah. Yeah. It’s there. So it just gets in deeper. But if you’re an herb grower, I mean, I’m sure you nibble on your plants out there in the field, right? Product makers, right? You’ve got to test your formulas. But it’s a good thing to really know each individual plant as an individual, in order to make a good formula that tastes good or works powerfully or ideally both. So yeah, for everybody. Okay.

Pick an Herb & Check its Safety

Katja (00:10:03):
And the thing is that this is easy to do. It’s you know, like, it’s not hard. Here we go. Ready. the first thing that you’re going to do is pick an herb.

Ryn (00:10:17):
Sometimes this is the hard part.

Katja (00:10:18):
Yeah. There are so many of them. Yeah. But that’s okay because you have a lot of months. So kind of just, you don’t have to like spend a lot of time breaking your head about picking the perfect one. In fact, you don’t even need to have a specific reason for why you picked an herb. When students are in person, we have this giant wall of herbs in the apothecary. And I like to tell students like, just stand here and stare at the wall and then pick something. Maybe you pick it because it looks cool in the jar. Or maybe you pick it because the name sounds cool. Like I’m thinking about rose petals. They look great in a jar, you know, like maybe that draws your attention. Or maybe Humulus lupulus, and you’re like, oh, that sounds fun. Okay, sure. Like it literally doesn’t actually matter why you choose an herb. And sometimes, honestly, I really think the herb is choosing you. And the reason that you have in your head for why you chose it is really just like human logic, but that there’s some other logic happening on a different level. But so the bottom line is just pick one.

Ryn (00:11:37):
Yeah. And look, if you’re not sure where to start, and especially if you are kind of brand new to herbs. There are some that are occasionally referred to as polychrest herbs. It sort of means herbs that are really great at a whole lot of things. So you think about plants, like chamomile, for instance.

Katja (00:11:55):
Uh, chamomile is good at everything.

Ryn (00:11:57):
I mean, come on, right? It’s got some neurological aspects to it. It’s got digestive aspects to it. It’s good for a whole range of different mental and emotional experiences. And it has a pleasant flavor, you know. So plants like that it can be really good to work with and to really dive into, and especially plants that have that kind of complexity or that real depth. And if you look at them, especially if you’re kind of new to herbalism, you might say, how could one anything do so many things. How’s that possible? Well, a good way to find out is to work with it, to get to know that herb, again with your senses. So, you know, chamomile, dandelion, nettle, elder, all the parts of the elder, right? Yarrow, mugwort, tulsi, linden. I mean, we could go on, but there are plants like this that are superstars.

Katja (00:12:48):
Yeah. And I think also maybe to think about it doesn’t have to be exotic or fancy. Like ginger and cinnamon are two herbs that I literally can’t practice herbalism without those two plants. And you probably have those in your house already. So it doesn’t have to even be something that’s like, ooh, where am I going to get linden? Like it literally could be cinnamon.

Ryn (00:13:21):
Yeah. Okay. At this stage as you’re choosing your herb, it’s also a good idea to do a brief check for some kind of top line safety info. By that I mean issues about an herb’s safety that are going to jump up to you on even like a cursory search. Things like St. John’s wort should not be taken with most pharmaceuticals. Or if you’re taking pharmaceuticals, you should just avoid St John’s wort on the face of it until you’ve consulted with an experienced herbalist to help you sort through the detail there, right? Or like if you have high blood pressure and you start looking into licorice root, you’ll see a lot of warnings like, oh, watch out. Licorice could raise blood pressure. Or like uva ursi, you see a lot of places where it’s written that you shouldn’t take this for more than two weeks at a time. We agree with that one, you know, just to be clear. And with this it’s okay to just kind of take the most conservative safety info at face value.

Katja (00:14:17):
Yeah. Especially if it’s a plant that you’re not familiar with. It’s always safer to be safer. So if you see something and one place says, oh, this is totally safe. You don’t have to worry about it. Another place says, oh, there could be a problem here. Go with there could be a problem here. Eventually you may learn oh, maybe that problem is rare or whatever, but this is your learning stage. This is your beginning stage. So just be conservative.

Ryn (00:14:45):
Yeah. And you’ll develop to a place where you can challenge those kind of safety claims later on. I see a lot of herbs safety assessments from like web MD or whatever, and I sort of scoff at them. But it’s fine, again, to just kind of take it at face value and start with that. There are so many really safe plants that you can work with, and you can feel confident that you’re not doing anything even remotely dangerous or risky. You know, and so stick to the safest possible herbs, especially if you’re new.

Katja (00:15:14):
You know, and even if you’re thinking like, well, what’s a safe herb? How do I even know? If they sell it at the grocery store, and it’s not a supplement, right? Like, if it’s in the produce section, that’s really safe. If it’s in the spice section, you know, that’s really safe. Or if it’s like in the teabag section, then, okay, good. We’re safe there. So you could even use that as a guideline of what do we consider to be safe.

Ryn (00:15:42):
Yeah. And if you’re a regular podcast listener, or if you’re a student in any of our online courses, then fortunately for you, like more than 90% of the herbs we teach about are in the very, very safe category. That’s two “very”s, all right? Yeah. As you’re planning this out, you may want to plan ahead a little bit, especially if you’re going to order some herbs and you want to consolidate and plan ahead for a few months or something like that. There’s two approaches I would recommend there actually. One is to study groups of herbs that have similar applications or similar properties to see the similarity. Like if you experiment with dandelion root this month, burdock root next month, and chicory root the month after that, you’re going to have a lot of overlap in your experiences there. You’re going to feel a lot of connections between them. And so that will help you to develop some flexibility, and to understand that you have options, right? If you don’t have dandelion today, well, burdock is really, really similar in flavor, in effect, in organ affinity, all different layers.

Katja (00:16:50):
Yeah. And it’ll really help you to understand more deeply the ways in which they’re similar, but also the ways in which they are not the same. And so when you want to, like the inverse situation. I have dandelion and burdock and chicory. How will I make the decision about which one of those is most appropriate for the job that I have right now? And so, when you work with them successively that way, and learn them in more depth and more detail, then you really can start to feel that differentiation in the similarity, right? Like, oh yeah, I see these guys. Oh, these are like triplets, but okay. If you know them, you can tell them apart, you know?

Ryn (00:17:39):
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So that’s valuable. Like you say, in both directions there. Just to understand the similarity, the overlap, and then also those points of departure in and among them. So that’d be one approach, right. To choose a series of similar herbs. Another would be to choose herbs that are very, very different from each other. Get a bitter root today and get an aromatic leaf next month.

Katja (00:18:05):
Or like, you know, something very cold and then something very warming, or something very drying and then something very moistening.

Experience the Herb in as Many Forms & as Much as You Can

Ryn (00:18:17):
Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So that’s step one. Choose your herbs. Right. Step two, get some herbs, right? You’ve got to get it. And this, you know, it sounds a little silly, but we do have to emphasize this. You have to actually have the herb in order to work with it.

Katja (00:18:34):
Yeah. And again, it’s just our culture is very abstracted. We’re very focused on abstract learning. And so in this case no, you’ve got to go get it. And honestly, I like to say, get it in as many ways as you can. like try to get some fresh, try to get some local, try to get some from a big herb store, a big herb house, and then like some from like your neighbor’s garden. And see how are those things different?

Ryn (00:19:07):
Yeah. Think about all the options you’ve got. Can you grow it? Can you gather it respectfully? Can you buy it? Can you trade for it? Can you, you know, yeah. Look through all of those.

Katja (00:19:17):
And when you do that, you really learn what the differences between…If you wanted to work with Japanese knotweed root, and you just bought it powdered, there’s nothing wrong with that. But you might not realize until you try to work with some that maybe you dug up yourself, that powdering it is an intense operation. In fact, if it gets all the way dried out when you have harvested it yourself, you might need like a Sawzall to process that thing. And you know, I like to talk about putting herbs in a coffee grinder to powder them, and that works great if it’s peppermint. It does not work great if it’s Japanese knotweed.

Ryn (00:20:04):
Knotweed root? yeah. No.

Katja (00:20:04):
It’s not going to work. And those are the kinds of things that you only learn if you try to get your herbs from different places in different forms. And listen, if you’re just starting out and this is the very beginning, then get some cinnamon sticks and some cinnamon powder from the grocery store. That is valid and good. But the more places where you can branch out, that’s also wicked cool.

Ryn (00:20:30):
Yeah. Yeah. In a lot of cases it’s going to be ideal to get dried herb, what they call cut and sifted herb, just because that’s the most flexible for making into your own preparations from there. You can take that, you can make tea. You can make tincture. You can do various other kinds of infusion and this and that. So that’s got flexibility to it. And look, the herb itself is going to be the most rich in terms of like learning opportunity and sensory experience for you. You can sample supplements or even isolates, you know, from that herb, if you want to. But remember, and if you haven’t heard it already refer back to our pod from a few weeks ago, about how herbs and supplements are different. So remember, and keep in mind, what am I actually working with here? Is it the whole herb? Is it an extract that’s probably representative of the whole herb or fairly close to it? Or is this an extract that’s been substantially altered from what I would get if I was to grab it out of the earth? Okay.

Katja (00:21:33):
All right. So you picked your herb, you got your herbs, and now you’re going to work with your herbs for a whole month. Every day, every, every day for a whole month. And the idea here is to work with the herb. Okay. I’m just, I’m, pre-loading this with an asterisk. This is the asterisk that comes before. Not even, it doesn’t come after. It comes before. Are you ready? To consume as much of that plant as possible during the course of the month. Oh, what do I mean by that? Okay. So if it’s nettles, I mean make sure that you have a quart of long infused nettles every day. But if it’s lobelia, please do not drink a quart of lobelia tea every day, because you’ll probably vomit a lot.

Ryn (00:22:20):
Yeah. But you know, your herb of the month experience with lobelia is a great opportunity to sort out where your thresholds are, right? Like for you, what are the number of drops of lobelia tincture that give you a pronounced feeling of release and relaxation in the lungs, and help you to breathe deeper and more fully, versus what are the number of drops of lobelia tincture that starts to make your tummy feel a little unsettled.

Katja (00:22:47):
Right. So, as much as possible, but like the reasonable kind of as much as possible. Not the Costco version of as much as possible. This is not the like 64 roll of toilet paper pack that we’re talking about here.

Ryn (00:23:05):
Yeah. But you are trying to get a substantial dose. Let’s call it.

Katja (00:23:10):
Yeah. Like the flip side of that is if you just drink one cup of tea once a week, and the rest of the time you spend researching, you didn’t do it. We really do want to get it in every day, and in a substantial enough quantity that you can feel the effect in your body.

Ryn (00:23:27):
Yeah. There we go. Okay. And while you’re doing that, we’re going to try all the methods you can think of, or that you can find anyone recommending. As you go along with this, you’re going to be reading what people have to write about it. And you’re going to be looking for video content and whatever. But any recommendations or any suggestions you come across, give it a try. You’ve got a whole month.

Katja (00:23:48):
Yeah. And the thing is that different people like different things. Different bodies want different things. So, one person might really like that herb prepared in one particular way. And another person might really like it prepared in another way. We can use chamomile as an example here. One person might really want a light, floral, quick infusion, because they are really emphasizing the kind of work you can do with the volatile oil constituents. Whereas somebody else might go for a very long infusion that gets very bitter and strong, because they’re working with the things that happen in their body with that bitterness. Or even I’m thinking about regional variations. In New England the trend is towards long infusions when you work with something like nettle. But Phyllis Light, who practices down in Alabama, she works with decoctions of nettle. And let me tell you actually. A decoction of nettle and a long infusion of nettle does not taste the same. They both do interact with the plant long enough that you are getting a full mineral profile, but the flavor is not the same. And it’s really worth trying both just to figure out like what’s going on here? What do I like best? How do I prefer this?

Ryn (00:25:14):
Yeah. Same thing for trying various alcohol percentages in your tincture. If you have the option you could make a 20% tincture, a sort of standard vodka 40%, and then try one in Everclear. And taste them side by side once they finished, and see what they taste like. See what they feel like. Or even just the difference between a water preparation of your herb and an alcohol preparation, or infusing it into honey or vinegar. I mean, you’ve got so many options, right?

Katja (00:25:45):
Try all of them. All the options that you have available, try them.

Ryn (00:25:50):
And for these purposes, it’s even a good idea to try some that don’t seem optimal. Try some preparations where you’re like, well, from what I understand about the chemistry of alkaloids, this probably won’t work very well. But I’m going to try it anyway and see what it feels like.

Katja (00:26:07):
Like cold infuse some nettle. Try it.

Ryn (00:26:10):
Yeah. So don’t go around wasting herb, right? But this isn’t wasteful, because you are learning. You are doing things. And I guarantee you that at some point you’re going to run into someone else who swears by this method, and says it’s the best thing for them and solved all their problems forever. And you’re going to look at them like, huh? But if you’ve tried it, you can at least be like, well, I know what that tastes like. And I’m glad it’s working for you.

Katja (00:26:31):
I don’t see it, but yeah, exactly.

Ryn (00:26:34):
So if you listen to us at all, then you know we really, really like tea. We prefer that for a great majority of the work we do with herbs.

Katja (00:26:42):
We’re drinking some right now.

Ryn (00:26:42):
And for a lot of herbs our starter recommendation for an herb of the month project is make a quart of tea, and drink it every day. Somewhere in the range of two to four tablespoons of herbs per quart of water is a pretty solid dose for most plants. So, if you’re not sure where to start, you could begin right there

Katja (00:27:05):
Also, it’s important to take a little bit of time. I would say at least twice a week. If you have the time to do this every day, that is fantastic. But at least twice a week, take some time to sit and drink tea and only drink tea. Let that be like a meditation with your herb that you’re working with. When you sit and don’t check your phone and don’t listen to a podcast, even if it’s this podcast, and don’t talk to somebody or read a book or any of that stuff, and you really just allow your full attention to be on the tea itself, on the flavor of the tea, on the feeling in your mouth, the feeling through your body, the feelings of change in your body while you are drinking the cup. At what point does your neck start to relax? At what point does different stuff in your body happen? You may not notice those things if you’re also checking your email. And so it is really valuable to spend some time really, really focusing on nothing other than the tea and your body.

Ryn (00:28:31):
Yeah. I find the idea of sensory integration to be really helpful here. And that can mean different things, but in a lot of cases it pretty much boils down to pointing all your senses in the same direction, in this case toward your teacup. So we’re observing the colors. We’re looking at the little floaters in the tea moving around. We’re smelling it. We’re bringing it close so that we can keep on breathing the fumes that rise off.

Katja (00:28:55):
Oh. And you know, the smell in particular, because sometimes the smell and the flavor are not the same. And that’s data. Like that’s information that’s important.

Ryn (00:29:04):
Yeah. Right. Noting those differences can be helpful. Of course, tasting your herb, tasting it with the whole mouth, all the way around. And then, you know, from there it’s kind of like the body scan practice that a lot of meditation styles will involve. Whether that’s the whole purpose of the practice, or it’s like to get you into that space, but if you sit down. Kind of scan through your body from head to toe. All right, what do I feel like today? Where are my tension spots? Where are there any discomforts or places of ease, you know, places of comfort. Not judging, not trying to change them right now, but just to see and feel where they are. And then you start drinking your tea. You smell it. You taste it. You take a sip, breathe in and out for a few moments. And keep on scanning through. And in this mode of awareness you’re going to be better able to discern when changes start to occur, right? To really feel what’s happening.

Record Data & Focus on Simples

Katja (00:30:01):
So, the other thing here is keeping some data, because humans tend to forget things. And we also tend to acclimate to things. And so it’s really important to keep a journal, really over the course of the whole month. So, while you’re sitting very focused in your tea meditation, write in your journal then, at the end after you’ve finished. If you’re writing while you’re experiencing, that might feel distracting for you. So you can write it at the end too. But honestly, keep this journal over the whole month. Write a little bit each day about it. You might write more on the days that you spend some intense meditation time with your plant. But jot some notes every day about how you’re feeling about your body, about what’s going on with your body. Did you pee a ton? Did you sleep better? Did you whatever.

Ryn (00:31:01):
Yeah. Changes in your dreams, you know, things like that.

Katja (00:31:05):
Is your digestion improving?

Ryn (00:31:05):
Right? Yeah. If you have a regular workout practice, it’s often really interesting to see the way that working with a given herb can alter your recovery experience. Like how fast that happens or what spots in your body loosen up first or things like that.

Katja (00:31:24):
But you know, first off some things take longer to notice. If you’re going to work with nettle, that is a plant that’s basically food. And the very first time you drink it, you may not notice the full spectrum of effects. It might be the second or third week before you start to really be like, hey, my nails are looking a lot nicer, or my hair is starting to whatever. You might not notice that right off the bat, because it takes time for that to sort of bubble on through.

Ryn (00:31:59):
Yeah. On the other hand, if you start your quarts of nettle per day habit in the midst of your allergy season, then you might have more immediate effects there, you know?

Katja (00:32:10):
Yeah, exactly.

Ryn (00:32:11):
Yeah. But it’s true though, that some of these effects of herbs can only really emerge after weeks of some consistent intake. And that’s especially true for like the subtler aspects of herbal energetics. A lot of times when people are learning herbal energetics, they’ll be like, well, okay, I get you that ginger’s hot and watermelon’s cold. Like, okay, that’s easy for me. But what about tulsi? What about even chamomile? What about lemon balm? Are these warming or cooling? I just can’t decide. And a lot of times the best advice I can give is to say drink it every day for a week or two on end, or for three weeks or for a month. And see if by the end of that time, you have a stronger determination.

Katja (00:32:57):
Yeah. You know, and your own body will impact that as well. If Ryn and I both drink uva ursi, he will know that it’s drying in the very first sip. I mean, I’ll know too, because you do feel the astringency of uva ursi. But it feels pleasant in my body for a good while actually. Like I could do it every day for a while before I start to feel like, oh, all right. I’m kind of wrung out now. Whereas I don’t know if you could drink a whole cup of that.

Ryn (00:33:26):
Yeah. It’s hard. My body doesn’t want it.

Katja (00:33:30):
So that is another reason why it’s important to keep those notes. Because depending on what herb you’ve chosen and your own constitution, some things you might notice right away. Some things you might not.

Ryn (00:33:44):
Yeah. So keep at it. That’s why it’s herb of the month, not herb of the day. Okay. And other thoughts here. Work with this herb as a simple for at least a couple of weeks straight. So as a simple means just by itself, right? And if you choose garlic, yes. That means you’re going to make yourself some garlic clove tea. Powerful stuff. You’re going to learn a lot I tell you. But why? Well, because you want to get to know the herb on its own terms. And especially again, for those like nuances of the energetics, or where can I feel this activating or quieting down or releasing tension in my system. You want to really just know the effects of that herb all by itself. So at least two weeks, if not a full month, just take the herb as a simple. You may have other herbs in your life, other herbs that you take on a consistent basis or that you take on an occasional basis to just help out when you’re having a rough day here and there. Don’t worry about that. You can maintain that stuff. You can still have those in your life. That’s all fine.

Katja (00:34:48):
I mean, that’s your baseline at that point.

Ryn (00:34:50):
That’s right. That’s where you began from anyway. So you don’t want to necessarily be changing all of them all at once. But if it’s been at least two weeks, or even the full month, where you’ve worked with that herb just as a simple, then at that point feel free to experiment with some combinations or some formulations. Because by then you’ve encountered that herb in its own right. And now you can start to, it is a good idea, really, to experiment with some pairs or some simple formulas, little trios and things to say, okay, so I know nettle. But what happens when I get nettle and marshmallow or nettle and red clover or nettle and plantain leaf together. How does that alter the experience, the flavor, the effect, the potency, all those different factors.

Katja (00:35:36):
Yeah. I would say the only time to make an exception to that would be if there is like an extreme, constitutional mismatch. So like if you’re a super duper dry person, and you want to work with nettle for a month. And you want to drink a long infusion, a quart of long infusion every day, you might feel uncomfortably dry sooner than two weeks. So I would say, go ahead and do it by itself at least the first day, and then see. And if it gets to a point where you start to feel dry, then even if that might be before the two weeks, okay. Put some marshmallow root in there.

Ryn (00:36:18):
And try to find the simplest corrective possible. So here, like the dryness axis is what we’re trying to correct. And the marshmallow is going to correct for that really simply, in a very straightforward manner. If you were to throw in fenugreek instead, well now we’ve got like hormonal influences going on, and now there is some pungency coming in. And, you know, a bunch of other factors are coming in to play there.

Katja (00:36:39):
Right. So if you just sort of keep it as simple as possible. Like if you do need to make adjustments for your constitution so that it’s not making you uncomfortable, just make those adjustments very, very simple so that you can still focus on what your actual chosen herb is doing.

Broadly Research & Develop a Monograph

Ryn (00:37:00):
Okay. So next step here is research your herb. And this you can begin at any time really, but we do like to experience the herb before researching it too extensively. So, I mentioned before, you want to get your top line safety info about your herb. Check a few ready to hand resources, even ones that are kind of conservative in nature before you get started. So you’re like, all right, I know this isn’t going to poison me outright, or it doesn’t have drug interactions with the meds I take or whatever else, right? After you kind of cleared that hurdle, then kind of stand back from digging too deep into the research for a little while. And make sure you have at least a few of those moments of experiential meditation with your plants. Tea tasting, or working with tincture, or other ways to experience it, and meditate a little and feel what your body tells you, and to let your experience be your first teacher there.

Katja (00:37:58):
Yeah. Also there is such an inclination for us to ascribe authoritative value to books. And first off some books are crap. So like just to know that just because it’s about plants doesn’t mean the book is good. Some books are not good. But I think even more importantly than that, some things are not written down anywhere. And some things have only been written down by people who are cold and damp, but not written down by anybody who happens to be hot and dry or vice versa. And so you may see things in books that don’t necessarily match your experience. And because of the way that our culture treats books, we are very inclined to defer to the book and negate our own experience. And so I really like for people to kind of hold off on the book part until they feel solid in their own experience, or feel confident to let their experience stand as a challenge to something that they see. And I mean, it is possible to mis-calibrate your interpretation of your own experience. That certainly is possible. But just because it’s written in a book or not written in a book, doesn’t mean that that is more valid than what you have experienced in your body. And so, you know you. And I would say to do what you need to do to solidify your experience, before you do things that will make you lose confidence in your experience. If you’ve been doing an herb of the month for a long time, this might not be a problem anymore. Because you might be really good at feeling your experience and holding that strong. And then allowing things that you see in writing to contribute to that in a multifaceted sort of way, as opposed to in a like binary kind of way. But if that is difficult for you, and you know that reading other people’s opinions makes you kind of like turn off your own experience, then wait a little while.

Ryn (00:40:23):
Yeah, for sure. Okay. So when it’s time to research, we want to first off look up your herb in multiple sources, like as many different ones as you can find. So that could be your friendly neighborhood online herb school, perhaps.

Katja (00:40:42):
I might suggest Commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (00:40:45):
Yeah. I’ve heard they have a decent program. This could be a whole bunch of different books that you might have or may be able to find at your library. Or get an herbal study group together and we can all share books, you know. That kind of thing. There’s tons of recorded classes out there in the world now. There’s videos to be found on all the various services, herbalists practicing and teaching. There’s a few decent herbal podcasts out there in the world. Right? So there are a lot of sources of information out there, and it’s good to look through many, many of them. And when are you doing this? Specifically be trying to find information from disparate times and places. So, for example, if I’m going to look up an herb, and I really know a whole lot about it, but I just want to get started. I know that I’m going to check into Maud Grieves’ A Modern Herbal. We’ve got a text version here. There’s an online version at botanical.org.com. Oh man.

Katja (00:41:47):
Botanical dot something. No, I think it’s dot com.

Ryn (00:41:50):
I think so. Yeah. So, I know I’m going to check there and get some insight about what this British herbalist in the 1930s had to say about it.

Katja (00:41:58):
1928, 1931. Yeah.

Ryn (00:42:01):
Yep. I know that I’m going to check and see what the eclectics and the physiomedicalists had to say about it back in the 1800s. I’m going to be interested in any ethnobotanical literature that we can gather about that. And if it’s a plant that’s been worldwide or has species worldwide, we’re also going to try and get whatever insight we can from world traditions. You know, often it’s easiest to get info about that from traditional Chinese medicine or from Ayurveda. But if there’s info from Unani Tibb, if there’s info from various localized African herbal practices or traditions, whatever we can find really is going to be interesting for comparison to look at the different ways different folks have worked with the plant. This can often reveal things to you that you might not learn otherwise. Like, I remember the first time I learned about working with ashwagandha leaf. And it was somebody writing about an African tradition of it, and that taught me two things. One was, hey, you can work with the leaf. And the other was, oh, right. This plant grows all over Africa.

Katja (00:43:03):
Right. It grows in a lot of places, but Africa is one of them. And I also didn’t know that anybody worked with the leaf. That was like a big surprise to me. I have still not done it, but I’m really interested that there are people doing that.

Ryn (00:43:19):
Yeah. So, you know, trying to go far and wide, and that includes looking at sources like pub med, right? Where you’re going to go and type in the name of your herb and see if there are any studies on that that are relevant, right? Like maybe they were done in humans, or maybe they were actually using the whole plant or a tea made from it rather than like one isolated compound. But we’re gathering whatever kinds of information we can, and then we’re going to kind of hold them all next to each other and see where things resonate. See where things differ from each other. But trying to get as complete a picture as possible. If you’re not sure where to start, check out Commonwealthherbs.com/resources. That has most of our favorites there.

Katja (00:44:00):
Yeah. It probably could have a little update, but it’s pretty complete. So it will definitely give you plenty of starting information.

Ryn (00:44:12):
Well, okay. So you’re reading. You’re watching videos. You’re listening to pods while you take a nice walk, trying to find that plant if it grows in your local environment. That’s a really good way to learn from your herb of the month. Absolutely. And what you want to do with all this info in this experience is to record it, right? Write it up into your own little herbal monograph. A monograph is a fancy term for an entry in your personal herbal encyclopedia. Everything that you know about that plant, everything you want to retain or that you find exciting or interesting about it, gather that all into one place.

Katja (00:44:49):
Honestly. I advocate for handwriting your monographs, and here’s why. When you type your monographs, there can be the inclination to cut and paste information from other people’s sources. And there is nothing wrong with gathering up things that you’ve read in different places. You know, like a whole list of links of different people’s blog posts about that herb or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it emphasizes other people’s experiences. When you write it by hand, you are more likely to emphasize your own experience. Even if you’re writing about something that you read somewhere else, you are going to write it in your own words. And all of it is more internalized this way because it is yours instead of a collection of things that are other people’s. And again, there is nothing wrong with saving research information. I’m not trying to say that like that’s bad in any way. But there is a value in handwriting, simply because everything you hand write, it kind of goes through the filter of your own language. And because when you hand write things you are more likely to write down your personal experiences and less likely to copy down paragraphs of somebody else’s experiences. And since the value here is your experience, that is actually what we’re trying to get at. Other people’s experiences have been written down. And you can get them out of their books and blog posts and whatever. You don’t need to put that in your monograph, unless there something really, really valuable or something that really spoke to you in a particular way. But the real thing that we want here is your experience, your relationship with this plant. That is the real value because that’s what is that visceral learning.

Ryn (00:47:01):
Yeah. You know, when you’re putting this together, there’s some things that you’re going to want to include every time, right? Like the name of the plant, some botanical relations that it’s in, like it’s family, you know, the genus and species and all of that. And there not just to have that knowledge because it’s valuable in and of itself, but because botanical connections and botanical relations can often help you to learn about not just one herb, but about a group altogether, whether that’s from similarity or from difference, right? Like if you work with mugwort for a while and you learn that, you’re also learning a bit about tarragon and about wormwood and about sweet Annie, because those are all artemisia species, and there’s going to be some similarities with them. When you later get to experience each of those individually, that’s when you’ll kind of be like, okay, so yeah, you’ve got that bitterness. But wow, this tarragon is really aromatic and that wormwood is really, really bitter in comparison to my mugwort. So, that will be like a base for you to build off of in that dimension. You’re going to want to write about the herbs energetics. And that’s one where a lot of times you’re going to need to put in your own input.

Katja (00:48:10):
Yeah, you can’t always find that.

Ryn (00:48:12):
You can’t always find it written about, or maybe not written in the terms that you want to use, right? Like maybe you can find a bunch of Ayurvedic commentary about a given plant, and you prefer to work with basic qualities instead of with doshas, right? So you see people writing about this being an herb, that corrects for kapha tendencies. And then you translate that into your monograph and say this herb is drying or it’s warming or however you prefer to prefer to put it down. But put it into your own language, into your preferred terminology. That will help you to hold that in mind and to keep it in that kind of mental index. Similarly, when you’re recording nearby actions and it’s affinities, that kind of thing – even constituents if that’s something you really like to dig into – these are all ways to make connections, and to kind of build up those mental categories and make them really robust. Which usually means to make them less rigid and to recognize where the fuzzy edges are going to be.

Katja (00:49:11):
Yeah. Oh, the fuzzy edges.

Ryn (00:49:15):
Everybody wants to write down like indications, right? What is the herb good for? So yeah, go ahead and do that. In our monographs the way we tend to structure them, that’s like things that may not be immediately obvious from looking at the qualities and the affinities of the plant, right? Like if I know an herb is warming and it has a lot of digestive affinity, I don’t need to write down that it can be good when you feel like your digestion is slow. That’s kind of implied. But on the other hand, ginger is so good at nausea, all different kinds of nausea from so many different causes, some of which don’t really have much to do with the digestive system at all, that it’s really worth writing that down and making a keynote about that.

Keep it Personal

Katja (00:49:57):
And honestly, it’s worth writing down, whatever is right for you. If it’s a new plant that you’re not very familiar with, you might write down a lot more than if it’s a plant that you work with all the time. And the types of things that you write down may be different. So remember the monograph is for you. This is you building up your own encyclopedia. So whatever you include in there is what’s right for you to include in there, you know?

Ryn (00:50:28):
Yeah. It’s also a good idea to include contraindications. Like when are the times when you don’t take this herb? What are the medications that this herb could have a bad interaction with, right? Just so you’ve always got that available, and especially if you’re really building a personal, you know, grimoire, like a little herbal book. You want to be able to check those rapidly when you’re paging back through, putting formulas together, that kind of thing. So, you know, we’re primarily clinical herbalists and that’s most of what we teach and what we are oriented towards. So you can be writing a monograph for different purposes. You may also want to include growing conditions or cultivation and harvesting tips. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time growing or wildcrafting herbs, that’s going to be super important info for you to have on hand, right? And then it’s also good to include things like legends or folk traditions, mythical stories about the plant, ritual aspects of the herb, other things like that. Whatever draws your attention, whatever drew you to herbs in the first place and got you excited about them, put that in there, right? Again, it’s for you.

Katja (00:51:36):
Yeah. And, you know, sometimes you can learn interesting things from legends and myths and folk traditions around a plant that don’t seem to have anything to do with the medicinal workings of the plant. But then when you think about it you’re like, ah. Oh, I see a tie there, you know? So that can be surprisingly helpful.

Ryn (00:52:04):
Yeah. Right. Yeah. I mean, those are store houses for cultural knowledge, right? Okay. So that’s the process. You’re going to choose your herb. You’re going to get some herb. You’re going to work with the herb. You’re going to research the herb. This is a daily practice. And remember, you’ve got those times, at least a couple of times a week, to really dedicate. Like carve out some space. Put it in your calendar. Do whatever you need to do to make sure it really happens, happens consistently. But I can just guarantee that this will skyrocket your herbal learning.

Katja (00:52:39):
Listen, there are some things that you can only learn this way. Like when I was doing an herb of the month with Schisandra, nowhere, nowhere have I ever seen it written that schisandra beats sugar cravings. But holy cow, did I ever experience that in my body. And then I started, you know, telling other people about that and working with it. And other people have been like, yeah, boy, I felt that too. And I never have found that written anywhere. And that’s not because all the books in the world are flawed. It’s because herbalists are busy and people don’t have time to write every single thing down.

Ryn (00:53:21):
Yeah. And we haven’t read every herbal book in the world. Maybe somebody out there has got it written down. That’s cool

Katja (00:53:26):
That’s true. If you out there are thinking, no, I saw that in a book, then let me know, because that would be fun.

Ryn (00:53:31):
Yeah. And great.

Katja (00:53:31):
But also some things just aren’t in books, some things just aren’t. And so I just love the kind of surprise factor of even plants that you’ve worked with for a long time, when you really start to work with them intensively, you learn things that surprise you.

Ryn (00:53:55):
Yeah. It gives you a whole new depth of appreciation for the herb. Schisandra was a really memorable over the month for you. For me, and if you’ve heard this podcast a bunch, then you may have heard us say before, but for me one of my first herbs of the month was centaury. And that made a huge impression on me. I was new to bitter at the time. But I was like, no, I’m going to learn herbalism. Ladybird says this is awesome. This is the way to do it. So here I go. I’m going to drink a quart of centaury tea every day.

Katja (00:54:23):
Listen, I didn’t tell him he should drink centaury. He picked it because the name was cool.

Ryn (00:54:26):
I did, I was like centuary.

Katja (00:54:29):
I would have started him with something better tasting.

Ryn (00:54:30):
This is the herb that Chiron gave to humans, the centaur healer, to help us stay alive and resist poison. And like, aah, I’ve got to try this.

Katja (00:54:39):
I mean, it was a very appropriate first herb of the month for you, honestly, It really was.

Ryn (00:54:45):
It was. And it was extremely helpful for me. But also I think that if I was just like, okay. I’ll have one cup or I’ll try a squirt of tincture or whatever. I would not have the like what’s the word? I’m very defensive about centaury. I’m like, no, this is actually wonderful. I want people to love it. And so I’m always trying to be like, okay, now it’s going to taste bitter, but don’t worry. You’re going to feel great. And so I’m a big advocate for that herb now. And that happens with your herb of the month. You develop a connection to it. And people use this word, herbal ally, sometimes a little too loosely. But it can become that for you. And I think this is one of the best ways to develop that kind of relationship with a plant. I had a similar experience with catnip. Same draw, really. Just like it’s the cat’s herb, and I really want to be more like a cat. So let’s drink that every day and see what I feel like. But, you know, yeah, there are these experiences that you can’t really replicate somewhere else, and may even be hard to convey in language. Because it is a sensory experience, not a language based one. So yeah, those have been some that really stood out for us over the years.

Katja (00:56:04):
Well, we also thought that we would share our upcoming herbs of the month that we’re going to start for April. And you know, maybe you’ll do an herb of the month along with us. You don’t have to pick the same herbs that we did. But I am really excited to work with tarragon. So tarragon is a plant that I love the flavor of very much, but I have not intentionally worked with it in an herbal way.

Ryn (00:56:39):
It’s become a dominant aspect of tomato sauces, which has been awesome.

Katja (00:56:43):
Yeah. And I also love to mix it with cranberry. I love to infuse tarragon into honey. But it’s really been about the flavor. And so I’m really excited to dig into this plant and learn more about the way that it works in my body. And one of the things that I am interested to spend some more time thinking about is that when I think about my interactions with tarragon, I notice that I have similar feelings about tarragon that I do about tulsi. And so that is one area that I really want to explore is the sort of emotional health aspects of tarragon. And you know, why do I feel similar feelings towards tarragon that I feel about tulsi? So that’s something I want to dig into. I’m very excited to look into the historical applications of this plant, which is another thing that I in all these years have not really ever done. I really can’t tell you how they worked with it historically, because I just never looked. I mean, I can guess because of its energetics and the flavor. There are some things that I can just guess because they’re obvious. But I’m very excited to dig into it in a more structured way.

Ryn (00:58:12):
Yeah. Well, my herb of the month is going to be anise hyssop. And I’ve been excited about this herb for a little minute here and kind of ready to dive in with a project like this. So here we have this relaxant aromatic herb from the mint family, but with a little bit of an anise-y kind of a flavor to it. And I’ve actually been looking into a bunch of the anise-y scented kind of herbs for a while now, into aniseed itself. Fennel probably was the herb that really got me going in this direction, because I find fennel to be so…

Katja (00:58:43):
Yeah, this is a phase for you. It’s been months now.

Ryn (00:58:47):
Yeah. But fennel is just so calming and wonderful and releasing to gut tension that I’m often prone to. And so then I was like, all right. Well, let’s try anise next. And then I thought, well, then there’s anise hyssop. And that’s kind of somewhere between like fennel and aniseeds and like catnip in a way. And I thought it was kind of connected. I like the smell of it. I like the taste of it in tea so far. But I just kind of want to get to know it better. My other experience with anise hyssop has been there was a really big, really beautiful one growing in one of the parks that I frequent around town. And I would keep trying to bring students over there so I could eat leaves off of it. But yeah, I haven’t really looked into, you know, the research basis on anise hyssop. And I mean that both in the sense of like science studies in pub med and whatever, but also like historical aspects of the way people would work with this. I haven’t dug in in that way. So kind of like what you were saying, I’m interested to do that too.

Katja (00:59:48):
Yeah. It’s going to be a really fun month. I will also note that right now the tea that we’re drinking is tarragon and anise hyssop together.

Ryn (00:59:58):
It’s very interesting. There’s a lot going on in here.

Katja (01:00:01):
I like it actually. I think it’s a very pleasant tea.

Ryn (01:00:04):
It’s just two herbs. But if you just handed it to me and told me there were 10 herbs in here, I’d be like, yeah, Yeah. It seems like it.

Katja (01:00:09):
Yeah. There’s a lot of complexity in this flavor. But I like it.

Ryn (01:00:15):
Yeah. So, for the next month we’ll make each other quarts of tea in the day, so we can have that available. And that will be nice.

Katja (01:00:25):
Yeah. We’re drinking them together to sort of kick things off, but we’ll set up every morning a French press of the anise hyssop and one of the tarragon and drink them through the day.

Ryn (01:00:40):
Divide and conquer a little you know. Yeah. If you have an herbal friend in your bubble, then you can do this too.

Katja (01:00:46):
And we’ll definitely be working, at least with the fresh plant tarragon, because that you can get pretty much all year round. I’m not sure that we’ll be able to get an anise hyssop fresh this early in the year, but that’s okay.

Ryn (01:01:00):
Yeah. But we can plant some and have that for later on in the year.

Katja (01:01:03):
Yeah. And we’ll work with tinctures. We have a tincture of tarragon. Do we have an anise hyssop tincture?

Ryn (01:01:10):
I don’t think so.

Katja (01:01:11):
So we’ll make one. We have infused tarragon honey.

Ryn (01:01:16):
Oh yeah.

Katja (01:01:16):
We’ll make some other things and see what we like. I am pretty excited to put anise hyssop into cranberry sauce.

Ryn (01:01:24):
I think it’ll be good.

Katja (01:01:25):
I think it’ll be good.

Ryn (01:01:26):
It’s worth a try, yeah.

Katja (01:01:26):

Ryn (01:01:28):
So anyway, that’s our plan. But hey, you too can do herb of the month. You should do it. It’ll be great.

Katja (01:01:32):
Yes. Do it. Do it. Do it and tell us about it, because I would love to hear about it.

Ryn (01:01:37):
Yeah. So feel free to reach out. All right, everybody, that’s it for this week. We’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism Podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea and keep some notes this time. All right. See you later.

Katja (01:01:56):


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