What’s a good herb for X? There are no herbs “for” anything.

When you’re an herbalist, it’s normal to get questions from people about herbs.

Usually people ask what they think is a simple question, expecting a simple response: “What’s a good herb for IBS?”

They expect you to say something like “Chamomile.”

Which isn’t wrong, but the truth is a lot more complex than that!

This was the topic of the recent episode of the Holistic Herbalism Podcast, brought to you by us 🙂 I’m going to talk more about it but here are direct links in case you want to listen/watch:

​The more you learn about herbalism, the more you realize that there are no herbs “for” any disease state. Instead, there are herbs who can exert influences on the body, and those may match well (or poorly) with the specific state of an individual person. But every body is different, which means that different people need different herbs to match their different situations.

So as time goes on, you become less enthusiastic about simply giving someone the name of an herb when they ask “what herb should i take for…?”

(or less enthusiastic about receiving that answer!)

This dynamic is even more pronounced on social media. Whether in an herbalism discussion group or in direct messages from your followers, an herbalist on social media will see lots of these types of questions – and lots of those one-word responses, too!

But one-word answers aren’t very helpful. Even two people with the same “label” – whether that’s heartburn or PCOS or whatever – are having different experiences. Different bodies exhibit different symptoms, even if the same label is applied to both bodies – so we need to know more than just the label to get to the herbs that will help them best.

Plus, people don’t take the names of herbs – they take herbs!

In order for something to be helpful, you’ll need to know HOW to work with the herbs. Should you prepare tea (using this much plant matter for that much water), or take tincture (made at this or that herb:menstruum ratio), or get a supplement (made by this or that brand)…

If a person just gets the name of an herb, how do they know what to do to feel better? How much to take, in what form? How often, for how long? All those details can make or break the success of an intervention.

(Or have you been on the receiving end of that kind of answer – “Calendula.” Ok great, but now what?)

Ok – we’re all on the same page here, so… how can you help people when they ask you questions?

Here are some tips to try:

Instead of simply listing names of herbs, you might try giving an insight into your own herbal thought process – for example, if they’re asking about “herbs for headaches”, you can briefly describe some of the various patterns that can cause headache – heat, dryness, tension, stagnation, etc – and help them identify what kind of headache they have.

From there, you can suggest herbs to experiment with – and that’s an important phrase, “to experiment with”! Helping people understand that working with herbs involves multiple rounds of self-experimentation is a great service you can provide.

It takes a little more time to construct a response like this, but it’s significantly more helpful to the asker. They might expect you to simply know the right herb for them, and if you just say “it depends and it’s complicated”, that can feel like you’re gatekeeping. (even though it does depend, and it is complicated! acknowledging the complexity is not the same as gatekeeping.)

But if you share your own decision-making process, you both teach them how to think like an herbalist (even just a little bit), and you help them understand you’re not holding out on them! 🙂


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