Society is returning to nature after being bombarded for decades with so many pills for every ill and much of our culture causing us to be out of sync with the world around us. Developing an herbal practice for yourself can help you cultivate a deeper connection with your body and with Earth’s natural cycles. In this episode, we talk about different ways you can develop a stronger relationship with plants and some tips and resources for creating your own herbal practice.
Referenced in this episode:
- NowAge Travel
- Alexis Nikole Nelson on TikTok
- Boston herb shops: Cambridge Naturals + Artemisia Botanicals
- Episode 26: Plant Wisdom With Miranda Aponte
- Episode 27: What’s In Your Underwear?
- Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism
- Mountain Rose Herbs
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The transcript for this blog post has been edited for length and clarity.
Strengthening your relationship with plants
Now is a good time to talk about creating your own herbal practice because it’s spring, and everything is blossoming all around us.
When the pandemic first started, we had no other way to spend our free time other than going for walks. I found a lot of joy in walking around my neighborhood, getting acquainted with the plants in my area, watching the flowers grow, and learning the patterns of what grows first. It was nice to slow down and start to get to know the flora in my area. I felt much more connected to my neighborhood after that.
The summer before the pandemic I had gone on a local herbalism tour where we walked around the town of Salem and our guide pointed out all of the herbs, all of the medicine, that was growing all around us. It was so cool to be able to learn about and identify all of the common plants growing all around us that we just walk by and walk on and ignore.
Plant medicine is in our backyards, on the corners of busy streets, coming up through the cracks on the sidewalks.
Once I learned about the different plants in my area, I started to notice them much more. It makes sense, once you identify something you’re able to see it more and pick it out more. Like a new friend, someone you previously couldn’t pick out of a crowd but now that you know them, you bump into them all over the place.
Over the last few years, I’ve developed a stronger, personal relationship with plants that I want to share with you. If you want to learn about the power of plants in general and the plants around you, you might find something you didn’t realize that you were looking for.
Learn about the plants in your neighborhood
Aside from going on a walking tour led by an herbalist, which is probably not something you really have access to, I want to share some ways that you can start learning about herbs and also how you can build your own routine. Building a routine for yourself requires you to learn more about your body and about the herbs themselves — of course you can always consult with an herbalist, but this is about developing a relationship with the plants too so some experimentation will be nice for that.
I do recommend walking around your neighborhood, if you feel safe to do so, and explore what’s springing up out of your neighbor’s front lawn, or peer into the cracks in the pavement to see what’s growing there.
You can search for books about plants that are native to your area. If you’re in New England, there’s one called Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast that comes highly recommended by my teachers. Also, look into invasive plants. There is so much medicine to be found in plants that are widely considered weeds.
I also recommend watching Alexis Nikole Nelson’s videos on TikTok, she’s known as the Black Forager on Twitter too. When the pandemic first started, she did a series on edible plants that you can probably find in your neighborhood, like garlic mustard, dandelion, violets, and mugwort too. She is great for learning about things that are accessible and using the herbs in simple and creative ways.
There’s also an awesome app called PlantSnap that helps you identify plants. You take a photo of the plant and it’ll tell you what it thinks the plant is. You can save your photos and identifications as well, so you have a little library of the plants that are in your neighborhood, with the dates that you saved them, so you can have this log of plants and know exactly when you can start to see them grow.
Spend a week with one herb at a time
Something I learned from my teachers at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism is to do an “herb of the week” practice, or you can expand it to “herb of the month” if you want to. This is a really hands-on way to get to know your plants.
It’s simple. You just choose an herb, and experiment with it all week or all month.
If you are foraging it yourself, do make sure to be safe about it. Don’t forage anything you can’t identify with 100% certainty, and also avoid consuming anything from high-traffic areas. You don’t want to consume dandelion that’s been growing on the sidewalk near a busy intersection and absorbing car pollution. So use common sense and be safe.
Consume it in different ways — make a tea with it, eat it fresh if it’s safe to do so, try a tincture with it if you access to one, make a syrup or a vinegar or an elixir, sprinkle it in your meals if it’s also a culinary spice, maybe you experience it topically and make a salve out of it — and see how it all feels. Explore all the different ways you can consume it and how it influences your body.
I recommend not researching the herb while you do this — obviously, research its safety first if it’s one you’re not familiar with — but try not to look up what it’s supposed to do, at least for the first few days. Just sit with it and see how it feels in your body, without any idea of what you think is going to happen. Because everyone is different.
Notice the flavor, notice how it makes you feel while you drink it (if it makes you pucker up or if it makes you salivate for instance), notice if there are changes quickly or if it takes a few hours to feel anything, or if you don’t feel anything at all. Some herbs take a longer period of time to have effects, like adaptogens.
If you only have access to the loose herb, or tea, try a tea that steeps for 10 minutes vs a tea that steeps overnight. Or a hot infusion vs a cold infusion. There are lots of ways you can experiment even if you only have one form of the herb.
The point of this is that it’s a deeper learning experience. I can tell you every little thing I know about herbs but the innate knowledge that you get from personal experimentation stays with you.
Generally safe herbs to start with
Some generally safe and accessible herbs to consider working with are ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon — you can find those at the grocery store. Chamomile is another good one.
If you want to work with herbs that are specific for menstrual health, try:
- Vitex, otherwise known as chaste berry. This is beneficial to work with all month long because it’s so supportive of the processes in both the follicular and luteal halves of your cycle. This is most often found as a tincture, but you can also buy loose herb from Mountain Rose Herbs online or your local herb shop.
- Raspberry leaf. This is used as a uterine tonic, which means it helps strengthen the uterine muscles (remember that your uterus is a muscle. It can help manage a heavy flow and reduce period pain, so this one might be good to experiment with in your luteal phase.
- Chamomile. This is a gentle, accessible herb that is considered very safe. You can find it in teabags at basically any grocery store, you can experiment with the loose herb, or find it as a tincture. That will be a good one to experiment with in the menstrual phase because it’s relaxing and can help ease cramps.
- Red clover blossom. This is a good one to experiment with in the follicular phase leading up to ovulation. It helps improve circulation. Proper blood flow is helpful for your ovaries and uterus to function optimally and red clover is said to help promote more fertile cervical mucus. If you are taking blood-thinning medication, you will want to avoid red clover blossom.
Keep in mind that for longer-term issues, one week of experimentation isn’t likely to be life-changing, but it does help you get familiar with the herb and different preparations.
How to build an herbal routine
Once you get familiar with your herbs, you’ll naturally start to develop a routine based on the information you’ve gathered in your experimentation process, how things have felt in your body and how you currently feel in your body. Don’t just start taking random herbs because you heard you should. Really think about what it is that you need.
What are the symptoms you’re experiencing? And do you have the basics in place?
I’ve talked about this before. We love to buy things and hope that it will solve all our problems, but before spending any money, are you sleeping well? Are you eating balanced meals? Are you moving your body? Are you drinking enough water? Managing your stress?
Start with those. If that doesn’t solve your problems, then we start thinking about adding herbs to the routine.
What is the problem, and what’s causing it? Where do you need support?
Then you look at the type of herb that will support you in that area. For example, adaptogens offer stress support. Emmenagogues promote menstruation. Nervines soothe the nervous system. Starting with the category will be helpful because then you can choose the ones accessible to you that fit within there.
It takea some experimentation and requires you to do a little homework to build your routine. But this is why we want to spend time with each herb doing “herb of the week” or “herb of the month.” You’ll want to learn how these things work in your body, and experiment with different forms. Not just teas, but you can also get herbs in capsule form, as tinctures, as powders. It may feel and act differently in your body in different forms.
If that all feels like too much, you can work with an herbalist who already has all this knowledge and can help you build a protocol that works for your unique needs
Resources for learning more about herbalism
Herbalism is a long journey. It’s not something you can learn overnight. It’s a long process that reminds us to be present and patient.
Some resources that I recommend for learning more:
- Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism
- Herbal Study Tips
- Herbal Community Care Toolkit
- Holistic Herbalism Podcast
- Healing Teas: A Practical Guide to the Medicinal Teas of the World
- The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook
- Invasive Plant Medicine
- Recipes From an Herbalist’s Kitchen
- Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care
- The Herb Book
- Mountain Rose Herbs
- Handpicked list of herbal schools
- YouTube channel
So there you have it, a little guide to help build your herbal routine. It can feel overwhelming, because there are just so many herbs to work with, and the amount of time you have to devote to hands-on learning, physically and emotionally experiencing each one, it’s not an overnight thing.
It takes time to learn and I think that’s one of the best things about it, it reminds us to slow down and savor the experience.