Let’s Begin At the Beginning: 10 Seeds to Start Your Herbal Studies

pepper tree schinus molle

1. Sit with trees.

Just be still and listen to them – what can be learned in those moments of tree conversing is limitless.

As a child I could often be found up in a tree or a fort at tree level.  That is how I came to know the Pepper Tree Schinus molle that grew over the fence of our yard from our neighbor’s backyard.  I would sit in my fort with my plastic play buckets full of water and carefully remove the outer pink skin of the Pepper Tree’s berries, crushing the papery skin between my fingers and mixing it into my water buckets, discarding the hard inside berry back over the fence.  I would let it brew overnight, sometimes days, and convince the other kids in the neighborhood that they were magickal brews.  I loved how the water would change colors with the berry-skin infusion and I truly believed that magick was at work.  I still know that magick was at work then and years later I learned that I was unknowingly mimicking the medicinal preparation of the Pepper Tree by earlier peoples, such as the Incas.

2. Grow something.

It can be a herb, a succulant, zuchinnis, flowers, moss, or something else but it is important to grow!  Buy seeds, find seedlings in the farmer’s market or maybe take a cutting with permission from a neighbor’s yard.  Begin to speak the unique root-clicking, multifloral, seed-spreading  languages of plants.  Find out the best growing conditions for your plant friend, water it when needed, and talk to it all the time.  For those who say they have no green thumb I would say that it is more about having a green heart.  To grow a plant we must grow ourselves and that requires building relationships, all which go through cycles of sprouting, fruitfulness, death, and decomposition.

3. Talk to plant folk, herbalists, and the guy down the street who knows how to prepare nopalitos.

You are surrounded by folks who know about plant medicine – really, you are!  Whether your Aunt who uses Tumeric on her skin to maintain her glowing complexion or your high school science teacher who keeps a beautiful potted garden, there are real live humyn creatures who could tell you a thing or two about plant medicine.

4. Read good books.  

There are lots of wonderful herb books to inspire you on your journey.  My growing list of books for beginners can be found over at LibraryThing, but I’ll recommend a few here, too.  Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health is a great place to start – colorful, easy to follow, and diverse in its coverage, Gladstar’s book is a valuable assest to any aspiring (and practicing) herbologist.  I am also a fan of James Wong’s book Grow Your Own Drugs which is not only beautiful to look through but full of simple, effective herbal recipes (I also recommend watching Wong’s show of the same name).  Check out our LibraryThing “Books for Beginners” list for more inspiration!

5. Start with one herb.

We are surrounded by growing plants on an ocean planet.  Beginning to study plant medicines can seem overwhelming with the quantity of material to learn.  Find one plant and work with that one plant for a year – write about it, taste it, smell it, grow it, make medicines with it.  You can work with other plants, certainly, but commit to working with this one green ally for a full turning of the seasonal wheel.  It is incredible the complexities and nuances of use and potential found in one plant – very much like each of us.  I’ll write more about building relationships with a green ally over the course of a year in future posts.

yum, thai basil!

6. Invite your green allies in to your home.

Drink tea, cook with spices, and clean your counters with essential oil concoctions.  Plants are everywhere!  Invite them to participate in your life, be conscious of the ways they are already in your life, and experience the green world pulling back its layers a bit more, inviting you back into their homes.

7. Make your own drugs.

There are so many ways to prepare herbal medicines.  Oils!  Teas!  Syrups!  Salves!  Tinctures!  Powders!  Essences!  And more!  Learn how to make medicines, make mistakes (brews gone wrong, cayenne in the eyes, exploding fermentations), and make even better medicines.  Herbal medicine-making is a nuanced art – we make remedies for individuals, not miracles for the masses (though I’ll not pass on a global miraculous healing were it to come our way).  Medicine-making is another way of building relationships with the plant world, one that changes the material of the maker as much as the plant.

8. Laugh a lot.

Need I say more?

9. Trust yourself.

You will not know everything that ever was and was-not.  You will still be able to be a good herbologist, a healer, and green ally.  One day you might even teach others.  Trust yourself to know thyself.  To know that you are capable of learning more every day, of owning up to your shortcomings, and celebrating your powerful gifts.  Trust yourself to receive what is given and give in return.

10. Expect the mysterious and indulge in it.

We live in a enchanted world – one that continues to grow stranger and more unusual by the minute.  And we are truly strange creatures in it bumbling and dancing on our green, ocean rock of celestial matter hurtling swinging round space.  What an adventure!  You have the opportunity to engage in inter-species communication as a herbologists, to recognize plants as clever, funny, and deeply wise.  The green path is full of mystery and every time we reach the edge of what-we-know to find there is much more to learn, take time to indulge in the fragrance of complexity ever-guided by the certainty of our own desires to live enchantedly.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our little guide to starting your herbal studies.
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  1. I feel that I’m always starting back at the ‘beginning’ of many things I do, and it was a great reminder, reading your post here, the basics that I may have stumbled over when I had started — and get them ‘growing’ again!

  2. acmoyer

     /  August 7, 2013

    Ok, I actually got a little tingle reading about your childhood experiments with pepper tree berries. I did the exact same thing with birch leaves and seeds, making my “potions” in my mom’s super-funky orange 1970s fondue pot. It’s funny too, when I look back on my childhood home I couldn’t tell you what plants were in the garden, but I can tell you a bunch of the trees and wild plants that grew there. Ah, good times!

  3. We’re glad you were able to get inspired by our post! We wish you well on your continuing herbal journey!

  1. Ten ‘Seed’ Shadows | Opening the Doorway of Creativity!
  2. Connecting With Our Plant Allies |

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