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More and more people are becoming curious about beginner herbalism, but most don’t know where to even start. I know, because I was one of those people.
Part of my homesteading journey, was getting to know more natural ways of doing things. My homesteading approach is mixing new school with old school and being prepared for the future. Herbalism sort of fell into that. It was one of those worm holes I sort of accidently went down and fell in love. My first thought was “Plants in my back yard that could heal me? Of course. Why wouldn’t God put plants on this earth that could heal us.”
While I get, that not everyone is on the same page as me with that thought, you have to wonder why there are so many different plants and varieties, and what purpose they all serve.
Since I was a little girl, I loved finding and learning about plants and nature. I used to take my moms old pots and pans and make pretend potions and tinctures in the back yard. Oh if she were still here today, how she would laugh seeing me do it as an adult, on a more serious note.
My newfound love of herbalism, foraging, and all things natural and growing has had me thinking about how I can help others who are brand new to herbalism, get a good start. Beginner herbalism can be scary if you are starting on your own with no knowledge (like me). But it doesn’t have to be. Let me show you!
What Is Herbalism
Herbalism is using plants as medicine. People who study herbalism use herbs and plants to make medicine to cure illness, or promote health. Herbalism is different than modern western medicine. Herbalism tends to use herbs to treat the underlying condition, rather than just masking the symptoms.
Beginner herbalism will have you questioning everything, and may just have you making new life choices! You do not have to be a doctor, you just have to have an appetite for learning.
Facebook Groups For Help
Facebook groups for herbalism have been a Godsend for me. These groups are filled with people from all different walks of life. People who are certified herbalists, and people who have yet to drink their first herbal tea. People ask questions daily, and the admins post a lot of helpful information. These groups will surely help you gain confidence with beginner herbalism.
Here are a few I am part of:
Courses You Can Take
There are a ton of nice, affordable classes out there that you can do completely online. While, I am much more of a hands on person and would rather study with a witchy woman in the woods where we spend our days foraging and making tinctures, I did find some of these super informative.
- Commonwealth Herbalism free course
- Free Herbs For Beginners Course
- Center of Excellence Master herbalism (Coupon through groupon)
- Herbal Academy
Herbal Coloring Pages
Get your kids interested in herbs….or just color them yourself. I found this lady on Tik Tok who makes free herb coloring pages. They are vary informative, and fun!
People to Follow on Tik Tok
I have found a lot of awesome herbalism information on Tik Tok recently. Of course, I follow up with my own research, but this is a great resource and it makes you feel a little less crazy knowing there are people like you out there.
If you are going to be finding and harvesting your own herbs rather than ordering them, then plant identification is a biggie. This is something I have always been interested in, since I was a child. I loved to look at and examine plants, mushrooms, leaves. If you did too, then proper plant identification is something you need to learn.
I start with a plant identification app. (I use one called blossom, it cost $20 a year) When I am out on my land, or hiking, I will snap pictures of plants and use the app for my first identification. Once I have a general idea of what the plant COULD be, I then google the name and look for images to see if it matches up to the plant. I also find a reputable site for foraging or herbs, and read what they say they plant should look like, and what characteristics it has. Example: Soft fuzzy leaves, spikes on underside of leaf, milky sap in stem. etc.
There are so many good plants, that have bad look a likes, so making sure you are 100% sure of the plant before harvesting is crucial.
I use a plant app called blossom to identify, or get me close. And then I google what I think it could be and use all characteristics I can find to properly identify.
Another good way to identify is to have a plant/herb identification book for your area handy.
Here are some good ones to help get to know the plants in your region:
- Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods
- Edible Wild Plants for Beginners: The Essential Edible Plants and Recipes to Get Started
- Northeast Medicinal Plants
- Midwest Medicinal Plants
- Southeast Medicinal Plants
- Southwest Medicinal Plants
Growing Your Own Herbs
Maybe foraging and herb identifying is too much for you, or maybe you don’t have the yard for it. You can still get your own herbs by growing them. Luckily, most herbs are easy to grow and down take much space. I own 11 1/2 acres and 98% of my herbs are growing in these stacking containers on my deck.
The good thing about growing your own is that it takes the guess work out of it all. You don’t have to worry about identifying the plant, where it is growing, what it has been sprayed with.
Here are some good plants to start with if you are limited on space. These all grow well, if not better in containers:
- Lemon Balm
- Lemon Grass
Just to name a few. I’m finding that most herbs can be grown in containers, and its actually easer to do that way and keeps them from spreading.
If you are looking for specific herbs, your best chance at finding them is online. My favorite places to score medicinal herb seeds are Etsy, Dollarseed.com and Strictly Medicinal Seeds.
Getting To Know Herbs Around You
Start right in your yard or along your local walking paths. Pay attention to all the plants around you. The front part of our land is pretty bare, just flat and mowed down BUT, I still had herbs hiding that I didn’t even know about. Amongst the boring grass, there was white clover, red clover, broad leaf plantain, and chicory.
Use google lense or a good plant identifying app and start snapping pictures of plants you are curious about. After you get an idea of what it COULD be, do some research on it and pay close attention to its properties. (I don’t know how many times I thought I was sure I knew what something was, and after digging a little, it was not). I was able to do this with all of the plants on our property. Now I know which are beneficial and which ones to avoid. Its also good to go back and check these plants and herbs out at different times of the year, as they change depending on the season.
To forage is to go out and find your own herbs/mushrooms/plants, in the wild. Foraging requires you to be really thorough in identifying plants though. It is fun, and a great way to get the herbs you need for free. But, keep in mind that not everything that grows is good. And while there are so many awesome plants and herbs out there, there are some very dangerous ones that look similar to the good ones.
As I tell my children, treat every plant as if it were poisonous until you are 110% sure it is not.
I have a nack for identifying plants, but I still use all of the checkpoints when identifying a plant.
A few things you want to keep in mind are: Leaf shape and texture, flowers, how that plant looks in different seasons or regions, what parts are edible and or used for what.
Most times, I have a few herbs in mind when i set out to forage. I study them ahead of time so that I know exactly what I am looking for. Once I think I find it, I use google lense or my plant identifying app to check. Since they are not completely accurate, I use a few well known foraging and herbalism sites to help me double check myself, before harvesting the plant.
It is also good to keep a notebook with plants that you are looking for or already know and own. In my herb notebook I keep: pictures of the herb, lists of what it is used for, what parts are used, how to harvest, and in what ways I need to use/process them to achieve what I want.
When gathering herbs, only gather in locations that you know to be free of pesticides and chemical sprays. Try not to pick anything close to a roadway, where it could easily be contaminated.
When you do find herbs that are good for the picking, please be courteous and only take what is absolutely needed.
Where to buy herbs
If you are looking to jump right into making teas, tinctures, and infusions then you probably want to buy dried herbs. I love finding reputable herbalists on Etsy, but most people buy from Mountain Rose Herbs.
There are a lot of other solid options out there, but this is what you will see most herbalists use.
How To Use Your Herbs
Okay, so you have found your herbs, now what? Well, that would depend on the herb itself, and what you want to use it for.
The best thing to do is to get to know your herbs better.
All herbs are used differently, depending on what you are trying to use them for. Some are dried, some best used fresh. When making infusions, it seems that most need to be dried first to keep from molding. When making tinctures, your whole tincture ratio can change based off of rather the herb is fresh or dried.
Your best bet though, is to dry and store for later if you are unsure what to use your herb for right away. I was brand new to herbalism when I started identifying some awesome wild herbs on my property. Since I was so new, and didn’t want to risk using something incorrectly, or wasting the herbs I was finding, I hung all of mine up to dry, and then stored in well labeled mason jars. Even now, that I am a few years into this herbalism journey, I still mainly dry all of my herbs and then later use them in whatever I need them for.
Now that your herbs are on standby, study what you have and what it is best used for. Do a broad search on the benefits of that herb. Once you find out what benefits you hope to get out of it the most, use your reputable herbalist, website, or book like (Herbs for Common Ailments) to find what steps you should take to extract what you need from your herb, rather that be a tincture, tea, infusion, etc.
Keep Your Own Herbalism Notebook
While I love having herbalism books on hand, I love having my own research and information in one place as well.
Keeping an herbalism notebook is a great way to keep the herbs you find and use organized. Not every herb you have near you will be in every herbal book and if they are, they may not be listed in a way that is the most useful to you. An added benefit of making your own notebook, is that re-writing information you are finding can help you remember it.
My herbalism notebook is just a cheap dollar tree notebook, with tabs that I added. I use the tabs to separate my herbs into sections A-Z. On each herbs page I have it listed out as this:
- Herb- Other names for herb
- Identification- what it looks like, where it is found usually
- Benefits- In general- Vitamins, minerals, etc
- Benefits when used in different forms- Tincture, tea, infusion
This is just what makes the most sense to me, and helps me study the herbs around me.
Great Beginner Herbalism Items To Have On Hand
- Amber Jars – Great for making tinctures in
- Amber dropper bottles – Used when the tincture is done and ready for usage
- Mason Jars – To store dried herbs in
- Chalkboard labels– For labeling jars of herbs, tinctures, etc.
- Waterproof chalk marker– for writing on labels
- Amber Bottles – Used to store finished tinctures that aren’t going to be used right away
- Window herb growing set– I use these to grow herbs all year round
- Tea Strainer – Used to steep loose leaf teas for drinking
- Mortar and Pestle
- Coffee Grinder – To grind herbs to powder form when needed
- Cheesecloth – Great for straining herbs from tinctures
- Funnel Set – For filling jars and bottles
- Herb Drying Rack– For drying the herbs you find
- Dehydrator – For faster drying
- 80-120 proof vodka (or whichever alcohol you prefer) for tinctures
Beginner Herbalism Books
I Think that having actual hard copy books on hand at all times is super important, and there are so many books that I have found helpful in my beginner herbalism journey.
Rosemary Gladstar Books:
Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide
Herbalism Books with Great DIY recipes:
The Big Book of Homemade Products
Drinkable Healing Herbal Infusions
The Big Book of Herbal Medicine
The Good Living Guide to Medicinal Tea
Growing Medicinal Herbs:
The Homesteader Herbal Handbook
How to Grow a Garden of Medicinal Healing Plants and Herbs
Herbs as Medicine:
The Modern Herbal Dispensatory
Foraging For Herbs
The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants
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