Monday, December 27, 2010

Starting out with herbs

This topic has come up in private conversations in the last week or two, so it must be something people are thinking about.
The topic of herbs is huge. It is intimidating to those who haven't put their tootsies in the water yet.Everywhere you look, people are talking about obscure, sometimes rare herbs, and as is suggested by the experts, they are using the Latin botanical names. There are very good reasons for that, but if you are hoping to just learn about the things that will keep your own family comfortable and healthy, it seems like too much to bite off.
The truth is that most of us will use a small personal arsenal of herbs. Although I grow and/or gather 30 or 40 different herbs during the year, there are only 3 or 4 that have a place on my kitchen counter. Elderberry and holy basil are always there, although we don't take anything on a daily basis. Right now, goldenrod, ephedra, and nettles are there too, because my kid is struggling with some allergies, but normally they are back in the cupboard. Chamomile is one of our staples too. We always have ginger around, especially in the winter because it warms everything and seems to increase the actions of the teas we drink.
But I'm getting off course here....
Considering how few herbs are truly necessary for the average person to really get to know (learning 10 well is very significant), the best thing to do is to learn one or two very well in a given season (or even year). I've written about this before, and I remember listening to Gail Edwards give a talk many years ago about finding an herbal ally and spending at least a year with it.
For winter, elderberry and holy basil are my go-to herbs. Both are anti-viral, and holy basil has many other attributes, like helping the body handle stress. Stress leads to illness, so handling it is a good way to avoid illness.Let's say you wanted to become familiar with these two herbs. First read about them. Take notes and find out all the positive things they can do, and also if there are any contraindications. Next, obtain some of the herb. Make them into tinctures, syrups, jelly, and herbal lozenges. I keep several "batches" of elderberries frozen and ready for pie in the freezer. Blend them into an herbal tea. Use them, and record how they work for you. Really get to know them and get comfortable with them.
Before you know it, you will have knowledge. You'll have some herbs that you can rely on, and you'll know how to use them. You'll have learned to put together soothing teas, a nice healing salve, and a tincture or two. By learning about herbs one at a time, there is nothing to fear and everything to gain.
The Essential Herbal Magazine's goal has always been to demystify herbs and make them accessible to everyone. It's a great place to start!

4 comments:

Cathy said...

Such great advice, and so true. The herbal world can be overwhelming unless you grew up with it or have a mentor. I also like wildcrafting and every year learn something new.

Anne-Marie said...

I love that (your) magazine. I found it to be quite helpful when I was first starting out and learning about herbs. Yes, it can be confusing and most of all, intimidating to learn and you have to start somewhere.

Larry said...

Now with this advice in mind I have to figure out which herbs to learn... Ohh the choices. I am brand new with some more books on the way.

Shelly said...

I took a medicinal plant class at our local college and have been hooked every since. I love the magazine and look forward to every issue. Keep them all by my bedside. Tina is so very helpful when you have a question .... Life long supporter due to her friendliness and eagerness to help.

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