What Is Herbalism?
I think that there’s a unique definition of herbalism for every single person who practices it. For me, herbalism is the process of connecting individual humans to plants that can help them find their best self. In my practice this process relies heavily on the teachings of many ancient and indigenous herbal traditions such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine along with Vitalist and progressive traditions in the West.
Unlike the medicine we’re most familiar with, herbalism seeks to treat the whole person instead of a named set of imbalances (a ‘disease’) they might be dealing with. We work with people as authentic and unique beings and try to find the plant allies that will best line up with the very best expression that person can be. Instead of suggesting one broad medicine or herb to every person dealing with anxiety and restlessness as is common in modern medicine, herbalism lets the practitioner fine-tune the relationship between the person and the herb so that something truly fitting for who they are can be worked with.
How Does Herbalism Work?
Plants are living beings that are filled with chemistry, energy, and power.
Since time immemorial we have worked with them as food, medicine, and medicinal food- and that tradition continues to this day.
When we bring a plant into our body, we allow the various phytochemicals to facilitate changes within us. Plants can nourish with essential vitamins and minerals, calm with direct actions to the central nervous system and adrenal glands, tonify and protect various organs, or even help us fight off the common cold.
While plants often appear to be gentle and inert, they are in fact complicated ‘people’ and are able to help define and call forth the very best ‘we’ that we can be.
Many of the most famous modern drugs have either been synthesized from plant compounds or inspired by them. From the perspective of herbalism, when we isolate and separate specific aspects of plant chemistry from the whole we create situations where toxicity can occur. When left whole, plant medicines are often found to provide their own synthesis of checks and balances to help keep them gentle, safe, and balanced in the human body.
What Does An Herbalist Do?
In most all herbal traditions, and herbalist helps an individual see themselves as a whole while finding the plant allies that can best work with them as the individual they are.
I joke that herbalists are actually match-makers. We’re here to put our knowledge and experience of plant medicine to work in creating relationships between them and the humans who need their help.
Most modern herbalists focus on looking at the unique constitution, personality, imbalances, and goals of their clients to form a base to work from. A good herbalist will never suggest that ‘this herb is good for this illness’- that rarely works well. Instead, they will explore which herbs are good for an individual person based on who they are and where they want to be in life. Some herbalists work with plant medicine solely for physical health while others may focus on spiritual or ceremonial applications of the plants. In either case, the plant itself or the life energy of the plant is being worked with to help facilitate safe and effective change for the good of the client.
Herbalists may suggest pills, powders, tinctures, oils, salves, baths, or in my case, teas. I work almost exclusively with herbal teas as a method to connect to plant medicine. Nutrition, mindful movement, meditation, and other lifestyle adjustments may also be suggested depending on the herbalist and what their practice is focused on.