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Using Herbal Medicine for Self-Care & Herbalism for Earth Care

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Overview of Herbal Medicine

If you missed the first article, I explored what herbal medicine is and how it works, how it differs from Western medicine, and easy recipes and resources to get started.

Here’s a quick overview:

Herbal medicine is the study and therapeutic use of plants. Different parts of the plant–flowers, leaves, fruits, berries, roots, and bark–are used to make various herbal remedies. Herbal preparations include teas, decoctions, syrups, oxymels, vinegars, tinctures, salves, poultices, and compresses. Using spices for seasoning in cooking is the most common use of herbal medicine.

woman making herbal medicine with calendula

Herbal Medicine for Earth Care

When used with awareness and appreciation, herbal medicine can help us not only take care of ourselves, but also can help us in caring for the Earth. For example, when we grow herbs and vegetables ourselves, wildcraft working with plants that are in abundance, or purchase herbs from local herbalists or small-scale herb farms, we’re taking good care of the Earth. In this way, we lessen the environmental impact of shipping from far-off places, instead supporting local economies and becoming more self-reliant.

Tara Muenz aquatic scientist and conservation educator

Tara Muenz, a conservation ecologist, shares the 3 A’s of Appreciation, Awareness, and Action in care-taking for Mother Earth. When you begin working with herbs and making herbal medicine you’re taking action, and you’ll naturally deepen your appreciation and awareness for the Earth’s gifts and needs along the way.

She gives this example: “I was at the farm yesterday harvesting our ginger and a bunch of stinging nettle with deep gratitude and appreciation. I was washing them this morning and preparing to dry them–gratitude can be offered in times like these, before or as you’re harvesting a plant for use, planting their seeds, giving them water and nutrition, etc. Relationships with the natural world, of which we are a part, are essential to life. Positive relationships are about honoring and respect, communication, love and joy. This also pertains to more-than-human relations.”

Further ways to cultivate Awareness from Tara.

Being in Nature

Once I started studying herbalism, my way of relating with the natural world changed dramatically. I was so excited to recognize different flowers, plants, and trees and have the greater awareness and appreciation that Tara talks about, even in New York City (or especially in the city).

I highly recommend signing up for local plant walks. During my in-person herbal training, going on plant walks was one of the highlights of the program. Covering the same area at different seasons throughout the year helped me develop a greater awareness and appreciation as I became more in tune with the cycles of the land.

Here are two herbalists who offer plant walks in New York City: (I’ve been wanting to go with both of them so maybe I’ll see you there!)

Liz Neves, Gathering Ground

Marie Viljoen

What are additional ways you can deepen your connection to the natural world?

Earthing or Grounding

If you live in an urban area, earthing or grounding–getting your hands in the soil or standing barefoot on the earth–can have positive health benefits such as reducing inflammation, boosting immunity, and more.

Land Acknowledgment

In this spiritforest bathing for earth care of appreciation, awareness, and action, knowing more about those who lived on the land before us and honoring these original stewards is so important.

Native Land Digital offers a searchable world-wide map, as well as educational resources. 

I live on Wappinger, Mohican and Munsee Lenape lands and honor them and other Indigenous caretakers of these lands and waters–the elders who lived here before, the Indigenous today, and the generations to come. 

Tara takes this a step further, honoring the land itself:

“I appreciate and honor the 1000s of native flora and fauna, water, air, soils, and more, of this area, the original inhabitants of what is called the ‘River of Humans,’ the Delaware River Watershed.” 

She outlines how you can do this in more detail in this description of working with students at Drexel University.

Healing Plants to Grow

Herbalist growing herbs Gardening or growing your own herbs, inside or outside your home, is a great way to develop an intimate connection to plant medicine for beginners. It’s also cost effective, good for the environment, and a way to be more self-sufficient.

One of the easiest ways to get started is to grow culinary herbs such as parsley, oregano, chives, marjoram, and basil. Until I started studying herbalism, I underestimated the power of these common kitchen herbs. They have been used in cooking for hundreds of years not just because they taste great, but because their healing properties offer an inexpensive way for anyone to proactively incorporate plants used for medicine into their daily diet.

Community Gardens

If having your own garden isn’t an option, find a community garden and volunteer. It can also be a good way to connect with like-minded people who care about health, the environment, bringing natural beauty to urban areas, and/or being more self-sufficient.

Find a community garden in New York City.

Find a community garden anywhere in the United States.

Healing Plants to Wildcraft

In addition or instead of gardening, wildcrafting is another way to take good care of yourself and the planet. Wildcrafting means to harvest plants for their medicinal and healing properties in the wild–in nature or in other uncultivated areas.

However, there are many considerations to keep in mind when you wildcraft to protect the environment and harvest responsibly.

Here are a few key questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you 100% sure of your plant identification?
  • Is the area free of contamination?
  • How abundant is the plant you want to gather?
  • Is it endangered?
  • Are you harvesting only what you need? How will you use the plant?
  • Do animals depend on this plant for food or shelter?

For safety, an important rule of thumb before you harvest any plant is to check with 3 different sources for confirmation to make sure that you’ve correctly identified the plant. Plant walks with an expert herbalist are one of the best ways to learn plant identification. There are also several good plant id apps you can use, though don’t rely only on any one app. Getting one or more plant id books for your region is another useful resource.

herbalist wildcrafting

Ethical wildcrafting is an important topic to explore in more depth. You can read and learn more about how to do this in this 2-part series by master herbalist and teacher Rosalee de la Forêt:

Part One: Wildcrafting Wild Plants: A Foraging Guide

Part Two: 10 Things to Know for Ethical Wildcrafting

Invasive Plants: Good or Bad?

Invasive plants are something to consider when you start wildcrafting. First, what’s the difference between native, non-native, and invasive plants? mugwort close up

Native plants are considered to be plants that were here in North America before European colonization.

Non-native plants aren’t considered a threat to native plants, but haven’t historically existed in one area and have been introduced by human activity.

Invasive plants were accidentally or intentionally introduced to an area by humans. They can cause harm to the native plants because they often spread easily and don’t have any ecological checks to prevent them from taking over.

Again, this is another complex and nuanced issue and it’s worth exploring in more depth. You can find out more in this article by the National Audubon Society.

While there is much emphasis on the importance of taking good care of native species, or reintroducing them so they can flourish in their natural habitat, invasive species can get a bad rap.

Considered “nasty weeds,” by some, many of these plants have been used by herbalists for hundreds of years. When I first learned about invasive plants it seemed from a practical standpoint to be a great idea to work with these plants for healing—they are abundant, aren’t endangered like many native species, and by harvesting them, we’re helping create space for native species to grow.

As part of my herbalism training, we were asked to select a plant ally for the year and I chose Mugwort, which is considered an invasive species. Mugwort has a long tradition of healing in many cultures around the world. In Europe it was called the “mother of herbs”, and it was often used in China and India for gastrointestinal and gynecological issues.  Mugwort has a connection to Isis and Artemis, and was used in dreamwork. Acupuncturists still use it today for moxibustion.

Connect with Local Experts

For herbal medicine for beginners, connecting with experts can be a huge resource.

Local Extension & Suppliers

You can begin to explore places to connect with herb suppliers near you such as local farms, farmers’ markets, gardening neighbors, and garden clubs.

In the United States, most counties have a local extension office that can provide expertise about growing herbs and other plants.

You can find your local extension by zip code.

Rosalee de la Forêt put together a list of herb growers and ethical wildcrafters in the United States and Canada.

Here are a few small, organic farms in the Northeast U.S. that I like:

Katydid Hill Herb Farm
Healing Spirits Herb Farm
Kestrel Herbs
McEnroe Organic Farm

wildcrafting herbs

Additional Herbal Medicine Resources

Here are some additional resources on using herbal medicine for Earth care and self care.

Additional Reading:

Herbal Remedies & Medicine for Beginners: Getting Started

Plant Medicine for Soul Healing

Self Care Meets Earth Care

Tara Muenz: Nurturing with Nature in Mind

Book Recommendations:

Best Books for Earth Care

Best Books on Herbal Medicine

The Business of Botanicals: Exploring the Healing Promise of Plant Medicines in a Global Industry by Ann Armbrecht explores the big business of the teas, supplements, and other products we use. This book really opened my eyes and made me much more aware of the human and environmental impact of the herbal products I purchase. I can’t recommend it enough.

Online Training:

Learning Herbs has both free and paid offerings.

Rosalee de la Forêt also has both free and paid offerings.

Podcast Recommendations:

Herbs with Rosalee Podcast
Herb Mentor Radio

Conclusion

I hope this gives you a good starting point of ways to appreciate and support the Earth as well as yourself as you begin your herbal medicine journey.

In the last post in the series on herbal medicine for beginners, I’ll explore the soul healing benefits of plants and ways to connect to plant spirit medicine.

Need support?

Check out my upcoming virtual Soul Healing Events or use Soul Healing Recordings for a range of common issues.

You can book here if you’re ready to experience a Distance Reiki, Tao Hands, or Online Hypnosis session for yourself (no matter where you live in the world!).

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Burned out by an all-consuming job, Deborah Flanagan found balance and peace through the healing arts — and now she's helping others do the same.

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