January 13, 2023
My daughter got interested in herbal medicine some 10 years ago, and took a several-weeks long course on Appalachian herbs. Some time later—the details are a little unclear in my memory—she spent a summer visiting farms across the country, ending up in Oregon where she did a very intensive intern program at the farm connected with Herb Pharm herbals. She came home to Georgia really excited about herbal medicines and began making a variety of them in our kitchen. This all spurred my interest in the subject, and gave me a very solid introduction to the theory and practice of this artful science.
She also did evaluations on several of the family members and gave me a some prescriptive help based on my physical condition and medical history. Most of what I use today is based on those recommendations, with modifications as I worked with them and learned about other herbals. Having survived the worst of the COVID pandemic despite working as a reporter and being around lots of folks who’ve not been so careful about all the precautions recommended, I think my immune system is pretty strong for my age. I have been able to stay active and relatively healthy through some stressful times, and I attribute much of that to the herbs.
A quick list of some of the various herbals that I’m familiar with will suggest what I’ll be sharing info on in this series:
Ashwagandha, Reishi, Chaga, Lemon balm, Blue vervain, Turmeric, Ginger, Comfrey, Plantain, Tulsi, Nettle, Mullein, Catnip, Chamomile, Red clover, St. John’s wort, Astragalus, Eleuthero, Echinacea, Calendula, Raspberry, Peppermint, Marshmallow root, Hops and Oatstraw. There are a few others that I occasionally use, but this list is the ones that I most depend on. With most of these, I make my own infusions, tinctures or salves. Some I just use prepared versions.
I suppose it’s obvious, but to be clear, I am not an herbal professional and not trained in these things, except by my own experience, so this is focused on what I have learned from others and from trying these things for myself. I would like to start out by providing a partial list of the books and and other resources for really getting into this subject if you find it interesting.
Rosemary Gladstar is a primary source of information on American herbs, with many years experience and many books. She’s also online, and you’ll find her referenced by many of the other folks who are talking about herbals on social media.
A more recent book, one that I love and have found to be very inspiring and helpful — it’s really my favorite book on herbs! — is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Universally acclaimed and a literary masterpiece, this book is a treasure! Robin is a member of the Potawatomi nation and a botanist, so she brings an amazing and inclusive perspective to this subject, blending the scientific and the spiritual. It’s a book that I believe everyone should read, but especially anyone who is interested in herbal medicine. I capitalize the names of plants in accordance with Robin’s recommendation to honor the personhood of all beings, human or not.
A major reference, maybe the best overall herbal, is The Earthwise Herbal Repertory by Matthew Wood, which discusses the various approaches to herbal medicine, gives a comprehensive list of useful plants, and explains how herbs may be used for various conditions. The book is called “The Definitive Practitioner’s Guide,” and the diagnostic section is organized into herbs used to treat conditions in the different organs and organ systems of the body. He has many other books that I haven’t read that are revered by herbal practitioners, as he is considered a master herbalist.
Another excellent book that brings the indigenous perspective to herbs is Cherokee Herbal by J.T. Garrett. This book has an exhaustive list of plants and their uses. There are several books on Appalachian herbs — Southern Folk Medicine by Phyllis Light is recommended by Robin and Matthew, and I have used it to some extent. I primarily rely on Rosemary’s Herbs for Common Ailments and Herbs for Children’s Health when I have questions. They are reliable, basic and to the point.
And when I go online looking for an answer to some question related to herbs, it’s usually Rosemary I look for.
There are a wealth of sources online! As with anything these days, you need to be cautious, though, as not all of them can be trusted. I trust herbal suppliers Mountain Rose (in Eugene, Oregon) and Red Moon Herbs (in Asheville, North Carolina) as sources of herbs and basic information on an herb’s properties and use. I trust Jenn at @firebranchfarms on Instagram, and I really enjoy her Wildcrafting Wednesdays and other herbal posts. Fire Branch Farms also offers some herbal preparations on their website, though that’s currently on a pause, as the family just moved from middle Georgia to northern Maine!
There’s an herbal academy on IG that seems to be a reliable source of training for those who want to find out more about herbalism quickly. Their website theherbalacademy.com offers courses for people who want to do just their own medicinals, as well as courses for those interested in starting a career in herbalism. Mountain Rose, though sometimes slow, is the best source for raw herbs, as they have almost everything and it’s all top quality. Red Moon is a much smaller operation and has mostly herbs they harvest in the Appalachian area, plus the excellent preparations they make from those herbs.
In my next post here, I plan to discuss a little of the techniques for teas, infusions, tinctures and salves. And maybe some recipes. (I’ve recently reposted some of Jenn’s excellent info from her @firebranchfarms IG posts, including a recipe for a headache salve that shows how she does a quick oil infusion and a salve. Good stuff.)