By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America
What is the true language of herbalism? How do these beautiful plants that we love speak to us? What does the herbalist actually do?
The herbs we love to grow and grow to love, speak to us in so many different ways. The practice of herbalism, through growing and harvesting brings the magic of these plants straight into our fingertips.
As herbalists we work with the plants that we love as individuals and in individual ways. That means there’s no one right or wrong way to be an herbalist; there is only your way.
Many of us blend tinctures, tonics, and teas. Many of us receive the healing herbal support we crave by being in the garden, amending the soil, and nurturing our seedlings into vibrant plants that we use to cook meals with that infuse our dinner tables with love. I still believe in my heart of hearts, that the most important supplement that we can ever ingest Vitamin L – the very love we put into our herbs and into our cooking.
Some of us are writers and some of us are teachers. Some of us prefer to sit quietly in the garden and absorb the wisdom of the natural world. We are photographers, painters, and poets. We bring our grandchildren into our gardens and tell them stories about how things grow and we teach them to garden, carrying on the traditions that keep our world lush, green, and alive.
We all bring value to the garden as herbalists. We all know different aspects of the same whole, and like the very plants themselves, we thrive with the sharing of the herbal experience. An herbalist isn’t just one who supports healing with herbs. An herbalist is one who speaks and expresses themselves in whichever unique voice that the herbs themselves joyously ask them to.
I’ve always loved the way these amazing plants support us in health and in life.
The herbalist’s language, when spoken and applied correctly, harms none.
Those who are herbal practitioners have laws telling us what we can and cannot do; I believe in following them. It makes sense.
Lately I find myself turning to my roots of traditional folk and kitchen herbalism. I avoid buying my herbal supplements in capsules, I prefer to make my own tinctures, tonics, and teas from whole plants with their sweet-smelling souls energetically intact.
I no longer rely on exotic herbs from faraway lands, preferring to grow and harvest sustainably almost everything I use from my own forest and gardens. Like local honey, it’s my personal belief that everything and anything you need to support your happiness and your health can be found growing very close to where you live. I want to interact with the plants and learn what I can from their quiet wisdom.
In my opinion, herbalism must be approached differently than medicine. We must practice safety always and take care to preserve cultural tradition. We don’t need to mimic a medical practice. The fact that isolated supplements are so readily available in bright little bottles, blatantly using the language of pharmaceuticals, has brought us perilously close to the latter.
I am saddened when beautiful plants are simply used as a commodity rather than a tool for connection, education. and empowerment. I want empirical evidence for their effectiveness, but that’s not because I’m prescribing them to anyone. It’s my desire to understand how they support health and how they can also harm. I want to educate my associates well and I want to protect this ancient, local, and colorful tradition.
If you take a deep dive into the history of traditional herbalism you will be fascinated. My personal vision is to keep people empowered around their life and health, and to keep the conversation around herbal wellness safe and fun.
People ask me all of the time, “What’s the best way to learn about the qualities and properties of herbs?” For me the answer is simple. Choose only one or two. Plant a few varieties. Spend a season with them and harvest them. If they die, learn what killed them. Read about them. Listen to them. Ask them questions. Keep a journal, draw or paint them. Take pictures of them throughout their lifecycle. See what insects love them. Cook with them or make a tincture, a lotion or a tea. Make all three. After a summer of observing and learning from a lavender plant, you’ll really know quite a lot about lavender.
That’s my herbal love language. What’s yours?