I think that the more someone knows the herbs they are using, the better. If you have seen herbs grow through all phases of their lives and experienced them through touch, taste, smell, sight, as well as observation, you will have a more intimate understanding of their nature than if you merely know them bound up in a capsule. A deep level of intimacy with plants can be valuable for the world of herbs is a world of subtleties. The better you know the plants, the better you will be able to apply your judgment in using them at appropriate times.
Much more often than not, I am able to use herbs at the onset of a cold or infection and prevent it from developing into a full blown problem, and I accomplish this by paying careful attention to subtleties. My ability to understand the subtleties and choose herbs that benefit the particular case is related to my intimacy with the plants. This, my friends, is why I encourage you to get to know your herbs. I offer the following suggestions as ways to become more intimate with your medicinal plants.
- Watch plants grow. Observe them through the full season year after year. While being mindful of potentially poisonous plants, touch, taste, and smell the plants.
- Watch what plants tend to grow in unkempt corners of your yard. Sometimes people will stop mowing a section of their yard and let it grow up with wild plants. Often the plants that grow, or the “weeds” of your vegetable and flower gardens are precisely what you need medicinally. I stopped mowing my yard, and now have more black caps (a kind of blackberry) than my daughter can eat.
- If you are drawn to a particular herb, read about it. Read about its current and historical uses. Read about its botanical classification and growth habits. Read about its commercial uses.
- If you have been buying a particular herb from a health food store or herbalist, find out if it grows in the area. If it does, find it and observe it. Perhaps you can start picking your own herbs. If you are a gardener, you might be able to grow the herbs you are using. You could grow them in your vegetable garden for use, and/or you could grow them in your flower garden to observe.
- Observe the environment that the herbs grow in. Is it rocky or swampy, sunny or shady, etc.? What other plants grow nearby? Has the area been recently or formerly disturbed by human development?
- Meditate next to the plants, or just sit with them.
- Use them. Dry them, tincture them, steep them, boil them, and eat them (as appropriate, of course).
The biggest obstacle to the successful use of herbs is the lack of knowledge and the lack of intimacy with plants. Our ancestors were once master herbalists as they lived close to nature and passed knowledge down through the generations. Currently, we are largely separated from both the natural world and our traditions, and it affects our health adversely. For the sake of your health, your family's health, the health of humanity, and the health of Mother Earth, please, take time to get to know your herbs.