September 1st, 2010 § § permalink
Here in the Western world, in addition to formal education, apprenticeship, and first-hand experience, reading books is still one of the main ways to accrue information and learn a particular subject. Luckily for those studying herbalism we have many valid opportunities to engage in all of these forms of learning. Home study courses, classes, conferences and books abound, and of course we can take a walk and meet some plants along the way.
There are many types of herbalism out there, and there are many corresponding books. When people ask for a book recommendation as they begin or expand their herbal education, I first ask a few prying questions to get a feel for their style of herbalism and learning. Matching an herb book to a person is not always transparent, though. For example, I knew one medical student who, contrary to my first impression, didn’t want any research-driven, phyto-chemistry heavy, plants as drugs resources (think Tyler’s Honest Herbal). Instead, it turned out she was craving the more New Age-y, mystical, plant spirit medicine type books as a break from the daily grind. The beauty of herbalism is that there are little rules – both ways are perfectly valid!
But when it comes down to it, most people that I talked to didn’t really care what they read, especially starting out. They were open to and thirsty for any decent herbal information. For pretty much everyone, Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal is a good starting place due to it’s beauty, wisdom, variety and practical bent. Matthew Wood’s The Book of Herbal Wisdom was recommended often, as it dedicates many pages to a single herb to help the reader get to know the plant, it’s energetics, and plethora of uses. There are more similarities then differences within herbalism (at least I think so); if it works and promotes health, it’s medicine.
Back to the book. Last week I finished re-reading a well-known herbal, The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffmann. I choose to bring this book with me on vacation for a number of reasons. Mainly, it has a good herbal section, an alphabetical section of well over 200 herbs containing growing habitat, parts used, constituents, actions, dosage and of course indications. I am building an herbal reference notebook, so the book I brought with me had to have a decent herbal. The other reason I brought it with was simply to re-familiarize with a book I often recommend to as an introductory book (the last time I really sat down with it was in 2004). If I am telling others to read it, I better know well what’s in there!
In addition to the herbal, The New Holistic Herbal has information about preparation, chemistry, action categories, a small section on harvesting (the suggested harvest times are not for every bio-region, especially Minnesota!), self-care and prevention and a brief section on creating an herbal protocol for yourself. The uses of the herbs themselves and examples of formulas are in a body systems format. Basically, this book as a little bit of everything which is what makes it so useful for those discovering herbalism.
The edition in my possession was updated and printed in 1990, nearly 20 years ago, but it originally was published in 1983. Some ideas have changed with the times, and having read his much newer Medical Herbalism book, I know Hoffmann has updated some things, too. One example of this is seen in dietary recommendations. A healthy diet in the early 1990′s often emphasized whole grains, limited fats and lots of fruit. Nowa days, quality protein and veggies reign.
Details and dates aside, I’d still recommend this book as an introduction because of it’s underlining emphasis on holistic herbalism. Holistic in this sense emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life, within the earth and withing out bodies, and moves us to overcome “…centuries of conditioning to ‘apartness’ thinking”. The first page of the book says, “A herbal celebrating of the wholeness of life”.
Instead of listing all the herbs good for this or that, Hoffmann keeps reminding the reader of two underlining principles of herbalism. First assist the person, not the disease, and secondly, to learn the qualities of herbs (like action categories) – advice that is more pertinent now then ever.
June 14th, 2010 § § permalink
The reflections continues.
This fall I will be starting a program in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. I am excited to start a new adventure down the healing path, but I also have a few points of concern.
The main concern I have is a common one for me: local versus global. Western herbalism is present in my backyard and spice rack. I can walk three steps out my front door and harvest nettles (yes, I stupidly planted nettle right in front of my house), chickweed, plantain, yarrow and more.
My family is of European descent, I live in the USA, I grew up acculturated in Western linear, rational thought, and have been studying Western herbalism for over eight years. My roots lie here.
Chinese medicine is present around me too, but more in theory and than practice. Acupuncture needles don’t grow on pine trees, and even if I did have Chinese herbs growing around (which I do, actually), I don’t know a lot about harvesting or preparing them. How do you make ‘raw’ versus ‘cooked’ rehmannia? What herbs have to be aged? Soaked in wine? Boiled for days? How do they make those little teapills I see everywhere?
Like most (all?) medical and healing traditions, Chinese medicine has within its roots legends of how people met certain plants. But by and large, there isn’t a whole lot of green vitality present in Chinese medicine. Growing and gazing at plants has helped me learn and appreciate the medicine and beauty they offer. Will a lack of live plants influence my appreciation for and understanding of Chinese herbalism?
When I was taking a tour of the gardens at the school I’ll be attending, someone pointed to little plantain and asked the typical question, “what’s this one good for?”. The tour guide said, “Oh that? It’s just a weed. The seeds of a related species are the source of psyllium”. To me, plantain is one of those plants that scream green, fresh, juicy aliveness. I haven’t heard of any herbs being used fresh in Chinese medicine (I could be very wrong, though).
The process of writing this has cleared the air! I feel a lot better already…
First, as if I have grown or met every single herb that I have taken. Ha!
Point in case: right now I am loving ashwaganda. It kept coming up in books, intuition and conversation, and seemed like a good herb to try. Just because I don’t have ashwaganda plants around me doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it’s healing power nor have some sort of connection with it.
Secondly, it’s no shock that I am interested in a “global” modality. My BA is in anthropology, and I have always been seeking to learn about the people and their ways of life on this planet we all call home.
And so what if my ancestors would’ve used Western herbs in their homelands? They also ate rotten cod soaked in lye and drank horrendous coffee that sure isn’t native to Sweden. There’s no harm expanding the palate, of food, medicines or philosophy, especially if done so consciously and sustainably.
Another thing that just resolved itself is that I can’t try to make three and a half years studying Chinese medicine anything it is not. I am not doing this to learn a ton about growing herbs or Western herbalism. It’s not the point. It’s not called “Western Medicine School with a dash of Plant Spirit Medicine”.
Instead, let me recall all the fun reasons I have pursued this in the first place; to take pulses, look at tongues, learn the organ systems, five element theory, energetics, acupuncture (I’m a body person, of course I’d be attracted to a modality that incorporates working with my hands with a manual yet energetic form of healing), and on and on.
Most of all, I pursued this to help people. I wish to develop skills to assisting others on their healing path. This is just one of many ways to do so.
June 8th, 2010 § § permalink
I have three classes scheduled before I move from Duluth. This series of classes combines two subject very near and dear to my heart: women’s health and herbalism. I find that they support each other nicely, for many years I have seen these two topics as partners. It is my wish that mainstream women’s studies continues (or starts) to embrace empowering modalities that help us learn to care for ourselves.
May 28th, 2010 § § permalink
All this time away from the internet has created a lot of space for reflection. I am a constant question asker, and of course I ask myself questions related to herbalism. One such point of reflection is simply: what are my goals?
- Attend more conferences. I love conferences. I have gone to a few and always learn a ton. Plus, it is great to be surrounded by all the plant people! I can only be a solitary learner so long before I start craving learning from an actually person, not a book. Here are a few I have my eye on:
- Medicines from the Earth. I am going this year and can hardly wait.
- Mid America Herb Symposium. Held in Winona, MN.
- Women’s Herb Conference. I got to go in 2007, and it was a such a blast! It was good for the soul to be around so many fabulous women herbalist.
- Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. I have never been to the Southwest. Now I have even more of a reason to get down there; this conference sounds amazing!
- Years ago, I spied an international botanical medicine conference in India that seemed interesting. Of course now I can’t find it. Here is the International Herb Symposium that happens every other year in New England.
- Finish Home Study Course. When I was an intern at Sage Mountain, I received a copy of Rosemary Gladstar’s home study course in herbalism. I read through it all when I was interning, but didn’t start the course work. That was almost 3 years ago, and I have barley started since. It is such a gift to have received it and I want to finish it! I love how it combines different aspect of herbalism; materia medica, body systems, action categories, food and nutrition, health philosophy, ect…
- Learn about Western herbal history, from way back when to Greece to present day. I am fascinated by healing and medical theories, and want to learn more. Much of my interest was sparked by this comparison of the history of Chinese medicine and Western medicine By Roger Wicke, Ph.D.
- Explore different types of herbalism. Who are the Eclectics, the phisomedicalists, Thompsonions? They all interest me. The little taste of Southern folk herbalism history I heard from Phylis Light was brand new and intriguing to me. And what’s going on in European herbalism? I majored in Anthropology and delight in exploring the cultural implications of different schools of thought. I would like to delve deeper into plant spirit medicine, shamanism, and Native American herbal traditions, too.
- Continue meeting plants. Plant identification is a journey that never ends. I have lost some of my taxonomy sharpness since I’ve been out of college, so I need to brush up on my plant families and the relations in between them. This year I have meet a few new plants and want to figure out who they are! Soon I’ll post some questionables.
- Streamline classes. I have been teaching a couple basic herb classes for a while. Each time that I do, I find that I make them more simple and to the point. I have learned that information needs to be accessible and built on a solid foundation, I’d like to apply this to more classes.
- Learn from other herbalists. One of the reasons I am moving from Duluth is that I need an educational community. I don’t have a lot of experience, so I thirst for the opportunity to learn from others’. Which is one reason I love reading blogs and books!
- Read intro books on Chinese medicine. I know I’ll be steeped in Chinese medical theory in school this fall, but I can’t wait. This summer I want to read/reread these three books:
- Between Heaven and Earth. A Guide to Chinese Medicine. by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold.
- Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life. by Gail Reichstein.
- The Web that Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. by Ted Kaptchuck.
- Organize and downsize! My herb paper work is a disaster. My overzealous tincture making is bursting at the seams. Do I really need 20 ounces of bugelweed in brandy? Help!
- Work as an herbalist. Yes, I’d like to be a practicing herbalist someday! I have seen a few clients, but I would like to see more. When I’m ready I’d love to embrace herbalism as my full-time job. This is a long-term goal.
- Promote herbal teas. People ask me all the time where they can buy my teas, besides the web. I have them in one store (Rooted Folks Community Wellness), and I think I could find a couple others, too. I need to get over my fear of marketing and being in business. Yes, I admit it, it is challenging to me. But I’m working on it and realizing that being in a healing field doesn’ t mean that it’s a sin to charge for your services, and that promoting a product doesn’t mean your deceptive.