Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Introduction to the Basics of Herbalism

Hello, today considering this is my first post on this blog I thought I would explain the more basic ideas and concepts of herbalism.
The Connections Between Man and Earth
Herbalism it a way of connecting with nature in a way that was long ago forgotten. The connection between earth and man is inherent in the human nature. When we were created, all the plants and herbs we needed to live long and healthy lives were also brought into existence. And as the centuries passed, man forgot the ways that caused them to thrive and over time, we began to think of them as “obsolete” or “old-fashioned” and as we did, our health as a people began to fail as well. In many ways modern medicine, though extremely useful in emergencies, is beginning to reach it’s limits. So we need to begin to re-learn ways to heal with plants and herbs so that one day, we might regain the health and vigor that is slowly slipping from us.
Approaches to Herbalism
Herbal medicine has many approaches, some more spiritual or scientific than others. But all have one thing in common, all systems of herbal medicine are designed to help, heal, and reinforce the human body and its health. But it is not only beneficial to humans. Animals can also benefit from herbal medicine, but that’s another post. :) I look at herbs from a more scientific stand point, this assures me that herbs are used on a basis of “this herbs treats that symptom because of its constituents”. Although some go by a system of energetics which is more of “this herbs treats that symptom because this energy balances that one…” But as I said earlier, a scientific approach has served me well.
The Basics of Herbal Medicine Making
Making herbal medicine is an easy thing to do, though not to be taken lightly. It is a wonderful way to keep you, and your friends and family healthy and happy for years to come. So here are some basic tips to note. They’ll make your herbal adventures much easier, less confusing, and much safer.

  1. Know your plants! Having a basic, but through knowledge of your herbs and their properties. As well as being able to recognize the leafs, scents, and flowers. Is essential to making herbal preparations.
  2. Be Organized! Always label your jars and bottles with the date, herb, and what the herbs is infusing in (oil, vodka, vinegar, etc.) And DON’T FORGET! Mystery remedies are NOT a good thing.
  3. Know the dosage! Knowing how much remedy to administer or apply will keep you from accidentally poisoning or sickening your friends or neighbors.
  4. Don’t Freak Out! I am sure that some of the previous tips sounded a bit… intimidating. But if you’ve done your homework you will be fine. When you look at it, herbal medicine is no more dangerous then modern medicine, and you aren’t scared of that. So take a deep breath. And if your not sure, read it again.
Herbalism is about making life as healthy and natural as possible. And going back to nature is good, and right in every way you can. So I hope you enjoyed my first post and I hope to hear from you. Sincerely, Herbal Em

Basic Tools Used in Herbal Medicine.

One of the most important things to an herbalist would be their tool set. Now most people think that you need a truck load of expensive and unusual tools to practice herbal medicine. When in fact, it is quite the contrary. An herbalist’s tools are basic and easy, and often cheap. But in the interest of curiosity I though I would jot down some main and possibly obvious staple tools an herbalist would use.
  1. Spoons! An herbalist almost always requires one or often more than one spoon. Metal ones, wooden ones, big ones, small ones, weird ones. Spoons are an absolute MUST for any herbalist of any level. I find it fun to drop buy a thrift store or goodwill store and rummage through their stock of used/vintage silver-ware.                                                                                                                                        
  2. Bowls. Yeah, this is an obvious one. Having a good variety of bowels from glass to metal to plastic, and also a variety of sizes will help to ensure that you have the perfect one for any preparation or concoction you might be mixing.                                                                                                          
  3. Jars & Bottles. These are among the most important tools for herbalism, for any herbal preparation, what ever type it may be, must be contained in some sort of vessel. Tinted ones are “optimum” but ANY seal-able and washable jar or bottle with a lid, is great for creating and storing all of your mixtures.                                                                                                                                            
  4. Strainers. Also known to many as Sivs these handy devices allow us to remove plant matter from teas, tinctures, acetums, infusions and countless other herbal preparations. It is essential to remove plant matter from some types of herbal concoctions to maintain self-life, and for others it is slightly less important to remove the spent plant materials.                                                                                      
  5. Cheese Cloth and other Fabrics. This is one area that is a bit versatile in my opinion. For decanting (decanting means to remove plant matter and large sediment from the preparation.) tinctures, and other infused preparations, cheese cloth is a wonderful and vital tool. But if you don’t have any, you don’t have to worry. Any piece of clean fabric will do pretty nicely. Although it is advisable to use either cotton or linen.                                                                                                                             
  6. Shipping Labels, Oh my! Though not imperative in themselves, labeling your herbal concoctions is an absolute, positive, in-refutable MUST! Although paper and tape will replace them quite nicely, they are nice to have. But as I have said before DON’T FORGET TO LABEL YOUR HERBAL PREPARATIONS!                                                                                                                                
  7. Pots and Pans Pots, Pans, of various shapes, sizes, colors, and materials are a very important addition to an herbalist’s kitchen or apothecary. Being able to heat various substances is essential. And some preparations require different types or materials.
  8. Knives. Knives are extremely useful in any herbalists tool-set. And sharp ones to! Some herbs and roots can be woody, stubborn, and hard. Such as dried Echinacea purpurea roots. They are hard enough to WRECK A BLENDER! That’s hard! So a sharp heavy-duty chefs knife and/or clever is a GOOD thing to have. As well as a good assortment of pairing knives, small knives, big knives, etc. A good knife sharpener and honing steal are also good things to have handy.

There are also a few “luxury tools” you might think about buying if you get the chance but that are by no means mandatory.
  1. A Mortar & Pestle. These things are great! Although the same effect can be achieves by a blender I suppose. But there is something so much more fulfilling about using a mortar and pestle. There are MANY different types of mortars & pestles. Some are more versatile then others but there is one general purpose type I adore, its a 2 cup Tai granite one. I have one and although in medieval times it would’ve qualified as a cannon ball as far as weight is concerned, it performs beautifully. One I would NOT recommend is marble. I also have one of those and lets just say 2 days of grinding to produce 1 ounce of ground herbs is a bit of a low yield for me. Prices for these vary with the type, brand, company, etc. But they are handy none-the-less. But what ever you choose they don’t have to be expensive. (I thought for the sake of convenience I would include a link to my favorite one from amazon.com…. it was a Christmas gift. Click Here.)                                                                            
  2. Water Kettle. Water kettles are wonderful and handy for making teas and infusions as well as other things. But I think that Kim Sue B. from Country Vintage Home could say this better then I. The Wonderful Water Kettle, By Kim Sue B.

There as many more tools to go over but these are the basics. As you can see the tools used for herbal medicine can be as simple or as complex as you like. And also as interesting. As I said, if you would like to try and find some interesting and surprisingly useful tools for your own herbal apothecary or kitchen, try thrift stores. There is almost always something interesting in the kitchen-ware sections and also keep your eyes open for tools at regular stores and super-markets. You never know what you might find.

I hope you enjoyed my look at tools used in herbalism, I’m glad you came and thanks for reading. Sincerely Herbal Em.

Common Sense vs. Paranoia in Herbalism

As strange as it might seem to some, herbal medicine can be a rather terrifying adventure. One look at the big picture and instantly a little voice in your head starts asking questions like “Are you sure?” or “What if your wrong?”. These little questions can be both horrifying and discouraging.

But the thing about it is, if you know your herbs, and your using something harmless like Lavender or Basil. These fears are pretty much void. Knowing when these questions were true or false took me ages to learn. There is nothing like doing studying and playing with herbs and remedies and suddenly the bliss being broken with a paralyzing fear of a dangerous mistake, even though your 125% sure you got the right herb. So in an effort to help some of you ease your fears or hopefully conquer them all together I thought I would share some comforting tid-bits.

Firstly, herbal medicine is nothing to be scared of to begin with. When you think about it, there are ALWAYS safe herbs that we can use, so there is virtually no need use dangerous or poisonous ones. And if your a wild-crafter, if you know your plants and have studied well, you will be fine. Granted that you must ALWAYS be cautious when wild-crafting, but still fear should never out-weigh good, hard, rational knowledge. And if you are just to nervous to use it, throw it out and pick some more. 

Secondly, when you get right down to it, herbal medicine is no more dangerous than modern medicine. Less dangerous, actually. So if you have a swollen cut and you see some plantain and you know it would heal up your cut then pick it and use it. Herbs have sustained humanity medically for thousands of years so why would it harm you now?

Thirdly, paranoia is not reason! If you know something is good, you are sure what it is, and you can use it. Then you have no reason to be afraid. In fact being afraid probably makes you make more mistakes. So just start with small and simple things, and then continue up the ladder as you feel you can. Although be warned, confidence is not a license for recklessness. 

I hope this helped you. And if you liked this or if it helped you to put a few dents in your fears then like and comment, or even message me! I would love to hear your stories.

Herbalists Gone By: Mr. Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654)

Mr. Nicholas Culpeper was a herbalist born is 1616 in Isfield, Sussex. His father and maternal grand-father were ministers. Upon the death of his father he was taken into the care of his maternal grandparents, His grand-father ensured he was educated in Latin, Greek and English. His love for herbs was sparked by his grand-mother’s used of them during his childhood. He was of a puritanical mind, in this he was a devout christian, and had little respect for the crown nor the church. And translated many works from the aristocratic Latin to the common-man’s English.

When he came of age his grandfather enrolled him in Cambridge University to study theology as he was to become a minister like his father and grand-father. But between him dotting his time as university with anatomy and medical lectures and his growing love for a Miss Judith Rivers, his time at university came to an end when they decided to elope, sadly on the way to the meeting point from which they would set out to elope Miss Judith’s carriage was struck by lightening and she was killed, because of his leaving university to elope, he was disinherited by his mothers family. The shock from the tragedy contributed to the death of his mother. Leaving him shunned and heart broken for some time afterwards.

He found employment working as an apprentice for a apothecary in exchange for teaching the him Latin. This task took only a year and upon the apothecary’s death Culpeper was able to keep up the practice himself.

He was always thoughtful of the poor and thus would often charge little or nothing to his impoverished patients. Resulting in him seeing up to 40 patients a day. A fact probably contributing to his popularity. 

Earlier in his life he fought in a war first as a field surgeon and then as a captain. He was wounded in the shoulder and taken back to him home by carriage.

Years later he found love again in a young Miss Alice Field and they married conceiving of 7 children though only one, his daughter Mary outlived him.

He translated and wrote a total of 79 books some of which are still in print today. He was also an avid astrologer and often wrote his books with a foundation in astrology as a system for diagnosis and treatment.

He died at the age of 38 of Tuberculosis, which he suposedly contracted from the bullet injury during the battle in which he was a field surgeon.

I hope you enjoyed this abridged article on Nicholas Culpeper. Below are a few links to some of his books as well as an in-depth biography. Thanks for reading!

P.S. Here are some places where you can view his material FREE online! 

Thought you might wanna poke around the book a bit before you think about buying a hard copy. Enjoy!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Blossom of Spring.

Spring has sprung, being in the sun again is welcome after this past winter. My herb garden was drastically reduced by the sub-zero temps but will soon be on the rebound. We planted 9 elderberry tree's today, I am looking forward to watching them grow. I will be posting some pictures of the little saplings soon, and I hope you will enjoy them.

Sincerely Herbal Em.
Happy Spring!