When I was first learning about medicinal plants I was drawn to it because it was a more natural way to deal with health. I wasn’t really sure just how effective medicinal plants could be because I had never really had the need.
I just noticed that when I felt a cold coming on and I took some Echinacea, the cold tended to go away quite quickly or not start at all.
Then I went through a period of time where I started having stomach cramps and I would vomit and then I’d be fine for a little while, but then it would come back again. After a few days of this pattern I was getting to the point where it seemed like I needed to go a doctor because I didn’t seem to be getting any better.
But I had a book on medicinal plants and I looked up stomach issues. And one of the main things I noticed on that page was that dandelion is really good for stomach issues.
So I said what the heck, I’ve had dandelion before, I know it can’t hurt me. Maybe there’s a chance it’ll make me feel better.
So I went outside and picked some dandelion. I only ate a few leaves but over the next few hours my stomach felt a lot better.
I was quite impressed and actually surprised by how quickly it made a difference. I kept eating dandelion everyday and the stomach problems never came back again.
I don’t know for sure that it was the dandelion that made the difference for me but it was nice to be feeling healthy again. I still like to eat dandelion whenever I can because it tastes good and It’s good medicine.
Step one for learning medicinal plants and their uses: know the preparations
When you’re studying medicinal plants and their uses one of the things you learn is that there’s lots of different ways to prepare medicinal plants that serve different functions.
Depending on how you prepare a plant for use, you’ll get different aspects of the medicine.
Here are some of the major ways to prepare plants
A tincture is a concentrated alcohol-based liquid form of a plant medicine. By soaking plant material in drinking alcohol we can extract a variety of compounds into a simple liquid form that provides it’s benefits at doses of only a few drops.
Always check the ratio of herb to alcohol with a reliable source before making a tincture.
Everyone is familiar with this preparation where the herb is steeped in hot water.
This extracts a different subset of plant components and thus can have a different effect on your body than taking a tincture. .
A salve is an extraction of plant components into a form that can be applied to the skin.
Often it involves mixing a hot water preparation of the plant with something like beeswax. When the mixture cools, it hardens into natural body butter.
Often medicinal plants can also be used as a nutritious food. One of the best examples of this is dandelion.
You don’t have to be sick to eat a dandelion. It’s one of the most nutritious plants on the planet and it will keep you healthy if you eat it as part of your diet.
You can also extract plant compounds into oils like olive oil. It’s a bit of a variation of salves so you have some options for how to create topical treatments.
These are probably the easiest, safest and usually the most effective ways to prepare and use medicinal plants.
As you learn more about the different plants that you work with, you’ll get to learn how each plant affects you differently depending on how it is prepared
If you learn to use plants this way, you’ll be able to do basic medicinal applications of plants.
Step two of learning medicinal plants and their uses: Developing your repertoire
One of my mentors who taught me a lot about plants once told me that the really good herbalists work with the problems they encounter by using only a handful of different plants that they know really well.
They learn all the different ways to prepare them and develop a keen awareness of how each plant impacts the body.
So when you go out to start learning this and you’re trying to decide which plants to work with, one of the things that will give you the most success is to look for simple plants that are common, and have a lot of different uses.
Dandelion is one of my selected few plants. The more I use it the more uses I discover so my experience of dandelion keeps getting deeper and deeper.
Plus it’s extremely common.
It would be pointless to have amazing knowledge of an extremely rare plant because every time you needed it, you would have to make a big trip out of it.
By choosing just a few of the most common and widely applicable plants to focus on. You learn a lot more quickly, you learn a lot more deeply, and the skill becomes much more practical for your everyday life.
Pay attention to how different plants or preparations affect your body.
All plants have different qualities that are described differently in different cultures, but have a general consistency from place to place.
For example, it’s very common for people to experience the medicine from spices like pepper or cinnamon as having a warm quality.
Likewise a common experience of peppermint is that it feels cool.
This informs your decisions about what plants to use because the different qualities of plants relate to the various imbalances of sickness.
When someone has a fever, you’re not going to give him or her a “hot” medicine like cinnamon. We’d be more likely to give something like peppermint because it encourages the body to sweat but it also has a cooling affect that will help the fever.
Another good quality of plants to pay attention for is the relative level of wetness vs. dryness or astringency. You’ll notice that some plants leave your mouth feeling dry.
Plantain is an excellent common plant that has that astringent quality and if you make a poultice with the leaves it will actually suck the stinger from a bee right out of your skin.
Pay attention for these qualities when you use different plants and even with the foods you eat in your day-to-day life. Really be present and develop your awareness by asking yourself some good questions.
Is it hot or cold?
Is it wet or dry?
Where do you feel the effects in your body?
Some plants will seem to affect your head while other will be down in your body more. It’s all good awareness that will inform your use of medicinal plants.
A lot of time people get into medicinal plants because they want to know how to heal their problems in a more natural way.
And while you definitely can learn to do that, sometimes the best way to look at using medicinal plants and their uses is to consider that the real benefit of medicinal plants is in how they can keep you from getting sick in the first place.
By learning to pay attention to your body and how the environment is impacting you, you’ll learn to recognize the advanced signs that you be getting ill and you’ll know which preparations to take that can just give your immune system that little boost.
A lot of times the underlying problem is that people aren’t getting enough nutrition in their food. When you start to think about all your food as being medicine, it’ll impact every choice you make in such a way that moves you towards greater health and wellness.