Food for Thought

I think herbalism and natural medicine is a trending field right now. People want to take charge of their health, empower themselves with knowledge of medicinal plants and how to incorporate them in daily rituals for better health. I think it worth noting that with a lot of popularity comes a lot of opinions, posts, and misinformation. 

If you're interested in herbalism, natural healing, foraging, etc. then I think you should know where and where not to look for information, and what to consider when approaching plant healing and wildcrafting.

First, Pinterest is a horrible site for herbal information. There are so many posts about herbs curing cancer, encouraging weight loss, and other false claims that call for "heroic" measures. Don't fall for them. If you want quality information, check out books by herbalists in good standing, or sites like Herbal Academy or Chestnut School of Herbs. Those are great sources of information, and often link you to other resources. 

When approaching plant healing, it's important to note that it is very different from the approach of modern western medicine. Our mainstream medical system stemmed from herbalism. When we began to take note of a plant's chemical makeup, we isolated the active constituents, replicated them without the other chemicals found in the plant, and produced powders and tablets and serums that had a quick and potent action on the body. We ignored the other chemicals in a plant that worked synergistically with the actives, to provide something that could be produced in a lab year-round and act specifically on an organ or system. However, that's not how nature intended us to ingest our medicine. Plants have a very different effect on our bodies, they act on multiple organs and organ systems, work on physical and spiritual levels, and often work in a much slower and deeper way than modern medicine does. Thus, they heal very differently, and we cannot approach herbal healing as we would modern medicine, because the ways in which they work are very different. 

If you want to wildcraft your herbs, there are many things to consider. First, you must be sure you know how to identify a plant and that you've done so correctly before harvesting. Don't harvest what you don't know. Also, make sure you approach the plants with respect and gratitude. Don't harvest more than 10% of a population, don't harvest anything endangered, on private land, on restricted land, or if the plant or plant population is struggling. Don't take more than what you will use, and consider the impact you'll have on not only the plants, but all creatures who feed from them. Plants have a vital role in the ecosystem and are valid beings outside of our medicinal use for them - respect that. 

Before you harvest, make sure you really know a plant. You should have read about it, learned about the active constituents, safety concerns, how and what parts may be consumed or applied, and its actions within the body. You should know when to harvest as well, considering plants may be toxic or not as potent after certain stages. Remember that if one part of a plant is edible, that doesn't mean all parts of it are. It's important to understand what may be consumed safely and what may not be. 

Also, it's important to know how to process a plant once it's harvested. Is it more medicinal when fresh, or dried? Does it work better in tincture form, or will it be extracted in some other medium? Can it be consumed internally, or is it only safe externally? How will you best utilize what you've harvested? 

Lastly, I want to mention the importance of getting to know a plant. Research is incredibly important, whether that's reading or direct teaching from a mentor. But, it is vital to actually go outdoors and spend time with plants in order to know them better. Nothing is a substitute for experience, and no one can tell you how a plant will speak to you until you've become acquainted with it yourself. Spend time with them through all their life stages, get to know them personally by sight, scent, touch, and taste. What will they teach you? 

Remember that this is a relationship that requires lifelong cultivation. You must learn respect and gratitude for the life given here, and how to serve the plants in turn by helping their growth. This is a field that so many want to enter, but few will have the desire to remain and serve the earth and her inhabitants through working with plants.