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One thing I remember from when I first started learning herbalism was feeling overwhelmed. There was just so much information available! Herbalism can be very complex. There are plants and their uses to learn, theories to understand, historical background to absorb, botany, physiology – welcome to information overload!
Here are some ways that work for me to simplify learning herbalism and get the most from my herbal studies. These are techniques and tools that I use regularly to stay focused and moving forward with my herbal education. Mostly, they are about creating habits and routines to make goals happen, but staying organized with tools and supplies also helps.
Dedicate a Bag
I love having a dedicated herbal studies bag. Mine has a flash drive with all of my course back ups, my materia medica and bullet journal, and whatever book I’m currently reading. You could also toss in a botany kit and field guides if you plan to venture out on herb walks. Mine goes with me to the library and coffee shop (well, before Pandemic Land, anyway), and holds my herbal bullet journals so I can grab it when it’s time to study or catch a webinar or podcast. What are bullet journals? I’m glad you asked!
Learn Bullet Journaling
A bullet journal, or BuJo, is a flexible day planner/note taking/goal tracking system designed by a man named Ryder Carroll. His website is here and he has a book that goes into even more detail. Now, here’s a disclaimer. Mine aren’t the hybrid-art-journal pretty ones like on Pinterest. Mine look a hot mess! My bullet journals are for stuffing all of my hastily scrawled notes from classes, courses, and reading. And hastily drawn plant sketches or mind mapping or garden notes. A friend told me once that I journal like da Vinci – and I guess that’s about right. Especially if da Vinci knew bullet journaling and didn’t care about his handwriting. Or dirt. In short, bullet journaling is a very efficient way to track your goals and progress with herbalism.
Use a Calendar
Digital or analog is up to you. Digital is nice because you can set up recurring reminders for webinars you don’t want to miss, courses or class start and end dates, note down when you placed an herb order and the order number, or when you started a batch of extracts. There’s a pen and paper calendar system for bullet journaling and that’s usually what I use. I also have a pocket calendar that I stuff into my BuJo. Yes, Ok, I promise. I will show you my train wreck of a journal in another post. You will be encouraged and delighted by the incredible dirty ugliness of it. If I can be so mercenary with my bright, hideously orange BuJo, you can too. (Um, yes, the reason it’s florescent orange is so I don’t lose it if I drop it outside. The pocket calendar has rainbow stripes, if you were wondering.)
Go On a Date
An herbalist date. With yourself! Herbalism is something that you need to engage with and learn actively. Regularly set an herbalist date to check in with your journal and think about strategy. I do this once a month. Drink some tea. Review your goals and set daily and weekly habits to help get yourself there. Celebrate what you’ve already accomplished and look forward to your next steps. You could also use this time to work on an herbal craft or project or review your herbal self care routines. Yay! Herbalist YOU time!
Create a Reading List
Are book shops even open yet? Probably not. Plus, it’s kind of hard to find a good selection of herbal titles at most book shops. Spend time browsing online for herbal books and find a few that look intriguing. You can enjoy a peek at my bookshelves if you want – I review most of what I read here. If you select 12 books, and read one per month. . .hey! That’s manageable, right? Public libraries were a wonderful resource pre-COVID. Mine is just barely starting to open again, so we will see how that goes. I guess that’s another great reason to build your own resource library at home. . .as if anyone needs an excuse to buy new books!
Cut the Overwhelm with a Course
If you are brand new to herbalism, chose one really good introductory course to get started. I recommend Herbal Academy (#affiliate) for new herbalists. Their courses are super gorgeous and professional, packed FULL of information, and you can go at your own pace online. (Also, I used to write for them, so yeah – I think they are grand). Overall, they present a very balanced approach to herbalism. Save the opinionated teachers for later. Their blog is a great resource, too!
Learn One Herb at a Time
After you’ve got your bearings with a course, make a list of a few plants that really grabbed your interest. Then, dive in One. At. A. Time. This is an opportunity to get to know aaaalllll of the nitty gritty details of an herb. Look into its history, how modern herbalists use it, all of the interesting botanical tidbits about harvesting and growing. I’m even creating a series of mini-courses that focus on one herb at a time at Teacup Alchemy. You can check them out here. If you want, create an herb journal or materia medica that showcases your findings. Or just add them to your notebooks or a computer file.
Don’t Buy a F$%! Ton of Herbs All at Once
You won’t be able to use them all before they lose their potency. And it creates clutter. Yes, I know it’s tempting because you want to make ALL THE THINGS! And shipping can be ridiculous. Who wants to pay THAT more than once? But you don’t need to buy in huge quantities. Herbs are not fine wine. They do not get better with age. They eventually fade and lose their goodness. Order 3 or 4 ounces at a time – that’s plenty. Less for you to keep track of, and less that will potentially end up in the compost.
Buy some printer labels, please. I don’t have much of anything cheeky to say about this. Printable labels are better than sticky notes for tagging your projects. It makes keeping track of what’s in your project jars a lot easier. I’ve also seen people write directly on jars with paint pens or chalk pens, but I’ve never tried that. In a pinch, packing tape over a scrap of notebook paper also works. Forgetting about a jar or not remembering what’s in it is kind of a home herbalist rite of passage. . . but just buy the labels, ok?
Create Herbal Self Care Routines
One of the best ways to learn about using an herb is to experience it. Several categories of herbs can be used in ways that support daily wellness. Nutritive herbs, adaptogens, and some nervines and alteratives are examples. When learning about an herb, determine whether it’s an herb that you can work with on a daily basis. If it’s not an herb that’s a candidate for daily use (some herbs are more targeted in their actions), consider buying or making the extract or a cup of tea as part of your learning process. It will help you learn to distinguish the different qualities and energetics that herbalists use to describe plants.
Embrace Your Own Process
There you have it, my friends. As you can see, taking a few steps to simplify the process of learning herbalism can help set you up for success. The things that are most essential for me are tracking my progress and notes, establishing habits like an herbal study date, and staying organized with a study bag. I’m sure you will work out your own processes and systems too, so don’t be afraid to experiment!
All the best,