I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2.1.255-60)
Herbalism can seem like a daunting project to take on board, what with their being over 10,000 species in the world. However, you don’t need to know what thousands of herbs do. You don’t even need to know what a hundred herbs do. You’re most likely only going to use a small number of herbs regularly in your life anyway.
I don’t have a garden but I’ve found the best way to learn about herbs is to go outside and LOOK. See what’s growing on the land YOU live on. Don’t know what kind of plant it is? No problem.Take a photograph of it and research it online or with a reference book. Or even better, talk to the plant and ask it what it does. I would recommend not touching the plant, as some can irritate the skin and some are poisonous.
I get excited when I spot a herb I don’t know, and it’s not uncommon for me to dash up a muddy hillside to get a closer look at it. One minute you could be talking to me, the next I’m running up that hill before you’ve even noticed I’ve disappeared!
There’s nothing wrong in learning from herbal books alone, but it’s no comparison for doing your own field work. Also some books tend to focus on plants that aren’t native to your home soil. Walk throughout the land nearby you, through all seasons and you’ll soon be able to spot what certain herbs look like in their different stages of growth, and when the best time of year is to harvest them.
So get outside folks, get back in touch with the spirits of the land, remember your manners too – herbs are living organisms after all – ask permission before taking any cuttings and never harvest more than 10% of a plant. It’s always nice to leave an offering too.
Over time you will have compiled a sizeable knowledge base of herbalism all by yourself 🙂