Saturday, March 28, 2009

Adventures in Herbalism

Hm. I seem to have found myself a new project. I have now thrown myself (somewhat violently) into medical herbalism. I have a lot of reasons for doing this:
  1. Herbs are, mostly, cheap and widely available.
  2. You don't need to have medical insurance to afford herbal cures.
  3. I have a strong dislike for much of modern allopathic medicine. I recognize that it is incredibly powerful and useful in a lot of situations, and I'm certainly not going to spurn it altogether, but the basic methodology of it (single-cause ideation) seems not only mistaken but patently stupid to me. The methodology of herbalism jibes far more with my own sense of how bodies work than allopathic medicine does. For a lot more on single-cause ideation and the problems with it, check out my husband's post on same HERE.
  4. Herbs are a good way to help keep my family healthy, rather than just treating sicknesses.
  5. Some members of my family are experiencing problems that are better dealt with by herbs than more powerful medicines, at least for now.
  6. Herbal knowledge could well become a tradeable commodity in the near future, especially as people in my country are increasingly unable to afford conventional treatments.
  7. It gives me an excuse to plant even more herbs than I already have.
How did I get kick-started here? Leave it to the LDS people, ya know? ;-) One of my friends here is LDS; her church was having a "Back to Basics" event, and she invited me to come. Much of the stuff going on there I was already familiar with (e.g., whole kernel wheat storage, dry beans, cheesemaking, etc.) but it was still fun and I picked up all manner of little tips & tricks. But I got totally stuck at the herbalism booth--I monopolized the book she had for probably the whole time, and she ended up just loaning it to me. That was last week, and I've been spending most of my free time ever since working on it (except for when I was working on my garden or fighting with my plumbing). I located our local Herb Store (which is also our local Homebrew store, so I hadn't realized the stunning array of herbs & associated goods they carried) and bought a small supply of herbs to get started. [NB: I'm not sure my husband would call my supply "small".] I'm working through a few books, plus a nifty online course you can find at

Anyone who knows me knows that I go on kicks like this every once in awhile. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don't. More often than not, my overwhelming enthusiasm wanes after a bit, but some changes stick, and some of my behaviors are modified. Our style of eating & food prep is a great example. I'll go on, say, a mega-organic kick, which will eventually wane, but some of my habits will have been permanently changed in the intervening time. I suspect the same will go here. I'll learn a bunch, and have a lot of enthusiasm for a few weeks, which will eventually wane. But some of my habits will be permanently changed, and probably some new herbal things will become permanent residents in our lives. These will likely continue to grow over the years, spurred on by other bursts of enthusiasm. So expect sporadic posts about new herbal stuff over the years.

Right now, I'm working on stocking a basic first aid kit, as well as investigating various long-term methods for dealing with depression. The first aid kit is a great place to start, because it will contain a representative of almost all of the basic preparations--salves/ointments, tinctures, oils, capsules, etc. I can learn the basics of making these, and then I'll have the preparations made for when we need them. For depression, I'm looking at various tinctures & teas that can be taken on a maintenance schedule, rather than on a "quick fix" schedule. Ginseng, which has been working very well, is an addiction risk--after a few weeks your body acclimates to it, reducing its effectiveness. So I need to find something perhaps not so powerful that can be taken indefinitely, and save ginseng for more acute episodes.

Anyway, so that's what I'm up to. I've now completed the Adapting in Place course, and I'll be putting together a "Where do we go from here" document for it before too long. Of course, I'm also gardening up a storm, and I'll post some pics from that soon. Ta!


  1. Not sure if you've heard of them, but Richters ( up in Ontario, Canada also is a good source for all herbal related stuff. I purchase herb plants and seeds from them, and have a few good books I bought from them which I really like. Obviously, support the local company for sure, but if they don't have something you're looking for, Richters is also a good bet (their website is terrible, though, so if you're interested ask them for a copy of their paper catalog--much better organized!!). They also sell dried medicinal herbs as well as plants, seeds, books, et al.

  2. St. John's Wort is reportedly good for depression, and you might also consider Damiana.

    Like you, I'm just beginning my more indepth study of herbalism - with mixed results, because I tend to procrastinate quite a bit ;), but I do feel it *is* a useful bit of knowledge, even now, and will be very valuable in the not too distant future.

    By the way, a really good medicinal herb book is Andrew Chevallier's "Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants."

  3. Meg--thanks for the suggestion of Richters. So far, what I haven't found at my local store (precious little--that place is STOCKED!) I will probably get from our Frontier buying club. However, Frontier has the disadvantage of only being able to buy large quantities at a time (not always a problem, but sometimes). Mountain Rose Herbs has also gotten good reviews.

    Wendy--I'm definitely looking into St. John's Wort. The real problem, and this will be a problem for any herbal preparation really, is that they usually need to be taken 2-3 times per day, and getting my husband to do *anything* 2-3 times per day is almost impossible. *hm* I wonder if I could add a St. John's tincture to his daily coffee.... ;-) And the Chevallier book is the one I monopolized at the LDS gathering--I love it! I've bought Rosemary Gladstar's "Family Herbal" which is fine, but I definitely will be buying Chevallier's. It's a great blend of encyclopedia-reference style information, as well as information by ailment/category/etc. And the pictures are great & helpful, too. Really, I just love DK books.

  4. Don't forget taking stuff *out* of your diet to deal with depression. Refined carbs, especially. And hmm, Brazil nuts are packed with selenium ("happy juice"). One nut is 100% RDA to keep the joy buzzing through the synapses. :)

  5. Emily--do you have any suggested resources for dietary changes? Unfortunately, top of most lists are reducing/eliminating caffeine, which may well help him in the long run, but *just* *right* *now* might push him right over the edge. =/

  6. Hello-
    I found your blog through the urban garden post you did and I thought I would add my two cents on depression and herbs ingeneral.
    Cod Liver Oil!!! :) Get the Carlson's brand--Lemon flavored
    It is mild tasting and when I remember to take it regularly it works great.
    I love your enthusiasm for your projects...herbs, gardening...
    Great posts!! I hope you don't mind me butting in. :)

  7. Chris & Kat--Hi! Of course I don't mind you "butting in". If I did, I think I'd better re-evaluate having a blog. ;-)

    I will have to look into cod liver oil. I've certainly heard the stories from grandmothers past about its wonders. One of my pervasive concerns is to try and find things that are local to us--that we wouldn't have to try and ship in if/when TSHTF, and cod certainly aren't local to us. However, cod liver oil is certainly easy to transport, and has been shipped all over the place for decades, so maybe I'm overworrying this one.

    If there's one thing I've got in spades, it's enthusiasm. Now, if I could just figure out where I left my followthrough....

  8. i had little to no effect from st john's wart, but i only took it for a month or so because it had bad effects when combined with my birth control. i'm told it takes at least 6 weeks to take effect. other notes on depression and herbs/nutrition: aspartame tends to make depression symptoms worse, as well as being a very common migraine trigger. valarian is a lovely sedative for nights when you MUST sleep but it's habit forming and if used regularly, also makes depression worse. what i have found works really well is vitamin B12. in whopping doses, like 1000mg a day. you can't OD on it since you'll pee out any excess, and it's essential to normal brain function and hormone regulation. most of us are deficient in it since it's primarily found in organ meats. try it out! it isn't a cure but it helps you be more objective and break the negative thought spirals. i'll have to try your tip of ginseng for my really bad days. i keep it in the house for when i have a cold anyways