The Basics of Herbal Medicine

Butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa) and bumble bee

Butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa) and bumble bee

I’ve been teaching a introductory class to herbal medicine a lot lately.  I’m always surprised at the intense interest and yet the lack of resources and understanding when it comes to this topic, though.  For that reason, I am posting my handout to this blog for you all to comb through at your leisure!  Enjoy!

The Basics of Herbal Medicine
with Lindsay Wilson, Community Herbalist
of Sweet Gum Springs Apothecary

“Plants are the placenta of animal life… Every carbon atom in our bodies has at one time passed through the chloroplast membrane of a plant.” ~ Dale Pentall, Pharmako

What is American Herbalism?
To be honest, American Herbalism is still defining itself. It has roots in Greek medicine, European folk medicine, Native American medicine, and, increasingly, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. What these traditions have in common is the use of plant medicine, constitution types, and even assessment tools.

Largely, the work and enthusiasm of Rosemary Gladstar brought herbalism back into the US cultural vernacular. She started her work in the late 60s and she continues to be a trailblazer for herbalism, protection of endangered or threatened plant species, and holistic medicine.

Look into the work and literature of Eclectic and Physio-medical physicians to find out more about plant based medicine. A great resource on-line is Henriette’s Herbal.  There’s also a great webpage citing the work of the late Maude Grieve called

“It is becoming evident that in order to survive the multifaceted crisis at hand, humanity must learn some environmental humility, including how to cooperate with nature. Herbalism is a unique and important expression of this cooperation.” ~ David Hoffmann, Medical Herbalism

What are some key elements of American Herbalism?
Constitution types (names differ by tradition, however, Western Herbalism draws on the Greek temperaments)
Tissue types (tissue layer, organ system, etc)
Tissue states (lax, tense, cold, hot, damp, dry)
Plant energetics (tissue affinity/organ affinity, taste, action, etc)
Intuition & intellect
Dosage & frequency

Types of herbs (roughly):
Nutritive herbs (oatstraw, red raspberry leaf, and nettles)
Tonic or restorative herbs (nettles seed, licorice root, and reishi)
Potent herbs (aconite, poke, and lobelia)

Reasons to make your own medicine:
• No chance of contamination!
• Connection with source
• Learning to attune your senses to the seasons
• Building self-trust in the process of medicine-making; it’s empowering!
• Learning the art of giving and receiving
• You’ll learn to protect the plants by working closely with them

Why integrate herbs into your daily/weekly routine?
• They are packed with easy to absorb/assimilate vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals
• They contain phytonutrients (flavonoids, polyphenols, etc) and antioxidants (which curb free radical damage)
• They contain organic oils, resins, alkaloids, and other constituents
• We’ve evolved with them forever
• There are no side effects, there are only improper uses/dosages
• They are not addicting
• Many are amphoteric and simply know how to balance the body for optimal function

Passinflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Passinflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Plant profile sample ~ Passionflower, passiflora incarnata (incarnata means ‘of the flesh’)
~ found in the Southeast; recently disturbed areas, likes more acidic soil, need to scarify to germinate from seed, easier from cutting, vine that dies back to the ground each year (perennial), great plant for a trellis or to offer Summer shade, passionflower family
~ plant energetics: cooling, calming, softens edges, moves/disperses heat
~ actions: hypnotic nervine (used for anxiety, insomnia, and certain heart conditions), renews a sense of wonderment, safe for babies, lowers blood pressure, not for someone with nightmares (dream herb), good for red-faced, fireman or policeman archetype/energy
~ use all above ground plant material as tea or tincture; tincture 1:2 in 60-80 % alcohol

“Herbalism is based on relationship ~ relationship between plant and human, plant and planet, human and planet. Using herbs in the healing process means taking part in and ecological cycle. This offers us the opportunity consciously to be present in the living, vital world of which we are part; to invite wholeness and our world into our lives through awareness of the remedies being used. The herbs can link us into the broader context of planetary wholeness, so that whilst they are doing they physiological/medical job, we can do ours and build an awareness of the links and mutual relationships.” ~ Wendell Berry

For further reading:
The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook by James Green
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Healthy by Rosemary Gladstar
Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel
Healing Wise by Susun Weed
The Wild Medicine Solution by Guido Mase
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Matthew Wood
Adaptogens by David Winston
Herb, Nutrient, and Drug Interactions by Mitchell Stargrove
The Fungal Pharmacy by Robert Rogers
Herbal Antibiotics and Herbal Antivirals by Stephen Buhner
Invasive Plant Medicine by Timothy Scott


3 thoughts on “The Basics of Herbal Medicine

  1. How wonderful to have this (and you ) as resource Lindsey.Youve just reminded us that its all about relationship and specifically our relationship to the plant kingdom and its relationship to the earth ;
    Seemingly its ours to just perceive the ocean ; but its also ours to become one with it ;as when we become one with it we can directly experience our connection to the universe and stars .Far fetched ? I think not
    We are connected ; we are all connected . When we step into this connection
    our focus changes ; we experience ourselves differently ; our wants and desires shift out of the box of fear based culture of greed and materialism
    into realizing our wholeness and seeking opportunities to the giving of ourselves in ways to what truly matters ; Thank You for your gifts to us in this work .
    Keep em coming ///Michael

    • Ahhhh ~ beautiful insights and thoughts Michael. Thanks for sharing! Yes, if we shift our perspective…we can see the bigness of this life and our place in it. I come in and out of this realization…and this context…the plants are good reminders 🙂

  2. Pingback: The Basics of Herbal Medicine | herbalhappies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s