Day 5 of the Plant Spirit Ally Challenge held over at Hagstone Publishing is all about researching plant medicine to find the medicinal properties of particular herbal allies. Learning how to Research Herbal Remedies is such a fantastic skill to have not only for challenges like this one but for any method of healing and well-being focus.
Disclaimer: Please remember that this information is for educational purposes only. Please seek medical attention if you have a health issue. None of the information provided is meant to treat or cure.
Finding the Right Resources
Over the years I’ve gone through a ton of herbal resources. Some are better than others. What I recommend for everyone interested in herbs is to have 4 books or resources available to them:
- a field guide for your area
- a book on how to make herbal formulas
- a book on the medicinal properties of specific herbs that at least covers common herbs and herbs in your area
- a book on theory behind herbal healing
With these 4 types f books you will be able to have a background of why herbs heal (or at least one theory), what herbs are best for what kind of condition, what herbs are available easily in your area, and how to turn them into herbal medicine. This is the work of an herbalist.
Researching By Condition
When you have an illness or condition you would like to use herbs for, it can be difficult to research which herbal remedy would be best. For example, if you have a headache and look up herbs for headaches you might see a very long list of herbs that seem otherwise completely different and unrelated. How do you choose?
Before we get into this, of course be practical. I like to make a smaller list of herbs I have available whether its because I already have some of that herb or herbal remedy or because I can harvest or buy it locally, or have it delivered quickly. If there are any herbs that are rare, endangered, out of my budget, or that I am unlikely to acquire in a timely manner. This usually narrows down the list a little and gives me more of a working number of herbs to research.
Second practical note is to of course omit any herbs from the list
that you would react badly to. Sometimes we don’t know if we will have a
bad reaction with herbs but sometimes we do such as when we have known
allergies or are taking medications that are effected by herbs.
If you have an allergy to the aster family, you probably shouldn’t include herbs like chamomile in your headache remedy list.
For medications and herbal contraindications, check out this resource from the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health.
The first thing to do is to look at all of your symptoms, even the ones you’re not sure if they are directly related as your body works as a whole and no part is struggling without the rest of your body being effected.
Decide if your body’s symptoms follow a certain pattern. Are they hot or cold, are they relaxed and loose or constricting. This might be confusing at first but this is part of deciding the energetics of your illness and what energetic herbs to use to counteract or aid those symptoms and underlying issue.
Going back to the headache example, one way to figure this our is the figure out what helps the headache even mildly. Does a cool cloth ease off your symptoms? Does a heat pack? Relate this to herbs. If a cool cloth helps then cooling herbs like peppermint might be the way to go. If heat helps then warming herbs like ginger might be more helpful.
In regards to the constricting or loosening, with headaches this could be sinus related. If your sinus headache is drying and inflamed you might need something that is more wet and soothing. If its from runny, wet, loose sinuses, then something that will dry that up might be best.
For all of these things, search terms like “(hot, cold, etc) condition,” “contraindications,” etc. Of course, if you adhere to a different theory and tradition of herbal remedies, please go with what you are most comfortable with.
Researching Formula Methods
Last is to figure out what method of getting the herb into your body is best.
There are some practical tips for this as well.
If you cannot obtain alcohol or are avoiding alcohol for whatever reason, a tincture will not be the method for you.
The same if you are vegan then you will not want to use a honey or electuary. If you’re vegan/vegetarian a lard or tallow salve will not be the way to go for an ointment either.
Be honest with yourself about what you will actually do and use.
If you cannot stomach the smell or taste of vinegar, don’t use a formula with vinegar as its base even if its the most refereed method.
If you are unlikely to sit for a bath because of nervous energy or restlessness, then a sitz bath or herbal bath might not be the best course of action (especially if you don’t have a tub anyways).
Different formulas and bases for herbs will extract different
chemicals from the herbs. It can be hard to choose the perfect formula
even if you have the herb you know will do the job you’re wanting. What I
like to do is research folk tradition methods for using the herbs.
These traditions have been developed over many years through intuition
and trial and error – learn from these experiences.
For the headache example, an old folk remedy is to soak a cloth in peppermint or wild mint tea and lay it over the head. This method is faster and easier than making a peppermint capsule to take like a pill.
When researching folk remedies, try out different cultures but also go back within your own ancestry and indigeny for deeper understanding and holistic approach to your own mind/body/spirit well being. Don’t foget to ask family members about things their parents, grandparents, and your shared ancestors did for illnesses.
I would only recommend experimentation at the end of your research journey with a plant. Once you have seen what sort of effects a plant can have on the body, you can make an informed decision about whether or not you want to use it and how.
I list experimentation in your research because reading about a plant can only take you so far. Feeling the effects of a plant in your own body is sometimes the only way we can really know what it does. I can read all day that stinging nettle stings skin when brushed againat the fresh plant but when I feel that on my own skin – not only will I never forget the sensation but I will always know that plant.
Its hard to explain but once you can safely identify and researched your herbs from reliable sources, experimenting with them safely (in small safe doses with focus on your body and well being) is a wonderful next step.
Keep a journal of your research and any experiments you do. Record your sleep patterns, menstrual cycle if you have one, eating habits, and any stressors as well as these can effect your experimentation with the herbs.