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  • Writer's pictureAmy

Keeping it Simple: Uncomplicated Herbalism

basket in forest

When you’re interested or passionate about something it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of it, or to be led down some deep rabbit holes. I see this a lot with herbalists; I also see this happening to myself at various times. And while yes, it’s pretty cool to learn and implement new things, I think it’s important at times to scale down and scale back to the origins of where our interests began. We can often overlook the incredible power, effectiveness, and beauty in simplicity.

I’ve been part of a weekly (virtual) meetup of herbalists for almost three years. This group includes herbalists from all over the US, as well as a few other countries, and has been an incredible resource for me. Being a sole practitioner working from home can be a pretty lonely place, and I am so grateful for the community this meetup provides. But even more importantly, it is a place to share ideas, ask questions, and learn from each other. It is also a place which, admittedly, gives me the most intense feelings of imposter syndrome.

I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘bad herbalist,’ but listening to my colleagues is sometimes like…wow. They are so knowledgeable. So eloquent. So intelligent.

And I’m so goofy.

Don’t get me wrong- I’ve been an herbalist for a while now, and I don’t feel like a beginner, but it’s been 10 years since I was in school and my knowledge base in physiology is more than fuzzy (thank God for books and resources!), especially in areas outside of my niche.

But there have been times I find myself hearing herbs mentioned that I am not very familiar with. I see fascinating and complicated formulations. I end up scribbling down herbs on sticky notes to look up and/or try later, thinking, Why aren’t I using that? Should I be using that? Why don’t I know about this!? Enter: Alice, and the Rabbit Hole. There goes half a day of ‘research’ which ends up amounting to (usually) nothing aside from half a desk that looks like this:

Sticky notes on desk
sticky notes on desk

until some gust of air blows it off my desk to be possibly forever lost to the dust bunnies.

So as my imposter syndrome strikes with the “you’re not good enough” blade, I often have to remind myself of something that my mentors have said time and again: You should know how to use 20 herbs 100 ways, rather than 100 herbs in 20 ways.

And you know what? That’s my JAM!

Why should I be trying to work with an herb which grows half a world away and which I am unfamiliar with when I can use another herb that I DO know very well, that grows HERE and does the same thing?

Case in point: Chamomile. Safe. Easy. Tasty. Works on many levels in the body.

Have you ever had a strong tea made from real Chamomile that was less than a year old? I’ve had clients swear there was something else in the tea I gave them because it worked so well, and they “have had Chamomile before. It didn’t do this.”

Don’t get me wrong- most of my formulations for clients are way more complicated than just Chamomile tea. Part of that is because I’m trying to work on their issue(s) from multiple angles, so I might include a few other herbs to help with blood pressure, inflammation, etc. Another reason is that many herbs work even better when they are coupled with other herbs. However, I often find myself wrapped up in all the possible combinations I could create, and also the energetics of the client as I craft the blend to the individual. In fact, I am not a fan of complicated formulas. I’m actually a big fan of simples.

Simples are just that. Simple. One herb. Boom.

In my own personal herbal care, I pretty much only use simples when I use a tincture. The reason for this is 1- laziness on my part, but 2- I enjoy experiencing the plant energetics, actions, and how they react within my body. I think it’s important to know how an herb is going to interact in the body, and that’s hard to isolate when you have a blend of 5-7 herbs. Damn. I love simples. It’s also a heck of a lot easier to determine dosage and to intuitively take what you feel your body needs.

If you’re interested in strengthening your relationship with a particular plant, you’re going to need to use a simple. More about this in an upcoming blog…

We tend to forget that one herb has soooooo many phytochemicals and acts on different systems in the body. Again- let’s talk about Chamomile. Most people think about Chamomile for sleep and relaxation, which is valid. It’s great for this! But parts of Chamomile which are often overlooked are how powerful of a digestive herb it is (due to antispasmodic actions). It’s also an immune stimulant, wound-healer, and antimicrobial, to name a few things.

Most herbs tend to have a variety of uses, even though we often consider the one or two actions which they are typically remembered for. We need to keep in mind, however, that you do NOT need a crazy complicated formula for herbal medicine to be effective. And, the more herbs you add, the less of each one is being administered at a given time. More is not always better!

It would be remarkable to be able to use a handful of herbs for all common ailments and first aid. We need to remember how blessed we are that many of the plants growing around us can be used in so many ways. We don’t need to search out exotic species when many issues can be remedied with plants we learned about at the beginning of our green paths. The Nettles, Plantains, Docks, and aromatics have many many uses internally and externally. They still work! Simple herbalism is where we come from. It’s important to remember the roots of our practice. And while, yes, I get a sense of pride from a solid blend I come up with, sometimes all you need is a strong-ass Nettle infusion.

Whether you’re a budding herbalist who wants to dip your toes into herbalism, or an herbal elder who finds the value in reconnecting with what drew you in to begin with, bringing it back to basics with a simple or a simple tea formula is a great way of creating communion with the plants and experiencing what they have to offer. And, if you’re interested in playing around with some simple, straight up, high quality herbs, check out what I’ve got in The Apothecary. Sometimes you gotta keep it simple with some uncomplicated herbalism.

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Nov 11, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks for reminding me that simplicity is best.

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