What comes to mind when you explore the thought of herbal medicine and taking control of your health? If it is fear and uncertainty, then you are not alone. When we find ourselves overwhelmed, flooded with imposter syndrome, and/or fearful of our next step, these should be taken as signs to realize you hold potential for incredible growth. Here are some common questions which can cause fear and uncertainty when entering the world of herbalism. With these questions answered you can take control of your herbal knowledge and your health.
Q: What exactly is an herbalist?
In simple terms, an herbalist is someone who utilizes plants for medicinal purposes.
An herbalist may blend medicinal plants with different ingredients; all with a healing purpose in mind. Herbalists may use natural ingredients with a medicinal purpose in mind; however, they are not doctors. They cannot treat, diagnose, or prescribe pharmaceuticals.
That being said, there are many different types of herbalists. The type of herbalist you are depends on what herbs you use and how you were trained.
For instance, I am a Certified Clinical Western Herbalist, trained in the Vitalist and Wise Women Approach.
- The Certified Clinical means my training covered a clinical, one-on-one setting.
- I am a Western Herbalist, and this means I use herbs in the Western hemisphere.
- The Vitalist and Wise Women approach both speak more clearly to how I will use herbs and view the healing process as a whole. This approach looks for root causes and aids through nourishment, nature, and spiritual connection.
If you begin working with an herbalist, the best way to identify if their practice will meet your health goals is to ask. That conversation may begin similar to this, “Please tell me a little about your approach and training as an herbalist.”
Q: There are so many herbs that it becomes overwhelming. Where does one start?
There are so many herbs it can paralyze any initial progress moving forward. However, the great thing is that herbs have categories, and the brain likes to group and clump things together when learning anew.
It is my recommendation to start by grouping herbs into categories. Begin with one body system at a time and learn five herbs in that system before you move on to the next.
Here is an example of how to conduct a simple search on the internet, with no herbal literature at hand.
Example: Start with the general search question, “herbs that affect the Central Nervous System (CNS).” My results came up with Lemon Balm, Skullcap, Lavender, Chamomile, Oat, Passionflower, Valerian, etc. My next step is to choose one herb and search for more in-depth information. An example of a search would be “Lemon Balm Materia Medica.” The materia medica is an important addition when searching as this will give me a clinical perspective of the plant and will filter out a lot of untrustworthy information.
It is important to realize that even with hundreds of plants, most practicing herbalists typically only utilize 25 herbs consistently in their practice. When fear or uncertainty creeps up, it’s okay, you are learning! I’d suggest finding a network and a community of herbalists that will help support you along your journey.
Q: How do I know if an herb is safe for me?
This is such a great question to ask. There is misguided information out there that states because it is natural it is safe. This is absolutely not the case. Herbs are powerful. They have the ability to heal and do harm when misused. How do you know if you are using them safely? First, you could reach out to an herbalist for advice. Herbalists should have the training and expertise to identify herbal safety. However, that may not always be an option as herbalists are not always available or easy to find. So, I will provide you with a few tools; however, if these tools still leave you feeling unsure it’s best to not use the herbs until you have spoken to a professional.
- Herbal Materia Medica: These publications both online and in print are going to be your best friend. They discuss the clinical actions of herbs but also contraindications. The downside of materia medica, you need to become fluent with clinical language. Use a glossary. In addition, most materia medicas do not include specific interactions with medications.
- Drug Interaction Checker. There are a few websites that have these. A simple google search will lead you to them. Simply add your medication list plus the herbs you wish to take and it will generate interactions for you. The benefit of this is it also displays pharmaceutical interactions you were possibly unaware of with your medications. The downside is not all natural products and herbs are listed.
Wherever you are in your herbal journey, there is a space for you. Learning a new craft, lifestyle, and/or way of healing can be daunting but also truly rewarding. If you have been on the sidelines waiting with uncertainty; there is no better time than now. It’s your life; choose the direction of healing you want to go and take the step.
By Megan Fuhrman-Wheeler, CCH, CCN, Flower Essence Practitioner
Certified Clinical Herbalist
Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Flower Essence Practitioner
Owner of MEGAN & CO. Herbal Apothecary