As a self-taught herbalist, I know the struggles that come along with learning without guidance. It’s slow going, often stalling at trivial roadblocks that wouldn’t exist if you had a real teacher. These are my tips and tricks for learning alone, along with some great resources I recommend to anyone starting their journey into herbalism. I hope my experiences will help you in your own journey. Maybe you’ll even find it easier to hurdle over those pesky roadblocks! Feel free to bookmark this page and return to it often; I plan on updating this post as I find more useful resources to share!
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Sites for Studying:
- Quizlet is an excellent site for learning vocabulary and memorizing important bits of information. You can use it to study body systems, contraindications, and common remedies associated with a given herb. It’s great for supplementing more in depth study. I recommend looking through pre-existing sets for ease of use, but be sure to fact check all of the information you plan to study ahead of time. Anyone can make a set, for better or for worse. If you have a pre-written list of vocabulary terms you want to upload, you can do so with their “import terms” option. I prefer to do this to ensure the information I am studying is accurate and relevant to my studies!
- If you were in school in the last decade, you are probably familiar with Kahoot. Kahoot is a game-based learning system where you can race against a clock or your peers to learn terms and information. Much like traditional vocabulary cards, you get a term or question and have to answer it. Kahoot makes it more fun, and a tad easier by giving you a set of answers to choose from, and offering points for correct, quick responses. You can create your own kahoots or use pre-existing ones, much like Quizlet. However, just as before, make sure the information you are studying is correct before committing it to memory.
- Pomofocus.io is an online timer that uses the pomodoro technique to help you study more efficiently. The technique, founded by Francesco Cirillo, applies active learning and short breaks to help keep you focused and productive. This technique tends to work best for people who struggle to keep themselves focused for long periods of time. The technique involves studying for 25 minutes and then taking a break for 5 minutes; after four of these cycles, or pomodoros, you should take a 15-30 minute break. You can read more about the pomodoro technique here, or read Cirillo’s book for a truly detailed look into the practice.
- When it comes to recording notes and keeping track of important information, I like to use a cloud storage service like google docs. There are many options for making and storing notes; some large and well-equipped options include Microsoft Word, Google Drive, and Evernote. I like to supplement my note taking with folders, PowerPoints, excel sheets, and more. Being able to organize everything is a huge help. Other sites, such as canva.com, are great for creating more dynamic notes and visual layouts. I like to use canva when I want something to be aesthetically pleasing, and opt to use google docs for simple and easy to read notes.
Full of books, technology, online databases, and more, libraries are the learning centers of our communities. If you’re looking for something specific, it’s worth exploring your library’s website. Whether you’re looking to learn a new language or research herbal remedies, your library most likely has something useful to look into. If you’re unsure about what kind of things your library provides, give them a call or send them an email. Librarians are the educators of all, always eager to share resources and information!
Herbal study groups and foraging groups are few and far between in some areas, but interest in natural medicine has been growing in recent years. Check local groups, colleges, and forums for postings about these kind of meet-ups. If one doesn’t exist, consider beginning a small group at your local library! Learning on your own doesn’t have to be lonely. By forming a group, you can share notes and make connections with local herbalists in your area!
On that note, I’d like to put a spotlight on the herbal medicine group I’m in on Facebook. Right now, in-person meet-ups aren’t ideal for me. Being able to ask questions and grow with other beginner herbalists, even online, has been so helpful and inspiring. The group I’m in, Herbalism for Beginners At Home, is welcoming and full of great discussion. I find it to be an awesome place to ask questions and look for recommendations. Joining a group like this may be a helpful way to get your foot in the door when it comes to herbalism!
Reliable Informational Sites:
- Drugs.com is an excellent resource every herbalist should have bookmarked. It’s a site where you can look up interactions between drugs and herbal supplements. I like to use both the “consumer” and “professional” tabs when checking interactions to get a better understanding of why a certain interaction takes place. I prefer using a site to a book simply due to the fact that the information is consistently updated. Books are wonderful resources, but when it comes to contraindications between drugs and herbs, I opt for an online database.
- The American Herbalists Guild is an organization dedicated to the study of herbalism. They have a membership option with tons of resources and perks, but also provide free webinars and informational guides throughout their site for non members. They have a directory of registered herbalists (herbalists who have gone through their registration process to verify their education) as well! Take a look through their websites for recommendations in reading and more.
- The National Institute of Medical Herbalists is another organization with many excellent practitioners involved! It is one of the main herbal medicine organizations in the UK, and offers similar resources as the American Herbalist Guild.
- When looking for studies and more medical-driven information about herbs, PubMed is a good search tool to make use of. It offers excerpts, links, and full articles. It’s excellent for anyone looking to supplement their education with scientific studies and current research being done. For articles without free copies, I suggest emailing the author(s) and asking if they have a public version available! Often, when their articles are published on sites with paywalls, they are paid little to nothing. The authors I have reached out to have been more than happy to link me to an open page or copy of their article! Just make sure to be polite!
- Mountain Rose Herbs is an herbalist’s one stop shop for herbs, containers, recipes, and more. While they supply physical products, books, and raw herbs, they also provide excellent digital content for free. You can check out their blog here, and check out their yearly free catalog and journal here. They also have a YouTube Channel and a podcast full of awesome information!
- Traditional Medicinals is a brand focused on making quality herbal tea blends and supplements. While I do love their products and mission, I adore their Plant Power Journal! Full of great articles on herbal medicine and using herbs to support your body, it’s a fun place to get interesting articles!
Acclaimed Herbalists and Their Sites:
- Steven Horne is the co-author of The Modern Herbal Dispensatory, an incredible resources for herbalists of all levels. He has a site full of information and tutorials, which you can find here.
- Rosemary Gladstar is another well-loved herbalist with many beloved publications. She hosts webinars, online courses, and of course shares her knowledge through books. You can view some links relevant to her and her practice here.
- Dr. JJ Pursell is a naturopathic doctor, acupuncturist, and herbalist. She has written several well-loved books on herbalism and has a blog detailing holistic practices. You can read her blog, see her books, and more here.
- The American Herbalist Guild has a directory of herbalists registered through their organization. You can look for herbalists specific to your region, tradition, or specialty by looking through this list! They have contact information, websites, and addresses listed to make contacting well-read and experienced herbalists simple. You can find the directory here.
Trusted Schools of Herbal Medicine:
While not an accredited college or university, they provide quality education for a variety of herbalist levels. In the U.S., you cannot become a certified or licensed herbalist; the practice is not regulated or standardized. The American Herbalists Guild has developed a registration process to help practitioners on their way to becoming well-read and experienced. By completing and documenting educational and clinical hours, you can become a registered herbalist with the guild. While not a legal title, it is seen as a good indicator of knowledge and practice in the field.
Below are a few schools I have read about and heard many great testimonials for. Some may be accredited, meaning they count towards earning a degree, but at this time, there is not a required degree or pathway for herbalism. For more information about this, check out The Herbal Academy’s article on herbal certification.
- The Herbal Academy is an online education organization dedicated to providing herbal knowledge through several courses. They offer both short and long-term options, and supplementary courses for more specific interests.
- Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine is an online learning organization providing education on herbalism in a few key courses. There selection is small but all of the courses are packed with valuable information.
- American College of Healthcare Sciences is an accredited college with both online and in-person classes. They have a plethora of options within the natural healthcare sphere, making them a great option for anyone interested in the holistic medical field.
- Mountain Rose Herbs has a great directory of schools and teachers they endorse. I highly recommend you check out their list for a more extensive look at some incredible options!
Great Books for Beginners:
I find most of my books on Amazon and save money by buying used copies! Most books have a section for alternative sellers, used options, and slightly damaged but still very readable copies. I recommend checking there before buying a perfectly pristine copy! I also use Thrift Books and Mercari, which offer a plethora of used books. They don’t always have what I’m looking for, but when they do, I always get a great deal! Heading down to your local library to checkout books is also always an option; and as mentioned before, they might have an online app to use, too!
- The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne is a cornerstone of many herbalists’ practices. It contains information about creating herbal medicines, the best options for each plant, and getting the most from your medicine. With guides on safety, dosage, and common use, it’s an incredible resource to have on hand.
- The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them by Dr. JJ Pursell offers guidance from a naturopathic doctor. Pairing scientific evidence with traditional herbalism, this book makes beginning your journey a little less intimidating.
- Medicinal Herbs for Immune Defense: 104 Trusted Recipes for Fighting Colds, Flus, Fevers, and More by Dr. JJ Pursell makes treating common colds, viruses, and other maladies a simple and easy task. It also contains valuable information about safely using herbs with children.
- Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family is an everyday guide for at-home herbalism. Equipped with nearly 200 recipes, it offers solutions to many common ailments.
- The Complete Herbs Sourcebook by David Hoffman offers common usage, preparation tutorials, and guides on how to use many herbs.
- Botanical Skincare Recipe Book by The Herbal Academy is an excellent place to start when jumping into topical herbal medicine. It details recipes for lotions, infusions, soaks, and more, in an easy-to read and adapt format.
- Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal by Rosalee De La Foret takes herbal medicine and applies it to the food we eat. If you’re more interested in incorporating herbs into your daily diet than just using them during illness, this book is a wonderful place to start learning.
Foraging and Identification Guides:
Foraging for herbs, mushrooms, and their seeds or spores makes herbalism a sustainable hobby. By responsibly foraging in your area, you can stock your apothecary for months at a time. However, when identifying herbs for consumption, it’s important to keep foraging safety in mind. Never touch a plant you cannot positively identify, and avoid foraging in areas where pesticides, exhaust, and herbicides have been sprayed. Never trespass on private land. When foraging native plants, always leave most of the plant available to ensure it can reproduce for years to come. My rule of thumb is to take no more than 10% of a plant or its seeds when harvesting. Invasive plants can and should be harvested whole whenever possible to reduce their impact on native species.
By using an app such as iNaturalist, you can quickly identify wild plants in your area. While not 100% accurate at all times, these apps make identification easier and near-instant in many cases. The added bonus of having a community of naturalists helping to identify your finds makes it well worth a download. Even if you’re unsure of what you’ve photographed, other people in your area may know exactly what you have found.
For general identification of plant families in North America, I recommend getting a copy of Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification by Thomas J. Elpel. It provides an excellent overview of botany and the characteristics of plants for identification. It’s a wonderful primer for anyone new to botany and plant identification living in North America. Peterson has a bunch of great field guides for plant identification, including one I use often: Peterson Field Guide To Medicinal Plants & Herbs Of Eastern & Central N. America by Steven Foster and James A. Duke. I recommend finding a region-specific guide for your area. Typically, you can find a guide by typing in your continent, country, or state followed by “field guide”. Audubon also makes field guides, including one for mushroom foraging: National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.
If you’re interested in learning about native plants, do some research on your ecosystem and regionally native species. I recently picked up a copy of Native Plant of the Southeast by Larry Mellichamp and Will Stuart, which details some native species in my general region. There are also many great resources online. I have found a few great databases by exploring college projects and their open plant databases. For example, while researching passionflower, I came across this page by North Carolina State University, where information about plants that grow in North Carolina can be found.