Are you interested in plants and their benefits to us? As you begin to pursue this adventure, you will quickly become overwhelmed with the vast amount of information available. The Herbal Academy recommends studying one plant at a time. This will allow you to delve deeply into its mysteries and develop a greater appreciation for the plant.
One of their favorite ways to keep the spark of excitement for herbal studies is by working on a materia medica. In support of this process they have created an Herbal Materia Medica course to guide you in creating your own materia medica.
Materia medica is a Latin term meaning “healing materials.” With plants, this is a body of knowledge describing how plants have been used therapeutically. Throughout most of human existence, plants have been virtually all that was available to healers and those who wanted to be healed. This is still true outside the developed world. Records over the centuries show that herbalists have been using many of the same plants for the simple reason that those remedies work.
In depth studies of historical and modern writings allow the student an opportunity to tease out the links between them. Such detailed studies are referred to as monographs. They should be a compilation of not only historical and current research by others but also your own observations and experiences with a plant. The goal is to develop a well-rounded understanding of a given herb. Keeping your own records will give you a reference source to which you will return again and again.
To begin your materia medica, set up a dedicated notebook where you can consolidate the information you collect. Then choose herbs that you would like to know more about. Choose 5 herbs that relate to a specific theme, like 5 herbs for a body system (respiratory, cardiovascular, urinary, etc.), 5 herbs for a body imbalance, or 5 herbs which grow local to you. Select herbs that grow in your garden or wild so you will be able to spend time observing them in their habitat.
Once you have made your herbal selection, get some. Having the ability to grow your own or know where some grow in the wild will give you an advantage. Correct identification is critical to your safety when working with herbs. Select some reference books to use “in the field” as well as some online resources. Then it’s time to start gathering information.
Information to add includes: Botanical name which consists of an internationally recognized name consisting of two parts in a Latin name: genus and species. for example, Salvia officinalis; Common name; Family name (organized by similar characteristics); Traditional Chinese Medical and/or Ayurvedic (whole-body healing system developed more than 3,000 years ago in India) name.
From there, learn about the plant’s history, native range, geographic distribution as well as the botanical description used to identify it in field guides or gardening books. This information will help bring the ingredients in that dried tea bag to life. Next, which parts of the plant are used? What chemicals does it contain? What influences does it have on the human body? How is it used to support health? Then it will be time to get to know the plant by making some preparations and sampling them. Be sure to follow preparation recommendations in the literature.
Billie Nicholson, Editor