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Spring means many wonderful things, but it also means (sigh) spring cleaning. One of those jobs that I want to put off and put off, dreading the mess that will ensue before order is restored—even more so now that I have a toddler and must measure out my chores in naptimes (he’s not quite old enough that he can help yet, unless by “help” you mean throwing things at random, stuffing anything-not-nailed-down into his mouth, etc.).

This spring, high on my to-do list is taking inventory, organizing, and relocating my medicinals. I keep a lot of my herbs in tincture form because it has a much longer shelf-life and takes up less space than bulk herbs. Having tinctured here and there since 2008, my medicinals have been kind of crammed in odd spaces as I finished them. Thank goodness I at least had the presence of mind to label them (herb, menstruum, date) so I could figure out what I was finding. I’ve also just begun Aviva Romm’s Herbal Medicine for Women course, so knowing what I have on hand in advance and getting it all in one place will be really helpful as I move through the course material.

After dredging bottles, bags, and boxes out of the bottom of the kitchen pantry, the back of a couple cabinets, and the upstairs closet (I hope I didn’t miss any hiding places!), I gathered all the herbies together, made a list of what they were, how much I had (by volume or weight, as appropriate), and date. I then stowed them all in roughly alphabetical order in one place in the kitchen where they will be kept dry and in the dark—and much more easy to access than their previous hiding places. The inventory list (with room for notes, additions, etc.) will be posted inside the door to the herb cabinet for quick reference.

herbal pantryAs you can see from the picture, my tinctures are stored in various and sundry glass jars. Some are the wonderful flip-top bottles, others in different sizes of canning jars, others in re-used glass juice bottles—a decidedly un-fancy hodge-podge, but whatever works. I fit my few bags of bulk herbs, oils, etc., in where I could. Doubtless I’ll need to find a bigger space for them down the road, but for now, this will suffice. As a special reward for my archeological dig herbal inventory, I unearthed a half-dozen bottles of homemade t’ej in assorted flavors—watermelon, lemon balm, mulberry, apricot, etc. YUM.

What are your spring herbal chores?

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This is a bit of a round-up post, with information about online resources, herbal education, a documentary, and a gardening tip.

First, I need your input. I am in the process of re-vamping the Links page—instead of the short list that you see now, I want to create here a more comprehensive list of online herbal education resources, organized into categories such as blogs, Web sites, courses, webinars, e-newsletters, forums, etc., along with descriptions. If you have favorite resources that you’d like to share, please let me know in the comments section of this post—provide a link as well as a short description.

Second, I finally signed up for Aviva Romm’s Herbal Medicine for Women course! I’m starting this weekend, and I’m absolutely thrilled. I’ve been hankering after this class pretty much since it was first made available (you know I’m a fan), and with all the ever-growing time constraints and competing priorities, I finally decided to stop making excuses and make it happen. I’ve already checked out the student web site and the student forum, and I’m on cloud nine. Doubtless, you will be hearing much more about this along the way.

Third, PBS made a documentary called What Plants Talk About, and it’s available for free viewing on their Web site (I love PBS). It’s about how plants communicate and interact with each other and with the world around them, their natural intelligence—pretty amazing stuff. If you watch it, I’d love to hear what you think.

Lastly, for the gardeners—I learned about this awesome low-tech setup for garden irrigation this week. This is definitely on my future project list. Any favorite gardening shortcuts/tips?

Have a beautiful and blessed weekend! I’ll let you know when I have the Links page up and running…

More and more people are finding themselves drawn to herbalism, whether just for self use, family wellness, to complement another healing modality, or to serve their community. Recently, a reader lit a fire under me to start posting again (Thanks, Jillian!) Interested in pursuing her herbal studies, she quickly discovered that many of the distance learning courses are pretty pricey. There was no easy commute option for a course she could attend in person, either. She wanted to get more of a foundation in general herbal knowledge before picking out a specific area or modality to focus on and make that financial commitment. Sounds familiar.

I tried to offer some basic guidance on choosing a program and a teacher: be aware of how you learn best and what sorts of activities keep you mentally engaged, speak with the teacher beforehand, and definitely ask to speak with someone who has taken (and finished) the course. More on that here.

But it got me thinking—when a person, a potential student, is still trying to figure out what area they want to study, or even if they want to pursue it at all, there are a number of ways you can get some basic education in herbalism without spending any money.

Herbal Reference LibraryThe first: use your local library. I actually have two library cards, so I can really shop around! Libray Web sites now often allow you to check book availability, reserve books, place holds, and even request a transfer of books to your neighborhood branch. Some libraries are also now offering eBooks and audiobooks that you can check out for a couple weeks at a time, also for free. Used bookstores are also great for building an herbal reference library inexpensively.

If you are a social learner, find a study buddy or a group, online or with someone who lives near you. Set goals and challenges together. If you’re like me and don’t have a study group, set challenges for yourself and see them through. For example, I have challenged myself to post at least one piece related to herbalism each weekend. That guarantees that I will make time at least once a week to focus on my interest and stay engaged until schedule and finances allow me to get back to my more formal studies.

There are myriad free online resources in the forms of Web sites, blogs, forums, webinars, and videos. There are also herbalism e-newsletters and mailing lists for which you can sign up. Here are a few of my favorite resources:

  • American Herbalists Guild—offers recordings of past webinars.
  • Aviva Romm’s blog—an herbalist, midwife, and doctor. I would love to take her distance learning course someday…
  • LearningHerbs.com—some free and some paid courses, plus free lessons/e-newsletters that include some material medica, recipes, tips, and seasonal information.
  • YouTube—I ran a search on “herbalism” and was impressed with how many educational videos were available.
  • Susun Weed’s Web site—free online learning resources, tons of articles on a wide range of topics.
  • TED—if you haven’t yet discovered TED talks, this is your lucky day. Short presentations on every subject imaginable—even a few on herbalism, ayurveda, natural health, etc.—they’re always adding new material, so it’s worth checking occasionally.

There are also a number of free online resources for anatomy and physiology—I’ve seen some good ones on YouTube and on the Khan Academy Web site.

Those are just a few of my favorites. I’d love to add a few more to the list—what are some of your favorite resources?  What’s worked best for you in pursuing your herbalism education? What’s been your biggest challenge? Have you taken a formal study course that really worked for you?

The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Jill Romm

There are several books I’ve been meaning to review on this blog, but I’m only just now getting around to it. I have so many herbalism resource books that I adore—the pages full of fingerprints, hand-written notes, earmarks, bookmarks. But they are wonderful reference books—not as apt to be read, shall we say, recreationally? For excellent herbal resource texts (as well as some durn fine reads), I’ll refer you to the bibliography.

The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Jill Romm is exceptional. It is the book that happily fills the gap between What to Expect When You’re Expecting and the work of Ina May Gaskin. Romm’s writing is at once warm and practical, providing an appropriate blend of succinct information on the experience of pregnancy balanced with a buoying tone of empathy and sisterly sharing. A midwife and herbalist herself, Aviva Romm also encourages women and their partners to take ownership of their journey, educating themselves about the various options and decisions of which they may not even be aware.

As you can see from the picture, my copy is filled with tabs marking wonderful herbal therapies and preparations, but this is not just a book for herbalists. This may be one of my favorite aspects of the book. Many women feel great creative urges when pregnant, and the self-care tips and the herbal preparations and the myriad suggestions for connecting and being present throughout the journey of pregnancy, all of these provide a welcome outlet to the mother and her partner. They are intended for use by pregnant women, any pregnant woman, as one more sacrament for nourishing and building connection.

The explanations of symptoms, the different trimesters, the birth process, and issues that may arise, are all described with candor, but do not bludgeon nor (pardon the pun) belabor the point—there is no fearmongering here. Issues such as miscarriage and breech birth, as well as morning sickness or swollen feet, are dealt with in such a manner that the woman has knowledge to be aware of herself and the power to chart her own course. It is not harped on till it terrifies her, as some pregnancy books seem to do.

The great message of The Natural Pregnancy Book is to impart such knowledge and resources and encouragement to the woman or the couple to take it into their own hands, make their own path, and be involved; that pregnancy isn’t just something that happens to you—it is something you participate in.

I’ve recently been spending some time brushing up on my knowledge of the female cycle. It’s an area of herbalism that I’m particularly drawn to, as a woman, but also because it’s one of nature’s great orchestrations, like the movements of a concerto, each with its own nuances, yet flowing together, woven into a cohesive, exquisite whole. As with a concerto, one group of musicians will deliver the notes and the rhythms slightly differently from another, placing stronger stresses on this or that passage, drawing out those bars a little longer. And it’s a miracle! Our bodies go through this amazing cycle each month, all so we can conceive and bring life into the world. It’s mundane, yes, and some find the topic embarrassing… I find it stunning.

And somewhat hilarious. A friend of mine recently commented to me that we spend so much of our lives trying not to get pregnant, but once we decide we want to, it’s suddenly so… complicated.

And that’s the thing. Most OB-Gyns just say if you want to get pregnant, count from the first day of your period, and have sex on day 14 and every other day for the next week. The flaw with this rule is that it is a rule—no two women are alike, and so no two women’s cycles are alike. The most empowering thing for a woman or a couple trying to conceive is to learn and celebrate the nuances of her individual cycle, the dominant themes and recurring melodies.

So I’ve been reading articles on foods to eat, substances to avoid (sugar, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, *ahem*), ways to maximize fertility. And my friend Pamela sent me a link to FertilityFriend.com—brilliant! The site offers a free online course on understanding and charting your own cycle (which is really interesting even if you aren’t trying to conceive), support communities, amazingly comprehensive FAQs, story sharing, and cycle calendars (and yes, there’s an app for that) that allow you to graph or predict different dates in your cycle, enter all kinds of data, overlay graphs for multiple cycle to view trends, the list goes on and on. And yes, I tend to geek out on this sort of thing. I find it exciting and empowering, at age 31, to be getting to know my body and my cycle so well.

Gilbert Chesterton said, “A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition.” I have a hunch he may have meant this to be a less-than-generous statement, and yet I take it as a compliment. I’m 31 and just figuring it out—it’s generally been a taboo topic, I guess, or at least not one commonly discussed among my female friends and family—and I’m finding it a joyful experience! Wendell Berry spoke of not having a TV or computer because he found all those voices, all that noise, interfered with his ability to hear his own voice, and it can get pretty noisy in this world of ours.

A great gift we can give ourselves: to pay attention, take note, listen, and learn from what our body, our one-of-a-kind, magical, perfectly imperfect body, has been wanting to tell us all along.

(As an aside, please forgive my exuberance: it’s spring. LAAAAAA!!!)



I love tincturing. I thoroughly enjoy blending teas. But by far my favorite way to take (and make) my herbal medicines is in the form of food. If you’ve ever visited my other blog, The Purple House, you know that my better half and I are more than slightly food-obsessed—we both love to cook, we love to cook together (the fact that I happily share kitchen space with this man speaks volumes), we love discovering new foods, and we love knowing where our food comes from, having a relationship with our local farmers and raising a lot of our food here at home.

This morning I was turned on to a wonderful upcoming online course on Culinary Herbalism from LearningHerbs.com, and I am so excited to participate! I am constantly looking for more new ways to eat my medicinals. They’ve got one video already online, about 18 minutes long, and if it is any indicator, this online course is going to be great! If you’re interested, visit the Culinary Herbs site and sign up to receive e-mail notifications about the course and other learning opportunities. Once you’ve registered, you’ll be able to view the first video, featuring an herbal meal prepared by K.P. Khalsa, President of the American Herbalists Guild. Damon and I prepared the greens recipe from this video tonight—we had a TON of collards, kale, spinach, and mustard from our garden and our co-op.

LearningHerbs.com also has several free publications, videos, and online courses. I haven’t checked these out yet, but I plan on doing so very soon.

Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs for free and affordable herbal education? Please feel free to share them in the comments…  And have a beautiful day!

I recently was impressed by some posts I stumbled across—a series of posts from Methow Valley Herbs blog on anatomy and physiology topics—specifically the immune system, lymphatic system, urinary tract, respiratory system, and digestion. There are of course a number of books on A&P from the herbalist perspective, but a search did not yield much online. I did find this post from Rowan Remedies on the musculoskeletal system, as well.

Do you have any favorite online resources?

As an aside, yes it’s been a while. My excuses are (in no particular order) busy-ness, wedding planning (are we there yet?), and home-work. I hereby resolve to get back with the program, but it may be after the wedding (in May) before I’m back on my regular weekly posts.

In the meantime, I’m doing a lot of reading (currently reading Eliot Cowan’s Plant Spirit Medicine) and keeping a list of future topics. Any suggestions for good herbal reading material or requests for future topics?

I was fortunate enough earlier this month to meet Sharon Astyk at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello and attend her lecture “A Nation of Farmers,” an exploration of the current state of energy and food, how the two are connected, and what this means for our future. I can’t say enough good things about Astyk’s writing—that’s me on the left in the photo, valiantly trying not to stammer in my excitement—but suffice to say, if you have any interest in self-sustaining practices at home, you should look her up.

Sharon Astyk at Heritage Harvest Festival, Monticello. Photo by Mary Delicate

Pertinent to the subject matter of this learning blog, however, Astyk recently wrote a couple posts on her favorite herbalism books. Her second post I found particularly interesting, as it addresses the issue of scientific versus intuitive herbalism. In choosing my herbalism teacher and in continuing to study at home on my own, it was always important to me to ensure I was receiving a balance of the two.

Is there a right or wrong approach to herbalism? Well, we all have our opinions, but there are practitioners on both ends of the spectrum for whom I have immense respect. What these practitioners do is powerful largely due to the fact that they are following and using their own strengths and inclinations. So Rosemary Gladstar, Christopher Hobbs, Susun Weed, Jim Duke, etc., all sit at different points along this scientific/intuitive spectrum, and we can learn from all of them.

But for self-study and home herbal practice? We don’t need to be any of these fine people. We must find our own strengths, our own voice. Education isn’t necessarily the same as emulation. We can choose which tools to keep for our own toolbox.

And without further ado, click here to read Sharon Astyk’s thought-provoking blog on the subject.

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