Earlier this quarter, I was looking through the Recreation guide for interesting classes or workshops to register for and I came across an Herbology class through the Holistic Health Program. I am fascinated by ethnobotany--how different cultures use or have used plants, both medicinally and in general--so this class appealed to me immensely. My family and I have been utilizing holistic medicine (homeopathy, accupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine) since I was a child, so the class appealed to me as something I'm familiar with. I signed up for the three-day class and looked forward to learning about herbology in a more detailed and formal way than I had ever before.
Thursday was the first day of the class, and I took about 15 pages of notes in my small green notebook from 6-9 PM about a bunch of different plants and their uses, the history of herbology, what the difference between food, herbs and pharmaceuticals is, and what questions to ask when identifying or getting to know an herb (Name, Actions, Habitat/Origin, Temperature, Tropism, and Dosage). We sipped delicious, naturally-sweetened tea of licorice and lemon verbena while we learned about the incredible world of herbalism.
A few interesting facts I learned:
- The word "drug" has the root "droga," which means dried plant. Originally, drugs were dried medicinal plants.
- There are five flavors in Chinese traditional medicine, each associated with parts of the body and different actions/types of herbs. They are
* bitter (heart; drains & clears, stimulates digestion),
* sour (liver; astringent)
* sweet (digestive system; soothes, nourishes, tonifies--but not when consumed in excess amounts, as we often do)
* spicy (lungs; moves energy, expands, aromatics, mint)
* salty (kidneys; softens)
-Characteristically "warm" herbs--aromatics like cinammon and cloves--make the body warm. Use of them over time in teas or consumed with food can gradually make a person "warmer." The same is true with "cooler" herbs, like mint. Someone who is cold often or eats cold foods (vegetarians, raw foodists) should avoid "cool" herb teas on a regular basis, and should instead opt for "warmer" herb teas and spices.
The Herbology teacher, Darren Huckle, has a wealth of knowledge about plants and their uses. He has his own herbal medicine practice in town, and can talk for hours about plants. On Thursday evening, his final message was that it's important to always thank the plants we harvest. When a friend gives you a gift, you thank them. The same is true with plants. We must thank them for the gifts they provide--health, good flavors and beauty.
Yesterday, Ari and I collected yerba buena (which we thought was mint) on campus and made tea. It was really tasty, and so easy. The only time I've ever made tea like that was when I made pine needle tea in Twain Harte a few years ago.
This morning was the second day of the class. We arrived at 10 AM, and Darren told us that we were making tinctures. Of three "theme" options for our tinctures, I chose "De-Stress," which included lemon verbena, rosemary, lavender, and skullcap. After choosing our tincture themes, we set off for the UCSC Farm and Garden.
As we walked, Darren pointed out various herbs along the path and in the garden. We stopped to listen to him share their properties and uses, and we always took a small nibble of leaf or flower before going on. Some plants we collected for our tinctures. My pockets were brimming with fennel, lemon verbena, lemon balm, and rosemary. When we came across fruit-bearing trees, we could eat only those that had fallen to the ground. I had my first pineapple guava today and enjoyed a crisp apple as I learned how to tell the difference between hemlock and fennel.
We returned to the little house where the class takes place and began crushing up our plants to make our tinctures. We filled 8 oz masen jars with herbs and then added vodka as a preservative. We used the blender to grind up the herbs better and extract their essences out into the mixture. I ended up adding fennel, lemon balm and sage to the list of herbs Darren had recommended for "De-Stress." I now wait two weeks, strain the tincture, and place it in a dropper bottle for use whenever I feel stressed. The best part is, it's completely natural and safe--and it smells delicious!
We also each got a jar of salve, which has many actions, including protection against infection and healing. It can be applied to burns, cuts, dry skin and rashes. I will probably end up using it mostly as lip balm, but if the need arises, I will definiely use it in other ways. It has a base of olive oil, and it smells really nice.
I have learned so much in these two classes--and I still have one more this Thursday!--and it makes me feel a lot more comfortable with making my own teas or learning about herbs and their uses. One thing I definitely learned is how to learn about these plants: tasting, smelling and visualizing the plants really helps solidify their uses in my memory.
Today, Darren ended class with a message about his view of what medicine is. He said that while medicine is something that benefits the health of an individual, it should also be something that is healthful to the environment. Pharmaceuticals pollute waterways with chemicals and hormones. Herbal medicine, on the other hand, puts only natural substances into the waterways and can be obtained directly from nature, rather than created in a lab with chemicals. In this, of course, is the recognition of the damage herbalists and plant collectors can have when they overharvest a particular plant or a particular area. Darren's message was clear: make decisions that cause the least harm and be conscious of your impacts, both in everyday life, but particular when harvesting those delightful little sprouts of health called herbs.
Thanks for reading.