If you are just beginning to use herbal plants and you happen to have a giant list of herbs to purchase in your pocket book, (Like my first list.) And you can’t wait to cross that list off and plant all those plants in your backyard, this post is for you!
This post will save you precious time and money. It may also save a plant or two.
In a previous post I talked about how I started my first herb garden. It was insane! I spent too much money and too much time hunting down any herb I could find. I learned a lot from that first year planning my garden. In fact, every year I learn a little more about what works in my garden and what does not. Today I want to share with you what I’ve learned about picking herbs for my garden. I hope it helps you to avoid my beginner mistakes.
One Herb at a Time.
When starting your herbal journey, start with one herbal plant at a time. (If you are broke, make it an herb that is already in your backyard.)
I remember hearing this advice and thinking, but there are so many herbs out there. If I just pick one at a time, I’ll never learn them all! Years later I’ve realized that one at a time does not mean one a season, or one a year. It just means one at a time. It means taking the time to gather a well rounded knowledge about the herb you are working with. I've also learned I'll never learn them all and that's ok. It always happens that I find just the right herb, right when I need it.
Learning one herb at a time does not mean you have to read every book or article written on the plant. It does mean gather knowledge from many different (trusted) sources and from your own experiences. This way you’ll build a relationship and a base knowledge with each herbal plant you work with. When you have proper knowledge and some personal experience with an herb, it tends to come to mind right when you need it.
ASK YOURSELF SOME QUESTIONS.
Here are some questions to ask as you pick out your first herbal plants to study.
Are you familiar with any herbs already?
You’ll realize when you start looking through books how many plants and seasonings you use on a regular bases can actually be used in herbal health.
Do you already have one of these herbs growing in your garden?
Many decorative flowers in gardens area actually herbs.
Can you find any of these herbs in your own backyard?
A lot of the plants growing in your yard, that you refer to as weeds, are actually wonderful herbs!
Do you already know a little about one of these herbs?
You may have some experience using an herb or two. Maybe this is where you would like to start.
Have you already used a certain herb before?
Did you buy a wonderful salve at a farmer’s market. Or drink a lovely tea that you would like to recreate from your own garden?
Is there one herb that just really interests you?
Have you heard a lot about an herb that makes you want to study it deeper?
If you chose to use this herb for a concoction what part would you use? The leaves, the flowers, the roots?
Harvesting leaves and flowers is the easiest way to start. Roots can take a bit more time and skill.
What is this herb used for? What are it’s properties?
Do you always run into problems with skin issues. Does cold and flu season hit your family hard? What plants may aid in situations you run into often?
When I was thinking about getting pregnant early on in my studies, there were a lot of herbs that I thought I would use! As I studied, I decided to avoid using certain herbs without someone with more knowledge to guide me.
These are things you need to think about when choosing to use an herb. It is also why learning about the herbs you are using is very important. While many herbs are more helpful than harmful, using them correctly is important.
FIND A GOOD BOOK.
To begin, find yourself a good book to use as a resource. (A few of the books you'll find on my bookshelf)
If, as you’re flipping through the book you’ve chosen, you decide you couldn’t possibly just pick one herb to study, that is okay. This will most likely happen. But I wouldn’t recommend choosing more than 3-5 plants to study when you start out.
Many of the books you will look at will have recipes containing many different herbs. Don't let this overwhelm you!
You may not have access to all of these right away. Most herbs work wonderfully on their own. I have found when starting to study an herb, it is best to use it alone in my creations. This way I can get to know that herb all by itself before I go mixing it with others.
A FEW HERBS TO START WITH.
Here are a few plants that I wish I would have started with.
Plantain, Plantago major.
This is a very simple herb to use! It is readily available in my experience. You have probably walked over it many times. It is easy to harvest and easy to use! It also has many beneficial herbal properties. I won’t go in to them here but you’ll hear a lot about this wonder herb on my site!
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale.
I’m sure you’ve heard of this one, you may even know that it has many uses. Or maybe you don’t. It’s a good one to check out. You can use many parts of this plant. It has may beneficial herbal properties. It is easy to harvest and easy to use!
Calendula officinalis, Common name is Pot Marigold.
Don’t confuse this one with Tagetes spp. marigold. Meaning there are the many marigolds you find at your garden shop but unless it has the botanical name Calendula officinalis, it is not the marigold you want to use. This is a wonderful garden herb, I’ve had trouble finding it in plant form to purchase so see if you can find seeds, if you have this problem. Once you have it on hand, it is amazing! It is easy to harvest and has many wonderful beneficial properties. It’s a beautiful plant to study!
Lavender, Lavendula spp.
This plant is a beauty! It grows wonderfully in a garden and the wonderful smell alone is a good excuse to study it! Super fun herb to make an oil out of! Many beneficial properties and very easy to harvest and use.
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium.
This herb has a special place in my heart! It was the first herb I learned, it was the first herb I wildcrafted (picked out of nature.) If you choose to study this herb, study closely it’s features. It does have a poisonous look alike but once you discover what this plant looks like and smells like you’ll never forget it. I like the smell, some don’t. Once you know how to identify it you will be able to find it everywhere once it’s in season. It can be used in many ways and is easy to harvest!
A few side notes on gathering herbs.
- Don’t gather herbs from the side of the road. They may have been sprayed, the most certainly have been affected by the toxins that cars throw up as they drive by.
- When picking from a pasture make sure it has not been sprayed or treated.
- When picking from your garden, be aware of the animals that may have visited your herb garden, such as cats!
- Also don’t ever pick more than you can use.
- Respect the plants.
So now if you’ve narrowed down your chosen plants to under five, here’s what to do next.
Get yourself a notebook and dedicate it to your herb garden and herb studies.
Dive In! Write it down!
Take that one plant that you have picked and dive in. Read all about it. Write about it. Observe it from root to flower, from early spring to late fall. Feel it, is it soft, does it sting, is it smooth? Smell it, is it sweet, does it have a scent? Does it smell different if you squish it through your fingers? Taste it (if it is safe to taste,) is it sweet, is it bitter? Learn all you can about this herbal plant in it’s own environment.
Take the time to learn if it is an endangered plant? Are there other plants out there that look similar that could be poisonous? Discover what parts of the plant are used in creating your herbal concoctions. Get an idea of what herbal concoctions you would like to make with the plant. Make some notes on what you would need to create your chosen concoction. Think about what you would use this creation for. It’s good to have a plan before you create your concoction. You waste a lot less if you have a plan.
If in your herb studies you stumble upon an herb you’d like to learn more about, put it in your notebook, with a note about why this herb has struck interest in you and revisit it when you have more time.
This note book will be of so much use to you but I will cover that in a later post.
As you learn about your herbs you’ll start to read about how to make many herbal remedies. We’ll be going into how I make my herbal creations more on this blog so stay tuned.
If you are just starting out I really do recommend learning about the plant itself before you jump into all the creations and concoctions you can make with them. This helps you to know what remedies you should and should not make with your plants. I made tinctures and oils and salves out of every plant I could. I found out later that I wasted a lot of herbs and ingredients on concoctions that I could not find a good use for.
So to sum it up
One medicinal herb at a time will get you farther, faster. I know it may not seem like it at first but you will save yourself a lot of time and money of you really take the time to pick your beginning herbs wisely. You’ll also have a lot less sad, forgotten plants in your herb garden.