No matter where you are in your herbal journey if you don’t have a dedicated notebook to document the journey, get one now! Without a dedicated note book you will set yourself back time and time again. The notebook, different from materia medica, is not only my favorite tool but my most important tool.
As I moved from creating remedies that sat on my shelf to actually applying them in my life I came to the realization my mind was not powerful enough to remember it all.. I know hard to believe right? Then came the harsh truth that I could not recreate my recipes from memory...again hard to believe right?
After these realizations, I swallowed my pride and grabbed my favorite thing in the world...pen and paper. Just so you know, I'm a bit obsessed with fresh crisp notebooks and smooth, thin marking pens. Oh and lists...I truly have a list problem. The bright side of this realization, I had an excuse to buy a beautiful, high quality notebook and some new pens.
Maybe it's the nurse in me that loves documentation but I find it so helpful and important. Even if you are only using your creations on yourself and your family, this notebook is important. If you are only creating skin care creations, this too is important to document. Let's be honest, very rarely does one create beauty creations just because, often they are looking for a result of less wrinkles, tighter skin etc.. These are things you should document.
Why a notebook is so important
Having a notebook is so very important. My notebook is my herbal brain. Without it I would not be able to recreate the recipes that work or change up the recipes that don't work. Many of the recipes in my book began as someone else's and over time have transformed into mine.
It is also a clear space to create my own recipes. As I became more comfortable with herbs and their properties I was able to get creative with my own recipes. Once you get a feel for certain concoctions, such as how to make a basic salve, and a feel for what certain herbs are good for, you can learn to mix your own recipes. It's all experimental in the beginning and you won't know what works well until you try it. You also won't know why it works if you don't track your process of making and using your own creations.
This notebook is not just for recipes, it is for tracking your results.
I suppose I could have separate notebooks, a recipe book and a results book, but I like having them all in one book. As you use your creations you need to document how well they work. Documentation is key to knowing what works and what doesn't. The devil is in the details, so it is important to have this notebook and document well the use of the remedies. When you have good documentation you can revisit a remedy or an ailment and how it all worked together.
This notebook doesn't have to be anything too complex but don't underestimate the power of forgetfulness. I've written shorthand and quick notes before and later thought "what on earth does this mean?"
How I set up my notebook.
My first note book was a mess and I couldn't stand it. That's where the pretty notebook came in. The new notebook was separated into four sections.
Recipes and notes
With my new notebook, I gave each recipe it's own page with the rest of the page and a second page for notes. I usually make recipes more than once so leaving space to jot notes each time I made a new batch was important to me. Maybe someday I'll need more than two pages for notes but for now this is enough. I don't always write a large amount of notes for each batch, just a few things I really want to remember.
This is where I keep track of poultices and teas. Sometimes it seems a bit redundant, a combination of recipes and results. It is a good space to have though. Because poultices and basic teas don't really warrant a recipe, I keep track of gathered information instead of recipes here. If I read something pertaining to these that I don't want to forget I jot it in this section. If there's a time where I quickly use one of the remedies, I'll make a quick note about it here rather than going deep into the results documentation.
This is my mini materia medica. I hope to someday really create a deep materia medica for multiple herbs but for now this is what I use. It includes a handful of herbs that I use often or want to highlight. This section is always growing.
The first one in the book is plantain. The information on plantain is transferred from my old notebook. I write the highlights of the herb in this area. I'm really not an artist so I don't draw a picture of the herbs but maybe I should try some day. I write the properties of the herb, ailments that it is recommended for, where I've seen it locally. I also mark parts used, when to harvest it, and in what form to use it. Pretty much whatever I feel is important at the time, leaving space for notes later on down the road as I learn more about the herb.
This is where I keep track of how well the remedies work. I keep track of how they are used and who they are used on. This is a great reference point for me. Plus I always get so excited to write notes on how a creation is working. It's magical to me. Keep reading for more specifics on what I write in this portion of the book.
How to use the notebook
So let’s get more specific on how a notebook like this should be used. Now remember these are just guidelines. I’m never perfect on all of these but I often regret the things I choose not to document.
This is pretty basic but very important. If the recipe you look to for direction uses 1 part this and 2 parts that, but you use 1/2 cup this 1 cup that, write down your actual amounts. Count your drops of essential oils, the amount of vitamin E oil you put in etc., be specific.
You also need to note the quality and form of the herb or oil you use. Is it fresh or dry? Did you infuse the oil with fresh or dry herbs? If you want to get very specific (and this can be helpful but I fail at it often) note the type of weather on the day you harvested the herb. You can also note the time of day and what the season has been like, had it rained recently, was it a dry summer etc.
If you are not harvesting your own herbs make sure and note the supplier of your herbs. Also note the supplier of your essential oil if you'd like. Also note whether you used solid or liquid coconut oil. Refined or unrefined butters. Pastilles or block beeswax.
I keep these notes in the space under my recipes by placing the date I made the recipe and the conditions after that.
Maybe this seems a bit much for you and you can really keep track of whatever you want. In my experience this is important stuff. When I first started using essential oils I did not use quality oils. I could tell the difference in my remedies but it took me a while to narrow down the reason. Same with how and when I harvest my herbs. If I had kept better track in the beginning I would have saved so much time!
When I am documenting the results of a remedy or concoction there are a few things I try to cover.
The person I used the remedy on and the state of there being at the time. This means are they pretty healthy, were they suffering from other issues at the time, etc..
The details of the ailment. Where it was located, internal, external? How long had it been going on? What were the symptoms, itchy, red, dry etc.?
What had the person tried prior, what was the person doing for it as we tested the remedy?
What remedy did I use? What version of the recipe did I use? For me, version is the date I made it. The notes I took about that cook day can tell me why this remedy may have worked or not worked well.
How often and how much was used?
How did it work? Did it give relief? Did it clear something up? How long did it take?
You don't have to answer all of these questions but it is helpful to get as many as you can down. I always forget something myself. This is not about perfection, it is about doing the best you can to record what works and what does not. The more you document, the more patterns you’ll notice, and the more you will learn.
A note on this process
There is a much deeper process that goes into healing chronic issues. This is more focused on acute, or sudden simple things such as bites, burns and rashes. Keep in mind, many topical issues can stem from lifestyle. Eczema can be soothed by salves and infusions but to truly eliminate the issue you must go deeper into the lifestyle, same with arthritis. Salves can help with arthritis but the actual cause is much deeper.
Unless you are like me, looking for an excuse to buy an awesome note book, any old notebook will do just fine. You can use flags to mark the sections of the book or not. This is your book, set it up how you like. Make it four different books if you'd like. Go with what you feel! But write it down. You won't regret it, in fact you will regret it if you don't!
I hope this was helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. I know this was a lot of information but run with it, write it down...Go make your notebook!