There is a much-needed renaissance of herbalism going on around the world. Why not take part in it?! According to the World Health Organization, “75% of the world's populations are using herbs for basic healthcare needs.” Using herbs as medicine is far from new. There is much archeological evidence showing medicinal plants were used during the Paleolithic age approximately 60,000 years ago, for the treatment of a plethora of illnesses and conditions. Sumerians compiled lists of plants and herbs on stone tablets over 5000 years ago. When Otzi the Ice Man (who lived between 3350 and 3105 BC) was found melting out of a glacier in 1991, there was evidence that he had ingested a medicinal herb called hop hornbeam shortly before his death, possibly to help his indigestion. He also had a herbal medicine bag with him containing fungi that was likely used for medicinal purposes. The Greek Physician Dioscorides (AD 40–90), wrote his De Materia Medica, a five-volume work, between 50 and 70 CE, which was used for medical and botany knowledge for over 1500 years in both the East and the West. An extensive catalog of spices and herbs, these writings were based on systematic review, unlike previous writings and beliefs which were based largely on superstition or “magic”. An “herb”, as defined by Miriam Webster, is 1 botany : a seed-producing annual, biennial, or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season. 2: a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities. “Herbalism” is the study or practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants. Medicinal properties derived from plants can come from many different parts of a plant including leaves, roots, bark, fruit, seeds, and flowers. Many pharmaceutical drugs are derived directly from herbs found in nature. I believe the best way to get to know herbs, is to grow them. If you are able, and have space, some sunlight, some shade, and access to water, you can grow a vast number of culinary and/or medicinal herbs. You get to observe the plant at every stage of growth, from seed to harvest. And, you get to cook with or make medicine from your own garden. (How fun is that?) Medicinal herbs are much more than their healing properties. They are like a helpful friend, a patient teacher. Growing plants in general, is a uniquely healing experience and is nurturing to the mind, spirit and soul. It also introduces you to other like-minded folks, who love nothing more than to discuss herbs, share seeds, plants and homemade recipes and remedies! Your local nursery can get you started, and there are plenty of herbal sites online where you can purchase seeds or plants that your nursery might not have. (strictlymedicinalseeds.com has organic seeds, root stock, and all kinds of plants; crimsonsage.com also has organic herbs and plants; thegrowers-exchange.com has chemical free, non-gmo medicinal, native, culinary, & aromatic herbs; mountainvalleygrowers.com offers all organic; and onegreenworld.com has a variety of rare and uncommon plants; nativewildflowers.net (native plants)…to name just a few. In the spring, your local Farmers Market will usually have plant/herb starts.) Start with the simple but multi-use herbs. Chamomile, plantain, comfrey, calendula, hyssop, lavender, yarrow, echinacea, peppermint, mullein, holy basil, and thyme & oregano (yes, culinary herbs are also used medicinally), are all easy to grow. With just those herbs you can make effective healing salves, herbal teas, poultices, infused oils, vinegars, tinctures, and more. I once read that the difference between culinary and medicinal herbs, was the amount one uses… so true. Oregano, thyme, cardamom, fennel, and so many others are all beneficial medicinal allies. If you don’t have space or time for a small garden, then start in by taking a few classes and learn to make your own products using organic dried herbs that are easily found at your local herb shop, health food store, or online. (mountainroseherbs.com; starwest-botanicals.com; pacificbotanicals.com; oshalafarm.com, are just a few trusted sites. Be careful buying herbs online, as not all sellers have true organic, or high quality herbs.) Another place to start is with beginner’s herb books. I first studied with herbalist and educator Rosemary Gladstar over forty years ago (1981). Back then, there were not many herb books available. "Back to Eden" by Jethro Kloss; "Herbs & Things" by Jeanne Rose; Dr. John Christopher’s "School of Natural Healing"; and the earlier books, "The Modern Herbal" by Maude Grieve; "The Herbalist" by Joseph Meyer, Nicholas Culpepper’s "Complete Herbal", and later, Juliette De Baïracli Levy’s "Natures Children", Jeannine Parvati’s "Prenatal Yoga & Natural Childbirth", and "Hygieia: A Woman's Herbal", and a handful of others. Herbalists were just starting to write books. Rosemary has perhaps done more than any herbalist to bring forth the interest in herbs in North America. She is a most inspiring, knowledgeable, and trusted herbalist who I recommend every chance I get. Among the many books available today, for the beginner, I recommend" Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide;" "Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health"; and "Herbs for the Home Medicine Chest", all written by Rosemary Gladstar. Other suggestions include "Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine"; and "Alchemy of Herbs", both by Rosalee De La Foret and Emily Han; Michael Tierra’s "The Way Of Herbs"; "A Medicine-Making Guide" by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne; and "Herbs for Health & Healing" by Kathi Keville. (Kathi Keville has numerous excellent aromatherapy books as well.) There are so many extraordinary herbalist authors today, you have a plethora to choose from -- Christopher Hobbs, Matthew Wood, Michael Moore, Jim McDonald…the list goes on. Many offer online or in-person educational opportunities. The fact is, we all experience minor health issues now and then, and herbs could be so helpful. From colds and flu, to joint pains, headaches, muscular aches and pains, cuts and scrapes, anxiety, stress, digestive issues, nausea, skin irritations/conditions, and the list goes on! There is no better time than now to take as much of your health care into your own hands as possible. Of course, there is a time for a visit to the doctor, as serious illnesses need a good diagnosis and injuries need immediate attention. You won’t find me setting my own broken bones! Herbs are nature’s timeless treasures and for too long, in modern times, they were hidden from the public and/or ignored by the mainstream health practitioners...but that is changing. There are an increasing number of doctors practicing complimentary medicine, or at least being open to herbal possibilities. Scientific studies are partially responsible for this, although most study results are the property of those paying for them, and many are not available to the public. Explore the vast world of herbs, especially in your own backyard if possible! Working with herbs, you’ll likely be walking the path of a distant grandmother, or other relatives! Learn about them. Make them your allies. Read books. Take classes. Share your experiences with others. I promise, you will not regret it. ... “There are no worthless herbs, only the lack of knowledge”. --Avicenna