Ironically enough, I didn’t really give much in the way of thought to what I would write in answer to this month’s herbal blog party, a topic that I myself set (foolish me!) of personal herbalism.
I suppose first off, I need to look back at just how on earth I got into this obsession, about 17 years ago now (cripes, I hadn’t realised it was that long!) I did the typical 13 year old thing of wanting a garden, and was given the care of a small, round plot with a sundial in the middle. In this small plot was a well grown clump of golden lemon balm, a thyme plant, and a sage plant. Oh, and I was pointed in the direction of Culpeper’s Herbal by my very obliging mother, who probably didn’t realise quite what she was starting! That was pretty much it. Within four years of then, I had bookshelves crammed with second hand herb books, over 40 herbs shoehorned into a herb bed that was increasingly too small for the sheer volume of plants, and a thirst for learning as much as I could about wildflowers and herbs and how to use them. Now, quite some time later, I’m a practicing medical herbalist, but that, for me, is only a very small piece of what it means to me to be a herbalist.
For me, it began with the plants, and it always returns to the plants. I go for a walk anywhere, whether its in the countryside or in the city, and a part of me is looking for my friends and neighbours, naming herbs, peering at them, greeting them, taking more and more photographs of them, imagining stories about them… even writing poetry about them! I need contact with the plants to keep me sane and functioning. The plants are my friends, whether growing wild or cultivated, and I crave regular contact with them. I make medicines, grow, gather, dry and store my own herbs, experiment with plant based dyes, herbal and wild brewing, cooking, concocting, preserving… you name it, I’ve probably had a go at it somewhere along the line. Something I both love and am frustrated by at times is just how much there is still to know! The more I learn, the more I become aware that I need to look back at the eclectic herbalists, to read and learn and revisit what they knew. And the older I get, the greater the thirst to learn becomes!
One of the most delightful aspects of herbalism, for me, is how evocative it all is. Herbs and plants stimulate the imagination. By being around herbs, I feel like the whole, real and authentic self that the human world rarely sees – but the plants see it, and they like it. The herbs are my mothers and fathers, my siblings, and my children, and that link will never be broken.