I love wildcrafting. I’ve shared some of the local medicinal plant information here before. (See Natural Healing) However, I’m extremely limited in what I wildcraft. So as not to poison anyone (especially myself) I have only made concoctions from plants that I can positively identify. Then I go further and double check my identification with locals. And I triple check any possible uses and side effects via med pub. Then, and only then, do I make something from these wild plants.
So when Herbal Academy said they had a new class specifically about wildcrafting, I was so excited! I signed up a full month ahead of time so that I would be able to start the very first day the course was available. Let me tell you, Botany and Wildcrafting was an amazing course! I learned so much!
I was a little concerned before the course that there wouldn’t be much information I could use since Herbal Academy is found in the northeastern US and well, I’m not. Delightfully, that wasn’t the case at all. The course was divided into 3 units and each unit was jam-packed with useful tidbits.
The first section focused on plants as living beings, highlighting the many ways plants reproduce and examining how each plant is an essential part of the larger ecological system. While I was already familiar with the basics, there was so much I didn’t know.
Since I’m in a completely foreign ecosystem, not at all like the quiet river valley I grew up in, plant identification here is frustrating to me. The second section of the course walked me through plant identification methods, plant morphology, taxonomy and using a dichotomous key. Since I obviously won’t be at my computer doing any identifying, the printouts were a wonderful tool to use on my explorations! I don’t have a field guide specifically for Mexico, mostly because there isn’t one, but I have ordered a book about Mexican-American herbal remedies that I hope will aid in my local plant wildcrafting. Herbal Academy offers an illustrated botanical workbook to complement the course, but as the majority of the plants included aren’t found in my area, I opted not to purchase it. It is lovely though.
The final section covered ethical and sustainable wildcrafting, drying herbs, and making tinctures, decoctions, and poultices. I had to think about the sustainable wildcrafting section and my role as wildcrafter for a bit. Up until now, I was the live and let live wildcrafting variety. My collections weren’t pressed flowers but pictures (which you can see on Instagram). But now, as the steward of the earth that I envision myself becoming, I believe it’s time to become more proactive in my defense of the wild plants in La Yacata. As a case in point, when we first moved here, the upper area was covered in rainy season wildflowers. Then came the chicken feather guy and the entire section has been utterly devastated ecologically. I could just kick myself for not gathering at least a few of the bulbs and transplanting them in a more protected area (like my backyard). No more! If that makes me the crazy plant lady wandering around La Yacata, floppy garden hat on my head and trowel in my hand, well, so be it! I am on a mission!
Hopefully, with these plant identification skills I’ve learned in the course, I’ll have some new natural remedies to share in the very near future.
Herbal Academy just created yet another wonderful online course that I completed this month, earning me yet another little badge for my student dashboard. I’m so proud of me! This course was entitled Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management and had tons of useful information on the topic.
Stress is something we all experience at one time or another, for short periods of time (work deadlines) or longer periods of time (being a caretaker for a chronically ill loved one). This course emphasized the importance of holistic care in treating the whole body and mind and, in this case, using herbs in order to become well after being subjected to periods of stress. Can you see why I loved this class?
The course was divided into 3 units. Unit 1 presented information about how stress affects the body both physically and emotionally. Financial problems, time constraints, social interactions, cultural stressors (poverty, oppression, marginalization), natural disasters, traumatic events, excessive screen time, air, noise or light pollution, and infections are all stressors and activate that “flight or fight” survival mode. Being in a stressful “flight or fight” mode changes the rhythm of your heartbeat, inhibits proper digestion, alters breathing patterns, and raises blood sugar, none of which are conducive to a healthy body long term.
Unit 2 was full of suggestions on changing your diet in order to reduce the effects of stress on the body. (See Food as Medicine) I was surprised to see how strong the gut-brain connection really is. Adding prebiotic (whole grains such as wheat and rye, legumes, alliums like onions, garlic and leeks, bananas, asparagus, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, dandelion, burdock roots) and probiotic (yogurt and milk kefir, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, cultured pickles, miso and other fermented soy products like tempeh, and fermented drinks like kombucha and water kefir) foods to your diet will certainly help you reach a more balanced state of wellness. (See also Gut Health Super Bundle, Garlic Tea, and Herbal Fermentation) Making food from scratch, including bitters in your diet, ensuring proper hydration, taking the time to enjoy your meal without distractions, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners are also great suggestions for improving gut health. The course included several printouts highlighting trace nutrients the body needs to reduce or eliminate the physical and emotional effects of stress.
In addition to dietary recommendations, lifestyle alterations can really make a difference to your health. Adding practices, like mindful breathing, yoga, and Tai Chi have been shown to reduce stress. Here, try one now.
Other things you can do to improve your health generally involve spending more time in nature and bettering your social support system. I don’t mean more friends on Facebook, but improving the quality of your relationships. I’ll talk more about these in an upcoming post on the Happiness Course I finished recently.
Unit 2 also had a good introduction to aromatherapy and essential oils as they relate to stress and self-care including a list of herbs shown to be most effective for a variety of stress-induced ailments. Lavender tops the list in several categories. The course provided recipes for several aromatherapy herbal blends to try out.
After addressing safety issues and possible drug interactions, Unit 3 outlined three types of herbs most beneficial for stress-reduction application: nervines, adaptogens, and sedatives. Nervines are herbs that influence the nervous system in some way. Chamomile and lemon balm are nervines. Adaptogens, also known as Qi tonics or Rasayana, are herbs that assist natural adaptive responses to stress. Licorice is an adaptogen. Sedatives are herbs that can sedate the central and peripheral nervous systems. Hops and valerian are sedatives. There was also a section on how to make infusions, decoctions, tinctures, and tea blends using the 17 herbs highlighted.
The more I delve into herbal lore, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn. Once upon a time, herbal remedies, medicines, and tonics were carefully preserved generation after generation. These days, it’s so easy to rely on pharmaceuticals when illness strikes and the continuity of natural healing has been lost. What I really appreciated most about this course was that using herbs for wellness wasn’t presented as a miracle cure-all, rather incorporating herbs is only one aspect of healthy living. The lifestyle that many live is not conducive to optimal wellness. Perhaps it’s time to take a moment and find balance.