Monday, September 15, 2014

Learning Herbalism is an Embodied Experience

As some of you know, I have been leading an 18 month class called "Foundations of Western Herbalism" at the shop. The idea is to create an appreciation for herbalism as a method of healing, to create a group of informed folks who are empowered to help themselves and others in this holistic method of healing, and to learn and grow myself (I learned herbalism in California, and the native flora there is quite different from the natives here. I get to become a student all over again and learn the powers of what grows here and how to use them with my existing knowledge!)

Currently, I have 10 students, meeting every two weeks. We started with learning some herb basics, like how to choose a high quality herb, endangered plants to avoid wildcrafting or instead to cultivate yourself, and the medical actions herbs have in the body. We now are in the midst of our third body system (we started with the immune system, went on to respiratory, and are now on digestive). We spend a month on each system: extensive readings on each system and the herbs that support it, one lecture on the anatomy and physiology, one lecture on the diseases and treatments for that system.

To learn all about herbalism, there is lots of lecture (and lots to memorize!). That can get rather, um, boring. I often try and find illustrative videos to show the workings of anatomy and physiology- it helps the visual learners take an otherwise dry subject and bring it to life. But there is a balance that needs to be achieved, in my opinion, about what we learn and how we learn it when it comes to this subject. Lectures cannot be avoided, but there must also be hands-on learning, working with others and the plants, getting out-of-doors and being in nature (cultivation, wildcrafting, plant identification, harvesting).

One of the less common "herb school" experiences, is in my opinion, one of the most valuable: I have my students ingest herbs as we learn about them. I give them an herb or formula for a two week period and they take it in ever-increasing doses and report back about how it affected them. Nothing like a truly embodied experience to reinforce the actions of a given herb!

And if one day you are going to recommend someone you know take this herb for a specific reason, I believe that you yourself should have taken it as well- know what side effects it can have, both positive and negative. Hear from other students with differing biochemistries how it affected them (it will affect them differently, you know.) I want these students to have their herb learning to be an embodied experience.

If you took herb classes, how did your education differ from what I talk of here? Did you enjoy the experience?

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