Herbology Handbook: Part 2 - Herbalism: The Art and Science of Medicinal Herbs

by Jason J. Duke - Owner/Artisan

Fresh Content: July 31, 2022 23:50

Herbalism Uses Herbs As Healing Medicine 

Herbalism is the practical use of externally applying and ingesting edible and non-toxic, non-intoxicating, and non-poisonous herbs and foods for their medicinal properties in supporting health and promoting the body's own healing capacity.

Herbalism is a method of herbology that bridges the gap between traditional, hands-on knowledge of medicinal remedies and modern scientific research on herbal medicine.

What are Herbs in Herbalism?

In herbalism, herbs encompass a wide range of edible life forms from the kingdoms of biology. This includes plants, fungi (like mushrooms), animals, protista, and monera (bacteria), as well as any of their parts used medicinally and/or nutritionally. Even minerals are considered herbs, as they become bioactive through their interaction with the kingdoms of biology during their growth in stone and soil.

Diverse Parts of Herbs Used in Herbalism

A vast array of herbal components is available for study and use. These include:

  • Flowers
  • Twigs
  • Stems
  • Leaves
  • Bark
  • Roots (including rhizomes, tubers, and bulbs)
  • Seeds
  • Berries
  • Fruits
  • Algae
  • Kelp
  • Mushrooms
  • Insects
  • Animals
  • Fermented foods
  • Minerals

To better understand their properties and potential applications, herbalists often categorize these components based on their location on the plant:

  • Tops: Flowers and small leaves near the ends of stems
  • Aerials: Above-ground portions: stems, leaves, flowers
  • Bark: Exterior surface of tree trunks or roots
  • Roots: Below-ground portions of plants, including rhizomes, tubers, and bulbs
  • Seeds: Gathered and stored whole and dry when ready for harvest
  • Berries: Generally harvested ripe and may be dried
  • Fungi: The fruiting body (the part we see and eat) can be harvested at the appropriate time and dried.

This categorization helps herbalists recognize that different parts of the herb may have varying concentrations of active compounds, thus influencing their medicinal effects and appropriate uses. For example, the roots of a plant may contain different compounds and offer different therapeutic benefits than the leaves or flowers.

Major Types of Herbalism

There are three primary types of herbalism, each with its own unique methodologies:

Indigenous and Western Herbalism:

  • Native American/Tribal
  • European/Greek
  • Eclectic/Midwifery
  • Superfoods/Adaptogens

Classical Chinese Herbalism:

  • Five Elements
  • Qi, Yin, and Yang
  • Tonics

Ayurvedic Herbalism:

  • Tridosha (Pitta, Vata, Kapha)
  • Energy (virya)
  • Flavors (rasa)
  • Post-digestive effect (vipaka)
  • Special potency (prabhava)

Incorporating Herbs into the Diet

Medicinal herbs, often used as dietary supplements, are best absorbed when incorporated into a balanced diet and taken as part of a meal. However, some remedies may be more effective when taken between meals or before bed to enhance absorption or promote rest and recovery. For example, turmeric root, a rich source of the antioxidant curcumin, can be easily added to meals to support liver function, heart health, and relieve joint and muscle discomfort.

The Culinary and Medicinal Uses of Herbs

Herbs are commonly used as spices in culinary dishes for flavor, fragrance, and color. While culinary use involves small amounts of herbs primarily for taste, herbalism utilizes larger quantities for their therapeutic effects. In herbal medicine, herbs can be classified as medicinal (used to treat specific ailments), tonic (used to strengthen and nourish the body), and/or adaptogenic (helping the body adapt to stress).

A classic example is chicken soup, which can be considered both a nourishing meal and a medicinal remedy. It often contains various culinary herbs and spices like garlic, black pepper, oregano, and thyme, all of which have healing properties.

Herbology Handbook

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