Are you thinking about learning herbalism as a readiness skill to better help yourself and loved ones during an emergency? Let me be the first to tell you that getting a solid herbal education can be tough, but it’s incredibly rewarding. There’s a lot of information to cover, and many different approaches to teaching and practicing herbalism. There are also many different ways to learn herbalism: you can enroll in a local herb school, take online classes, or gather resources to teach yourself. But as a prepper, how do you sort through all of the options and determine what’s right for you?
Herbalism is largely unregulated in the United States. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that you, as a consumer shopping for an herbal education, need to weigh your options and do your research. And if you’re also a prepper, it’s important to feel confident that your teachers have done their research and had extensive experience, and that the course materials will cover topics that are relevant to preparedness and survival.
My Own Herbal Education
My first “official” herbal school experience left me frustrated that my instructor relied mainly on industry street cred and charisma. Most of the information in that course was good, but there were no references to external research ANYWHERE in the course. The more I studied, the more this made me uncomfortable. I had read widely on my own prior to enrolling, so I had a sense of what was reliable and what wasn’t, but it was still a very frustrating experience. Also, my main focus at the time was on working with clients more than preparedness, but the course didn’t really even cover as much of that as was implied. Very frustrating!
After several more years of self directed study, I found an herb school that focused on herbalism in remote settings and for community emergency preparedness. This school (The Human Path) has been a great fit for me, because it has allowed me to fully develop my interest in emergency herbalism, and even offers clinical outreach programs in remote settings that will allow me to gain more experience with my intake and evaluation skills while actively making a difference in communities. Founder of The Human Path, Sam Coffman, wrote this article on The Survival Mom blog.
Around the same time, I also began working for an herb school (The Herbal Academy) that offers online programs (from beginner level to family herbalists to clinical professionals) that are created collaboratively. Because of the school’s emphasis on collaboration, the courses reflect the wisdom and perspectives of many experienced herbalists rather than a single person. Click on this ad to learn what this course is all about. I highly recommend their courses.
Where should YOU learn herbalism?
There are many more options available now than there were even a few years ago. Take advantage of that! Spend some time researching different schools. You might even be lucky enough to have a local herb school nearby so that you can learn in a classroom setting, which can make learning skills like plant identification and applying your knowledge (via student clinical programs) much easier.
Nowadays, many herb schools are even accessible online (and yes, this is great. Trust me- I mailed my lessons in via snail mail at the first school!). There are several advantages to taking online courses:
- It’s easier to reach instructors,
- Easier to participate in virtual classroom settings like webinars and chats.
- Online, you can quickly research questions you might have.
- It’s easier to be in touch with current and former students, so you can get their reviews and insights into a particular course before you enroll (always a good idea!).
You should understand, though, that there’s no formal syllabus that all herb schools are required to follow, or any accreditation process that they must undergo (at least in the United States), so where you go to learn herbalism will depend largely on your goals. You will need to take a look at the founder’s philosophy, whether or not the lessons are backed with adequate research materials, and whether the training offered at the school is a match for your needs.
Generally speaking, steer clear of programs that claim to make you a “master herbalist.” The phrase is just hype. There is no meaningful standard by which to judge the qualification. “Certified herbalist” is the same way. Just as there is no accrediting body specifically for herb schools, there’s also no regulatory body that grants titles for herbalists. A school can, however, give you a certificate of completion for successfully passing their exams.
Herb schools will typically fall into one or the other of these categories based on the focus of their programs. Keep these in mind as you sort through which schools might be a good fit for your needs:
- Tradition-focuses on a historical subset of herbalism (such as Ayurveda from India)
- Career- focuses on developing skills and advanced theory needed in a modern clinical setting
- Family Herbalist- focuses on everyday use of herbs in a family/home setting
- Survivalist- focuses on herbalism in remote or survival settings
- New age- focuses on intuitive herbalism, shamanism, or spiritual aspects of herbalism
For preparedness purposes, a course with a survival school is a wise investment, but you shouldn’t overlook a solid foundation with a school focused on home herbalism, either. A good home herbalism course will usually teach you how to make many different types of herbal preparations and give you plenty of information that you can apply for everyday health needs.
An herb school may also divide their programs into different tracks based on specific skills or skill levels, such as beginner, intermediate, or advanced, so take your time investigating the schools that interest you. Even if you don’t think every course they offer is a good fit for what you want, there may be a specific track or set of courses that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Here are three school directories you can peruse to get a feel for some of the options available:
Here are three school directories you can peruse to get a feel for some of the options available:
How to Learn Herbalism on Your Own
It’s also possible to be a self taught herbalist. This approach requires careful research and the dedication to seek out many professional perspectives, and no, reading internet forums for different opinions and ideas doesn’t count! There are a few things you can do to make your self-guided herbal preparedness studies more fruitful:
- Invest in a solid herbal textbook like Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman, or Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy by Kerry Bone. Read it, cover to cover, and take notes. This will give you a very good introduction to herbalism from the more scientific side. (This is what I did after my first, not-so-successful experience, and it was worth every penny).
- Get a few herbal recipe books that teach you how to make herbal extracts, teas, and other preparations. James Green’s The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook, Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health or Homegrown Remedies by Anne McIntyre are all excellent resources. Work through the book and teach yourself to make the different types of products.
- Make a list of the types of health problems you know you will need to address, personally, and research them. Start looking up (and using, with your doctor’s permission) herbal alternatives.
- Create herbal components for your first aid kits. Here is more information about that.
- Part of the beauty of having herbalism as a survival skill is that herbs are renewable- you can grow them yourself! Select a few new herbs each year and add them to your garden. Many are lovely to look at and can be added to urban and suburban landscaping, or grown on a balcony or patio in containers. Herbs can be difficult to grow from seed, but many do very well if grown from cuttings or root division. You’ll need to learn the specific needs of each plant as you go.
- Foraging is much less reliable as a supply tactic than many people think it is. Plants may not be available when you need them, or it may be hard to find certain ones in your area. If you want to learn to forage, you will need field guides specific to your area and lots of time to learn plant identification. You will also need to learn the individual timetable of each plant- when it blooms and when to harvest- and what specific parts are used. You’ll also need to tend your foraging plots so that (hopefully) there will be even more of the plants available the next year because you took the time to spread seed or otherwise help the plants regenerate. It’s best to focus on one or two really abundant “weeds” at a time and add more as you hone your skills.
- Wilderness First Aid- if at all possible, take a course in wilderness first aid to supplement your herbal studies.
- One prepper and herbalist, Cat Ellis, offers this book written from a prepper perspective, all about various herbal and natural remedies.
All of this goes to show that there are many, many different herbal schools to choose from, and that whether or not you enroll with a school or strike out on your own, you should be a very active participant in your education. Ask questions, read widely, create herbal products to use at home, and really participate in what you are learning! Herbalism is so much more than “book learning” and you will have the best results later by learning to incorporate herbs into your current lifestyle now as well as how to utilize them in a remote or disaster setting.