Meghan Rhodes MCPP MAPA

Here's What Happens When Our Students Try Their First Herbal Remedy

Our intensive herbalism course students are getting ready to meet in person again for our summer gathering, which is when we have our big hands-on making session, developing solid and nuanced skills of herbal remedy making. But life doesn’t wait for you to reach a certain point in your course before you or someone in your family need to work with a herbal remedy, so our students have been supporting each other (with a bit of guidance from me) to cross a very important threshold in their learning journeys. Read on to see what they’re discovering.

herbalism students make their first herbal remedy

Natasha’s First Herbal Remedy - First-Year Student

One of our first-year cohort WhatsApp groups pinged last night with a message from Natasha, asking for ideas for herbs to put on blisters. So I encouraged the group to work together and work through it.

The group started focusing on the qualities and energetics they’d be looking for to balance out blisters that were red, inflamed and sore, some burst, others not - cooling and drying, encouraging them to self-absorb and mitigating any potential infection in those that had already burst. I added a bit of mucilage (cool, coating gloopiness) would also be beneficial, especially for the burst ones.

Once they’d established these qualities, they then started thinking about which herbal actions they’d like the herbal remedy to have - astringent (tightening and drying), vulnerary (wound healing) and antimicrobial.

Now they had a clear sense of not only what they’d like the herb to ‘do’, but also what sorts of qualities it should have, so it would suit the situation well and be as effective as possible. And they had the twelve herbs they’ve been building intimate relationships with over the past twelve weeks to consider. (Far easier and faster than thumbing through a list of 50 different wound healing herbs.)

Straight away, they knew the answer - plantain (Plantago lanceolata), with a few students remembering a story I’d shared about how pilgrims used to put plantain inside their shoes to help with blistering.

Natasha went straight out into her garden to gather some plantain for her husband’s blistered hands. Here’s what she shared the next day:

‘By the way, hubby, who has been supportive of my journey into herbalism but, shall we say, a bit sceptical, woke up this morning, showed me his previously blistered red hands and just said “I’m sold”. They were lovely and dried up with no soreness.

As someone who likes proof for things, it has also helped firm up in my own mind that I am doing the right thing for my family.’

R’s Herbal Remedy - Second-Year Student

One of our second-year students asked for the support of her cohort earlier in the week, looking to cross-check a herbal remedy she was putting together for her husband. He’d banged his foot and knee badly a few days ago. There had been a bit of bruising, but he otherwise cracked on. But after a week on it, his leg swelled up from foot to knee and the skin was tight and hot, although without much pain. R was keen to avoid him filling himself with ibuprofen and knew she could put her herbal knowledge and skills into practice.

First, we did the important sense-check of understanding if there was any potential fracturing that would need to be addressed. There wasn’t, so we were clear to proceed with herbal support. She already knew she was looking for a cooling herb that was inflammation modulating (anti-inflammatory), vulnerary (wound healing) and emollient (moist, coating and protecting). She didn’t have a huge selection of premade remedies to hand, but she had her eye on some fresh plantain, dried comfrey and liquorice. She’d already had him do a foot bath and was planning a poultice. Teas for internal use were off the cards, as he’s not keen on them.

R was exactly on track with her combined observations, logic, intuition and resources she had to hand. All she needed as a second-year student was that bit of affirmation.

So she made a half-leg poultice of freshly macerated plantain mixed with a bit of clay to thicken and wrapped it all up with muslin to keep it all on. They were a bit amused by the ‘quarter mummy’ look, but more importantly, the herbs were effective - no ibuprofen required.

Although her husband isn’t particularly cynical, he said, The experience of a half leg poultice overnight worked miracles’.

Working with Your First Herbal Remedy Moves Students’ Learning from Embodied and Elemental to Experiential

When you see your first herbal remedy have clear, visible results, you cross an important threshold in your herbal journey. Even though the way we connect with the plants and our bodies on our intensive herbalism course is embodied and elemental, focussing on the tastes of herbs as a gateway to understanding how they interact with our bodies and how they influence our inner balance on an elemental level (more fire, less water, more earth, etc.), something deep really clicks when students have their first really tangible herbal remedy experience in their own homes. It’s that aha moment that shows them - these herbs really work! - and, perhaps more importantly, shows them they can truly have sovereignty over their own health. What’s also important is their families experience the power a herbal remedy can have, as well, which helps them get on board with switching to working with herbal medicine as their first port of call for home health support.

With each experience, you cross another threshold. You develop more experience, more confidence. You prove to yourself you can be more self-sufficient and self-reliant when it comes to your health. You are able to rely less and less on outside support except when you really need it.

And because part of developing the skills and knowledge of herbal medicine is also developing your intuition, you always have that internal sense-check, that inner voice, that gut feel, that you can hear clearly and know how to listen to and honour, so you know when you should really get the support or opinion of someone else, even if your logical brain thinks you can handle it. We develop our innate guardrails whilst we develop our trust in ourselves.

Creating your first herbal remedy and experiencing the impact it can have is a rite of passage on your journey learning herbalism. Our students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to understand the qualities and energetics of the situation at hand, so they can easily identify what properties the most appropriate herb needs to have to balance and support. Then they work through the actions their herbal remedy will need, sense check with their cohort and watch the magic happen. With each experience, they build their confidence, their self-reliance and their resilience. They grow into herbalists.

If you’re here in the UK, you’re very welcome to take the next step on your journey learning herbal medicine with us on our intensive herbalism course - Awaken Herbal Wisdom - which spans all four seasons and gets herbalism both deep into your bones and your daily life. Although it is intense, it’s suitable for a wide range of herbalists, including beginners! You can learn more about our herbal medicine course here. Be sure to put your name on the waiting list to see what the current cohorts are up to and get first access to enrolment before it opens.

Whatever your next step is with exploring herbal remedies, I hope you enjoy the journey!

At Rhodes Roots & Remedies School of Herbal Medicine, our practice of herbalism is rooted in the belief that we must remember, reclaim and relearn our knowledge of our bodies, our autonomy and how to work with plant medicine in order to bring control of our own health back into our families and homes for a sustainable future for ourselves and the planet. Through our intensive herbalism course, we facilitate the development of confident, empowered herbalists, attuned to the messages of their bodies and the natural world. Living the deep wisdom of herbal medicine within themselves, their homes and their communities, they uplift themselves and others, creating a stronger society organically. We do hope you'll join us on your journey!

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