This is the 4th installment in my series on plant medicine. Check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 to get up to speed.
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When I told a friend that I was writing this blog she looked at me like I was crazy.
"What do you mean where should I get my plant medicine from?" she asked. "You buy it from the health shop".
Plant medicine from a health shop often comes in the form of tablets or capsules
"But wait!", I cried - like those bad infomercials from the 90s, "there's more!"
However at this point she had already decided I was being weird and had moved on.
It's true. Most of us who use plant medicine, herbs, natural stuff, whatever you want to call it - get it from the health shop. It comes packaged up nicely in a capsule in a bottle with a picture of plants growing in a field. When we take it, it tastes nothing like the plant and we simply down it with our multivitamin and get on with our day.
But this, my friend, is only one way to get your plant medicine. And I would argue that it's far from the best way!
Here, in order, are my Top 3 Favourite Ways to get your plant medicine.
1. Grow your own.
Growing herbs in a container on your balcony or in your yard is by far my favourite way to get plant medicine.
Just like growing your own veggies, this guarantees that what you are getting is fresh, not sprayed by weird chemicals, and has the lowest possible "food/herb miles" (just the energy you expend walking outside). This is by far the most sustainable way to get your plant medicine also - which is something I'm super hot on (see points 2 & 3 for more info on that)
"Don't be ridiculous", I can hear you (or that dismissive friend from earlier) saying.
"I don't have time/space/knowledge/whatever to grow a herb garden to use for medicine. I can barely keep my spider plant alive!"
Great news! Many, many medicinal plants are actually considered weeds by most people. This means you don't even have to try to grow them - they will just do their own thing and you can get the benefits.
Plants like Nettle, Chickweed, and Dandelion are all considered "weeds" and I bet you can grow at least one of these at your house. Or just offer to weed your neighbour's yard - they will love it and you will get your plant medicines!
Common culinary herbs such as mint, thyme and oregano are also super easy to grow in containers and all have medicinal benefits. Use them in your cooking (that counts) and then harvest the lot at the end of the season to preserve and make into medicine.
Once you have these plants, you can dry them to make your own tea, make tinctures, or oils and creams. (Watch out for upcoming blogs, videos, and workshops on medicine-making)
2. Buy sustainably sourced/cultivated loose herbs or teas
In case you can't tell by my other articles - I'm really into drinking herbal tea.
It is simply the easiest way to integrate plant medicine into your everyday routine. Almost everyone drinks some kind of hot drink daily - coffee, hot chocolate, lemon water, black tea, whatever.
So to swap out one or two of those drinks with a therapeutic herbal tea is a super easy way to start using more plant medicine.
It also gives you the added benefit of taking in fluids (because hardly anyone drinks enough water), and though you are buying it rather than growing it - it does start to give you a deeper understanding of the plant when you drink it rather than take it in a capsule. You start to recognize what the plant looks and tastes like.
This is called "organoleptic" identification, and it's an awesome marker for knowing that you've got the right plant (which is extra important when it comes to point #3, below)
Super important note: Only buy sustainably sourced herbs.
If we are going to continue to use plant medicine on this planet (and I sincerely believe that we reallllly need to), then it is everyone's responsibility to make sure that we don't yank every plant from the earth in the process.
When you're buying tea or loose herbs - be a bit of a detective.
Does the company explicitly say that their herbs are either cultivated (ideally using organic agriculture - because who wants pesticides piggy-backing on their medicine) or sustainably wildcrafted/foraged?
Do they have any sections on sustainabilty on their website?
Get to know which herbs are endangered. The international authority on this is called CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - www.cites.org).
This organization documents which plant species are endangered. You can search for a plant and see if it is on the list on their website.
Just because a plant is listed on the CITES website doesn't mean that you can't buy it - but just that it should ALWAYS be bought from a cultivated source.
CITES should also be used if you are planning on foraging any plants yourself. (see #3 below)
3. Forage your own
I am a bit of a nut when it comes to talking about foraging or wildcrafting (they are the same thing).
Going out and picking wild food or herbs sounds super romantic, and it is definitely having a trendy moment here right now.
And while I definitely wildcraft some of my plant medicines - I feel super sketchy about it probably 85% of the time.
The possible risks involved in foraging are huge - from picking the wrong plant, to picking a plant that has been contaminated or was close to a poisonous plant, to picking from an area that has contaminated soil or large amounts of pollution.
And while these all stress me out - they are mostly personal problems. Like the consequences of these actions are only going to affect you.
You pick the wrong plant? Best case scenario it doesn't work for you, worst case scenario it's poisonous and makes you super sick.
(There are about a million cases of people mistaking foxglove for comfrey - with pretty yucky outcomes).
Same if you use a plant that has been covered in weird sprays or that comes from contaminated sites - mostly your own problem.
But where I really get riled up is with the sustainability issue. If you take more than what you should (which is super ambiguous and depends on the plant, where you are picking from, and how many other people are picking it), or if that plant is protected or endangered in your area, then you are adding to the endangered-ness of that plant and mucking with the ecosystem, too. Not cool.
Plants that I love to forage are mainly those that are considered invasive species or noxious weeds in my local area.
Again, what those plants are in your neighbourhood will totally depend on where you live.
If you're foraging plants that are considered weeds, then do your best to make sure that they are not sprayed (this is more likely when a plant is considered a pest), that it is the right plant (that's foraging 101!) and that you are allowed to pick from the land that you're on.
Some regions have parks or indigenous land that doesn't allow foraging - be respectful
A side note on buying plant medicines from the Farmer's Market:
This can be great or it can be a disaster. Unlike products that are in the health shop, there are not requirements for people selling herbs at the Farmer's Market to go through Health Canada vetting - which ensures that what it says is in the product is actually in the product.
Many of these products (and the people selling them) are amazing. But don't be afraid to ask questions about their knowledge, where they source their plants, and how they know about plants.
My old boss Sandra once came upon a lovely couple in New Zealand selling "Valerian" for sleep at a farmer's market - and it was not the right plant. So super dodgy - and potentially dangerous.
That's it! Now is the time to put a little planter outside your window that you can fill with plant medicines.
Leave a comment below with your favourite plant medicine to grow. :)
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