The Home Herbalist’s Local Apothecary

Herbal health care can be just as approachable and convenient as over-the-counter medication when you follow these practical tips for choosing local herbs for your home apothecary.

| July/August 2015

  • Dried and powdered herbs and powerful tinctures are necessities in your home apothecary.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Elder, a common immune booster, can help relieve congestion, allergy sympotoms, bloating and more.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • The use of elderberries is well-known, but the flowers can also be used for some preparations.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Discover the convenience of natural health care by learning the basics about a few multitasking herbal alternatives to over-the-counter medications.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Unassuming plantain can be helpful for treating an array of maladies, from irritated skin to infection and much more.
    Photo by Fotolia

Before I started taking control of my family’s health, my medicine cabinet was filled with over-the-counter remedies from the drugstore, each for a different ailment. As I began to learn about natural health, I was eager to build a well-stocked natural apothecary—so I bought an ounce or two of each new herb I read about. Soon my cupboards were overflowing with herbal capsules, tinctures, essential oils and homeopathic remedies.

However, my friend and mentor, pioneering herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, once told me something that always stuck with me: It’s more important to know a few herbs very well than many herbs superficially. It took me several years to settle into a place where I was ready to heed her advice, and now I try to teach others to use this model for their own at-home natural health care.

I am not unlike most people who want to undertake a return to a more self-sufficient lifestyle, but I may be worse than most because I am an admitted plant junkie. As an ethnobotanist, I’m fascinated by plants, and I find it difficult to confine myself to learning about one at a time. Yet as I began to teach my community the skills they needed to take care of themselves at home, I saw a disturbing trend: either the throwing up of hands and retreat due to overwhelm, or an overreliance on certain concentrated medicines. By using a more localized, small apothecary model in home health care, we can eliminate the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many herbal options yet ensure we are enhancing our health by using a specific selection of whole plants.

Back to the Basics

Today, thanks to our huge advances in communication and information technology, we can avail ourselves of more plants and their benefits than ever before. Access to this global apothecary can incorrectly lead us to the conclusion that we must know everything about every plant in the world, and that we must find space for them all in our homes. Over the past couple of years, I have watched essential oil companies rise to prominence partly as a result of their powerful, compact nature: These tiny little bottles can easily reside in the bathroom medicine cabinet. While these oils can be remarkably beneficial, and perfect for uses such as massage oils, air fresheners, cleaning products and many homemade personal-care recipes, they are highly concentrated and—when used as the exclusive makeup of the family medicine chest—lack the balance of phytochemicals that complementary botanical preparations of whole plants can provide.

So what to do? In a world that’s awakening to the need to reconnect to our plant allies, we can benefit from solutions that are practical, space- and money-saving, and unintimidating. Encouraging people to cultivate a small apothecary and heal locally, sourcing medicine from within their communities, has become a passion for me. With it, I return to the idea Rosemary implanted in my brain all those years ago.

Building Your Local Apothecary

In the Western world, we can be overly narrow in the way we approach our remedies. The pill we get over the counter relieves our headaches and nothing more. Therefore, when we learn about plants, it’s natural to think in terms of plant X equating to only remedy Y. The list of plants we need then grows as we add more problems to treat. But the reality of the benefits of a specific plant is much more complex. A given plant can often provide therapy for a multitude of health problems, some of which may seem rather unrelated, as a result of broad-spectrum activity that isn’t emphasized by the targeted approach of synthetic medicine.

6/30/2015 11:10:40 AM

This is a fascinating article! I have been led to Herbs, Oils & Natural Medicinals for over a decade and have found myself confused and overwhelmed, many times. I wish I had this way back then to help me get started, I have been all over the map on trying to get a grasp. As you say, there are so many, many beautiful plants "gifts from God" to help heal us and keep us strong. Perfect! I have learned much, my eyes wide open. Thank you!



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