I recently received a letter from a reader asking about herbs and where to start when using them:
I have been reading your blog this year and really enjoying it. I bought the stuff to make laundry soap and it cost less than a jug of Tide. My question is where to start. It seems that the upfront cost for some of the recipes is a lot. If you do very many of them anyway. I know over time I would save a lot of money, but in the short term it seems overwhelming. The home cleaning products aren’t too expensive, but all the different bulk herbs needed for various recipes will add up fast. I have been, over the last several months, working to switch to a real food diet for my family and let’s face it that is just more expensive. Add to that the purchase of some kitchen equipment in order to do real food and I am a little gun shy about delving into yet another area that requires an investment. I already feel like I am spending so much, I am not sure how to make it work.
Is there a way to start that doesn’t feel like I am breaking the bank up front?
Lorrie G., Arlington, TX.
Lorrie’s not alone in her concerns — in fact many of you have written to me with similar questions — that’s why upon reading her question, I had the sense that addressing it publicly could benefit a large majority of people. So after receiving Lorrie’s permission, I began writing my response and today I want to share a few tips for getting started with herbal remedies.
In the huge world of wisdom and herbalism, getting started seems to be the most difficult piece. Wouldn’t you agree! And even then, how do we know that what we are learning, reading, and buying is really safe and effective? Many fear that it could all be a waste of time and money!
How to Get Started Without Breaking the Bank
I wish I could sit down with you all, over a cup of herbal tea, and share my experiences with medicinal herbs…I think I could talk for days on the subject! You see, I have not arrived at this point in my life overnight. It’s come through years of researching, reading, and experimenting on my family. There seems to be no end to the knowledge!
Here are a few recommendations and thoughts for getting started without breaking the bank:
1. Read, read, and read some more. Knowledge is power. Head over to the library and check out one or two good books on the study of herbs. There are so many good ones out there. I love anything written by:
- Aviva Romn (especially for young children)
- Susun Weed
- Rosemary Gladstar
- Philip Fritchey
These are just a few to get you started — a lot of times I just go through the list of titles and choose books that relate to my interests and current phase of life.
2. Online resources. Here are a few really great web resources to help set you in the right direction and grow in knowledge:
- American Herbal Pharmacopoeia
- Mountain Rose Herbs YouTube Channel
- And here’s a video by yours truly
3. Keep it simple. Trust me, it’s better to know how to use 1 herb 20 different ways rather than the other way around. Herbs are fun and once you start learning more and more, they can end up leading you on a journey of exploration. However, when you’re just starting out, stick with a few common and multi-purpose herbs — such as calendula, plantain, comfrey, and yarrow to name a few. Remember, slow and steady wins the race (I remind myself of that all the time), and delving into herbal remedies requires small little baby steps. Read more here…
4. Keep it sustainable. In general, frugality is a natural by-product to sustainable living. Sustainability in herbal remedy terms means learning what herbs grow in your local area and around your home. There are so many medicinal plants that it would take a lifetime to learn them all — and buying them would cost a ton of money. Learning to identify and pick plants that grow in the wild, locally (i.e. yarrow, plantain, dandelions) is a great way to save!
5. Grow-your-own. Find out what herbs grow well in your climate and cultivate them in your backyard or on your balcony. Starting herbs from seed is the most cost effective, and many of them re-seed themselves year after year. Calendula is an excellent example of this! Last year I tossed a few calendula seeds into my small herb garden and they grew like crazy. This year, they are coming back with a vengeance! Bigger and more beautiful than last year 🙂 Click here to read more about growing your own herbs…
6. Preserve and store. Just as we preserve (i.e. can, dehydrate, freeze) and store common foodstuffs — learn to preserve medicinal herbs through drying. Harvesting herbs this spring and summer, when they are in abundance, will help keep your costs low throughout the year. According to Susun Weed, drying herbs is rather simple:
- Harvest the plants midday, when the dew of the morning has evaporated and the foliage is dry. Do not wash the herbs (except for rinsing the roots).
- Dry in small batches, immediately after harvest.
- Dry in a dark, well-ventilated space.
- Take down the dried plants once they are crispy dry (may take up to 4 weeks) and store them in air tight glass containers.
- Keep the herbs as whole as possible and store them in a cool, dry, and dark place. Leaves and flowers will last approx. 6 months and roots and barks keep for 6+ years when stored in this manner.
7. It takes a village. Years ago, when I was first beginning my journey into herbal remedies, I partnered with a couple other women who shared my passion. Together we would decide which herbs we needed for the seasons and then we placed one big order. Splitting the cost multiple ways on bulk herb prices made purchasing the herbs VERY doable. The best part was getting together for “play-dates with a purpose” and spending an entire day in the kitchen preparing our remedies as a community.
Bottom line, don’t lose the simplicity that you seek!
It is my sincere hope that this post will help you get started with herbal remedies…frugally.
One last word of advice, be wise and use good judgement when it comes to creating herbal medicine, harvesting plants in the wild, and plant-based remedies in general. Certainly, there is a lot of great information floating around — but also a ton of really bogus and sometimes dangerous stuff out there too. If ever in doubt, find an herbalist, or naturopathic practitioner in your area that you can ask for advice.
I’m sure I’ve overlooked so many things! How did you start your journey into herbal remedies without breaking the bank?
We have a co-op of sorts and get our herbs at a discount. We don’t have fees for our group- and for that we are really, really lucky. Many, if not most, co-ops will have a fee. The lady who does ours is so wonderful! It really makes a difference when we get a group of people together and can get our herbs and supplies at a good discount. Sometimes we will even split herbs by the pound, as they are cheaper when you order by the pound versus ounce.
Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents says
What a great answer Andrea. 🙂
I started collecting my stash by buying a little bit at a time…..when we’d have extra money at the end of the money, I’d buy one or two things. Yes, it took me several months to get a good collection going, but I did it without causing any harm to our pocketbook. Plus, I was learning the whole time (one never stops learning) so I wasn’t ready to dig in whole hog yet anyway. A gradual change is one that people usually stick with. 🙂
Totally agree with making small, gradual changes. And start out with things that you will use and are much cheaper than their store-bought counterparts. For instance, it’s much cheaper to make elderberry syrup than it is to purchase it. Consider learning about some of the “weeds” in your area. Kudzu and plantain are common in my area and have great medicinal use. A container or small patch of peppermint will return year after year and will provide you with a great tummy-ache tea. Just take one step at a time. It’s fun!
Thanks,Lorrie,for asking a great question! And you answered it so well,Andrea! It is easy to get overwhelmed trying to do everything we want to change in our lives!! I do it myself.Then I take a deep breath and start again…..more slowly! I pick one thing I want to change or start and do it for at least a month before starting something new.Does this take forever?! It feels like it sometimes! LOL But by taking that time to get used to something new,I am comfortable with it before I start something new.
My advice to Lorrie would be to go slow and take your time and do things that interest YOU the most.Don’t get caught up in thinking you have to do it all and all at once. Good Luck! Darlene
Thank you, thank you for talking about this! It was reassuring to me, and it is a concise answer to a question that I get asked A LOT. I really appreciate all the information that you share- it is priceless! <3
Yvette Smith says
You can find many of the plants that you need for healing in fields and woods – for FREE. If I had not learned about plants for healing my kids and I would have never had meds. We were told that we didn’t qualify for medicaid even though I only made $5.15/hour and my ex-husband would not pay child support. I just depends on the amount of effort you put into finding them. Good luck.
We should set up an herbal swap. I have more Tulsi tham I know what to with every year. I’d love to mail it out and get something homegrown sent to me in return, ounce for ounce.
I would love some Tulsi! I live in the UK – maybe we could do a trade!
What a wonderful, helpful post! I love the idea to do a DEAR ANDREA column!! Blessings to you!
really helpful, informative post. thank you!! Your website rocks!
Yes! Excellent Question! I was also wondering the same thing. Check out Amazon.com and Vitacost for essential oils. I’ve found EO’s that are decently priced that way. As long as you’re not using them on your body or, for medicinal purposes, you don’t have to have therapuetic grade. If you’re going to use it on your body, you might want to invest in therapuetic grade. 😉
I found a company that manufactures toxin free products at wholesale prices for family use. I love many of the recipes here on this site but some of the options I find cheaper and effective through this company. Thanks of all of the research and info you offer. YOu rock!
Fantastic, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. :)) I am using a lot of your recipes, ;))