Welcome to Ask the Expert. A weekly series featuring Natural Living Experts answering your question. I have the pleasure to welcoming Sarah Outlaw, certified herbalist, to tell us all about herbs. Want to contribute your questions to this series? Join the discussion on Facebook.
1- Tell us a little about yourself, and your experience with herbs?
I am currently studying for my Master Herbalist Certification through Vintage Remedies. I am also training and working towards certification as a Nutritional Response Therapist and will be utilizing muscle testing techniques in my herbal practice. I am also a member of The American Herbalist Guild, The American Horticultural Society and The Herb Society of America.
2- What is an herbalist?
An herbalist is anyone who works with herbs. There are many different types of herbalists under that umbrella and the definitions vary depending on who you ask. There are family herbalists who learn common herbs for caring for themselves and their families. There are community herbalists who people come to with herbal questions and who make simple herbal preparations. Beyond that, there are those practicing herbalism in a more clinical manner and they would be considered clinical herbalists or master herbalists. You don’t need a degree to practice herbalism. There is no licensing authority for herbalists in the United States and some of the best, most renowned herbalists have never had and “formal” training. They learn from the plants!
3- Herbs can be intimidating for the beginner, where would you say is a good place to start learning about herbs?
Get out in nature and explore the herbs in your own backyard. Plantain, dandelion, violets, red clover…all are prevalent in many areas. Check out learningherbs.com and herbmentor.com for great information and herbal wisdom. All the herbsl books from Rosemary Gladstar are wonderful and with them you can learn how to make simple herbal preparations for yourself and family. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding!
4- What are your go-to herbs, the ones you always keep handy, and what do you use them for?
I always have a full supply of chamomile, peppermint, nettle, elderberry and echinacea. I use the chamomile and peppermint for bedtime or tummy aches, the nettle for the awesome nutrition it provides, and elderberry and echinacea for immunity.
5- What are the best herbs to be used as first aid?
I really like salves for first aid. They combine herbs like plantain, comfrey, St. John’s Wort, calendula and chickweed. They are very easy to make. When I am outside and get a bug bite or cut, I look for plantain leaf. It helps stop bleeding and soothe bites and wounds.
6- What are the best herbs to treat headaches and migraines?
If not pregnant or breastfeeding, feverfew is great for migraines. Chamomile, peppermint, skullcap, lemon balm and lavender are also fantastic herbs for headache relief.
7- What are the best herbs for balancing hormones?
There are quite a few herbs that can help balance hormones. Some of my favorites that are wonderful in a tea are red clover, red raspberry, nettle, oatstraw, yarrow, alfalfa and vitex.
8- What are the best herbs for common issues like colds and flu?
I always reach for the tried and true remedies for colds and flu: Elderberry and echinacea and the two I reach for most often.
9- Let’s talk safety. What are some of the safety rules one must observe when dealing with herbs, and are there any herbs pregnant women and kids should avoid?
Most of the commonly used herbs are very safe for use by *most* people. There are always exceptions and even the safest herbs can be misused. I recommend educating yourself on the herbs you want to use and check for any contraindications to any medications you are on or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
10- If someone wants to pursue career in alternative medicine as an herbalist or a naturopath, are there any institutions that offer a reputable for certification or degree program in the field.
I always look at the American Herbalist Guild’s list of reputable herbal schools, both online and on-site. They do a wonderful job of keeping track of all of them.
Sarah is a crunchy, Eco-chic wife, homeschool mama to four lively children, and real food blogger at Real Food Outlaws. She’s a Certified Health Coach, Natural Living Consultant and Herbalist and owns 90210 Organics, an Eco-boutique and Apothecary. You can often find her barefoot in the garden (or kitchen), or rummaging through a refrigerator (not necessarily her own).