How to Identify an Herbalist

We’re an odd breed, aren’t we?  Alas, you can’t easily identify an herbalist with Newcomb’s or even with Gleason and Cronquist’s.  Here are my top 15 signs that you might be an herbalist:

  1. There is at least one bottle of unidentified tincture in your cabinet.  You were certain you’d never forget what was in there, weren’t you? And now you can’t bear to waste whatever it may be.
  2. You have a strong opinion regarding whether Felcos are the best brand of clippers. You also own and frequently discuss things like loppers and a hori hori.
  3. You feel naked and unsettled when out on a walk without a plant ID guide. But it’s the best way to ensure that you cover more than 1/8 mile per hour.

    an herb "walk"
    This is a standard herb “walk.” You know it’s true.
  4. You have ever been genuinely angered by one or more of the following:
    1. Cheap, bland grocery store chamomile tea
    2. Sports drinks that contain Panax ginseng
    3. People who don’t understand the difference between a constituent and a plant
    4. Someone telling you that Echinacea is dangerous if you take it for more than 2 weeks.
  5. You’ll happily spend hours discussing things like the merits of topical application of hydrolysable tannin-rich plants and the indications for aromatic bitters.
  6. You’ve destroyed one or more of the following in your harvesting and medicine-making adventures:
    1. A blender or coffee grinder
    2. A pot or pan
    3. Clippers
    4. Shovel or other digging implement

      Let's face it: you should have gotten a VitaMix first
      Let’s face it: you should have gotten a VitaMix first
  7. You no longer feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable asking people about their bowel movements. There’s so much more to it than the Bristol Stool Chart.
  8. People regularly break into song and/or dance when you attend professional conferences. And nary a suit nor tie to be found.
  9. Your dog/cat/goldfish/child has caught on to your wily ways and hides whenever he sees you coming with a brown bottle of a certain size.

    You CAN'T MAKE ME open  my mouth.
    You CAN’T MAKE ME open my mouth.
  10. You feel guilty when you weed your garden and don’t use or eat the weeds. Hide the evidence, quickly.
  11. You really, honestly forget that most people think decoctions taste disgusting. Wait, you don’t love my dandelion burdock chai?
  12. Your children know plants by their scientific names and consider it normal to much on edibles when you’re out for a hike. Yes, the other parents think you’re crazy.
  13. All you want for Christmas/Hanukkah/Mother’s Day/Father’s Day or any other holiday are books. Books, books and more books. Moving day is something of a fiasco, but you never can bring yourself to get rid of any of them.

    But that's the one i had with me when I first identified Prunella 15 years ago...
    But that’s the one i had with me when I first identified Prunella 15 years ago…
  14. You’ve ever insisted that someone pull the car over because you’re sure you’ve just seen Asclepias tuberosa along the roadside. We won’t ask whether you were correct or not.

  15. You’ve spent an inordinate amount of time planning which ten herbs you’d take to a desert island if forced to choose. Probably unsuccessfully, if I know herbalists. Who can choose favorites? Matricaria is on there, though. Isn’t it?

Got any others? I’m sure there are more. Leave yours in the comments 🙂

Thoughts? Add your comments here. 

  • You had me at the unmarked bottle in the cabinet… Check yes to all! I have several little brown bottles I save just in case I find the hand written formulation somewhere in one of many journals also hanging out in the cabinets of herbs and oils and tinctures and whatnots. My hubby calls it the mad herbalists room!

  • When you sabotage your own schedule because you just “had to pick something”, to satisfy your summer medicine making frenzy, because it was so alluring, and had too much potential to just let it sit in the garden.

  • Loved this! I didn’t know I’m not the only one who suffers pangs of guilt at pulling “weeds” and not using them! Or taking them home and then they languish and end up in the compost heap and they still didn’t get used.

    Here’s one I get a lot: people start talking to me about herbs and I suddenly realize the extent of their idea of an herb is the culinary plants that flavor food. I always do a mental double take and head slap because I am so far beyond that in my understanding of and view of herbs. Not that peeps are stupid, just that I forget that not everyone knows herbs the way I do.

    Also: what’s the difference between an herb and a plant?

  • A great post! Amusing and true! Includes a new species .. Siinew trollus … a herb found growing in the shade, flavour is much improved when companion planted with liver herbs (Taraxacum? Even something mild like cultivated Daucus?) to curb tendency to bitterness.)

  • Hahahaa! Thanks Camille.. love this. Exactly what we all joke about with herbalist friends.

    Here’s one..
    When the spare room in the house is referred to as the ‘herb room’ and the wardrobes and shelves have been converted to house your tinctures, dried herbs and herbal making ingredients and equiptment. And the conservatory is covered in seedlings and has a giant herb dryer built in it!

    You know you’re herb obsessed when you are engaged to another herbalist and planning the wedding around what herbs in the garden will be flowering at the time and the engagement ring was designed around a herb you both love <3

  • When you go to clean out your purse you have several seeds of unsure origin and plant them anyway because you know you must have gathered them to see if they will grow in your garden/yard.

      • hehe given that you and Bevin and Rebecca ALL have daughters named after plants! I thought this was a fabulously humorous post, Camille — loved it, especially since I could hear the cadence /delivery of your voice when I was reading it which made it even funnier.

  • Although I wouldn’t call myself an herbalist yet, I have almost NO counter space (extracts-to-be in jars that have to be in front of me so I remember to shake them), cabinet space (already-made extracts, oxymels, elixirs, and misc. things to drink after they’ve sat long enough, jars of plants), table space (things drying) or space going down the basement steps (big jars of plants I’ve picked and dried). I’m only exaggerating a little. Where am I going to put this ever-increasing treasure trove?

    • I’d say there’s a high likelihood that you qualify, Laura :). Herbalism – irritating spouses & roommates since the beginning of time. I recommend commandeering a linen closet.

  • Herbs are drying on all tables and chairs in house – no place to sit or eat.
    Frig is filled with so many cultured foods that there isn’t any room for any other food. So many tinctures working that there is literally no surface space left.

  • What does it mean when you agree with 14 out of the 15? And the timing? Read this after watching 5 past episodes of “The Big Bang Theory”. Whoever came up with this notion is a freaking genius!

  • Love it! Now we herbalists have been integrated into Facebooklistdom. I feel slightly normal now! Thanks for the validation because this is all true. I’ll add one myself from the health food store world: 19. You cringe when people call herbs homeopathics and try to refrain from correcting them because it won’t make a difference in how the herbs work. Sharing this!

  • When everyone in your family knows what goldenseal is, and swears you think it can mend broken bones, grow hair and save the world.

  • Actually I’ve got verbena bonariensis seeded over my pavement .. Stopped the lousy council spraying their toxic weed killer all over the place .. Am an Rhs dip Hort and an alternative therapist and then some!

  • Camille, I loved it, having identified myself in many of the points you nailed. As for the Lone Hater, the picture of an angry face and dragon tail plus raging words may reveal a great deal to holistic herbalists. However one feels about the AHG, the good news is that there are herbs to remedy what ails him or her. Peace, indeed.

  • Thanks for the funny. Made me smile on a day when the fog and rain are stopping me from working outside.

    18. Spending as much time figuring ways to make herbal ‘food as medicine’ recipes as you do creating new compound recipe tinctures for clients.

  • 16. You waste a day or more coming up with a list of 15 “herbalist identifiers” for an asinine FB post that make it sound like you have any idea at all what you’re actually talking about, and use big buzzwords (making sure to put in ego-boosting phrases like “there’s so much more to it than the Bristol identification chart,” and Asclepius t.) to make sure you’re fitting into the western bio-chemical herbalism model that is “AHG approved” while still carefully primping your a “carefree” aspect of post-new-age, politically correct tree-hugging spirit.

    • Wow… bitterness much? What a nasty, rude comment. Have a glass of wine some chocolate, even some white carbs… anything to make you feel a bit better and more platable tot he rest of the human race. This was a funny, humorous post, a nice break from work for some of us.

      Rudeness and discourtesy are NOT the new humanity.

  • When you carry round many little brown bottles in your pocketbook. Then bring them out at lunch or dinner and start placing drops of the solutions into your glass of water. “The looks you get”!

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    Camille Freeman (she/her)

    Hi there! I'm a clinical herbalist and licensed nutritionist specializing in fertility and reproductive health. I faciliate the Monday Mentoring community of practice and offer continuing eduation programs for highly trained herbalists & nutritionists. I'm also a professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, where I teach physiology, pathophysiology, and mindful eating.