Over the years, learning herbs has been one of my life’s most rewarding experiences. Some of my fondest memories involve a giant blue IKEA bag filled with herb books (I took it with me to my husband/then-boyfriend’s house for research, obviously), study groups with my closest friends (inventing herbal protocols for monsters), and spending time observing nature and freaking out over plant families (every time I go for a walk during the summer).
There are so many valuable ways to learn – all of them important to a well-rounded herbal education. Plant walks, making medicine, and studying independently from diverse resources are some of the many ways for an herbalist to enhance and acquire knowledge. Through it all, if I had to pick my most treasured herbal learning tool, without hesitation I would choose my Materia Medica notebook. It has seen me through years of herbal study; an amazing resource that is ever-growing and personal, penned with care in my own hand.
What is Materia Medica?
“Materia Medica” translates to “Healing Materials,” and the term dates back to Dioscorides in the 1st Century AD. Dioscorides wrote five volumes entitled De Materia Medica, which included the uses and effects of hundreds of therapeutic plants, as well as mineral and animal products. The word has largely been replaced in western medicine with “pharmacology.” However, among herbalists, it is a popular way of expressing the way that we teach, study, and learn individual herbs. The term Materia Medica is used in many other healing modalities as well, including aromatherapy and homeopathy.
The Materia Medica Notebook
So what is my Materia Medica notebook? Essentially, it is my own personal herbal – a collection of plant monographs. It has pages dedicated to individual plants, with my detailed notes and pictures – notes from different resources and experiences, recipes, stories, images that I’ve sought out (some online, some I’ve taken or drawn myself) – and they’re organized in a way that makes sense for me.
My Materia Medica notebook is beastly in size, but orderly in temperament. It is currently a four inch binder with notes for different plants in separate page covers (it started in a one inch). There are categories of information that are typical within the Materia Medica style, so I designed page templates with those categories in mind and added a few of my own. I generally hand-write my notes, because I feel it helps me retain information at greater depth – plus, my own handwriting makes it more personal and unique. I have organized my Materia Medica in different ways over the years, most notably:
- Alphabetically by Latin name
- By body system
- In order of course work when teaching
I like it best by Latin binomial, but body systems is an easy and convenient way to look at things when you’re just starting to learn herbs. Alphabetical by common name is also popular, it’s just not my preference. Overall, I enjoy feeling like a wizard casting spells when I study plants by Latin name and it helps to ensure clarity on species.
Want To Make Your Own?
Quick poll: On a scale of Dandelion seeds to Taraxacum officinale root, how interested are you in making your own Materia Medica notebook at this point?
Well, whatever your answer I’ve got you covered. Get ready to step into your future identity as a learned plant sorcerer (or whatever) with a wonderfully tailored notebook. Of course, you can design your own Materia Medica pages, but I’ve created some printables for your downloading pleasure.
Click here for the Herbal Materia Medica Template
Use these to scrawl away to your heart’s desire! This is a great way to compile your info and dig more deeply into your curiosity. While you’re at it, check out this list of great resources for herbal wisdom to incorporate as you learn.
How do you prefer to learn about herbs? Have you studied Materia Medica? How do you envision your future bad-ass botanical beast-of-a-book? (I can’t control my love for alliteration – send help).
xoxo, dani O.