Herbalism Course Notes

By 11th May 2022 Creative Practice

I worked through a ‘Master Herbalist Diploma’ e-course as part of my research-practice. I made notes of things that were interesting, that would be useful for me to remember whilst practising plant-based medicine at home, or that I felt could influence my practice. Here they are!

The Spiritual Dimension (Unit 25)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 25: The Spiritual Dimension

Learning outcome:

Understand the link to the spirit

  • There isn’t much on spirit in this module? It’s all about how to practice as a herbal practitioner.
  • Labelling – name of who its for, name and address of herbal practitioner, directions for use, dosage, liquid preparations for local or topical use to be clearly marked ‘for external use only’, full ingredients, including any additives, ‘keep out of reach of children’, any storage instructions, ‘if symptoms persist please see your doctor’ and ‘not to be used if pregnant’ etc as appropriate, ‘if you are taking other medications from your GP, please tell them about this remedy’.

Flower Essences / Chakras (Unit 23)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 23: Flower Essences

Learning outcome:

Understand the relation of colour to the Chakras

  • Colours of bach flowers are just as important as the essences in healing. Choose the flower essence with the needed corresponding chakra colour.
  • Nothing really new here to me really. Lists the associations between the sympathetic gland assisted, sympathetic organ/body part assisted, sympathetic body system assisted, life quality, personality (if chosen as a favourite colour) and which chakra.
  • RED – adrenals, kidneys/bladder/legs, muscles/blood, self-awareness, outgoing/active/physical, root chakra
  • ORANGE – ovaries/testes, sexual organs/colon, digestive system/lymphatic system, self-respect, sociable/creative, sacral chakra
  • YELLOW – pancreas, liver/gallbladder/spleen, automatic nervous system, self-worth, quick/alert mind/sunny, solar plexus
  • GREEN – thymus, heart/arms. circulatory system/para-sympathetic nervous system, self-love, caring/empathy for others, heart chakra
  • TURQUOISE/BRIGHT BLUE – thyroid, para-thyroid/throat/ears, respiratory system/venous blood, self-expression, peaceful/quiet/introverted, throat chakra
  • PURPLE – pituitary, eyes/nose, skeletal system, self-responsibility, fresh/creative, third eye chakra
  • WHITE – pineal, brain, central nervous system/spine/psyche, self-knowledge and selflessness, loving/spiritual/creative, crown chakra

Nutrition (Unit 24)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 24: Nutrition

Learning outcome:

Understand the nutritional requirements of the body

  • ‘Never eat anything more than twice a day’
  • Lots of nutritional science in this module, unsurprisingly.
  • Full sun – basil, bay, coriander, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, thyme
  • Dappled shade – angelica, chives, fennel, ground ivy, lemon balm, lovage, mint, parsley, wild strawberry
  • Shade – comfrey, lungwort, mint, valerian, violet
  • The Knot Garden – monastic herb gardens of the Middle Ages were enclosed by formal hedges and geometrically criss-crossed with paths to make herbs accessible. Low-growing hedging plants such as box, hyssop and lavender were grown in interwoven lines, resembling pattern made by knotted rope.
  • The Psychic Garden – Often planted close to an infirmary, where 16th century apothecaries mixed tinctures and ointments. These later became established as collections of scientifically or medically valued herbs known as botanic gardens. Laid out very formally in rectangular beds, in which plants were arranged in methodical order and regular patterns.
  • The Aromatic Garden – where a melody of strong scenting plants sit in the sun and can be brushed up against
  • The Wild Herb Garden – as it sounds! Agrimony, bistort, burdock, chickweed, cleavers, comfrey, cowslips, dandelion, dock, elderflowers, figwort, fumitory, ground ivy, hawthorn, honeysuckle, hops, horseradish, lungwork, marjoram, marsh mallow, meadowsweet, mullein, nettle, pasque flower, plantain, St. John’s wort, tormentil, violets, wild carrot, wild pansy, wild strawberry, wood betony, yarrow


Bach Remedies and Homeopathy (Unit 22)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 22: Bach Remedies and Homeopathy

Learning outcome:

Detail the remedies mentioned, their uses and safety

  • Negative emotions affect how chi/life force/prana/ki circulates in the body. Recent research shows that chronic feelings produce changes in endocrine chemistry – called psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). Stress may become part of our cells make up? The idea is that if you are strong emotionally, you immune system will be strong in turn. The water in Bach Remedies are said to aquire the memory of the flowers, which can then be transfered to us in a vibrational form. A number of drops of the mother tincture are added to water and sipped.
  • Sun method – place spring or mineral water into a bowl. Don’t touch blossoms but carry them with a leaf, picking blossoms of the same variety from seperate plants if possible. Completely cover the surface of the water with the flowers. Leave the bowl in full sun for about three hours. When the flowers begin to look limp, that’s when their ‘vital force’ has gone into the water. If the sun hasn’t been out for the full three hours, the contents will need to be discarded. After the three hours, lift the blooms out of the water with a twig or leaf and thank them for giving you their life force. Pour the essence into a clean, empty bottle with an equal amount of alcohol (vodka or brandy). Label! Use this method unless it is from leaves or twigs – and then use the boiling method.
  • Boiling method – pick flowers and some twigs. Place at the bottom of a (non-aluminium) saucepan. Cover with spring or mineral water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 more minutes using another twig and keep the blossoms and twigs under the water. Remove from the heat source and leave the pan to stand in the open air until cool. Filter cooled liquid into a bottle with an equal volume of alcohol (vodka or brandy). Label!

Aromatherapy (Unit 21)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 21: Aromatherapy

Learning outcome:

Understand essential oils, their uses, contraindications and benefit

  • It’s impossible to predict the effect of an odour on humans because its effects when inhaled may be subject to the many factors – a. how the odour/essential oil is applied, b. quantity applied, c. the circumstances in which it is applied, d. the person to whom it was applied (age, sex, personality type), e. the persons mood, and f. previous memory associations with the odour.
  • Lots of how-tos, and tables.

Guidelines on Herb Administration (Unit 20)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 20: Guidelines on Herb Administration

Learning outcome:

Understand the different ways herbs may be ingested or used

  • Variables which determine the type of herbal medication to be given, in order of importance: Herb selection, duration, preparation, dosage, herb combining

Preparations for Internal Use:

  • Decoction – extract of herbs produced by boiling the herb in water. Used for hard seeds, roots and barks.
  • Infusion – short exposure to warm water. Dried leaves, stems, flowers and other light plant parts. Heat water in a pan until just after it begins to boil, and then pour over plants, cover immediately and steep for 15-20mins. Strain and drink.
  • Water infusions/Teas – cold infusions can be prepared for roots and seeds that could be lost throuhg decoction. Finely chopped or ground herb is set to steep for at least 12 hours (overnight). Before straining, cold infusion is stirred and brought to boil. Can also do a sun tea preperation – place herbs in a jar of cold water and set in the sun for 2-8hours
  • Essential Oil Distillation – can make own steam inhalations using them. NEver use oil internally
  • Tincture – extract of herbs preserved in alcohol, can be kept indefinately. Can be made with fresh or dried ingredients, root, seed, fruit or herb. Place alcohol into a jar, and pour fine herb material into it and stir to a smooth consistancy. Label and keep in a cool, dark spot. Leave for 3-6 weeks, shake the jar briefly but thoroughly every few days. When ready, strain contents.
  • Fluid Extract or Concentrate – one part dried herb to two parts water/alcohol. These are 2-3 times stronger than tinctures, but not suitable for all botanicals. Method 1: percolation – pour alcohol over crushed/powdered herbal material about four times. Method 2: when using a tincture, heat alchohol until its completely evaporated. Method 3: Decoction – continue to summer until only a little liquid is left.
  • Medicated Ghee – Ayurvedic preparation of clarified butter with added herbs. Heat unsalted butter on low flame for 10-15mins, as it begins to boil, turn down low until a drop of water produces a crackling sound. Allow to cool somewhat, strain into a container. Prepare double-strength herbal decoction for a 1tsp dosage. Add to half the amount of ghee, pour and mix slowly and thoroughly.
  • Vinegar – weaker than spirits but cheaper, better tolerated and more in keeping with skin pH. Great for skin and hair preperations/washes.
  • Syrup – soothing and healing. thick, sweet liquid for irritated conditions of throat, lungs, stomach and intestines that need constant soothing effects. Base recipe: 500g of sugar/mollasses or honey to 500ml of hot water, and add 500ml double strength infusion/decoction. Heat, skim off skum, leave to cool. Drink immediately or store in fridge in a cork topped bottle.
  • Capsule – powered herbal material inside a gelatine capsule. No point with this one, as you can’t easily adjust dosage.
  • Mouthwash/Gargle – double-strength herbal tea.
  • Inhalation – good for respiratory issues. Essential oils or infusions used here.
  • Vaginal steam – medicated steam transfered through the vagina to the cervix. Fuck off with this one. Sounds like a surefire way to burn sensitive genitals!
  • Vaginal sponge – soaking up diluted essential oils with a sterile sponge and inserting into the vagina, and leaving it for two hours. Doesn’t sound like the best idea either.
  • Pessary (Vaginal Suppository) – as above, but making a pessary out of cocoa butter and/or glycerogelatin. Any chemicals up ones vagina seems reckless to me.
  • Douching – a vaginal wash, where vodka or milk diluted essential oils are poured into the vagina using a cardboard tampon cartridge, and left for 10-20 minutes. Hmmm no.
  • Enema – injection of medicated water by way of the rectum, and retained for 15-30 mins to achieve effects.

Preparation for External USe

  • Plaster – oil or wax based medication applied topically. Melt wax (e.g. beeswax, castor oil, soft paraffin) in the top of a double boiler. Remove hear and stir constantly until cool.. to the cool mixture, add either powdered herbs of essential oils in a 1:4 ratio.
  • Poultice – water, tincture or fresh herb-based external medication applied topically. If fresh herbs are used, crushed grated or chewed first, apply onto skin, wrap in course muslin/cheesecloth/wool. If dried herbs are used, mix with a binder such as comfrey leaf/clay/plain flour, egg white), moisten with warm water and wrapped in a course cloth, apply to the affected area. Sprinkle with water if it becomes too dry
  • Compress – simple compress uses hot or cold water only. Medicated compress involves herbal tea, essential oils or tinctures.
  • Wash – applied medicated water onto the skin with cotton wool or a soft cloth. Medicated water is prepared making a double strength infusion/decoction, or adding a few drops of essential oil to warm water (10 drops per 30ml)
  • Ointment – contains only oily ingredients, to stay on the skin for a long time to form a soothing, healing and protective layer. Good for keeping body heat in and water out.
  • Cream/Lotion – contain water, or water-based herbal extracts, as well as oils, and an emulsifying agent such as egg yolks, lanolin and beeswax (the best). A cream is a light oil preperation emulsified with a medicated liquid – penetrates faster and promotes healing, doesn’t clog the pores. A lotion is a thinner, more liquid cream, watered down with herb tea, tincture or vinegar.
  • Liniment – oil-based medication used by rubbing into the skin and muscles.
  • Hand and foot bath – immersion of ankles or wrists in hot or cold water, enhanced with herbs or essential oils.
  • Sitzbath – bath with enough water to cover up to the waist only, with 250ml of herbal preperation, or 5-10 drops of essential oil. Cold sitzbaths should only last 30secs-3 minutes. Hot sitzbaths should be for 15mins.
  • Full bath – cold, 1-2 mins max. For medicated baths… bring 1l to the boil, turn off the heat and add up to 100g crushed/chopped herbs, cover and steep for 4-5hours. Use 500ml max per bath, thus can use this for several baths. Or, add 5-10 drops of essential oil into a full bath.

Clinical Medicine (Unit 19)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 19: Clinical Medicine

Learning outcome:

1. Understand the organisation of body systems

2. Identify various disease states

  • Covers GCSE biology, explaining the different systems we ascribe to in Western medicine
  • Offers an A-Z list of lots of things that can go wrong with the body
  • Not much new or insightful to gather here…

Ayurveda (Unit 18)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 18: Ayurveda

Learning outcome:

Understand the origin and concept of Ayurveda

  • ‘Veda’ refers to the knowledge or learning at the deepest level, the wisdom of this conscious universe that we can all see in our own lives. The universe and the individual are interconnected.
  • Ayurveda is all about learning how to heal yourself
  • to have true health, we must live in harmony with the universe and the environment, and to be at ease with oneself.
  • ‘Healing is remembering how to be healthy and enlightenment is remembering how to be whole’. Oof, what a line.
  • From what I’ve read, I like the holistic concept of Ayurveda, and it seems to make sense to me… but I find it quite confusing as a system!

Chinese Herbal Medicine (Unit 17)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 17: Chinese Herbal Medicine

Learning outcome:

Understand the concept of Chinese Medicine

  • based on the concept of Yin and Yang, and that everything in the universe needs to be balanced.
  • Chi (Ki in Japan, Prana in India) is defined as an energy that permeates throughout the universe. If it flows smoothly, all is well. If it is blocked or stagnated, problems occur.
  • Failing to nurture the body and trying to keep other people happy are ‘western diseases’. Food, rest and leisure replace the chi normally. Very wise words.
  • Diagnosis involves using four distinct basic disciplines: looking, hearing, asking and feeling.
  • Oldest book about herbal remedies is the Ben Gao – written by the ancient ruler Shen Nung/Red Emperor.

Herbs from the Bible (Unit 16)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 16: Herbs from the Bible

Learning outcome:

Identify the different herbs, their source, appearance and uses

  • This is actually a really useless module. It quotes lines from the Bible where plants are referenced and just goes about describing the plant and where it grows? There’s not even any traditional beliefs or folklore mentioned.. which I’d have been interested in!

Outlines of over 850 Herbs and Practical Work to do (Units 7 – 15)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Units 7 – 15: Outlines of over 850 Herbs and Practical Work to Do

Learning outcome:

Identify the different herbs, their source, appearance and uses

  • affordable herbs and tinctures can be purchased at www.baldwins.co.uk
  • These modules alpahabetically list herbs, explaining their names, histories, herb descriptions, habitats, parts used, preparations, actions, medical uses of the herb and cautions. It’s been very useful and interesting reading through yet there’s not much to pull out at the moment that feels directly relevant to my artistic practice. I can always refer back to it though in case it does!

Phytonutrients (Unit 6)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 6: Phytonutrients

Learning outcome:

Understand how foods can improve and maintain health

  • The idea that we’re made of ‘four overlapping parts’ – the spiritual, mental, physical and emotional.
  • Phytonutrients are simply the chemicals or nutrients found in plants

Contraindications (Unit 5)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 5: Contraindications

Learning outcome:

1. Understand why plants might be toxic and what tests can be used to determine toxicity

2. Justify why labelling is important

  • A non-exhaustive list of poisonous plants (for my own reference should I want to start using any of these creatively!)
    Alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus)
    Baneberry (Actaea spicata)
    Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara)
    Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum)
    Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)
    Bryony black (Tamus communis)
    Bryony white (Bryonia dioica)
    Buttercup family (Ranunculus)
    Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)
    Cowbane (Cicuta rirosa)
    Daphne (Daphne mezereum)
    Darnel rye grass (Lolium temulentum)
    Deadly nightshade (Atropa bella-donna)
    Dog’s mercury (Mercurialis perennis)
    Fool’s parsley (Aethusa cynapium)
    Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
    Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)
    Green hellebore (Helleborus viridis)
    Hemlock (Conium macula turn)
    Henbane (Hyoscyarnus niger)
    Ivy (Hedera helix)
    Laburnum — all varieties
    Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)
    Meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale)
    Mistletoe (Viscum album)
    Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)
    Privet (Ligustrum vulgare)
    Spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus)
    Spurges, all (Euphorbia)
    Spurge-laurel (Daphne laureola)
    Stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus)
    Thorn apple (Datura stramonium)
    Yew (Taxus baccata)
  • If in doubt about the safety of a particular essential oil, don’t use it – there will always be alternatives to the one you may have chosen.
  • Aromatherapy Organisations Council (AOC) is the self-regulatory board for aromatherapy in Britain.
  • A lot of what is written here is common sense… things like giving children a quarter amount of essential oil than you would an adult, and half the amount for an older person over 70
  • Label any mixes you make

Chemistry (Unit 4)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 4: Chemistry

Learning outcome:

Understanding the process of photosynthesis and how this ties up with the precious substances required by plants.

  • Alchemy was seen as a system of philosophy that dealt both with the mystery or life and the formation of inanimate substances. Alchemy was a complex and indefinite conglomeration of chemistry, astrology, occultism and magic, blended with abstruse ideas derived from various religious systems and other sources.
  • Not much else that piqued my interest in this module. Just a lot of chemistry and common sense.

Introduction to Botany (Unit 3)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 3: Introduction to Botany

Learning outcome:

Identify the parts of a plant, detailing the growing stages from seed to pollination
Differentiate between annual, perennial and biannual plants.

  • Not much to write here. This module was full of very hard to read science. Interesting to read through, not sure I’ll retain any of it!


Image: basic plant bits

Doctrine of Signatures (Unit 2)

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 2: Doctrine of Signatures

Learning outcome:

Evaluate the science of Herbology and the role of a Herbalist.

  • Language of Flowers
  • There are nine herbs listed in an ancient Anglo-Saxon text, the Lacnunga, and there is a certain fascination in the belief that they could protect against physical, mental and emotional ailments. The herbs are chervil, crab-apple, fennel, mugwort, maythen (chamomile), stime (watercress), waybroed (plantain), wergula (nettle) and the previously unidentified atterlothe. It has now been translated to cockspur grass by the Archaeological Unit in Bury St Edmunds and this is likely the ‘Cock’s head fitch’ (Onobrychis), or sainfoin, of Culpeper’s Herbal of 1645. This group of rather unruly and unattractive herbs could be given a bit of style by planting them with paths in the shape of a Celtic knot design with the crab-apple tree in the centre.
  • The six herbs betony, vervain, peony root (named after Paeon, the physician of Olympus), plantain, yarrow and the rose were worn in an amulet to ward off evil and many sacred herbs were burned on hilltops on St John’s Day (23 June). It was believed that they purified the air and protected people, livestock and crops. St John’s Wort was the best known.
    Roots made a culinary comeback in 1699, when the book Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallet was published by John Evelyn. This book is an adventure in salad making with instructions for gathering and preparing over 72 herbal roots, stalks, leaves, buds, flowers and fruits.

Featured image: Mugwort

The History and Development of Herbal Medicine (Unit 1)

I got a voucher for an online Herbalism Diploma for Christmas! I’m buzzing. I’m hoping my knowledge on phytocology expands and there’s bits in there that could contribute to my arts practice, or at least give me additional jumping points for research. Who knows, it might even start a change of career.

I’m intending to post things of artistic importance or note here, so I can come back easily later. I’m not jotting notes on the entire thing, just things that jump out… some text has been lifted from the course, but to clarify, it is for educational purposes!

Master Herbalist Diploma: Unit 1: The History and Development of Herbal Medicine

Learning Outcomes:

Understand the contributions made to Herbalism by Culpepper and Dioscorides

Understand the Doctrine of Signatures

  • Aristotle believed plants had a psyche
  • Medieval Doctrine of Signatures – the connection between how a plant looks (God’s signature) and how it’s used medicinally. Eg- the mottled leaves of Lungwort mirroring lung tissue, which treats ailments of the respiratory tract. The hollow stalk of the garlic showed it was a remedy for windpipe ailments. Some weeds-like dandelion, plantain, yarrow, and nettles-revealed the broadness of their healing virtues through their abundance.
  • De Materia Medica, the first European herbal guide written by Greek, 1st century physician
  • Pliny the Elder 23-79 AD drew together writings from over 400 authors in his Natural History, recording, amongst other things, herbal lore of the time.
  • John Gerard’s ‘The Herbal’ is clearly the work of a horticulturist, rather than of a herbal practitioner, but is nonetheless a mine of information. The book includes many plants that had been recently brought back to Europe by explorers and traders.
  • Culpeper’s ‘The English Physicians’ has been widely used as a practical reference book ever since its publication.
  • John Hill, M.D., wrote ‘A general Natural History’, or new accurate descriptions of the Animals, Vegetables and Minerals of the different parts of the world, printed in 1751, and ‘British Herbal’, an History of Plants and Trees Native to Britain, cultivated for use or praised for Beauty, in 1756.
  • William Salmon, M.D., wrote ‘The English Herbal’ or History of Plants in 1710.
  • Benjamin H. Barton, F.L.S., and Thomas Castle, M.D., F.L.S., collaborated ina the production of two volumes entitled ‘The Medicinal Plants of Great Britain’, published in 1845.
  • A Modern Herbal. The author, Mrs. Maude Grieve
  • An adage from the Salerno school (Middle Ages medical establishment – that let women practice) on sage went as follows: So/via salvatrix, natura conciliati’ix (sage, the saviour; nature, the conciliator). A conciliator is a person who acts as a mediator between two disputing people or groups.
  • The name Ayurveda derives from two Indian words: ayur, meaning life and veda, meaning knowledge or science. Ayurvedic medicine is more than a system of healing. It is a way of life encompassing science, religion and philosophy that enhances well-being, increases longevity and ultimately brings self-realization. It aims to bring about a union of physical, emotional and spiritual health, known as swasthya. This state enables the individual to enter into a harmonious relationship with cosmic consciousness.
  • Charles M. Skinner’s ‘Myths and Legends of Flowers, Trees, Fruits and Plants’


Image: Lungwort

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.