Three Common Mistakes with Herbs

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We often grow in important ways because of mistakes. But while experience can be a powerful teacher, it can also be a painful one. The cool thing is that hearing other people’s mistakes can help our own growth and learning…minus the regrets.

With that in mind, a theme for Season 8 of the podcast is looking back at herbal mistakes, a bit like alerting other drivers to a hazard on the road ahead.

I’m getting the ball rolling by sharing my three most important mistakes with herbs. I’m also sharing tips and resources to help you avoid those same potholes.

After listening in, you’ll know:

► How to minimize waste in your home apothecary (and why that’s important)

► One big reason why herbs sometimes help and sometimes don’t…and a more nuanced approach to herbalism that’s far likelier to be successful

► How I learned that, at its heart, herbalism is about so much more than swapping out herbs for drugs


  • 00:00 - What was your most important mistake with herbs?
  • 01:59 - Mistake #1: Perhaps my most painful herbal lesson…
  • 04:49 - Mistake #2: Taking a “this herb” for “that problem” approach to herbalism
  • 07:25 - What is herbal energetics and how can I learn more about it?
  • 09:43 - Mistake #3: Ignoring the bigger picture of herbalism…
  • 16:12 - Six tips for maintaining your herbal apothecary

Transcript of the Common Mistakes with Herbs Video

Welcome to season 8 of the Herbs with Rosalee podcast. I’m super excited for the guests and plants we have lined up for this season.

I’m also excited to be asking each guest a new question.

This season’s question comes from a newsletter reader.

The question is: What was your most important mistake with herbs?

As a thank you for submitting this question they are receiving a signed copy of one of my books.

If you’d like to submit a question to ask each guest of the season, you can do that using the contact me form on my website, and if I choose your question you’ll get my gratitude, a mention on the show, and a signed copy of one of my books.

To get us started with season 8 I’m sharing three of my most important mistakes with herbs.

Common Mistakes with Herbs: 1. Herbal Waste

My first important mistake is not one that I’m proud of, but it’s one that I think we need to talk more about because it’s both common and harmful.

When I first started learning about herbs I wanted to learn ALL the herbs and I wanted to learn them all yesterday. In other words, I had a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.

As a result of this excitement and plowing ahead mentality I bought A LOT of herbs. I bought herbs from online apothecaries that gave larger discounts with the more you ordered. Plus, I figured by buying in bulk I saved on shipping. So I bought more than I needed.

I bought fresh herbs from a local herb farm so that I could tincture everything. I had every intention of using all these herbs. In fact, for a short time I had a free herbal clinic and I imagined giving away these herbs and tinctures there.

But, I didn’t use them all. Just recently I went through all of my dried bulk herbs and I composted an astonishing amount of old herbs. Herbs that I had had for ten years. Herbs I had bought too much of. Herbs I didn’t have a particular plan for and, therefore, literally they got put on the back shelf.

Luckily this didn’t happen with herbs that I grew and harvested myself. One reason for this is that it simply takes a lot more time and energy to harvest plants yourself. But also, my first teacher had instilled in me a deep sense of responsibility towards the plants that I tend and to not overharvest them.

I am not proud that this reverence didn’t extend to plants that I bought. Somehow that separation of buying rather than tending led to herbal excess and ultimately waste.

I wish I hadn’t made this mistake on behalf of the plants and the waste that it resulted in. Now I am much more cautious about ordering just enough of what I need. I’d rather pay a little more for buying less, because I don’t get the big bulk discounts.

And I’d rather pay for shipping more often and have potent fresh herbs that I use quickly rather than lots of herbs that are dwindling in potency as they sit on my shelves.

When I used to order herbs my mentality was, “How can I order more for a discount?” Now my mentality is, “How little can I order so that I go through them quickly?”

My hope is that by sharing this mistake with you, I can inspire you to also embrace a less-is-more mentality when it comes to stocking up on herbs. 

Common Mistakes with Herbs: 2. This-for-That Mentality

My second biggest mistake was thinking that herbs are simply a natural substitute for drugs. And, as a result, all I needed to do was memorize what herb is good for whatever problem. So I would look up herbs for the liver, or herbs for eczema, or herbs for PMS and then memorize a list of herbs.

Of course I didn’t come up with this technique myself. It’s a natural mentality that sprouts from living in a culture of western medicine and, to be fair, there are still lots of books that promote this type of approach.

But I know now that this is a big mistake.

The reason why this approach survives is because it works sometimes. There are many situations in which herbs reliably act in a certain way for many people. For example, ginger is pretty darn good at relieving nausea. And fennel seeds are fantastic for relieving cramping and indigestion.

But neither fennel or ginger work like that 100% of the time for 100% of the people. Moreover, once we get into more complicated territory, like chronic illness, the success rate of herbs falls dramatically with the this-for-that approach.

I started to learn herbs by memorizing what ailments they’re good for. I even started seeing clients using this method.

But early on, I realized that I was not getting the results that I wanted. I felt like I was blindfolded and playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it helped just a bit, sometimes there were no results.

I didn’t love feeling like I was in a big guessing game.

Luckily, I found herbal energetics, or the way that herbalism has been practiced around the world for thousands of years. Instead of trying to memorize this-for-that, matching diseases to herbs, I learned the art of matching herbs to people. This method was not only way more effective, it was also more engaging and fun to study and practice.

I know a lot of you listeners and viewers are familiar with herbal energetics, either because you’ve been listening to the podcast for awhile or because you’ve bought my books or taken my courses.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, I want to give a short explanation, as well as a couple of resources for you.

Herbal energetics can sound ethereal or woo, but it’s not. At its most basic it's the observation of how we feel and the observation of how plants make us feel.

And how it works is that we match opposing energies.

This is something that you already do in your life. At its most basic level, herbal energetics is reaching for a watermelon when you feel hot on a sweltering summer’s day. Or reaching for a warm spicy soup or tea when you feel cold.

In addition to hot and cold we also observe dryness and dampness. We work with moistening herbs when we feel dry and then drying herbs when we feel damp. 

It does get more complicated than this, because both people and plants are complicated. But that is herbal energetics at its core.

If you’re new to herbal energetics and you’re intrigued, I have two easy resources for you.

The first is my free herbal jumpstart course which introduces you to energetics through the plants themselves, and helps you begin to choose the right herbs for you. You can get this free course by signing up for my weekly newsletter below.

People repeatedly tell me that they get more from this short video course than they do from courses they pay money for. There’s lots of value in this free course and I’m excited to hear what you think!

If you prefer printed materials, then my first book, Alchemy of Herbs, is all about herbal energetics. This bestselling herbal book has sold over 100,000 copies and is highly rated and acclaimed. Obviously, I am completely biased, but I think every herbalist should have a copy.

Okay, to sum up so far, my two most important mistakes were to accumulate too many herbs, which resulted in herbal waste, and to try to use this-for-that herbalism instead of applying herbal energetics.

Which brings me to my last important mistake, which was trying to be an herbal pharmacist, while ignoring the bigger picture of interdependence, reciprocity, and the gifts of the earth. 

Common Mistakes with Herbs: 3. Ignoring the bigger picture of herbalism

I was in herbal practice for 7 or 8 years, by which I mean I was an herbal practitioner who saw clients. Initially I loved it. It felt like my life’s calling. As someone who had turned to herbs to heal my own chronic illness, I was delighted and fulfilled to guide others on that same path.

But over time, something began to gnaw at me.

Even though I was artfully matching herbs to people, and I was no longer using this-for-that herbalism, it still kinda felt like this-for-that herbalism.

I began to see that I was basically a pharmacist. I was seeing a person, evaluating their health history, and then recommending a list of herbs, dietary and certainly lifestyle changes… but there was a deeper connection that was missing. I don’t think that good health lies within bottles and jars, even if we use herbal energetics to figure out what herbs to choose.

Ultimately, I don’t think we are going to transform our health or the health of the earth by swallowing capsules or tinctures that we buy at the store and then think that is that.

Instead, we have a sickness that runs deeper than that. A sickness that takes many forms, but ultimately leads back to a disconnection between ourselves and the living world around us.

Medicinal plants are both a practical and deeply healing way to find our way back to the earth; to live with gratitude and reciprocity rather than a primarily exploitative and extractive mentality; to see how we’re a part of this earth, not a separate entity from nature, and how our actions directly affect all beings here.

This perspective is also more deeply rewarding. Walking out to my local elder tree which produces fruit and flowers that keeps me from getting sick is now a profound experience of gratitude and joy; something I simply don’t get from picking something up off the shelf or having it delivered by UPS.

Yes, I still buy herbs. I still buy herbal capsules and tinctures. My lifestyle isn’t purist. But with each passing season, my life is more deeply intertwined with the living world around me.

For me the beauty and joy and even the biggest impact of herbalism isn’t swapping out herbs for drugs, even when using herbal energetics to guide us. Instead, it’s finding our way back to tending this beautiful earth. One step at a time.

Helping people strengthen their connection to the living world around them, through the lens of herbalism, is now my life’s calling.

This is what my second book, Wild Remedies, which I co-authored with Emily Han, is about. And it’s also the focus of our online medicine making course, Rooted Medicine Circle.

Okay, those are my three most important herbal mistakes. I’ll be asking each guest this season what their most important herbal mistake was.

I’d also love to hear if you have one. Mistakes are how we grow and learn! And hearing other people’s mistakes can help our own growth and learning. Please share in the comments!

Apple Review

I have followed Rosalee’s emails for quite a while now. I love the way she delivers the information in an interesting way so you feel engaged in the conversation about whatever herb she is speaking about. Her recipes give neophytes a good chance to be successful trying some of these herbs and I have not encountered a bad one yet. I am thrilled she’s doing a podcast.

I am completely new to herbalism. I bought Rosalee’s book, Alchemy of Herbs, and have read it cover to cover. This is my first year ever having the time to have a garden. It’s overwhelming but Rosalee makes things accessible. Her way of teaching really is inspiring. Now she has a podcast which I am also new to. Hers is actually the first podcast I have ever listened toI'm impressed!

Do you love this podcast? If you leave a review for me on Apple podcasts, I may be reading your herbal love letter on the show next!

Okay, you’ve lasted to the very end of the show which means you get a gold star and this herbal tidbit…

Since I shared about how I accumulated too many herbs in my apothecary I thought I’d share a few tips on how to best maintain your own herbal apothecary. 

  • First, as shared, harvest or buy herbs from ethical sources, in small amounts and use quickly. If you want some tips on ethical sourcing see my episode with Ann Armbrect on Chamomile
  • Label all your herbs with the common name, botanical name, date acquired, and where you got them from. 
  • Go through all your herbs twice a year so that you remember what you have and can use what you have while it’s potent. 
  • If you have aged herbs, consider using them in soup broths, herbal baths, or the compost, as appropriate. 
  • Ideally, store your herbs in tightly sealed glass jars, in a cool, dark place. 
  • And lastly, give a little dose of gratitude every time you see, touch, taste, and smell these powerful healing plants.

Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.  

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