Intuition: The Sensible Sense for Herbal Self-care

Listen to the plants.

Listen, because they’re calling us, calling out to us, to join them in their revelries of wholeness. Their purpose is connection, like their roots that reach out in the humus, reaching, gathering, joining. They connect with the sun, the moon, the soil, moisture and all their myriad plant friends—human, animal and botanical—as well as the offerings they give in not just beauty in appearance and perfect purpose, but also to each of us, as the favored recipients of their medicine for body, mind and spirit.

In studying Herbalism as an art, because it is more nuance than science, a consistent occurrence joins and rejoins, and that is the remarkable versatility of a single herb and how it applies in different circumstances. Just as we’re taught that there is no one-size-fits-all in Herbalism, as it’s not allopathic medicine where the symptom is treated with a broad regimen instead of attending the root cause, one herb may be heralded for a particular quality for self-healing, and it may not offer that same attribute to another individual in the exact same way, or even to the same individual the exact same way at another time. Body constitutions, plant energetics, actions, and how they all respond to one another are to be considered. As body constitutions change during imbalances, due to illness or other, or throughout life, those same qualities of an herb may not meet all the current needs as had been done in the past. So where does that leave us? Forever on a quest for the perfect match of herb and need for ourselves? Training and study enlist their aid in this journey of self-care, but that can still leave us in need of further discernment.

What that does is that it leaves us vulnerable, and that’s okay; when we’re vulnerable we open ourselves up to consider and communicate on a different plane. When we’re sick and/or afflicted, those trials can open us up even more to allow ourselves to listen by the spirit, by consciousness—to be still. The essence of plants, if we cast aside structured science, and we peel away the preconceived notions of what plant works for which ailment, we are bare, essentially. No ornamentation. Just us and the plants looking toward the sun. Together.  It’s an unspoken conversation we’re having.

When we’re deep down in a cold or flu, for instance, the mind may race, because systems of the body are in such disarray. All extraneous plans and efforts for day-to-day living are cast aside, as comfort and relief are basic, more urgent needs. Just breathing through the nose may be the simple challenge we seek to restore, or pause an ache or calm a cough while preserving our body’s need to expel. Stress from worry about a national resurgence of influenza, or guilt from getting sick in the first place, despite proactive efforts, add to the tumult. So we serendipitously find a simple recipe in our herbal community forum for thyme, lemon and honey cough syrup, and we begin to make it, but instead of using fresh thyme, as it’s not currently in the household, we instinctively include fresh sage instead, in one fluid motion. This support quells the cough and calms the body, mind and spirit, bringing peace to heal ourselves for a time, as rest is the number one remedy for colds and flu.

Sage is known to many as an astringent, toning tissues of the throat, but in this instance, it not only suppressed the cough, but allowed the body to expel what was needed in that moment to improve and rest. The added bonus was restorative peace, perhaps from sage’s known quality as a pain reliever. Would it work the same way for another, in their own self-care? Perhaps. Did it address the need better than thyme would have? Intuition says so for this specific instance and individual, in this expansive moment of awareness. It’s not empirical evidence and can’t be quantified. It’s not science; it’s food as medicine. No two people are alike, and no two circumstances are alike. Herbs in combination with each other aren’t always alike as they are individually, either; sometimes they’re enhanced, like how pepper improves turmeric’s effectiveness. Using combinations of herbs intuitively for self-care is a worthy study.

What doesn’t change is the connection we have at-the-ready, always, with nature. That connection is there for us, and our botanical friends are always there for us as medicinal aid, if we listen for ourselves in that knowing way we’re all capable of as be-ings in harmony with the Earth and all her gifts.

Another example of that connection is that plants are there where we need them. Sage was present when thyme was not, for instance, yet relief was still served. Perhaps visiting a special place we’ve frequented before, we now notice an abundance of herbal goodness had been within reach for many seasons, with realization that several wild herbs had joined the fold over the years that hadn’t been there before. Adaptation? Evolution? An awakening? These are all explanations that cause us to consider that all the senses come into play. Tasting. Smelling. Seeing, Feeling and Hearing—including from an inner sense or intrinsic knowing, which is intuition. It too, is a gift, one to be cultivated and nourished, just like the plants we hold in such high regard, so very near and dear to our hearts. Just like sage is wisdom, so too do our herbal allies impart that very thing, if we listen.

Disclaimer: Always seek Herbal education from a qualified source. The author is not a medical professional, nutritionist or dietician. Content on this website is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for legal advice, medical treatment or diagnosis and is not monitored or evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration/FDA. Consult your health care provider if you are experiencing any symptoms and before using any herbal product. When wildcrafting or foraging for plants, do so ethically; be accompanied by an expert; and always have absolute certainty of plant identification before using or consuming any herbs. Any application of the material provided is at the reader’s discretion and is his or her sole responsibility.

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The heart of Botaniscape™ and budding Herbalist/Wildcrafter, Lori McClellan sees the Art of Herbalism as her lifelong connection to Nature and wonder manifested most fully—another exciting medium and source of abundant joy. A daily meditator and career Journalist, Author, Artist and Poet, she creates as Loretta Boyer McClellan. Her works as a publisher and writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry; conscious PR, brand, graphic design, and communications; and as an Arts instructor, journalist and artist, “sized the canvas,” so to speak, for a fruitful life of expression, connection and inspiration. Author of The Nature of BEing: A Healing Journey, The Misthaven of Maine Series, and Dodging Raindrops: Poems and Prose of Beauty, Peace and Healing, Lori creates from a place of Oneness. Writing, meditating, painting, and her relationship with Nature and all beings, most tangibly through Herbalism, are her connection to the Infinite. 

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Why We Need Adaptogens More Than Ever

Herbs for our Times: Adaptogen herbs help reduce stress and restore balance of the body, mind and spirit, sometimes profoundly. Examples such as Holy Basil, also known as Tulsi, Astragalus, and Ashwagandha, to name a few, support in myriad ways.

Plant ID and Color : A Primary Mix

Field Guides on Shibori, ©2017 Loretta McClellan

Wildcrafting, also known as foraging in the wild for medicinal herbs and harvesting them (respectfully and sustainably), was and is a significant draw for me to the study of plant medicine. I took an immediate interest in this process, this deeper physical and spiritual connection to the roots of Herbalism.

While I must pace myself and practice abiding patience in this comprehensive art that promotes self-healing, buying dried herbs from responsible providers along the way, it is wildcrafting that I dream about, hope for and imagine doing with a sure knowledge as an integral part of my practice. Successfully growing my own herbs from seed in a strikingly beautiful garden of abundance is another hopeful plan. Each takes time, both through study and implementing. A mindful approach is key, or I might burst from anticipation over all there is that I still want to learn!

Nature is my playground and lifelong friend, as are her gifts. I celebrate this herbal learning experience, as my entire being has awakened in remembrance, returning to the instinctive knowing, that herbs in their season are a divine right, set forth upon this earth for our holistic benefit. The fact that they offer color and beauty to gaze upon is an added bonus!

Pantone Fan on Shibori, ©2017 Loretta McClellan

In college as a Fine Art major I studied Color Theory in a Design course. We learned about the same primary and secondary hues from elementary school, as well as intermediate and tertiary colors. There were copious exercises in mixing paint from only primary colors and black and white, to formulate an exact hue, shade or tint, within a matter of moments. While it took some of the peace and tranquility out of color for me at the time, it has proven useful. It has also provided an opportunity to humor people when they ask what my favorite color is, and I, as an artist-designer, show them several coded hues from my Pantone fan.

After many years of living in the mountains, I now live in the city in California, currently adapting with no easy access to safe wildcrafting spaces.  My light at the end of this tunnel, however, comes from New England, specifically Maine, where I’ll be spending an immersive and nourishing herbal and creative sabbatical, including studying the “weeds” on the pesticide- and herbicide-free property that were sadly, previously dismissed by me. Now that I’m aware, I’m hopeful to make their much-valued acquaintance, anticipating joyful surprises! I’ve already rehearsed my apology speech, knowing I’ll be forgiven, because that’s how plant beings, these beings of balance that help us to return to the same, are.

Complementing my wonderful ongoing, core coursework at The Herbal Academy and other influences elsewhere, I recently completed the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine’s free “Handcrafted Herbalism” mini course, which included a segment on Wildcrafting. Their tandem teaching style and presented topics via video and print resonated. Their strategic marketing to potential future, paying students through this course succeeded with me. I can’t wait until their 350-hour, “Foraging Course: Edible and Medicinal Wild Herbs,” in “early 2018!” In the meantime, I’ve been getting my hands on plant identification guides, as well as information from any and all reputable sources that encourage thoughtful measures and protection of endangered medicinal herbs, such as United Plant Savers.

I believe nothing can fully substitute for local, hands-on plant ID training, such as herb walks with a regional botanist or seasoned herbalist/wildcrafter; however, my book and online studies are preparing me for further education in the wild. Also, with the engaging video paired with written content I’ve seen already from Chestnut School, I fully expect in their Foraging course to learn from a honeybee’s or hummingbird’s view, complete with camera angles to support the realistic, in-the-air or on-the-petal perspective. With the humor I’ve seen thus far from Juliet Blankspoor and Asia Suler in their mini course scriptwriting, I wouldn’t be surprised if the honeybee and hummingbird narrated for a bit, complete with quirky banter!

For now, the Peterson Field Guides for medicinal herbs are my current immersion. I have both guides, for Eastern/Central and Western states. They are great guides; however, if the plant you’re trying to identify isn’t flowering, it seems more challenging to research in the book without prior knowledge. Also, there is a mention in the Eastern/Central book in the “How to Use this Book” section about range of color and its interpretation. When identifying a magenta flower, better comb the pages for orange and red, through violet/purple, as blooms may vary, and from my experience in color theory, one person’s magenta is another’s fushia (or in my case, Pantone 234C and 233C, respectively). Those colors may be just violet/purple, red or pink in another’s perspective.

Thorough plant observation for identification and safety is important, as there should be time to view the plant season-long in all its incarnations, including flowering, which may only last as a two-week span, depending on the plant, according to the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. I want to be around to witness many seasons of wildcrafting and growth as an ever-budding Herbalist, so to be sure I always know what I’m doing, I’ll be taking my time, mixing nature and study in equal parts.


The heart of Botaniscape™ and budding Herbalist, Lori McClellan sees the Art of Herbalism as her lifelong connection to Nature and wonder manifested most fully—another exciting medium and source of abundant joy. An Author, Artist and Poet, creating as Loretta Boyer McClellan, her works as a writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry; conscious PR, brand, graphic design, and communications; and as an Arts instructor, journalist and artist, “sized the canvas,” so to speak, for a fruitful life of expression, connection and inspiration. Author of The Nature of BEing: A Healing Journey, The Misthaven of Maine Series, and Dodging Raindrops: Poems and Prose of Beauty, Peace and Healing, Lori creates from a place of Oneness. Writing, meditating, painting, and her relationship with Nature and all beings, most tangibly through Herbalism, are her connection to the Infinite.