Educational Q & A

Simples In Herbalism (Or Are You Really An Herbalist?)

Herbalism is a Holistic practice, meaning that you treat the whole of the person.
If you have a damaged liver and an herbalist gives you medicine, you will eventually be cured.

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Welcome to this post. I’m going to try to not rant but this topic kinda hit a nerve with me so it might come off as negative for a while.

There is a silver lining though and some pearls of wisdom to be had (at least I hope so, anyway). I think this is something that I need to write down and share with you all just for my own peace of mind if nothing else.

So here we go!


What’s The Story?

While I was writing an earlier post, I needed to get the botanical name for an herb. I googled it like everyone on the planet and found what I was looking for on another herbalist’s blog.

I like to read what other people in the industry are talking about and I have no ill will or competition mindset towards any of them. No one person can know everything and its through sharing of information that we progress.

That being said, I got quite annoyed at something I read on there. That is the thorn of this post, consider it an open letter to the herbal community.


What Did They Say?

I’m going to paraphrase because I don’t want them being googled through a quote.

Apparently, they are a working, professional herbalist with their own successful practice. That makes me happy, I like to see people getting success in life.

What got under my skin though was their comment about Simples and their opinion of people who take this approach to herbal medicine.


What Is A Simple In Herbal Medicine?

I’m glad you asked!
A Simple is when you take one herb and use it for one condition or problem. Everything I have given you on this blog so far is a Simple. It is herbal medicine at its bare roots. Herb A is good for treating condition B, so use it. That’s a Simple because it’s simple.


So, What’s The Problem?

The problem, in my mind at least, is their opinion of people who use Simples instead of complex concoctions of multiple herbs.

They say that Simples are basic, only for the layman and it is too basic to be considered herbalism. Apparently, the only people who use herbs in this way are “folk healers” ( unskilled / untrained/unknowledgeable people) that just pass this folk knowledge between themselves.

Now, remember, I’m paraphrasing here but some of what I put here are their actual words. I have tried to convey their meaning and the impression I got from what they said.

My problem with this is… Well, I have many problems with this but I’ll give you the two biggest.

Let’s start with the sheer arrogance that anyone who doesn’t have a degree is some hick from the sticks that only knows “folk” healing. And apparently, that makes you some subclass, uneducated no-body that shouldn’t be using these precious plants is such a rudimentary manner.

Next, we have the derogatory use of “folk healer” as if that’s something on the bottom of their shoe.
If you were just starting out with herbal medicine and you were proud of yourself for healing yourself or someone else with a Simple, your enthusiasm and passion could be damaged by their attitude and comments.

You might feel like this subject is too much for you and you’ll never understand the complexities of real herbal medicine. You might give up right there and the world lost another herbalist.


My Stance On It

Here are my 2 cents.

Herbal medicine was used and developed by these so-called folk healers centuries ago. Midwives in the dawn of time used herbs for medicine and I have no doubt that MANY lives were saved by these “folk healers” living in mud huts in the woods. My first post of this blog was A Brief History of Herbalism so check that out if you want to know more.

I would rather go see the old witchy woman in the thatched cottage who is known around the village as a great folk healer, than a doctor that will feed me chemicals and then more chemicals to combat the side effects of the first dose of chemicals.


Are You An Herbalist?

Yes. I have degrees in herbal medicine, I have letters after my name, I am what they (the other site) consider a real herbalist. The difference is, I don’t flaunt it, I don’t sign my name with the letters, I don’t bring it up unless its to prove my credibility (like on the about me page) to those that would trust a degree more than experience. Most importantly, I don’t think I’m any better, more educated or knowledgable than an herbalist that has 30 years of hands on experience. I’m just me, just like you are you.

My point of mentioning it here is to say that as someone on what they (the other site) would consider being their level, I am all for using Simples and I encourage others to use them, too!

Everything on this blog, so far at least, is a Simple and is so for a damn good reason. If you are stressed and you need something to help you relax, you can reach for a tincture or make a tea out of 1 simple herb that you have on hand.
No need for complex formulas and recipes.

If you are starting out, it’s going to be way more cost-effective to pick up some chamomile at the store than to order a $20 bag of Skullcap. Simples are a great and effective way to introduce people to herbal medicine and to cure everyday life aggravations such as Heartburn, Toothache, Insomnia and UTIs.


Are You A Real herbalist If You use Simples?

Yes! There is no organization (that I know of) that governs the world of herbalism and herbal medicine. I’m not talking about the actual medicine here, just the title. There’s no application process or badge you wear.
If you can cure a sore throat with a tea made from Sage, you are practicing herbalism and you have made a simple herbal medicine.


So Why The Complex Recipes?

This is where the other site has a point. They say that people are complex and so you should use more than one herb to fix them. I agree with this to a point.

Herbalism is a Holistic practice, meaning that you treat the whole of the person.
If you have a damaged liver and an herbalist gives you medicine, you will eventually be cured. If you take the medicine and follow it up with half a bottle of Jack Daniels, you are not going to be cured. Herbalism is about more than just the herbs.

Herbs work very nicely with each other, they have complementary characteristics and properties that will bring a more holistic approach than a Simple.
If you have trouble sleeping, you have options in the form of Simples. These work for a quick fix but you might need something more complex to fix an underlying issue.


Fictional Case Studies

Let’s say we have a friend named Bob. Bob has trouble sleeping and needs something to help him. He needs it’s now because he has an important job interview at the end of the week and this could make or break his career! He’s never had such bad sleep before and its just his luck that it happens now, at this really important time of his life!

You could give Bob some Chamomile tea and send him home. You could give him a tincture of Valarian and call it good.
While these things will help him sleep, that is not helping the underlying problem.

Bob’s problem is not insomnia alone, its more likely insomnia caused by stress, anxiety and worry about the interview.

In this case, you could give him a tea of Chamomile to help him calm down, Passionflower to shut his brain up from chattering and some Oatstraw knock him out. Now, these are not selected for taste or anything, I’m just writing this off the top of my head as an example.

Bob now has a tea or tincture made from 3-4 or more herbs. They each bring something to the table and between them, they are more effective than each one alone.


Why Do You use Simples Then?

Because they are easy and effective for simple things. Most of us don’t have the money to keep a huge stockpile of herbs in the cupboard just for medicinal uses. Herbs are expensive but if you can afford to stock 1 herb that works well on your body you can treat yourself for your common complaints and it won’t break the bank.

Another reason is purely sometimes you don’t need anything complex.
If I get edgy and feel a panic attack coming on, I take some Skullcap tincture or a Valarian capsule and I’m calm in 20 minutes.
Do I need a complex recipe? No, because my anxiety is situational and is easily dealt with by using a Simple.

As another example, let’s take a look at Boris. Boris has social anxiety and his boss is making him give a presentation to the whole department.

Boris is freaking out but he knows that Skullcap tincture works great in his body and makes him relaxed without being drowsy. So, Boris is as prepared as he can be, he has his notes, he really knows the ins and outs of this project and he has even written a joke or two that he knows his boss will find funny. He’s ready to roll!

The only thing holding him up now is anxiety. 20 minutes before showtime, Boris gets himself a cup of water, adds a dose of Skullcap tincture and drinks it down. By the time he is called to give his presentation, he is a bit nervous but not anxious. He starts off a little slow and stuttery but 5 minutes in, he’s flying and everything goes off great.

Boris might not have to give another presentation for the rest of his life and he might never be put in a situation to cause his anxiety ever again. Does he need a complex solution? No, a Simple tincture is all it took.



Because life is what it is, you’ll never please everyone and I’m not out to prove someone wrong and make myself right. I’m sure a lot of people,e will disagree with me and that’s totally fine.

Discussion is what keeps things alive! I want to keep herbalism alive and we have Big Pharma as our common enemy. If I can show 1 person the joy of herbal medicine, even if they only use Simples for the rest of their lives, that’s 1 person that Big Pharma isn’t poisoning.

That 1 person might then take a course in herbal medicine and start teaching others and they might do the same.
If all you can afford is a hand full of herbs for a hand full of separate problems, go for Simples.
If you would be proud and lifted up by thinking of yourself as an herbalist but you only have the knowledge to use Simples, think of yourself as an herbalist.

Simples may be folkloric and only practiced by hippies in the boonies, but if they get the job done, I’m all for it.

My mission with this blog is to help people get better, healthier and to give them that spark of wonder that I had when I first looked into herbal medicine.

If I can do that for just 1 person, I will be happy.

Everything here is my opinion and if yours differs, let me know in the comments. If you agree, let me know in the comments!

Until next time, have a happy herbal day!

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