What is an Herb?


For someone who wants to learn about herbs, this is a great place to start! When I think about taking care of my family’s health naturally and making a healthy home, I think about using different parts of plants to serve my purpose. However, after more thought, I realized that I could not really give an intelligent description of what an herb actually is.

Out came the books; I found a ton of great information! 

John Lust gives an excellent description in The Herb Book, which is described as the most complete catalog of herbs ever published. His working definition of an herb is, “any plant, part or all of which has been used for such purposed as medical treatment, nutritional value, food seasoning, or coloring/dying other substances.” Plant parts that can be used include the root, stem, leaf, flower, and fruit depending on the plant. This definition can include anything from the pepper you sprinkle on your fries to the catnip tea you use to sooth your baby’s stomach to the comfrey that heals a bone.

The ABC Herbal eloquently describes herbs as “Nature’s natural nutritional supplement.” Herbs are “special resource foods” that contain natural chemicals which the body can use to restore body functions that have gone awry and assist the body in repairing damaged tissue.

Looking at the vast number of herbs is incredibly overwhelming. Historically, over 2,000 plants have been recorded as being used medicinally.  John Lust describes 514 herbs in his book alone. When tackling new fields of information, I have found it most helpful to look at an overview first, then gather about me some helpful, reliable resources, then start to break the wealth of knowledge down more systematically. I try to start with something that directly applies to me because I find that having a purpose in learning is highly motivating.

Thus in the following weeks and months, we will look at the basics of herbs including why you should use herbs, how to get started, where to obtain them, what references I have found especially helpful, how to prepare herbs, etc. I will then move on to looking at how to grow herbs, writing different series on how to treat various common ailments, using herbs in the home and for personal care, and learning about specific herbs. And that’s just scratching the surface!

Here are some of my other posts to get you started on learning more about herbs:

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