An easy way to learn about herbs is to go on an herb walk. Herb walks can be guided by herbalists or gardeners in your area, or you can organize your own. Here’s a how-to on herb walks and other practical ways to learn about herbs!
If you have a goal this year to learn about herbs but you don’t have a lot of money to invest in formal classes, go on an herb walk in your area. This is an especially good idea because it helps you learn what wild herbs are local to you. Learning to forage local herbs can save you money on herbs you might usually purchase during the year.
This is the time for an herb walk! To help you plan your own herb garden and to maybe keep notes on what you find on your walk, grab your free herb garden planning sheets below.
What is the Best Way to Learn About Herbs?
The best way to learn about herbs is the best way to learn about anything, really – immersion! Take some time to read about, garden with, make teas with, cook with and handle herbs.
For this discussion, we’ll mostly be talking about herb walks, but we do have some suggested activities for learning about herbs at the bottom of the article, too.
This post answers questions like:
- What is an herb walk?
- How do I find an herb walk in my area?
- How do I host my own herb walk?
- How else can I learn about herbs after I go on an herb walk?
What is an Herb Walk?
An herb walk is exactly what it sounds like – a walk you take to find and identify herbs.
Often, herb and health food stores will sponsor herb walks in local botanical gardens, wild spaces and even community members gardens. The only real rule for where to host an herb walk is that it be some place with a variety of herbs.
Herb walks that take place in cultivated areas – like formal or informal gardens – are great because you can now ahead of time what kind of herbs will be on the walk. Traditional culinary herbs like rosemary and basil will be in standard herb gardens, while herbs most focused on wellness might be found in the specialized gardens of local herbalists.
Other herb walks are held in wild areas where you would normally forage these plants for your own use at home in foods and teas. The best part about these places is that they’re open and free to anyone who can access them and forage from them (ethically, of course).
It’s a great benefit to know what herbs grow locally to you because they don’t take any especial care from. These herbs grow wild and for free!
—>>>For more information on the basics of
foraging wild, free food please visit this link<<<—
Take an Herb Walk to Learn About Herbs Where You Live
See if you can find an herb walk already taking place in your community—several would be even better. Not only will you learn about herbs and other edible plants, but you will learn so much about your community and the people in it.
You can even look online for herbal groups in your area that have listings on social media sites. Some websites even sport virtual herb walks where someone has made a video of an herb walk they’ve attended or hosted. It may not be local to you area, but all herbal knowledge is good herbal knowledge!
If you don’t have a community herb walk, you can organize one yourself! We have some suggestions for that below, but you’ll need to start by by asking your herbal-foraging-smarty-pants friend to head one up. If you don’t know anyone versed in herbs, you can find someone in your community.
When you need help locating an herb walk or an herbal mentor, ask your:
- local health food store
- herb or foraging groups for your area
- quality plant nursery
- university extension agent
If you happen to live in the Ozarks, USA, I can recommend Eating the Ozarks – there are so many wild food events you can attend, including herb walks. Plus, Rachel will come out to your property and help you identify what wild herbs and foods you have on your land. She’ll tag them for you and even teach you how to remove non-native invasive plants!
How Do I Host My Own Herb Walk?
You do NOT have to know everything there is to know about herbs in order to host an herb walk. You just need to get organized and we have some suggestions for that.
- Find a knowledgeable mentor in herbal plant identification. Use the list we provided above to start asking around for someone well versed in herbal plants. Remember, you need someone who can identify herbal plants in garden and in the wild, not just someone who knows how to use herbs. I often find that, once I start asking around, the intention is out there and someone turns up who answers my need. Have you heard the adage that once the student is ready, the master will appear? This is true!
- Decide on a place for the herb walk. Your mentor may already have a place in mind – garden, field, forest. If not, think about where you’ve been in your community where you’ve seen plants, and specifically herbs, you would like to have identified. The most meaningful lessons are the ones we care about. Pick a place that YOU want to go for an herb walk.
- Gather a group; this is your part of the herb walk. Work your email contacts, local social media groups, homeschool groups and your congregation. I find that any size group will work, but somewhere between 10-20 people is best.
- Schedule your herb walk at least a few weeks ahead of time to give attendees enough notice. You may have to base your date on what will be blooming or otherwise available in the gardens and pastures. Winter is not an ideal time for an herb walk for novices simply because, although there are plants to forage, they’re not as obvious to those new to herbs. (With some exceptions, of course.) Consult with your mentor about an ideal date.
Must Have Tools for an Herb Walk
Here’s a list of basic items every attendee of an herb walk should have:
- Quality foraging and/or herbal plant book – pocket size is preferable, but any book is better than no book
- Notebook and pen or pencil
- Baskets, buckets or bags for collecting
- Garden clippers or sharp knife
- Tall boots if foraging in a pasture or forest to protect from bugs and thorns
- Water bottle and hat, especially if it’s warm outside
Be sure that your mentor remembers to talk to attendees about ethically harvest wild plants, if that’s going to be part of the herb walk. It’s important that we only take between 10-30% of any plant we find. That’s actually a good rule of thumb for harvesting from any plant.
We don’t want to kill that plant by over-harvesting from it and sending it into shock or weakening it. Additionally, wild animals forage from wild plants, too, and we don’t want to knock out their food sources.
The herb should always be left with enough structure and enough flowering/fruiting parts to survive, thrive and reproduce itself once we’ve gone.
Learn to Identify Herbs
The whole point of an herb walk is to learn how to identify them correctly, as well as see how they grow. It is VERY important that you have a positive identification on a plant BEFORE you harvest it.
This will require that you study each plant’s:
- sometimes roots and even seeds
A quality field guide will have that information in its plant profiles – we have some recommendations for books below.
The skill of learning to accurately identify plants can’t be stressed enough. For some plants, it will be obvious – I’m sure nearly everyone in the northern hemisphere can identify a dandelion. They’re one of THE most common wild herbs on this side of the equator!
However, learning to tell the difference between hemlock and Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot) – that will take attention to detail and experience. Both of which you can gain!
Keep studying, keep going on herb walks, keep asking questions – you’ll learn what you need to know! Simply have a NO HARVEST RULE if you aren’t 100% sure that you can properly identify a plant.
Learn About Herbs with Herbal Reading
For an easy list of online herbal learning resources, simply scroll to the bottom of this post. I made a list of blog posts just for you.
For great books to check out from the library or even purchase, here’s a handy list of my favorite cultivated herbs.
- Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, by Rosemary Gladstar – this one lives in my kitchen
- Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, by Rosemary Gladstar – a little simpler than the above and more growing info but I honestly recommend both.
- The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbookby James Green – This is a great one in general but it also has growth tables in the back for planning your own garden – read our review of that book by clicking here.
- Making Plant Medicine, by Richo Cech – owner of Horizon Herbs – kind of a cosmic guy but very knowledgeable and down to earth.
- The Complete Book of Herbs, by Lesley Bremness – my first herb book and one of which I’m still very fond – Great recipes for food, crafts, lotions, oils, etc.
For foraging wild herbs, pick up either of Samuel Thayer’s field guides – Nature’s Garden or Forager’s Harvest.
The best field guide is one that is written specifically for your area of the country because it will have the most accurate sampling of wild plants.
Herb Gardening – a Great Way to Learn About Herbs
Honestly, I’ve learned the most about herbs by growing them myself. You can certainly buy whatever herbs you might need for wellness teas or culinary recipes. But growing herbs in your garden or on your patio accomplishes some very specific things in your education.
- You know firsthand when each part of the herb plant is ready for harvest. Harvesting the herbal parts of each plant at the right time ensures that you’re always using the freshest herbal ingredients.
- The flavors and nuances of each herb can be experienced more completely when you have your own herbal plants on hand. What’s the difference between cilantro and coriander? Only the stage of development on the same plant. Cilantro leaves are continuously harvested on the cilantro plant while coriander is the ground, dried seed pods of that same plant.
- Growing your own herbs will undoubtedly increase your harvest, and ensure you have them year-round if you work it correctly. This saves money and time since you don’t need wait around for shipments or inventory to be available. This has been true this year (2021) with the commercial elderberry supplies which have run low. Home-grown elderberries were the only ones available at certain points of the year!
—>>>For a list of wellness herbs to consider
for the garden, please visit this link<<<—
Herbal Cooking to Learn What Herbs Taste Like
There are SO many ways you can use herbs in the kitchen! There are cooling dessert herbs like peppermint, and spicy dinner herbs like garlic and cayenne. I’ve included some favorite recipes of mine in the list below, FYI.
If you really want to learn about the various ways to consume herbs (as well as use them in other ways), I think the best thing to do is take a class! I have a few of my favorites from Herbal Academy list here for you, but there are many others on their site.
Just click on one to be redirected to their site for more information. You can peruse their herbal course catalog and make your purchase from there. They also offer a free herbalist course which you can access below.
Learn About Herbs Resources
Here’s the list of online herbal resources I promised – I hope they’re helpful!