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Beginner Herbalist Pt. II: Stop whining about what I haven't got.

I work towards building my herbal library and abilities a number of ways. I do of course surf the webs, culling through Pinterest, herbal online stores, and the websites of some well-known herbalists. Once in a great while, I’ve been able to buy a book at a time. And when I’ve got dollars in the account AND food in the cabinets (not as common an occurrence as I’d like), sometimes I get to order a few herbs or ingredients. This is a bit tough though, as I usually have to determine which herbs I can get the most use from, and I can’t always order more than a couple things at a time.

In moments of fiscal frivolity, I like to buy plants, herbs, or seeds. I cultivate these with mixed results. Clearly I won’t be winning any green thumb awards, but I’ve got a few things growing at the moment. With the house we currently live in came a few welcome treats: a well-established pink grapefruit and a Meyer lemon, both with generous yields. Mint grows well under the rose bushes outside of the front living room windows. The neighbor’s fig tree leans accommodatingly over the fence dividing our yards, and we both have guava trees. A monstrous grapevine is destroying a flimsy support the previous inhabitants installed. And a modest-sized tree drops about a million nectarines within the space of 2 days just once a year, and it’s a mad rush to gather them before the birds can feast. This is all in the TINY front yard here in Southern California; the backyard is paved. One backyard adjoining neighbor has an avocado tree that hangs over one corner, and another has what must be a massively tall pepper plant with tiny, blistering hot chilis.

To this cornucopia of wonderful abundance, I’ve added oregano, sage, and finally this year got a tomato plant to live longer than a month. A bell pepper plant also appears to not be dying at the moment which is super awesome. Rosemary now thrives between the feet of the lemon tree (well, it’s more of a bush) and a rose bush. Aloe is there, too, and exists happily in half a dozen pots around the small front porch. This is a huge leap from what I had to work with just a few years ago, in a second floor apartment, and I know it definitely makes it easier to gather ingredients for my Craft. If I wasn’t so scatterbrained and had that magical ability that some folks have to coax luxuriant growth from regular ol’ soil I’d not have killed so many attempts at a fuller herb garden. I mean, the cilantro I planted bolted almost immediately, flowered, and now is looking pretty sad, and the thyme isn’t doing much better. I tried transplanting plugs of lemongrass from someone who had too much and I’m pretty sure they’re super dead now.

But despite my mishaps and setbacks, when I recount my personal bounty, I am so pleased at how much I’ve got growing right outside my door. However, you’ll notice that I never mentioned other herbs, like cleavers, comfrey, raspberry leaf, goldenseal, myrrh…you get the idea. We’ve all seen herbal recipes that call for things that hardly any of us have growing nearby, which means we’ve got to go buy it somewhere. Not a possibility for me most days. When I lived in an apartment, I kept some jade, aloe, and some cacti alive, and not much else.

So what do you do when you don’t have access to much? Use what you’ve got, do your research, and rewrite when necessary. And don’t kick your own butt for making do. That’s the most important part. Let me tell you, I talked myself out of Crafting plenty of times just because I didn’t have the “right” ingredients. But I’ve found that when I let go of that hang up, really focused on working a spell or a recipe, and used what was at hand, I did more than okay. Recently I made a face wash. I’m currently in an ‘economic downturn’ but I’d collected the ingredients I needed for a recipe I found over time. It’ll last awhile, it works great, and the night I made it I also got a couple of cups of good tea out of the endeavor. One of the ingredients I used was chamomile, which I’d gotten for a buck from the closest Northgate (a grocery store). I composted the leftover herb.

I don’t know how many Witches are like me, so I’m certainly not going to sit here and tell anyone how to do anything. I will tell you that it took me years to get to the point I’m at now. There are many more years ahead of me of study, trial and error, and cultivation. I foresee much failure. But I’m learning to approach recipes with out of reach herbs and ingredients in different ways. Maybe it’s a matter of approach. What is the herb supposed to accomplish, and can I get a different herb to approximate the results? Can I be patient, and save up for the ingredient? Can I source the ingredient safely from a cheaper place? Or can I work my own magic simply with what I’ve got on hand?

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Comment by Katey on July 4, 2017 at 9:06pm

You might go to a salvage type store-ie. Building 19-19 1/2. Some of these stores carry reference books at a fraction of the cost. I used to have Roedales illustrated herb encyclopedia and donated it to my local library since i seem to have a black thumb as opposed to a green thumb. My local library as small as it is allows reference books to be taken out. Good luck in your endeavors.

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