Medica Herbs

What is a Materia Medica?

These materia medica serve an important role in herbal ism. The oldest ones give us insight into how plants were used in the time periods in which they were published. At first, some of the language is puzzling, and it often takes a willingness to study the historical context of the writing before the older materia medicas begin to make sense. But once they do, we can begin to discern the common threads from history that have woven their way into our modern uses and that inspire modern clinical trials and scientific research. Some of our modern herbalists have also written brilliant materia medica, and the patterns they discuss and connections they describe can help us build our own herbal skills in significant ways.

Although reading materia medica is a good way to deepen your knowledge, learning is also about being hands-on. Here at the Herbal Academy, building a personal materia medica is one of the major projects our Intermediate students undertake, and it’s a useful learning tool that all herbalists can benefit from – beginners straight through advanced. As a personal learning tool, the materia medica is a cross between an herbal journal and a study aid, and it grows slowly as each herb is studied in-depth. If you think that crafting your own materia medica is something you would like to try, take a look at the following guidelines to help get you started.

Crafting Your Own Materia Medica

You should first decide on the basic form your materia medica will take. Would you like a notebook or journal format, or would you prefer to use note cards in a file box? Some herbalists use a three-ring binder so they can easily add and organize pages, while others prefer a computer file for quick editing or better legibility.

Some older manuscripts have beautiful illustrations, and you might want to add sketches, drawings, or photos of plants to help with identification. Other materia medicas are word-based with no visuals or illustrations, but if you don’t know an herb by sight, adding a visual representation to your materia medica is a good idea.

Herb Identification

Latin binomial; common names; parts used; growing information or preferred habitat; how and when to harvest. A visual reference is great for this section, and you may want to include a botanical description, too.

Actions and Energetics

The actions of an herb are the traditional pharmacology notes that describe what the herb does (like whether the herb is astringent or diuretic); Energetics are descriptions of how the herb behaves in the body (These take constitution into consideration- an herb can be cooling, moistening, warming, or drying.)

Specific Indications

Sometimes, you may read about or discover times when an herb is particularly well suited to a specific purpose. Whether the herb is appropriate for a specific kind of individual or a detailed circumstance, this is the place to note this information.

Traditional Use and Folklore

This section is perfect for the interesting historical uses and lore associated with an herb.

Safety Issues and Precautions

Any known side effects should go in this section; cautions regarding use by children or use during pregnancy; potential drug interactions or allergies.

Combinations and Similar Herbs

Recipes or formulas (historical, or of your own devising); other herbs with similar uses (These become a great tool for cross-referencing.)

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