Wisdom Lost Through The Ages: WRITE IT DOWN!
To those who have decided to learn more about herbs, I (Jennifer) encourage you to write things down!
This advice comes in many forms, but most important is keeping good informative labels on your bottles and jars. It is easy to ignore this step when you get started. You've spent the spring and summer growing and tending plants, spent the autumn harvesting and drying, and now you have the jars full of herbs you have worked so hard for. You now really know these herbs, it is obvious to you what the jars contain at a glance. It is easy for you to tell the difference between basil and rosemary, or sage leaves. This is exactly what my herb shelf looked like for many years, jars full of mystery leaves, roots and bark.
When people come to visit me they are always drawn to the big herb shelf in my kitchen. Visitors stand gazing at my collection curiously, and before long they point or hold up a jar to ask, "What's this? What do you do with it?" I love the conversations those questions start!
As my love and knowledge grew, so did my collection on the shelf. My lack of labeling soon became an issue. Lemon balm leaves can look a lot like peppermint and spearmint, and I found myself opening and smelling and tasting the contents to discern what was inside. I finally bought a pack of cheap address label stickers, and started adding plant names to my jars. This immediately changed the conversation of those standing before my shelf. Instead of asking what was inside I heard, "Oh, I know yarrow! That grows at my house. What do you do with that?" So I took it a step further and added more information to my stickers. I now include the common plant name, botanical name, the date I added it to the shelf, some uses and benefits, and any warnings. It took some time to create a large label for each jar, but I found it saves time when mixing a remedy to have a reminder available at a glance. People now stand before the shelf and read. It has become a lesson instead of a simple curiosity.
The same thing holds true for other jars and bottles as you create different recipes. Yes, a big batch of elderberry syrup divided into bottles to share with friends and family is an obvious sight in the fridge. Does it really need a label? I didn't think so, because it never lasts long enough in our house to worry. But while visiting a friend I spotted a bottle of syrup in her fridge. It was nearly full, and I shared it with her months before. When I asked her about it, she said she couldn't remember what it was or how to use it. The syrup had sat unused so long it had molded. I poured it out, and promised a bottle from my next batch with a proper label. I now include the name, date made, ingredients, and dosage information on the bottles. Same for tinctures, salves, fire cider, infused honey and vinegar. Everything gets a label.
I still occasionally find a tiny bottle of tincture in my cabinet and stand staring at the naked thing, angry with myself for thinking I would remember what it contained. What a waste!
Labels do not need to be fancy or pretty, they can simply be a cheap label sticker. If you want something that looks nicer, there are a plethora of choices online and in the canning and office supply aisles in shops. If you are computer savvy, you can find hundreds of designs to download and print to match any style you may want. Even if you are just starting your herb shelf and have a mere three jars of easily recognized leaves, it is the perfect time to start labeling, and adding as you grow.
I am a sucker for new ink pens, beautiful notebooks, journals, stickers, markers, and notecards. I have a small collection (I can feel my husband roll his eyes as he reads that) of office supplies, and I have put them to good use. As a child I helped my mama keep her herb journals. She used two. The first was for growing information. Mama taped greenhouse info tags to the pages, wrote important tips and recorded the plant's success or failure in her own garden. The second journal contains recipes she tried and loved. The books are overflowing with information, and they are a treasure she continues to grow.
I keep several record books of my own, and I would be lost without them. One contains recipes not only for dishes, but for remedies. If I see something new and fun to try, I jot the recipe and information in a notebook. Later, when I try it, I add notes on how it turned out and any changes made. This book contains everything from tea combinations to herbal candies, salves, balms, lotions, cookies, and soaps. I pull it out when looking for a gift to share, or if I just need something new to try to shake loose the cobwebs.
Another book is kept with me at all times. I carry a daily planner to keep track of products I must make for Woodland Herbal, notes on remedies to make for neighbors or friends, plants to harvest, supplies to order, and meetings to remember.
I keep a record of people I have made remedies for over the years. So if I receive a call from someone asking for "that tea you made a few years ago that helped my vertigo,” then I only need to look it up in my notebook to know how to make more.
Finally, I keep a big family book. I spent years looking for the perfect book at festivals and markets. I wanted the book to be giant, so big it takes two hands to lift and carry it. So big a child must lay on the floor to read it. There is nothing more magical than a great big book. My kids had the perfect book made by an artist in the northeast, complete with soft distressed leather and a tree of life medallion on the cover. I love it very much, and intend it to become my legacy some day. I often think how nice it would be to have a book with recipes from my ancestors, Grandpa Ottis' apothecary records, Grandpa Miller's Universal Magnetic Balm recipe from the mid 1800's, and the countless grandmother's tips for treating their families. The lack of records stops with us. Our family book has a page about family history with photos written by my grandma. My mama added some of her wisdom about gardens and cooking. I have added remedies, some materia medica, and artwork. It is ever growing and will belong to my children someday, with plenty of space to add more.
I've mentioned several options for keeping records, and there are hundreds more. I hope this inspires you to grab a pack of stickers and a blank notebook to start writing things down. Leave a legacy of learning and inspiration for future generations even if your own children seem uninterested. Our family is living proof the love will follow like blood memories through the centuries, even if it skips a generation or two.
Brandon would like to add: Think about how much wisdom and knowledge has been lost because of improper record keeping. The tens of thousands of years of experience, of things learned through trial and error, then attempted again… all lost. How sad that truth is. We can not know what the future holds, but we can try our best to preserve how to live healthful, happy lives on this beautiful mother planet.
From a modern perspective, digital information is as easy to lose as lighting a fire in a library. I keep more than ten hard drives of information at any given time. Sometimes, I fill one, duplicate it and keep them stored in two different locations. I always keep copies of my digital files, because not only can a hard drive fail on its own with age, but excessive heat, water, sun, humidity, or blunt trauma can cause a hard drive to fail, rendering its valuable stored information utterly useless. Now, even if you keep duplicates of your precious data, it can still be ruined if stored in one place.
Imagine keeping three hard drives all in one place, and the place floods or burns down. What happens then? It's all gone, completely unrecoverable. Personally, I keep my data stored on raid systems (high capacity storage arrays, where you have two physical hard drives, not flash drives which can have all kinds of memory issue problems, that back up the data on both hard drives simultaneously), then I have a time machine that backs up each computer, then I make upwards of five backups of all my photography, business information, graphic design files, etc. I take one or two hard drives home, I keep another in a safety deposit, and sometimes I will have a family member hold on to another copy just in case. THEN, yes, I go a step further, by uploading my files to a secure online storage system. AND EVEN THEN, I think a bit deeper into how my information will outlast the years...
Imagine the modern technological world ending as we know it. Perhaps we no longer can generate electricity, and so computer data of 1's and 0's is no longer accessible for humans. We can't process all those numbers and imagine it into a working operating system on our own, we need computers to do that. Keeping a physical copy that can be read by anyone who speaks or can decode the english language offers the ability for a post-modern world of humans to be able to have the same knowledge of plants that I had. Books are invaluable, but they are also susceptible to the elements.
So if you keep a physical copy of your knowledge, like Jenni's grimoire, then you better think ahead. What if this or that happens?! Put that physical copy in a waterproof, fireproof case, and keep it sealed. Make copies, or take photos of the pages, print those out, and store them similarly. This modern age isn't the first time humans have made it far on this planet, technologically and evolutionarily, and there have been times where the knowledge and wisdom of humans was wiped out, and a future generation had to carry on with life, without any record of how to do anything, or what plants were good for this or that. These are things to consider.