How to Build Your Own Materia Medica

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If acquiring herbal knowledge is a part of your preps, you may want to consider putting together your own materia medica.

First of all…what exactly does “materia medica” mean?

Materia medica is best described as an herbal encyclopedia. They have been complied since ancient times in many different cultures around the globe, and modern ones continue to be made today. A materia medica can take many different forms such as a dedicated herbal journal, a spiral-bound notebook, a card deck, a website, a book, or whatever written form you may wish to utilize. It is a collection of medicinal herbal knowledge put together for your own use. What you choose to record is ultimately up to you, but in general, some of following information is usually found:

  • Name(s): Each herb studied should have its common name(s) listed. This should be obvious, but one should also include its botanical scientific name. This scientific name is known as its Latin binomial. Literally speaking, it is a two-word identifier in Latin. You may think that this knowledge would be unnecessary to a layperson studying herbs for their own use, but knowing an herb’s scientific name will give clues on related plants which one could also find to be beneficial.
  • Range/Environment: One should record its natural occurring environment and range. Understanding this could help with collection (if you live near its environment,) or in knowing the most ideal growing conditions if you choose to try to grow the plants on your own.
  • Photograph(s) and/or Drawings of the Plant: This is to aid in identification. You should view that of one of the many purposes of your materia medica is to serve as a personal field guide for herbs. The advantages of having a photograph of the plant to aid in identification should be obvious, so you may wonder why drawing any plant would be useful in a digital age. However, as one tries to replicate a plant’s features as one draws, one becomes more aware of specific characteristics of the plant that he or she may have otherwise overlooked by just glancing at a photograph.
  • Actions: The herb’s actions refer to the how the plant affects the body. For example, an herb may have anti-inflammatory characteristics, or it may have sedative properties, or it may act as a stimulant. There is an excellent guide available which lists and explains the possible actions of various herbs. It is called The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman. I highly recommend that this book be a part of your prepper library.
  • Uses: The main purpose of compiling a materia medica is to assemble a list of both traditional and modern medicinal uses for the plant. Note which parts of the plant are utilized. You may also choose to include culinary and other known uses which can be employed.
  • Preparations and Dosages: For medicinal uses, write down the manners and methods in which the herb is prepared and used. Make sure to include appropriate dosages for different ages and situations.
  • Safety Concerns: If the herb is known to have side-effects or if it has possible negative interactions with other herbs or drugs, make sure to educate yourself on them and record any applicable information.
  • Growing Conditions: If you choose to grow a certain herb, it is advisable to record the ideal sun, watering, and soil conditions necessary for successfully growing the plant. Instructions on how to grow from seed and/or how to propagate are also highly recommended.
  • Harvesting/Storage: You should also include instructions on how to best harvest the herb and store for future use.

As you compile the information mentioned above, it would give you an excellent opportunity to study each herb you choose to become more familiar with. There are many excellent websites and books available to which you can reference in order to help in gathering all the information you desire. Plant nurseries, botanical gardens, colleges and universities can also be helpful resources for obtaining whatever herbal knowledge you may be seeking. In conclusion, making your own materia medica would give you a personal herbal education of sorts, and just as importantly, it will later provide for you a written reference which you may return to again and again as you have the need. You may feel that you do not have the need to gather such knowledge, but if you do wish to harness the power of herbs in your preps, making your own materia medica may be a great idea to pursue.


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