Minimal Herbology

I amassed alot of herbs over the years. If you’ve been to my home for a workshop, you’ll know this. Through using them for food, home medicines and teaching apprentices, I reached a point this time last year where they were deposited all over my home and it didn’t feel good. Everything felt cluttered and kind of neglected, unloved.

There were paper bags of dried herbs and seed stems among children’s books and bike repair kits. Canning jars of elixir between piles of laundry and so so many tinctures! Imagine the scene of these things secreted in every nook and cranny of my home – a nice but not big home – a typical Amsterdam apartment where usage of space needs careful consideration. It was not a comfortable sight. To intensify the image, imagine the many associated Herbology crafting materials in my kitchen and cupboards. Materials like filter funnels, strainers, aquarium tubing and demi-johns. I had accumulated a lot of Herbology related things.

For years, I have been encouraging herb crafters to buy multipurpose tools and only harvest what they needed but some how, these objects had some magnetic attraction you me – or I did, to them. I had lost track of what I had and where it was – it didn’t feel good. I wanted to reduce my possessions once and for all. No more basic tidying and mild mannered decluttering, I needed to minimalize! And I have. And I still am. After a steady minimalising process, I’m feeling clearer, fresher and more effective. So is my home. I highly recommend the process!

I am sure that I’m not alone in this issue. If you are in the middle of a sense of herb crafting overload, I would love to hear from you. Personally, it feels quite cathartic to talk about it so I hope it will help you to share too!

Here is how I reached a happier herbal place over the past year:

1. Nothing Extra: I imposed a No Foraging rule on myself. I wanted to stop bringing more herbs and related materials into the house until everything was used up. I told myself that I should only consider light foraging of plants that I was going to use immediately. Not “soon”, not “if” nor “just in case” but immediately. If the urge to forage came upon me (and it did often) I had to check everywhere at home, in case the herb I sought (or could use as a substitute) was hidden away somewhere.

Substitutes: If the herb that I wanted wasn’t at home, I had to think it over for 48 hours before going out to forage. Mostly, I found a substitute and didn’t forage. So my herbal stocks didn’t increase.

It felt great to use up herbs that I’d collected a while back with a few purposes in mind and then found myself using them up for something different but very worthwhile.

Politely Refusing: Turning down offers of herbal gifts also helped this year. I do have a reputation of being quite blunt with people sometimes so hopefully I haven’t offended anyone in the process but I really didn’t want more coming into my possession. This has been true for everything else too for a few years but for herbal stuff – this year, I was on a minimalising mission!

I did fail to refuse a block of beeswax from an old apprentice, during the summer but agreed that I would take it to grate it up and share with new apprentices and give some back to her. We use it to make salves and candles, in case you’re wondering. The grating and sharing is still to happen but it will!

My nothing-extra strategy certainly stopped my supplies increasing further and helped me become aware of what I had and what I needed.

2. Use it up: I worked my way through a lot of tinctures, honeys and elixirs this past year. I found several ways to do this including giving some away as gifts, using them to make products I could use immediately, adding more to my diet and composting all the dried herbs which were aging and not oozing energy anymore. My house and balcony plants got a hefty herbal mulch layer and they look good as a result. The top image on this post shows a good layer of old dried nettle leaves, around my evergreen balcony parsley.

3. Organise – Sustainably: When I finally whittled my stocks down to a manageable level, I hauled everything herbal from around the house into one place – the living room. If I was to keep anything of my stocks then those things had to be in an easily accessible place.

I found multiples of some concoctions so I condensed them into single larger containers. This helped the stocks to take up less space and be easier to organise.

Next, I emptied the shelved walk-in cupboard off the side of our living room. It was half filled with herbal stuff and half with household “things”. Some of it was useful (vacuum cleaner bags, spare bike saddle, a never-used Tagine from the Tropenmuseum which is now in action and it’s such a lovely raw earthenware cooking pot!…) but a lot of it was total nonsense which we had hung onto just in case.

I took unwanted household clutter to the local charity shop and cleaned the cupboard out. No painting or changes were required, just a good clean.

The tagine – a buried treasure

4. Limited Herbal Storage: I pledged to only put back in to the cupboard what I wanted and felt we needed. To ensure things didn’t get out of hand again, I found two sturdy shoe boxes and an old wine crate and limited my stocks to what could be stored neatly within them. There were also two small plastic tubs filled with old essential oils and my mini herbal medicine chest. Any overflow had to be given away or composed. I was very strict about this (not difficult by this stage in the process – I was so ready!). I used storage containers that I already had so I spent zero cash on this mission.

5. Less is more: Now I’m left only with the herbal supplies and crafting accessories which I can use, do use and feel that my family need. The rest is gone. It feels great. The rest has not gone to the big elixir shop in the sky but it has gone to freinds, family and the local community via the charity shop.

Whilst working on the herbs, I also worked on everything else that I possess and have consequently purged many many things from my life.

It feels liberating and spacious to have done this and my head feels clearer. I now know what I’ve got and what it’s for.

6. Sustainable Minimalism: The last time I felt so materially clear was when I moved to Amsterdam from the UK, via India. Gradually extra possessions crept in. With the herbs, I felt compelled, perhaps even ethically obligated, to keep them (aka “hoard” them). My intentions at the time felt pure but now I feel it far better to help show people how little we really need to do this work. So it seems I’ve gradually metamorphosized into a Minimal Herbologist.

It seems to be human nature to hoard things which we know are valuable. Knowing the value of herbs and wanting to help others know it, led me to hoard them and the associated paraphernalia. Things have changed.

I’m still passionate about helping others to learn the herbal ways – I feel it’s important for everyone to have the chance to learn about it. It’s a life skill. But these days, I also want to show that teachers of Herbology such as myself can do it with very little. And I mean very little.

I’m now growing fewer herbs, have a well organised home with far fewer possessions. My fridge and food cupboards only hold what we need this week (plus some long term seasonings). Our excavated pantry is now my herbal, spare food and household essentials store and my clothing has reduced to around 30 items. I’m also doing better at controlling my finances as I’m uber -conscious of what I allow myself to bring into my home.

7. Ongoing process: My Herbology library remains quite extensive, especially compared to all other categories of my things. I seem to be keeping them just in case.. I’ve given quite a few books to Eelco over the past year or so, for his green community library in Transvaalbuurt and more need to go. They are like an extension of my mind so it’s odd to let them go but more need to go. There, I’ve said it – so I must do it. Perhaps one bookshelf clear by the end of the year? Let’s see.

8. Good Company: It really helps to have like minded people around you, when you’re on a mission of any sort. And I’m certainly on a mission; a multi pronged mission of Herbal Minimalism, Frugality and Financial Independence. I’m very fortunate to have a great family and freinds who respect and embrace that mission. I learn such a lot from them and they keep me on track. Other lovely folks have crossed my path this year, notably Jane & Jim Collins and Sisters A and B from Project Rijkleven. I have also been reading lots of inspiring books, blogs and listening to great podcasts which light me up. When I start to wobble from my steady path, I think of all these people and get back on track!

Your experiences

So how are your experiences of sustainable minimalism? Have you got a crafty hoarding habit which could do with a deep clean? Are you a small space crafter who no longer has space for food in their cupboards? Have you lost track of how many jars of infusions and elixirs you have? I”d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!


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