Herbs, Spices & Medicinal Plants


GenEd (Biological Sciences) – 4 credits

To Enroll – Start Here

hobbsInstructor: Dr. Christopher Hobbs is a renowned 4th generation clinical herbalist, licensed acupuncturist, research scientist, author, and teacher.

Email: chrisrhobbs@gmail.com
Website: www.christopherhobbs.com

Welcoming Video (please check this out)

Course overview:  The course will be an introductory to intermediate study and practice of herbal medicine distilled from several world systems of healing, particularly traditional Chinese medicine and western traditional herbalism.  Traditional medicine and current herbal practice methods will be blended with rigorous evidence-based research.

Growing sustainable medicine and “farm to tablet” or “farm to medicine chest” will be emphasized throughout the course.  Students will learn to make herbal preparations of all kinds (tinctures, salves, creams, and dried tea extracts) as well as growing, harvesting, and processing methods.

Arnica longifolia in oil
Arnica longifolia in oil

Matching herbs and herb formulas for each individual is important in herbal medicine and the student will be introduced to traditional diagnostic methods like tongue diagnosis as well as gathering information, considering etiological factors, and choosing the best herbs for easing symptoms and promoting wellness and healing.

This course will be a comprehensive hands-on experience of today’s growing herbal movement. The efficacy and safety of herbal medicine is well-supported by quality research, and today is being widely incorporated in medical practices in many disciplines—i.e. nursing, chiropractic, medical clinicals, hospitals, and of course naturopathic physicians and practitioners of traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

Many resources will be shared, and Powerpoint presentations and video lessons will accompany the textbook and other reading assignments.

Student Learning Objectives:

  1. Students will learn to make herbal preparations of all kinds (tinctures, salves, creams, and dried tea extracts) as well as become familiar with harvesting, and processing methods for personal and commercial applications.
  2. Students will learn to match herbs and herb formulas for each individual, which is an important part of herbal medicine and increased efficacy and safety with this approach over a more generic one has been reported in the scientific literature.
  3. Student will be introduced to traditional diagnostic methods as well as gathering information, considering etiological factors, and choosing the best herbs for easing symptoms and promoting wellness and healing.
  4. Appropriate growing methods for 50 of the most widely-used medicinal herbs will be thoroughly covered and students will learn to match plants together for companion planting, as well as more about the application of organic nutrients, cover cropping, and composting for increased yields of medicinal plants.
  5. Students will gain experience in literature acquisition, discrimination of high-quality research compared with papers with poor methodology, statistically-underpowered studies, and gain experience in writing a referenced paper.
  6. Students will gain experience within the realm of natural products widely offered for sale online and in natural food stores for choosing the most effective products at the best value.
  7. Students will become familiar with natural products chemistry and learn the major classes of active chemical constituents, what menstruums to use to effectively extract them, and learn more about the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of the major active compounds in plants. Bioenhancers, or herbs that increase the absorption will also be covered.

Prerequisites and Textbooks: No prerequisites necessary. The course will be suitable for beginners with an interest in natural healing with plants in all aspects—i.e. farming, growing medicinal herbs and spices; wildcrafting, medicine-making for home businesses (body care products, teas, tinctures), or as a foundation for eventual further training in a healing art that incorporates herbal medicine. However, some experience and study of herbal medicine, botany, chemistry, human physiology, or traditional medicine is always helpful. Before the class starts I recommend reading through the textbook and write down questions you might have for later. A reading list is at the bottom, and arranged by importance. Reading through some of these will be good preparation for the class. Most of them are available used through Amazon or http://www.bookfinder.com.

The textbook will be Grow It and Heal It by Christopher Hobbs and Leslie Gardner (Rodale Press). Some other key articles will be assigned during the course. Used copies available.

Additional Materials (cost dependent on what student owns, anywhere from $0-200):

Typically will need for the class to complete the labs and make herb products:

*Blender (to make a cream need high-speed), for salves, tinctures one could get away with no blender by using herbs that are already powdered from bulk in store or online). If you have a blender you can powder herbs or grind them up in oil or alcohol.

*Vegetable oil—corn oil will do. Olive oil is preferred. You can get a quart of Pompeian organic extra virgin olive oil for $8.24/qt

*Alcohol. While not ideal, 100 proof vodka will work for making a tincture. About $8/quart. Everclear is 150 proof and works better, makes stronger tinctures—about $20/ 750 mL

*Herbs — Herbs, and especially organic herbs can be expensive. For Mt. Rose or other organic suppliers, they could be about $5-$8  /4 ounces. Since you can choose the herbs you desire to make salves, creams, teas, dried teas, and tinctures, you could harvest from a garden, buy non-organic herbs which are less expensive in bulk online or in a natural food store. You can also use common weeds like plantain, St. john’s wort, mallow, etc. I can help you decide which ones you have on hand will work best if you message me.

*For drying herbs a fan will usually work if you have a warm area inside or outside in the shade. You can also use an oven with the door propped open on low heat to dry the tea concentrates or dry herbs. A food dehydrator with stacking trays and fruit leather tray inserts can be as little as $30 from a big-box store.

* For making a cream or salve, you may need 4-12 ounces of wax like beeswax. Shop around for this. High quality beeswax will be the most expensive and might run $5-$20 depending on how much you buy. You will need about 1-2 ounces to make a few ounces of salve or cream. Also a texturizer like cocoa butter, which will cost about $5-$10 depending on how much you buy. A “carrier” to absorb the tea concentrate to make a dried tea and dry it on like gum arabic (4 ounces for $5), or arrowroot powder ($5 if you can buy in bulk or a small package).

*Glass containers. You can re-use spice jars, canning jars, and other jars you have on hand. If you want 1 or 2 ounce amber dropper bottles for tinctures, they can cost about $1.20/bottle. 1-2 ounce salve jars are less than $2 from a source like Mt. Rose Herbs which has all the supplies an herbalist will need.

Course Structure: Students will have a list of assignments due each week—reading, short writing assignments, and “labs” to be done in the kitchen, garden, or in some cases in front of the mirror looking at one’s tongue and the tongues of others. Videos and instructions will be available demonstrating some effective methods for medicine-making, harvesting and other hands-on aspects of herbalism. Keeping up week-by-week is important in order to absorb the main points of herbalism. Dr. Hobbs will offer pre-arranged “office hours” by appointment to answer questions.

Grading: 350 points will be available for the course, as follows:

  • Class participation = 50 points (overall participation and enthusiasm)
  • Summaries of what you learned from videos and reading assignments = 50 points
  • Completing labs (photo verification of completed products), =100 points
  • Submitting writing assignments = 50 points
  • Final project, =50 points
  • Final quiz = 50 points

Course Outline

Topic 1 – Literature access, identifying the best primary literature

  1. Sources
  2. Search strategies
  3. Evaluating historical, traditional, scientific, and clinical literature

Topic 2 – History of Herbal Medicine

  1. European, Mediterranean traditions (Egyptians, Romans, “Persians,” migration into southern Italy to Padua, and then spreading to Europe; Celts, Druids
  2. Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tibetan systems
  3. Ayurveda
  4. Ethnobotanical Traditions
    1. Native American Indian herbal medicine
    2. Unani-Tibb
    3. Peruvian shamanism

Topic 3 – Propagation, cultivation of medicinal plants

  1. Soil—a living microbiome; mycorrhizal systems for optimum plant growth, choosing amendments
  2. Seasons—when to plant, when to harvest
  3. Selecting the right plants to grow for climate and soil, ecozone
  4. Propagation, companion planting, grafting, etc.
  5. Harvesting, wildcrafting, processing herbs, garbling, storing

Topic 4 – Extraction, product development

  1. Creams, salves, tinctures, teas, dried teas, other
  2. Why extract? Extraction benefits, solvents extraction methods
  3. Standardization and all it encompasses

Topic 5 – Products

  1. Overview of the marketplace, types of products, what sells?
  2. Quality—a big can of worms, but so important
    1. Organoleptic testing (smell, taste, odor)
    2. Modern testing methods—HPLC, HPTLC, GC/MS, IR, DNA testing
  3. Value-added products, making products (with lab)
    1. Creams, salves, tinctures, teas, dried teas, supercritical CO2 extraction
    2. Packaging—types of bottles, powders in pouches, micro-powdering, nano-powders

Topic 6 – Herbal Constituents—Biosynthetic pathways, chemistry, pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics

  1. Major active constituent types
    1. Carbohydrates (polysaccharides, beta-glucans)
    2. Terpenes (major ingredients of essential oils)
    3. Phenolics (flavonoids, coumarins, salicylates, etc.)
  2. Alkaloids (caffeine, berberine, morphine, etc.) [Should be indented and re-numbered 4.]
  3. Pharmacology—actions in the body of major constituents [This should be 1., etc.]
  4. Pharmacokinetics (what the body does to the drug), pharmacokinetics (what the drug does to the body)
  5. Bioenhancers for increased absorption—examples—milk thistle (silymarin), turmeric (curcumin), black pepper (trikatu)

Topic 7  – Toxicology

  1. Infamous toxic compounds (thujone, aristolochic acid, etc.)
  2. Contraindications
  3. Interactions with drugs

Topic 8 – Herbal Actions, herbal energetics

  1. Herbal action types: Diuretic, expectorant, amphoteric, adaptogen, diaphoretic, hepatoprotective, nervine, etc. Combining action types for relieving symptoms, ailments
  2. Herbal energetics, taste and temperature

Topic 9   – Top 50 herbs and their uses (found in Grow It, Heal It, which have been carefully selected based on popularity, history of use, literature support, and science.  See: Fifty Herbs

Topic 10 – Herbal Therapeutics by body system

  1. Nervous system (practitioner level)
    1. Major symptoms, ailments. (some discussion on etiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis, preventative measures, treatment for each body system when time is available, depending on needs of the class participants; handouts will be available with this information for self-study as well).
    2. Traditional uses of major herbs, mechanism of action, formulation; level of support through history of use and scientific literature evaluation.
    3. Treatment plans
  2. Hormonal system (all body systems follow above outline)
  3. Respiratory system
  4. Digestive tract
  5. Urinary tract
  6. Cardiovascular system
  7. Immune system

Recommended Reading List (and texts to have on hand through the class)

  • Christopher Hobbs’ website: www.christopherhobbs.com. Many handouts, herbal database, articles
  • Kaptchuck, Ted. The web that has no weaver.
  • BenskyDan. Chinese Herbal Medicine (3rd Ed., the “Herbs”, not “Formulas” volume
  • Williamson, E. Potters Herbal Cyclopedia, 2003.

Also recommended, but not crucial

  • Macioccia, G. Tongue Diagnosis.
  • Mills, S. & Bone, K. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety.
  • Kraft, K. & Hobbs, C. Pocket Guide to Herbal Medicine.
  • Weiss, R. Herbal Medicine.
  • Hobbs, C. Herbal Remedies for Dummies.
  • Hobbs, C. Medicinal Mushrooms.


This class fulfills requirements for all three of the online programs offered by the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture in Sustainable Food and Farming:

All online classes cost $482/credit.

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