What is a Herbarium?
A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens that are dried, pressed, and arranged systematically for research, study, or reference purposes. The specimens in a herbarium include a range of parts of the plants, such as leaves, stems, flowers, seeds, and fruits.
Herbalists should have a herbarium because it serves as a crucial reference tool for the identification and documentation of medicinal plants. A herbarium allows herbalists to identify the plants accurately and provides a basis for learning more about the plants’ characteristics, including their traditional uses and potential health benefits.
Additionally, herbarium specimens can be used for research purposes, such as analyzing the chemical composition of the plant or exploring its ecological significance. Overall, creating a herbarium of local plants is a valuable tool for the bioregional herbalist, as it can help with plant identification, record-keeping, learning and research, and conservation.
Gather Your Supplies
You only need a few materials to create a useful, lovely herbarium!
Gather the following supplies:
Creating Your Herbarium
Creating your own herbarium can be a fun and educational activity! To start, you’ll need to gather a few plants of interest. You can go on a nature walk and collect plants from the environment, or even discover them in your own backyard. You’ll soon find that collecting plants can be a truly magical experience!
You may be surprised to find the wide array of plant species that exist in a single area. Start by gathering the familiar plants, but don’t forget to try something new as well. When collecting plants, take the opportunity to harvest as many parts of the plant as possible – such as flowers, seeds, fruits, and roots – and remember to enjoy the enchantment of the natural world.
I like to bring along a field guide to help me identify any plants I’m not sure of. Here is a list of my favorite field guides. 28+ Best Field Guides & Plant Identification Books.
A few other things that are helpful when out in the field collecting plant specimens are:
- Plastic bags
- Garden secateurs & trowel
- Small notebook & pencil
- Labels for bags
- Camera -(important if a plant is rare) – this is the one I use. Taking photos to support your herbarium can be helpful for showing the surrounding habitat and to evidence important characteristics. You also need to check if a plant is rare and if so, then just photograph the area and take a close-up picture of the plant, rather than harvest it.
Before you complete the transformation of your plants from their living state to a pressed and dried version, take some time to fully appreciate their beauty and mystery. Connect with their energy and take note of all their unique characteristics. This is a vital step in creating your herbarium, and if you don’t take the time to record your observations now, it may be difficult to recall them later.
When taking plant specimens for a herbarium, it is important to record several pieces of information to provide context and aid in identification. Here are some key pieces of information to record:
- Collection date: The date the specimen was collected.
- Habitat: The location where the plant was found, including the geographic location, elevation, and surrounding plants and soil type.
- Description of the plant: A detailed description of the plant, including its size, growth form, and any distinguishing features such as flower color or leaf shape.
- Common name: If the plant has a common name, record it along with the scientific name.
- Scientific name: The genus and species name of the plant.
- Additional notes: Any other relevant information about the specimen, such as its use in traditional medicine or cultural significance.
Other observations may wish to include such as:
- What does the plant look and smell like?
- What are the distinguishing characteristics of the plant?
- How does it taste? (Make sure the herb is safe to consume before tasting it.)
- How does the plant make you feel when you interact with it?
- Does the plant have any medicinal or nutritional qualities?
Instructions For Pressing Plants
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
- First, gather any flowers, leaves, or herbs that you want to press. It’s best to pick or cut them when they’re at their freshest and driest.
- Next, you’ll need a flower press. You can buy a flower press or make one yourself by sandwiching your flowers between layers of absorbent paper or cardboard, and then placing them between two flat surfaces like wooden boards or book covers. You’ll also need some heavy objects like books or bricks to place on top of the press.
Step 2: Press Your Flowers
Prepare the Flower Press:
- First, prepare the flower press by placing one piece of cardboard on the bottom board of your flower press and layer a piece of blotting paper and a on top.
- Then, place the flowers on top of the blotting paper, ensuring that they are not overlapping.
- Finally, add another sheet of blotting paper on top of the flowers, and then place the second piece of cardboard on top. Repeat these steps until you have used all of your flowers or filled your press.
- If you’re using a homemade press, you can tighten the screws or straps to apply pressure to the flowers.
- Leave the press undisturbed for between 1-2 weeks, depending on the thickness of the flowers and the humidity in your area.
Step 3: Remove Your Pressed Flowers
- Once your flowers are completely dry and pressed, carefully remove them from the paper and cardboard. You can use tweezers or your fingers, being careful not to damage the delicate petals or leaves.
- Your pressed flowers are now ready to be used in your herbarium.
Compiling Your Herbarium Pages
Once the plants are dry, you are ready to compile your herbarium pages. Each plant species should have its own page. Some folks recommend using narrow pieces of tape to secure each plant onto heavy sheets of paper, then adding the previously-recorded information to the herbarium page. This process is then finished up by placing it in a protective plastic cover.
The method I prefer is using magnetic or self-stick photo album pages that have a plastic overlay. This keeps my specimens securely in place without the need for taping or plastic sheet protectors.
Here's A Look At My Herbarium
I have discovered that utilizing my binder as a Materia Medica for medicinal plants and as a herbarium is the most efficient and effective method for organizing, documenting, and studying the indigenous medicinal flora within my bioregion.
All the plant specimens I have collected are organized in my binder using divider tabs in alphabetical order. Each plant has a Materia Medica sheet where I meticulously document important information about the plant or herb, including but not limited to:
- Latin Name
- Other Name
- Habitat and harvesting season
- Parts used in medicine, what they’re used for, active ingredients, precautions
- Herbal Actions and Energetics
- Is it used culturally in rituals, beliefs, magic, symbolism
As you can see, creating your own herbarium can be a wonderful, educational, and fun experience. Not only will you learn more about the medicinal properties of herbs, but you will also be able to identify, organize, and store herbs for future use. With your herbarium, you can become a more informed herbalist and grow your own knowledge and understanding of the fascinating world of medicinal herbs and plants. So, go out and start creating your own herbarium today!
How To Make An Herbarium. Retrieved from https://theherbarium.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/how-to-make-a-herbarium/
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