“Most people are on the world not in it, have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them, “– John Muir, Environmentalist
For centuries, people have been observing the world around them and recording them in nature journals. Herbalists, botanists, horticulturalists and gardeners often keep detailed botanical journals to accurately record the plants that they grow and see in nature. Often noted in such journals is a plant’s scientific or botanical name (usually in Latin) along with common names, the characteristics, growing conditions, and other information that is used for both personal and professional research purposes. A botanical journal can also be similar to a zibaldone or an artistic journal and include hand drawn or even painted illustrations of the plants.
For herbalists, such a botanical journal is referred to as a materia medica. This Latin term means “healing materials”. There are many famous botanical journals or materia medica such as the works of Twelfth Century Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen, Culpepper’s Complete Herbal and Mrs. M. Grieve’s Modern Herbal. Each of these written works show how plants were used therapeutically and can serve as an inspiration for today’s herbalists. Earlier works can even help them discover uses that might not be as well known in modern texts.
Creating Your Own Botanical Journal
When putting together your own botanical journal or materia medica, be sure to choose a format that’s easiest for you. Choosing a journal with good quality paper is important. Whether it is plain or lined paper, try to use a journal that will not only allow you to write descriptions and notes, but a paper that can stand up if you also choose to draw your own plant illustrations.
Creating Plant Profiles
Each plant needs to have one page completely dedicated to it. Even if you don’t immediately fill the page with information, you’re leaving room to put additional details, especially as you gain more hands-on experience with the plant. It is often easiest to choose a plant that you are most familiar with, like one that grows locally in your backyard. Write out the common and botanical name, including some of the following information to create a complete plant profile:
Information to include in your Botanical Journal:
1. Plant Identification
Be sure to include the Latin or botanical name, as well as any common names.
2. Plant description
Describe the plant in detail. This is a perfect place to make sketches or drawings of the plant. Adding colors with colored pencils, markers, or water colors enhances the drawing and gives the ‘future you’ more details about your discovery.
3. Growing conditions
What kinds of soil, light, and watering condition does each plant thrive in? Does it have a relationship with other plants, animals, or terrain? Some plants prefer certain kinds of soil and sun conditions like full light, sandy soil, and shade. Make note of these conditions in your botanical journal.
4. When and how to harvest
Every botanist knows that their plants have preferred harvest methods. Learning these will both prolong the plant’s lifespan and provide reminders when you encounter the plant later. Record this information for safekeeping.
5. Plant parts used
Not only does each plant have a specific harvest method, but different parts are used for different purposes. Do you use only the roots of your plant, or can you use the leaves and stems? How about the berries? Are they poisonous, or can they be baked with pastries?
6. Formulas and preparations
What preparation method maximizes the use of the plant? Some herbs are best used when they’re dried, others become more potent when distilled. Make detailed notes about how a plant is prepared. Was it used as a tea or extracted in alcohol, for example? Is the plant or herb warming or cooling?
7. Safety conditions
Some plants, herbs or parts of them can be poisonous. Make note of these things in your botanical journal to refer to. You may want add tape flags or other markers that are color coded to indicate the need for added precautions. Make note of any indications from your research or personal experiences that may affect those who are pregnant or affected by allergies.
Keeping a botanical journal can become a lifelong habit offering personal knowledge and joy; not only for yourself but for others who might also be interested in your observations. Your botanical journal might also serve to inspire others to create more journals to share.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jake & Bella are both young professionals who reside in sunny Queensland, Australia. Jake is an executive within the medical tourism industry and Bella is a young PR & Journalism graduate. Both use journals and notebooks as part of their daily life, whether it's taking notes, creating concepts, planning projects or showing some gratitude. Both have a keen eye for what makes a high quality journal that's a pleasure to own and use. Visit the Our Team page for more info on this bother and sister duo.