“One of my students told me that every time she learns the name of a plant, she feels as if she is meeting someone new. Giving a name to something is a way of knowing it.”
― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
It’s a new year, making it a great time to start a Herbal Roots zine “Herb-of-the-Month” club!
Just what is a Herb-of-the-Month club?
“Herb of the Month” Club is a great way to get kids together to learn about herbs! Kids get together on a regular basis to discuss herbs, make herbal remedies, do crafts and learn about herbs.
What are the benefits of a Herb-of-the-Month club?
By committing to learning about 1 herb each month, kids will learn in depth about each herb. By joining together, they can share their ideas and experiences with their uses and study of that herb, reinforcing what they’ve learned while teaching each other.
How can I start a Herb-of-the-Month club?
It’s simple! First, decide who you want to be a part of your club. Are you homeschoolers? Perhaps you will want to create a group for your local homeschool cooperative. Or get together with a group of homeschooling friends who are interested. Those who are not homeschoolers can get together after school or on the weekends.
If you’re interested in hosting a Herb-of-the-Month club but don’t know a lot of people, hang flyers at your local library, health food store, church, park or a nature center if you have one.
Where can we meet at?
Libraries often offer community rooms. Churches do as well. Or meet at someone’s home, maybe take turns hosting the classes so that kids can see the herbs growing in a variety of settings. If you have a local nature center, try them as well.
How often should we meet?
It’s best to meet on a regular basis. Every week or every two weeks is a good choice. By meeting a few times a month, the kids will have a chance to discuss what they’ve been working on or learning over the previous week(s).
How long should we meet for?
Depending on the age of the kids, 2 hours is generally enough. Younger kids will need shorter times but will enjoy listening to the stories, singing the songs and doing a craft activity. Also schedule in some games (see our website for ideas on adapting well known games for herbs).
So, we’ve got the kids, we’ve got the location, we’ve set the dates, now what?
Decide if you want to do a pre-determined list of herbs for the year or let the kids select them at their first meeting. There are 72 issues of Herbal Roots zine at the moment, with another added on each month. You might choose to subscribe for a year’s worth of issues and follow along as they come out. For longer planning and more choices, choose from the 72 back issues of Herbal Roots zine!
Now for the fun part…
Each family purchases the chosen issues for the club so they can download and print off a copy for each of their children that are participating. Each child should also have:
~1 hard sided binder to put their issues in
~Pencils for sketching
~Waterproof pen for sketching (Micron .5 is a nice brand/size)
Be sure the group has access to the following (or have each family provide their own):
~Colored pencils, watercolors, and/or watercolor pencils
~Clear packing tape
~Various art and kitchen supplies (see each issue for specifics)
Optional (makes story and music time more fun):
~Musical instruments such as drums, maracas, rattles, triangles, sticks, tambourines
Once you have the issues, print off the first issue and flip through it. The newer issues (April 2014 and beyond) and older revised issues all have 4 week calendar schedules. You can follow those to plan out your weeks. Some of the activities can be done during the club meeting, some can be done at home. Here is a sample schedule for the outdated ones (I am in the process of revising all issues but it will probably take me a few years to get them all completed). Please note you may need to make some adjustments for it to fit the issue you are working with.
Alternatively, you can follow this schedule. If the group is middle aged kids and older, try to get the kids to facilitate the learning. Maybe they can appoint a ‘leader’ for each week to lead the discussion. Be sure to let them have time each week to discuss with each other what they’ve learned about the plant they are learning about.
If you are meeting bi-weekly, combine activities from weeks 1 & 2 and weeks 3 & 4.
If possible, have a live specimen available for the kids to touch, smell, taste, look at and get to know. If it’s growing in its natural environment, even better but a potted version will work as will some clippings harvested right before the meeting. Let the kids look at the plant but don’t tell them anything about it. You might choose to have a plant for each kid to take home with them for planting or using throughout the month.
Have the kids fill out the Herb Spirit page 1 with their impressions of the herb.
Discuss the plant, read the all about section to them (or have them take turns reading it aloud).
Play a herbally adapted game to reinforce what they’ve just learned about the plant.
Choose a recipe to do. Extracts (alcohol and vinegar) are best done early on since they need to sit for a few weeks before using. Oils can be done early on too, especially if salve making will be happening. If the plant is a food based plant (one that can be eaten), have them create a recipe and bring it to the next class or everyone to try out. Make sure to have them write down their recipes on the journal page in each issue or in their sketchbook. Remind them to shake their extracts daily at home.
Sing the song about the plant.
Give them activities to do throughout the week such as find the plant growing in their yard, sketch the plant in their yard, go online to read some of the links that are shared in the resource section, do a few of the puzzles and so on. Ask them to re-read the All About section in the next few days at least once so they become more familiar with the plant.
Have a live specimen available. Let them look at the plant up close and write down what they observe. Start with what they see on the plant. Every detail: hairs, leaves opposite or alternating or whorled? Stems square or round? Are there thorns? If flowering, what is the flower’s color? How many petals? How many sepals? What are the shapes of the leaves? Are they toothed?
Review what they’ve learned about the plant so far. Ask questions such as:
What is the plant’s botanical name?
What family is it in?
Is it an annual or a perennial?
What vitamins and minerals does the plant have?
Is it warming or cooling?
Drying or moistening?
Sweet? Sour? Pungent? Bitter?…
Have them name 5 actions (or do a round robin game and each kid names an action in turn and when someone can’t remember an action, they stand in the middle until all the actions are named).
Sing the song again and see if they can come up with another verse.
Ask about their extracts…have they noticed them changing colors? Have them describe their extracts and remind them to keep shaking them every day (and fun thing can be for them to sing the plant’s song to the extract each day when they shake it).
Choose another recipe to do. If they’ve made a food item, let everyone try them out.
Play another herbally adapted game.
Give them activities to do throughout the week: do a few of the puzzles, maybe make one of the recipes such as a tea. Ask them to re-read the All About section at least once during the week. Have them tell a friend or family member what they’ve learned about the plant.
Have a live specimen available. Review what they discovered through the magnifying glass last week. Have them look again if they want and sketch a few of the details in their sketchbooks. If it is included in the issue that you are working in, have them complete the botany section.
Review the All About section again or if they’ve been reviewing it at home, have them call out all the things the plant can help them with. Ask them based on the actions that they have what other things the plant might be good for (ie. if it’s a carminative, would it be good for an upset stomach? nausea? gas?).
Have them fill out the plant profile template.
If appropriate, have any of the kids been using the plant at home (for food or medicine)? For instance, say you are learning about Peppermint and someone had an upset stomach. Did they make a cup of Peppermint tea to drink?
Do a craft.
This is the week to wrap up!
Have them do Page 2 of the Herb Spirits. How did their answers change or stay the same? What did they learn about the plant that they were surprised to learn?
Pass around the live specimen. As each kid holds it, have them share one thing about the plant. It can be anything: a description of the plant, a use for the plant, a type of medicine they made from the plant, how the plant makes them feel (while they are looking at it or when they are using it). Maybe they’d like to recite a poem they wrote about the plant or tell a story they made up about the plant. Or how they will use the plant in the future.
Make a salve if appropriate for the plant you are learning about.
Sing the song.
Pretend to be the plant and dance like the plant would dance while you sing the song. This can start out as a discussion (would Burdock have a deep singing voice and move slowly since he works slowly in the body? would Blackberry or Rose have his claws out, grabbing at everybody? …)
Give the kids time to finish up anything in the issue that they haven’t had a chance to do.
Finish up with a celebration of that plant. Have an infusion or tea blend made (if appropriate, some might not be so good to drink!), or popsicles, herbal soda, etc. Make some herb themed foods to eat such as cookies or candied leaves or ice cream.
Other optional ideas:
~At the beginning of the year, after the plants are decided on, schedule a 2nd meeting to get together and either plant a community garden plot with all the plants they will be learning about that year OR plant seeds in pots for them to each take home.
~At the end of the year, have a herb celebration to honor the 12 herbs you’ve learned about for the year. Have food themed with the 12 herbs. Play herbal bingo. Winners could win herb seeds for the next year’s round of plants, decorated labels for their jars, or other herb related items.
Have you thought about creating a “Herb-of-the-Month” club in your area or have you started one already? Tell us what works well for you!