Materia Medica, What is it?

Materia Medica, What is it?

A materia medica is in herbalism files, or information kept on different herbs and herbal actions. Most herbalists keep these types of files of the types of different herbs they use, their experiences and other notes on how or how they used the herb. Materia medicas can come in lots of different formats, and some are handwritten with illustrations, some are on index cards, on excel spreadsheets or published online. Materia medicas have existed for a very long time, and you can even find ones from over 200 years old at

What to include in your Materia Medica

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The Herb 

This is the name of the herb. You will want to list the Latin binomial and common names. For example: Burdock (Arctium lappa)- Common names: great burdock, gobo, goboshi. The full name or names are essential for good a good materia medica file.


Parts Used

You will want to list the parts used of the plant. Some plants may only be the flowers, and others will be root, flowers, seeds, and leaves. You can take pictures or make drawing of the plant parts you use for your records.



This is where you will list growing conditions if you know or the habitat it was harvested from if you know. You can also list when to harvest and where to find this herb. Did you find it in a field? Swamp? Off your favorite trail? You can also use this note to mention other herbs you found in the same area.


What Does the Herb Look Like?

So, in this part, you will want to use a picture or make a drawing of the plant. Don’t worry about artistic ability. Sometimes just a rough sketch is all you need to help with an idea or to capture the feeling of the plant. You will also want to write a botanical description too, like the flower color, and shape, leaf shapes, textures and colors, the stem shape and texture. Have fun with your materia medica, draw pictures, use photos and really give yourself reminders on what the herb looks like.

Adobe Stock © cat_arch_angel materia medica


Herbal Actions

What does this herb do? Is it an astringent? Demulcent? Here is where you list the herbal actions. Some herbs have more than one action or the action is different in different body systems. You will want to list those here.


Uses- Specific

Some herbs are known as superheroes for specific issues. Elderberry=Flu for example. Here is where you want to list the particular problems the herb is often used to work with. You may also find that certain herbs work well for certain kinds of issues in certain circumstances; you will also want to note this here too. You can also add resources to traditional resources and modern studies in this section.

Safety and Contraindications

Knowing how to use an herb safely is essential. It is so important to list and acknowledge safety issues for every herb you use. This is where you list drug interactions, allergies, pregnancy, and breastfeeding safety.

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