Think of the scenes in Harry Potter where they’re in the greenhouse repotting mandrakes or when they are making potions. That’s the feeling the Herbology room gave me the first time I walked in… and the second… and third. Now when I walk into the room that feeling is even stronger but it’s also mixed with gratitude and love. A lot of beautiful memories are created there which I will cherish forever.
Finally I am ready to write the Herbology diploma course review. I guess I didn’t want to say goodbye to this part of my life which is why I’ve not picked up my course work until a few weeks ago. This course has given me so much but as with everything there is always room for improvement. I divided this review into the subjects and give you my experience of them and what could be improved. Hopefully it’s helpful! The duration of the course has changed, when I followed it students had 1 year to finish the course as in started in September and graduating in September. Most of the work had to be done by June. It changed from 1 year to 18 months which is a good thing considering the amount of work. If you don’t have that time but do want to learn more about herbs RBGE runs an Herbology certificate course as well.
Herbal Journal + Herbal Journal assignments
During the course you have to keep a herbal journal of your herbal experiences/research/findings, it’s a diary of your herbal journey. Everyone has their own way of doing it, I used a small notebook and lots of pictures, others prefer to write a lot, others like a big notebook. You are given the freedom to create your journal. With the herbal journal come 12 herbal journal assignments. These are great to dive into a subject (for example digestive herbs) and research the topic. You will learn a lot from them but what I found difficult was that RBGE didn’t give a word count. The problem is because it’s so interesting you could keep writing about the topics so that’s one thing that could be improved. Also 12 assignments was a lot to do in a year, I’m not sure how it’s divided now but if you have 18 months for them you should be able to keep up.
I didn’t expect it but I absolutely loved creating my own herbarium. You’ll visit the herbarium at RBGE and get a demonstration what tools to use and how to mount dried herbs. You’ll learn how to press plants and how to dry them. RBGE has a video about mounting herbs on Youtube you can view which could be useful. Our group had to dry and mount 12 specimens in the year and choose one herb to preserve in Copenhagen solution (alcohol and water mixture). For all specimens you have to write a monograph to accompany the herb. It’s a lot of work and you do have to start fairly early if you don’t want to have to do 10 specimens all in spring. Plan ahead! When I went for a walk I almost always had paper and trowel with me in case I came across plants I could press, you can always press more plants than you need. That way you can choose your best specimens at the end of the year.
If you like healing and recipes this is the subject for you! Basically… every student in my year enjoyed the green remedy classes, what’s not to love about classes that teach you how to use herbs preserving as much medicinal properties as possible. During the year you’ll have to create your pharmacopoeia aka recipe book of the remedies you made. This can include the remedies you learn about in class (balms/soaps/syrups/tinctures/creams) or only remedies you create yourself. Include the steps you took (pictures are great) and describe what went well and what you would do different next time you’ll make the remedy. At the end of the year you will be assessed on remedy making. You will be making a remedy from one or a few of the herbs you grew in your plot. I loved that assessment! We were split into two groups and you’re just doing what you love doing with the herbs you grew, explaining what you’re creating to Catherine (course director and tutor!), and when you’re done you’ll share the knowledge with the whole group, all like minded people who have walked along with you on your journey.
Some classes could be improved for example the chocolate class. During the chocolate class we melted pre-made chocolate and used that to make ganache and create chocolate bonbons with herbs. I enjoyed it but it would have been great to learn how to make chocolate from scratch working with the beans and to spend more time learning about the healing properties of chocolate. Perhaps it would have been fine if it was a morning class, but to spend a whole day on making chocolate when you’re not learning from scratch seemed like a waste of an afternoon.
For ecology we had to visit a place in nature and write a profile for 3 plants you came across and you had the option to choose to write about an existing conservation project in that area or write about phenology regarding that area. Good news… it had a word count! I enjoyed picking an area and exploring, great to explore a new place and practise identification skills! I would have liked to pick phenology but I felt I didn’t know enough about it to include it in my project and finish on time.
An interesting project which also had a word count. We had to find someone who could tell us about a herb used for healing, interview them, and write down our findings and include a plant profile of the plant you learned about. I was lucky that my dad used tobacco to create a remedy for farm animals so he was my ‘victim’. If you don’t know anyone it might be tricky to find someone however people all over the world know a few stories. Use your local knowledge (who knows what interesting characters you find in an elderly home) or email that person you read about, never try never know right?
A choice between designing a garden for Lauriston Castle or designing a garden for the Botanic Cottage in RBGE. I choose to design a garden for Lauriston Castle after having visited it with Herbology. A project I thought I wouldn’t like but the opposite happened and the end result will hang on a wall in my home at some point (when I have wall ha!). You have to write plant profiles, design the garden, and write about how you can use the garden for educational purposes.
This is the part where you have the freedom to grow the herbs you like/want to know more about at RBGE. You receive a plot and are free (there are some rules but not many) to pick a theme, choose herbs, design your bed, and put knowledge into practise and learn. You’ll need to have a proposal (theme/herbs) that has to be approved around December (this might have changed), you have to keep a garden journal, and write plant profiles about the herbs you’re growing (this is included in one of the herbal assignments).
I absolutely loved it! But… there was a point in time where I was incredibly frustrated with how RBGE managed the process. At the end of October we all received our plots and put a lot of effort into making it winter ready. Some of us (including me) wanted to try green manure and we planted that so we would see how it would impact the plot. We also took measures to protect the plants we inherited from the previous year. Unfortunately we got news that some of our plots would be levelled in January because of the newly built Botanic cottage which meant some of the plants we inherited had to be taken out of the plots and we would lose the green manure experiment. My plot was one of the most affected plots. RBGE assured our plots would look exactly the same as they did before they started the work, they took pictures of the plots which was reassuring. When we received our plots back they didn’t look like anything they did before, they were in an awful state (I have pictures of the before and after). After putting a lot of thought, love, and work into the plots to see them in such a state understandably made my heart sink. We were the ones who had to put hard work in again to make it in an ok state, a big thanks to Catherine who picked up a fork and helped me with my plot, I think that says a lot about her. Also when we received our plants back from RBGE, the plants weren’t the same specimens RBGE took out and some plants were even lost. RBGE did provide other plants for the lost ones but how is it possible to lose plants? What also surprised me was that the people who run Herbology didn’t seem to have a lot of say in the overall process and it gave me the impression that RBGE doesn’t regard Herbology as highly as Herbology deserves.
You will get a budget to order seeds but all the students on my course bought plants to put into the plots as well (after having them in quarentaine), and we were told we would be able to take them home at the end of the year. Unfortunately that didn’t happen as there was a biosecurity issue throughout Scotland at that time. Lovely Senga offered to provide cuttings from the plants which was a nice offer but I asked RBGE for a refund; cuttings aren’t the same as a proper plant you put in and spent money on. I’ll receive a refund but it would have been great if RBGE took responsibility and would have contacted us individually about how much money we spent and organized refunds instead of students asking. Anyway for the next year(s) you won’t be able to bring plants in due to the the on-going biosecuitry issue, you can only use the plants that are in the botanics already and/or you grow herbs from seed.
The points I mentioned above were annoying but they were easily put into the back of my mind and often totally forgotten when I arrived at my plot and got to be creative, think about the herbs, see them grow, really get to know them, see what works and what doesn’t, and have amazing people share their knowledge and help you out when you get stuck. This has been a very big learning curve and it has been very magical. To me it doesn’t get much better than being outside working with the earth and getting to know plants. I learned so much and I loved it.
Yes you do have to write a dissertation which has a word count of 5000 words, so it’s more like a big assignment (although I have to admit some of my assignments contained more words than my dissertation… that’s what happens when you love a subject). You can pick any topic you want to write about (Herbology advises you to ask a question which you explore in the content) but you do need to get it approved before you start, just to make sure you’re not wasting your time. Pick something that’s not too difficult
to research and make it interesting!
The schedule could be adjusted in a more efficient way. For example it would have been great if we had the tincture class with Beth and Ali earlier in the year so we could have experimented making more interesting and effective tinctures.
Personally I was disappointed with how deadlines are treated, deadlines exist to keep people on track and I got the feeling deadlines weren’t treated as they should (to be fair a lot of us had a rough year with lots going on and I am not sure Herbology could have done more to help them out). I felt management was too loose with them which made the course harder because assignments kept bulking up for some students. At the beginning of the year we got a table that broke-down how the course would be marked including how deadlines would be treated. I didn’t see that table represented at the end of the year which was a bit dissappointing. Why give it out if it’s not being taken that seriously and deadlines are extended a lot of the time without affecting marks? I don’t think that’s fair to the people who do keep track of the work because those people simply didn’t get the same amount of time to put into assignments as others and I do believe marks should be affected (exceptions obviously exist). I don’t mean to sound too aggressive on this point, however we are talking about a diploma course which management would like to get to academic level.
The course is a lot of work and my advice to you is keep up with it and don’t wait too long with starting Pharmacopoeia, Garden Design, and Herbarium. Basically when you receive assignments and projects start them, you will need the time. When you need to pick something for the course, pick something that’s healing (obviously). I picked a Witch’s theme for my plot and although it was different and I loved it, if I could do it again I would pick something else which is more easily linked to healing herbs such as ayurvedic garden, vulnerary garden, healing herbs of the mint family, healing herbs for arthritis, herbs that benefit the liver. Don’t make it hard for yourself because you have enough work to do 😉 You will have 1-2-1s during the year and be honest if you are struggling with something, there is always someone who is able to help you out or point you in the right direction. 1-2-1s are there to get feedback and give feedback, use that time and ask questions.
Some things have changed now and there is an online version of the course (look on the RBGE website for course information) but again it will be a lot of work, don’t underestimate it. I was lucky to have enough time to focus on it, not everyone on my course was. Most of us finished on time but some lovelies weren’t able to because of the amount of work, Herbology gave them an extension which is great. Again, the timeframe has changed which should enable you to finish it on time.
All the tutors on the course are aboslutely amazing and I loved all the classes, I really did. From the less nice things that happened during the year I described all the tutors have done their best to assist and make the best out of those situations. In some ways I am disappointed in RBGE but having said that the tutors were always there if you wanted to have a chat (although it could be a challenge to get a time that would suit both due to busy schedules).
All in all if you’d ask me would you do it again I would say: Definitely as long as the plots aren’t medled with 😉 It’s an amazing course to do and you’ll get a lot out of it wether you choose to continue studying Herbalism or wether you will use the knowledge for yourself and your loved ones.
Blessed be Xx