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The Folk Herbal Art of Measuring in Parts

Bright sky blue measuring cups are full of herbal ingredients and stacked high. Reishi mushrooms, rosemary, and bilberries fill the measuring cups which are used to add ingredients in parts to herbal recipes.

I like to think of folk herbalism as the herbal modality of the people. It is a general term encompassing plant remedies used by common “folk,” and it varies based on the traditions and local plants with which a given community has formed a relationship. One of the most accessible aspects of folk herbalism is the use of parts as measurement, which is sometimes referred to as the Simpler’s Method. This easy and universal measuring system has been used for recipes and formulations passed though many generations and continues to be used as the method of the people today.

Fancy vintage measuring spoons are adorned with painted flowers and used to add organic rosemary leaf into herbal formulas by parts.

Why Measure in Parts?

Back in the day, herbalists did not have exact measuring implements, so instead, they used whatever they did have — their carved wooden spoon, or their handmade drinking vessel. It is for this reason that many folk remedies are measured in a way that you can scale down for a single serving or scale up if creating formulas you’ll be using for the long term. Parts can be measured with a teaspoon, a measuring cup, or even your favorite mug or bowl if you want to connect with the methodology of your ancestors.

It is my personal belief that the marriage of the scientific and the folk approach is what creates a well-rounded understanding of herbalism. Science is important but should never completely replace the heart and the use of intuition, on which traditional herbalism was founded.

How to Measure in Parts

The best way to learn the measurement of parts is by actually doing it. Here is an example that can be found in Rosemary Gladstar’s book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. As a folk herbalist and educator of The Science and Art of Herbalism, Gladstar teaches budding herbalists how to measure in parts for many of her recipes. One particular recipe, a nootropic herbal blend that can be made into a DIY tincture or homemade capsules (she calls it her "Brain Alert Formula"), reads as follows:

Starting Small (or For Single Servings)

If you were looking to try this formula out on a smaller scale, you could start with a tablespoon as your implement. That would look like this:

Using a half cup measuring vessel to pour organic dried bilberries into an herbal formula is simple when measuring in parts.

Scaling Up REcipes

And once you know that you like the recipe, you can scale this recipe up to enjoy and share. You can simply replace the tablespoon with a 1/2 cup measuring scoop. This would look like this:

Note: Just because you can scale up a recipe, doesn’t mean you always should. When working with potent herbs, it is always wise to review the plant’s contraindications and consult with a qualified practitioner before changing your wellness routine.

When Not to Measure in Parts

In a world without standardized measuring tools, measuring in parts may be your best option for achieving consistency in your recipes. However, since most of us now have access to any number of reliable measurement devices, there are times when measuring in parts may be more troublesome than helpful.

Measuring in parts requires you to get all your ingredients into the same unit, so if you're dealing with a recipe listing ingredients in teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups, converting all of that to parts may leave you with some pretty unwieldy measurements if you hope to stay accurate. For example, if a bread recipe calls for a cup of flour and one teaspoon baking soda, you'll need to convert the cup into 48 teaspoons to measure accurately (since it's pretty tough to eyeball 0.020833 cups). Scooping out 48 teaspoons of flour probably isn't a great use of your time, so we'd recommend sticking with the original units instead.


Practice Your Skills with Measuring in Parts

Try this Calming Marshmallow Rose Tea Recipe


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Various kitchen measuring tools are used for to help traditional herbalists measure in parts when making herbal recipes. Reishi mushroom, organic bilberries, rosemary leaf, and gotu kola can be added to herbal recipes in parts when using measuring cups and measuring spoons.


Topics: Natural Body Care, Recipes, Specialty Ingredients


Written by Jessicka on March 2, 2020

Jessicka Nebesni works as a Marketing Strategist and is always working towards sharing the most educational, empowering, and useful resources with our herbal community. Having practiced Macrobiotic food preparations in California, beekeeping in Oregon and making herbal crafts for local farmers markets in New Jersey, she has a wide variety of experiences and knowledge to share. She is currently enrolled in Rosemary Gladstar’s "The Science and Art of Herbalism" and is eagerly awaiting open enrollment for the Master Food Preservers course this coming spring. Her passions include preserving food, gardening, practicing herbal wellness, making DIY skin and body care recipes, and living a lifestyle of minimal impact on the Earth.

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