Botany for Herbalists

Plants - Science - Fun

Plant wisdom meets practical know-how. You'll never look at a meadow the same way again.
"...humor, wisdom, stories and a deep connection to our earth. " 
"...wonderful course. a must for all herbalists." 
"Should be compulsory for all citizens of earth."
“A background in botany is crucial to a well-trained herbalist. I can always tell the difference between a student with botanical training and one without.  - Matthew Wood, MS

Free Botany Starter Set

Access our 12 botany cards for a quick dip into botanical wonders and enjoy a hilarious and delightful FREE intro to Botany for Herbalists with Matthew Wood and Jolie Elan.
“The neat thing about herbalism is that there is no end to learning.
There is always one more leaf to turn over.” - The late Bob Gallagher, herbalist

Imagine yourself standing by a trickling creek in the dappled shade...

You are in the midst of what could be powerful medicinal plants. And - Wow- what is that? Is it California Ginseng? Yes, it must be. And you begin to imagine all the wonderful herbal honey you can supply to your friends and clients for their damp lung congestion this winter. It's great to be an herbalist! Then the inevitable question arises - how do I know for sure? Maybe it's cow parsnip or even worse, poison hemlock - Yikes! Maybe it is endangered? And all the visions of herbal honey are now forgotten. You walk home wishing you had the tools to know the plants around you on a deeper level. Well, this is the course you have been waiting for...

Why We Created
"Botany for Herbalists"

An herbalist should always feel, in their own home environment, that they can “read the landscape” around them.
We should know that we are part of an ecosystem, with characteristic plants in various mixtures – native, non-native, damper soil, drier soil, disturbed soil, shade-tolerant, sun-tolerant, etc. From the tree to the bush, to the plant, to the soil, we should understand that we are looking at a complete system with its own intelligence. Within that microcosm, we should be able to identify most of the plants we are looking at.

While we can rely on teachers, books, and experience, the infallible method is to learn to look deeply at the sacred geometry of the flower patterns made by the sepals, petals, and male and female reproductive plants. For the most part, plants are classified by their flower patterns into groups, families, genera, and species.

We also need to know the Latin name in order to identify the plant in terms that everyone else can refer to. The science of naming and classifying plants is called Plant Taxonomy.

Many herbs follow the traits of their families and have similar medicinal properties. We might want to substitute a cousin plant with similar properties, or by knowing the family we might get a clue to the possible properties of a new plant we have not seen before. We also must know the three or four poisonous plants that are found in most temperate ecosystems.

Finally, we want to know whether a plant is rare or common in the region where we are and whether it can be sustainably harvested – and how to look that information up, if we don’t immediately know.

When we know all of these bits and pieces of information and can put them together into a whole, then we are ready to pick plants in the wild and teach others about their properties on herb walks and even in the classroom.

-Matthew Wood MS

Why an Herbalist Must be a Botanist

Classes Cover

Plant Ecology

We should know that we are part of an ecosystem, with characteristic plants in various mixtures. The plant is inseparable from the soil the water, air, pollinators, birds and of course, us. We are part of the living, sentient ecosystem. Learning plant ecology will ground the herbalist and enable them to think like an ecosystem. "Geez, this plant in the rose family is growing on the edge of a wet meadow helping to dry it out, I wonder if it does the same thing in my body."

Botanical Nomenclature and Taxonomy

We need to know the Latin name in order to identify the plant and converse with others about it. Knowing the scientific name informs us where the plant lies on the family tree; who are its sisters and cousins. The herbalist can start to ask interesting questions like: “I wonder, can I substitute Hound’s Tongue for Comfrey since they are cousins in the same Borage family?”

Evolutionary Botany

We need to know the major plant families to which medicinal herbs belong. This gives us insight into medicinal properties and basic planetary evolution. We want to understand the evolutionary history of plants, in order to understand the relationship between major families.

Plant Communication

We want to fully appreciate plants by understanding the new scientific knowledge about how plants, and plant communities, communicate. This is highly analogous to traditional knowledge based on plant-to-person communication. We want to value both. This class delves into the science of Plant Intelligence.

Herbal Practice

The best practitioner is the one who knows her or his field thoroughly and competently. When we are selecting the correct herbs, we want our minds to naturally slip from one to another, making associations based on medicinal properties, tastes, ecology, botany, correct identity (at the least), safety, and ethical harvesting.

Herbal Education and Communication

We will be better teachers for our students and we will have better communication with our herbal peers.

Ethical Harvesting and Plant Propagation

We want to know if an herb can be sustainably harvested – and how to look that information up, if we don’t immediately know.


We need to know the poisonous plants that are found in our ecosystem.

And More:
  • How plants are named and grouped
  • How to see a flower: plant parts and functions; plant sex 101
  • Evolutionary history of plants and why it’s important for herbalists to know.
  • Intelligent medicine - The fascinating new field of plant intelligence 
  • Indigenous wisdom meets modern science
  • Plant ecology and ecological medicine – How plants relate with each other and their communities; how this influences their medicine.
  • Major medicinal plant families - how to identify them and their shared medicinal properties
  • Botanical identification and ethical harvest
  • How to read the landscape
“A background in botany is crucial to a well-trained herbalist. I can always tell the difference between a student with botanical training and one without. - Matthew Wood

Why an Herbalist Must be a Botanist

Jolie was once at a conference where an herbalist started a plant journey class with a misidentified plant. Jolie pointed out that it was poison oak. As herbalists, and ambassadors of the plant kingdom, we do not want to look like fools, misinform people, or poison them. Herbalists, like masters of plants and their properties, should be able to talk to fellow herbalists and pick, plant, and grow herbs appropriately.


Support Materials

Detailed syllabus, reading assignments, online resources, and fun labs.

Support Materials

Watch the free intro & get your free botany starter set!


24.5 hours of teaching


Certificate included
(see more below)

Pay Once = One Year Access

1 year to view and review content, ask questions and discuss

This is for you if you...

would like to understand a plant's role in the ecosystem, to identify characteristics of certain plant families and appreciate the interconnectedness of soil, water, air, pollinators, birds, and humans.
want to acquire essential skills in botanical nomenclature and taxonomy, enabling accurate plant identification and meaningful conversations with peers.
want to enhance your awareness of poisonous plants in their ecosystem, ensuring safe practices.

Upon completion, you will...

be equipped with the fundamentals of Botany: plant naming and grouping, flower anatomy, ecology, safety, evolutionary history, and insights into plant intelligence.
understand flower patterns, recognizing major medicinal plant families, and be familiar with ethical harvest practices and landscape interpretation.
be educated on the unique physical and medicinal characteristics of plant families.


Matthew Wood, MS

Matthew Wood has been a practicing herbalist for over forty years. He is an internationally known
teacher and author with more than ten books to his credit, including The Book of Herbal Wisdom, 
The Earthwise Herbals, Holistic Medicine and the Extracellular Matrix, and A Shamanic Herbal 
(July 2024). Matthew has an MSc in herbal medicine from the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine 
(accredited, U. of Wales). He lives in the Midwest. 

Jolie Elan, MS

Jolie Elan, MS, founding director of Go Wild Institute, inspired thousands worldwide, blending science, myth, and spirit for nature awakening. Explore her legacy in acclaimed courses with experts like Susan Leopold, PhD, and Matthew Wood.

Certificate Included

  • How to Get a Certificate

    • Complete course materials
    • Pass the test with a grade of 70% or better
    • Save or print your certificate!

    Available with subscription and individual course purchases.

  • Accreditation hours

    This course is a total of 36 accredited hours
    • 3 hours Materia Medica
    • 2 hours History, Philosophy, and Therapeutic Paradigms and Applications (Including Energetics) of Various Systems of Herbal Medicine
    • 31 hours Botany and Plant Science

    *Please check with your accrediting agency whether they will accept accredited hours or certificates from the Matthew Wood Institute of Herbalism
“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time
- like to have a friend takes time.” - Georgia O’Keeffe
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Botany for Herbalists

A herbalist needs to know the equivalent of anatomy and biology of plants too!

Check out our certificate courses!