I’m not a boring person. For most of my life I chose (most of the time) not to be boring, and prefer to be around non-boring people (I've learned that few people are truly boring). For all you little voyeuristic folks out there, I’m going to give you a glimpse behind the curtain about me, how I got here, and what the heck this herbalism thing is about.
If you don’t already know me, you’ll soon realize I’m a pretty candid person. That makes some people uncomfortable. If you are one of those people, you should probably just stop reading now.
If you would like to get the watered down, slightly less exciting but much shorter version of me, you can read my bio on the website here.
Oh hey- still here? Cool. So I’m going to give you a little background about myself as a sort of ‘introduction,’ if you will. If you’re here for the herbalism part- don’t worry. It’s coming!
I didn’t plan on being an herbalist, or a clinical herbalist, for that matter, until I was thirty. Ten years ago. Before that I was an English teacher for about fifteen years teaching middle and high school. I didn’t plan that either. Don’t get me wrong- I am entirely a Type A Planner- but some things you just can’t entirely plan.
I became an English teacher because I had two kids while I was in college, double majoring in English and Psychology. English I was naturally good at, but Psychology fascinated me, as I’m sure it does most people who live with mental health issues. I was diagnosed in high school with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Soooo fun. I took meds. I guess they helped, but I stopped while pregnant and didn't really get back on them much after that, aside from ones for panic attacks. Caring for other people can make you forget about your own issues sometimes.
After graduating with a degree in English and being a single parent, I decided to go into teaching so I could have the summers off to take care of the boys. I loved it. I was good at it. Was this my dream? Definitely not. Becoming a mom at eighteen taught me a lot of crucial lessons I would never want to change, but it did make it hard to develop into an individual. I never had the opportunity to ‘find myself’ or to go on adventures. Every day was survival mode, but I guess when you don’t know any better it just seems like that’s how life is. By twenty-five I was married, by twenty-seven I had my daughter, and by thirty I was separated.
Around this time I also got into this prepping thing. You know- prepping? For when the *stuff* hits the fan, bug out bags, apocalypse style… Just for fun. I could can food, had a decent veggie garden, and enough food in the basement to last a few months, if rationed. Man, I was into it. But you know what I didn’t know about? Plants. I wanted to be the person people go to for help. I wanted to be able to walk into the woods and know which plants to eat, and which could heal.
Back in 2012 I didn’t hear about any foraging groups and didn’t know where to begin to learn about these things. One of my searches brought up a local school, at the time called Tai Sophia, which offered a certificate in Herbal Studies. Cool! I’m in the process of getting separated, have three little kids, chickens, a dog, cats, and teach a time-consuming subject. I should totally start taking post graduate classes on something I don’t need!
What started in a certificate ended up becoming a Masters degree. But, let’s be honest. I might make some poor decisions in life, but I’m not about to quit my teaching job and try to make a living as an herbalist. What even is that? It's coming- I promise.
So I kept trucking along, teaching English and using my background as an herbalist for friends and family. Because I focused my herbal attention at MUIH on things I had personal experiences with (anxiety, sleep, and digestion), I knew firsthand how well these remedies worked, especially because I had come from a place of taking medication for these issues. And the herbs worked!
But one year I had the opportunity to develop a senior seminar about whatever I wanted. As a teacher, this is freaking awesome. I had a student I had known since freshman year who was really into my mythology unit. I was going to have her again as a senior, and, to be honest, I loved this kid and wanted to create a class she would like. So I did.
But that year she had some health issues that made it impossible for her to even come to that class. It broke my heart, especially when I learned that one reason was because of her severe anxiety- not only the anxiety itself, which is very debilitating, but also because the medication she was on made her so out of it she couldn’t come to school. What the hell is the point of that? This was not my only experience with students who were taking hardcore meds for anxiety. It drove me nuts because I couldn’t step out of my educator role and tell the kids or parents what to do with herbs, and instead had to watch these kids suffer.
Seriously. It was so frustrating hearing about the rise of anxiety in kids and the lack of natural methods. People weren’t even trying! One of the reasons I became the Yoga Club moderator was because of the positive effects on mental health, and I wanted these teens to have some options.
But I kept teaching. I got married (again 😂) and we moved to a ten acre piece of land in Westminster, MD where I could homestead on the side and do some herb stuff.
Then the pandemic happened. My daughter was going to have to start 6th grade virtually while my husband and I had to continue teaching- except she would be home all day, in the middle of nowhere, with no support system and not knowing any neighbors. I love this kid, but she can be forgetful at times. Like, forgot to put water in the Easy Mac in the microwave and then there was a fire forgetful. I am not leaving her at home from 6:30am till 5pm.
I had to quit teaching. It killed me. The only thing I had actually been good at, and I had to stop. But I realized this might be the universe telling me it was time to work with the herbs- for real. People were in desperate need of healing, and anxiety was among an all-time high.
So here we are.
Teaching kids who suffer with anxiety, hearing people talk about their struggles with sleep and about how many doctors just seem to throw pills at them fanned my flames. I want people to know about their other options- the ones that don’t cause nasty side effects, that we have had access to for millions of years (talking about plants), to help them find the root of their symptoms. And, if it doesn’t help- guess what? Go back to your pill! I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do. But I know that herbs do work. I know lifestyle changes do work. I know adding little practices to your day do work. I’m not anti-meds by any means, but I like to try other options before going to heavy hitters, if I can.
OK so how do I do that? What is an herbalist? What is clinical herbalism?
An herbalist can mean many many things. A person who grows plants is an herbalist. A person who makes tea to deal with health issues or support a healthy lifestyle is an herbalist. A person who does research in this area is an herbalist. A person who makes products, takes classes, teaches classes- we’re all herbalists.
A clinical herbalist works with folks on a holistic level- looking at the whole person- to find the root of the issue, and to support that person. It can be focused on symptoms, but I don’t know any clinical herbalists who don’t look for the root cause and work with that. After doing a thorough intake of the client’s health history and meeting with them, I look at a bunch of stuff: the symptoms described, the systems in the body that are involved, the energetics of the symptom (dry cough, hot reflux, etc).
Then I list herbs that will heal issues, like tissue repair, soothing digestion, or calming the mind, as well as herbs for underlying issues, like dehydration, overworked adrenals, or allergic responses.
From there I consider the energetics of each herb (if they are hot/cold/dry/damp) and the constitution of the client (hot/cold/dry/damp). I also have to keep in mind herbs that overlap, herbs that are contraindicated for the client, and medications/ supplements they take.
Now the fun part- putting the herbs together. Making the formula. Each one is different depending on the client. Should we use a tea? Will it taste OK in a tea? What about a tincture? Or a capsule? All three?
After figuring out what herbs to use, how much to use, and what form they will be in, I write up a bunch of notes for the client about how to get the herbs and how to use them.
But I don’t just do herbs. I can’t just do herbs. If you drink a tea three times a day but don’t do anything to change other behaviors which contribute to the problem, it probably won’t work very well. Just saying. So I will always add some nutritional and lifestyle suggestions as well.
Typically I have clients try the protocol for three weeks and we meet again to discuss how it’s going, and make changes if necessary. I don't JUST do herbs. I'm also there to offer support, to motivate, to listen. That's part of being a holistic practitioner.
And that, if you were patient enough to get to this part, in a nutshell, is what I do as a clinical herbalist. It might have taken me forty years to find myself, but hey- better late than never!
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