This is CoreyPine writing, it’s been a while since I’ve introduced myself and with a new decade starting as well as our third decade teaching, it seemed like a good time to share a bit about who I am. Even more, I’d like to share my vision for herbal medicine that inspired me to start this school.
Looking back, it was a little crazy. In 1999 and after several years of seeing clients at my office in downtown Asheville, I started an herb school in my living room. At that point, I had been studying herbal medicine for ten years, been to two herb schools, and seen dozens of clients. Herbal medicine was getting more popular, but it was mostly being used as a way to treat symptoms, as a substitute for drugs. But I wanted to share how holistic herbal medicine can go so much deeper than that.
Most of us involved in holistic medicine got into it because we had a negative experience with conventional western medicine. In some way it failed us, or someone we know, and so we started searching for different answers, maybe even a different way of understanding health and disease.
For me, I started getting bad migraines when I was very young. There was no answer for why I got headaches, how to prevent them, or how to correct the underlying imbalance, just that when I had a headache I could take these pills to help the pain. So I started seeking out other forms of healing. It was my love of nature that brought me specifically to herbal medicine, something that’s always had a strong influence for me.
Growing up, I was socially awkward and didn’t always know how to relate to people. The woods near my house offered me a sanctuary from all that, and I spent a lot of time exploring by myself out there; crossing creeks on logs and examining beech trees where some kids from 30 years ago had carved their names. There I felt at home. Those woods saved me during my pre-teen and troubled teen years, helped me feel a deeper sense of connection where I had been feeling lonely and isolated.
That feeling of connection is a deep part of herbal medicine that I don’t often talk about in class. But when we start learning what plants are useful for food or for healing, it deepens our respect for the wild, and begins to create a relationship. That is something I hope to pass on to my students through experience and knowledge.
Or perhaps it all began when I met an herbalist. I was 19 and studying English at Ithaca College, and I met this wild man named 7Song. He told me he was an herbalist, and though I had no idea what that meant, soon I was visiting him at his cabin in the woods. Over time we became friends and I started an informal apprenticeship with him.
After graduating from college with an English degree, I traveled around the Pacific Northwest for half a year. While I was traveling around with rainbow kids, road dogs, and homeless folks, I discovered that herbal medicine wasn’t this theoretical practice. My friends were sick and I could help them for free with plants I picked from the forests or parks where we were camping. A light bulb went off – this was the people’s medicine! Available for next to nothing if you were ready to do the work and learn, this stuff could really heal people.
I came back to Ithaca to work for a friend and took every herbal medicine class I could, and the next year when 7Song opened his school, I joined the program. Then I took it again the following year before moving to Asheville in the mid-90s.
What all of this brought me to is an understanding that holistic medicine is not just substituting herbs for drugs, it’s a whole different way of looking at health, a new paradigm. Conventional medicine is great at stopping people from dying, but it doesn’t do much to promote health.
A holistic herbalist can ask questions and use diagnostic tools to help figure out the underlying cause of disease. But herbal medicine is popularized as symptom relief, asking the person at Whole Foods what to take for a problem. And if that’s where you are at, no judgement – for those of us who grew up with western medicine then that’s where we have to start.
Holistic herbalists ask about the whys, they understand how different parts of the body are connected. Maybe someone’s headaches are actually a liver issue, or from constipation, or from a reaction to food. Then a remedy can be recommended that matches the person.
And unlike pharmaceuticals that are isolated chemicals, each plant is a living being with a complex of chemistry. Each medicinal plant has its own personality that can be matched to the personality of the imbalance. Not the disease name, but how that particular disease is manifesting in that particular person with their history and environment. That’s what herbal medicine is all about.
But there’s one more piece of this you should know: Herbal medicine is your medicine. Not that you own it but that you inherited it, because your grandparents or maybe your great grandparents used plants to heal themselves. Even if they didn’t call it herbal medicine. This is just a remembering and a reconnection.
So, welcome home to the medicine that is all around you. Even if you live in a city there are still plants, and I guarantee that some of those plants have something medicinal to offer. And if you want to learn more, look for classes and herb walks where you live. The internet is awash with blogs and videos about herbal medicine. Or you’re welcome to come here to the Blue Ridge mountains and see the breadbasket of American herbal medicine and these amazing mountains that drew me here almost 25 years ago.