It’s been a while since I’ve introduced myself and with a new year and a new decade (not to mention a relatively new website), it seems like a good opportunity 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 over twenty years ago.
Looking back, it was a little crazy. In 1999 and after a few years of seeing clients at my office in downtown Asheville, I decided to start an herb school in my living room as a way of sharing my vision of holistic herbal medicine. By this point I had been studying herbal medicine for about 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, much like modern western medicine. But I wanted to share how much more holistic herbal medicine had to offer, because it can go so much deeper than that.
If you’re wondering how I got started in herbal medicine, it was because of my migraines. 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 a friend, or someone in our family and so we started searching for different answers, maybe even a different way of understanding health and disease.
I started getting bad migraines when I was very young. Doctors had no answer for me, just that when I had a headache I could take pills to help the pain. There was no answer for why I got headaches, how to prevent them, or how to correct the underlying imbalance. So I started seeking out other forms of healing.
That and my love of nature brought me to herbalism. 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, examining beech trees where some kids from 30 years ago had carved their names. I felt at home.
Looking back, I don’t know if my parents even knew how far I was going, but I am so glad that I did. 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 like some kind of weirdo. And I’m thankful for my mom who would make me go outside when I spent too much time sitting in front of the television.
And then I met an herbalist. When I was 19, I met this guy named 7Song through a friend and he just fascinated me. He looked like a wild hippie – long dark hair, scraggly beard, and lots of energy. I was fascinated, so I asked him what he did. When he told me he was an herbalist, that he helped people’s health conditions with plants, I honestly asked him, “Is that like a historical reenactment thing?” And he assured me that no, people still used herbs for healing.
I started visiting him out at his cabin in the woods, where there was no electricity or running water. Since he didn’t have a telephone, I would just have to drive out there to see if he was home. Growing up in the suburbs, I don’t know that I had ever driven down a dirt road before.
Over time we became friends and I started an informal apprenticeship with him. I would come by and he would be chopping burdock roots and I would offer to help, then ask, “So what are these good for?” I started helping out at Rainbow Gatherings, where 7Song would also go, and learned herbal first aid. Looking back at my first time helping out in 1990, I would ironically say, “I was giving people herbs before I even knew how to use them!” Maybe not the best idea.
After graduating from college with an English degree, I traveled around the Pacific northwest for half a year before the burden of student loan debt started weighing on me and I had to come back east. While I was traveling around with rainbow kids, road dogs, and homeless folks, I was surprised to discover 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 and took every herbal medicine class I could, and the next year when 7Song opened his school, I joined the program. Then took it again the following year before moving to Asheville in 1996.
Moving to a new town as a healer is a challenging thing, but I set up shop at an office on North Lexington Ave. and started seeing clients. After a few years I realized I needed more training and went back to school to study with the “grandfather of modern American herbal medicine,” Mr. Michael Moore.
Years later, when I started the school, I had a vision that I wanted to share of what health care could be. In the words of a holistic doctor friend of mine, “Modern health care is about neither health nor about care.” Or one could say it is more about fighting disease than promoting health.