I’ve recently opened an office, one day a week, at the new Frisco Wellness Center here in the local village of Reserve. I call my herbal and nutrition consulting The Medicine Woman Herbal Clinic, and share the space with Kristen Ehrlich, who is a massage therapist. While I’m already seeing folks there, we’re celebrating the opening with an open house and small gathering at the Wellness Center on June 12th (that’s 43 Main Street next to the daycare and community garden, if any of you locals happen to be reading this).
In the process of opening up this office, I’ve also been conducting a serious reevaluation of my own practice and work as an herbalist. I have always considered myself to be very hands-on, common sense and grounded in what works. I don’t have any letters after my name, no special certification or even any fancy memberships to prove my status as a professional herbalist. But as I’ve begun teaching and working with more and more people, and expanding my practice, I’ve noticed that I sometimes find myself wishing I could prove myself with more than just my reputation and the thanks of those I’ve treated or taught. After all, there is a certain allure to having people trust you based on your education or official status in the world. And of course, within the realm of mainstream medicine, or even mainstream alternative medicine, it is nearly a requirement you at least pretend to have some sort of certification, some document that assures your clients and students of your competence, if not your excellence. Now, I think there’s some real validity to this way of thinking if you intend to work within the medical system or desire the respect of other healthcare professionals. This sort of respect and acknowledgment from within the system creates a very specific kind of accessibility and allows the public to know that herbalists even exist in the world. Which in turn provides them with options for health and healing they didn’t previously have, something that is almost always a good thing.
The more I think on it though, the less I’m interested in any official status. I’m happy for those herbalists who work in a more widely accepted model of practice that allows them greater freedom of movement within our culture… but for myself, I intend to stay right here, at the grassroots. For me personally, this means continuing to work with people as an herbal practitioner, as a village herbalist, on a nearly daily basis. It means leaning over peoples’ backyard fences and teaching them how to work with the weeds that grow all around them. It means gathering wild plants for food and medicine for my family and friends. It means when I sit down with people to try and help them with whatever discomfort or problem they’re experiencing that my aim is to nourish and promote wholeness and vital health. It means I’m a weedy herbalist, subverting the dominant culture with chicken soup and wildflowers, and by reminding people that medicine comes from right here – from the earth we’re connected to and from inside our own bodies.
It doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop learning, or quit trying to understand the intricacies of human physiology or the magical complexity of botany. In fact, I think I might learn that much more with all the time I’ll save not filling out paperwork or proving I know what I’m doing to the proper authorities. For myself, authority as an herbalist comes from myself and from the community I serve. This is how I practice and this is how I teach my students. My people come to study with me initially looking to become a “certified herbalist” and while I do offer a certificate of completion at the end of some of my more demanding programs, those certificates are just that, a piece of paper informing you (and whoever you show it to) that you managed to finish the course of work set before you. It, like me, offers no entitlement or authority.
At my core, I’m a traditional herbalist, what people ’round these parts call a medicine woman, and what’s called an herbwife or grannywoman if you’re from Appalachia or the Ozarks. Nope, I sure haven’t finished college, but I sure do know what herbs to use on an assassin bug bite or if you’ve got a migraine. Like all of us, I’ll be working to understand how it all works until my very last breath. I’m excited for that journey, and to spend every day of the rest of my life learning how to better help the community I serve as an herbalist, a healer, a human being.