Missouri Herbs

Missouri Herbs
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For herbs I don't grow, this is my favorite place!

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

How I became a home herbalist for (almost) free

Me around ’95 smoking cigars and chugging beer.  Motorcycle driving, crazy-woman phase to come a little later.
In 2000 I decided to change my life because of an extended illness that I thought was going to kill me, inside I felt dead already.   Before I knew anything about anything, I had enough of my life and decided to get out of debt, move to the country, be healthy, and grow vegetables.  I had no idea how to do that. 

I started simple; reading homesteading books an old guy in the neighborhood gave me and magazines like Countryside and Mother Earth News .  Other books came as gifts just at the right time, drizzled to me slowly in perfect sequence and with perfect timing.  One of the most crucial books was “Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hahn from my dear friend Lola, though she and my friend Mary Anne loaned and gave me so many more over the years.  These books and magazines fired me up about the mind/ body connection and using diet for health.    An herbalist wrote in to Countryside, and I thought “THAT’s what I want to be, an herbalist!”  I also thought about a massage therapist, acupuncturist or anything in the healing arts.   But again, I had no idea how I could possibly do that.  

Typical Health food store

In 1986 after a horrible illness and liver failure, I went to work for a health food store.  But all I knew about herbs was that they came in capsules, that “this is good for that”, and that they were usually expensive.  Immune system problems- take Echinacea caps; over weight – Super Dieter’s tea.   A few times an herbalist came in and was so exasperated that we didn’t have bulk herbs.  I could NOT understand what the big deal was, just take the caps?  I pretty much told her that.  She said “I am an herbalists and I don’t like to take capsules if I can help it.  I make my own medicine.”  I was mesmerized.  I imagined she had studied many years and knew all sorts of secrets about how to make plant medicines, I also imagined a big cauldron over a fire with a very long stirring stick.  I know now that many herbalists just focus on common plants that grow at their feet and simple home remedies for their family like teas, soups and salves.  Some do decide to study formally for many years for clinical work or to take on clients - but I’m not that type of herbalist.   I have a few herbal clients at the farmer's market, but don’t do consults.  I look back now at what that herbalist told me and I wish I had asked her more about why and how she used herbs, what was the power and draw of them, but I was so young.   If I had, it could have saved me years of searching and years of being sick.  But I had a lot of wild hairs that needed to grow out first.  

Photo by Jamie:  Self-Heal (Prunella Vulgaris)

That’s why it’s so important to me to spread the word to as many people as possible that you don’t have to go to formal classes to learn basic home medicine making or how to grow herbs.   People also need to know that there are ways to support their health while under any modern Western style treatments for illness as prescribed by their Dr.  Susun Weed's book "Breast Cancer? Breast Health!" is a great one for anyone going through cancer, including those treating it using chemo.  

When I decided I wanted to be an herbalist, I went online to see what schools cost and how it worked.  I had over $20,000 in debt and after learning about self-sufficient living, knew it needed to go to zero.  I couldn't afford any of the tuition.   I also couldn't take 3-4 weeks or more of vacation at a time because of my high stress job and I certainly couldn't take 6 months or a year for a longer program.  I was lucky to get a Thursday and Friday off back to back.  Plus there were none close by and I had a sick husband at home who wasn't able to work.  There went my dream for a while. I have since learned that there are all sorts of correspondence courses and low cost courses available. 

So I focused on reading what I could about herbs and health and over the next 8 years, got out of debt, met a new partner with similar goals and moved to the country to start a homestead.   I had been at my job long enough, they fortunately let me work from home in the country and not just quit - which I was going to do. Once I got out of debt, I planned on working two or three more years, saving money to support homesteading full time.  Afterwards I’d be able to quit and have the time and money to go to an herbal school.  Two months before I was completely out of debt, our department was shut down.  I was already a dinosaur where I worked, so the hope of finding something I knew how to do was slim.  After 8 years of some of the biggest hurdles I had ever over-come, the rug was pulled out and I lost my dream again.  But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because now I was able to study herbalism full time through used books and vast amounts of published online material by reputable herbalists like jim mcdonald (he doesn't like caps).

from http://homesteadsurvival.blogspot.com/

A couple of my new homesteader friends (Kathleen Lupole and Steve Lee) taught me about herbs that grew in my yard and how to use a field guide.  They told me about an herbalist that lived about 4 hours away and recommended her books.  This wise-woman tradition was a whole new way of studying herbs for me.  It wasn’t focused on exotic herbs and elaborate preparations.  It didn’t use mass quantities of herbs or expensive equipment.  It wasn’t about using herbs that I’d have to pay to have imported from faraway places, but showed me how to use plants that most people kill with herbicides.  Oooooohhhh!!  The light bulb went off.  So THAT’s how you do it!  Just learn the plants that are right in my yard and make tea, soup, infused oil or vinegar and other foods with them… and in the used book, that I paid a whopping $3 for w/ shipping, I started learning how to do those things explained in simple language.  Any book by Rosemary Gladstar or Susun Weed is a great place to start.  Half.com is where I always go first.  

Searching on the internet for how to use herbs in a traditional, simple, wise or medicine-woman way, I kept running across the same herbalists and their web sites time and again.  When I say I’m a self-taught herbalist, that is misleading.  I didn’t walk into the forest one day and come out knowing how to make a simple salve.  I give honor and credit to all those fingers that pointed at the moon and showed me the way to being self-taught.   So many thousands of us have been taught for free or very cheaply with their blogs, newsletters, cheap online classes, free teleseminars and books.  Teachers like Rosemary Gladstar,  Matthew Wood, Jim McDonald, Jesse Wolf Hardin, Rosalee de la Foret, Darcey Blue,  Karen Vaughn, Sean Donahue, Kristine Brown, Barbara Hall,  Kiva Rose,and even the sometimes alarming Susun Weed have given so much to the herbal community.   Many of their websites have been on the right side bar of this blog for many years.  

Me at my first small homestead on my own in Brookshire around 2004 ish
These herbalists taught me how to listen to and be educated by the plants and my own body, and have provided volumes of material to read.   I will never be able to read it all.  They help people like me all the time, not just giving us fish, but teaching us to fish.   I subscribed to all of their websites and newsletters and learned so much more that I didn’t even know existed about plants and healing.   

Of course I want to learn as much as possible and have over the years taken very affordable online classes from Lady Barbara,(update LadyB has since passed away and classes are no longer available) bought a DVD from Jim McDonald and bought as many herbal books as I could afford (mostly used).  But I didn't have to do any of that to get a basic idea of how to start, especially since I really just want to be a home herbalist.  I never see myself setting up or working in a clinic. One day though I'd love to  Seans's intensive home study courses
(This paragraph update 09/14).  I started writing for The Essential Herbal Magazine, voted reader's choice herbal magazine in Nov 2013.  I tell my Farmer's Market customers this is THE magazine to have if you want to know about what grows in your yard and what to do with it. So many have said this has been a tremendous starting point for them and others say it's like getting a letter from a friend.

Because of my 20 years of work in the Employee Benefits and Health insurance field, and even more years spent in Dr’s offices and hospitals; when I changed my life and got well because of it, I became a vocal advocate for health care reform.  Not the type of reform that is about having more people and their hospital procedures covered, or paying less in copays; true health care reform requires an almost complete dismantling of the current system and the corporate and Orthodox Western Medicine stranglehold around its neck.    True health care reform is about teaching people the most basic of human rights, the right to know how to take care of  the health of their family and about the plants that grow outside of their door.  Basic knowledge that thousands of years ago even a child knew.   It’s common today to see the emergency room packed with people needing treatment for minor things they could have easily taken care of at home, but they don’t know how.  If my appendix ruptures or I have a stop sign through my spleen, yes please take me to the hospital.  But if someone in my family has a fever, cold/ flu, cut, spider bite, rash, sun burn, hot flashes, cramps, sleep problems, poison ivy, tummy ache, headache or a host of other symptoms, I want to know how to affordably and reliably read symptoms and  help them heal at home. 

This post isn't intended as a sales pitch.  This is my life’s work, to get basic herbal training in the hands of as many people as want it and as I see it, this is the best way for me to do that.  This work is very important and if we can reach just one more person like me that had no idea how to get started, I would feel like it was all worth it.  Please pass this post on!

Someone recently (09/14) sent me this link mention my blog post here.  What a great list of resources so I thought I'd share:



Mélanie Pulla said...

What a great story! I absolutely love how proactive and resourceful you have been on your journey toward becoming an herbalist. There are so many fantastic free herbal resources for us to take advantage of - both online and within the community. All it takes is the right combination of drive, perseverance, and creative thinking. Congrats!

Jamie J said...

Oh thank you Melanie!

katlupe said...

Jamie, you have a come a long way from that first visit you made to our homestead! I am so proud of you and what you stand for. I am going to share your post on the NY forum as I think they would love to read of your progress. Thanks for the mention!

Jamie J said...

Thank You Katlupe, you were very important in my journey!

nettlejuice said...

So many paths to herbalism. I love this resurgence, this rise of the people's medicine once again.

dany chandra said...

Thanks for sharing excellent information. Your site is so cool. I’m impressed by the details that you have on this blog. It reveals how nicely you perceive this blog. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for more articles. herbal high shops

Jamie J said...

Thank you nettlejuice and Dany!

Karen Vaughan said...

When I was just starting out, before I knew I wanted to be an herbalist. someone took me to an herbal conference, the Green Nation's gathering. I found some dynamite teachers (Amanda McQuade, David Winston, Chris Hobbs, Susun Weed) and followed their lectures, purchasing classes on (then) tape from prior conferences. These days the conferences are on CD or key- International Herbal Symposium has lots of sessions for the money, but AHG, Medicines From the Earth and Southwest Herbal are all good and past symposium recordings go for less than current ones. I would listen for hours. Eventually studied with people and got an OM degree but experimenting and listening get you quite far.

Jamie J said...

Thank you so much Karen. That is wonderful information!

Gabriel Salomão said...

I'm a educational and family-life blogger and I know how important it is to have feedback. I am here to thank you. I am from Brasil and I am starting to try to learn something on Herbalism - may be to become a herbalist someday? I live in a huge city (São Paulo) and distant from nature. Your text gave me faith that it may be possible to find a way in Herbalism even so. Thank you so much.

Gabriel Salomão said...

I'm a educational and family-life blogger and I know how important it is to have feedback. I am here to thank you. I am from Brasil and I am starting to try to learn something on Herbalism - may be to become a herbalist someday? I live in a huge city (São Paulo) and distant from nature. Your text gave me faith that it may be possible to find a way in Herbalism even so. Thank you so much.