I first became interested in plant-based medicine while I was working at a tea shop during college. We sold more than 300 tea blends, and I learned very quickly which teas to recommend to customers who were having trouble digesting a big meal (chamomile), or were needing some help falling asleep (lavender), or were hoping to calm their nerves before a big exam (lemon balm). I loved opening the aromatic tea jars, researching the ingredients, and helping to ease the customers’ minor discomforts. I started reading as many books on herbalism as I could get my hands on, and a few years later, I enrolled in a six-month apprenticeship with a local herbalist.
My apprenticeship was everything I had hoped for, and with my teacher’s help, I established a working knowledge of how to grow, harvest, and use native medicinal plants. A few years after my apprenticeship ended, however, I found I was hungry for a structured environment that would allow me to expand my herbal education even more. I don’t have any intentions of opening my own clinic, so pursuing a full-blown medical degree was both unnecessary and beyond my financial means. I simply wanted to learn as much as possible about medicinal herbs, help my friends and family members make smart decisions about their health, and potentially start selling herbal body-care products locally.
I spent days researching online herbalism programs, and after much consideration, I enrolled in the Entrepreneur Program through the Herbal Academy. I chose the Herbal Academy because of its impressive teacher lineup, respected presence in the herbal community, wide variety of affordable course options, and focus on organically growing and sustainably foraging plant material.
The Herbal Academy
Herbalist Marlene Adelmann founded the Herbal Academy in 2010 to provide a supportive learning space for aspiring and advanced herbalists alike. “Our school started with a dozen students gathering together on weekends in a small lakeside cottage in greater Boston,” says Adelmann. “Who knew that one day our local community would flourish into thousands of students gathering online? I certainly didn’t, but I’m humbled to be a part of such a rewarding mission.”
Since 2010, the Herbal Academy has evolved into a robust online platform that features a number of work-at-your-own-pace courses ranging from mini-courses on niche topics, such as fermentation, to more involved curricula that train herbalists of all skill levels how to grow, process, and safely use herbal products.
Each of the school’s larger courses is divided into a number of small, approachable units that focus on specific topics, such as first aid or lung health. Students gain access to each consecutive unit by passing an online quiz and posting in the school’s community forum.
After enrolling in the Entrepreneur course, I decided to also sign up for the Academy’s Herbarium membership. For $45 a year, a membership to The Herbarium provides access to hundreds of beautifully illustrated plant monographs, each of which summarizes a different plant’s medicinal properties, dosage requirements, safety concerns, harvesting guidelines, and more. I like knowing that I have this well-curated resource at my fingertips while I study. I also take full advantage of the Academy’s free blog posts, which often inspire me to grow new plants or try new recipes. As a gardener, I’ve been particularly pleased with the amount of growing and harvesting information the school provides in its courses, through The Herbarium, and in its free blog posts.
Building an Herbal Community
When I enrolled in the course, I gained access to the Herbal Academy’s community via its online forums and private Facebook group. At first, I just watched the conversations unfold from afar, afraid to post a question that would make me appear naïve. I quickly learned, however, that herbalists across the nation are kind, supportive folk, and I eased into sharing questions, photos, and recipes. I was even invited to participate in an herbal goodies swap with other students from across the country. One of my favorite things about the Facebook group has been seeing all the herbalists’ hacks for everything from drying herbs to making inexpensive bottle labels.
It’s been uplifting to see that the school’s supportive community is simultaneously fueling greater awareness about sourcing and harvesting plants sustainably. Because students receive discounts to a few large, environmentally-conscious herbal suppliers, including Mountain Rose Herbs and The Bulk Herb Store, we’re constantly engaged in conversations about FairWild, Certified Organic, and locally sourced herbs. These conversations are critically important because as the demand for native medicinal plants increases, unsustainable harvesting techniques become ever more damaging. Some wild plants, such as ginseng in Appalachia and Echinacea in the Midwest, have become critically at risk in the past few decades. As we consumers become better educated about medicinal plants and the importance of sourcing them sustainably, these healing allies have a better chance of surviving in the wild and sharing their medicine — and their beauty! — with us for years to come.
To further support the ethical harvest of medicinal plants, the Herbal Academy donates a portion of its proceeds to United Plant Savers, a nonprofit organization founded by pioneering American herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. The organization’s mission is to protect at-risk and endangered medicinal plants of the United States and Canada. “As herbalists who are teaching the use of plants to support wellness, we feel that it’s also our responsibility to support the work that’s being done to protect native plant habitat and ensure the wellness of plant populations,” says Adelmann.
An Affordable Education
Adelmann and her staff have intentionally kept course costs low so that home-based herbalists who want to support their family’s wellness and contribute to their communities can do so without draining their pocketbooks. The school offers monthly payment plans, which let students pay for their education over either a 3- or 5-month period of installments.
Find a Local Mentor
If you’re lucky enough to live near an experienced herbalist, contact them to see if they offer any sort of mentoring opportunities or apprenticeship programs. Offer to help them tend their herbal garden in exchange for their guidance, and try to attend any classes they offer at nearby health food stores or community centers. See if they’d be willing to share their email address or phone number with you so that you have a person to ask questions of. You’ll quickly learn that herbalists are, in general, a very warm and welcoming bunch. To find an accredited herbalist near you, visit the American Herbalists Guild website.
The more I learn about the healing benefits of plants, the more complex and admirable they become. I still see a rose as a fragrant addition to a seasonal bouquet, but now I also appreciate the rose’s healing properties through all of its life stages — from bud to bloom to hip. Because of my time enrolled at the Herbal Academy, I’ve been inspired to expand my medicinal herb garden to include feverfew, horehound, bee balm, and holy basil (tulsi). I even feel ready to launch a small Etsy store where I’ll sell body-care products made with homegrown ingredients. (I’ll be blogging about the process at Homestead Hustle.) Most importantly, studying herbalism has helped me feel at home on this planet. How can I possibly feel like a stranger while living in a world that provides abundant nourishment, shelter, beauty, and — as I learn to unlock its ancient secrets — medicine.