Over the years, I've had lots of questions about why I chose the herbal and nutrition education path that I did, or why I got into clinical practice instead of another route. When folks are just starting out in herbal medicine or even nutrition / dietetics, there are SO many questions about what the right program may be for them, or where they want to be professionally and if certain programs will get them that end goal. It's a huge amount of time (and money!) that you're investing, and the variety of programs available is enormous. I know. It can feel totally overwhelming. Everyone needs to follow their own education path which may be completely different for even two similar people. This is my story, for what it's worth...a journey that worked out beautifully for my botanical dreams and feeds my soul every day. 

When I graduated with an undergrad BSc degree in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, the economy totally bottomed out - it was 2008/2009. So, no jobs. About 8 months before I graduated, a friend of mine had told me about The Maryland University of Integrative Health (at the time known as The Tai Sophia Institute) which had an accredited graduate program in herbal medicine, and honestly this just totally blew my mind. As a botany obsessed kid who spent every moment of my time away from school in the woods, making berry potions and climbing trees, plants were my love language (hence the horticulture degree), but NO ONE ever told me I could be an herbalist for a real life job so I never thought that was an option. This ignited a long suppressed desire to live in the magical world of plants and got my wheels turning...hard. I started researching every single school on the east coast that had an herbal program. Each one seemed to have their appeal - some were 6 month programs, some a bit longer, some more plant/spirit medicine, some more herbal first aid, some were seasonal apprenticeships and some were correspondence courses. Personally, I gravitated towards the programs that were more science based, and no other school seemed to come close to the hardcore science curriculum (and medical curriculum) that MUIH offered. So, that's what I chose. Also, accreditation had it's appeal at the time. It seemed like a safer option to get a Masters Degree than a "certificate of completion"... especially with joblessness immediately looming over my millennial head. More on this later....

I also had a deep desire to learn nutrition and was researching schools to do this as well. I spoke with several dietitians over the course of my last year in college and, although I only interviewed about a dozen of them, I knew I didn't want to work in a hospital setting, I was more drawn to holistic routes of nutrition, and I definitely didn't want to get another bachelor degree in dietetics to be an RD. If I was going back to school, I wanted a higher degree. So, MUIH was looking better and better because their nutrition curriculum was not only integrative and Ayuryvedicaly focused (which really resonated with me, personally), it also prepared me to be a licensed nutritionist if I chose to take that route. 

So, long story short - choice made. I wanted a masters degree in herbal medicine & nutrition, so I moved to DC/Baltimore and enrolled in MUIH. 

MUIH was basically medical school for herbs and nutrition. Granted, the program has completely changed since I was a student there. I matriculated from the Herbal Medicine program in 2009. At that time, it was a 3.5 year, in person/on campus program that also included a full masters degree worth of a Nutrition curriculum and a 1 year clinical rotation requirement. It covered anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, phytochemistry, material medical, research methods, clinical skills, pharmacology, and of course intense nutrition courses. Currently, MUIH has split these two programs and you now have to choose either the masters degree in Herbal Medicine OR the masters degree in Nutrition, each only 2 years which can be done entirely online. Essentially I just lucked out on my timing and got both programs in person for a longer time frame. 

When people ask me now which one they should choose, I honestly can not even say. I'm completely bummed that they split the programs in half because both of these fields of knowledge - herbal medicine AND holistic nutrition - are integral parts of my clinical practice and indispensable. It's a really tough choice. And, I can say with confidence that both programs are still incredible. 

I was in the Herbal Medicine/Nutrition program at MUIH from 2009-2012 and I absolutely loved it. It was grounded in science but nurturing in spirit. It taught me how to compound herbs and create targeted formulas, run a dispensary, be familiar with herb/drug interactions, become a skilled clinician, conduct a thorough nutrition assessment and create appropriate recommendations, make medicines from the woods, conduct clinical trials and do real research (we even presented our clinical trial at Johns Hopkins!) And most importantly - it taught me how to speak fluently in the language of western medicine. MUIH wanted to create clinicians - herbalists and nutritionist that can talk with (and educate) your doctors so herbal medicine and holistic nutrition can become seamless parts of people's health plans that doctors can actually feel confident about. We're not talking about chakras and energy medicine and plant spirits (I our own time, yes), but our goal was to bridge the gap, so to speak, and this is why the program was so science based. 

Also, during full time grad school I worked 3 days a week at a local health food store in their supplement department. I loved this job. For so many reasons, working at that job for 3 years seemed just as important to me as earning a masters degree. I seriously loved that job...and it helped me pay my rent and feed me really well. Essentially though, these three years were intensely busy. Between work and school, I had zero free time. 

After I graduated, I was eligible to sit for the CNS exam (which I took after 6 additional months of serious studying), passed, and continued to earn my 1,000 hours of supervised nutrition hours to get my CNS credential. I'd HIGHLY recommend anyone interested in practicing nutrition to earn their CNS, by the way. It's incredibly helpful to get licensed in any state that licenses nutritionist, and subsequently allowed me to get my License as a Dietitian/Nutritionist (LDN) in the state of Maryland (which allows me to practice currently in Virginia). 

So, after graduating, I decided to move to Charlottesville, VA and start my own clinical practice. This wasn't necessarily because I'm entrepreneurial minded, but more so because I couldn't find a job that didn't feel like it was going to crush my soul or use my niche degree to it's fullest potential (yeah, I know...the plight of literally every millennial who started their own business in the last 10 years - and good for them, btw). And, full disclosure, I had extremely generous and supportive grandparents who put me through undergrad and grad school so I graduated without debt. This was HUGE. Huge. I can't even tell you (but if you're in your twenties/thirties right now- you know). Not having debt allowed me to start a business. I honestly know it wouldn't have been possible otherwise. I'm forever grateful to them for letting me start my life right out of the gate. I've always said since that if I ever won the lottery, I would pay off the student loans of every single person I went to herbal med school with so that they can start their lives, too. And I still hold to that. 

I practiced for a year of in Charlottesville, VA. I rented an small office space in a chiropractic clinic and I created my own herbal dispensary to service my small clientele and partnered up with a small integrative MD practice there and did a lot of compounding for them too. I also worked part time in a local health food store - again, in the supplement department, to pay the rent for both an office and an apartment now as I slowly built up a client base. It was hard work but sustainable, and not bad for a first year in business. Eventually though, I decided to move to Richmond to be closer to my now husband. I got a full time job at Ellwood Thompsons in their supplement department (because I had tons of experience at that point) and as fate would have it, a brand new naturopathic clinic was just opening up in Richmond soon after I moved there. I went to their open house, basically just to meet them and say "Hey, I have a compounding herbal dispensary if you ever need anything compounded, I can do that for you".... and 6 months later they offered me a place in their practice as their nutritionist and clinical herbalist. I've been with them ever since, and it's my dream job. 

5 Years Later

I work as a clinical herbalist & nutritionist with Richmond Natural Medicine full time and my herbal dispensary has quadrupled size to service all of the practitioners within the practice. I'm still with Ellwood Thompsons, but as their "health coach" offering free appointments once a week. I'm on the faculty at MUIH as a clinical supervisor in their nutrition program for the students seeing clients in their final semesters. I teach occasionally at Sacred Plant Traditions (and oh my gosh I love it so much). I supervise a small number of CNS candidates in need of their 1,000 supervised hours in my office and also remotely. And I write this humble little blog. Here and there I teach classes and workshops and retreats as time allows. But all that keeps me plenty busy, and I'm selective now about what else I put on my plate. 

What I've Learned

Since starting herbal medicine / nutrition school in 2009, I've met hundreds of herbalists and been completely in awe of dozens of them. I've learned that you can choose literally any path - any school with so many gifted instructors - and still be an incredibly good and powerful herbalist. You don't need a full blown masters degree saturated in physiology and phytochemistry to be a good herbalist. The beauty of herbal medicine is that there's no one right way to practice. I'm still learning so much every year. Even though I was drawn to all the science and research and medical applications of botanical medicine....right now I'm absolutely fascinated and going way down the rabbit hole of woo-woo plant spirit medicine. I don't at all regret choosing to go to MUIH - I don't think I could be doing what I'm doing without that foundational education. I also think that getting my license in nutrition was essential for me being able to practice clinically (although this isn't the case for everyone). 

I've learned the value in asking to be fairly compensated for my services (and therefore maintain the business I started 5 years ago), and I know this is a major area that most herbalists struggle to maintain. I could write a whole blog post about money and the practicing herbalist. 

I've learned that I actually don't much care for herbalists to be licensed (and they probably won't be, in my lifetime at least). This was a hot topic while I was in school, as many of my classmates and a handful of instructors felt strongly that they should. At first, I did too, just for the sake of being easier to get a legit job and be taken seriously and put more of a value on the intense learning we all had to go through. But I changed my mind after I graduated and became more integrated within the herbal community. For any field to be licensed, there needs to be some governing body deciding what is most important to learn, how it should be done most correctly, put a curriculum together + licensure guidelines and find some insane way to make it fit into the broken health care structure we have in the US today. If you're studying herbalism now, you'll know that one of the awesome things about herbal medicine is the tremendous amount of cultural variation there is about herbal practice. Like I said - there's no one right way to practice, and once we start licensing herbalists, that excludes a huge humber of talented and knowledgeable herbalists who may choose to follow a different path. Doesn't make them any less of a good herbalist - but it sure does put restrictions on what they can do with their unique gifts of knowledge. I know there's pro's and con's to this argument, but that's all I'll get into right now. 

I've learned I can be selective about my clientele and I don't have to say yes to working with every single person (although I sure didn't feel this way my first year in business). The more I truly put effort into visualizing and "asking the universe" (so to speak) to send me the people I really want to work with - the more abundant and fulfilling my clinical work has become. 

I've learned it's worth asking for help and investing in things I'm not good at for my business to grow. Things like website design, branding, photography and marketing were all things I seriously struggled with my first year in business and I eventually outsourced and hired experts to do this for me and it payed off - big time. Even though my photography skills have come a long way, I still use a professional photographer when I need help with shoots that I can't do on my own (and PSA - if you need a photographer for literally anything - work with Renee - she's pure magic and has taught me so much!). 

Now You

So where are you in your herb / nutrition journey? Are you feeling stuck or overwhelmed or not sure where to start or continue after school? Leave a comment below and let's get that conversation started because - hive mind - and someone's probably been there too and can help. I'd also love to hear about your experiences in various schools (as I'll be writing a follow-up interview series on herb and nutrition schools this year) - shoot me an email! I'd love to hear from you!

Additional Resources

Read more Herbal & Nutrition School Reviews from Students, Teachers and Founders 

At the end of December, I took a nice long break. I took some time to reflect on the things that were going well this past year, and things that could use a lot of improvements and even just minor tweaks. Lists were made, solutions were brainstormed and new ideas were born. Admittedly, this isn't something I only do at the end of each year, but usually monthly...but when I indulge in 10+ days away from almost all work, perspective is so much more accurate. 2017 was the most successful year for Ginger Tonic Botanicals to date and I'm so happy and proud that I met almost every goal I had set for myself that year. And with many achievements, there is often accompanied unexpected challenges, and I really zeroed in on the biggest one for me this year. 

Connections to Tech. 

I spoke about this on Instagram a few days ago and opened up a bit about how I've been majorly struggling with my dependence on tech and social media for both my clinical practice and my online business, and the feedback I've been hearing on this has been so heartwarming. I'm sometimes on my computer 9+ hours a day when I'm seeing clients, charting, answering emails, teaching and doing research. And that's not even to mention the photo editing, social media, blog post writing and random time wasting activities. Hours and hours of screen time is hard. And I'm liking it less and less. 

However, all these things are essential for the projects that I love to flourish, and I don't want to give those up. SO.....(re)solutions have been made. 

I'm choosing to carve out a lot more time for tech-free activities:

I'll be reading 1 new book every single month, for total fun and pleasure, starting with The River of Consciousness. So far this has been an amazing read!

I'll be taking at least 4+ new herbal courses throughout the year because I never want to stop learning from as many people as possible. I'm staring with checking out the Herbal Academy and taking a quick course, Herbal Self Care for Stress Management, to kick things off. 

I'll be making art daily, starting with playing with watercolors. My dad, an incredible artist himself, gave me a watercolor set for Christmas, as well as my first art lesson in 25 years. Age 31, never too late to start. 

I'll be creating more intentional spaces throughout my home that are wi-fi off limits. Think more magical spaces, where our "elusive creative genius" isn't so stifled and our house spirits can feel more welcome with their insights. More on this later...

I'll be investing in more time spent learning photography, better gear, more classes and getting out there to practice practice practice! 

I'll be scheduling social media times. No more randomly checking a dozen times a day. It's a once a day thing now. 20 minutes tops. AND, I'm starting to consciously shift my mindset about my relationship with social media. I'm calling in only good vibes, positive connections, outpouring of love an inspiration and gratitude for the genuine community I've found there. 

I'm cyber-shutting off at 6:00pm on most days. More committed time with my sweet pets, my partner and cozy house and garden things is taking priority. When I'm home, I'm home and present. 

I'll be writing daily, journaling, sending letters, and just straight up doodling if my brain is a little mushy that day. Habits, ya know? 

I'll be working HARD on time management and only saying yes to things that I'm 100% into committing my time to this year. This includes teaching and speaking engagements, brand partnerships and sponsored posts, conferences, and clinical things etc. Last year was the year of "YES!" (and no regrets there, my any means) but I definitely spread myself too thin, especially in the fall and early winter. I want what I commit to and create to be my best work, and I need dedicated, intentional time to make this happen. 

With all of these (re)solutions and lifestyle shifts, I'll still be creating all those yummy herbal recipes (and then some!), holistic living and herbal/nutritional educational info, and magical botanical creations on this space. I have so many fun ideas for this year I literally can't wait to share them. Thanks for sharing your ideas, suggestions and questions via email over the past year - I love reading your comments and feedback on things you'd like to see - several of them will make appearances this year ;)

Happy new year, ya'll. Thanks for your continued love and support as I embark on year 4 of the Ginger Tonic Botanicals online space! 

This post is sponsored by my friends at Mountain Rose Herbs

Snow is upon us today. The perfectly fluffy, heavy and dense snow that covers everything like a warm thermal blanket but spares the roads. While writing this it's quiet and peaceful, just like a reflective early winter day should feel. My cat is lounging atop the radiator, secretly eyeing the birds frequenting the freshly filled feeders, and reminding me of how necessary warm cat naps are lately. Admittedly, I spend my fare share of time sitting on top of the radiators too, to warm up when I come home. It's bitter cold out there (at least, as cold as you might think it would be in the South), and warm and cozy is all I'm craving this month. Although I still have a few days more of this years work to complete, the sense of turning off and tuning inward isn't far from my psyche. 

During the winter, it's hard for me to find that energetic balance of warmth and moisture when it's so heavily cold and dry. I feel like I dry out instantly as soon as that radiator heat cuts on during the first chill, and my hands are often the tell tell sign that moisture is just flooding out of my body. I have Raynaud's which is always a challenge to handle in the cold months. Along with poor circulation, my skin gets incredibly dry, and herbal salves are really supportive to keeping my skin and cuticles hydrated for as long as the cold weather sticks around. I've experimented with lots of salves over the years and, as per usual, I often just end up making my own for either better moisturizing capacity or as a more cost effective option because I seriously go through some salves from December-March!

Since the summer, I've been experimenting with a new cuticle salve that will tide me through the winter and I finally settled on the perfect herbal mixture that's extra moisturizing and also therapeutic for my skin health overall. Salves are so easy to make, and I especially love formulating them because they're so flexible with all of the herbs I can infuse in the carrier oils. For this cuticle salve, I kept it simple and really focused on utilizing two integumentary herbs that work beautifully in the cold and dry winter months. 

Gotu kola and Neem are two of my preferred skin supportive herbs and they infuse perfectly in nourishing and rich macadamia nut oil. Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) is an herb I often use to support the outer most layer of skin that may become, dry, flakey or damaged from excessive dryness. In Ayurveda, gotu kola is considered a tridoshic herb, ideal for all constitutions and body types, and these are excellent herbs to consider when working with skin supportive herbs in general. Neem (Azadirachta indica) is also a favorite Ayurvedic herb that I love to use for anything skin related including soaps, toothpastes and infused oils. I included it in my cuticle salve recipe because it's incredibly effective to help with dry skin that is also a bit itchy, and in the winter months I literally can't stop messing with hangnails and scratching my cuticles from the dryness. I prefer using neem powder so more of the herbal goodness is available/exposed to infuse into whichever oil I'm using. In this case, macadamia nut oil is my preferred carrier oil because it's so similar to sebum - the oil naturally made by the skin and it's very easily absorbed. This trio has been a lifesaver for me since the weather has shifted, and I can definitely notice a long term difference in my cuticle health since using this salve for the past several weeks. 

With any salve, I always include some additional ingredients to not only help with the moisturizing quality but to also give it a perfectly creamy and smooth texture. In this formula, I included coconut oil and shea butter to add some additional healthy fats and moisture along with beeswax pastilles to help it solidify. The small pastilles I love using because they melt easily and quickly and they're way more convenient that grating a huge chunk of beeswax. I keep a variety of 1oz and 4oz tins around to store salves. I use the small tins to travel with, and keep the larger tins around the house and use constantly. Finally, I play with lots of essential oils when I make salves, but using juniper berry essential oil in this salve makes it absolutely perfect for winter time! All said and done, it's so much more economical when I make salves myself during the months when I go through them so quickly. Additional perk - homemade salves make for awesome little gifts and stocking stuffers too!

Salve making tip: When making any salve, very gradually add in the beeswax little bits at a time. An overly waxy salve is never a good feeling on the skin. What I often do is melt the ingredients together, slowly adding beeswax little by little, and testing it every few minutes. I'll pour a bit of the hot melted oil into a little spoon and stick the spoon in the refrigerator for about a minute to let it solidify and test the texture, I'll slowly add more and more beeswax and re-test the solidification until it's the perfect texture. Also, I recommend adding in the essential oils as your very last step after pouring the oil into the tins. If you add the essential oils too soon or while the ingredients are all melting together, those fragrant, volatile oils will start to dissipate and diminish, so do this at the very end. 

Gotu Kola & Neem Cuticle Salve

1 tbsp gotu kola
1/2 tsp neem powder
4 tbsp macadamia nut oil
1tbsp shea butter
1 tbsp beeswax
1 tsp coconut oil
juniper essential oil
Makes 6 ounces

Add the macadamia nut oil to a small sauce pan along with the neem powder and gotu kola. Heat together on very low heat for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. It's important to do this on as low heat as possible to prevent the oil for burning. After 15 minutes, strain the oil through a fine mesh cloth or strainer and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Add that infused oil back into the small sauce pan along with the shea butter, beeswax and coconut oil. Heat together on very low heat, stirring often, until all ingredients are melted together. Test the oil on a little spoon placed in the refrigerator to see how well it's solidifying before adding in any more beeswax. Once satisfied with the texture, pour the mixture into small tins, filling almost to the brim. Add 3-5 drops of Juniper essential oil to each tin as the very last step. Let sit to cool completely. Store with tight fitting lids and label appropriately. 


This post is sponsored by my friends at Mountain Rose Herbs. All thoughts and opinions are my own. It is my goal to use and recommend only the highest quality herbal products from companies that I wholly trust and fully support. Industry standards including sustainable harvestingquality controlorganic / fair trade standards and responsible sourcing are all things I care deeply about when working with herbs and herbal companies. I have been using Mountain Rose Herbal products for almost a decade, and have always been so impressed with their commitment to environmental stewardship. Thank you for supporting the brands that help to make this blog possible. 

Herbal medicine and nutrition is my expertise. Understanding plants, their properties, and their powers is my passion.


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