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If you haven't been privy to the pollinator discussion within the past few years, consider getting the the know. This is a topic that's near and dear to my heart and has been for about ten years now. Our partnership with pollinators is a true symbiotic relationship, meaning we need them and they need us, and right now we humans are really dropping the ball in taking care of our much needed local and global aerial companions (and their habitats). Pollinator species are responsible for spreading botanical genetic material for helping plants reproduce which, long term, sustains our entire ecosystem and allows our sprawling population to feed ourselves. Over 75% of the flowering plants on earth need help with cross pollination (including over 1200 crops), and our aerial pollinators serve this vital (and often nearly invisible) task. Critters like bees and bats and butterflies and beetles and hummingbirds visit flowers during the growing season, and carry bits of pollen from flower to flower, allowing these botanical species to reproduce and flourish. These flowering plants not only feed us, they also feed the pollinator animals and are essential for our mutual survival. If these plants don't reproduce each year - they don't come back, and eventually neither will we. It's estimated that one out of every three bites of food that we eat is due to a pollinator species making that possible. 

Think about that. And realize how we can easily take that for granted when we hardly ever see that happening in front of our eyes. 

That's why we plant a pollinator garden every single year in our city garden. We want to serve the species, and we want to always be reminded of how important this process is by contributing what we can, and witnessing the process every day. 

Our next door neighbor has a twenty year old established bee colony living in the walls of her house, and she doesn't seem to mind, which is awesome. As soon as we began planning our garden five years ago, we made it a priority to plant as many native plant pollinator species as we could to keep these bees happy and provide them a diverse amount of pollen and nectar. We choose native plants for the obvious reason that they attract native (ie - local to our region) pollinator species. 

We choose plants that flower at different times throughout the season, so there's never a lack of flowers to visit. Salvia and echinacea and Joe pye weed and nasturtiums and milkweed and butterfly bushes are just a few of the pollinator plants we tend to each year here in Richmond, VA.

We also make a conscious effort to plant our pollinator plants in giant masses, or clumps, with lots of different flowering colors as this better helps to attract all different types of pollinators (like bees and bats and beetles and butterflies and hummingbirds etc.) rather than just putting one single plant here and there. Masses of flowers not only look gorgeous....but soon you'll start to hear them humming once they're all in bloom!

How - To Plant Your Own Pollinator Garden

Figure out the native plant species in your area, and try to plant 5-10 different species that flower throughout the growing season. You can keep it as neat and tidy, or as wild and weedy as you like - but always keep it as colorful as possible! 

Learn what native pollinator species are in your area and what their favorite plants are! If you can, consider setting up a small apiary or contacting a local beekeeper to learn more about how you can support your local colonies. 

Set up a bat house

Don't use chemical pesticides in your yard - ever - if you can avoid it. Chemical pesticide use is one of the leading suspected causes of colony collapse disorders.

Create a small, sunny (ideally fairly open) space for your pollinator garden. Aerate your soil and throw some compost down. Sow your seeds and make sure to check when to plant each species for optimal growth. 

Keep a place for water outside (either in a bird bath or another small space) for the pollinators to drink. 

Additional Resources:

Pollinator Partnership

Plant For Pollinators - what you should plant for your zone (US & Canada)

Gardening for Pollinators from the US Forest Service

Learning more about Colony Collapse Disorder from the EPA

How to create a nesting site for pollinators to enhance their native habitats

Do you have a pollinator garden in your own space? I'd love to see it! Share your garden on instagram with the hashtag #myotherhouseisgreenhouse and let us know what's going on in your garden space!

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

My entire back yard is exploding right now. Flowers galore are popping up, the dogwood tree outside my bedroom window is blooming, and the neighboring bee colony is humming away non-stop, making frequent quick visits to each and every flower making an appearance in early spring. With a warm breeze blowing through (finally!) open windows and the sun shining all morning, it's the perfect kind of day when I like to spring clean and take care of those tedious tasks that I let pile up in the dormancy of winter. Admittedly our house is prone to developing piles here and there. Mail. Seed catalogues and seed packets. Notebooks half filled with notes. Piles of unused coupons. Tumbleweeds of hidden dog hair (real life). Receipts...things just end up everywhere. If I were more in tune with the Konmari method, I would be putting every single thing in it's place the moment it gets into my hands...but alas, that's just not how my life shows up on the regular. Things accumulate. Stuff needs to be cleaned and organized. The whole house needs to be smudged, basically. And when I have a full beautiful day to get almost everything orderly and in place, the first thing that I do is blend up a daily tea that I keep warm or room temperature and sip all. day. long. I call this my Tasking Tea Formula. It keeps me focused and grounded and able to stick to the tasks at hand. Distractions are popping up all the time. But, this tea formula is my ally for getting this day done in one fell swoop. 

Today, especially, I wanted to spend some time bringing some of the cut flowers from the yard to enliven our wintry dormant space. We have lilacs blooming, tulips and dandelions everywhere, the dogwood tree just bloomed and our little magnolia is trying so so hard out there (after battling an unexpected frost). Taking time to cut and arrange flowers for the house is my favorite spring task. I love it so much, and it totally transforms our space. 

Today, I'm tasking with a simple and delicious aromatic combination of Milky Oat Tops, Spearmint, Lemon Balm & Holy Basil (Rama). I gravitate towards milky oats (Avena sativa) constantly for it's nourishing and sweet quality. You can use either the spikelets (shown here) or the oat straw in this formula. The spikelets are the flowering body in the process of growing the mature seed, and before they get to the mature seed they go through a "milky stage" often in the spring that houses quite a hefty dose of nutrients. Often I grind up my milky oats in a vitamix just before using them. Milky oats has a tonic, nourishing effect on the body and is ideal for when I have kind of nervous exhaustion pattern (winter!) and need some deep building nourishment. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is my lifesaver for keeping me mentally alert and on track and also uplifts my mood. It's such a happy herb, aromatic and calming yet focusing for my mind. Holy Basil  (Ocimum tenuiflorum), oh, how I love you, is my ultimate hug in a cup. For when I'm feeling spiritually murky or emotionally despondent. For when I'm shaking off the winter cobwebs. Rama has a bit of a cooler and more mellow flavor which tastes particularly delicious at room temperature for spring time tea. Finally, spearmint (Mentha spicata) always adds a touch of cooling aromatic and minty flavor to any tea. Since I like to make this tea formula relatively room temperature and sip all day, the addition of spearmint helps to keep the tea balanced and flavorful all day long. 

For my tasking tea formula. I take a large quart size jar, add my dried herbs, cover half way with room temperature filtered water and then fill the rest of the way with hot water to give it a moderate infusion. I let it steep at least 10 minutes before I strain out enough for my first cup, and then I just let the herbs sit in there infusing longer, straining out just one cup at a time throughout the day. The longer it steeps, the stronger the flavor so feel free to strain all of the herbs out at once if you'd prefer. I just always err on the side of stronger infusions, personally. 

Spring Tasking Tea

1 quart glass jar
2 tbsp holy basil
2 tbsp milky oats
2 tbsp lemon balm
1 tbsp spearmint
Serves 2

Add the herbs to the jar and fill halfway with room temperature filtered water. Fill the rest of the jar with hot water and let steep together for 10 minutes. Strain out one cup at a time as you go through the day checking off each task. 

 

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 harvesting, quality control, organic / 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. You can sign up for their newsletter here to receive extra tips, tricks and monthly product specials! Thank you for supporting the brands that help to make this blog possible.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Beginning in January, I've been mindful about creating spaces and extra time in my life dedicated to tech free space. I've been creating magic work nooks all over the place these days. It became pretty apparent last year that an inordinate amount of my time and energy was spent kind of sucked into cyber space for either work or fun or pleasure or default or habit, and I think it's reasonable to say that so many of us are in this addiction today and we're really not loving it. It's hard to step away. So much of life is online now. So much of our livelihoods, our community, our resources reside on this plane, and it's really, really not a healthy place to hang out in as often as most of us do. 

Let me just go ahead and recognize that I'm writing a blog post about this, assuming you're all reading on your wi-fi connected computers with your eyeballs still on your phones today. This little space is where I'm still putting in intentional time, and I'm not giving up all tech time - just the majority of it. And I'm being extra judicious about where and when I'm online these days. And I invite you to do the same. 

I've found it to be a personal creative and joyful project to tuck little tech free spaces away in my routine, in my home, in my office, and in the places I'm visiting. It's incredibly simple once I make sure I dedicate time to do it. I make a space - big or small- where there's no tech allowed. No phones, No computers, No iPads or google homes or basically any electronics of any kind. If I'm able, I'll shut off the wi-fi in the whole house for a while. I'll fill a space with objects that make me joyful, like my favorite books, cozy beeswax pillar candles, a delicate and delicious herbal tea blend like Fairytale Tea (which is honestly one of my all time favorite tea blends) and I make the space smell grounding, earthy and vibrant using a room spray. Usually my go-to is the Gaia Spice aroma spray from Mountain Rose Herbs, or I'll smudge the space a bit with some white sage to renew the energy. These are all sensory and tactile things that my body responds to really well. When I'm around tech all day - most of my body feels numb. When I surround myself with visceral and sensory objects, those parts of my being like my eyes and brain and skin and heart feel more energized. And it makes these magic work nooks SO appealing to return to over and over and over again. 

And yes! You too can do this in even the most cluttered and uninviting of spaces! If you're feeling a little overwhelmed and addicted to being connected (but really pretty much disconnected, right?) to the cyber world, start simple and small. Pick a space - either your desk or your bed or your car or your kitchen or dining room. For a few minutes or hours or even days (yes!), fill this space with tangible objects that bring you joy and comfort. I would recommend things that you can touch and smell and even taste to make the experience even more sensory. Really melt into those things. Enjoy a long story from an actual book and brew a cup of tea to sip on for hours. Bust out those crafts and work with your hands for a while. Create art. Practice your instruments. Spend one-on-one time with your partner. Play with your pets. Get out of the mindless default of screen distraction and really soak in those sensory feels. It doesnt take much - but it does take dedicated time

Personally, I think herbs make these magic work nooks totally dreamy (obviously), and I take every opportunity to stock my apothecary and cupboards and office space with herbal goodies. Teas, aroma room sprays, aromatherapy, naturally scented candles and fresh herbs and flowers fill up the senses like none other. Sometimes they're literally just outside your door - so bring those in! If you're needing some inspiration, visit Mountain Rose Herbs and stock up on a few ethically sourced magic nook talismans. (Also - FYI - I love giving these sorts of things as gifts to friends that I know need some deep self care time.) Keep it simple, and creativity will come naturally. I'd love to hear what you're creating and the little objects that help you set your space! How are you creating your magic tech free nooks this year? And what may be standing in your way? I know, starting to step away from tech is HARD. It's weirdly hard. Even 5 minutes of intentional time away starts to shift the brain space. And if you need a super simple place to start - just park yourself under a tree for a while and soak in some grounding energy. 

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 harvesting, quality control, organic / 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. You can sign up for their newsletter here to receive extra tips, tricks and monthly product specials! Thank you for supporting the brands that help to make this blog possible.

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This year, I'll be contributing more dedicated posts to condition specific health concerns, as these are some of the most frequent questions I get throughout the year. When I polled my instagram community last year, it was pretty clear folks wanted to see more expert information about how herbal medicines, holistic nutrition, lifestyle shifts and even conventional medicines can support some of the more complicated health issues - and women's health and hormone support rang loud and clear. Women's health in particular is one of my favorite areas to work with, and about 70% of my clients are women dealing with some form of hormone, endocrine and/or blood sugar regulation AND needing the emotional support that's really lacking in conventional care. Thus, I wanted to bring in another expert voice in this area of women's health to have an additional perspective - my dear friend and colleague Dr. Bridget Casey. Dr. Casey is a Naturopathic Doctor specializing in supporting women to rebalance their hormones after coming off of birth control. I've had the pleasure of working alongside Dr. Casey for the past 2.5 years and she's an incredible wealth of knowledge in this area and such a gifted and compassionate doctor. I'm so grateful to have her be my first guest contributor. She'll be following up in a few months with a part 2 of this post, covering the often overlooked piece of women's health including emotional & behavioral support and the natural connections that impact women's body's.  Below she shares her healing approach as a naturopathic practitioner, and some actionable steps you can take to begin improving your hormone health....

The Menstrual Cycle Part 1: When things go wrong

A woman’s cycle is a magical thing. It ebbs and flows just like the tides and the moon. We essentially experience a full four “seasons” every month between the different phases of our cycle - it’s pretty remarkable when you stop and think about it. Our hormone levels (and associated parameters like mood, energy, appetite, libido, etc.) fluctuate based on where we are in our cycle. Interestingly, I find that many women feel like something is wrong with them if they don’t feel upbeat, outgoing and turned on 100% of the time. However, I want to point out that cyclical shifts are absolutely normal. As women, we have a cyclical, changeable and fluid nature about us – and I encourage celebrating that rather than shying away from it or denouncing it. (Stay tuned for a future post with more on that!). These cyclical fluctuations are all part of a beautifully orchestrated symphony that both affects our overall health, and serves as a barometer for our current level of health.

So, if these fluctuations are normal, then what is not normal and needs to be addressed? For starters, you want to look into anything that is negatively impacting your life or preventing you from doing the things you want to do. Maybe it’s painful periods keeping you out of work, or maybe it’s having headaches before your cycle or feeling anxious or depressed around your period. Anything that you find disruptive should be addressed, in my opinion. You also want to be sure to address clear signs of hormone imbalance such as having painful or heavy periods, irregular periods, anovulatory cycles, acne, excess body or facial hair, hair loss, weight gain, cyclical depression or anxiety, and so on. 

What causes these hormone imbalances and how do we address them? I find that there is rarely a singular “smoking gun” issue going on for someone, but rather that hormone imbalances tend to stem from multiple underlying issues. Here are the top issues I see causing hormone imbalances:

  • High Stress Lifestyle (aka Nervous System Dysfunction or Adrenal Dysregulation) - This refers to being in “fight or flight” mode too often, for too long. Our systems were designed for quick periods of stress, with long periods of rest. Our nervous systems have not quite adapted to the constant “on-the-go” lifestyle or stressors associated with modern life. The key point here is that your hormones take a back seat if your body senses danger and thinks you are running from bear (i.e. if you’re under a threat, this would not the best time to get pregnant or have a child, right?). Your nervous system reacts to primitive signals and shares that information with your endocrine system but shutting down ovulation and hormone production, for example. 

  • Inflammation – Chronic inflammation is at the core of most chronic health issues today and hormone imbalances are no exception. Inflammation can be due to a variety of factors, but I typically see this stemming from inflammation in the gut (aka the GI tract). This can have many names, from leaky gut, to bowel toxemia, to IBS or IBD, but when we have issues with inflammation and imbalance in the gut, it essentially spreads to the rest of our body and interferes with normal, proper function. 

  • Poor detoxification – Detoxification issues can be due purely to overload via the onslaught of chemicals referenced above, but it can also be due to genetic and epigenetic (environmental) factors. Poor detoxification interferes with our ability to clear out not just toxins, but also excess or “old” hormones. This build-up of hormones, usually estrogen, then leads to ongoing hormone imbalance. 
  • Endocrine Disruptors – Various chemicals found in our air, water, food, beauty and self-care products, etc. have properties that cause them to mess with hormone levels and signaling in our bodies. They interrupt normal communication of the endocrine (hormone) system, which leaves the system confused and out of balance. Sadly, our bodies were not designed to deal with the onslaught of chemicals to which we are exposed today so we need to be aware of these exposures and their effects. 
    1. A quick note about hormonal contraceptives here: they are, by design, endocrine disrupters. That is how they work to prevent pregnancy, by shutting down your natural hormone fluctuations (and usually ovulation as well) in order to prevent pregnancy. I like to point this out because many women come to see me, wanting to “balance their hormones” while taking the birth control pill. As long as one is on hormonal contraceptives, she cannot balance her hormones. There is no judgment with this – it’s fine if that’s your choice of contraception, but I think it’s important to have that information. 

Now what do we do about all this? As you can see, the underlying issues that cause hormone imbalance are some big topics in themselves. These issues require a comprehensive approach if we’re looking for lasting improvement. I think the biggest mistake or misconception about addressing hormone imbalances is that there’s one magic herb, supplement or medication that is going to ‘fix’ whatever issue is at-hand. I don’t find this to be true. Most of these issues require lifestyle changes to address them. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some herbs and supplements and I recommend them all the time. However, I find that the herbs and supplements are most useful as adjuncts to a more comprehensive approach. They do their best work when they are acting in conjunction with said lifestyle changes. For example – a multivitamin cannot replace a good diet or erase a bad diet, but it can be a really useful addition to a healthful diet. Similarly, adaptogenic herbs, which Lindsay and I both love, are great supports for the adrenal glands and stress adaptation, but they will not replace regular self-care and stress management. 

Here are my keys for success when addressing hormone imbalance: 

  1. Take a truly holistic approach. This includes addressing all body systems that need support (not just the endocrine system!) and looking at the pieces mentioned above like inflammation, detoxification, blood sugar regulation, etc.  The body is a complex and integrated system and needs to be treated as such.  

  2. Address lifestyle factors and daily habits, such as diet, sleep, exercise and stress management. Changing habits for the better is where I see the biggest positive shifts in health status, including hormone health. 

  3. Create a support system. With addressing lifestyle components and making lasting changes, it’s imperative to have a support system. It’s nearly impossible to stick with positive changes when relying solely on willpower. This works best if you can get friends, family, coworkers, practitioners or all the above on your side to either join you in the changes, or at least help hold you accountable. For example – would you skip that morning workout if you knew your friend was waiting for you at the gym? Probably not. But if it’s just you, then it’s pretty easy to hit snooze on your alarm. Find some accountability and support partners!

Finally, here are some actionable steps you can take to improve your hormone health today:

  1. Eat real food, including regular protein and healthy fats to stabilize your blood sugar. Cut out sweets. 

  2. Breathe. This sounds silly, because we have to breathe anyways, right? What I mean is: consciously breathe – breathe life into your body and when you exhale let go of that worry or whatever is causing you stress. Do this throughout the day. Breathe for life; don’t just breathe to stay alive. 

  3. Assess your household and personal care products. Reduce your exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and materials like plastics wherever you can. (A great resource for this topic is the Environmental Working Group via EWG.org). 

In health, 

Dr. Bridget Casey, ND - Creator of Balanced After Birth Control

You can read more about Dr. Bridget Casey, ND and Balanced After Birth Control here or join the Balanced After Birth Control Facebook Group and follow along on Instagram (@balanced.after.birth.control) 


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This post is sponsored by my friends at Mountain Rose Herbs. This year I'm so thrilled to be partnering with Mountain Rose as their brand ambassador - bringing you some magical botanical creations every month from from my brain overflowing with potions and recipes using their ethical botanical, culinary and topical products that I've loved using for years. We've got quite a line up of creations coming this year, beginning with one of my favorite tried and true, simple nourishing body oil formulas. 

In my herbal recipe journals, I have a handful to quick, go-to formulas that I can whip up in just a few minutes, usually with ingredients I always have on hand or hanging around my kitchen. Everything from "cold coming on" tea formulas to quick digestive remedies to herbal body care products...it's often just what I happened upon creating by accident that worked really well and has since become a staple herbal item in my seasonal rotation. This simple nourishing body oil is one of those super easy recipes that takes minutes to pull together and works beautifully during those last few dry months of winter when my skin needs it most. I posted last year about my gotu kola & neem infused cuticle salve (because my poor rough cold hands in winter!) and this body oil recipe is sort of like that magical moisturizing salve but for the whole body when it feels extra dried out. Also, easier application, because oils are super sexy and luxurious. 

As a skinny mini cold an dry vata individual, I've found that sesame oil is my favorite topical oil for both my skin an my hair in the winter. It's gentle and nourishing and moisturizing and seems to just soak into my skin effortlessly and lasts for hours and hours. I love to use this unrefined variety of sesame oil from Mountain Rose Herbs because it has a sweet and very subtle nutty aroma that makes my body oil creations smell nurturing and full, and the texture and skin feel is smooth and luscious (bonus - I also cook with this too!). In the winter time, I like to mix this with a take on my classic calendula oil by simply adding in some apricot kernel oil and dried calendula flowers (but you can use fresh flowers in the summer time!) for a perfectly balanced, simple and easy to throw together body oil. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is my herb of choice for skin health, usually, for it's calming and soothing quality that balances sensitive or reactive skin. When my skin gets really cold and dry, it also gets red and itchy (read, "inflamed and irritated") and calendula is the ideal balance to cool and soothe this kind of reaction and infuses BEAUTIFULLY in subtle apricot kernel seed oil. 

I prefer to make this in small batches in the winter months, mainly because I like to also add a bit of organic unrefined coconut oil for extra extra moisturizing power. Coconut oil is amazingly complex yet still simple. In my body care products, it acts as a supportive and protective layer to my skin to hold in moisture even after it's all absorbed in so I don't have to keep re-applying and re-applying like I would with a body lotion. A little bit goes a long way with good quality coconut oil. Coconut oil is highly sensitive to temperature variation, and in colder months it has a tendency to solidify if your space is cooler and can affect the consistency of the oil if not kept warm. Hence, smaller batches I go through very, very quickly and leaves less time for this to happen. If it does (which is not uncommon - my house is almost 100 years old and kiiiiiiinda chilly in winter time), I just place my bottle of nourishing body oil in a warm water bath for about 10 minutes and it's all melted and jiving together again....and the feel of warm body oil on my skin after a bath is.....insanely amazing. 

To make this body oil, I keep it kind of dummy proof and not terribly complicated. I often use a 4 ounce bottle, stuff it with a few calendula flower, fill halfway with sesame oil and halfway with apricot kernel seed oil and top it off with coconut oil. Done. If you're a measure-y kind of person, then use a scant 2 ounces of each oil with 1 tbsp of coconut oil and that's basically it. Don't overcomplicate complicity. 

Simple Nourishing Body Oil

2 ounces Sesame Oil
2 ounces Apricot Kernel Seed oil
1 tablespoons Refined Coconut Oil (melted)
2 heaping tablespoons Calendula flowers
Makes 4 ounces

In a small bottle, add the calendula flowers (dried or fresh). Pour the sesame oil and apricot kernel oil over top. Melt the coconut oil and then add to the bottle. Shake or stir gently to incorporate. Let sit in a warm place (so the coconut oil will not re-solidify) and use daily in the winter time for deep skin nourishment an moisture. Use after a bath or shower for best results. If coconut oil gets too thick or cold, place the bottle in a warm water bath until the oil has melted and incorporated back in. Add essential oils to your liking. 

 

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 harvesting, quality control, organic / 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. You can sign up for their newsletter here to receive extra tips, tricks and monthly product specials! Thank you for supporting the brands that help to make this blog possible.

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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 mean....in 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 

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HELLO, I'M LINDSAY.
Herbal medicine and nutrition is my expertise. Understanding plants, their properties, and their powers is my passion.

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