A Practicing Herbalist

I’ve been on the verge of being a practicing herbalist for a half dozen years or so. I’d always plan to hang a shingle after I design new labels or order more bottles or master tongue and pulse assessment or polish my website or attend that conference or gain a full understanding of canine nutritional needs, nutrient. by. nutrient. The thing is, I’m a perfectionist. I want to have a full understanding of canine anatomy, physiology, and pathology (both traditional and conventional, of course) before I see clients, but I also want to have a complete catalogue in my materia medica database including chemical constituents, energetics, contraindications, tissue states, and more before money changes hands. What if I misread the terrain of the condition? What if I miss a sign? What if the dosage is wrong? Worst of all, what if the dog just doesn’t improve? Surely, that will mark me as a failure. The fact that this is precisely why it’s called a practice managed to escape me.

I mentioned a bit of this to a friend who doesn’t believe in herbal medicine (because self-sabotage is not something I do?), who was happy to confirm that I am not qualified to see clients, and my realization of this is why she respects me. (This woman actually has no knowledge of what my training has encompassed; though I’m not sure she understands what it even is – it’s like homeopathy, right? Hocus pocus.) Thanks for that vote of confidence! There is a stubborn “I’ll show you” part of me that perks up in the face of such patronizing dismissal, and it became more committed than ever to establishing a successful practice.

I should probably add here that I have a little attention problem. I’m not sure if I’m full-blown ADD or if the artist’s brain is just wired similarly; but at any given moment, I have a list of things I’m either working on or am planning to be working on which contains no less than a dozen projects. Design and sew custom dog coats. Learn curling. Earn an obedience title with my dog. Get my Off the Wall project off the ground (matching local artists with local business wall space). Restart the Historic (Dog) Walking Tours blog. Coordinate a salon series and studio visits for local artists. Re-learn tai chi. Build the Finding a Swissy website. Get back to that homework for the Canine Dietary Formulation class I’m taking. Research the artist’s brain and its similarities with ADD. I also like to read fiction. And non-fiction. And bike. How will I be able to do these things when being a practicing herbalist will take up so many hours of my week?  

So, the self-induced hurdles included the non-herb-related. After Somerville Open Studios, after I move, after I finish this portrait, after after after. After so many “afters,” I decided to just be honest with myself and admit that being a practicing herbalist is just not what I’m after, right now. Maybe not ever. And that’s OK.  There are many herbalists out there who live this stuff from the moment they wake to the moment they go back to sleep, and I admire them.  I learn from them.  But I am wired differently.  Not better or worse; just differently.  My brain is fed by stimuli from multiple directions.  

I had always been an artist, but had stopped painting for many years and quickly rebuked the label when a friend called me an artist. “I’m not an artist,” said I. “I don’t do art.” But living in Somerville has lured my artist self back out from its cave, and I seem to have acquired a queue of painting commissions which is every bit as rewarding to me as herbal work. With commissions, though, I have no problem asking for money and I have full confidence in my ability. With only so many hours in a week and 1/3 of them allotted to sleeping, there is no way that I can devote enough hours to both and be successful at either.  With a new apartment around the corner from a studio building with available space (hard to come by in Somerville), the choice became obvious.  

So, wait- am I still an herbalist? That “I’m not an artist” sentiment is not unlike this crazy notion that I had in my head that being an herbalist requires a busy public practice. I thought of the friends that I bunk with at the International Herb Symposium every year. They have busy careers as therapists and social workers, not professional herbalists. And yet they are very active herbalists, incorporating herbs in their many forms into their daily lives, continuing to take classes and attend conferences, helping those around them as needed and finding joy in hearing the positive results. Their knowledge runs deep and wide, so I don’t hesitate to consult with them when puzzled by an issue, and they guide thoughtfully and confidently. They are herbalists to the core. image


After my minimalist self moved to this smaller apartment and a separate art studio, I offloaded a good portion of the possessions that I don’t use. While I didn’t give up my herbal supplies, the ones that I use less often went to a fellow herbalist’s basement – packaging supplies for retail (jars, product labels), shipping containers, vending booth supplies, empty jars, essential oils, and even tinctures and oils (there are just so many of them). After a few weeks in my new apartment of feeling not-quite-moved-in, I devised a storage system for my tinctures and funnels and sieves and oils. I promptly retrieved them from my friend’s basement and arranged them carefully.  Ah, Cleavers, look at you.  Ghost Pipe, I remember harvesting you in the Maine woods.  Sweet Leaf, how could I have sent you off to a basement? Rehmannia, you’re not local but I really should work with you more.

Relieving myself of the subconscious need to be a practicing herbalist has allowed me to get back to the journey of practicing herbalism. There’s a lot to practice, and it will take me the rest of my life.


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