Health and wellness have been at the forefront of the conversation over the past few years. Everyday there is a new craze or cleanse for us to try, or a new method to eliminate headaches. For the most part these methods don’t work, they are just quick fixes for temporary relief. These products are built on the back of a real craft. That craft is herbalism.
The day we had our interview with Dorothy our office was bustling. It was a busy day and things were moving at the speed of light. When Dorothy arrived and sat down to speak with me, a calm washed over me and all at once things seemed all right. I cannot imagine a person better than Dorothy to have taken up herbalism.
Herbalism is the study or practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants. The use of plants and herbs as means of medicine predates any written history, and the continuation of these practices has spread far and wide over time.
Dorothy Munholland is much more than just an herbalist though! Her resume proves that she is not only extremely talented and driven, but someone who uses her creativity, skill, and wit to bolster any company or individual she comes into contact with. I don’t know about you, but that is most definitely someone I would trust with alternative medicines. Someone who gives their all to everything they commit to; now that is the dream!
1. Herbalism is the study or practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants, now especially as a form of alternative medicine. You recently received your certificate in herbalism. What drove you to get that certificate?
I’ve always been interested in plants, from pressing flowers as a child to studying environmental science in college, it’s a world that I find infinitely fascinating. For the past several years I’ve felt super disconnected from that passion; I don’t know if it’s because I live in Manhattan and am physically removed from the natural world, or maybe now that I work full time and don’t find myself constantly “learning”, but I decided to take this course as a way to reconnect with my interest in a way that felt applicable to my own life.
I should preface our conversation by saying that this course was entirely geared for personal edification and I am absolutely not a practicing herbalist. What I say here is simply based on my own experiences and preferences. My “certificate” provided me with a basic introduction to a vast world. There are serious practitioners out there that are much better equipped to answer specific questions that your readers may have about alternative medicine and their own health.
2. How does someone find a qualified herbalist?
Herbalism is a wonderful, legitimate practice that supports and promotes holistic health, but there is currently no licensing process required before someone can recommend or distribute herbs. That lack of standard certification means just about anyone could advertise themselves as an “herbalist”. It’s super important to do your research when looking for an herbalist – find out what professional associations they belong to and whether they participate in industry conferences. Do they teach or speak at any accredited schools? Where did they get their training and have they continued to update their training? Another important step is to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of herbal practices (for example, Traditional Chinese Medicine versus Ayurveda), so you can make an informed decision about what style will benefit you the best.
3. There is a new wave of people going more organic and trying homeopathic remedies. Have you found new methods that you believe work better than traditional methods?
My answer is that it depends what you are looking for and how you define “better”. For example, an OTC pain reliever will almost always get rid of a headache faster than an alternative based remedy, which would take the extra step of understanding the cause of the headache in the first place (dehydration? sleep deprivation? stress?)... One is a Band-Aid and one is a real, long-term solution. Sometimes you just need the headache to go away! And that’s okay. I don’t think we should beat ourselves up for using a Band-Aid every now and then. It becomes problematic when we start defaulting to the easy fix rather than pausing for a moment to think critically… “Hey, I’ve had a lot of headaches recently, why is that? Would drinking more water help?”
4. What natural products do you swear by and recommend?
Arnica!! It’s used in a homeopathic dilution to soothe muscle pain, swelling, and bruising. It’s available topically and orally. You could poke me and I’d bruise, so as an outdoorsy, athletic kid I practically used to bathe in the gel. Now I carry a little tube of the edible capsules in my purse. I actually took some last night after banging my knee on a coffee table... I completely forgot about it until just now because I’m totally bruise and pain-free today!
5. Insomnia is an issue that plagues millions. Doctors prescribe sleeping pills which can become addictive and have nasty side effects. Are there homeopathic remedies you suggest?
There are so many effective and safe alternatives to pharmaceuticals that are worth exploring. It takes some patience to find the right solution, because we can be fatigued for many different reasons (stress, anxiety, physical exhaustion, diet, ++) and we all react to treatments differently. I will leave the diagnoses and treatment to the professionals, but I would start with trying to understand why you are having trouble sleeping in the first place. It’s frustrating to think about it because probably all you want at that point is a good night’s sleep!
Whether or not you feel you suffer from insomnia there are a few things I think everyone could benefit from when it comes to sleep: 1. Routine - our bodies have an internal clock, and rituals that help to recalibrate that clock are wonderful. We all (hopefully) brush our teeth before bed, add to that by enjoying a warm cup of herbal tea, give yourself a face massage, stretch your body, listen to soft music. Anything that relaxes you can become a nightly habit and soon, just like Pavlov’s dog, your body will recognize it is bedtime. 2. Unplug - turn your phone to nighttime mode or, even better, put it aside for at least 20 minutes before you close your eyes. Don’t watch television, dim the lights. Read a book or do something else that doesn’t require technology and let’s your body start to decompress. Believe it or not, our bodies are wired to understand that light and activity = awake! These things sound so simple but if genuinely put into practice (easier said than done) they can make a huge impact.
6. Essential oils are all the rage! I used them myself, but I am never sure if I am using the right oils for the right things. How do you incorporate them into your life and which, if any, do you use?
I am personally not a huge user of essential oils because I am highly allergic to fragrance. And I think it’s important to mention that even to someone without specific allergies, essential oils can be dangerous as they’ve been known to cause reactions (from rashes to severe burns and respiratory issues) if used improperly. The terms “natural” and “organic” shouldn’t be taken to mean something is risk-free. That said, if you’ve identified an oil that you’d like to use and you have done the research to use it safely and confidently, many people have wonderful experiences with essential oils! I think we shouldn’t be too concerned with using the right oil for the right thing… Different people have different reactions, and sometimes essential oils have the opposite effect from what’s intended. For example, lavender is often used before bedtime because it’s known for its calming, soothing properties. It can also be uplifting, and depending on your body’s chemistry and the oil dosage, uplifting could mean stimulating to the point of difficulty falling asleep! It’s important to do the research and understand not only what an oil is known for, but also what is actually taking place on a chemical level. And beyond that, it’s a matter of personal preference! If it works for you and it’s safe, go for it.
7. What are some simple ways people can incorporate herbalism in their lives if they have never tried it before?
Tea! People think of tea as just a drink, maybe an alternative to coffee, but if you are steeping simple, organic plants in water you are getting real herbal benefits without any added and unnecessary ingredients. You may have heard of chamomile tea or spearmint tea helping with an upset stomach but there are teas that have been shown anecdotally to support better sleep, calm anxiety, boost brain function, reduce inflammation, and more. If you do the research and identify the right plant or herb for a targeted benefit, you can easily incorporate a simple herbalism practice into your life just by drinking tea. You may already be receiving benefits without knowing it!
8. What advice do you have for people who are interested in herbalism but don’t have the funds to participate, either those looking to learn and those just looking to transition from pharmaceuticals?
I’m so glad you asked because I think a lot of the so-called “wellness” trends in popular culture today are inaccessible to most people for various reasons. Financially for sure, but also there are time constraints and learning barriers that turn people off and make alternative health practices seem exclusive when really, they can and should be the most inclusive. For anyone that is interested in herbalism but feels overwhelmed by information or is concerned about adding expenses, I would say that it all starts with mindfulness. Being aware of one’s daily habits and paying mind to physical and emotional changes is the first step. An herbalist cannot treat something without understanding the source of the problem and you may be able to treat yourself if you can identify the cause and effect yourself. Paying attention to your body and mind is free and gratifying. Try food journaling – do you notice any patterns? Reflect on your habits and observe how small changes do or do not impact how you feel. And finally, I’d encourage people to ask questions. If you find an herbalist that intrigues you, reach out to them! They may offer a sliding scale or other form of payment system that makes their services more accessible and, if not, they will likely be able to recommend another source of information. There is always something to learn and it never hurts to ask.