Community & Clinical Herbalism

Exploring the various ways in which we practice, from one-on-one to pop-up clinics, house calls, and text messages, herbalists are key figures in the community who serve a variety of needs and possess diverse skill sets.

There are many ways in which we can practice as herbalists. The top two that you may hear about the most are Clinical and Community. Let’s take a look at what each of these entails. I find myself filling both of these roles at different times throughout my days and years.

Community Herbalism is a way of practicing informally. Many times a week, I receive phone calls, text messages, and social media DMs asking me about plants, what people can give themselves or their families, various diseases, sourcing for medicines, and references for study and purchase. I will admit I cannot get to every message; it is hard to keep up, and I often find myself behind the screen for many, many hours a day. So I filter through the messages and tend to answer first the ones coming from people I personally know. Many of the messages I receive are from the same people—friends, family, and allies who reach out for health support. I notice that most times it is from my friends who are moms needing help with sick children. I know these folks, their constitutions, lifestyles, and access, so I feel safe recommending herbs, recipes, and other products to support them. Occasionally, I will get a random community member reaching out for help, and I will answer them as best I can based on the little info they give. Usually, when someone asks a very in-depth question, I encourage them to fill out the intake form and set up an appointment. I prefer not to work in a quick reference, reductionist fashion of “oh, you have this, take this” sort of way. When I get messages in social DMs or emails that are not requesting a wellness intake, I typically do not respond, as I feel it is hard to give people the information they need if I do not know them. When I receive messages from folks who seem particularly desperate, I respond thoughtfully with ideas and encourage them to fill out the intake form and make an appointment. I do not want to ignore people, but time is limited, and the effect we can have with someone through a DM is usually pretty shallow without a foundational relationship. As a community herbalist, I never charge for consultation, but I will, if available, sell herbal formulas from my personal apothecary. I have a handful of community members who regularly come to my house to fill up their medicines. I also host open houses where I set out items for sale such as vintage clothing, pre-formulated herbs, microdoses, and offer free 10-minute consultations and/or custom formulations, but I do not operate as a storefront. As a community herbalist, I also make occasional house calls if someone is sick or wounded, bringing along my med kit and whatever supplies we may need to tend to the one in need. One of the cutest experiences I had with this was hearing a gaggle of little boys running up to my home excitedly telling me that their friend needed help. The boy had kicked his big toenail back and refused to let his mom touch him; he only wanted me to treat him. So I calmed the boys, got my kit, and cleaned up the nail with five sweet 8-year-old faces watching in fascination and delight. This often happens because someone got hurt. I have done a fair amount of wound care in my practice as I lived off the grid in the jungle for almost ten years, five full-time. In those cases, the tending care often supported travelers’ bellies, social anxiety, insect bites and stings, staph infections, abrasions, rashes, and cuts. We only had a few major accidents in which we needed to stabilize and evacuate someone; in that case, herbalism was not used, but emergency protocols were instituted.

As a Clinical Herbalist, I see clients (we can’t say patients) a few times a week. I try to encourage clients to see me once a month for a few months as they work through their imbalances, and I have some regular clients who I see once or twice a year for many years. When I sit with someone in a clinical setting, being that I live abroad and my “following” is international, it tends to be over Zoom. If a client happens to be in my community, I will either do house calls or they come to my home. As a clinical herbalist, you request an in-depth intake form that goes through the person’s health and family history. See my previous blog about working with an herbalist for a more in-depth review of the topic. Originally during our meetings, I would jump right into the person’s concerns and start to review physical patterns. As I have built up my skills as a practitioner, I now see through the layers of what is being said and not. I find it really important to hold space that is deeply loving and compassionate as well as reflective and spiritual. People have come to me in recovery seeking ways to support themselves from alcoholism, eating disorders, loss of loved ones, fear or attachment to the way things are, breakups, etc., usually complaining or concerned about their digestive health. So as we talk about plants and diet, I also hold space for other types of processing. This is where it is important to get a few other trainings that have nothing to do with herbalism under your belt. Living in community, I studied Non-Violent Communication, Social Permaculture, and various plays in collaborative group dynamics, and in university, I studied and practiced Re-Evaluation Co-Counseling. I am in no way a licensed therapist, but I have learned how to hold space and when to say something is beyond my capability or comfort. I have started in my clinical practice also mentoring people, which is hybridizing wellness with life goals, career choices, and relationships. This can look like guided visualizations, cord-cutting, magical practice, Tarot and Astrological readings, along with a wellness plan that includes herbs, supplements, and dietary suggestions. I do not typically dispense medicine in this case either, unless someone is a neighbor who can come to my home to get their tinctures or teas. As a clinical herbalist, I do charge for my time. I usually spend a few hours prior to the meeting reviewing the case, looking up certain things, particularly if they are taking pharmaceuticals or other nutraceuticals I have not heard of, and I begin taking notes prior to the meeting. During the meeting, we review the intake and I start to engage in active dialogue, asking questions, connecting, and watching the person’s behavior. Of course, we are limited by screens, but many folks are very used to this now. If we were in real life, I would maybe ask to touch the hands of the person. I will admit I never dove into pulse reading, which in many ways I regret not doing. I know it isn’t too late to learn though. I like to see the tongue, look at the nails, posture, body language, etc. All of this is limited on Zoom because you usually only see the person from the bust up. I recommend all those interested in herbalism take a try at doing clinical intakes. It is an important tool for learning about the plants, patterns, constitutions, and formulation. You may find that it isn’t your thing, or you may find that it is exactly what you are meant to be doing.

I worked in an integrated clinic on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, where I met 7Song (https://7song.com). In this clinic, we were a nonprofit who relied heavily on student cohorts and donations. I paid a hefty tuition for the experience and got sponsorship of products from Gaia Herbs. In this clinic, there were medical doctors, psychologists who worked with flower essences, herbalists, and acupuncturists. It was an amazing project as all the medicine was free to the people, and we got to work with amazing practitioners. I would say the only major limitation was, like with many nonprofits doing ground-level work, the lack of funding to keep it going.

Herbal First Aid Clinics are another way to practice, which I feel is a beautiful way of connecting people with plants. Lots of this type of practice edges on reductionist medicine, as the herbal clinics are often free, discounted, or resource-limited. There are many herbalists who are doing pop-up clinics for events, on the streets, or in response to disasters. At the Envision Festival, for five years I organized an Herbal First Aid Training and Herbal Clinic that worked alongside conventional medic and psychedelic harm reduction. The program was amazing because it was 40 hours of training followed by 40 hours of practice. The clinic saw everything from soft tissue injuries, infections, STIs, chronic disease flare-ups, anxiety and panic, respiratory and digestive infections, etc. While people were being treated for their symptoms with an extensive apothecary, they often came back because of the level of care, attention, and the great vibe we created in the space. The first three years, we organized with the honored elder teacher and clinician 7Song (https://7song.com). The fourth year we worked with representatives from the MASHH Clinic (https://www.mashhclinic.com), and the last year of the training, it was led by Lala Palmieri (IG @tejiendoremdios) and Deia Pauline (https://grassrootsapothecary.org). Lala and I also coordinated the herbal first aid clinic at Cosmic Convergence for two years, a very disorganized event in Guatemala, where the only medic was a strung-out veteran who was probably on as much cocaine as the attendees, but at least he was posted on the dance floor to pull people out when they collapsed during extended psytrance sets. At that event, we really saw a lot of need in people. The conditions were cold, wet, and lacking. People would hang around the clinic all day as it was a cozy space of respite. Besides the clinical experience, the good thing that came from that gathering is I met my husband Giovanni. He and his posse built our clinic in 2019.

In 2018, in response to the disastrous explosion of the Volcán de Fuego, my friend Lala Palmieri and I organized a relief clinic. We organized donations via GoFundMe, raising about $5000 in just under a week, where we could stock up on all the necessary supplies to offer aid. We also coordinated with contacts in the shelters where people who lost everything had been living already for three weeks. When we arrived at the shelters, the Red Cross and other larger organizations had already left. Who was still there were the Cuban doctors, who greeted us with open arms and flirtatious smiles! In one shelter, a group from some nonprofit, a bunch of loud gringos in vests, came up to me all haughty-like, asking what organization we were with. My response… “none, we are just organized,” she huffed off and continued being loud. At another time, while treating a woman’s painful and open diabetic ulcer on her ankle, an annoying Christian group of men in matching t-shirts with a clown came over and tried posing to take pictures. My Medusa came out then, as I directly and politely told them to have some respect and EFF off. The people we were treating had nothing; many of them were suffering from insomnia, anxiety, and grief due to all they had lost and what little they even had to begin with. This was an emotional time, especially seeing how beneficial herbs are to those in need. It reminded me of the disparity even in relief, how people suffering so much loss are given such surface-level attention: a clown, a TV screen with a soccer game, and so very little personalized attention. Many of the patients we saw just wanted to be touched, listened to, and wanted someone to cry with them. They didn’t want the sterile conveyor belt of packaged food and bottled water. That overall experience was critical to the solidification of my value system and perspective that herbalism is one of the most relevant and needed practices of our times.

An herbalist I very much admire is Lorna Mauney-Brodek from the Herbalista Free Clinic. She works with the low-income and houseless population in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, particularly offering foot care. Many people living on the street and with low or no wages do not have access to quality or well-fitting shoes nor socks appropriate to the weather, nor do they have tools or facilities to care for their bodies. These types of community services are deeply humane, gracious, and exemplary of the herbal community. Check out their work here: https://herbalista.org

At pop-up clinics, whether you set up for a street protest, a music festival, a party, or in service to those in need, the limitation will always be funds and time. You have to rely upon the grace of others to buy your medicine and supplies if you don’t have the personal funds to offer. So this is where working as a clinician can support the work as you gain confidence and connections in your community that can help you raise funds to offer free medicine to those in need.

I hope this writing helped a little to clarify your own practice and offer insight into whether or not you want to be a practicing herbalist.