Let’s demystify what it means to work with an herbalist.

Many folks are curious, seeking help via google searches, and not knowing who to reach out to for support. Maybe you feel called to work with an herbalist, but you aren’t sure where to start, how they can help or if you will like it.

In this musing we will look at what it means to work with an herbalist, what does the time look like, what questions will be asked, what you can expect to gain and what it is not.

Working with an herbalist means that you are taking an active role in your health, you are no longer at the whim of reductionist medicine that treats you like a disease, you have decided to take a stand and walk the Good Medicine Road with the flora and fungi that you have co-evolved with over the course of hominid history that know you as a whole person.

First, it is important to know what herbalism and working with an herbalist is not. Herbalists are human beings just like you and they are fallible and sensitive. They will not have all the answers and will not be able to handle every specific need in the allotted time you have with them. They are also working folks who have perhaps other gigs, families, relationships, school or other commitments. Many even have their own illness to deal with. Being an herbalist does not mean they are super humans who will never deal with pain, suffering nor disease. Many times folks who work as herbalists stepped onto this road because they themselves were suffering. Herbalists are not here to heal you, they are here to guide you with the plants as allies and tools for attempting to find balance in your life.

Your time with an herbalist can span anywhere from an hour to a lifetime. The initial process usually takes about an hour of either in-person or on-line one-on-one time. The herbalist will take a few hours of their time reading through your intake forms that are usually many pages that cover all the basics of your health profile (height, weight, age, gender, blood pressure, blood type, ethnicity, skin and hair texture, nail quality, etc), followed by questions about diet, sleep, substances, family history, hormonal cycles, spirituality, interpersonal relationships, and other lifestyle practices. Typically you will be asked to share a primary and a secondary concern. Sometimes what can happen is that the primary concern ends up being the thing that folks are dealing with in the moment and that other deeper rooted concerns become the primary focus. Usually the clinician will go through the intake and address certain points that stuck out as important as well as ask clarifying questions. All meetings are confidential and private. If the client would like the meeting to be recorded that can happen upon request and it is always best for the client to take notes while in the meeting. Sometimes the clinician will also take notes to share with you. If you are seeing your herbalist in person they may request to see your tongue, touch your nails, or other parts of your body like your wrist if they are skilled in reading pulses, iridology or other tools which may help them understand deeper your situation. Some herbalists will also ask for any other outcomes from blood work or from other practitioners and may ask you to send pictures of your tongue, eyes, nails and face. It is important to note that herbalists in many places are not formally recognized by medical authorities, this is one of our greatest assets and limitations, this topic will be covered in another musing. But because of this we are not allowed and typically shy away from any form of “diagnosis” as this can get us into uncomfortably hot water with authorities. Some herbalists may even ask you to fill out liability waivers and consent forms, this is to protect them from state and other systems that usually do not favor choice, alternative options or natural forms of medicine. There are certain times when an herbalist may not have the answers to your questions or the experience to speak to. A good and ethical practitioner will let you know that. There are often times when I request to consult with my teachers or other herbalists. In this case, with consent from the client, the case will be brought to another practitioner to take a look at. Your name is never shared nor your location, but what is shared is the concern, history, age, gender and other relevant info that will help the supporting practitioner give the best advice. I feel a red flag in your session with an herbalist is when they say they know best, discourage second opinions, are insistent, talk to you like you are stupid or overshare their personal experience. Green flags are when your herbalist asks meaningful and compassionate questions, encourages you to share and holds space for you that is non judgmental and gentle, supports you reaching out to others, ask questions and says when they do not know or can not help.

Sometimes the questions that are asked and topics discussed can be quite intimate. The reason is to understand the depth of the many roots to the concern. Know that we have seen it all and then-some, nothing is that weird when you have been in practice for a few decades. While herbalism can be practiced like allopathic medicine (you say you have a headache and we give you Willow) it is best and most effective when it is practiced holistically (you say you have a headache and we try to figure out why that is). To figure out why you may have a headache, we will start at the surface of your posture, hours on line, injuries, hours in the car, sitting or standing and types of exercise you do or don’t do. Then we will take a look at diet and any patterns we may see arise that could suggest food allergies or sensitivities. We will look at hormone patterns, sleep cycles and stress. We will ask about relationships because they so often and so deeply affect us in both regenerative and degenerative ways.  Questions may come up around libido and sexual history, substance use and abuse and family trauma. These are very sensitive topics and the herbalist becomes more than just someone who suggests plant remedies, they become a space holder and therapist. Many herbalists have training aside from their plant knowledge, studying and practicing other therapeutic strategies from various forms of psycho-therapy, to somatics, sound healing, nutrition, ceremony, body and energy work. It is best to share as much as you feel is comfortable and relevant to help the herbalist decipher the best way to serve you. It’s a red flag if you say you are not comfortable sharing at this time and they press you.

There are many “rewards” when working with an herbalist. For myself as a client to other herbalists, I love having unique perspectives and insight into my struggles that feel deeply compassionate and seen with a wide lens. As a practitioner each client helps me to serve others better as I gain a broader view into the nature of patterns in wellness and dis-ease, as well as cultural perspectives, and bioregional specifics. I love hearing what is available in the local markets and apothecaries and finding ways to get people connected to plants. As the client, you hopefully will gain a sense of self autonomy and feel like you have an ally who really cares. Your herbalist can be with you for a lifetime. It is not necessary to see them every month or every few weeks. I have some clients who I will see for a regular period of time and then not hear from for a few years, to then hear from again because they are dealing with something new. What is important and helpful to the herbalist is for the client to give feedback. I will admit that sometimes it is hard for me to follow up regularly with clients, I often leave the ball in their court so they can reach out for help. Some folks may be more proactive in reaching out to clients to check in, it really is up to them on how you engage. I usually tell my clients that they can text me at any time for questions.

How you chose an herbalist can take many different forms. Maybe you found someone on Youtube or Instagram and you really resonate with how they speak. Maybe someone came to you by word of mouth or a stroll  through town lead you to the apothecary door. Maybe you have been going down the rabbit hole of internet searches to find an answer and you stumbled upon a blog or Reddit thread. How ever you came to herbalism, make sure you feel safe with the person you are reaching out to. They should provide the information if you ask them for credentials, testimonials, who their teachers are, where they supply their herbs, who and what they support and what methods they go by to help you. Inquire upfront about their honorarium. Many price their services based on where they live and what they have to cover to get by. Please do not assume herbalists should be offering their services for free, they too need to buy food and pay for life. You can always inquire about things like payment plans, discounts based on need and trades. Sliding scales are quite common in the practice, where the practitioner sets their high and low rate based on what feels safe for them. In my community I work as both a community and clinical herbalist (blog on that soon to come), so I will spend lengthy time with people and I will just answer texts. I dispense herbs from my apothecary and I send links. Here where I live, I will often do trades for body work, because of old injuries and too much screen time, my body cries for therapeutic touch, and most folks are stoked to trade service for service or service for goods. It never hurts to ask, and an ethical practitioner will tell you honestly what’s up and what they are able to work with.

Herbalists are honored and happy to support you in your journey, as long as you know that healing is not an achievement, but one of many steps we take toward wholeness. We are not here for you to be dependent on us, but we are here to guide you and help you get to know the plants and mushrooms that will help bring you back into homeodynamic balance.