Q. Please tell us about yourself and what people, influences, events or desires led you to your profession.
There were not many herbalists in the US in the early 1980’s, so being an herbalist was not something that one aspired to be. It was actually more of an entrepreneurial spirit that guided me to herbs. My parents had bought a property with an old glass greenhouse on it, and someone said I should grow herbs. I began researching it by ordering catalogs (as the internet was not yet developed) and was completely intrigued; there was basil that smelled like cinnamon, thyme that smelled like lavender, and scented geraniums that smelled like coconut. I started growing and selling plants, just at the time when the garden center industry was taking off. The scents and flavors of herbs make for a fun and fascinating adventure, but when I started learning the medicinal benefits of plants, I was on the journey of a lifetime.
Q. How would you describe the job of an herbalist? Can you tell us what a typical day or week is like?
The great thing about being an herbalist is that there is nothing typical one day to the next. You may be planting seeds, working in the garden, foraging for herbs through the forest, making salves and remedies, or formulating remedies for patients in clinic; being an herbalist can describe a great many different tasks, and I have done them all.
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Q. What are the most enjoyable and least enjoyable aspects of your work? Why?
My favorite part of being an herbalist is playing with the plants. As it often happens however, herbalists can find themselves in need of an income, and this often leads to the production of products made from these plants. At this junction, I find myself running a busy supplements company, writing articles, overseeing production, and filling out a lot of paperwork to fulfill FDA Good Manufacturing Practices laws. I have experienced this pattern often as an herbalist; you want to express your passion through a successful enterprise and when it takes off you do not have time to enjoy the aspects of herbs that first captured your attention. Eventually, the business will be sold and I will go back to growing herbs in a greenhouse in to my old age, completing the circle.
Q. What is the most common misconception that people have about your line of work?
We used to sponsor weekend seminars through an herb school that I once had, and participants would think that they would possess enough knowledge at the end of the weekend to be a practicing clinical herbalist. After 27 years as a working herbalist, exhaustive years of college study of herbalism, and a decade of clinical practice as an herbalist/acupuncturist, I still feel that my knowledge of herbal medicine is lacking and I know that at the end of my life I will not know everything about herbalism. I think that people think that herbs are a quick study, and they are not.
Q. How would a young person with aspirations to become an herbalist best prepare himself/herself?
First, you must ask yourself if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, because there are not going to be many job listings for herbalists; you must make your own job or run your own medical practice. If you want to be a clinical herbalist, an acupuncture license is one of the few recognized professional degrees that actually covers this and is widely recognized in the states at this time. This would require a college degree and then 4 years more at Oriental medical school. ND’s are also licensed in some states and are well respected if they have attended an actual Naturopathic college. Avoid online degrees, as you will never have the respect of your pears or other professionals.
Q. What is the most important or significant thing that you have accomplished in your work to date? What do you hope to accomplish?
I would like to think that I have made information available through articles on my website and blog that makes Chinese medical theory more approachable for individuals. It seems that there is a resistance to describing imbalances and solutions to health problems in lay terms as those trained in Chinese medicine feel that only scholarly texts are respectable. Chinese medicine is very complex, and it takes a certain talent to offering correct information without too many perplexing details.
Q. Do you have any additional thoughts that you would like to share with young people trying to decide on a career choice?
I am at that fortunate age where you can look back at the crooked road of life and delineate patterns of cause and effect that make perfect sense of the chaos. I would not change a thing. I would only suggest that people of any age follow their heart, or intuition, and work at something they love; it is never too late to be passionate about your work!
Learn more about Catherine and what she does at www.AgelessHerbs.com and follow her on Twitter @Ageless_Herbs
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