Becoming a Community Herbalist

by Shantree Kacera, R.H, D.N., Ph.D.

Just as the flowers grow from the earth, so the remedy grows in the hands of the physician. The remedy is nothing but a seed that must develop into that which is destined to be. ~Paracelsus

The Path of the Herbalist
Community herbalists are deeply immersed in the plant community. They know which native or local wild plants can help and which ones are to be avoided. A community herbalist uses more of a folk or traditional approach, which means a deeper heartfelt approach and an emphasis on the interconnection between the plants, the individual, and the movement of the five elements in the environment. A community herbalist is predominantly concerned with the people, the plants, the natural landscape. This speaks of a healing path with heart. Community herbalists look more at the energetics of herbs – whether they’re warming you or cooling you down, whether they’re moistening or drying you.

Traditionally, the community herbalist was the shaman, someone in tune not only with the plants and body but also with the energies of the bodies, places and plants. Their healing practices involved considerably more than the traditional, allopathic “treat the symptom” approach. Personally and professionally, my viewpoint of healing has always been to “treat the individual, not the disease.” The sense of paradigms – the way we perceive our world – is also tremendously essential.

Many of the traditional approaches, which I consider community herbalism to be, work on an energetic system beyond a chemical model of medicine. It encompasses practitioners being able to work in their communities and the regions in which they live, knowing how to forage and use the local plants.

My vision for community herbalists is that we would have herb specialists, well-trained in and deeply connected to the plants that can be grown in their neighbourhoods or grow wild or are native plants within the bioregion. The image of barefoot doctors rings true for me, rather than white-coat clad medical clinicians, walking in the community with the skills, knowledge, and wisdom to help folks in their neighbourhood and village. They can listen to you and offer sound advice. It is not expected that they can solve every health concern you have, but in my experience, sometimes just listening to somebody is often a great help.

Tools such as simple herbal remedies for relaxation can complement any other therapy someone is undergoing, whether or not it’s medical. Everyone needs an herbal practitioner, someone to support him or her on their journey. I see education as a large part of being a community herbalist – taking people from the community on herb walks, visiting people’s gardens and advising them which plants to grow for their health.

Community herbalists also work in the educational field, sharing their passion for offering classes and workshops. Hopefully, community herbalists will be able to establish herb gardens in schools so kids can learn from an early age. Numerous folks seeking help to both prevent and know simple remedies of treating common illnesses today.

My vision for community herbalists is to give them a sense of power and place within our communities. The road to an education in herbalism can branch to many paths, and there is no one true way to mastery. A conscious herbalist who is rooted in local plants promotes the ethical harvest of wild plants and puts emphasis on the herbalist’s connection to the Earth.

An Energetic System of Herbal Medicine
Throughout recorded history, nearly every culture on earth has used plants to thrive and heal. Recognizing and respecting the power of nature is a critical part of The Living Centre’s herbalism story – for over 40 years I have been integrating Herbal Tradition, Indigenous Herbal Wisdom, Ayurvedic Plant Medicine and Ecological Permaculture together. The Practical Herbalism – Energetic Medicine Mentorship program is taking this field to a whole new level.

The interest of complementary herbal medicine continues to expand and many people who are becoming more interested in maintaining healthy vital lives will continue and increase their use of herbs in the coming years. People who understand how to grow, sustain, harvest, produce, and prescribe these natural medicines are highly valued in communities and industry and as well as herbal practitioners and educators.

Our Practical Herbalism mentorship program allows participants to experience a depth of understanding of the whole plant by seeing where they grow and how to ethically forage. The program focuses on hands-on learning in medicine-making and case studies using an energetic model of the formulation. It is to train individuals to become Community Herbalists that introduces students to the incredible world of plants and their medicinal uses. This program provides a practical study of herbalism through an in-depth study of over 100 medicinal plants, both native and wild through the seasons, as well as the study of herbal medicine for the body systems. 

A wholistic herbalist treats people, not diseases, and in our mentorship, we endeavour to teach the essential skills so that each mentee can achieve that objective. We focus on differential diagnosis skills, materia medica and therapeutics, which are essential to individualize treatment and help patients to not only resolve symptoms but also create the constitutional change needed for physical, emotional, spiritual wellness with a deepening to the local bioregion.

In the modern world, what we see is a very allopathic approach to herbal medicine. “This herb’s good for this condition.” In the world’s great traditional systems of medicine, what we see is which herbs are appropriate for this specific person sitting in front of me with the specific disease patterns that they have now—that’s a system of energetics. A large portion of that comes from the taste. Taste is the simplest way to determine the energetics of the plant. For me, it’s always been essential that I have a deep sense of the plant. Its taste, its action, you know the potential adverse effects.

Throughout my career as a herbalist using herbal energetics, I’ve continuously focused on a hands-on approach and one of the things that I believe is really important is there are multiple ways of understanding plants. We can understand them through science (science is an amazing tool, and it helps us to understand things) but, we don’t want to limit our understanding through science. We want to look at science, we want to look at tradition, we want to look at personal experience, and we want to look at what you might call intuitive or spiritual understandings. And when you put that all together, all right, then what you have is much stronger than any of the components.

As an herbal elder and a mentor, I can tell you that some of the individuals I discover the most from are my younger mentees and students. They recurrently keep me fresh and on my toes with their new ideas, thoughts and information. They inspire me. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know anything. We are all learners here – practice learning each and every day!

The knowledge of the herbs is inherent knowledge, this is the knowledge deeply embedded in our cells, and this knowledge is our birthright. It is part of our heritage as human beings on this planet. The Path of the Herbalist is to master, not only of the craft of engaging with herbs but of your own life. Begin now to recover the quiescent wisdom within your own wild heart. Be an active, participating member of the herbal revival!

“Those who dwell…. among the beauties and mysteries of life are never alone or weary of life. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” – Rachel Carson