Hi Erin, can you tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in herbs?
I’ve been studying herbs since I was fifteen. I don’t really remember the exact moment they called to me, other than that I was an avid reader and remember quite a few of my favorite books at the time, many historical fiction, having characters that used herbs. I was so drawn to it. At first I thought of it primarily as a historical thing and wasn’t really aware of people still using plants medicinally. I used to get out all the books I could find in the library on medicinal plants (yep, I was one of those teenagers!) and kept notebooks filled with different plants and how they were used. I still have them. But it was always just a hobby. I never really thought about it as a career. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I finally thought about making it more than just a hobby. Once I made that leap there was no turning back. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long!
You received your MSc in Ethnobotany from the University of Kent in Canterbury. How did you end up in England and how is the study of herbs different there than in the U.S.?
I had lived in the UK before as an undergrad and after college and loved it. Luckily, one of the best programs in ethnobotany happened to be there so I didn’t hesitate to return. Formal study of herbs in the UK is interesting. In many ways it has a lot more credibility and most herbal programs are in universities. There are also plenty of others that still learn more traditionally from smaller schools and/or apprenticeships. However, the legitimacy of herbalism has had its downsides, too. Many university-based programs will more and more only teach herbs with science behind them, which means a lot of their materia medica is actually herbs from Ayurvedic and Chinese traditions since these often have more research behind them (there are many reasons for this but that’s another long discussion!). Because of this, many of the newer UK herbalists often don’t know that much about a lot of the herbs that are right outside their door. When I taught there I was always surprised by some of the herbs they weren’t aware of. As an ethnobotanist, this makes me very nervous that all that important traditional knowledge will disappear. We need to use herbs for the knowledge to continue. If they aren’t using them and not learning them it won’t be long before the knowledge disappears.
You founded The Center for Integrative Botanical Studies in Boulder, Colorado. What is the focus of the Center?
I founded CIBS as a place for the general public to learn about all the different ways we interact with nature and use plants. That includes herbalism, but also wild foods, survival skills, and more. I have a longer program called Plant-Passionate Living and then offered short programs along with other teachers. Since having my daughter, I’ve put this on hold a bit and shifted to focusing on my personal program – Plant-Passionate Living and developing an online Ethnobotany program along with the work I now do with WishGarden.
You’re the Education & Sustainability Manager at WishGarden. What are your duties?
I oversee and help develop all of our educational programs. This includes programs for general public, store staff, and our reps around the country. I love teaching and helping to educate the world about the wonders of plants is a real passion of mine. As Sustainability Manager, I work to ensure all the herbs we get are from sustainable sources. We are also in the early stages of developing some great in-house sustainability projects. So stay tuned for more on that! Most of the international work I did focused on sustainability, particularly around how we use our natural resources including plants, so it is nice to be able to bring all that experience back home. As people are returning more and more to using herbs, it is crucial that we make sure this increased awareness and popularity doesn’t have a negative impact on the plants we love, ecosystems or communities.
What does your typical day look like at WishGarden?
There is no typical day at WishGarden! It’s always changing which is great. But my days are often split between working on the education program with Catherine and others in the Sales Office and working with Don, our buyer on sustainability and sourcing issues.
We are witnessing a real growth in the natural products sector. What do you attribute that to?
I think there are many reasons for the growth. Some of it is rooted in a dissatisfaction with modern medicine’s approach to everyday ailments and overall wellness. People are striving for gentler, body-friendly ways to support their health. I think there is also an empowerment that happens when we understand and remember simple ways to take care of ourselves and our families.
What advice would you give to people who want to work with plants?
To just go out and do it. Start with your backyard. Get to know the plants that are there, ways to use them, experiment. Expand to your neighborhood, and so on. I am a big proponent of working with your local plants first. While there are a lot of wonderful herbs from Asia and other exotic locations, there is so much right outside our door that also deserves attention. In the long run, using what is in your immediate environment is better for your body and the planet. An important first safety step when wanting to begin working with herbs and plants is to learn the poisonous plants first. It makes for much more relaxing botanical adventures.
Do you have a favorite herb?
That’s always a hard question. It’s a bit like trying to name a favorite child. Plus, for me it is alway changing. But I’d say I have a handful that I use a lot and are constant favorites – Wood Betony, Hawthorn, Linden, Monarda, Nettles to name a few.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.