is available very carefully. It is the client’s responsibility to pursue those ideas.
I respect your education in herbal medicine, but how
does a consumer sort out what is valid from what is unsubstantiated folklore? How do you handle the conflict between
what’s considered “real science” and traditional, even
I have thought about that a lot, and I think this is a big difference between many of my peers and some herbalists from
former generations. Our group—I’ll call them today’s herbalists—are generally willing to consider both traditional herbalism and contemporary scientific research. We are aware of
strengths and weaknesses in both pools of knowledge, and we’re
willing to evaluate and benefit from both. For people who say
they trust only “science,” I point out that many so-called scientific studies are very weak in terms of scientific method and lead
to equally wobbly results. For instance, extracting one chemical
from a plant, concentrating it, and administering large doses to
rodents—done in the name of science— will have a much different effect than giving a small amount of the whole plant (say,
in a tea) to a person. Iron is toxic in huge doses, but nobody is
telling us not to eat broccoli. We have to sort through the fluff
from the valuable content no matter what the source.
When you see all kinds of herbal teas and supplements on
grocery and drug store shelves, what concerns you?
I’m bothered by the practice of isolating a component, even
one that has known effectiveness for certain conditions, and
then marketing the product with exaggerated claims. We can’t
afford to believe every fad-inducing study without looking at
the methods and the motivation. I am most comfortable with
the use of the whole plant, where an herbal remedy is recommended: teas and tinctures, rather than concentrated products.
Sarah Sorci is representative of today’s younger generation
of herbalist; her business is Sweet Flag Herbs. She self-identi-fies as a community herbalist, teaches classes for Hamburg and
Orchard Park adult/community education programs, leads Creative Wellness in East Aurora and beHealthy in Hamburg, and
consults in other venues.
Credentials in the herbalist world are tricky. In the United
States, there is no official board certification to identify an herbalist. Anybody can declare herself an expert. Sarah takes the
education seriously. She studied holistic herbalism at the Blue
Ridge School of Herbal Medicine in Asheville, North Carolina,
where she received a certification in Horticulture Therapy, and
is now in the three-year Clinical Herbalism program through
Thomas Easley’s Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine. She will
then apply for professional registry through the American Herbalist Guild.
I had a few questions about how even an educated herbalist would give medical advice in her classes and consultations:
Sarah, don’t herbalists diagnose problems and prescribe
remedies? What protects the consumer from poor or even
This is important. I always emphasize, as should all responsible consultants and teachers in this field, that I am not a medical doctor. I do not (and cannot legally) diagnose conditions
or prescribe treatment. An herbal/wellness consultation is an
educational session. I share what I know about herbs that others have found to be beneficial. I provide the information that
The Dirt/New herbalists
and old medicine: What
is an herbalist and what
remedies can you trust?
BY SALLY CUNNINGHAM
People who work in the sciences are often
skeptical, disdainful even, of herbalism or
herbal remedies. I admit to approaching
this topic with a similar bias, as I have been
greatly influenced by Cornell University’s
horticulture/agriculture professors. The
thinking goes: without studies, i.e., “evidence,”
what information should we accept?
Herbs in History, Herbs Today
“The history of herbs is a history of economic botany—plants used by
man for food or physic or for aromatic, cosmetic, or dyeing use. Plants
are central to this history to be sure, but it is peopled with warriors
and gardeners, wives and mothers, witches and shamans, doctors and
quacks, dreamers and schemers.”
-(Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs; chapter: History of Herbs)
Plants are vital in medicine today. Many sources tell us that about
twenty-five percent of prescriptions administered today contain
active plant-based ingredients. Others cite that plants are the
original materials for forty percent of pharmaceuticals used currently.
An estimated eighty percent of the world’s population use herbs
as medicines. We should be alarmed at the rate of plant species
extinction: we will never know the food value or cures that a
disappearing species could have provided. –SJC
Katie Nemmer demonstrates the harvest of conifer tips for food and
medicine at Greystone Nature Preserve.