Where do you think that a novice, experimenting
with herbal remedies, could get into trouble?
As I said, I do worry about people taking large doses
of an isolated product, plant-based or otherwise. Herb
and drug interactions can be very dangerous, so find
MDs and pharmacists who can research interactions.
One online resource is Medscape.com. And definitely work with an educated herbalist consultant. Some
plants with powerful benefits, when administered correctly, can be extremely dangerous used in excess or
in the wrong combination with drugs—St. John’s Wort
(Hypericum), for example.
What else do you wish more people knew about
herbal medicine and how you approach healing?
The United States is really the odd man out among
so-called first-world countries. With the exception
of many Native American schools of thought, Americans tend to brush aside traditional knowledge that
is revered in China, India, and other cultures. TCM
(traditional Chinese medicine), Indian Ayurvedic medicine, and traditional Western herbalism are all more
holistic than modern Western medicine. They recognize that we can’t just look at one symptom or diagnosis to heal a body. We must look at underlying patterns
and study the whole person.
If someone is open to exploring a holistic, herb-
al approach to healing, where would the learning
A straightforward book by Rosalee De La Foret,
Alchemy of Herbs, would be a good start (Hay House,
Inc., April 4, 2017, $18.00 eBook; $10.00 paperback.)
The subtitle is Transform Everyday Ingredients into
Foods and Remedies That Heal. I like the approach
that encourages people to use familiar herbs that are
easy to grow, or to pick common “weeds” in the yard
that are normally thrown away.
Have you had any particular influences besides
your formal training?
The path to learning becomes very personal. Some-
one I admire and would like to follow more is Linda
Black Elk, ethnobotanist and professor at Sitting Bull
College. I saw her speak at World on Your Plate, and
she is so inspiring about culturally important plants
and their uses as food and medicine. [World on Your
Plate is a conference on food and sustainable living that
has taken place for fourteen years at Daemen College
in Amherst; watch for it as October 2018 approaches.]
Also Matthew Wood. Matthew teaches and practices traditional Western herbalism, which includes European, Anglo-American and Native American traditions.
His MS is from the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine.
He is a member of the American Herbalists Guild.
[More information is available at matthewwoodherbs.
com, including references to his six books.]
Am I right that we’re seeing a surge in interest
about herbs among your peers—millennials, and
younger people? If so, why?
Definitely. I think it’s the same thing that has driven
the local foods, farm-to-table, and whole foods movements. Younger people are sick of being force-fed junk
and food with hidden ingredients. We want to know
what we’re eating and where it comes from. Medicine
or remedies from plants in our yards have a similar
appeal. We want to connect with all that is natural—
some feeling of a spiritual connection. I like to share
the sense of gratitude for the plants that comes from a
Native American belief.
I am left with renewed respect for herbalism, including appreciation for the long-time herbalists who have
been leaders and teachers in the movement in our
region—Jackie Swift, Marian Prezyna, Pat Jenney;
their outreach continues. And there are others with
influence and impact, including members of the WNY
Herb Study Group and the WNY Herb Society. Look for
the groups and make friends with an herbalist. They
have so much to teach us.
Sally Cunningham is a CNLP (Certified Nursery/Landscape Professional),
former Cornell Cooperative Extension educator, author (Rodale’s Great
Garden Companions), and tour director for Great Garden Travel
(AAA/Horizon Club Tours). She is known to eat some of her weeds.
Herb or spice?
Both spices and herbs
provide flavor in foods
and all of them come
from plants. Herbs
come from leaves and
spices come from
roots, stems, bulbs,
bark, or seeds.
to have healing
Free in the yard
or field, these
for uses, and
be sure no
My recommendation for a thorough, solid, readable, and trust-worthy reference book
about herbs—culinary, medicinal, fragrant, and/or ornamental—is Rodale’s Illustrated
Encyclopedia of Herbs (1987, updated in 1998, distributed by St. Martin’s Press). It
includes identifications and instructions for more than 140 herbs, with health and
safety warnings, and a delightful, concise history of herbs and the ancient cultures
that preceded herbalism and modern medicine. Online sources offer it but you might
even find this treasure at a yard sale. —SJC
What is an “herb” anyway?
The word may be confusing since the use (and pronunciation) depends upon whom you ask. I learned in Master Gardener training and from lecturers, such as
long-time herb grower and expert Pat Jenney (Dreams End Farm), that an herb is a plant that is useful. The definition is still the simplest and best explanation.
If a plant is used for food, flavoring, medicine, dyes, or fragrance, it is an herb.
Can any old plant be an herb?
The word herb also correctly refers to plants,
simply, so look for the context. Herbicides
kill plants, Herbariums label and store them.
Herbivores eat them. Herbaceous perennials
are all the nonwoody plants that go dormant
in winter. Herbals were the original Merck’s
Manuals—the guides to medicinal (or
cosmetic or culinary) uses of plants.
And how did you pronounce that?
It’s a bit of a quagmire, whether to say “herb” or “erb,” and a lot depends on
who first taught you about the plants. Most cooks leave the H silent. Plant
people often sound the H, especially if they were educated or influenced by
British horticulturists. One hears the H among most speakers using these
words: “herbarium, herbicide, herbivore, herbaceous.” But I hear “herbal tea”
mentioned without the H, as in “Would you like an herbal tea?” and I have
worked in garden centers with “erb departments.” You choose, and if people
look at you funny, try it the other way. – SJC