I was first introduced to Marina at an informal event for women who work in wellness around NYC. At the time, I was very new to the world of herbal medicine (and still am), so I was quite interested in the topic. After chatting with her for a bit, I learned that Marina was trained as a pharmacist, but decided to go back to school (Arbor Vitae) to study herbal medicine where she could treat individuals more holistically. In addition to working as a pharmacist and going to school, Marina spends time blogging over at RawFork.com.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Marina.
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Can you please explain, what is herbal medicine?
Not to sound cliche, but herbal medicine is people’s medicine. It’s a system of healing by connecting to nature. Not only can plants offer phytochemicals and nutrients to nourish us and help align us into balance, but they also connect us to the land and to source. Instinct, trial and error and empirical study have cultivated herbal medicine since the beginning of human history, while passing down of tradition has preserved it to this day. When people use herbs in cooking or medicine, they start to connect to the land in a very literal way. They can experience the herbal preparation with the 5 senses, and sometimes even feel subtle energy shifts. Some people may even start to be curious about the plants they consume, and research where they grow and how to identify them. Some start foraging or keeping gardens. They start to notice plants growing all around them, and realize how abundant this Earth is, and how readily available food and medicine is all around us. They may start to care about the environment because they feel harmonious with it. Experiencing a small shift with herbal medicine can cause a huge ripple effect on the individual, and may have far reaching effects on the population as a whole. People who study and use herbal medicine are empowering themselves to take their health in their own hands, and live symbiotically with the natural world.
How is herbal medicine different from the typical “westernized” medical practice most of us are used to?
Herbal medicine views people holistically, rather than dissecting and specializing in body systems or body parts. It tries to connect all the symptoms of ailments a person is experiencing into a general pattern of disharmony, which can then be balanced with a targeted approach. In modern day, this is similar to functional medicine in that it tries to find the ‘root cause’ of illness. However, rather than rely on high-tech extensive testing, the ‘diagnosis’ is usually made by objective and subjective data from the patient, and the observation of the herbalist. Herbal medicine aims to bring balance to the whole person, on all levels – physical/spiritual/mental, without distinguishing these levels. There are some treatments that may be used for short-term symptom control for a chief complaint, like in allopathic medicine, but the ultimate goal is bringing the body into a graceful state of being.
How did you get into herbal medicine? What is your background?
I got my Doctor of Pharmacy degree at St. John’s University but was deeply unhappy with my work in community pharmacy after graduating. I felt I wasn’t making enough of a difference because I wasn’t preventing disease or helping people be healthier. I started to study health coaching at Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and learned diet, lifestyle, and mindfulness practices that I can counsel my patients about. However, I felt it still wasn’t enough and there was more to learn, so I sought out non-traditional pharmacies, which I found at Radicle Herb Shop, where I currently work part-time. I am currently in the middle of a clinical herbalism professional program at Arbor Vitae in NYC, where I’m honing my integrative approach to health.
What are five things you think people should know about herbal medicine?
- Herbal medicine has been around forever, because we eat plants for sustenance – whether it’s considered medicinal or not! Fruits and vegetables contain many of the nutrients and trace minerals we require.
- It’s okay to use herbs on a regular basis, just like it’s okay to eat food on a regular basis! We constantly need the nutrition from food, and there are nutritive herbs that can supplement our nutrition as well. The main thing is to know which plants are safe in large amounts, and which have a narrower therapeutic dose or specific indications for and limitations of use. Ask an herbalist or read a reputable reference to learn more.
- Plants want to help us, and we can live symbiotically with them. We all benefit from one another and should want to propagate one another’s species!
- Medicinal mushrooms are growing in popularity, and are a special subset of herbal medicine. Their DNA is actually closer to humans’ than that of plants, and they offer a ton of benefits for our health!
- A little while back, the matriarch of the family, usually the grandmother or mother, acted as the cook, herbalist and doctor for the family. She would use food and herbs to nourish her family and prevent or treat illnesses. Of course, there are limitations in herbal medicine and ‘grandma remedies,’ but there is tremendous power in it too. Before it is a lost art, we should learn as much as possible about how to help keep ourselves and our families healthy.
How would you recommend people get started with herbal medicine if they are interested in investing in their health?
People can get started by paying attention to what types of plants they already have in their lives – what produce they consume on a regular basis, what plants grow in their flower pots, backyards, or parks in their vicinity or on their walk home from work. Plants offer great healing, and if we attune to it a bit more, the effect will be that much greater. Studies show that people with the same amount of physical exercise become healthier when they are mindful about all the exercise they do. Same thing goes for plants – the more you consciously use them or acknowledge them, the greater the healing power.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I wrote a blog post recently about what I learned in my first year of herbalism school, which explains all of the things I’ve talked about here – check it out!
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Thank you so much, Marina!