What is an Herbalist?

Ever since my acceptance into NYU Steinhardt’s Food Studies MA program, I’ve been conflicted between multiple paths. Do I go back to school for my Master’s despite the price tag? Or do I stay on track and go to school for herbs? Could I possibly do both?

Everyone I ask (family, friends, and strangers included) seems to think I should do both. I’m approaching this idea with caution, as starting two extensive programs at the same time is a massive undertaking. I feel confident that my curiosity and passion will keep me going, but curiosity and passion are not always enough when one program involves regular commutes into the city (ugh).

For the next few weeks, I’m pondering over the integration of Food Studies and Herbalism. I hope that, when the time comes for these programs to start, I will be prepared to stitch them together at the seems and bring attention to the many ways they overlap. Herbalism, for me, is just a piece to a puzzle and does not demand more attention than any other plant-human relationship.

This then begs the question: What does it mean to be an Herbalist?

While ruminating over the possibility of pursuing both graduate study and intensive herbal studies, I reached out to two individuals who had taken the Herbalism course. These conversations were exceptionally insightful, but I couldn’t help but mull over a remark one individual had said. In reference to Herbalists who do not treat the body as a whole, he declared, “I don’t even consider them to be real Herbalists.”

I won’t deny that there are some real quacks who call themselves “herbalists.” This certainly gives a bad reputation to those who take their practice very seriously, but every field has its quacks. To me, an Herbalist is anyone who studies herbs and practices Herbalism, even if in small ways or only in their personal life. The home Herbalist (our mothers, grandmothers, friendly neighbors) who may only treat minor issues such as cuts, scrapes, and upset tummies are just as deserving of respect as the Clinical Herbalist healing asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. (Perhaps it’s my own bias having been raised by a Nurse, but I will always place nurses above doctors and mothers above clinical practitioners).

If we are to achieve a successful, healthy, sustainable future, we must welcome and include everyone at all stages of their studies. Some must be experts who offer a resource of information and support. Others must make connections between Herbalism and peripheral and opposing fields of study. And some should simply do what they can do in their own lives.

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