by Kerri-Ann Jennings M.S., R.D.
Montpelier is exceptionally rich—in herbalists. According to Laura Litchfield, co-director of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism (VCIH), located in Montpelier, central Vermont is probably the most herbalist-dense place in the country.
Ultimately, herbalism can be a way to get to know more about how your body works. Herbalists can teach you how to bring your body into balance, and to become aware of how your body acts when it’s out of balance.
Says Litchfield, “We’re here to make your life more comfortable and pleasant.” And that’s something everyone can get on board with.
But how can Montpelierites make the most of this unique resource? Whether you’ve been to an herbalist a zillion times,or don’t even know why you’d go to one, here are some key info to know and guidelines to follow.
What is Herbalism?
Herbalism is plant medicine that has been used for millennia and has variations all over the world,” says Stephanie Cohen, clinical herbalist at Grian Herbs, located in downtown Montpelier. She notes that while traditions vary, in part based on the local flora, there are elements that resonate throughout all of them. For one thing, it’s a highly individualized approach to health and looks at the interconnectedness of body systems.
Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment (take this for that), herbalists make recommendations based on the specific manifestation of symptoms, and underlying issues.
Taking depression as an example, Cohen notes that there can be many contributors, which each would need to be addressed differently. For example, it could stem from digestive issues, disrupted endocrine systems, unresolved grief, or the change of seasons.
When should you go to an herbalist?
As a form of complementary or alternative medicine, herbalists can be there as your first line of help—say when you have a headache—or in combination with other forms of treatment—for instance, if you’re using medicine to treat depression but want additional support.
You can think of herbalism as “maintenance healthcare,” says Litchfield. “In terms of maintaining health, preventing illness and keeping people in balance, herbalism is paramount”.
Where can you go?
VCIH offers an excellent and affordable student clinic, staffed by third-year students, as well as a professional clinic, run by faculty and other clinical herbalists. Both offer visits on a sliding scale ($10 – $30 for the student clinic and $30 -$100 for the professional clinic), as well as time trade through the Onion River Exchange. If you have neither of those resources at your disposal, VCIH can gift you an office visit.
Plus, there are many independent herbalists in and around Montpelier. In East Barre, herbalist and author Rosemary Gladstar runs Sage Mountain Retreat Center and Native Plant preserve, where she hosts retreats and workshops around herbs and earth awareness. In Middlesex, herbalist Shona Richter MacDougall provides consultations at her herb farm, Earth Rhythm Herbal.
What to expect in an herbalist’s office
There are two different types of consultations: walk-ins, for immediate symptom relief, and longer consultations
Cohen, who charges $1/minute for walk-ins, might send you downstairs to the apothecary and tell you how to prepare a remedy for heartburn, for instance. In an initial consultation, which can last up to two hours, your herbalist will ask you detailed questions about each of the body systems.
But perhaps more importantly, your herbalist will ask you about your goals, to make sure that your vision of success is being addressed and met. “It’s not about fixing a person, but tailoring a person’s quality of life by how they define being alive,” says Cohen.
Cohen notes that the same set of symptoms would require a different protocol depending on the whole picture of the person. For instance, two people might both get cold in the winter, but one person needs warming herbs, like cinnamon,t o stimulate circulation, while the other may need grounding herbs, like roots of dandelions and burdock.
How do you take herbs?
There are many ways to take herbal preparations. Tinctures tend to be the strongest form, and also the most expensive. Tea is probably the most popular way to ingest herbs, but powder forms can be incorporated into nutritious snacks. What’s important is to find the form most pleasing to your palette and your body, to ensure you take the herb as recommended.
“There are often multiple preparations that would be effective, but we choose them based on several considerations,” says Cohen. “We use teas as eye washes, for example, because powder in your eye would not be fun.” All of these considerations vary from plant to plant and person to person. In fact, the plant chemistry can dictate what forms the herbs are available in as well. Not all plants taste pleasant as a tea, and not all plant constituents are accessible in powder form.