Community Herbalist Article - Common Ground - 27/09/2008

Herbalists who put people and plants first by Don Ollsin

The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions. – George Orwell

My first herb walk was with a four-year-old on a farm in California. He led my wife and me on a walk and showed us about 20 plants. Because this child lived with these plants, he knew them intimately; this is the way it was traditionally.

I like the traditional idea of village and folk herbalists. A community herbalist uses more of a folk approach, which means a more heartfelt approach and a focus on the inter-connection between the plants, the person and the environment. A community herbalist is primarily interested in the people, the plants, the gardens and the animals. This speaks of a healing path with heart.

Allopathic medicine attempts to copy nature, trying to figure out which chemicals are in which plants and then copying them and creating a patent. A top CEO of one of the six major pharmaceutical companies earns $250,000,000 a year. That’s fine. It’s a body of knowledge and it’s useful, but it’s a little too economically focused. Community herbalists look more at the energetics of herbs – whether they’re heating you or cooling you down, whether they’re drying you out or providing moisture. At one time, community healers would visit people in their homes. In my practice, I’ve found that if I go to somebody’s home, it’s a whole different story than if they come to my office.

Community oriented healing is primarily focused on the spiritual and emotional needs of the person or community. Traditionally, the village herbalist was the shaman, someone in tune not only with the plants and body, but also with the spirits or energies of the bodies, places and plants. Their healing practices involved much more than the traditional, allopathic “treat the symptom” approach. It could be that they held someone while they wept, and they might give the person Bach flower remedies for their emotions. My philosophy of healing has always been to “treat the person, not the disease.”

Community herbalists are deeply immersed in the plant community. They know which plants can help and which ones are to be avoided. They know the basic needs of the body and the things that commonly go wrong with the body, especially in the communities in which they live. I see people growing the herbs they need to stay healthy and happy. I see community gardens where communities can collect the herbs they need. In Fernwood where I live, we have such a garden; it has stinging nettle and milk thistle, plants not normally found in community gardens. Both, however, can be used as food and are powerful healers.

In the Pacific Northwest we have a tendency toward coughs and colds throughout the winter. A community herbalist would be aware of which plants to grow and use for various common conditions. They would advise people how to use them safely and make them aware of any contraindications so that a pregnant woman, for example, wouldn’t take something that might jeopardize her pregnancy. They would encourage people to take herbal baths and use herbal poultices. If you look at many of the traditional systems, such as Ayurveda, there’s a good deal of hands-on work. I think our bodies are hungry for more physical contact with the plants and the earth. It feels wonderful to soak your tired feet in a basin of hot water that has a bouquet of herbs in it. It’s much more satisfying than merely swallowing a pill.

The idea of paradigms – the way we perceive something – is also very important. Many of the traditional methods, which I consider as community herbalism, work on an energetic model more than a chemical model of medicine. It involves practitioners being trained to work in their villages and the areas in which they live, on how to gather and use the local plants.

My vision for community herbalists is that we would have herb specialists, well trained in and connected to the plants that can be grown in their communities. I like the image of barefoot doctors, rather than white-coat clad doctors, walking in the community with the knowledge and skills to help people. They could visit you in your home or they could meet you at the coffee shop or in the park. They can listen to you and offer sound advice. It is not expected that they can solve every health problem you have, but in my experience, sometimes just listening to somebody is often a great help. Tools such as Bach flower remedies or simple herbal remedies for relaxation can complement any other therapy someone is undergoing, whether or not it’s medical. Everyone needs a healer, someone to support them. Community herbalists also work in the retail setting. Many people visit retail stores seeking help for a cough or a cold. Much healing is done over the counter. My vision for community herbalists is to give them a sense of power and place within our communities.

I also believe that the practice of community herbalism will carry on from the tradition of the elders I’ve studied with: Norma Meyers, a Mohawk medicine woman who has passed over to the other side; Dr. John Christopher, the herbalist who turned so many of us on to herbs in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. (The American Herbalists Guild is full of herbalists who originally studied with Dr. John Christopher.); Ellen White, a Coast Salish native elder from the Nanaimo band and one of my teachers. She celebrates her 86th birthday on September 13. The idea is to keep that tradition and knowledge alive. The native tradition was much more in keeping with the practice of a community herbalist. The people knew the plants intimately. They knew the spirits. They knew the energies. They knew the songs. They knew the ceremonies. My vision is to bring those aspects back into healing.

We no longer have ceremonies. Everyone goes through changes, but we have nothing to offer people to mark their changes and accomplishments. We have no rites of passage. My wife and I have done very powerful rites of passage work with young people and I have done ceremonies for people who have had major losses or upsets. I am also working with Royal Roads University and First Nations elders throughout BC on non-timber forest products, and we’ve established protection for medicinal plants in logging contracts. Again, that’s the idea of a community herbalist. It’s not just about the herbs in a clinical practice; it’s also about the herbs in your back yard and the herbs in the forests. It’s about the herbs in the community.

I also see education as a huge part of being a community herbalist – taking people from the community on herb walks, visiting people’s gardens and advising them which plants to grow for their health. Hopefully, community herbalists will be able to establish herb gardens in schools so kids can learn from an early age. In England, people can enrol in a four-year herbal program at a university, after which they receive a Bachelor of Science. I envision that being available in BC in the very near future.

Link to original article:

Hi, I am Kelp


Hi, I am Kelp, 

I belong to the order of Laminariales, my genus is Nereocystis (Mermaid’s Bladder) and my species is N. luetkeana. 

My common names include edible kelp, bull kelp, bullwhip kelp, ribbon kelp, giant kelp.

I contain ninety-two different nutritional elements. 

I contain more minerals than land plants (our land minerals are being carried to the sea by our poor treatment of our soil).

My leaves' mineral content is 25-50% and they contain all necessary trace elements.

Any salt or salty taste that comes from my dried leaves is predominantly potassium, rather than sodium, making me a good source of potassium. 

I am a rich source of natural iodine. It is difficult to get too much iodine from my natural form but this could be an issue with supplements. 

Regular ingestion of me provides energy and endurance.  

Some of people who use me find I help relieve nervous tension. I am particularly good for the dosha Vata (Ayurveda).  

Another benefit I offer is to pull excess radiation out of the body and to protect against the same.  

I am soothing to the whole gastro-intestinal tract.  

You can use 1/2 - 1 tsp., 1-3 x day of my ground powder, with meals.

Don adds about 1/2 teaspoon of my powder to his daily kefir\yogurt drink.

The leaves from one large kelp plant, when dried and powdered, will fill a small container 3 inches around and 2 inches deep. That is what Don and Sandy ended up with after drying and powdering their last harvest. I go a long ways—-that will last them about one year.

Caution: Insist on the highest quality of me harvested ethically from clean seas.  

If you want to buy some great kelp or learn more about me and my relatives, visit Don’s dear friend, Ryan Drum aka Fucus Man at his web site.


Norma Myers - Mohawk Medicine Woman

norma myers and students.jpg

Norma Myers was a Mohawk medicine woman who was married to a Coast Salish man. They lived in Alert Bay, British Columbia.

She was an amazing herbalist and introduced many budding herbalists, including myself, to the rich world of local herbs.

Just recently, a man contacted me who saw Norma in 1980 at a workshop and she gave him a formula for drug detoxification that worked like magic for him. Norma attracted people from all over North America, who would come and live with her as they went through her treatment.

She was an eccentric and colourful personality. Her car was always full of herbs sticking out the back window that she had harvested. Her and her dog, Jake, often stayed at our home.

She also hosted many herbal gatherings that furthered the spread of herbalism in the Pacific Northwest. I am pretty certain that it was through Norma that I met Dr. John Christopher. She was a true pioneer and it was a privilege to know and learn from her. – Don Ollsin

The Limits of Mind - Rupert Sheldrake and Bruce Lipton

The limits of mind, a public talk between Rupert Sheldrake and Bruce Lipton.

I highly recommend this video by two of my favourite progressive thinkers in the world of biology.

They bring together the theory of morphic resonance, Sheldrake and the biology of perception, Lipton.

You may want to read up on morphic resonance and the biology of perception by Lipton if you are not familiar with their theories. If you are you will love the interweaving that happens in this talk.

Morphic resonance has to do with the field and biology of perception has to do with the cells interface with the environment. How the development of the cell is influenced by the field and the environment it lives in.

I found it truly uplifting to hear these two creative intelligent loving beings share their life’s work together.


Hi, I am Feverfew but I prefer the name Midsummer Daisy,


I belong to the Asteraceae (Compositae) family. My genus is Tanacetum. My species is T. parthenium.

Don has witnessed some amazing results after recommending me to migraine sufferers. I reduce excess heat (inflammation) from the head. My combination of bitter and pungent tastes means that as my bitter compounds reduce the heat, my pungent oils release the heat, excreting it through your skin.

Don encourages migraine sufferers to figure out why they are generating so much heat and make some gentle lifestyles changes in order to cool down. That way, not all the pressure is put on me to fix the excess heat. Figure out what is causing the inflammation and do your best to deal with it.

A wealth of scientific evidence shows that I am an effective treatment and prophylactic (preventative) for migraine headaches. You may need to use me daily over a period of 4 to 6 months for my full impact. Some people just chew a couple of my leaves daily, while others use about 1 ml of a tincture made from my upper part (fresh is preferable). Some people are allergic to my fresh leaves and may experience skin irritation or mouth ulcers, but this is more of a contact allergy.

My healing properties are relaxant, anti-inflammatory, vasodilator, digestive bitter and emmenagogue. Click here to see how I work with inflammatory pathways in the body.

Historically, I was used for intestinal parasites, anaemia, insect bites, irregular menses, stomach aches, and as an abortifacient. So pregnant women should not use me.

In TCM I am primarily used to circulate uterine qi and harmonize menstruation. I also clear damp cold and relieve pain.

Today I am used for preventing and treating migraine, initial inflammatory stages of arthritis, rheumatic diseases, allergies, congestive dysmenorrhoea, vertigo, and tinnitus.

I have shown no severe side effects over a 6-year period of long time users.

I even have a book written just about me. Feverfew, Your Headache May be Over by Ken Hancock. In the book he has many testimonials of my effectiveness.

I am easy to grow so consider adding me to your garden. I must warn you that I do not like pots so please put me in the ground. I am a perennial and self sow, so I will be around for a long time once I am established in about two years. If you want to use me sooner then purchase me as a larger plant.

Herbal Mentor

If you want to learn Herbs, find a Mentor.

The one thing I wish I had done earlier in my career was to find a reliable, knowledgeable mentor at the very start of my herbal studies, almost 50 years ago. They could have saved me thousands of dollars and vast amounts of time. Don Ollsin

Learning herbs need not be hard, boring, lonely, scary, or complicated. Being mentored makes it exciting, gets you there faster and easier, keeps you focused on your goal and helps you achieve it. Find a mentor.

Traditionally, herbal knowledge has been transmitted orally from teacher to student. A seasoned mature mentor transmits much of his\her wisdom through direct contact. I offer personalized one-on-one sessions with each mentee, as well as group work.

Only when you seriously and consistently apply yourself to your herbal studies will you become a professional herbalist. A mentor can help keep you on task. You are not going to advance much in your herbal studies or practice without a mentor and positive group support.

A mentor will get to know you and your goals and offer clear guidance on how you can grow into the kind of herbalist you want to be.

Don Ollsin, Herbal Mentor

Don Ollsin, Herbal Mentor

We all go through tough personal issues from time to time. A mentor will be there to comfort you when needed or give you encouragement, motivation and challenge when that is what is needed.

A mentor will not only show you what to learn, they will also help you learn how to learn. We are not taught how to learn in school. I have found learning how to learn to be one of the most rewarding pursuits of my life and I love sharing it with my mentees. A mentor can make learning fun and rewarding. Learning herbs can be rewarding, profitable, healing and enriching.

A seasoned mentor knows the ins and outs of the professional and personal herbal terrains and can help you find opportunities and avoid pitfalls.

A mentor will guide you to the resources that you didn't or wouldn't even know existed like books, trustworthy websites and important teachers.

A mentor can save you a lot of time and money by keeping you focused on your goals while using your life as your training ground.

We need a whole new generation of herbalists because:

  • Herbs are very important, medicinally, culturally and socioeconomically.

  • Herbs heal gently and powerfully. 

  • Herbs are beautiful and inspiring.

  • Herbs are a necessary and important part of our healthcare.

  • Herbs are safe, available and can be cultivated or wild-crafted.

Herbs are medicine for the people. They cannot be patented and owned by corporations. Herbs are grassroots medicine and we need grassroots herbalists, professionally trained to do herbal wellness consultations and become recognized as members of the American Herbalists Guild, in order to continue this vital tradition.

Be a part of keeping herbalism alive.

Find out more about my Herbal Mentorship Collective and Grassroots Herbalism Foundational Course.


I am Vervain,

Vervain “Herb of Grace”

Vervain “Herb of Grace”

I belong to the family Verbenaceae. My genus is Verbena. I am the species V. officinalis.

Don loves to tell the story about a client who was excitedly waiting at his office door.

“Don, I have some incredible news to share with you. Yesterday I was standing in my garden when the most beautiful thing happened to me. All of a sudden, I caught up with myself. My future self and my present self merged. I have been chasing myself for over 20 years and I finally caught up. It was the most joyful feeling.”

Dr. Bach prescribed me to those people who are always one step ahead of themselves. Before they have finished what they are working on, or experiencing they are already thinking and fantasizing about the next thing. He even discovered a Vervain type of person who typified this energy. Dr. Bach made a flower essence out of me to aid these people in living more fully in the present. He found that by constantly living in the future they were missing out on the joys right in front of them. This caused problems in their work and relationships. For Don’s client, it was a profound experience catching up to himself.

Most herbalists classify me as a nervine, which means I impact the nervous system.

As a nervine herbalists use me for:

  • Nervous tension - I am a sedative as well as nerve restorative

  • Exhaustion, especially from excessive worry or mental overwhelm

  • Anxiety - Don tells me that anxiety is rampant today. He is sad that more people do not take advantage of healing herbs like me to help modulate their suffering. After 50 years of practice he affirms that herbs work.

  • Headaches connected to congested gall bladder or liver

  • PMS - try a cup of my nourishing tea or drops of my tincture in water

  • Insomnia, especially when connected to nervous exhaustion

Sometimes you need to use me for awhile before you begin receiving my full benefits. I am gentle but effective. Don likes to share this anecdote from another teacher of his, the late Dr. Jensen, nutritionalist:

“I had a client come to me last week and tell me that he had a salad last week and it didn’t do a thing for him.”

Since my taste is bitter it stands to reason that I would be good for the digestive system according to Ayurveda. And Western herbal medicine has found me helpful for indigestion, lack of hunger and liver congestion.

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine):

  • I release constraint and relieve pain which helps with nervous tension, stress, fatigue and insomnia

  • I promote urination, clearing toxicosis and edema

  • I can get your menses flowing

  • For nervous depression I work well with St Johnswort

  • For irritability you can use me with Skullcap - Don posted a blog about Skullcap

  • I stimulate your immunity

You can understand why the wise women of Europe consider me a magical herb.

Remember that one cup is probably not going to make much of a change, but one or two cups a day (or tincture 3xday) for 3 to 6 months probably will.