My Journey to Herbal Healing
As a little girl, I would spend hours picking flowers to make "medicine", near my beloved creek. I didn't know the medicinal benefits of the dandelions, clover, and other weedy wonders I was foraging. Though my journey started then, it would be years until I realized herbalism as my calling.
Always happiest in the outdoors, I studied the natural sciences at the University of Michigan, getting my bachelor's and masters degrees. I spent years learning about the intricacies of nature, acquiring knowledge that would strengthen my belief in the interconnectedness of all things. Though I loved every moment of it, I still felt that the human piece was missing (we are after all, a part of this beautiful earth!) I started working in sustainable agriculture, which I felt was an essential way to strengthen our relationship with the land. I worked in sustainable food systems in West Africa and North Carolina.
As with most good things in life, it took a destructive force to knock me off of my path. I was working toward my Ph.D. at UNC and I was deeply unhappy. I felt that the research I was conducting was too far removed. Caught in the ivory tower, I wondered if my work would ever make it back to the communities I studied. I wanted to help people, but I didn't know how. And my creative, spiritual self felt oppressed by structures of hierarchy that left me powerless.
When I left the program, it was sudden, painful, and I had no back-up plan. In a society where identity is so entrenched with material success, I felt had majorly failed for the first time. Unsure of what to do, I took time off to reconnect to the land. I studied community herbalism at the Blue Ridge School in Asheville, learned from local foragers, and built my first herb garden at my home in Durham.
Many herbalists speak of coming to healing through their own personal health crisis, and it was no different for me. Unable to acknowledge the grief and pain from this major blow, I started suffering the worst insomnia I'd ever faced. Jobless, lost, exhausted beyond belief yet unable to rest, I was in the darkest transitory period of my life. I struggled with my identity during this career transition, worrying, 'If I wasn't a scientist, what was I?'
Herbalism was my life raft in this dark period. After going to many doctors, I started to realize that no single approach could heal me-- my illness was one of mind and body. I couldn't heal my physical illness without addressing the heartbreak driving it. And I couldn't heal emotionally without nourishing and grounding into my body. I started taking walks daily in parks nearby, adapting a daily mindfulness practice of focusing on my surroundings and my breathing. After a respite of fishing with my brother, hiking in forests, plenty of nervine herbs, and a daily mindfulness practice, I started to regain my natural sleep cycle, and recover the energy I'd lost! Recovering from my own pain, I'd found a new purpose- helping others on their healing journey!
I am sharing this story for several reasons. First, I want to explain that I know what it's like to have a health crisis, and feel scared. You are not alone on this journey. Second, I have witnessed how powerful the mind-body connection is to healing, which is why I take a holistic approach in my practice. Third, is that the story explains my name-Sequoia Herbals!
Behind the name Sequoia Herbals
The Sequoia tree has wisdom to share, wisdom that I relate to. Though leaving my old career behind and starting over was one of the most challenging periods of my life, it was also the most transformative. The destructive forces that caused me to "burn my old life to the ground", so to speak, and begin anew--while terrifying- were liberating! I would not have found my new path if I couldn't leave the safety and comfort of the old one behind. I needed a push, a spark, something to ignite this major life change!
This is where the Sequoia comes in. This incredible, age-old tree has a special way of reproducing; it requires a destructive force to release it's seeds-- fire! The serotinous cones can stay green on the trees for years, even decades, until heated by fire, before releasing their seeds. After falling to the earth, these seeds lie dormant until activated to grow by the heat of fire. The fire creates optimal growing conditions for these seedlings, clearing leaf litter, letting in new light, and providing rich minerals. Though it can take years for these seeds to manifest their potential, once they are released they grow into the tallest, oldest living trees on earth! They are not only magnificent in their size and beauty, but the adult trees have thick, fire-proof bark, protected from future fires! The Sequoia is truly a mastery of resilience.
We can learn a lot from the wisdom of Sequoia. We can learn how the seemingly destructive forces in our life, whether these include illness, loss or pain, can unleash new opportunities for growth. By clearing the debris that block our path, these forces can let in light, open new space, and activate potential inside us, that before lay dormant-- enabling us to grow into who are meant to be-- stronger, more resilient, fire-proof versions of ourselves!
Sequoyah of Cherokee Nation
The Sequoia tree is named after an important historical figure in the Cherokee nation. Sequoyah created the first written language of the Cherokee in 1821, creating a symbol for each syllable in their spoken language. This language was widely adopted across the Cherokee nation, enabling the transcription of laws, printing of news, and the sharing of ideas. This incredible accomplishment, the development of an entirely new language by pre-literate man, inspired other indigenous cultures in Alaska and Liberia to create written languages for their peoples. Sequoyah went on to empower and support other Native American tribes in developing their own written languages. He also worked ardently to reunite Cherokee groups when the nation became divided. A botanist named Stephen Endlicher, named the tree after Sequoyah, whom he greatly admired.
We can learn how the seemingly destructive forces in our life can unleash new opportunities for growth.
Photo credit: lithograph from History of the Indian Tribes of North America