Frequently Asked Questions - Clinical Herbalism

‘Green Haven’ is the name of the 1-acre ‘estate’ that my husband and I live on, the Green Haven logo being a Green Haven Livingrather accurate characterization of our little Cape Cod home.  When I was brainstorming names for my business, I toyed with several variations:  ‘Green Haven Herbals’, ‘Green Haven Wellness’, ‘Green Haven etc…’. I settled on the admittedly non-specific ‘Green Haven Living’ because I wanted to suggest a certain philosophy of moving through life, of ‘living’, if you will.  At the time I don’t think I fully understood, myself, what the ‘Living’ part meant, but after having practiced clinical herbalism for several years and teaching food gardening practices for far longer, it finally hit me:

Green Haven Living represents observing the world around us to appreciate that which may otherwise seem ‘ordinary’. It’s finding the joy in the everyday. It’s also empowering ourselves for self-care and sustainability – through growing our own food or nurturing ourselves toward health with herbs. It’s taking full advantage of the life that ‘is’, not lamenting what we believe life ‘should be’.

Read more about my personal journey on my About page.

As it turns out, this is a complex question.  In the United States, there is no formal definition of what it is to be an herbalist, as it is not currently a licensed practice like doctors, nutritionists, or acupuncturists.  This is good and bad.  It is good for the practitioner in that the rich heritage of myriad traditions of natural medicine may be practiced by those carefully trained and well-versed in such traditions. It is challenging for the consumer in that anyone can call himself an ‘herbalist’ with virtually no training at all. For me, I confidently call myself a clinical herbalist because I have earned the Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism, completed an intensive, clinical rotation to put my newfound herbal knowledge to practical use, and have been certified via intensive application procedure by the American Herbalists' Guild. My advice in finding an herbalist is to understand her experience and/or credentials and decide for yourself whether this is someone with whom you would be comfortable working.

Registered Herbalist BadgeIn relation to the above question, a Registered Herbalist (RH) is one who has, as defined by the American Herbalists’ Guild (the premier professional organization for clinical herbalists in the United States), meets a stringent set of criteria that embodies and attempts to standardize qualities a professional herbalist should be expected to have. There is resistance by the herbal community of government oversight and regulation, and the RH designation is the self-governing standard that the AHG has laid out as an alternative to licensing.

Criteria for RH include: Demonstrated training and clinical experience, knowledge of a broad range of herbs and how to safely use them therapeutically, basic understanding of plant science and human physiology, practicing with ethics and understanding of scope of practice, and commitment to continuing education in herbal medicine. In short, you can be sure that an herbalist with the RH(AHG) designation has met these qualifications of excellence in the practice of clinical herbal medicine

I am trained to assess your overall health and well-being.  Using these insights I formulate a treatment strategy that you agree on that uses herbs, diet, and lifestyle to address any imbalances from a holistic perspective. For example, if you are having trouble sleeping, we will work to uncover reasons why this is (stress, inadequate digestion, pain) and I will select appropriate herbs to address the underlying issue rather than simply providing a sedative.

Additionally, I am your guide, coach, and partner committed to helping you achieve your wellness goals. Like a personal trainer or workout buddy, I can help keep you on track and provide support when you need a boost.

Contact me today to get started!

Dried calendula flowersThe current practice of clinical herbalism in the United States focuses on supporting wellness as opposed to fighting disease. The strength of botanicals lies in their capacity to support the body as it finds a healing path. In other words, herbs assist the body by “nudging” it back into balance. While they may sometimes take longer than pharmaceutical drugs to achieve maximum efficacy, the longer-term benefits are often more lasting because herbs act by helping the body help itself to heal.  That is, herbs can assist in restoring innate physiological function such that the body can eventually ‘do it on its own’. Additionally, herbs are generally very safe* and have low-to-no side effects.

*when used appropriately.

The initial herbal consultation actually starts before we meet for the first time.  Upon confirming your appointment, I will send you a comprehensive intake form, which will take between 30-40 minutes to complete.  Returning the completed form to me prior to the appointment will allow me to adequately prepare for our meeting.  Once in the clinic, we will talk for 45-60 minutes.  I will ask about a number of aspects of your life and your health, driven by your primary reason for coming to see me as well as the responses on your intake form.  My goal is to get a complete picture of how you are doing overall, and where you need some support.

After the initial discussion, I will formulate a treatment strategy, either before the end of the consultation or within 24 hours.  This will include custom herbal blends in your preferred format (tea, powder, tincture).  I will also offer some suggestions for supporting diet and lifestyle modifications (for example, add ‘one more’ vegetable to your daily routine, meditate for 5 minutes before bed).  Together we will select the suggestions that you are most comfortable with, and that you believe will be most helpful (and achievable).  It’s important to me that the proposed strategy is a joint venture; I very much want you to be in charge of your health.  The first appointment typically takes about 90 minutes.  Follow-ups generally take about 60 minutes.  You may purchase your custom-blended herbs in the compounding facility at Maryland University of Integrative Health, or have them mailed to you.

Visit my Herbal Consultations page for greater detail on the experience.

Because herbs tend to operate on a subtler level over a longer period of time, clinical herbalism is particularly Donna reading herb guidesuited for managing chronic or recurring conditions.  Common issues I work with include:  stress, anxiety and depression, allergies or respiratory distress, difficulty sleeping/low energy, weakened immunity, digestive issues, cardiovascular challenges, hormonal imbalances, emotional imbalances, inflammation and pain, autoimmune complications, toxicity, infection, organ damage or malfunction, even alleviating side-effects from cancer or other heroic treatments.

Not to say that herbs cannot help with acute conditions as well – sometimes acute (i.e., higher) doses of herbs can solve the problem.  Please always work with a professional before treating acute conditions, and know when to seek help from a medical doctor.  A trusted clinical herbalist will know when the condition is outside her scope of practice.

You may certainly do some online research on specific herbs for your condition and self-treat.  But like many other professional services, working directly with a clinical herbalist will increase your chances of success.  A trained herbalist will be able to make a whole body (and mind) assessment and recommend an herbal combination designed to work synergistically just for your specific situation.  Additionally, the strength in clinical herbalism lies in the holistic treatment strategy, not simply in ‘prescribing this herb for that condition’.  The herbs are only a part of an in depth strategy which also includes deep and empathetic listening, coaching, partnership, diet modifications, and lifestyle adjustments.  A very well-respected herbalist says (paraphrase), ‘if you try to practice herbalism in the context of the modern medical model (one herb for one condition), you will not likely be successful.’

On a more practical note, because the supplement industry is not tightly regulated (as is the pharmaceutical industry), there are many, many substandard and even unsafe products out there.  A trained clinical herbalist will ensure that the herbs you use are of the highest quality and thereby the most efficacious.

Donna pulling herb jarBecause I practice at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, which houses a state of the art herbal compounding facility, you may have your herbs custom-blended there.  For convenience, if the herb room isn’t open you may prepay for your herbs and then pick them up any time the building is open.  You may also have herbs mailed to you for the cost of shipping.

Sometimes I do recommend high-quality supplements, some of which you may get at local health-food stores or an online supplement pharmacy that I use.

The answer to this question is dependent on the particular condition treated and the individual’s constitution.  Some herbal formulas will start to create a noticeable difference within a few days or even after a single dose.  Others will take several weeks up to a couple of months to achieve their therapeutic goals.

This, too, is dependent on the condition and the individual.  For acute conditions the herbs may only be needed for a week or two.  For more long-standing, chronic conditions, long term use of the herbs is appropriate.  A common goal of herbalism is to bring the body back into balance such that the particular herb is no longer needed.  Therefore, after several months of treatment an assessment will be made to determine whether an herbal formula should be continued or not.

It is often said that switching up types of exercise is a good thing to do so that your body doesn’t ‘get used to’ the exercises, thereby reducing their efficacy over time.  The same can be said for herbs used over long periods of time.  Like changing an exercise routine, sometimes after several months an herbal formula will be slightly perturbed to prevent the body from ‘getting too used’ to its effects.

Donna with clientHere again, the answer depends on the condition treated and individual needs.  Typically a new client will return for a follow-up between 2 and 4 weeks after the initial consultation to check on how the treatment strategy is working.  Any tweaks or course changes can be made at this time.  After that, depending on whether the goals are short-term or long-term, a client may come back after a couple more weeks, or a couple of months if the herbs and diet/lifestyle strategies are going well.  Sometimes, a client decides to keep a regular schedule with me so as to get the continued coaching and accountability of meeting regularly.  This is entirely up to the individual.

Note that the self-care nature of herbalism empowers you to care for yourself and better understand and care for your body. Once your herbal formula and self-care is established, in general the number of office visits will become less frequent.

During my training to become a clinical herbalist, I have spent much time pondering my own answer to this question.  In the United States, clinical herbalism is still very much in its infancy, and the subject of much distrust from what I will call the modern medical community.  This is, in part, because of what I discussed in ‘what is a clinical herbalist’ – that the profession isn’t standardized or legally regulated.

After much soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that the herbalist is not to compete with medical doctors and other healthcare professionals, but to assist them.  Many common complaints that people have can be addressed with diet and lifestyle modifications and some gentle herbs to nudge them in the right direction.  A clinical herbalist is gifted with ample time to work with clients to empower them to take charge of their own health, often with lasting, positive results.  Doctors are highly trained to diagnose and treat a number of very serious conditions – some of which are life-and-death situations.  Unfortunately, they are also under tremendous pressure of seeing too many patients in too little time. A recent Washington Post Opinion Article describes this unfortunate phenomenon.

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Clinical herbalist Donna Koczaja making funny face