Herbalism, Medicinal Plants and Foraging in Marin — Here’s What You Need to Know

Gathering Thyme is a women-owned herb store and health care clinic in San Rafael. The founders, Cheryl Fromholz, a Western clinical herbalist, and Judy Lieblein, shamanic practitioner and reiki master, promote health and well-being though herbs and food as medicine. They offer herbal courses, workshops, events and a marketplace where you can purchase herbs, spices, salves, supplements, mushrooms, teas, essential oils and more. Fromholz offers some insight into herbalism, foraging in Marin and plant-based wellness.

 

How is Western herbalism different than other types?

There are many forms of herbalism, each being a unique and ancient practice specific to a region of the world. Ayurveda evolved as the predominant form of herbal healing in India, whereas Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient system of health and wellness that began in China. Unani Tibb is practiced almost exclusively by the Muslim community in the Middle East and it is thought that this practice has its roots in ancient Greek medicine and the teachings of Hippocrates. There are also many, many other community or culture-specific practices enjoyed by people worldwide, including curanderismo of Latin America and Traditional Native American Herbalism. In the U.S., Western herbal traditions come from both Native American herbalism and from the European colonizers whose medicine was based on the ancient Greeks.

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Gathering Thyme founders Cheryl Fromholtz and Judy Lieblein (photo by Stephanie Mohan)

Why is being an herbalist in Marin so special?

We have an incredible abundance of native medicinal plants that grow in Marin County and it is one of the reasons I was drawn to live here. We also have some special ecosystems, including the coastal redwood forests and beautiful oak woodlands. I think this is what draws many people to live here and why so many people promote and practice living healthier lives, and this includes using herbs as medicine.

What are the most beneficial and commonly used medicinal plants in Marin?

We have so many wonderful native plants and wild weeds that find their home in Marin. If I had to focus on native plants, I’d say yerba santa, red root (also known as ceanothus), yarrow, grindelia, elder and the turkey tail mushroom. For the wild weeds, undoubtedly nettle would top the list along with dandelion, plantain, fennel and yellow dock. The use of each plant would take up paragraphs on their own, each having a multitude of applications. You can see I listed just as many wild weeds as native plants — we can’t discount our weed-based wild medicines.

If someone wanted to dabble in herbalism before signing up for a workshop or course, what would you recommend?

Reading anything by Rosemary Gladstar. Before I started paying for courses and going to herb school, I read every book on herbs I could get my hands on, but it was Rosemary Gladstar’s books that really stood out for me. Medicinal Herbs, A Beginner’s Guide or Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health are two really good herbal primers. Both are very easy to read, with recipes you can make on your own. I also recommend learningherbs.com, an online site with lots of free information. In my experience, however, nothing beats going to herb school, where you develop deep bonds not just with the plants but with fellow students.

 

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