Today’s featured herbalist is Rebecca Altman of King’s Road Apothecary. Rebecca resides in of Los Angeles, CA, where she enjoys spending her time wandering the medicine filled drylands of the desert.
We have been long time fans of Rebecca’s blog: www.cauldronsandcrockpots.com where she discusses food, the beauty of Southern California, and using herbs for medicinal purposes and feel blessed to have her in our community of Poppy Swap herbalists! Here’s the inside scoop on what makes her tick and what makes her products so special.
What was your first inspiration to become an herbalist? How have you learned about herbal medicine?
As with a lot of people, I started learning about herbs after I got really sick. After 4 years on a cocktail of medications, I wasn’t getting any better, so I decided to figure it out myself. During this time I was lucky enough to meet a man, a herbalist, who took me under his wing. He taught me how to read tongues and pulses, and taught me how to read people. I was living out in the desert at the time, and would spend my mornings hiking before going in to work. I’d be surrounded by plants in the morning, and learning to diagnose and treat people all afternoon. It was an incredibly healing and productive time in my life. Even after that, I didn’t actually think of myself as wanting to devote my life to plant matter. I wanted to be an artist. I was so focused on becoming an artist that even though I’d spend all my spare time reading about herbs and learning about the human body, and gathering plants and testing them on anybody I could, I didn’t see it until years later! Of course, by that time I had been studying and sort-of-practicing for years… I decided, instead of pursuing an MA in art, to go to Chinese Medical school. I actually completed 3 years of a 4 year program but couldn’t get into it. I love Western herbs. I love wandering the mountains and gathering plants and being able to see where things grow and use them for people who grow here too. At the same time, I met Kiva Rose and embarked upon a mentorship with her. Pretty quickly I started to realise that, although a license and degree would be a nice safety net, they weren’t necessary for me to practice as a herbalist, so I dropped out. There’s something that fits me to my core about the freedom and rebellion of going it alone, with a few good friends by my side.
I learn from everything I can; books and conversations with other herbalists, from personal experience and experimentations, and of course, from the herbs themselves! They’re very chattery when you listen.
How are herbs in your life today?
Oh lord, they’re in everything I do. If it were less integrated into my life I’d call it an obsession, but I think it’s just who I am as well as what I do.
I wake up and go for a walk to pick up my favourite herbal preparation (coffee!), sometimes with cinnamon and cardamom to balance it out a bit. Upon returning, I often go and sit down in one of my weed patches (this morning I was hanging out with the angelica) while I decide on my plan of attack for the day. I drink teas and infusions throughout the day when something strikes my fancy or when I’m feeling the need for balance in one way or another. I throw herbs into the foods I prepare, sometimes for flavour and sometimes for their properties, depending. I really love making desserts with culinary and medicinal herbs. I burn incense to set a ritual space when I prepare client formulas, or make my potions to sell at the Farmer’s Market and on Poppy Swap. I try to live every moment of my life as an expression of creativity, and as a means to affect the world around me, and herbs (along with words and art) are my favourite way to do that. From taking a cup of tea to someone who is obviously flustered, or bringing a few sprigs of lavender to a friend, or making outright medicinal preparations, I love using plant matter to make a small impact on the world.
Tell us the inspiration behind your herbal products on Poppy Swap?
The formulas I sell in my Poppy Swap shop are formulas that I started out just making for people, and kept getting requests for. I started making them more and more, in bigger batches, until the shop was born. I like things that taste at least palatable, but I prefer delicious. I like taking herbs to be a sensual experience- one that affects you not just through the medicinal properties, but also through taste, the visuals and packaging, the energy of the product itself, and the smell. The packaging I use, the labels, the aesthetic, all of it is inspired by my approach to herbalism- I’m fascinated by old apothecaries, but love modern life. I live in the middle of a city, love spending time in nature, and focus on remaining connected to nature and life’s cycles even though I don’t live in the woods. I think this is important- it’s progress and evolution. Re-learning, or re-wilding (as the folks at Anima would say), but not necessarily regressing. I might wander around barefoot a lot of the time, and might look very strange to SOME city folk, but there are so many people who want to be closer to nature and don’t know how- I try to show through everything I do that you don’t need to leave to do that.
What herb or herbs have rocked your world?
I go through phases of immersion, last month is was elderflowers. Right now, I’m going through a really big angelica phase. The plant in my garden is getting so big and beautiful; I’ll sit out there drinking my coffee with it at least 3 days a week. Its starting to invade my dreams. Pretty soon I’ll be cooking with the leaves and blogging about all the different flavours.
My all time favourites are rowan trees, hawthorn, rose, white sage, yarrow, creosote, yerba santa, pine (p. jeffreyi and p. quadrifolia) and desert lavender. The desert plants (creosote, white sage, yerba santa, desert lavender) are really where I started to get my footing with learning about herbs from the herbs themselves, and because of that I have developed quite a strong relationship with them. There’s a stand of desert lavender that I always go and visit when I’m out that way, and to this day, I still get visions and flashes of different uses for it when I’m lying on the sand there. Rose because it’s probably the plant I use the most in Los Angeles- such an angry, tense, overheated city. If I get my way, every single person here will be carrying around a bottle of Wild Rose Elixir by the time I’m done with them! Maybe then the plant’s energy will affect the city as a whole, and make it a nicer place to live . Yarrow, rowan, hawthorn, because they were there for me so much when I was growing up in Scotland. Pines are just incredible- my favourite pine tree is a 2 1/2 hour drive and a 2 hour hike from my house. I don’t care. I’ll go out there and fall asleep against its trunk and for weeks afterwards I can feel its strengthening presence all around me.
What is one secret about you that will inspire our readers?
For the last 5 years have been undergoing a pretty rigorous shamanic training. It’s not something I talk about often- I don’t really see the need as it gets so woo-woo sounding. Despite going through some really insane experiences and seeing things that aren’t ‘there’, I’m not really into woo-woo much. I’m into results. I would say it’s the secret though because while it doesn’t define me as a person, it really influences and helps my herbal practice. I learn about the herbs from the herbs themselves in an incredibly direct way- from them I learn about their energetics, their historical uses as well as unconventional uses. I also like to manipulate the energy of the plants I’m using to fit a person better, or sometimes turn them into power objects, if that’s what’s needed. It’s really fun to see peoples’ reactions when they take something that’s made to fit them perfectly or to have a very specific effect. Through learning to see energy directly and manipulate and work with energies around me, it greatly broadens and makes what is already a life-long exciting study even more exciting!
To anyone new to herbs whether aspiring to work with herbs personally or become an herbalist, what is one thing you’d like to share with them?
Know yourself, then trust that self that you know: Put yourself through rigorous examination so that you truly understand what is real insight and what is fluff, and then don’t ever be afraid to trust yourself after that, even if someone you respect disagrees.
King’s Road Apothecary is will be running a 10% off sale throughout the week of 7/2/12 – 7/9/12! Enter the word ‘whitesage‘ as the coupon code to recieve your discount!
Visit Rebecca’s storefront on PoppySwap to shop herbal crafts!