Whitney Staeb is an Oakland based herbalist and doula. We chat with her about her experience combining these two prac...

Posted on January 19, 2018

Whitney Staeb is an Oakland based herbalist and doula. We chat with her about her experience combining these two practices, how she began her journey and we get some much needed info on the often hard to navigate world of *herbal matchmaking*.

Whitney wears the Santi Jumpsuit in Beret

First things first, what does an herbalist do?

 WS: The role of an herbalist can take on many forms and varies between each individual, the common thread being the use of plants as medicine. My personal experience of herbalism is being in community with the plant world in a way that promotes the health and balance of humans and the planet. I view herbalists as herbal matchmakers, connecting people with the plants best suited to aid them based on who they are as individuals.

How did you become interested in herbalism?

WS: I first became interested in herbalism 7 years ago while living in Santa Cruz. Here, I was able to immerse myself in the lush redwoods and forested meadows where I became fascinated not only by the plants and trees of these wild places but also by those rising in resistance to the concrete, forming cracks in sidewalks and roads. I took my first herb class from a local herbalist who showed me the simplicity of making medicine from the plants that exist in abundance around us. A new world opened up to me in which the plants that I once saw as weeds were suddenly transformed into powerful medicine that is available to everyone.

Whitney wears the Santi Jumpsuit in Beret

What sort of training did you receive?

WS: For a while, I was studying on my own, reading books and experimenting with making my own teas and tinctures. This was a great start but I knew I wanted more comprehensive herbal training so I decided to attend a 3-year clinical herbal medicine program at The Ohlone Herbal Center in Berkeley, California. I am continuously learning from my mentors and regularly take classes to deepen my knowledge of herbal medicine. As an herbalist, one never stops learning! 

You're also a practicing doula. What do you enjoy about being a doula and do you find a connection between both aspects of your work? How so?

WS: Absolutely. Becoming a doula was a natural and instinctive line of work for me as I enjoy being present with people and supporting them through important, transformative, and often challenging times in their lives. It's inspiring and encouraging to witness people go through the profound journey that is birth, not only birthing babies but also birthing new understandings of themselves. As both a doula and an herbalist I strive to provide support during the transformative times that challenge us to find healing and gain a better sense of ourselves. As I am focusing my clinical practice on reproductive health, my work as a birth and postpartum doula is constantly guiding my work as an herbalist.

What are some common misconceptions people have about herbalism?

WS: I think many people have been turned off to herbal medicine because of the vast amount of misinformation that exists. In an age of abundant accessibility and overload, it is often hard to discern what is true, what is safe, and what is not. Herbal medicine has been and should continue to be medicine of the people. It's a practice we can all incorporate into our daily lives in simple, safe, and affordable ways, once we know how to. It can be as easy as opening up our spice cabinets and finding that many of those culinary plants also contain medicinal properties. Another misconception people have is that herbal medicine functions in the same way pharmaceuticals do. We live in a society conditioned to expect medicine to quickly fix our problems by simply covering up the symptoms. Herbal medicine takes time. It works deeply at the root of imbalances aiming to prevent ailments and restore equilibrium.

What advice do you have for people who just starting to get into herbalism?

WS: It takes time and practice to learn how to safely and respectfully use herbs as medicine. Be patient with yourself and have fun along the way. Medicinal plants can be gentle yet powerful and require thoughtful ingestion and preparation. Reach out to an herbalist in your area and don't be afraid to ask questions! Spend time outside exploring and forming relationships with the plants that exist in your area. An herb walk led by a local herbalist paired with a bio-regional field guide is a great way to expand both knowledge and community. I would also suggest that those interested in herbalism research what plants their ancestors may have used for medicine as this is a great way to learn not only about the plants but also about ourselves and our origins. Find a local herbalist or herb store in your community and take some of the classes available to you! 

Favorite authors and herbalists?

  • Rosemary Gladstar
  • Sage LaPena
  • Judith Berger
  • Michael Moore

photography by Summer Staeb (@summerstaeb)