At a time when wellness trends can seem to fade in and out with the moon phases, offer sometimes ill-practiced advice, and come at a price tag that’s accessible to a mere handful, it’s best to return to our roots, figuratively and literally. Though it’s a practice passed down generations for centuries, an increased interest in herbalism is showing that sometimes the antidote lies in the natural world, and according to Karen Rose of Brooklyn’s Sacred Vibes Apothecary, it’s the thing that can make us truly well.
“So many people will say to me, ‘I had this aunt who everyone thought was strange because she had all these herbs in her house drying,’ and then I see their faces light up, realizing that, maybe she wasn’t that strange. Maybe this stuff really works,” says Rose, a master herbalist trained in both Eastern and Western practices. “For me, herbalism is medicine. It is in the language of wellness. Allopathic medicine doesn’t teach us about wellness—if you’re sick, you take this or that, but it doesn’t encourage us to stay well. Medicines like herbalism and acupuncture really talk about feelings in the body and how we can pay attention to them.”
What informs herbalism?
Sacred Vibes, which opened in 2002, is a place that welcomes newcomers to herbalism and experts alike. Rose offers an apprenticeship program in three different levels for those who wish to seriously invest in the practice, but she also hosts free workshops for members of the community—after all, herbalism is based in traditions that only benefit from a community-hosted environment.
“Our ancestors used herbalism and plant medicine. It depends on where you’re from, but most people find their grandmothers used chamomile, or ginger, or peppermint. If you’re from the Caribbean, it’s lemongrass,” she says. “Community members bring their knowledge and share it with us. The information they bring is so valuable.”
In the work of herbalism, social and racial justice are integral: This is a key driving force that informs Rose’s work and a perspective that helps her shape the community that Sacred Vibes has attracted.
“It’s important to realize whose land it is that we’re planting on—we recognize that this is native land and give reverence to that land when we do our work on it,” she says. “The community is really important, too, because we have a community garden here in Brooklyn and we really look forward to intergenerational conversations that happen there. So many people from our neighborhoods are immigrants, and they come with their own knowledge—maybe they’ve been using a plant differently and getting a wider scope of plant medicine. It’s really beautiful to have that kind of interaction with our herbalist and community members.”
How can you use it for wellness?
If you have used peppermint essential oil for headaches or car sickness, drank chamomile tea, or spritzed yourself with something lavender-scented, you’ve already dabbled in herbalism. Though it might be intimidating to see the scope of herbs available in any given apothecary or herbalist shop, plant medicine is one of the most accessible ways to turn into your body, both emotionally and physically.
“I think the misconception is that it’s really complicated and that it’s so far-fetched,” says Rose. “We come in contact with plants every day. I think it’s something people think of as exotic, not realizing that like we cook with spices every day—black pepper, cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon. All these things are medicinal, so I think the realization is herbalism is a lot closer than we may think.”
To get truly acquainted, Rose recommends taking a free herbalism workshop (like those at Sacred Vibes), but the reality is that this time-honored practice can be done by anyone, anywhere, and with plenty of resources online and in books, you can figure out what plant medicines are the most relevant for your life.
“If you have a garden, if you have a backyard, if you have a farmers market—you can pick up plenty of different herbs,” she says. “We love to teach folks how to prepare stuff themselves. For us, herbalism really is people’s medicine. The apothecary sells items that we make, but we ultimately believe that so much of this medicine you can make at home for yourself.”
Ready to introduce herbalism to your wellness practice? Start out with some of these products or get busy in your own garden to find the right solutions for you.
Hand-crafted tea can lift your mood, especially with the help of lemon balm, which eases anxiety and indigestion.
One of Sacred Vibes’s store-made products, this echinacea tincture helps support the immune system to ward off colds.
This grounding essence was concocted to combat the stresses imparted by technology. If you find yourself rarely off your phone, this one is for you.
A good soak is a true-and-true cure for colds and bad moods alike. This bath tea, which contains rose petals and calendula, has an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin in addition to lifting your mood.
This facial steam has both topical and mental benefits. Jasmine decreases stress, and steam unclogs pores.