Better Know a Freedster: Karen Culpepper
Karen Culpepper is a massage therapist with a lifetime of herbal wisdom. We asked her to share her thoughts on all things herbal medicine, from inspirations to pet peeves, plus a few fun facts that might surprise you:
I moved to the area in 1980. I grew up in Fort Washington, Maryland. My father retired from the Air Force and started working literally down the street on the Hill, and our whole family set down roots here.
How did you get into herbal medicine?
It’s a way of being for me. My grandmother was one of our primary caregivers growing up, and so we always had a huge garden with fresh vegetables and fresh herbs. She taught me a lot about seasonal living. In the fall, it’s time to start canning to survive the winter. In the winter, we’d eat nasty bitter melon to keep up our digestion. I was 18 when I had my daughter, and the trips to the pediatrician when she had a cold were always about antibiotics. Something about that just didn’t resonate with me intuitively. So I’d take her to the doctor and get a diagnosis, and then I’d go to Smile Herb Shop in College Park. I was a student at the University of Maryland, so I found that shop and started seeing an herbalist there. My daughter was my first client!
What do you look for in an herbalist?
They must be able to hold sacred space. The need to be engaging, a listener, and not judgmental, because what can come up are very private and even traumatic things or events. I always say the symptom gets the client into the door and then that’s when you peel back layer by layer. I remember when I was in a naturopathic medicine program, the instructor said, “Try to find out what’s happening in their bathroom or their bedroom, not the guest bathroom and the hallway.” You want to make them so comfortable that they let you in.
What do you wish clients knew about your sessions?
It is an opportunity to design your own health goals. We don’t really have a say when we go to see our physicians. They have their own agenda - if it’s high blood pressure, their goal is to lower your blood pressure. Herbal medicine is an important opportunity to support all of your bodies – your mental body, your physical body, your emotional body, and your spiritual body – on all different levels.
What’s the hardest part about being an herbalist?
It can be challenging from a business perspective because you’re really putting yourself out of business. I don’t want to see the same people forever! I want you to feel better in your body. I want people to come in, leave with some sort of awareness, make whatever modifications they need to, and then thrive.
What’s the most inspiring part about being an herbalist?
I learn something new every day. The same condition can show up in two totally different people and I’ve taken totally different approaches: totally different formulas, lifestyle recommendations, and dietary recommendations. And I also love the plant spirit aspect of herbal medicine. I love doing the research.
What’s your biggest herbal medicine etiquette pet peeve?
When people say “herbs don’t work.” That’s a very interesting conversation because there are a lot of questions that come to mind. What herbs were you using? Where were they from? What was the dosage? Is what they say on the label what is in the capsule? Did the energetics match? For example, if you have a cold condition and you add more cold herbs on top of that, you may not feel better.
What’s your favorite herb?
My favorite herb hands down, and this is the Chinese in me, is garlic. It’s anti-everything. Anti-microbial. Anti-fungal. If I feel clients try to latch on or attach, I will eat garlic.
What’s your preferred superpower?
I would be a shape shifter.
What was your first concert?
Let me tell you one I remember. It was in the 80s. Al B. Sure and Bobby Brown and New Edition.
I take this from Kanye: “My life is dope and I do dope shit.”
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m really looking forward to connecting and building. This is a huge opportunity to really develop community herbalism. In the face of all these tragic things, how are we going to tend to ourselves?