I Survived My First Herbal Medicine Session, Part I
Karen Culpepper now knows an awful lot about my life. And if “an awful lot” lead you to guess, “how often I poop,” you’re right! (Side note: I never could have imagined referencing poop, specifically mine, in a public blog, but you know what? Karen talks about this every day, so we’re going with it.)
Like many people, having an herbal medicine consultation is not something I ever thought I’d do. It’s not that I’m opposed to herbal medicine; it’s more like it has never occurred to me that I ought to visit an herbalist. Because of the predominance of institutionalized healthcare in an industrialized, Western society, traditional medicine didn’t ever come up on my radar. If I’m sick, that’s what the 24-hour CVS pharmacy is for. If I’m feeling down, hello therapy. I enjoy tea and flowers and oregano (that’s an herb, right?) like any self-respecting millennial, but I don’t spend much time thinking about whether certain herbs would benefit me more than others.
But Karen Culpepper spends a ton of time thinking about this – if you ask her, she’ll tell you she’s spent most her life thinking about herbs and how they can help soothe, cleanse, and heal. And while Karen generally works with folks who are facing serious challenges (eczema, fibromyalgia, allergies, irregular or painful menstrual cycles, etc.), I met with her for a less localized issue: how to chill out. I wanted to put things into my body that would help take my nervous system down a notch, manage my anxiety, and continue to cultivate my inner trust and self-knowing.
What I found out is that Karen’s sessions are like the anti-doctor’s appointment: she believes you are the expert on your own body AND you get to keep your clothes on. She started our session by asking, “what are you proud of right now?” because she tells me she likes to remind clients to celebrate the successes that can get lost in all the muck we’re often carrying with us when we seek out herbal support. I tell her a few things I’ve achieved recently and start feeling more awesome already.
She then guides me through a brief dip into my upbringing and family health history, what foods I generally eat, what flavors I enjoy, what medicines I’m currently taking, even what my support system looks like (friends, family, spirituality, etc.). When she asks me what she’d experience if she were “a butterfly" on my shoulder for a day, she means everything. When do I wake up? When do I pee? What do I have for breakfast? How do I get to work? When do I take a tea break? Do I eat lunch in front of my computer? When do I poop and what exactly does my poop look like? Everything.
Above all, Karen is most interested in my understanding of my own body. For most of us, this is a radical approach to wellness. Her questions all have a shared goal: helping me to identify what health looks like to me, in my own words. Once I started answering her thoughtful questions, I realized there were other things that I’d become resigned to, such as sensitivities to various foods and seasonal allergies. Karen asked me if I was interested in a tincture that would help ease the stomach cramping I experience from certain foods - hell yeah, I am!
At the close of our session, she asked me to stick out my tongue while she drew a picture of it. Karen said would refer to the extensive notes she took during my session as well as the research she’d conduct after I left to come up with her recommendation for my formula. She asked me whether I preferred teas, tinctures, or salves, and she asked how much per month I felt comfortable spending. After all the personal focus, it was no surprise that she tailors the formulas to honor that price point.
I left feeling heard and cared for, and also reflective. Over the past century, we have effectively distanced ourselves from herbal medicine, and some of us are trying to be reintroduced. It’s funny how sometimes the oldest knowledge can feel entirely new.
Stay tuned for part two, where I share what happens when I try to follow my herbal regimen for three weeks (spoiler: I survived that too!).