As a nurse and herbalist/aromatherapist, I’ve given considerable time and thought to the direction of this blog. Coming through a season of grief and healing I was unsure how I wanted to proceed. Thoughts running through my head were a) should I focus on writing about herbal and aromatic health support and focus on anyone who wants to learn or should I b) focus on nurses as a way to bring attention to a plant supportive heritage and then provide encouragement/support as those nurses reach out to their communities and peers with this exciting rebirth of the holistic healer?
I chose to focus on empowering nurses to reclaim their heritage as holistic healers. (although anyone interested in herbal/oil education will benefit from reading) We as nurses really do have a heritage of plant relationship in regard to healing. We use this relationship everyday, even though we may not make that connection. Have you ever told a patient with nausea to sip on ginger ale, or try a piece of ginger or peppermint candy? What about encouraging a patient to drink a little chamomile tea as a support for sleep difficulties?
Choosing the word “roots” happened after sharing a concept of “Reclaiming Our Heritage as Holistic Health Healers”, and someone didn’t understand what I meant by “heritage”. It dawned on me in today’s focus on western medicine pharmaceutical based paradigm; most nurses probably don’t know we have a heritage in herbalism. I need to read through a Nursing 101 textbook to see if anything about herbalism is even mentioned as our nurses are trained. I certainly don’t remember anything about it and I’ve been a nurse almost 30 years.
Connecting With Mentors
I’ve been interested in herbal medicine since my early 20’s. The library in my home is overrun with herbal and aromatic resource books collected for 40 years. For so many years I didn’t understand the words nurse and natural health could be used together. An inner desire to practice herbal and aromatic support in the community felt at a conflict with my nursing career. My longing created a deep chasm and internal conflict as I didn’t see how nursing and a concentration on herbal education could work harmoniously. I wanted a thriving natural health business so I could leave nursing.
Then I met Dr. Martha Libster. Or at least I heard her speak. My inner light began to flicker. I heard her speak to a group of nurses in Greenville, NC. She was a speaker in a room I had just given a talk on aromatherapy to the holistic nurses union at East Carolina University. I stayed and listened to her and my light grew brighter. Her story was intriguing and inspiring. Dr. Libster is the author of The Nurse-Herbalist, Herbal Diplomats, Dell’s Integrative Herb Guide for Nurses, Enlightened Charity, Science of Energy Flow, Demonstrating Care, and Perspectives on Cultural Diplomacy. I have all but the last book, as it is fairly new. Dr. Libster has courses for nurses and I’ve enrolled in two of them in the past, one being the Nurse-Herbalist course. She is fascinating and I highly recommend her work and programs.
The other mentor who has changed my life is Madeleine Kerkhof. Madeleine is a registered nurse and massage therapist. She lives in the Netherlands and has done amazing work there to educate facilities and nurses in the benefits of integrating aromatic compounds in palliative care, pain, grief, transitioning, wound-care, and mouth-care just to name a few. She has two published textbooks, and I have both of them. One is Complementary Nursing in End of Life Care, and her new one is CO2 Extracts in Aromatherapy. (when Madeleine is out of her country teaching, she places the books unavailable until she returns)
Making the trip to Europe, I was the first nurse from the continental United States to receive a Certificate in Aromatic Palliative Care in 2016. Madeleine was using CO2 extracts at that time as well, and went on to write the textbook CO2 Extracts in Aromatherapy. The trip was life changing and the experiences gained there was a factor in my healing journey after losing my son to suicide in 2017. Madeleine and her husband Kees are now very dear friends and I am planning to see them next year when they come to the United States again to teach classes. Since my trip to Europe in 2016, Madeleine is now gaining popularity in the United States and is becoming a much sought after aromatherapy educator here. I highly suggest you consider taking a trip to the Netherlands and learn from Madeleine. The experiences and field trips there will show you how being committed to a vision will open doors in facilities to utilize integrative care.
I began to realize…I could combine my knowledge as a nurse with my passion for herbalism.
Connecting With My Roots
As a child, my summers were spent in Appalachia! My family was all from Eastern Kentucky. My parents had moved to Columbus, Ohio, where I was born and raised. Summers and holidays were spent in and around Louisa Kentucky. Our vacations centered around mountainous areas like Gatlinburg, and the Great Smokies. Summers in Kentucky were spent in the woods and by the creek bank. My grandparents had a huge garden and so did my parents. I learned about the pawpaw tree (the fruit tastes like bananas and it’s so yummy). My grandfather would blow smoke from his tobacco pipe into my hurting ear and it would feel better. My grandmother would speak of home remedies. She used black salve to draw out infection from a cut. They had salves for pain and breathing issues. I remember playing in the woods and never wanting to come inside. Exploring and connecting with nature started as a very young child. Then I got married, and somehow life became busy, and I was no longer in the woods connecting with nature. There was a void.
I’ve been told my great-grandmother was 1/2 Cherokee Indian. (my mother’s paternal grandmother) I’ve seen pictures of her and her features certainly look like she could be. Very high cheekbones. I have those same cheekbones. I didn’t know her but I’ve wondered where my deep connection to herbal medicine comes from. How cool some of my memories are. There is something I really miss about those days.
I’ve been studying herbalism most all my married life. I wasn’t connecting with the plants though. I learned about herbs and used dried herbs that were encapsulated and in a bottle. About 4 months after my son died in 2017 I had opportunity to go to Wellspring Mountain in Low Gap NC to get trained as an aromatherapy teacher with Jade Shutes, another mentor. I experienced a re-connection with nature and with the plants. This was very healing for me and I realized I had to get back to the plants. I’ve stopped studying healing plants/herbs in a book sense, and have started experiencing them.
My healing journey has brought me back to the plants. I didn’t realize it, but Wellspring Mountain is actually the home of Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine. I’m now a student there, as well as with Juliet Blankespoor in her Herbal Immersion program.
Community Classes and Outreach
I realize connecting with plants is very healing but it doesn’t make a hospital system money. Instead of using my time petitioning to get aromatherapy or more plant based healing integrated into the medical systems, I’m now reaching out to the community and teaching classes on aromatherapy, herbal simples, and connecting with plants as a nurse. Somewhere along the way, other nurses will decide it’s time to reclaim our roots and find ways to connect with the healing power of the plants and then share that in their communities.
My son was a military vet with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury) from his time in Iraq. He was prescribed drug after drug that altered his mind. At the time of his death, he was legally taking 5 psychotropic drugs all with suicidal ideation as a side effect. He was taking two new ones I was unaware of. All the drugs were prescribed for off label uses related to his PTSD. He wanted to get back to nature. He desired to go on the outdoor camping and connecting to nature trips that are being done for the military vets. He never created that opportunity form himself.
As a nurse, I would never suggest to someone they get off their medications. However… what if we can provide experiences for vets to connect with nature and feel the healing energy associated with the plants? What if we create healing experiences for cancer survivors? What if we create opportunities for those grieving to connect to nature like I did? What if we can create healing experiences and someone begins to feel whole again? What if we begin to provide solutions that do not involve medications? What if…
My questions to you as a nurse or holistic caregiver… 1) Are you interested in exploring your “roots” as a holistic healer for your own wellness journey? 2) Are you interested in learning how to share this type of knowledge with people in your community? Connect with me by signing up for my newsletter just for health care professionals and holistic healers. You can leave your information here:
*This is a post sharing my heart. While I have data to support ideas here, this is an information/introductory post, and not a clinically based data post*