Every month we catch up with an alumni of the Berkeley Herbal Center certification programs in our Alumni Series. This month we caught up with Herbalist Laura Sarapochillo!
After completing our flagship apprenticeship program in 2008, Laura took an herbalism hiatus. But the call towards the healing path won out (as it does), and she stepped back into our clinical program. Forever curious, Laura finds that herbalism satisfies her questioning nature.
This is her story.
Laura Sarapochillo’s Herbal Journey
Herbalism is my way towards truth, love, and clarity. Many paths yield these fruits, and earth-based medicine is currently the most intriguing to me. Much of my life was finding this lineage and I imagine I will spend the rest of it joyfully practicing its multitudinous facets.
A teen with an adventurous spirit and an insatiable curiosity to understand the world. I was searching, but for what I did not know. Psychology, politics, art, music, spiritualism, travel – no discipline or ideology I explored satisfied my soul’s deeper yearnings.
In my mid-twenties, fortune blessed me with a friend immersed in ancient healing technologies who introduced me to the Berkeley Herbal Center. Up to this point, I didn’t even know herbalism was a profession. I was amazed to find a school dedicated to the art.
Connecting with the Berkeley Herbal Center
I met with Pam Fischer, founder of the Berkeley Herbal Center. We shared some tea as she interviewed me for the flagship apprenticeship program in 2008. When I think back to the young lady I was all those years ago, I imagine the impression I left with her was questionable at best. But Pam is a gifted and patient soul. She has mentored a generation of Bay Area herbalists, and perhaps she saw my potential.
I was drawn to the school’s experiential approach to learning. The plant meditations, herbs of the week, herb walks, medicine making, and multiple wildcrafting field trips. I was also intrigued with the psychological perspective that Pam wove into our education – learning how plants, working with our physiology, could shift our mental and emotional patterns.
The Impact of Herb School
With a small cohort of students, the immersive experience of the apprenticeship program was a deep dive into the herbal healing arts. A meaningful aspect of understanding plants deals with our more subtle intuitive sensibilities.
Steeped in academia and an emotionally rigid upbringing, I was uncomfortable with the heart-centered, perceiving approach of my teachers. Growing into this new way of understanding came with a fair bit of resistance and discomfort. With my instructors’ support and the plants’ guidance, I slowly nurtured this immature and too long ignored piece of myself. My herbal education began the process of ‘unlearning’ my analytically focused engagement with the world – but this way of being has proven to be much trickier to unwind than one might expect and I continue to work on this deep-seated habit daily.
Stepping into her true calling
Along with the herbal knowledge, medicine making, and clinical experience we gained, there was a deeper conversation through the course – why are you here on this earth, and what is your calling? I wish I could say that the plants spoke to me and there was never a question about doing anything else, but my pesky mind kept working its mischievous magic. There were other games I needed to play before I could seriously approach the healing arts.
I was attracted to money, power, and prestige. So I followed that rabbit hole for years, learning invaluable lessons along the way. Ultimately, I found the pursuit of these labors lacked substantial fruit. The seeds of my earth-based healing education continued to grow truth in my heart, encouraged me to let go of my desire for comfort and status, and reminded me to live simply and serve a greater truth. I returned to the center in 2020 for the second-year clinic program and fully committed myself to the herbal path – and my heart, family, and community have blossomed because of it.
The Greatest Gift of Herb School
I would say the greatest gift of my herbal education was joining a lineage that requires a lifetime of learning. Each plateau I reach reveals new vistas of discovery and greater depths of nuance to unfold. From growing/making/formulating and dispensing medicine, to diagnostic techniques and therapeutic approaches, to sharing knowledge and mentoring students, herbal medicine offers a cornucopia of skills to nurture and develop. It also offers a unique lens with which to view all aspects of life.
A decade after my apprenticeship course, I still feel immense gratitude for the opportunity to connect with earth’s deep intelligence in such a personal way through BHC’s apprenticeship and clinic program.
What Laura Does Now
Part of my work as an herbal educator is to reach people like myself – who don’t know that this work exists and are not aware they can be direct agents of their healing. Growing and processing our medicines is empowering – it shifts access and agency directly to individuals and communities, away from institutions and “experts.”
I have a few projects percolating and am grateful for my family’s support in pursuit of these endeavors.
Laura is Opening an Herbal School!
One includes opening a school in the San Diego region with another Berkeley Herbal Center alumni, Ashley Campos. We are excited to immerse ourselves in the transmission stream of herbal medicine, incorporating our unique training into the work.
Supporting Guardian Grange
An offshoot of the school includes developing and implementing the herbal education branch of Guardian Grange (www.guardiangrange.org), a non-profit organization focused on repurposing military veteran skill sets to heal the environment as well as facilitate veteran reintegration to support healthy families and communities. My husband and I are passionate about this work, so much so that we sold our family home and bought a fifth-wheel trailer to live in with our three children, to develop different grange sites.
During this time, I look forward to cultivating my gardening skills and expanding my apothecary. My vision is that each grange will grow medicinal plants and through medicine-making workshops, create their own functional dispensaries.
Creating a Clinical Reference Book
I am also supporting William Morris in creating a clinical reference book of pulse diagnosis for Western Clinical Herbalists. I am excited about this work as it is the culmination of over a decade of study with my teacher and mentor. We hope to offer this publication in 2023.