Michelle’s path to herbalism came out of necessity when she realized that integrative healthcare isn’t reliably available in low-income communities. After years of studying, Michelle was able to start a free herbal medicine program in Oakland.
Here is her story:
The Herbal Journey of Michelle Grace Steinberg
How Michelle’s Herbal Journey Started
I first became interested in herbal medicine while working as an English language adult education teacher in East Oakland. I was influenced both by the impact of herbs on my own health and the experiences of my students, who were recent immigrants with cultural familiarity to the use of herbal remedies. Recognizing a lack of integrative healthcare availability in the low-income communities around me, I decided to train as an herbalist.
I studied for three years at the Berkeley Herbal Center, where my primary instructors were Pam Fischer, Kara Sigler, and Atava Garcia Swiecicki. I graduated in 2009 while I was simultaneously getting my Masters of Science in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. Berkeley Herbal Center was a beautiful introduction to the plants.
Then, with the center’s support in providing an initial apothecary, I was able to start a free herbal medicine program at Street Level Health Project (SLHP) in Oakland. SLHP provides multilingual free healthcare, food resources, and employment support for East Oakland’s immigrant communities. I had a prior relationship as a volunteer with an amazing community organization that facilitated our partnership in bringing a holistic and integrative medicine component to their services.
For several years, I was on the board of Integrative Medicine for the Underserved, with a diverse, national, multidisciplinary team of healthcare providers, which further supported me in cementing a vision for collaborative, integrative, community healthcare that enables patients to access ‘all the tools in the toolbox’, regardless of their income or insurance status.
What Michelle is Doing Now
Now, 13 years after it began, the Consultas Naturistas program at SLHP continues to provide free herbal medicine (tinctures, teas, oils) and vitamins to our community. I work collaboratively with our community health worker/Indigenous Mam language interpreter, our MD Medical Director, and our therapists, to provide culturally responsive, team-based integrative healthcare. With my patients, I focus on four areas: nutrition, exercise, sleep improvement, and stress reduction. I address the acute and chronic conditions of all types.
The other portion of my time is spent as a documentary filmmaker with Under Exposed Films. Our most recent film, A PLACE TO BREATHE, juxtaposes the experiences of refugee and immigrant healthcare providers and patients at SLHP and Metta Health Center in Lowell, Massachusetts, sharing models of culturally responsive, community-led healing.
We look forward to an upcoming partnership with University of California San Francisco Medical School and SF City College Community Health Worker Program, among others, to use the film to create an interdisciplinary curriculum that will bring together healthcare students of various practices and backgrounds to help dismantle medical hierarchies and structural racism, and build towards more just, accessible, and sustainable ways of healing.
We are grateful to be a part of hundreds of herbalists’ stories around the world. Each month we take the opportunity to honor that by sharing a former student’s journey to herbalism with you. We call it our alumni series.