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Alumni Mai Lovaas: Herbalist, Educator, and Mushroom Hunter

Mai Lovaas, Alumni with a shelf mushroom
This month's alumni spotlight is shining on Mai Lovaas. She graduated in 2012 with a love of herbal medicine, education, and mushrooms!

Every month we have the opportunity to touch base with a graduate of one of our certification programs. We call it our alumni series.

This month we had the pleasure to reconnect with Mai Lovaas. She started the apprenticeship program in 2012, and has been following her herbal path ever since.

This is Mai’s story, in her own words.

Mai Lovaas’ Herbal Beginnings

I discovered Berkeley Herbal Center in 2011.

I had been traveling in Australia and had returned to the Bay Area not knowing what next. At a 4th of July party at Stinson Beach I met Fedra, she was dressed in a fiery dress, she had high heels and long, red nails and she was telling me about being a student at Berkeley Herbal Center. They were gathering seaweed and making bullwhip kelp pickles. She was telling me how she was learning about mushrooms, how she was a medicine maker, and how she had been talking to plants her entire life. I was I awe of her and how she communicated the plants, and I knew immediately I had to go to this school. I went home and looked up Berkeley Herbal Center, and signed up starting in the spring of 2012. I didn’t even look to other herb schools.

What Mai Loved about the BHC
Apprenticeship Program

There were so many things I loved about the apprenticeship program at Berkeley Herbal Center. The introduction to flower essences, the desert trip and medicinal plants of the desert. The up at 5am to go seaweed harvesting on the Mendocino coast. The camping trips, the tincture-making, the tea-drinking. The eye-opening and revelatory conversations we had with director Pam Fischer and other teachers, discussing topics of healing, psychology, physiology, nutrition and herbal medicine. For that I am forever grateful.

While I was an apprenticeship student I founded Mai Wild Medicinals, taking on a few clients, making herbal products and selling them at local markets, teaching classes, and doing herb walks. I was so fortunate to live at a ‘witch-house’ in Oakland with three other women; here we grew vegetables and medicinal plants, and they gladly tested and tried every potion I made.

Continuing Her Herbal Education

As apprenticeship students at Berkeley Herbal Center we were so fortunate to experience several camping trips during the years in training, and after graduation I wanted more. I went on camping trips with Five Flavors Herbs and KW Botanicals. I took a six months herbal apprenticeship in the Sierra Nevada mountains, meeting one weekend a month at a different elevation to learn about the edible and medicinal plants that thrive in the California mountain regions. I took numerous trips to shores, mountains and valleys harvesting for my apothecary, always studying and learning.

For me herbalism always meant being outdoors and meeting all the plants we learned about, and it also included a great deal of adventure and exploration.

From the time I started as a student at Berkeley Herbal Center I had been just as fascinated with mushrooms as with plants. While in herb school and also the years after graduation I would go to mushroom conferences and forays all over California; from SOMA camp in Occidental to the Yuba Watershed Fungus Foray and Wild Mushroom exhibition in Nevada City, to fungus fairs with various mycological societies in Mendocino, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. There is a big gap between the mindsets of herbalists and mushroom geeks, but I kept learning, both about mushroom ID and the medicinal use of mushrooms.

After a few years I moved to Los Angeles. Because I had graduated from Berkeley Herbal Center I was able to get into herbalist Julie James’ Advanced Apprenticeship and take her phenomenal classes in Long Beach. I also took an apprenticeship with the Gaia School of Healing and Earth Education, learning more about the meditative and shamanic aspects of plants, which was exciting.

I am a native of Norway and had been feeling that I wanted to spend more time with family.

Over the last couple of years I have spent more time in Norway. I got way deeper into the mushroom studies, because Trondheim, in contrast to LA, has loads of rain, and hence loads of mushrooms. I studied hard and got my national Mushroom Identification Certification, so now I have so many more culinary and medicinal choices in the mushroom forests; I know what to eat and what not to eat.

What Mai Has Been Up to!

While in Norway I put on an herbal retreat at our cabin in the mountains, and I’ve been giving seaweed foraging tours, herb walks, and mushroom field trips.

I have also become very interested in the uses of plants and mushrooms by the Sami people, the indigenous people living in Saepmie – a region stretching across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Part of my family is from the north and I found out I have Sami ancestors. The Sami people have always lived close to the land. I have written articles for Norwegian publications about Sami medicine women and their uses of plants and mushrooms, a topic that is fascinating to me.

I have also been in grad school. I learned that I could study health, plants and mushrooms at the MSc Global Health program at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

Although multivariate statistics nearly killed me, I am now pleased to say that I will be traveling to Zambia – one year delayed because of Covid – to study ‘uses and perceptions of wild mushrooms among female mushroom hunters in rural Zambia.’ In Zambia mushroom knowledge is an oral tradition taught from mother to daughter, as part of a female lineage.

How to Follow Mai’s Mushroom Adventures

Where this takes me exactly, I don’t know. I follow the mushrooms and wander across the world, taking in the knowledge of the plants and mushrooms and the people that tend to them.

Follow along on Instagram @maiwildmedicinals

My (currently not so updated ) website www.maiwildmedicinals.com

If you’re an alumni of the Berkeley Herbal Center and would like to join our Alumni Series, reach out to us at info@berkeleyherbalcenter.org.

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