Every month we catch up with an alumni of the Berkeley Herbal Center certification programs in our Alumni Series.
This month, we chatted with Kerry Hughes! She always had a deep connection with plants – and she knew a ton about her herbal allies when she stepped into the school, but she wanted the knowledge to be able to treat her own family with the plants she knew so much about!
Kerry Graduated in 2012 from the school and we’re thrilled to catch up with her and share her journey with you.
Becoming An Herbalist… Again
I am probably a little different in my story as many others who come to an herbal school, as I was already an herbalist when I came to BHC! I just wasn’t a Clinical Herbalist.
When I was a child I spent a lot of time in our backyard and creek alone as I was the youngest in my neighborhood—so I truly felt like the animals and plants were my play friends. But by the time I arrived in University I never thought about my connection with plants because I wanted to be a doctor, so I started studying “Premed.” However, they told me I needed to take a whole year of Botany, and I was really angry thinking this was a huge waste of time! By the end of that year, however, I had changed and realized that I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living, but it had to have something to do with plants!
That was when I discovered Ethnobotany and how it was this beautiful mixture of knowledge of plants, medicines and the relationship to humans and even trade—all the things I loved. So, I became an Ethnobotanist and was lucky to have a really good early career writing books, monographs and developing botanical products—even consulting with the United Nations (through the International Trade Centre) on market development of herbal medicines for international export markets. But something still felt missing. And when I decided to start a family it became very clear—I needed to become a Clinical Herbalist so I could care for my own family and so down the line I could also see clients and help others directly.
As I personally knew or had met many well-known herbalists in the US I wasn’t sure who I wanted to teach me, as I didn’t feel drawn to any one in particular. But I discovered BHC one day and decided to go check it out. I loved everything I read about it and once I met Pam and stepped into the space, I knew it was going to be a good place for me!
A New Mom and Ethnobotanist comes to Berkeley Herbal Center
It was a busy time of life for me when I started BHC, as I had just had a baby, but it was the perfect thing at the perfect time! Such a nurturing place at a time when I needed to be around nurturing energy for myself. I remember one day as I was lugging my breast pump up to the loft in the school Pam looked at me and said warmly, “This too shall pass”. What she didn’t know is that having to do that at the school was just about the most hospitable environment there could be, as opposed to the public restrooms when I was travelling, the airports (most of which didn’t have family restrooms in those days), and having to excuse myself from meetings dominated by sometimes unapproving men! The presence of the wonderful energy of herbalism and the school balanced all that out and made it all OK.
Plus, I got to learn about herbs that I didn’t really get to know as an Ethnobotanist. What I mean by that is that I already knew a lot about the tradition and a lot about the science of the herbs, and in fact knew how to identify and grow the herbs, so I already had a personal relationship with many herbs…but I found there are certain herbs that are really difficult to know until you actually work with them as an herbalist. That was one of the biggest gifts BHC gave me.
And embarrassingly, I was surprised they worked as well as they did!! I always thought that as an herbalist only some of the people might get better from treatment. But the truth was astonishingly *every* one of our patients were improving! And some patients improved very dramatically, not only in the body, but in their mind! That was my favorite part.
Life After BHC for Kerry Hughes
After BHC I continued my career as an Ethnobotanist & Clinical Herbalist. I was doing some similar projects as before, but I also started teaching and helped to establish an herbal school on the East Coast.
What my BHC training really eventually led me to is doing more product formulations for companies. I had been involved with this a little bit before BHC but I always felt like I lacked confidence—after working with people and really getting to apply more of my herbal knowledge it really changed this and I found what I feel is my main passion that I was always leading up to, and that is formulating!!
Today, I am a formulator for botanical products, mostly dietary supplements, and I specialize on making formulas be very “functional.” It makes me angry that many of the formulas on the nutrition markets are really assembled by marketers in order to just “check boxes” or call out herbs on a label that they think consumers will buy. It is so much more than that!! I feel formulating for products that reach many is such an important job and keeps me fascinated and learning every day of my life!
I also get to continue to work in market development and standards development (I have helped to develop one of the highest-bar fair trade certifications and currently am developing a Regenerative Agriculture standard) which is driven by the determination to get people to value biodiversity for more than just board feet timber…And if they do that, perhaps we will continue to have more of these beautiful herbal medicines to heal us and enrich our lives!
You can find me at @kerryarrudaethnopharm on Instagram and learn more about my company, Ethnopharm by clicking here.