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 Marija Helt! Since she graduated herbal school, she has been working to combine the science and plant worlds – proving that there is a place for every kind of medicine in the world.
Marija’s Journey to Herbalism
I’ve loved wild and garden plants for as long as I can remember. Pure magic…both my Mom’s garden with its gooseberries, bleeding hearts, roses and sweet carnations and the nearby broadleaf woods with 6 feet tall “7 minute itch” (stinging nettles) that were lovely to look at but not to get close to. I still dream about both places decades later.
I didn’t come to herbalism until my 30’s, after walking from a career in infectious disease and cancer research to buy a cafe in San Francisco. One of my cafe regulars was in herb school and she’d share stories of her experiences. (She’s had an amazing journey and is now owner of Scarlet Sage.)
The clincher for me was a rainy afternoon at Muir Woods. I went into the shop there to buy a bird book and wound up picking up a book about edible and medicinal plants as well. The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to match the amazing green diversity I encountered along the trails with who was in the plant book: Trillium, Sorrel, Spikenard and so many others.
I went home and signed up that evening for my first herbal medicine class. I soon found BHC and enrolled that fall in their Herbal Foundations program, followed by the Herbal Therapeutics and Clinical Internship programs.
How Being an Herbalist Changed Her Life
Different folks have different paths to becoming an herbalist. For me, the program at BHC was an invaluable way into the world of botanical medicine that I could do while also running my business. As someone who can spiral out along multiple pathways, the program kept me focused while also letting me find my own niche. Also, for those of us interested in clinical herbalism, it’s just one of a handful of programs that have a student clinic.
You also get exposure to different approaches to herbalism through the multiple in house- and guest teachers. A particular interest that came from the program is in medicinal mushrooms, which are a big part of my practice, writing, and teaching.
A big challenge for me during herb school and for a while afterwards was to reconcile my science brain with the less definable aspects of plants and mushrooms. Now I’m comfortable with a blend of science and spirit, chemistry and essence.
Marija’s Many Hats
As is common for many herbalists, I wear more than one hat. I’ve had a clinical practice in the Southern Rockies for the past decade, and am a writer on all things plant-, mushroom- and science-related.
An unexpected specialization in fertility resulted in working with over 2000 clients struggling with fertility issues, but I also work with everything from menopause to heart health to arthritis. This journey so far has meant exploring multiple aspects of what being an herbalist can mean, clinical herbalism, writing, teaching, gardening, wild crafting, medicine making and natural product R & D.
Two overriding aims have been to remind people that they are of nature, and be a conduit between plant medicine and Western allopathic medicine, as someone who can speak both languages.
I’ve often wondered where this green path is leading. Though it’s maybe starting to sink in that the goal is simply to stay open and follow its winding course wherever it goes.
My writings and can be found at:
www.osadha.com – Contact info, writings, videos, upcoming classes, etc
Plant Healer Magazine (Fungi and Friends column) https://www.folkherbalism.com/
Or visit me at the annual Good Medicine Confluence, being held again this year in Durango.
Are you a BHC Alumni? We’d love to hear you tell your story about the program!