Today on the blog, we are excited to introduce to you another one of Dynamic Roots’ Partners and Western Slope Plant Witch: Stephanie Syson! Heather, our Front Range Sales Representative and Brand Ambassador (check out her last interview with Kate Miller here), caught up with Stephanie in between her busy garden work day. Stephanie is a true Garden Goddess for Dynamic Roots and shares with us everything from her joys and greatest challenges in working as an Herbalist.
Heather: Tell us a bit about your path getting involved with Herbalism. What first inspired you to pursue this as a career and life passion?
Stephanie: Probably the biggest instigator was that, as a 15-year-old, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Disease. My family was not into farming, herbs, or anything like that, so I went to a bunch of standard Western medical specialists and doctors. They all said the same thing: that the only option was to do radioactive iodine treatment to kill the thyroid (which is what we did). When I was about 18 years old, I read my first nutrition book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, and I got to the chapter on thyroid and I read that there are so many things you can do with your diet, nutrition, and herbs that can really help with the situation I had. Maybe we would have still had to go down the route of radioactive treatment, but receiving this realization was probably the biggest gift I could have had since my path was not this way at all before reading this. After reading this I was SO offended that we didn’t try these methods or that no one told me anything else I could try before going about the complete eradication of an essential organ we actually need to live.
So that totally turned my life in the other direction. I started eating really well. Then, realizing that if you want the best nutrition, you need to grow it, or know someone who grows it. So I started growing my own food. Then, while I was traveling through Latin America as a river guide, I was staying at different farms throughout Costa Rica and Ecuador and learning more and more. I realized that food has wonderful nutrition, but if you really want the powerhouse nutrition, look for vitamins and minerals from the natural world, our Earth. So I started growing those and they hooked me big time. The whole olfactory experience, the sight of each one, the smell of each one, how they're all so different and the genetics are so much wilder than our cultivated vegetable varieties, making the tastes so much more challenging.
Hollyhocks, grown for their moistening properties, are also great for attracting beneficial pollinators at the farm.
I had many many opportunities over the years to try different things. For instance, when I got a staph infection in Costa Rica, I treated it with charcoal and psyllium seed. There were lots of different opportunities down there where I would try giving herbs for other people's conditions and they worked amazingly well. So I became a believer. The more I grow them the deeper I get.
A beautiful farm scene from this summer
H: That’s amazing. I feel like sometimes it takes years and years of personal experience and trial and error before we are able to even finally call ourselves herbalists or to even fully accept and trust the medicine.
S: Right. And to me, Herbalism is about more than just switching from allopathic medicine that prescribes a pill to herbal medicine that prescribes an herb instead. There is a relationship there. For me, a big part of that is in the cultivation of the plant. There is a really interesting section in one of Stephen Buhner’s books, Sacred Plant Medicine. He talks about when you separate a plant from the Earth, you cut off their energetic connection. So the job of the Herbalist, Shaman, Healer, etc., is to be the conduit for the Earth and energy of the stars through the plants after harvest to the person who is going to be using it. I feel that connection is somewhat missing in a lot of regular herbal treatments, where we are simply taking an herb like we would any other pill and the relationship with the plant, the life of it, its personality, and spirit are not always present. These are my friends. I walk and have tea with the plants every morning and they're different from day to day, and definitely different from plant-to-plant. They all have their quirks and personalities and I find it fascinating.
Milky Oat tops (Avena sativa) with Mount Sopris in the background, one of many herbs Stephanie grows for her sister bulk herb company Biodynamic Botanicals
Blue Vervain on the farm
H: What has been one of your greatest challenges in being an Herbalist?
S: Probably using standardized recipes. It is more my nature to do folk-type Herbalism and to do what feels appropriate for a plant, in the time of the plant, and with the seasons. With standardizing recipes, people think you are able to have a very consistent outcome, season after season, year after year, but that is not really how plants work at all. On that same note, the concept that we can put 10 grams of Burdock in something and that means it will always be the same...The fact that we rate these products based on weight when one Burdock simply sat on the shelf for 3 years from China versus the one I just harvested 5 minutes ago in the right season and at the right time then dried perfectly...they're just not in the same class. We can pretend like they are if we want...but they're not. So this side of Herbalism is challenging for me to buy into and have to comply with.
H: What would you say is your favorite part of working as an Herbalist and within Dynamic Roots?
S: Oh it’s definitely the growing for me. Absolutely. Without a doubt. I love creating a relationship with plants and spending as much time as possible cultivating this relationship.
Stephanie cultivates herbs using beyond organic & biodynamic principles
H: If you could offer one piece of wisdom for budding Herbalists, what would it be?
S: We can read and study from a book, which is wonderful and completely valuable, but until a relationship between you and plant is created, I think we’re missing a BIG part of the spirit of Herbalism. That idea of the herbalist as a conduit that I mentioned before...we (herbalists) are an integral part of the healing process. Whether we are talking about the cultivation of a specific botanical or our work in the lab, doing these things with intention is essential. To just pour herbs out of a bag and weigh them and then put them into a formula, they still might be effective in certain ways but it doesn't carry the heart and the energy, or the infinite possibilities that are accessible to us as true healers. And that missing aspect is what we, as Herbalists, have the power to do. We have the power to change chemicals and systems, which is extremely valuable too, but we have the potential to make a much deeper effect happen. So, I would say, develop a deeper relationship with fewer plants. For me, this is more important than developing a superficial relationship with many plants.
Stephanie is loving growing the beautiful & highly fragrant Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), an incredible harmonizing herb for women that's also useful for a variety of skin conditions. Find it in our Balancing Face Serum
H: Is there a Dynamic Roots product you’re most excited about right now?
S: Our new body oils, the Forest and Goddess blends, are amazing. I feel like it's really great to get people using more oils on their body and hair and to improve and hydrate the skin in that way. The Calendula that we infuse in there is just SO soothing and feels luxurious. Both of these oils with the essential oils we chose for them are a complete form of self-love experience. Not only through the skin itself, but through the nose, the entire olfactory system, and simply the act of rubbing the oil all over your body to take care of yourself is essential and nourishing.
Be on the lookout for our new Forest & Goddess body oils, coming to the web shop soon!