I met Erin, owner and mastermind of the Center for Integrative Botanical Studies at their open house in March. I immediately loved their focus not just on herbs and natural remedies, but on sustainability in all forms of living. The teachers at the open house radiated a nurturing feeling and you could tell they really love teaching all about the natural world. I am so glad she agreed to this interview in person. We had a great chat and I am excited to share it with you!
This interview was done in person and recorded so I hope you enjoy the conversational tone.
Me: Tell me about you, your history, how you became a herbalist, your travels and all that fun stuff.
Erin: I fell in love with the plants young. When I was 15 I started getting every book I could on them. That’s what it was for the longest time, a hobby, and I just did it on my own. It wasn’t actually until my 20s that I decided I wanted to go to school. That is what brought me to Boulder, to come to the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies, which I loved every second of.
I have always had a love of traveling and have been traveling since I was really young too. Once I discovered what ethnobotony was, and that there was a name for it, then I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I went to graduate school for ethnobotony in England and spent about 10 years working with indigenous peoples around the world on their knowledge of traditional plants and broader issues of conservation.
Mainly a lot about their access to their natural resources and how their traditional knowledge impacts that, their relationship with their natural world, and how that can influence policy, conservation and biodiversity in the whole world. That actually sparked my interest in what is behind the center for me. Combining traditional knowledge, conservation and biodiversity with the love of plants.
When I came back I was working and I just had this vision of somehow being able to combine herbalism and ethnobotony. I had a lot of people asking me constantly how did you do both? Where can I get both? I think where true sustainability lies is in having that deep relationship with nature and the natural world. For me, that comes from using it and interacting with it all the time. That is what herbalism is all about, being out there and getting to know the plants and how we can use them for food and medicine. For me it was a natural way to bring herbalism, sustainability, and traditional knowledge together.
For example: Shannon Francis is doing indigenous permaculture workshops. She brings a lot of the modern ideas of permaculture combining it with the traditional knowledge of how to interact with nature rather than against it.
So for me, I want to provide that platform for this traditional information to be there so that people can have access to it.
I think that’s great that people are approaching at the natural level. I see a lot today “what herbal pills can I take to solve my issue” when really its more of a relationship with different plants. I may do well and use calendula for a skin issue, but maybe someone else likes plantain better. It’s all about your personal relationships with the different plants I think.
Very much so. The big program I am going to be doing is plant passionate living. It is basically a little bit of everything that the center offers. A part of that is an easy way to build that relationship and incorporate plants into your life.
One of my readers asked : “What do you think the ultimate herb to have on hand and grow at your home is.”
Oh my gosh. Its like asking whats your favorite child! It’s a really hard one too. I think a lot of herbalists would choose yarrow just because it can be used in so many different ways in different body systems and it grows easily. For me elderberry definitely stands out as one that is a great every day herb that is quite powerful and can be used for all ages. Calendula as well, internal and external. See I can’t even do one.
Do you tend to focus in your teaching more on nutritive herbs, or are you kind of running the gambit?
I do all of them, I usually try to start with nutritive herbs, go to digestive herbs, then adaptogens. A lot of things people can use every day that are easy to use and building but I do like to start there because I think it’s a great way to get people started.
I also like to start, as much as possible, with the herbs that are around us. There are some exotic herbs that I use and talk about and some Chinese herbs and ayurvedic, but a lot of what I focus on are the north American and European herbs because I think that is some of our greatest medicine just grows right outside our door and that’s what we should be paying attention to.
Tell me a little bit more about the center and what kind of classes you are going to offer, and why you decided not to just focus on herbs.
The Center for Integrative botanical studies, is for me all your plant hugging in one place. I feel like plants in general are a doorway to a greater relationship into the natural world, because weather we are aware of it or not, we can’t live without them. Our food, air, building materials, medicine, everything comes from plants. So it is a great way of entering a deeper and more sustainable relationship with the natural world.
I decided to not just focus on herbs because I think there is so much more out there. I think we need to become aware of all of the elements. The herbs are my passion and what I love but my passions have also brought in more experiences. I wanted to provide a place where people can take classes on permaculture, to a class on making tinctures, tracking, wildcrafting, it’s all very interconnected. I think by taking all these classes they will be more well-rounded.
I really like your focus on sustainability in general.
It’s really important too. Even if you are just doing the herbal side, there isn’t enough emphasis on sustainability. Especially with of the resurgence of herbalism and the increasing popularity. How do you do it so that it is sustainable? If you are going to go out and harvest you need to know how to do it in the right way and how to use the herbs in a way that is sustainable. You need to know the exotics coming in and what the conservation and social impact those have.
Do you have classes about conservation yet?
We will definitely have classes on that eventually. It is on my list.
Are you going to offer online classes?
Yes, that is definitely a long-term goal to be offering online programs. I am still trying to figure out which ones we are going to unveil first but yes that is definitely in the works.
Tell me a little bit about the membership and how that works.
I love building community and we have in the front range a great community of people who are really interested in this type of stuff. For me the membership is part of this. For someone who is really into it, its first and foremost a way for them to be more involved with us and creating that community of people who are also interested in this.
Also, it is a way that they can save money. If they go to more than one program, they are going to be saving, so it’s a flat yearly rate of $45 for students or $65 for adults. We have a members only page that has a lot of downloadable resources for free. You get access to that page, member pricing on all of our programs, notified of all our field programs which are starting including domestic and international trips. Members will be notified of these first and have the ability to register for those before everyone else. Eventually I would like to have a few member events as well that are just for members but that is more long-term thinking.
Next spring we are going to do a desert trip and learn about the medicinal plants of the desert and do some ethnobotony down there. Eventually we will have a trip to Peru with some permaculture and some traditional medicine of the area.
Membership is definitely worth it if people are going to do more than one program, especially if you are going to do the workshops or week-long intensives.
We also have some free members programs.
Tell me more about the free programs.
There are a few programs we have made free just for our members, and every moth there will be a program that is free for everyone. We are trying to offer a variety of different topics. You can find our current schedule of free classes on our website.
Is there anything else you want to talk about? I know right now a lot of your classes are at 63rd street farm.
Yes and we are doing some at earth star farms which is just above foothills in Boulder and some where our offices are. We are always finding other great places to do have classes. We also have outside walks in different locations.
I noticed you had a lot of different teachers with different backgrounds.
I really do try to get some high quality teachers in and people I would like to take a class with. I think everyone has a different relationship with nature, and have something different to offer, so I like learning from a lot of different people.
I teach Herbal Medicine at Metro University in Denver. I love to teach, its my favorite thing to do. I love seeing the excitement when people get hooked again on plants. I think we all on some instinctual level remember. We have forgotten it, then we get reawakened.
We are really striving to make all our programs experiential. So even if you are inside environment you are working with the herbs; you are smelling them, tasting them, and working with them. We are trying to have as many outdoor classes as possible so people are right there with the plants and learning hands on. It is the focus we are really trying to offer. That experiential element.
What class would be good with someone just starting natural living and aren’t sure where to begin.
Theresa Coby is doing a series called herbs 101. It’s a great series to try just learning about herbs. Any of our wild food cooking classes are really fun. Getting into food and cooking is a lot of fun and it’s a great way to start. My plant passionate living class is a great weekly class for beginners. I am going to have a few free classes to let people try it out and see if it’s a good fit, but my goal is to bring it to people who are just starting. Any of Mindy’s body lotion classes are great too. She talks about natural body care.
We have a few different medicine making teachers and we like to show people how easy it is. It’s not that complicated. You don’t have to get intimidated.
Right because herbs are the people’s medicine.
It is, and a lot of it is very intuitive. I always tell my students to just experiment. Don’t worry if its right or wrong, just do it. That’s how herbalism evolves and how it always has. People find their own relationship with the plants or ways of using them that people hadn’t thought of before.
So we can find you online
Yes. You can find us at http://www.integrativebotanical.com/.
All our registrations are online. We have a phone number and people can call. 877-202-9329
The website has all of our scheduled classes and we are constantly adding more, especially our free ones. People can also sign up for our news letter and recipes there.
We are on Facebook too at https://www.facebook.com/IntegrativeBotanical
When did you open your doors.
We officially opened in March of 2013.
Thanks so much Erin for sharing your experiences, passion, and wonderful school! I have taken one class so far at CIBS and plan to take many more. If you would like to take some classes take a look at their online schedule and see what would fit you.
What classes would you like to see from a school like this?
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