We've been getting some great press this year: our Herbstalk co-founder, Henry Kesner, was recently interviewed on Cambridge Community Television. Enjoy this short talk with Henry and learn all about the details for this year's 5th year anniversary event!
Today's interview is with Boston herbalist, Ryn Midura. Along with Katja Swift, Ryn is the co-founder of the CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism, where they see clients and offer community classes and Advanced & Clinical herbalism programs. The CommonWealth Center has been an integral part of Herbstalk since the very beginning and we are honored to share this wonderful interview with you. Thank you, Ryn, for talking with us today!
Can you tell us a bit about how it all began? How did you first get interested in plants or herbalism? What inspired you to learn about herbs?
It all comes down to meeting Katja. I said, “what are all these jars in your closet?” She’d just moved back to Boston from her time on the farms up north, and was starting to rebuild her practice here. She showed me how to mix up some herbs into a tea, and that was it! She lent me some books and began teaching me, slowly and simply. She revealed a long-standing love of ginger I didn’t realize I had, while helping me get a handle on my own gut troubles; she taught me how to steam with thyme when I got a cold. She cooked amazing meals, spiced and infused with flavors I’d rarely tasted but soon couldn’t imagine life without. Seeing how herbs permeated her life gave me a lot of motivation to learn more about them. Shortly after we moved in together, she taught an apprenticeship with Mischa Schuler right there in our house, so that made it easy for me to attend! It wasn’t long until we were teaching together and I started seeing clients, and we were able to build up the CommonWealth Center into a complete school and clinic, with both of us working full-time as herbalists and teachers.
What would you say is the main focus of your work with the plants?
My work is teaching. I teach my students; I teach my clients also. Every session is a private class. I never want anyone to walk out of my office and say, “that herbalist told me to take this tincture three times a day for my anxiety and heartburn.” Rather, I want them to say, “Ryn taught me how skullcap calms a racing mind, and catnip soothes uprising pressures in the gut, so I’m giving them a try.”
Most of what I do right now is usually described as working with chronic illnesses, the “diseases of civilization” or “diseases of modernity” which are so rampant in our society today – asthma, Crohn’s, diabetes, eczema, Lyme, rheumatoid arthritis, you name it. Usually when I sit down with a client, if they have a diagnosis or suspect a particular label applies to their discomfort, it’s one of these problems of systemic inflammation, usually rooted in dysbiosis of the gut and compromised intestinal barriers. (This is nothing new, really – the Hippocratic school took “All disease begins in the gut” as a primary axiom, and the principle surely preceded even that era.)
Today we are honored to share an interview that took place at last year's Herbstalk event in June 2014. North Carolina herbalist Juliet Blankespoor filmed Vermont herbalist Larken Bunce talking about her herbal path. We thank both of these inspiring teachers & leaders for sharing this wonderful footage with us. To learn more about their work please visit their websites:
Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine
Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism
We are starting something new here on the Herbstalk blog. Periodically we'll have short interviews with local herbalists who have been an integral part of the Herbstalk community. We hope you'll enjoy getting to know these fine people better and that you'll have a chance to meet them in person this June! We are pleased to kick off our "Meet the Herbalist" series with Massachusetts-based herbalist and teacher, Brittany Nickerson.
HS: How did you first get interested in plants or herbalism? What inspired you to learn about herbalism?
BN: When I was in high school I ran crosscountry for a period. At one point I developed shin splints and I remember asking a friend of my parent’s, a local acupressurist, what he recommended. He sent me to a neighbor’s house to pick comfrey and make a poultice. This was my first experience harvesting plants to make medicine. Throughout my childhood I had been fascinated by plants and loved being outside - it made perfect sense to me that plants could heal - so when my shin splints got better, I was smitten. The next time I saw Dave, the accupressurist, I asked for a recommendation of an herbal book. I practiced folk medicine into college where my various concoctions and remedies were often met with a combination of intrigue and doubt. I rather randomly took a class in ethnobotany, where I loved hearing the professor’s stories of plants and people and travel - I knew I needed to learn more. From there, I went on to take an apprenticeship and study more formally.
Sarah Coyne is a Jamaica Plain based artist, and is also the talented hand behind this year’s Herbstalk flyer. She was a true pleasure to work with during the design process and so we wanted to find out more about her work and what inspired her to become a plant artist. We are really happy to welcome Sarah to the Herbstalk marketplace for the first time this year, where she will be selling her beautiful botanical prints. Read on to learn more about Sarah and her art.
Can you tell us a bit about how you became a botanical artist? What inspired you to start drawing plants?
I feel best when I am drawing and painting what I love. Nature themes have always dominated my work.
Before moving to Boston, I lived in two houses in rural areas and spent my formative years playing in the woods and helping in our family gardens. I am most comfortable outside in the pine forests I grew up in. I love being out among trees and plants where I can hear myself breathe and think.
A couple of years ago I took an introductory botany class at Wellsley College and we toured their beautiful greenhouses. This class got me hooked on looking closely at plants and thinking about their role in the world around us.
Tell us about your business, Egg-A-Go-Go: do you work full time as an artist?
Yes. Currently I have a three-part job as an artist. I am a freelance illustrator working mostly in watercolor, I teach screen printing locally and I sell my illustrated and screen printed goods in my online store and a few small shops.
In what ways does your work get shared with the local community?
Up until recently I was very active in the local craft fair scene. I have taken a break the past couple of years to focus on my illustration work and teaching. Getting to speak to people face to face about my work is so rewarding. I still participate in Jamaica Plain’s Open Studios in the fall which is a great way to meet neighbors and share my art. In September of 2013 I had my first solo show at Aviary Gallery. The show was called Great Distances and featured watercolors about animal migration.
Being active in a couple of online spaces has a huge reach. My Etsy shop has allowed me to sell my work to people all over the world and I am very active on Instagram as well. Social media has it’s negative aspects but being able to easily see what other artists are working on and to share my current works-in-progress is so inspiring.
Are there any unique challenges you face as an entrepreneur?
I love what I do, 100%. I feel very, very lucky that I have an opportunity to pursue art as my full-time career but as any self-employed person will tell you, it’s not always easy. Time management and varying workloads are both challenging aspects of this life. My husband has a great job and that is definitely helpful as I navigate the beginnings of life as a working artist.
Where do you envision your work/business leading you in the future?
Hopefully I can continue to create artwork for myself and others while sharing screen printing with those who want to learn.
You have such a unique business name – can you tell us where it came from?
I get asked this question a lot and I wish I had a good answer! I really have no idea. In college I remember making up the name Egg-A-Go-Go when discussing imaginary traveling carnivals with a friend. I never applied the name to anything but it was locked away in the back of my brain. When I started doing fairs in 2005 I decided I wanted a business name and Egg-A-Go-Go popped into my mind. I do love birds and egg imagery so it stuck.
What is your experience with herbal medicine? Do you use herbs yourself when you feel sick, or incorporate them into your daily life?
My father gathers and preserves his own medicinal plants. Giant, glowing red jars of St. John’s Wort oil lined our windowsill when I was growing up. I remember him portioning it out into tiny bottles for others and it was quickly applied to just about any skin problem my brother and I had as children and teens. Echinacea was always on hand for the first hints of a cold. Today whenever I visit, I am usually sent home with a tincture or handful of dried leaves. I drink tea all day everyday and have a cabinet full of various steep-able remedies.
Do you have a favorite plant or two at the moment?
When sketching and doodling I find myself drawing lavender over and over again. Something about the delicate stalks and tiny blooms makes it such a charming plant! I’m hoping to add some to my garden this year.
As both a visual and edible favorite – I love beets. I’m currently working on a beet screen print that I hope to have at Herbstalk in June!
For us plant-loving folks it is often hard to have enough nature time in the city. Are there any special natural areas in or around Boston where you seek inspiration or frequently visit?
I feel very fortunate to live in Jamaica Plain – one of Boston’s leafiest neighborhoods! I take regular walks around Jamaica Pond and the Arnold Arboretum is only a few minutes from where I live. I also have a plot in a community garden that gives me a nice refuge and a place to get my hands dirty and feel connected to nature. My husband is crazy for tomatoes so we usually dedicate at least half the plot to those!
My parents still live in New Hampshire so I can get away to that part of New England in under two hours. I love living in Boston but it’s nice to get out once in a while and I always feel like my batteries get recharged with even a quick visit back home.
How can people find you if they want to get in touch with you? Do you do commissions?
YES! Commissions and custom illustrations are my favorite projects.
People can connect with me via my website eggagogo.com, Etsy shop, Instagram or Twitter. (My user name is “eggagogo” just about everywhere).
Thank you, Sarah! We so enjoyed learning more about you and your beautiful work. We are really looking forward to having you be a part of the Herbstalk marketplace this year!