Krystina Friedlander is a midwife and herbalist based in Exeter, New Hampshire. Through her practice she uses herbs to manage challenges that arise in pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Krystina serves families outside of hospitals using herbalism as an essential way to help keep people low-risk
and to nourish a healthy pregnancy.
I've been interested in herbalism since childhood, when I read Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear series, especially the first book. When I look back on my life, I can actually trace how profoundly those novels influenced me! I loved the connection between the young girl and her wise woman Neandertal foster mother, from whom she learned the herbal skills that enabled her survival.
Though I can't say I spent time in nature beyond exploring my suburban landscape, I did find it enchanting. As an adult, I rediscovered herbalism after seeking a second opinion for a health challenge in 2011. My husband directed me to Madelon Hope, a Boston herbalist who he had studied with. I was astonished by the difference in the care that I received from her as opposed to the allopathic care I was so accustomed to; the level of attention, sensitivity and holism blew my mind. I began studying with her and Tommy Priester at the Boston School of Herbal Studies, and it radically redirected my life path.
What challenges did you face when you first started?
Quite simply, it felt overwhelming. I still feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of plants that surround me everyday, but I don't let it bother me as much. I go out walking and recognize quite a few, but there are many more I don't know. The more you know the more you know you don't know, and that's okay. I wanted to learn everything then, to tincture everything, to use everything.
If you could go back in time to meet yourself when you were just starting on the herbal path, what would you say?
Slow down, start small, and stay local.
My work is primarily with people who want to be pregnant, are pregnant, or are postpartum. I'm wrapping up my midwifery education this summer and will be certified and licensed midwife by this fall. I serve families outside of hospitals, so to me, herbalism is an essential part of my practice because it helps keep people low-risk by offering safe ways to stay within the realm of normal, as well as to nourish a healthy pregnancy.
Can you share some of your go-to herbal books or favorite herbalists/teachers that you look to for inspiration?
Absolute essentials for me are Aviva Romm's Botanical Medicine for Women's Health, Matthew Woods' The Earthwise Herbal books, and The Yoga of Herbs by Vasant Lad and David Frawley. I also love Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, which is a fun and helpful book for anyone interested in getting started with herbalism.
Where do you see the future of herbalism going in the next few years?
In the area of maternal and perinatal health care, I'm witnessing a greater appreciation for herbal remedies (or at least tolerance of) within the medical establishment. Although studies are lacking due to the ethics of researching on pregnant populations, we do have great information about herbs like ginger and echinacea. I suspect that we'll be seeing more research on herbal alternative treatments to pregnancy and postpartum complaints.
Do you have a favorite plant or two at the moment?
I've felt really drawn to tulsi this year (perfect timing since it is the Herbstalk plant-of-the-year!), and drink it daily. I'm also obsessed with South Asian cuisine and so my life is full of warming spices--I'm flying through ginger these days.
What advice would you give to budding herbalists?
Start with your kitchen. Literally! Open up your spice cabinet, because spices are medicines we use most frequently and--considering how important our digestion is to our overall wellness--it's an important place to start. That represents the sort of practical day-to-day herbalism that anyone can use. Learn more about how you're already using herbs.
Are there any non-herbal hobbies or interests that you love doing?
I've become a fanatic knitter this year.
Any guilty pleasures you’d like to share?
Dystopian feminist fiction! The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Red Clocks, The Power, Parable of the Sower and not particularly feminist but another great post-apocalyptic novel is Station Eleven.
What’s one fun thing that most people don’t know about you?
I haven't touched it in a while but I'm secretly an amazing embroidery artist. I have this incredible piece I did of David Bowie from the cover of Diamond Dogs that would pretty much blow your mind.
What would be your top five deserted island herbs?
I'd live a sad, bland, meaningless existence without turmeric, ginger, cumin, and coriander. Aside from the obvious culinary uses, those four represent a wealth of anti-inflammatory, immune, carminative, anti-microbial, and so many other uses. The fifth I'd include is black cumin, or nigella sativa. The Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace, called it "the cure for all things except death."
Finally, what made you want to be a part of Herbstalk?
Boston's herbal community has grown significantly since I began my studies and I'm just in awe of the organizers' vision, energy and hard work in bringing us all together. Herbalism is plants, it's about being in our bodies, it's about our connection to the world around and within us, it's about connection with people, it's about challenging dominant paradigms about health and wellness, it's about decolonizing medicine and society, it's about justice and access to healthcare, it's about universal wellness, it's about our strands of history, and it's about communities.
You can learn more about her and her practice, Baraka Birth, at her website: www.barakabirth.com
Krystina will be teaching an intensive class -- Midwives' Medicine Basket:
Herbs for Pregnancy, Birth & Postpartum -- on Sunday, June 3rd.
View the full class schedule here!