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.)