It’s a cherished tradition, a sign that summer is here and a long weekend that we at Gaia Herbs eagerly anticipate all year long. The Medicines from the Earth Herb Symposium, which happened this year June 2-5 at the Y.M.C.A. Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina, is an annual gathering of herbalists, health-care professionals and herbal enthusiasts that started 24 years ago.
The History of Medicines from the Earth
Education has always been a passion of Gaia Founder and CEO Ric Scalzo, and he has been an instrumental part of the herbal education scene since he started Gaia in 1987. In 1993, he collaborated with friends and colleagues Linnea and Larry Wardwell to produce the first Medicines from the Earth. The name, the location and the topics have changed, but the guiding principles remain the same. “That first one in ’93 was just magical to us,” says Linnea. “We were at sea because we’d never done it before, but it was just so amazing.”
That first small-but-mighty symposium was held in a tent in Ashland, Massachusetts, near the original headquarters of Gaia Herbs. Herbalists, naturopaths and healers from across the country converged upon the conference – many of whom are now some of the “biggest” names in herbalism and regulars at Medicines from the Earth. “It’s so incredible to me that so many of those teachers who came the first year are still coming,” says Linnea. Dr. Tori Hudson, Bill Mitchell, Rosemary Gladstar and the late Cascade Anderson Geller were among the attendees that first year, as well as Dr. Mary Bove, Gaia’s Director of Medical Education.
“Originally, when Ric put this together, he was really looking to draw in good clinical information about the use of herbs as a medical herbalist, which was his background,” says Dr. Bove. “It brought a lot of the herbal naturopaths and clinicians who strongly used herbal medicine. He brought us all together. It was a real merging of these two communities.”
At that time, the herbalist and naturopathic communities were somewhat separate. This event helped the two groups see that they were on the same path, Linnea says. The vibe was one of “everyone’s welcome,” says Dr. Bove, and in the days before the Internet and email newsletters, conferences like these were essential networking events where participants could share discoveries and offer inspiration. Face-to-face interactions such as these were how major planning and collaboration happened.
That weekend was a milestone for the herbal community, and it got a lot of people excited, Dr. Bove says. “It was shifting. It got a lot of amazing clinicians together in one place,” not just for networking and conversations but for teaching.
What You Learn
“Medicines,” as regular attendees sometimes call it, draws a who’s who of pioneers and innovators in the field of herbal medicine. But the conference isn’t just for herbalists. Health-care professionals can get continuing education credits, and each year, attendees include MDs, naturopaths, registered nurses, dietitians, nurse practitioners, acupuncturists, massage therapists, psychologists, midwives and more. It also draws plenty of botanists, chemists, biologists, gardeners and farmers.
Each year, beyond the daily lectures and demonstrations, there are full-day intensives for those who want to dive deeper on various subjects, as well as a keynote speaker. This year Mark Blumenthal, founder of the American Botanical Council, delivered “Humorous Health” – proving laughter is the best medicine (and Donald Yance, in his sessions on the vagus nerve confirmed that laughter does indeed provide therapeutic benefits to the parasympathetic nervous system). This year’s panel discussion centered on Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine: New Science and Ancient Tradition. Attendees can also enjoy Herbal Songs and Stories led by Dr. Jill Stansbury to carry on the important oral traditions of storytelling and music.
The offerings are meant to appeal to the broad spectrum of participants – herbal neophytes as well as seasoned medical professionals – surrounding a common theme. This year’s symposium centered on the wide-ranging effects of the body’s inflammatory response, including the most up-to-date information on botanicals for urinary health, healthy sleep, resetting the circadian cycle and more. Several lectures – Yance’s talks on the vagus nerve and the gut-brain connection, the intensive by Dr. Kenneth Proefrock on immunopsychiatry and the two-part series with Dr. Walter Crinnion on the brain and the inflammatory response – expanded on this theme. The skilled teachers dive in deep but know how to keep students engaged, and the lecture topics are quite timely. This year, for example, Dr. Stansbury delivered lectures on bone broth as well as wild foods.
The symposium’s original message – creating unity and spreading the message about herbs – continues, and Linnea and Larry ensure the learning doesn’t stop when the conference ends. Incredibly, you can download (for a fee) the lecture notes and audio presentations dating back to 2002. The shared mission of connecting plants and people continues on the Gaia Farm. On the last day of the conference, we invite participants to visit the farm for an herbal education farm walk with Ric, where we can connect to the very plants that were the subject of many lectures over the weekend. Participants can experience the plant intelligence of Ginkgo, Hawthorn, Ashwagandha, Passionflower and Lemon Balm, to name a few.
Next year marks the 25th anniversary, and the symposium (and the Wardwells) show no signs of slowing down. “We’ve been doing this since 1993, and I become more dedicated to it every year,” says Linnea.