My Journey To Herbalism: Jennifer Parsons
My herbal journey began early, as I am the daughter of Barb Keith, a wonderful culinary herbalist. You can learn more about Barb in Cooking with Mama, an earlier article. My family is the result of hundreds of years of tonic inventing, hospital building, apothecary owning, plant loving, healer ancestors.
While my mama's passion is cooking and creating amazing herbal dishes, I am drawn to the healing properties of plants. When in school, I remember classmates asking if I knew a plant that could help a sick belly, a headache, a bruise. I would rush home and pull mama's herbals from the shelf, and before long I knew the answers to their inquiries. The questions continued as I grew, from coworkers, family members, friends and neighbors. The joy of a classmate chewing a mint leaf and creating a full herbal protocol is the same when I'm told, "that helped me, I feel better." My heart chases hearing those words.
After high school I considered an herb school in California, but the price tag for furthering my herbal studies in a classroom was too great. Instead, I've spent my whole life in gardens, kitchens, fields, and forests with my family harvesting, tasting, brewing, mixing, helping and learning. I set out to learn from my elders, well-loved family herbals, and the precious plants themselves. This gave me a solid foundation and I cling tightly to the deep wisdom of the old ways with a grateful heart.
When younger I thought my path was different than my mama's, but now understand we walk the same path hand in hand. The recipes she creates from her garden are just as healing as any tea or tincture. Food is good medicine, and I am honored to walk with her.
My love and passion for herbs is so big it can be contagious. As I caught the love from my mama, my daughter Leah grew up a barefoot, face to the sunshine, plant lover. She married a bright photographer and writer, Brandon Scott, who caught the love while lying in the grass with his nose pressed to an ancient sage with me, learning to give thanks for the sacred gifts the plant gives us. The spark I witnessed that day grew to a great fire in the belly, and he was hooked. On to the green path he jumped.
Their son Rowan was also set on this path with us, born to it, skipping along happily in the footprints we are leaving. His toys are a mortar and pestle, and he rattles off the names of growing things like other children chatter about cartoons or video games. He is a great joy to us, and we are glad to hold the hand of the next generation.
My studies did not happen in a classroom, but in the big parade of family on the green path with me, a line of healers stretching further than can be seen.
Together, our family set up a booth at the Coshocton, Ohio farmer’s market and filled tables with our family remedies, eager to share our love with our community. Artisan fairs and festivals followed, and we had a wonderful time helping people and making new friends. My Grandma, Mama and Papa, my husband and I, Brandon and Leah all spent time at the Woodland Herbal table. The sudden halt brought by the pandemic turned the business on its head and moved the entire operation online, finding success as people searched for natural options during such a scary time in history. We continue connecting with our community in this way, and are always dreaming of new ways to morph and grow.
On my 40th birthday, my husband and children gave me a wonderful gift, a big, beautiful binder. It was my not-so-secret heart’s wish, The Science and Art of Herbalism home study course. The classes I was unable to attend in California. Better late than never! The next year was spent curled in a nest of index cards, old books, plants, and a screaming tea kettle while I scribbled away with wild hair and dirty feet and so much joy! The lessons were filled with plants that were old friends, and a few I was thrilled to meet for the first time. Rosemary Gladstar's voice in the pages pushed me toward techniques, methods, and recipes I had always wanted to try, but always put off for another day. The lessons were graded by other herbalists, opening a whole big world of other people on the same journey we are on. Most of all, it was a beautiful reminder that I will never run out of things to learn on this sacred green path. How wonderful is that?
I am an herbalist. I walk in the footsteps of those who came before and I also eagerly reach back to hold the hands of those following. I am no expert; I don't believe there is such a thing. The world of plants is fluid, ever changing and our understanding of it takes a lifetime of work and love. I am equally inspired by new ideas as I am by ancient knowledge. I will spend the rest of my life learning, happily walking along and searching for ways to hear the words, "that helped me, I feel better."