Awhile back, I was sitting outside and thoughts tinged by panic began to pop up, seemingly out of nowhere. A voice inside asked, “isn’t your business just participating in capitalism? Is there anycommunityin your community herbalism practice? Do your personal values match your business values? Upon considering this message, I had to admit that I was beginning to slip away from the original intention of putting community at the heart of my practice. I had been so focused on creating products, that I let the community slip from my community herbalism practice and business. It was a wake-up call to go back and re-investigate the core of why I wanted to practice herbalism.
Throughout my adult years, I have held many jobs. Some of them were just for fun and some were survival jobs. However, even when I took a job just for fun or to pay the bills, what kept me invested in those jobs was never the money. I stayed because of the community, I stayed because of the strong core values to help the community in need. I know with 100% certainty that I am the person who needs to work in a place that puts people over profit and yet I had slipped back into the hustle of running a business and forgot about how important community is to me.
I knew when I began practicing herbalism that serving my community was the most important pillar of my work. Community herbalism cannot exist if we don’t include the communities that truly need us. Herbalism is a practice of the people and it’s important for me to remember this as I continue to formulate my herbal offerings.
Whether you are an herbal farmer, own your own herbal shop, or create herbal goodies for your family, here are three ways you can incorporate community herbalism into your offerings.
OK! You’re ready to put the community back into your herbalism practice but you don’t know where to start? Let’s start with defining exactly who you wish to help. When I had that flood of thoughts in my head I sat down with a pen and paper (yeah, I am old school like that and my sisters still make fun of me cus I never leave the house without my thinking notebook in hand!) and re-wrote the values for my business. I started to ask “Who am I as an herbalist? What do I want to be known for? How can my gifts help the people I want to serve?”
These were giant questions that needed to be answered from the heart. So, this process took a while. I didn’t want to rush it and make choices that didn’t feel authentic to who I am and what I wanted to put my energy towards. Take your time with these questions. These are big questions that deserve your time and attention. The answers will probably not come to you right away and that’s OK. Try and get as specific as possible with your answers so that you can understand the needs of the people you are serving and craft products and offerings to meet those needs.
One question that I knew I needed to clearly answer was: “Who is your community? Who do you want to serve?” It was important for me to get crystal clear about who I wanted to serve and why. If I knew exactly the community I was trying to reach then I could create products and/or opportunities that would be most supportive.
As a Black herbalist, I knew I wanted to support the BIPOC community from a place of love and radical self-care. As the new wave of the Black Lives Matter movement surged in 2020, Black people were suffering. We were stressed, angry, and scared, to say the least. Over and over again in conversations and in my social media feeds people were sharing stories of the trauma they were experiencing. I listened and knew I had to do something. I began offering free products and services to those who wanted them.
If I never sat down to zero in on how I was defining community I might have missed the opportunity to craft offerings for the people who needed it the most. There are many ways in which to decide on who you want to support. Start with what’s most important to you and go from there. You might want to help your town grow a community garden—or throw an herbal tea party at an assisted living facility. The options are endless, and I can bet that anyone you choose to support will be grateful for the offering.
I’ve worked in the wellness industry for over 12 years and I have seen this industry boom. As green juice, mushroom coffee, and CBD everything became trendy, I started to see barriers to these wellness products rise. Whether it’s price, access, knowledge, or something else, barriers to health and wellness will always exist.
During the re-evaluation of my principles, I made a promise to myself that I would actively try to remove as many barriers as I could so that people could have access to my practice if they wanted. I run an herbal shop so I can’t give everything away for free and still pay rent, but I knew there were opportunities to lessen those barriers if I just stayed creative.
One way that I chose to remove a pricing barrier was to offer a $25 gift card. At the beginning of every month, I would make an announcement on Instagram letting people know that the gift card was available. I had a form on my website that people would fill out and I would take the first person who submitted with no questions asked. I didn’t want people to feel like they had to prove their worth to get the $25 gift card. They would get the gift card no matter what, first come, first serve.
When you are looking at your offerings (products, workshops, consultations) ask yourself if there are ways in which you can reduce or remove any barriers to access. Does that mean you have to give something away for free? No, not necessarily. Be as creative as you like. I decided that I would offer one $25 gift card a month. Was that a ton of money? No. But we experienced so much stress and uncertainty in 2020, and if someone wanted some herbal products to lift their spirits then I didn’t want $25 getting in the way. Maybe you could create an ebook that could be downloaded from your website on how to start an herbal practice, or you could set up a table in town where people can get to know what you do and what you offer.
Small offerings and opportunities like this can make a huge difference to someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy the benefits of what you do. Look at the barriers someone might experience when trying to get to you and your herbal practice and see if there is anything you can do to make it easier. Remember, that you don’t have to offer something huge to make a difference. Every little bit supports your community.
Admittedly when I began to look at some of the most vulnerable communities that I wanted to help, I felt as if my products weren’t top priority. If I wanted to help the unhoused in my area, would my herbal tea be of service? How could my herbal practice help those who needed assistance the most?
Instead of getting an herbal product to these communities, I dedicated that I would create a product where a portion of the profits would be donated to a charity of my choice. Herbal tea might not be helpful at this moment but maybe my donation could help an organization support their communities in the way they needed it most.
There are so many options out there if we allow ourselves to think outside of the box. Know some farmers in your area who are struggling? See if you can work out a mutually beneficial deal to grow some of your herbs on their farm. If you are an herbalist with a strong following and practice, maybe you can align with a newer herbalist and offer to help them along the way.
One thing I am planning to do this year is to dedicate some growing space to grow white sage. This herb has been overharvested and holds a strong spiritual tradition in Indigenous cultures. Furthermore, many of those same cultures have struggled to get access to white sage once it became mainstream. If the plants are successful in my growing space then I will harvest them and donate them back to Indigenous-led organizations to distribute as they wish.
Thinking outside of the box allows you to support your community in new and creative ways. The sky is truly the limit when it comes to how you can be of service. If you love teaching, maybe you can hold a kids’ foraging walk to show children all the wonderful plants that Mother Nature gives us. Maybe you are really good at bringing people together, so you can organize a small health and wellness fair. Looking to support new moms? Why not host a virtual herbal cocktail hour? Take these ideas and run with them!
My goal is to run my herbal practice and business with heart. I want to create opportunities in my business model to continue to support my communities. I love being an entrepreneur and I know that my business has to match my values. As my practice and my business grow, so will my offerings, and I am excited about that. If you are looking to put more of a sense of community back into your practice or business, start small and do what you can. Bigger is not necessarily better. As you grow so will the opportunities for outreach.
We as herbalists have a wonderful gift that many of us are excited to share with others. Create clarity around who you want to serve, find ways to minimize barriers, and allow yourself to think outside of the box. Start where you are and do what you can. I can’t wait to see you thrive. You’ve got this!
For more on community herbalism, see:
Clinical Vs. Community Herbalism: Striking A Balance In Your Herbal Practice