Growing up in Lexington, Kentucky, Becky Andrews dreamed of becoming a professional ballerina.
Fortunately for the American Botanical Council (ABC), Dr. Becky—as she is known around the office—took a different career path. In September 2011, Andrews joined ABC as the new education coordinator, just weeks after closing her naturopathic medical practice in Seattle.
One of Andrews’ primary responsibilities as education coordinator is working with pharmacy and dietetic interns from local (and, sometimes, distant) universities, including some of the 21 interns hosted by ABC in 2011. “Working with interns is really the core of what I do,” she said. “The primary goal is to show them how much science and research really exists to support the use of these traditional medicines. That includes giving them an overview of herbal medicine traditions, history, regulations, making simple herbal medicines, and other areas that make up the exciting world of herbs.”
In addition to exposing interns to the history, principles, and practice of herbal medicine, Andrews—a licensed naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, and massage therapist—teaches them how to access the vast amount of herbal research and helps them develop a “discerning eye for quality of information and research.”
On a daily basis, Andrews fields phone calls from the public and ABC members, answering their questions about medicinal plants. “These questions are all over the map,” she said. “We get questions about safety and use of plants, requests for research on various plants, questions about herb education programs, requests for interviews, etc. I’m sort of the ‘information desk’ for ABC.”
Dr. Becky graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in psychology in 1993. However, she quickly realized that a career in clinical psychology was not for her and she began to look into other areas.
In her early 20s, Andrews “had become fascinated with the interface of spirituality, artistic expression, and healing,” she said. “In particular, I was fascinated by indigenous cultures and traditions. When someone got sick, there would be songs, and rhythms, and sounds, and rituals, prayer, and herbs. There would be magic, and the magic was created by all of those things.”
In an effort to explore a more hands-on approach to healing, Andrews enrolled in the Boulder School of Massage Therapy. “It was arguably one of the most intensive, well-crafted, elegant educational experiences I’ve ever had. It was a profound life-changing experience,” she said. “During those 8 weeks, that first term, I felt like I became a healer. Something shifted in who I was.”
While studying massage therapy, Andrews took an herbal medicine course with renowned herbalist Brigitte Mars and something clicked. Her enthusiasm and intellect were noticed by Mars, who offered her an apprenticeship.
Partway through the apprenticeship, Brigitte realized Becky’s potential and recommended that she continue her education at John Bastyr College (now Bastyr University) and become a naturopath. “It was just Western enough to have one foot in that world, plus acupuncture, oriental medicine, Ayurveda, spinal manipulation, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and nutrition,” Andrews said. “It was the best of both worlds.”
After finishing pre-med electives at Front Range Community College in Boulder, Becky enrolled at Bastyr College and received her ND and acupuncture degrees. She established a clinical practice in Seattle, but after nearly a decade in the Seattle area, she realized it was time for another change.
A colleague showed her a job posting for an education coordinator at ABC. “I looked at the ad and said, ‘This is it. They have a Becky Andrews-shaped hole in their organization. They are looking for me,’” she said. “Weeks later, I’m there. The whole thing happened so fast.”
As Becky continues to make progress updating and organizing ABC’s library of herbal information, coordinating volunteers, and working on special projects, she makes an effort to create herbal mixtures from the garden with interns. Her lessons incorporate the basics of plant identification, cultivation, and harvesting. “The most fun is teaching them how to make basic medicines from plants, and how accessible this medicine is,” she said.
“We are really thrilled to have Dr. Becky here at ABC,” said ABC’s founder and executive director Mark Blumenthal. “In our 23 years of operations as an herbal education organization, we have had three previous herbal-savvy people in this role. But, Becky is the first clinically trained person to hold this position. It’s a real pleasure to have someone with clinical training who is knowledgeable about herbal therapeutics here at ABC.”