In February of 1989, 20 herbalists from around the country gathered at the home of Christopher Hobbs and Beth Baugh in the mountains of Santa Cruz, California, to discuss the creation of an association of herbalists bound together by their love and appreciation of the healing power of plants. Shortly thereafter, the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) was born. Roughly 25 years later, AHG boasts more than 2,000 members, has 15 chapters around the country, and publishes the biannual Journal of the American Herbalists Guild (JAHG).1
AHG has a multifaceted approach to promoting the practice of herbal medicine in the United States and abroad. According to its website, AHG supports the development of high educational standards for professional practitioners; encourages collaboration and cooperation among other healthcare providers, professional associations, and regulatory agencies; fosters “high standards of ethics and integrity in the education and the practice of therapeutic herbalism;” and promotes “ecological health and increase[d] awareness of issues surrounding plant sustainability.”2
At a reception held in Asheville, North Carolina, in March 2013, friends and members of AHG welcomed two new leaders of the organization: Executive Director Mimi Hernandez, RH, and JAHG Editor Anne de Courtenay.
Hernandez’s exposure to the healing power of plants began at an early age by watching her Mexican and Colombian grandmothers in their gardens. “My Mexican ‘abuelita’ was a barrio healer in Mexico City,” she said (email, April 17, 2013). “From a young age I watched her grow and harvest herbs and make folk remedies and administer them all from a foundation of prayer and a spiritual perspective of plants and wellness. This lineage gave me a strong urge toward honoring the wisdom of jungle medicine and the treasure of plant diversity. It has also given me a cultural foundation of travel from a young age of exposure to real world medicine, which is often plant-based.”
Years later, Hernandez developed an academic interest in the sciences, specifically biochemistry, physiology, research, and human health in general. “Through the sciences, ecology and botany reconnected me with plants, and when I started to combine my love of plants with my love of physiology, herbal medicine emerged as a natural vocational interest which soon evolved into a full-fledged passion and life’s obsession,” she explained
Initially, she felt her options for serious academic pursuit of herbal medicine were limited, so she engaged in self-study and found mentorship opportunities through the Indiana Amish communities. The skepticism and resistance she experienced from family members, professors, and peers only strengthened her resolve to study the beneficial medicine she witnessed firsthand from her grandmothers
Eventually, she discovered the work of the famous ethnobotanist and author James Duke, PhD, an ABC Board of Trustees member, and quickly became what she called one of his “groupies.” “I deeply resonated with his approach upon which my own experiences seemed to shadow through a unique blend of academic sciences, South American shamanism, and American folk,” said Hernandez. “Our relationship has evolved beautifully from that of teacher-student to that of friends and colleagues. Now we work on projects together. It is my deepest honor to call Jim my colleague. In my wildest dreams I never imagined it would be so.”
Before coming to AHG, Hernandez served most recently as coordinator and director of the Appalachian Center for Ethnobotanical Studies (ACES) at Frostburg State University. According to its website, the mission of ACES is to study the medicinal and useful properties of plants, and to conserve plants, their ecosystems, and Appalachian culture “as it relates to wild plant harvesting and traditional use, and to promote the economic benefit to the region that may be derived from managed development of botanical resources.”3
Hernandez also worked previously with the Mountain Herbalists Series and the West Virginia Mountain Roots Series, both educational programs related to ACES that promote ethnobotanical awareness of Appalachian medicinal plant use, conservation, and knowledge.
Further, Hernandez was the founder and director of the One World Healing Arts Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an herbalism organization with a student-run clinic that focuses on spreading the message of healing plants through a combination of science, tradition, and intuition.
“I found that my natural ability to speak from a place of traditional reverence, scientific understanding, and/or intuitive awareness gave me a sense of balance and gave my clients and students an ability to connect with this knowledge base despite which background they resonated with more,” said Hernandez. “Don’t get me wrong. I’d have the occasional law firm who would invite me to give staff workshops [and] who would request that I not mention ‘the intuitive,’ but I’ve also taught at grassroots events that would rather I skip ‘the science.’ It’s all in being able to relate and speak to different belief systems and this ultimately has enhanced my credibility amongst differing communities and has given me the opportunity to be a bridge builder between such communities.”
Anne de Courtenay
Chicago-native Anne de Courtenay holds a bachelor’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and also is a graduate of the Chicago School of Healing Arts and Michael and Lesley Tierra’s East West School of Planetary Herbology. Like Hernandez, de Courtenay’s interest in healing plants began at an early age.
“Like most herbalists you meet, I’ve been fascinated with plants and folk remedies since childhood,” said de Courtenay (email, April 17, 2013). “My dad had two aunts who were herbalists, the sort who wildcrafted around the orchards where they lived.”
After completing her degree at Northwestern, she discovered she could continue an academic pursuit of herbalism, much to the chagrin of her parents, who were still aware of the student-loan debt that often accumulates when attending prestigious university programs.
“When I found out that you could receive education for and train to become an herbalist, I just knew that it was the path for me,” said de Courtenay. “I wasn’t looking for it — it synchronistically appeared. By that time I had earned my degree in journalism and had been out of university for a few years. The career shift irritated my parents at first.”
De Courtenay studied Western and Chinese herbal medicine practices with Althea Northage-Orr, who runs the Chicago Center for Psychophysical Healing, which specializes in clinical services including acupuncture, cranial-sacral therapy, energy healing, psychotherapy, and herbal and nutritional counseling, among other services.4
De Courtenay, who currently also practices herbal consultations and bodywork at her clinic, Imagine Health, in Chicago, found the combination of multiple healing modalities to be an especially appealing way to practice medicine.
“What appeals to me most about herbal medicine — aside from the fact that it works — is the idea that harmony and health can be created between two completely different life forms on this planet, and that this concept underscores a responsibility we must have to protect and respect plant life,” she said. “The idea that this medicine is ancient and available to all who can go out and harvest, say, dandelions, is empowering to all who care to explore it.”
Besides her longtime teacher Northage-Orr, de Courtenay credits Michael Tierra as being part of her inspiration to pursue herbalism. “But through the AHG,” she added, “I have met many amazing herbalists from different traditions whose work propels me to grow and diversify.” As for her journalistic muses, de Courtenay mentioned famed naturalist and filmmaker David Attenborough. “For me, no one has ever topped him in terms of wedding passions of the natural world and communication, really expanding the minds and awareness of his readers and viewers,” she said.
De Courtenay hopes to combine her passions for journalism and natural healing in propelling the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild to become an increasingly vital component of the organization.
“I look forward to the Journal becoming a forum that reflects the membership of the American Herbalists Guild — that is, I’d like to feature voices of clinical experience from varying traditions across the great spectrum of what we call ‘herbalism’ these days,” she said. “From ancient traditions with centuries of empirical evidence to modern phytotherapy supported by clinical trials, I envision our publication enriching and sparking our members’ practices, and therefore transforming the lives of their clients and eventually, moving herbal medicine into a more accepted and understood form of healthcare.”
Aside from preparing for HerbDay 2013, and numerous conferences and symposia throughout the year, the American Herbalists Guild has announced its 24th annual national symposium, “Celebrating Abundance in Herbalism,” which will take place November 7-10, 2013, in Bend, Oregon. The event will feature more than 45 clinical herbalist speakers, a vendor marketplace, and more. For more information, visit www.americanherbalistsguild.com, or www.ahgsymposium.com.
- AHG Chapters. American Herbalists Guild website. Available at: http://americanherbalistsguild.com/node/99. Accessed April 25, 2013.
- AHG History & Mission. American Herbalists Guild website. Available at: www.americanherbalistsguild.com/mission. Accessed April 29, 2013.
- About ACES. Appalachian Center for Ethnobotanical Studies website. Available at: www.frostburg.edu/aces/about-aces/. Accessed April 25, 2013.
- About us. Transformational Techniques website. Available at: www.transformationaltechniques.com/?page_id=10. Accessed April 25, 2013.