Healers & Stewards

North Country Herbalist Guild creates community, teaches art of herbalism

By Patricia Cumbie
Co-op Consumer News, May-June 1999, Vol. V, No. 6

The poetic murmur of herbal terms greets the newcomer at recent North Country Herbalist Guild meeting in Minneapolis. Words like “lobelia,” “scullcap,” and remedies like “cayenne salve, bee tincture…” lose their mystery as people study texts and discuss them. One group gathers in the kitchen to give each other honey, clay and seaweed facials. Conversation in the assorted small groups is punctuated by laughter and sips of herbal tea.

The atmosphere cultivated by the Guild is informal, relaxed and fun, although the Guild itself has a serious educational mission. Guild membership has been growing steadily due to an increasing interest in herbalism and the group’s educational programs. That night more than 40 People gathered to meet and hear the featured speaker of the evening, Zhouling Ren, a local practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Filling a local need

Like a lot of great ideas, the genesis for starting an organization dedicated to herbal education was pulled out of thin air. Literally. The North Country Herbalist Guild’s founders, Peggy Brown and Janda Grove, discussed forming the group while on an airplane heading home from a natural foods expo in California. They’d been talking about how all the educational herbal seminars were always on the two coasts and about how the opportunities for people to learn in the Midwest were limited. They believed it was time herbalists in the Twin Cities got together to learn form each other.

“We put up a few posters and thought maybe three or four people would show up,” says Brown, who now lives in Duluth. “But 25 people came. We brainstormed ideas. I was amazed at how much energy and excitement that first meeting generated. I remember having to look for a bigger room for the next meeting.”

That was four years ago.

Now the group is incorporated as a nonprofit and has an active membership of more than 80 individuals. Guild members span a cross-section of people interested in learning more about cooking, growing, crafting and healing themselves and others with herbs. You do not have to be a member of the group to attend monthly meetings and lectures. And thanks to the efforts of the North Country Herbalist Guild, based here in the Twin Cities, the opportunities to learn more about herbalism are expanding exponentially.

For novice and expert

On the first Wednesday of every month, the Guild meets and hears a guest speaker, then breaks up into smaller groups to discuss or demonstrate special topics. The group also has been able to attract nationally-known speakers, including David Hoffman, Ryan Drum, and David Winston, and has put the Midwest on the map as a vibrant place to present seminars.

Judith Sims, an independent television producer and president of the Guild’s board of directors, stresses the accessible nature of the North Country Herbalist Guild as a place for everyone, novice to expert, to get more information. She got involved three years ago when she quit smoking and drinking coffee and thus began an herbal inquiry. “So I mad a chicory-burdock drink. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was practicing herbalism. This group has been a big reward for having quit smoking.”

Herbalist Opens Mother Nature’s Medicine Chest

By Noemi Herrera
St. Cloud Times

There’s still time for people to attend this weekend’s herbal medicine workshop today and learn about some naturally occurring remedies of nature.

The workshop, which resumes at 10 a.m. today, is being conducted by six-year herbalist Lise Wolff. She is teaching people to identify and collect plants that have medicinal value, and she is showing how to turn the plants into medicine.

Sharon Bergsgaard of Kirkston traveled to St. Cloud to take part in the workshop. This is the first time she has participated in an herbal medicine workshop, and she said it won’t be her last.

“I find it fascinating,” Bergsgaard said, sitting in the dirt along with three others collecting weeds to make into medicine.

Part of the workshop Saturday was spent exploring an uncultivated, open field for plants or weeds to make tinctures, alcoholic or water-alcoholic solutions of a medicinal substance.

Different tinctures can be made with different plants or weeds to treat or even cure ailments such as arthritis, diabetes, athlete’s foot, rashes, bug bites, multiple sclerosis, morning sickness and menstrual cramps.

Brenda Lodermeier also took part in the day’s workshop. She collected jewelweed, a common plant that can be made into a tincture to treat poison ivy, mosquito bites, corns and calluses.

She urges people to be open-minded and try herbal medicine.

“It’s not going to hurt you,” she said.

Bonnie LaBuda, a certified acupressurist in St. Cloud, said she has been using integrative medicine for eight years. She also recommends natural medicine to others.

“I believe God put it out here for a purpose,” she said. “Whether it’s a weed, plant or tree, all of it has a use.”

Workshop facilitator and herbalist Lise Wolff practice herbal medicine in Minneapolis.

Wolff also owns Herb ‘N Renewal, where people may purchase tinctures, salves, ointments, oils and other homemade medicines.

Anyone interested in herbal medicine or anyone who wants a consultation with Wolff should call (612) 823-8246.

Natural remedies may also be purchased at the Good Earth Food Co-op in St. Cloud, 2010 Eighth St. N.

Talking Herbs

Interview with Lise Wolff

Sprout, Seward Co-op, August/September 2005

Toni: How did you become an herbalist?
Lise: I was in New York studying to be a physical therapist and volunteering at a holistic learning center. I came from a pretty “sciencey” family, and for various reasons was convinced natural medicine didn’t work. So I decided to take a class on herbs because I believe that if you’re going to have a bias you need have an educated reason for it.

I started walking around New York City streets and discovering plants. These plants had thousands of years of history in medicine and their nutritional content was really high compared to typical foods. It was so interesting, and this was New York City, not like Minneapolis with all our green spaces. It changed my whole world.

I was listening to a book on tape that said “do what you breathe” (left to your own devices, what you do with your time) and it gave me goose bumps. As soon as I started working with plants I was constantly looking for them. Actually it was funny because in New York everyone looks straight ahead when they walk, and I was looking down at plants. I also found a lot of money! I thought that was a reasonably good omen.

Toni: How did you learn about herbalism?
Lise: Once I decided it might be right for me, I wasn’t sure how to get there. In Minnesota today, herbalists can practice legally without a license as long as they explain a client’s rights to them. At the time that didn’t exist so people were secretive about their practice and it was difficult to get educated to the point of practicing. I took a lot of classes and was able to apprentice with practicing herbalist Matthew Wood. I practiced with family and friends to find out what worked. Teaching came about because I was frustrated with not having peers and I wanted others to talk to about herbalism. I also just wanted people to know how useful plants are. Eventually my friends convinced my I needed to start charging for my services.

Toni: How would you describe your philosophy of herbalism?
Lise: Plants remind the body how to heal itself by promoting flow, releasing blockages…The type of herbalism I practice is from a tradition called Eclecticism. Eclectics integrated whatever worked based on empirical evidence. They were practical. I combine some concepts of traditional Chinese medicine, such as pulse testing and organ systems, with homeopathic principles and western anatomy and physiology. I also focus on local herbs. Plants grow where they are needed. I prescribed nettles for a woman with a rash. It turns out nettles were encroaching on her home just as her husband was approaching the need for kidney dialysis (nettles are a kidney tonic).

Toni: What trends do you see in the herbal world? Do you see the herbal community moving toward a kind of “pharmaceutical” herbalism (using plants like drugs)?
Lise: Yes. Our local herbal community may be an exception, but nationwide I think that herbs are being used in a way similar to pharmaceuticals. It’s like the germ theory. But why does a germ cause problems for one person and not another? A healthy body/immune system is the difference. I think about herbs as supporting the terrain of the body to facilitate flow and balance. I think it was Andrew Weil who said, “Plants are not drugs with green coats”.

Another difference from the “drug” approach is that when herbs are used correctly, they should clear the condition. You don’t need to keep taking them like you do medicines that mask symptoms. Learning from the plants themselves is another big difference. This supports a creative approach… a living herbalism. You get ideas and correspondences you can’t get from a book. It’s never static.

Toni: The public view of natural medicine has changed a lot recently – how has this affected the practice of herbalism?
Lise: In my practice, it’s more common now that clients come in for check-ups or for a cold, rather than just serious health conditions. At the same time, more people are going to M.D.s who practice botanical medicine (usually with very little training) due to trust or insurance concerns.

Toni: Speaking of trust, how do you recommend finding a good herbalist?
Lise: Referrals are great, and taking a class is a good way to get a feel out an herbalist. Also the American Herbalist Guild website lists practitioners.

Toni: Tell me about the guilds you belong to.
Lise: The North Country Herbalist Guild (NCHG.org) is the local one. It is open to anyone interested in herbs, not just herbalists. Their goal is to educate, create community and share information. The American Herbalists Guild sets strict standards nationally for practicing herbalists.

Toni: What do you think about individuals treating themselves?
Lise: It depends….herbs, like anything else, will cause side effects or imbalances when they’re not used appropriately. If you treat yourself, pay attention to how you feel when you take something- physically, mentally, emotionally. I tell my clients to check in with themselves regularly about this. After a week or two do you feel better, worse…or just different? If the herb creates a healing crisis, this may not be negative, but you may want to lower the dosage or the frequency, or you may need an herbalist to help interpret what’s happening. After an herb has worked through something, it will start to cause what it cures. If you’ve taken something for a month or two and you’re feeling pretty good, taper down and see if the effect holds. If it doesn’t, you can go back up. You should be able to stop it when your body has resumed normal function. If it’s a liquid extract, even thought the bottle says 30 drops or whatever, 1-3 drops under the tongue is sufficient.

Toni: Would you describe a typical consultation and a typical work day?

Lise: An initial consultation with a client is 2 hours. We talk about all aspects of their life and health – physical, emotional…and then I choose an herb based on that. I pulse test to make sure the choice is correct…by the way, because of this I have never in 10 years of practice had an interaction with pharmaceuticals. My job is like a detective- finding out what the imbalance is and then the right thing to help normalize it. When I’m not with clients I harvest and prepare herbs, teach classes, check homework, and return phone calls and emails. Multi-tasking!

Toni: Can you tell us one of your success stories?
Lise: I have had a lot of success with a plant called False Solomon’s Seal, which is a trouble shooter for the muscular-skeletal system. I met someone who found out I was an herbalist and started to tell me about his health problems. He had surgery on his knee three years before and still had to wear a brace. I brought him some False Solomon’s Seal. He called me back two weeks later and said “Well, I’ve wasted a lot more than $10 trying to fix this knee..”, and I’m thinking uh-oh, maybe he’s mad at me for wasting his money. He said “But this morning I walked 4 miles to my deer stand without my brace”. Since then he calls every few years to get bottles for friends and relatives. And this is not an unusual story with False Solomon’s Seal, which by the way is not sold commercially.

Herbal Explorer

Lise Wolff’s knowledge of herbs fascinated those who came to hear her talk on Tuesday

By Jane Otto, Hutchinson Leader, July 26, 2001

Many came from miles around to listen and learn while riding hay wagons through Don Popp’s woods in rural Hutchinson as part of the fourth annual herb walk.

The mosquitoes were no match for herbalist Lise Wolff as it was her talk that netted the attention of the more than 35 people there. Wolff interspersed humor with her knowledge of herbal healings. As she snipped off the top of a stinging nettle, often called burn weed or itch weed, she explained how “wonderfully edible they are”.

“I’m not into bold or strange,” Wolff said. “That it tastes good and be good for you is my bottom line.”

Stinging nettles contain about 10 percent protein and are similar to a multi-vitamin. Wild foods, in general, Wolff said, have a very high nutritional content. The top of the plant before it flowers can be cooked and eaten with a little butter and lemon. “It tastes green,” she said.

Cooking time, however, is essential, Wolff said. “If you eat nettles when not fully cooked, your throat swells and you wish you hadn’t done that.”

Anyone who has brushed a hand against nettles knows how they burn. If that happens, Wolff said, break open the stem and rub it over the burn. She said, “The stem contains an acid to neutralize the base that just stung you.”

Common weeds such as nettles, prickly ash, yarrow and burdock, which is often mistaken for wild rhubarb, were the stars of Wolff’s show. Weeds that never seem to go away and viewed as a gardener’s enemies are full of medicinal and nutritional value. “There is much that is useful and good in your woods and not appreciated enough,” she said.

The bark of prickly ash is good for the digestion and alleviates pain in the nerve endings. Burdock aids in skin irritations and respiratory ailments. Wild yarrow, which is white or pastel in color, is “really good fro stopping blood,” she said. “Everyone has their gushing blood stories.”

Wolff told of an incident when a drunk woman had fallen and banged her forehead on a cement sidewalk. The thudding sound was what attracted Wolff. A friend with Wolff ran to the woman’s aid exclaiming that Wolff was an herbalist and could help her. Wolff said 911 was called, but meanwhile she went to her nearby car where she always has a huge stash of herbal tinctures.

Wolff applied a couple of drops of yarrow tincture to a rag. In that time, a puddle of blood had formed on the sidewalk by the injured woman. Wolff told her to gently place the rag on her forehead. After a few minutes, to the woman’s amazement, the bleeding had stopped.

Yarrow’s Latin name stems from Achilles, the warrior who packed his soldier’s wounds in yarrow to staunch the bleeding. It’s also excellent for nosebleeds, Wolff added. Placing a yarrow leaf in the nostril can stop even the worse nosebleed within 10 minutes, she said.

And it’s an excellent mosquito repellant. “Supposedly,” she said, “the military did studies on it and found it to be more effective than Deet.”

Someone asked if there was a difference in using dried herbs purchased from a store or fresh plants for tinctures such as yarrow or burdock. Wolff said the potency of fresh plants far exceeds those that are dried.

Dorie Buck, an herbal walk organizer along with Popp and Doug Schmoll of Willmar, said she was pleased with the turnout. Each year, the number attending has grown. A woman from Minneapolis who attended last year, said her familiarity with Wolff’s work resulted in her return. One fellow came from Evansville, a town northwest of Alexandria, in search of how to use what grows in his own back yard.

Buck hosts a monthly health meeting once a month that usually features guest speakers on such topics as herbalism. To learn more, call Buck at (320) 587-4673.

Body, Heal Thyself

Herbalist Lise Wolff uses natural remedies to help people get through – rather than fight – illness

By Sarah Tellijohn
The Southwest Journal, August 7–20, 2000

A few drops of liquid catnip might help to clear up an infant’s case of colic. Chickweed has been known to shrink fatty tumors. Ground ivy is a remedy for plugged ears or kidney disease.

All of these plants––found within a few yards of each other near Lake of the Isles––are collected by herbalists, who use them as natural alternatives to Western medicine. Ragweed, clover, buckthorn (yes buckthorn) and countless other common weeds, plants and flowers all possess qualities that may help heal ailments of the body and mind.

Lyndale resident Lise Wolff is an herbalist, but said she never intended to be.

“I really used to be very mainstream in terms of killing pain, killing a cold,” she said. “Think about it: I was from New York City and I had no interest in plants whatsoever.”

Wolff studied herbalism several years before she decided it was the right career for her, she said.

“I’m always skeptical and that’s the thing that’s saved me,” she said. “I liked herbs, but it didn’t mean I thought they worked. Unless something really dramatic happens, I tend not to believe it.”

Wolff runs her own practice out of a suite in the Calhoun Building, 701 W. Lake St., and teaches a popular series of classes on the medicinal and edible value of plants. She leads plant walks along Minnehaha Parkway and Lake of the Isles each summer, offering a host of stories and historical information for nearly every plant she encounters.

Wolff works seven hours a week at Present Moment Books and Herbs at 35th Street and Grand Avenue. This year she also has been teaching weekend seminars in greater Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Wolff, 32, grew up in Brooklyn––”where only one weed grows”––and came to Minnesota to study history at Macalester College. After earning her degree, she decided to start preparing for a career in physical therapy. She moved back to New York and started working in a physical therapist’s office.

“It made a lot more sense than it felt good,” said Wolff of the 9-5 work world.

She started taking classes on herbal medicine as she was preparing to become a physical therapist. She assumed that her future patients would ask about alternative medicine, so she wanted to learn about the medicinal uses of plants in order to answer their questions.

But in those classes, Wolff said, she found herself overwhelmed with the desire to learn more: “I studied with anybody and everybody I could get my hands on.” When she returned to Minnesota after 18 months in New York, she began teaching classes at North Country Cooperative as a volunteer. The demand for her lectures grew, and she began to be paid for them.

During that time, noted mythologist Joseph Campbell was the subject of a public television documentary. Wolff remembers being moved by one of his quotes: “Follow your bliss.”

Flicking the body along

Wolff describes her work as a way of “harnassing the body to heal itself”. Rather than killing or stopping a process in the body, she said, she helps her clients through it. “Flicking the body along,” she calls it, using small, gentle remedies.

A client’s first consultation in Wolff’s one-room office lasts two hours. She takes inventory of the client’s medical history and current regimen of medications or supplements. She asks about physical and emotional symptoms and then starts “pulse-testing” with different remedies. She’ll usually apply a drop to the skin or have the client hold the bottle to see if there is a shift in the person’s pulse. Depending on the shift and how the person’s symptoms react, she’ll choose a remedy.

The top of Wolff’s prescription pad reads, “If I were you I would…,” which she said describes the nature of an herbalist’s work: “We suggest.”

“All [the body] needs is a suggestion, and it does a great job if given the opportunity,” said Wolff, who follows up over the phone on a weekly basis with her clients.

She doesn’t discount Western medicine, but she said a situation becomes sticky if a patient’s physician doesn’t approve of herbalism. Sometimes, however, patients don’t tell their doctors they are seeing an herbalist.

Wolff said she appreciates diagnostics tests done by physicians, which may give her useful information on how to treat a patient, or on how her remedies have worked, “because then we know what we did.”

Once a person’s condition has gotten better, Wolff said, she recommends stopping the treatment. “You don’t keep taking the remedy,” she said. “It’s not like a pill.” She said staying on a remedy too long, or taking too much at one time, can send a person into a “healing crisis” that keeps the ailment recurring.

Wolff describes the body as a river, with her job being to make it flow right. Often a simple cold or headache means the body is stuck, or plugged, she said. When people are tired or stressed, their bodies are about to undergo an illness, and her job is to facilitate that process, she said. Instead of killing the pain with a pill, she helps it move through and then brings the body back into a state of resistance.

“If your body is moving through things, why would you bother to stop it?” Wolff said.

About 50 percent of her practice is made up of flower-essence treatments, which are used to treat psychological problems like depression or anxiety, she said. For physical ailments, she uses herbs. Twenty percent of her herbs are bought commercially, but Wolff is a “wildcrafter,” which means she collects herbs and makes many of her own remedies. She said she is often invited to farms or other large tracts of land to pick plants for her practice.

Remedies come in several forms: ointments, tinctures or the leaves of plants. A tincture is a plant extract that has been soaked in alcohol.

There is no licensing or training requirements for herbalists. Wolff said there are peer-review organizations, and there is a close-knit group of people who learn from each other.

Herbalists and other alternative medicine practitioners won a long-fought battle at the state Legislature this year, when lawmakers passed a bill creating a consumer’s bill of rights for complementary and alternative health care services. In November, Wolff will be required to post in her office a disclosure statement that explains her profession and training.

Wolff said she is careful not to alienate clients. Often people associate herbalists with a hippie stereotype, she said, which is perpetuated by some alternative medicine practitioners. That can turn off some people.

“I look like everybody else,” she said. “It’s really, again, about being a bridge. That’s what I see my job is, to be able to explain and to give people a way to ease into this world that they’re able to do.”

Herbal Healer

Lise Wolff cures what ails you–or, rather, helps you help yourself heal–with herbs

Minnesota Monthly, October 2010

Lise Wolff believes herbs can heal. A member of the highly respected American Herbalist Guild, she has a master’s degree in herbalism from the Scottish School of Herbalism and the University of Wales, and she teaches classes, walking clients around the Twin Cities to learn about plant life in their own neighborhood. Most recently, she was appointed an adjunct professor at St. Catherine University, where she will teach an herbology course. Here, she shares some tidbits about herbs.

I wanted to become a physical therapist. I was skeptical about herbs. Before taking a class on herbs, plants were just all green to me.

Herbs remind the body how to resume proper function; they stimulate the body to heal itself.

If people had any idea of how valuable their native plants are, they would treat the land differently. Better. People are weeding vegetables that are close to spinach and lettuce. They are chock-full of nutrition.

Often herbs look like the body parts they heal.

Most of my clients get immediate results. Sometimes they can feel an improvement even before they leave my office.

Your immune system is not a wall. It takes things in and decides if they are friend or foe.

The reason why many people get sick on vacation is because their body has been holding in blockages, storing them until the body has the time and energy to expel them.

When I help someone out of depression, for example, there’s a ripple effect. They have better relationships with their family, friends, strangers. I treat one person, but I affect a lot of lives. That drives me.

I see a practitioner, too. I don’t self-medicate. Perspective is everything.

“I love taking people on walks. Their whole world changes when they see all the properties of all the plants that they undervalue.”

Registered Herbalist Lise Wolff, 612-819-9946, herbalistlisewolff.com