Meet The Founder & Director of The Herbal Academy
We had the absolute pleasure of interviewing the Founder & Director of The Herbal Academy International School of Herbal Arts and Sciences, Marlene Adelmann.
Based in New England, the mission of The Herbal Academy is to teach the art and science of plant medicine honoring their intrinsic connection to nature. They are dedicated to teaching and promoting a lifestyle of wellness and vitality through the use of herbs, sound nutrition, and optimal health practices.
How do you define Herbalism?
Herbalism is the practice of using plants and parts of plants to maintain and restore health, whether through offering nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, or a more direct action through powerful chemical constituents. Herbalism is also the connection we make between ourselves and plants, the Earth, and each other by entering into a deep, listening relationship. Through herbalism and our connection to plants we are empowered to tap into the extremely supportive (and critical) relationship we have had with plants throughout human existence. Herbalism is recognizing our place in our ecosystem, and supporting our wellness with that which we have relied on for millennia – whole, healthy food and herbs, regular movement, meaningful work, time in nature, and human connection.
What is your background in Herbalism? How did you become a herbalist?
I don’t remember having a specific ah-ha moment that drew me to become an herbalist. Loving herbs and plants and using them in creative culinary dishes was just so natural for me. My passion grew with my studies in the Culinary Arts. In 1989 I opened a catering company and with that interest in food and good healthy living I started learning more about herbs and how to use them both for food and medicine.
I spent several years studying herbs and learning under some of the most revered, modern herbalists, such as Rosemary Gladstar and Susun Weed. Inspired by my education, I opened a small local community school in Boston in 2011. Now, that once small community group has turned into the Herbal Academy, an international school that is the home of foundational and advanced herbalism programs for students of all skill levels. I believe there is no end to education, and I continue to practice plant medicine and study as time allows, but I’m mostly learning through teaching others with the work we do here at the Herbal Academy.
Do you see the practices and formulations of Herbalism growing in the natural skincare industry, and the industry as a whole?
Plant-based products are absolutely becoming more visible and available in the skincare industry. Manufacturers are turning to more plant ingredients not only because they are trendy, but because they can also be very effective. We are especially excited about teaching our students how to make their own skin care products, using ethically-sourced, sustainable ingredients. It’s also important to keep a holistic approach in mind. Acne or a chronic rash may be your body’s way of dealing with an internal imbalance that can be corrected with a dietary shift, for example. So in some cases it’s not an herbal cream that is needed, but a dietary or lifestyle change!
What do you see as the future of Herbalism?
Fortunately there is more awareness around herbalism again, thanks in large part to the work of herbalists like Rosemary Gladstar who began in the 1970s to revive the herbalist tradition and bring that once common knowledge out of the shadows. The past three decades have seen an upsurge in the study of herbalism, and the availability of herbalism as an alternative therapy. Botanical ingredients are common in skin care preparations, and in many cases the herbs used in products are being grown and harvested by the maker.
As people have experienced the positive supportive role that herbs can play in their health, both preventatively and in the case of health imbalance, more are turning to herbalism in their daily lives. The beauty here is that herbalism can be practiced at a personal and family level, but this also creates opportunities for community/clinical herbalists and herbal products entrepreneurs to play a role in bringing herbalism to communities.
Big business has taken note of this, and the herbal community is feeling the results of the tremendous potential of herbalism through trademarking of our traditional, shared remedies. Additionally, even small herbal products manufacturers must now comply with FDA’s stringent regulatory requirements for the manufacture and labeling of products, and this can be enormously – and in some cases prohibitively – expensive. These are both big issues for which the herbal community is banding together to find solutions and practical ways to move forward.
As herbalism becomes more “mainstream” again, we’ll likely continue to see issues arise from the intersection of the corporate economy and regulatory structure with the herbalism tradition. However, there also continues to be vast potential for each individual to become knowledgeable about the ways herbs can support their wellness, and to seek and implement those practices in their own lives, keeping herbalism available, diverse, and “of the people,” as it always has been.
When and where did you first learn about Witch Hazel and Slippery Elm?
Even as a teenager I was aware of witch hazel as a skin toner, as it was available on the shelves of the local drugstore. It wasn’t until I started to study herbalism in more depth and started recognizing the witch hazel tree on walks in the woods that I really became more knowledgeable about it. Witch hazel sets its yellow blooms in late fall or early winter – some species bloom in mid-late winter – and is a pleasure to stumble across during a snowy winter walk.
Slippery elm was one of the herbs I learned about from Rosemary Gladstar’s books as a soothing remedy for hot, inflamed throats. This, too, is from a tree – slippery elm powder is from the dried inner bark of the elm tree.
What do you know about Witch Hazel and Slippery Elm?
Both witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana L.) and elm (Ulmus rubra L.) are native to North America and are included in the pharmacopeia of the indigenous population here. Witch hazel bark and leaves can be used in teas for sore throats and in compresses for skin wounds, bruises, and inflammation. It is well known as an astringent, useful both externally and internally to stop bleeding and tone tissues, and also has antibacterial properties. Slippery elm is also used for wounds and burns, and internally for sore throats, inflammation, and coughs. It is indeed a slippery demulcent when mixed with water, creating a slimy mucilage that cools and soothes inflamed mucosal tissues in the case of sore throat or digestive system disturbances such as gastritis or diarrhea.
How do you use these ingredients in your herbal remedies?
I like using witch hazel topically in a salve, spray, or lotion. Use witch hazel topically in a spray (combined with aloe vera) or in a salve, which can help cleanse wounds, stop bleeding, and soothe burns. Another popular remedy is calamine lotion, and believe it or not, you can make this at home using witch hazel as one of the main ingredients. With its anti-inflammatory properties, this lotion is especially soothing on the skin when applied to burns or bug bites.
Slippery elm is a wonderful herb to use in sore throat remedies. One recipe that I often turn to when sickness strikes is the Sore Throat Tea recipe from the Academy blog. Combine 1 part sage leaf, ½ part slippery elm, ¼ part cinnamon chips and ¼ part ginger root and pour boiling water over 4-6 tablespoons of herbs, filling a quart jar to the top. Allow to steep covered for 30-45 minutes and then strain to enjoy.
Another great sore throat remedy is Slippery Elm Balls. Mix powdered slippery elm with enough honey until you can form little balls nearly the size of a small marble. Coat these with more slippery elm powder and store in a small airtight jar until needed. They can be taken to soothe sore throats and also to help with acid reflux.
What are some of your favorite uses for Witch Hazel and Slippery elm?
Probably one of the more common uses – and one way I use witch hazel myself – is in a facial toner. Because of its natural astringent properties, it’s a great preparation to include in your natural beauty routine. I’ll use slippery elm mostly in tea to help me get through colds and flu. It’s a wonderful herb you can rely on for sore throats!
What skin benefits of Witch Hazel do you know of?
Witch hazel is quite effective as a skin tightener due to its astringent tannins which shrink blood vessels. Used as a toner it helps to reduce redness, tighten skin, and minimize puffiness under the eyes. This same tightening action and its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial actions aid in the healing of minor cuts and wounds. Witch hazel promotes blood flow beneath the skin’s surface which in effect helps to distribute blood that has pooled in a bruised or scraped area of the body.
Why is Slippery Elm a wonderful natural remedy for sore throats, nasal congestion, and joint pain?
Slippery elm is an anti-inflammatory and demulcent that soothes and lubricates inflamed tissues in the body while also acting as an astringent to restore tone.
What is your natural beauty routine?
As an herbalist is is very difficult for me to even consider using expensive manufactured facial cleansers, toners, or moisturizers when I can look to nature to make beautiful herbal products in my own kitchen. Some of my favorite beauty recipes are simple ones like Herbal Oatmeal Cleanser, Queen of Hungary Water, Calendula Skin Oil, and Herbal Bath Salts.
I have to say, the one exception for me is Thayer’s witch hazel. I can’t remember a time when this bottle was not on my bathroom shelf. Growing up, I remember seeing it on my grandmother’s dressing table and my mother used it on a daily basis. As a teenager I used it to help with acne and it was a feel-good facial freshener for me and part of my beauty regimen in the morning and before bed. Not much has changed over the years. Witch hazel is still on my bathroom shelf and while I could afford to buy an expensive toner to replace witch hazel, I see no need. I’m no longer addressing acne, but I am addressing aging skin and witch hazel has accompanied me through the many changing stages of my youth and now mature years.
As a rule I never go to bed without cleansing my face with a gentle wash followed by toning with witch hazel and then I apply a natural creamy herbal moisturizer. What I would like to emphasize here is that good products do not necessarily have big price tags attached to them. I actually find it to be quite the opposite. Many products with fancy packaging and hype are not nearly as effective and many come with a hefty and undesirable ingredient list.