Photo: Still sisters after 30 years. My host sister and I in Leuven, Belgium.
I was fortunate to graduate from high school at 17 which allowed me to join the American Field Service, a foreign exchange program, as a gap year before college. Through AFS, I was stationed in Lummen, Belgium, a quaint village with one butcher, two bakeries, a large Church and a few pubs that were the heartbeat of local life. Living with a new family, I became deeply involved with their customs and traditions. Some of my favorites were learning to cook family recipes and make home remedies for various ailments from local wild plants like bilberry, mustard and calendula. This experience of being dropped in the middle of a foreign country, without any knowledge of their language or customs and no real contact back to my home or family, dissolved everything I’d known about the world, exposing me to new ways of living and the realization that the possibilities were endless.
When I returned home, I put myself through university in San Francisco, studying by day and waiting tables on dinner cruises at night. After graduating, I moved to Aspen in 1995 for a simpler life (a laughable concept to most of my friends), with the goal of paying off my school loans and to achieve my dream of living on every continent in the World. At the time, I was struggling with endometriosis and too sick to travel so I had a few hurdles to cross before I could depart. I practically lived in Snowberries, a hidden local health food store, devouring their books on natural healing and herbal remedies. After undergoing two surgeries and integrating a strict diet and herbal protocol, I was finally well enough to embark on my trip around the world.
Sydney was the first stop on my adventure, where I found an under-the-table job at a café serving goulash and flat whites to the city’s uber-elite. The staff was an unlikely bunch of yogis and spiritually-minded characters (one waiter pulled out his own molar with the assured belief that it would grow back). It was there that I had my first formal introduction to herbal medicine, a coworker was finishing her degree in naturopathic medicine and developed a personal herbal regimen for me. My life became a whirlwind of eye-watering, formidable tinctures and peaty teas to facilitate the final stages of healing from my long stint with endometriosis. For the first time, I saw the potential for herbal medicine as a profession, and this morphed into the focus of my travels. In each new location I visited, I sought to learn about the local herbal traditions and plants.
Stay tuned for my next post, which gets into my journey to South America and teachings in indigenous Amazonian medicine.