Herbstalk Offers City-Dwellers A Path To Connect With Nature And Holistic Living

By Joye Williams for Boston Compass Blog

August 28, 2020


Boston Compass contributor and owner of Joyefully Natural, Joye Williams chatted with Herbstalk founder Steph Zabel about the upcoming Virtual Herbstalk, happening this Saturday, August 29th. The two talked herbalism & city life, holistic healing, and the systemic racism and COVID-19 pandemics, check it out below:


Joye: How did your path to herbalism begin and how has your journey evolved?

Steph: My own path to herbalism began as a young girl, when I fell in love with the flowers in my mother’s garden and the trees on my grandparent’’s rural property. I was always drawn to plants and for me the beauty of nature provided inspiration and solace.

In school I studied botany, horticulture and ethnobotany, but it wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I started actively working with plant medicine. I learned about herbs on my own at first, and then with other teachers when I could. I slowly started working with herbs, making my own medicines, and sharing these with other people. Over the years this passion turned into a business (www.flowerfolkherbs.com); I started by making natural herbal products and eventually that turned into working with individual clients and teaching people how to make their own medicines. A big part of my work also involved the creation of Herbstalk in 2011. Herbstalk is a community event held in the Boston area that brings together people from all over New England to learn, share and connect around plants.

My herbal path has never been straightforward, but each year that passes has brought a deepening of this work, as well as a stronger connection to my own ancestral roots. While the outer form of what I do shifts and evolves, I feel that my lifelong purpose is to facilitate connections between people and the natural realm.

How does Herbstalk help make this lifestyle more accessible for city dwellers and/or groups that have been traditionally excluded from Herbalism?

We have always intended for Herbstalk to be a place of welcome and inclusion, a place of homecoming — coming back to one another and coming back to the Earth. We still have much work to do in this regard so that ALL people feel that Herbstalk is a place for them.

Access has been an essential part of our mission and unlike many herbal conferences we hold our events in urban areas that are readily accessible by public transportation. We also have a very low admission price — for $20 our participants can attend all classes in one day (upwards of 20 classes per day!), and we have open access to a marketplace and plant walks. We also run a lot of free education about herbalism and share the work of our community via our social media, blog, newsletter and upcoming free Virtual Herbstalk event.

We are committed to supporting our BIPOC community and recently offered BIPOC fellowships for herbal education and business development. We are always actively looking to host teachers from a range of backgrounds who represent the diverse nature of herbalism.

Do you have any tips for Bostonians looking to start engaging in herbalism or holistic health?

Yes, there are many places to start. Honestly, we hear time and time again how Herbstalk is a great first step to one’s introduction to herbalism and/or holistic health. Our upcoming free Virtual Herbstalk is this Saturday, August 29th where we are hosting an array of plant-based and holistic talks on social media. Please join us! (http://www.herbstalk.org/virtual-herbstalk.html)

There are also many wonderful schools and resources based in Boston where people can connect and learn, including The CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism, Seed of Osun, The Boston School of Herbal Studies, and The Herbal Academy. Right now all of these schools have online distance learning options.

I also believe that holistic health does not have to be complicated. It's a daily practice that becomes second nature over time. People can start by making a simple cup of tea with a favorite herb (perhaps nettles, tulsi, chamomile, mint or lemon balm) and take a moment to mindfully sit with the tea, its aroma, its energy, and how it feels in the body. There is so much that we can learn directly from the plants if we only slow down and listen.

What is Herbstalk’s mission and values?

Our mission is to create community and connect people — especially urban dwellers — to plants and nature. We focus on offering accessible educational opportunities, highlighting the work of emerging herbalists, strengthening our local communities, and facilitating a direct relationship to plants and the natural world.

Our core values are collaboration, generosity, kindness, integrity and growth. We aim to change people’s lives and perspectives through the experiences and interactions that take place at our events. We believe that change starts on an individual level and then moves outwards to affect the greater world. We hope that Herbstalk can play a small part in helping to shift our world into a place of greater compassion and care for all people, all beings, and the Earth.

*How is Herbstalk responding to calls for actions to stop systemic racism, especially in light of the disportionate number of POC being affected by Covid-19? *

We stand in solidarity with our BIPOC community and are anguished by the persistence of racism and injustice in our country. As an organization we are committed to deepening our understanding of racism, and to showing up for our brothers and sisters of color. Some of our actions to date include donating to and amplifying the work of several BIPOC run organizations. (You can learn more and find resources on our Instagram account @herbstalk.) We also created a BIPOC fellowship to support folks seeking herbal education and business development. In solidarity with recent protests against injustice we also cancelled our virtual event planned for June and focused our platforms around amplifying BIPOC voices.

One of our community partners is doing amazing work in regards to addressing the significant number of BIPOC affected by Covid-19. The CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism has a number of resources for mutual aid and accessible herbalism tools here: https://commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid/…as well as resources for Covid-19 specifically: https://commonwealthherbs.com/coronavirus/ This is just a start and there many more ways we want to grow and learn and support.

How have these pandemics affected you and your work?

Everything about Covid-19 has disrupted my individual work and the Herbstalk community events we organize. As a teacher and herbalist I pivoted all my work to online and/or to hosting much smaller groups. For the Herbstalk events all of our large community events were forced to be cancelled. While this has been challenging financially and logistically, it did give me a reason to reimagine our events and my classes. For Herbstalk, we have never held a remote event before, and so this weekend’s Virtual Herbstalk will be something totally new for us! It will be a fun way to explore a new mode of outreach, and to expand access even further into other communities and across borders.

Where do you see Herbstalk in the future?

Since there is so much uncertainty in the world we are taking it one day at a time, and trying to be open and flexible as it pertains to hosting in-person events. We hope to be able to gather in-person with our community in 2021, and to once again bring folks together in the spirit of collaboration, inspiration and growth. In the meantime, we will continue to find ways to strengthen our community and uplift during these times -- virtual or otherwise. We see the Herbstalk community as a place of connection, unity and healing and we will work towards these goals in whatever form we are able to.

-- Joye Williams