Imagine you are sitting at your favorite restaurant, savoring every mouthful, and your mind wanders, wondering how the chef might have created such a masterwork. Then, from the kitchen, the chef spontaneously appears and with a spacious smile, acknowledging you. In an unprompted exchange, you applaud the particulars—the flavors, smells, and tastiness of the meal. The chef then revels in a few select ingredients, highlighting what brought that feast to you and your friends or family. What if the chef could then explain, ever so briefly and concisely, their craft? Would your gratitude, and perhaps even pleasure and experience, expand or grow?
After almost forty years of formulating herbal products, I have witnessed this expansion in pleasure time after time. Understanding the nuances of an herbal formula not only enriches the ritual but highlights the true jewels in a crowded market. As a Master Herbalist, it is my responsibility to provide this additional layer of experience. In this way, the duty of a Master Herbalist is not so different from that of a Master Chef.
Foundations of Herbalism
My herbal formulas have helped uplift and heal probably thousands of people. When I look for what has allowed me to practice this craft successfully, I count daily meditation practice as the foremost foundation. I went on my first six-month meditation retreat in Switzerland in 1975 and I have not missed a day of meditation since.
I see successful formulation depending on being able to meditate and listen and it is often only with this quiet and expansive mind that I believe I can heed the most subtle callings from nature. I am clearly not alone in this recognition. In fact, many herbal lineages cite being profoundly quiet and actually listening to plants as the singular most important step to understanding appropriate applications.
On the more down-to-earth side of herbal formulating, I see three key elements as critical to bringing the craft of herbalism to its full potential and they are: 1) Selection, 2) Sourcing, and 3) Preparation. If any of these three steps are not obsessively studied, attended to and expertly executed, the final formulation lapses into ineffectiveness or worse, can actually produce an untoward effect.
1. Selection: pick your team
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of botanicals, algae, fungi, microbial, and animal species (The Five Kingdoms) available to the herbalist to choose from. In this potentially dizzying selection process, it is tradition and science that serve as the greatest of guides. Tradition points and shines the brightest light on herbs with the greatest time-tested benefits, like skin-health herbs including aloe, turmeric, and saffron, which have been virtually worshipped since humankind’s earliest records. And, when tradition is merged with the curiosity and brilliance of scientists and their modern instruments, who can dissect and confirm an herbal’s mechanisms of action, the Master Herbalist’s direction and confidence is rooted. Poor selection occurs when these steps are bypassed and when the principal intention is to catch or participate in a trend and utilize what is “hot” or popular.
2. Sourcing: find the jewels
Astoundingly, even if the selection process lands on the “correct” component, many herbal formulas in the marketplace are now counterfeits. One of the most disturbing examples of poor sourcing is with the most popular and effective mushroom in Traditional Chinese Medicine—reishi, or Ganoderma lucidum. This mushroom has potential to dramatically balance and heal the skin as well as the internal organs. However, a recent study revealed that up to 75 percent of reishi products are not even reishi. How’s that for tragic?
Another common trap in sourcing is confusing a part for the whole. Turmeric is a great example of this dreadful phenomena. A high percentage of commercial turmeric products on the market for skin and internal use contain only one of an available hundreds of botanically active compounds, called curcumin. While curcumin is very powerful, without the synergy of the whole herb’s compounds, like turmerones, bioavailability and safety can be sacrificed.
The Master Herbalist like the Master Chef knows their sources, and they are often trusted friends. Just as the Master Chef observes the vast differences between a chemically treated hot house tomato versus a local organically grown one, the Master Herbalist recognizes that the quality of their herbs could make the difference between disease and health.
3. Preparation: polish the diamond
Finally, preparation is the last and vitally critical step to create the ultimate skin and internal health formulations. If even the finest herb is not properly fermented or is carelessly extracted, its profound healing powers will not be released or fully revealed. When turmeric’s curcumin is properly fermented, it transforms from a poorly bioavailable compound into a dynamic and significantly more available complex, especially for skin health and wound healing, called tetrahydrocurcumin, or THC (not the same THC as in marijuana). Numerous studies reveal that it is far more than just turmeric that is maximized through fermentation, and in fact every herb I have studied and that is properly fermented can be dramatically enhanced by the microbial kingdom.
Expert extraction can also make the difference between dormancy and activity. Poor extraction leaves even a vital botanical depleted and with little to no synergy. My choice for twenty-five years has been a method of extraction utilizing low heat, high pressure, and no toxic solvents called CO2 volcanic extraction. The experience of these finest extracts that nature can produce is undeniable and irresistible to the senses. I thought I knew what physiological and sensual impact extracts like vanilla planifolia and chamomile could deliver to the body until I experienced these extractions.
I am beyond honored and excited that these extracts and formulation practices are an integral and central part of the rich, sensual experience we offer here at For The Biome.
To healing and For The Biome,
WRITTEN BY PAUL SCHULICK