We are blessed with many wonderful teachers at the Herbal Academy, and we are delighted to help you get to know each of them through a series of interviews here on the blog! Recently, you met one of our teachers through an interview we shared with Maria Groves. Another one of our Associate Educators, Bevin Clare, recently joined us for an interview to talk about her adventures studying herbalism around the world and her career as a professional herbalist.
Bevin is a clinical herbalist by profession and holds an MSc in Infectious Disease from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is also an Associate Professor at the Maryland University of Integrative Health and is Program Manager there for the Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism.
Her work also extends to several non-profit organizations. Bevin is the founder of the Herbal Clinic for All program, providing cost-free herbal medicine healthcare since 2007, is a board member of the United Plant Savers, and is the current President of the American Herbalists Guild.
She brings all of this amazing expertise together to share with everyone as a teacher here at the Herbal Academy and was very involved with our recently completed Advanced Herbal Course. You’ll find Bevin in videos throughout the course discussing everything from case studies, intake procedures, and even herbalism and the law.
We are delighted to help you get to know Bevin a little better through her own words.
Interview with Academy Teacher Bevin Clare
Herbal Academy: When did you first become interested in herbalism? Can you tell us a little about your herbal journey up until this point? What do you enjoy the most about herbalism in your own daily life?
Bevin Clare: I wandered the woods when young, and as a teen, herbalism was the natural extension to my wanderings. I spent years abroad as a young adult discovering and confirming the power of plants and built from that passion what I do today. I was happy pursuing herbalism as more of a traditional art and practice when my then partner encouraged me to pursue it more formally to have more open doors in my life, and I did. I pursued an undergraduate degree in Ethnobotany from Lesley University followed by an MSc in Infectious Disease from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Teaching and practice was my primary focus for a time, and in the past years a shift to more teaching, studies of pedagogy to become a better teacher, herbal politics, the birthing and raising of children, and a return to nature with a new to us home in a lovely valley in Maryland have captured my love and attention.
What I love about herbalism is the constant buzz of conversation between people and plants, and amongst plants themselves, with which I am surrounded. My breakfast foods talk to each other in my body, and with my body, because they are all plants speaking the same biochemical language that I, as an animal, speak. Outside my windows, a complex world of living interactions thrives and pulses. And as an herbalist, I feel like I get to be part of that.
Herbal Academy: You’ve studied herbal medicine around the world- where have your studies taken you? Will you please share one of your favorite experiences?
Bevin Clare: I have traveled to over 30 countries and always an interest in the herbal medicine is present. Sometimes, it is more of a focus than at other times. Even more than the herbs, it’s meeting my people: the herbalists of the world. We often come from very different walks of life, but what we do in our roots and our hearts is the same.
There are so many stories, from so many places, and many of them defy language barriers, or a common materia medica, and would be hard to explain. But a favorite memory is landing in New Zealand in the middle of our winter (their summer) and within hours of landing, being at the home of another herbalist I had never met, gathering a wild salad. For me, it was the middle of winter but here we are in a temperate summer (very different feeling than visiting the tropics, which feel like the tropics) and recognizing my sweet herb friends like chickweed and nettles and cleavers and henbit but then, interspersed, there are these wild plants I have never ever seen before. And that bonding over salad gathering, a world art, for both the plants and the hands picking them, was a profound and touching experience for me.
Herbal Academy: You have a Masters in infectious disease and created an Herbal Clinic for All program. Would you share a little about the Herbal Clinic for All—what this program is and what it provides for the community? Do you feel that herbalism can have a positive impact on public health?
Bevin Clare: Accessibility to herbalism is critical. I’m reminded daily that this is the medicine of the people, not the medicine of the elite. It’s easy to get convinced that only the finest organic products are the only way to go when in fact the best quality for you could be local, or even just the best you can get or afford. We need to make (and support) choices which make herbalism available to all.
I think the use of herbs can make a significant different in public health, but not the way we are often using them. Gentle lifestyle interventions are tricky to add into a longstanding degenerative disease health picture, and this is how we often come to herbs, as a last resort. I’d love to get families in underserved populations using culinary herbs daily, like turmeric or ginger, for prevention, using their food and as a whole family.
I started the HCFA program with a peer of mine nearly a decade ago and it has changed and morphed as the programs at MUIH (Maryland University of Integrative Health) have changed with the times. It supported cost-free sessions at our clinics in DC, Baltimore, and Laurel, MD for a time, and then supported clients coming into our student clinic. Now, we are looking at the next iteration of how we can meet the community’s need as our clinical program at MUIH becomes more global in its reach.
Herbal Academy: You are the President of the American Herbalists Guild and a Board member of United Plant Savers. How did you come to be involved with these two organizations, and how do you think they are important for the future of herbalism?
Bevin Clare: As a (very) young aspiring herbalist I decided that herbalism should be a viable career option, and I was determined to make it happen. Through family and community support, I focused entirely on it and was able to gain footing through teaching, practice, study, and other activities. I also became interested in the forces which shape herbalism in the U.S. and joined the board of the AHG more than 10 years ago. I love the people in herbalism as much as I do the plants. We are a diverse, wild, passionate, scholarly, focused bunch and I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate that community of herbalists through the AHG. As the AHG matures in its third decade, there are so many new possibilities and projects we are taking on. And as the world gets smaller, our organization is able to interface with many around the globe, which is incredibly exciting.
All of that said, without the plants, we are hardly herbalists. And the ecology of our herbalist community is intricately tied to that of the plant world. And the health of the medicinal plant world is threatened in so many ways. Some of it has gotten better through our awareness and the work of many in UpS who have preceded me, but there are new challenges, such as those caused by the popularity and over-harvesting of ramps from forests throughout the East or the peril Hawaiian sandalwood faces. Someone needs to speak loudly and clearly about these concerns and it’s an incredible gift to sit at the table with many others who feel the same way.
Herbal Academy: Will you share with us some of the current projects of The American Herbalists Guild and the ways it is working to fulfill its mission of promoting clinical herbalism as a viable profession, supporting access to herbal medicine for all, and advocating excellence in herbal education?
Bevin Clare: Our work in the AHG is a balancing act with honoring tradition and different ways of knowing, along with building a community who can interface in integrative care. The AHG supports the diversity present in herbal education and the many paths which can lead to becoming an herbalist. The idea of the Registered Herbalist credential is to allow herbalists to pursue a peer-review credential which may help open doors for them. At the same time, it is of critical importance that this credential never excludes anyone from practicing herbalism (why we actively oppose licensure for herbalists) and also that it reflects the natural diversity in herbal skills and training which can be cultural or bioregional. The idea is that there are some common traits of an herbal education (materia medica, clinical assessment, formulation) and we look to a quality basis in these areas as well as a few others to make our community stronger.
In addition to our annual symposium, which is a ton of fun, we have a journal which is published twice a year as well as monthly webinars which are open to the general public. For members, we have massive educational resources, years of recorded webinars and recordings, back journal issues, and many other materials. And we have plans to support free clinics and schools in a lot of exciting ways you’ll be hearing about in the coming years.
As an organization, we are focusing on supporting schools and students in the next steps to making herbalism a viable profession as well as looking long and hard at the issues we face with racial diversity in clinical herbalism and how the AHG might be a positive force in changing this. We are a small, grassroots non-profit and welcome all herbalists, members or not, to engage and help us with our work.
Herbal Academy: Considering your work lecturing on herbal safety at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, do you think these two fields—traditional phytotherapy and modern pharmacology—can cross pollinate to mutual benefit? What important lesson do you think that each field can teach the other?
Bevin Clare: Pharmacists are well poised to advise patients about the safety and limited application of herbal medicine—IF they are properly trained. After all, many pharmacists were historically herbalists and herbs were used in pharmacy until relatively recently. However, the opportunities for integrated quality training within a conventional pharmaceutical education are extremely limited.
I really enjoy working with pharmacists because they often understand some of the biochemical language between people and plants—it’s very related to what they do. And as an herbalist, I can share things with them which make the light bulbs go off and they can get excited. Watching health professionals become passionate about herbalism is a huge joy, and the hope that it will spread to benefit their patients becomes more of a reality when they begin to realize the possibilities.
From pharmacy, we can learn a lot about how the body works and about how to support people who are using pharmaceuticals safely and effectively (after all, this is most people in the U.S.). I’m not sure how, but partnerships between herbalists and pharmacists hold a gem of possibility.
A Diverse Group of Educators
Bevin is one of the many herbalists who share their expertise and perspectives to make the Herbal Academy such an engaging and transformative place to study, and it is a joy to have her as part of the team. We hope you enjoyed this chance to peek behind the scenes at the Herbal Academy! Look for more interviews with our Associate Educators in the coming months as we introduce more of the brilliant herbalists that have come together to make our Herbal Learning Courses, The Herbarium, and the blog such a vibrant online herbal community.