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Get to know herbalist Lily Johnson

Get to know herbalist Lily Johnson

Can you share a bit about your background and how you became interested in herbal medicine?

I grew up in a small, rural town in Mendocino County. My parents treated most ailments with food, herbs, acupuncture, and homeopathy. We all got pneumonia when I was little so of course we drank gnarly TCM herb tea (if you know you know) from the local health food co-op. When I got to college, I was the weirdo handing out herbs from my freshman dorm room during the first winter when everyone was getting sick. Health and wellness were always interests of mine, but I never thought about studying them formally or being a healer. When I graduated from college, I had no one idea what I wanted to do and frankly I was very lost. It was really hard for many years. Right before the pandemic, I was working as an event manager for two major cultural institutions in San Francisco and freelancing as an artist assistant in Marin. I was really lonely, burnt out, and was living paycheck to paycheck. In March 2020, I lost my jobs and my freelancing was put on hold. I decided then that I needed to figure out an alternative career situation and I would use the newfound time, freedom, and unemployment payments to do so. I started a year long health coach training and felt really passionate about using food to help others heal. I didn’t feel ready to take the leap to open my practice, and was dealing with healing my own health issues and my mom’s sudden onset of chronic pain. At the same co-op that we bought the gross tea from all those years ago, I saw a flyer for the California School of Herbal Studies. I was a baby herbalist just dabbling in herbs and reading as many books as I could. I went home and applied to the school’s intensive Roots program for the following year. I was so sure I wouldn’t get in, but after an interview that I thought I sucked in, I did! I went on to complete the second year of training in the Community Herbalist Program and I’m now seeing clients and am working on an alcohol-free product line. I’m also a freelance virtual assistant and event manager. 


Can you provide examples of herbs you commonly use in your practice and their medicinal properties?

Everyone needs nervous system and adrenal support, so I am usually recommending some kind of adaptogen (herbs that support us during times of stress and lessen its effects on the body). That might be a capsule or tincture, but often it's a powdered extract that can be stirred into coffee. Powders are really having a moment right now so I like to capitalize on that. I also use a lot of liver herbs. Most people’s detoxification channels are overwhelmed, which often leads to skin, hormonal, and digestive issues. I like dandelion root, burdock root, hibiscus (not often thought of as a liver herb!), and schisandra. It can be really challenging for people to incorporate herbs into their routine, so I often recommend using herbs in food. Parsley, cilantro, mint, thyme, turmeric, etc. are all great for digestion, high in nutrition, and anti-inflammatory. A great tip is to create a blend with your favorite culinary spices and ground up herbs tailored to your needs so you’re getting that little hit every time you have a meal. 



Where do you source your herbs, and how do you ensure their quality and purity?

I personally think fresh is best, and I try to make all my medicine with fresh or freshly dried herbs. I wildcraft sparingly and only pick herbs that I know are abundant. I treat wild herbs with a lot of respect. If it doesn’t feel right to pick them, I don’t.  If you’re in Sonoma County, Sonoma County Herb Exchange is the mecca for fresh, organic, and high-quality herbs. Some farms have an herbal u-pick, like Brambletail Homestead at Green Valley Farm and Mill in Forestville. Local herb farms or exchanges are obviously going to be the best choice, but we don’t all have access to those. Lots of herb farms dry their herbs beautifully and sell online. Some of my favorite farms that grow excellent quality herbs and dry them correctly are: Oshala Farm, Reverie Farm, Black Locust Gardens, Purple Sage Farms, Zack Woods Herb Farm, and Golden Hour Herbs. Mountain Rose Herbs and Pacific Botanicals are great for getting everything you need in one place. They also carry a wider variety of herbs, including ones that don’t grow well in the US or are less popular. 

It’s really important to know what the herbs should taste, look, and smell like when you’re ordering from a new source. Recently I ordered crampbark from a new seller as my usual sources were sold out. I opened the crampbark and it literally smelled like perfume! It must have be sprayed with a fungicide or something like that. If I didn’t know what crampbark is supposed to smell like, I would have just thought, “well, I guess that’s crampbark!” It was gross and I couldn’t use it. 

How do you assess the health and wellness needs of your clients before recommending herbal remedies?

In an initial intake, we usually spend an hour talking about the client’s health history, current struggles, and what their life looks like right now in terms of food, stress, sleep, community, etc. A lot of it is listening.  You have to be present and engaged to really hear what the client is saying (or not saying). Then I’ll usually take a day to read over my notes and feel into the session. Often insights come to me after spending some time thinking about something totally different and unrelated to herbalism. Then I’ll send a detailed follow up email with diet, herbal, and lifestyle recommendations. Those recommendations are just a starting point. If something isn’t working, we stop doing it! The idea is to work together on a regular basis so I can tailor the herbs and other recommendations to the client’s changing needs. 



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