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Updated Interview: Maia Toll

Author, Educator, Natural Products Store Owner, Clinical Herbalist

Maia Toll is an author, herbalist and graduate of David Winston’s Herbal Studies program. Her interview in 2014 was so interesting we decided to check back to see what’s new with her.

When we last spoke in 2014 you were getting ready to open a second store in addition to the original location in Philadelphia. Any unexpected challenges? Rewards?

The biggest reward was moving ourselves to Asheville, NC! We love this town. Within weeks of opening the Asheville Herbiary people were saying “Wait. You just opened? I could have sworn you’ve been here a while.” Maybe it’s the vibe of the space we moved into: in the 1920s it was a compounding pharmacy so the healing vibe is rooted in.

The other big bonus in opening a shop here in addition to the Philadelphia store was finding a rich community of both herbalists and growers. Our staff is full of wisdom and our shelves are full of what we call “farm-direct” herbs, which we buy directly from the growers. The Farm Direct herbs are vibrant and full of life. Customers are shocked at how fresh they taste and quickly become hooked on our Farm Direct Tulsi and Peppermint.

You just published a book—The Illustrated Herbiary. How did that come about, and how is it being received?

The first person to take a look at the book outside my publishing circle was Rosemary Gladstar. The review she wrote had me in tears. And the accolades keep coming. I think people were hungry for a book which helped them to connect with the spirit of the plants in a grounded way. Plus people who are not into healing herbs are finding the book charming and approachable, so I’m hoping it’s a gateway for these folks to get into herbalism. The biggest surprise has been that kids are really into it. I had a panicky moment after one woman posted on Instagram that her four year old has decided The Illustrated Herbiary is bedtime reading! I quickly checked Ladies Mantle—which I use for sexual abuse and trauma—to make sure those references were truly veiled. It was a relief to read through it with mom-eyes and realize what I wrote was child safe!

The other fun twist is that people are really seeing a Harry Potter connection. The book got a great review on mugglenet.com and Forbes called me a real life Professor Sprout. I think this Harry Potter link is driving some of the holiday sales. People are already buying multiple copies! I had a woman at a book signing ask me to sign ten copies to everyone on her gift list and then, loaded with her stack of books, she said “I feel like I just did my Hogwart’s shopping at Diagon Alley!"

 

How’s your Witch Camp going? You mentioned some push back on using the “W” word, has acceptance of that way of describing women’s traditional wisdom changed at all in recent years? Are more men interested?

This year was one of the our best Witch Camps ever. The word has gained traction in popular culture: Vogue Magazine did a witchy week a few years back and #witchesofinstagram is one of social medias most popular hashtags. And with that exposure, the word “witch” has matured: it’s more nuanced than it used to be. And many now use it in conjunction with herbalism and herbal knowledge.

Are you still a practicing herbalist? I remember you were a significant H&A customer.

When we moved to Asheville, I decided to give myself a break from clinical herbalism... and that break has stretched and stretched! I just turned in a manuscript for The Illuminated Bestiary which will publish September 2019 and have yet another book contract sitting on my desk... so it looks like I’m going to be hanging my hat on “author” for a while. But that doesn’t mean that Herbalist & Alchemist is out of my life.

I teach formulation and energetics at the herbal conferences, and I love referring to David’s formulae because they are so nuanced in their crafting. The Lung Relief Formulas are truly brilliant and are fabulous for showing how a master formulates for specific energetic conditions. Those five formulas get me (and many of Herbiary’s customers!) through the winter months.

Having been a student of David’s myself, it’s been fascinating to me how many times I pull on not just the herbal knowledge I learned from him but the deep well of wisdom which David transmits. I find myself referring to him when I’m talking about how we heal as a culture or how we honor the earth. The learning I carry with me from the Herbal Studies Program bubbles up in profound ways in so many parts of my life. I think that’s part of the magic of his formulations: his spirit is behind each one.

 

Interview: Maia Toll (2014)

Clinical Herbalist, Educator, Natural Products Store Owner

How did your interest in herbal medicine begin?

Like many in this field, I got sick and the medical world didn’t know what to do with me. Luckily I had an open minded doctor and she started me on a path of exploration with herbs and alternative therapies.

Tell us about the Herbiary and the Market.

Herbiary was opened as a resource for my clients and students who couldn’t find the products I was recommending locally. It began as a very small (7ft x 14ft with a bathroom!) shop and expanded rapidly. Since I never intended to be a shopkeeper (let alone run multiple shops— and we will soon be opening a new one in Asheville NC), I was thrilled when my husband took over the retail end of our operations leaving me free to return to teaching and working with clients.

How do you use your herbal training in your work?

My client work has evolved into what I think of as herbally supported lifecoaching. I was finding that if I simply took the clinical route, the people I worked with weren’t able to make lasting changes. By working more deeply on larger life issues, I have seen huge improvements in health and happiness.

I also teach two online programs: Witch Camp and Sage School. David was really against me using the word “witch.” But it’s a term (along with the B beginning rhyming word) that many women who are interested in the green world have had to contend with. I have made it my mission to make women’s wisdom mainstream which means doing a little language reclamation. Plus, there is something about combining witch with camp that has infused fun and some silliness into an online program, which is not easy to do!

Both WC and SS combine herbal knowledge with seasonal wisdom to help people lead more grounded, connected, well-rounded lives.

 

How has David Winston’s training impacted you?

Three things from studying with David have impacted me in a daily way:

  • the first, and perhaps the most important, is what I took away from David’s teachings on Cherokee medicine. While this was a small part of his course, the philosophical impact of thinking about an illness as being larger than an individual, of expanding family and rippling out to the community, has transformed the way I work.
  • the efficacy of my herbal choices has increased tremendously since adding in the basic energetics of hot/cold, wet/dry that I learned from David. I teach this to all my students now—its a vital piece of the herbal puzzle.
  • finally, my materia medica is huge thanks to David. While I think there is great benefit to using locally grown herbs, I also can have a tremendous amount of fun using the energetics of the landscape where an herb originates (for instance purposely choosing an herb from India because it is acclimated to heat).