Betzy Bancroft, like many of David’s students, has an amazing track record of doing fascinating things with her love of herbs. One of David’s earliest students and a former employee of H&A, she is a teacher and practitioner, as well as using her business experience to help run pivotal organizations. Betzy divides her time between two non-profit organizations: she is currently office manager of United Plant Savers as well as a faculty member of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. She lives next door to Sage Mountain on a beautiful mountainside.
What motivated you to become a clinical herbalist?
I’m not sure I ever actually made a decision to become a clinical herbalist. I had been drawn to nature and plants all my life, and got interested in their medicinal uses when I was in college and unhappy with doctors’ care. After college I met David and started his herb studies course, which is clinically oriented. Helping people came out of my compassionate nature and ‘with the territory.’
After you studied herbs formally under David Winston beginning in 1987, including two graduate courses, you then stayed on as an assistant instructor. How did teaching continue your herbal training?
Teaching and practicing are both great ways to keep learning! One must study and research to write more advanced curriculum, which is much more relevant to my role on the faculty at Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. I only taught basic subjects for David’s program, but now I teach not only advanced, clinical curriculum, but also information on the cutting edge of research, such as gut microbiota. Need to keep abreast of a lot these days!
My study with David gave me an excellent energetic worldview and comprehensive understanding of materia medica (the herbs). In those days we went for lots of herb walks, so my ID skills are also great, and I love to give herb walks. My experience in David’s classes and working for Herbalist & Alchemist has given me a really solid foundation to be a co-director, core faculty member and clinical herbalist at VCIH. As the school and clinic grow, I draw on even more of my skills, like planning herbal extract production and guest lectures.
At David’s school I taught medicine making, and now at VCIH I teach the advanced medicine making course in the second year of the program. The students’ medicine show is always amazing, one of the highlights of my year.
In your 16 years at Herbalist & Alchemist as a staff herbalist and general manager, what was your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job had to do with education—helping to write the initial versions of the Specific Indications guide and later doing classes for health food stores and other customers.
Does your formal herbal training assist you in your job as office manager for United Plant Savers?
It’s really a lot more than my herbal training that assists me in my office manager job. I use all the skills I learned managing the office at H&A including computer, customer service, keeping organized. Perhaps especially my experience with the herbal products industry generally, and botanical raw material supply specifically, have been key.
At UpS, I help people with a wide range of questions and issues, from identifying plants by photos to where to market the herbs they grow. I also write and organize educational materials for UpS, like the Botanical Sanctuary Resource Guide. It is partly my experience as a clinical herbalist, but really my office manager job draws on my very wide-ranging experience, since I am not answering questions for people about what they should do for their health at UpS.
Over your many years teaching herbal medicine have the interests and backgrounds of students changed? How?
I think more people are interested in herbal medicine. The focus has shifted more to helping others, especially people without access to medical care and in emergency situations (several of my students are street medics at political protests). A lot of younger people are studying herbs, but it’s still mostly female. I also see more herbalists interested in science, getting beyond folk use of herbs to a more complete understanding of the human body, plant chemistry and energetic theory.
I am excited for contemporary American herbalists... We manage to maintain our great diversity and eclecticism while very much opening our perspectives to science, multicultural traditional theory, clinical trials... A good blend of old and new. Our profession is connected, cross-pollinating and gaining respect. My primary focus these days is the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, which is a non-profit educational organization encompassing a school of herbal medicine and a sliding-scale clinic. I invite you to visit www.vtherbcenter.org. We really have an awesome mission.