Erin Stewart

Interview Spring 2021

Erin Stewart

Clinical Herbalist & Aromatherapist, Floranella

Erin Stewart is a clinical herbalist, aromatherapist and organic gardener in the Pacific Northwest. A recent graduate of David Winston's two year Center for Herbal Studies Program, Erin offers apprenticeship-style training in herbalism and aromatherapy through her online school, Floranella.

How did you first become interested in herbalism and aromatherapy?

My most vivid childhood memories almost all involve plants. From the different species that were growing in my grandparents' and parents' beautiful gardens to the mustard plants that my friends and I would grind with large, flat stones under the bleachers at recess, the plants drew me in and captured my interest at an early age. It was not until I was an adult, though, that I really began studying them.

After my husband and I were married in 2009, I began working with medicinal and aromatic plants on a deeper level. I had experienced some health challenges and the western medical team I had been working with was unable to help me find answers or a path toward healing. I started looking elsewhere for help and was fortunate to be able to build a phenomenal alternative medicine team who really helped me find my way back to the garden. I am the kind of person who has a need to understand everything about everything in which I have an interest, so as I was learning from the people who were helping me, I was inspired to also start to seek out more in-depth information and training in herbalism and aromatherapy. That season sparked a life-long interest in learning more about how to work with plants and the body to support health and healing.

You’ve studied with several herbalists, including David Winston. How did working with David enhance the educational program you provide to your students?

I have been so blessed to be able to study with many skilled herbalists and there are still others that I would love to study with at some point! Studying with David has been my favorite educational experience by far. The way that he emphasizes the scientific research we have available on the herbs with which we work in our field is the number one thing that has had the most profound impact on the way I teach my own students. While I did previously include information about scientific research in my own lessons, it has since become the foundation of much of my teaching, particularly in the Herbal Aromatherapy Certification Program at Floranella. I now look at hundreds of new scientific studies each month and read dozens of them every few weeks as I write and update lessons.

The profound effect botanicals can have on addressing mental and emotional conditions is an area of particular interest to you. How are you incorporating this in your work?

Mental health is one of the key elements of my own focus and research right now. I recently returned to college as an adult student to study clinical psychology and hope to further research in this area as I continue my education.

In my practice, I always consider the mental and emotional aspects of wellness when working with clients. Botanically, that sometimes looks like adding herbs to a client's tea or tincture formula that are specifically there to help address how the client is feeling mentally, while at other times, it might look like crafting a tailored aromatherapy blend that the client can work with to help them address their emotional state. After two of our neighboring cities were destroyed by wildfires last fall, for example, my formulas focused not only on supporting respiratory and cardiovascular health (the smoke was horrendous) but also on relieving the feelings of stress, fear and grief that so many people who had lost their homes were facing.

Are there specific of David Winston’s formulas that address mental and emotional conditions that you particularly like?

David is a master formulator, and he has so many outstanding formulas available. My personal favorite in recent months has been Grief Relief. It is a delightful combination of hawthorn, rose and mimosa. The team at H&A sent me a bottle of it after my Dad passed away a few months ago and it has been a balm for my grieving soul.

Can you talk a little about the use of aromatherapy for addressing mental / emotional conditions?

Aromatherapy can be such a wonderful tool for helping people to address their mental and emotional state. While in some ways, it can be quite subjective as a therapy (for example, some people hate the smell of lavender and find that it makes them feel agitated or gives them a headache whilst others love it and find that it helps them to feel calmer) and we need to see a lot more research in these areas, we do have some scientific research showing that aromatherapy can be helpful for supporting mental and emotional health.

Most of the studies on aromatherapy and mental health focus on anxiety and in these studies, the anxiety is often related to undergoing medical procedures, enduring hospitalization, or taking a test. In many of these studies, aromatherapy has generally been found to be helpful for reducing the severity of anxiety.

Other scientific studies in these areas have focused on the ability of essential oils and aromatic plants to uplift the mood, improve focus and concentration, and enhance sleep quality. Research on aromatherapy in the field of mental health is still a bit early, but I am hopeful that we will see more of it in the coming years.

While I do not believe that aromatherapy is well-suited to everyone who experiences anxiety or mental illness, in our modern world with ever-increasing rates of anxiety (the ADAA says anxiety disorders are currently the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses and SingleCare found that as many as 62% of survey participants self-reported anxiety in 2020), many people do find that aromatherapy helps them to manage their anxiety symptoms.

What I love most about aromatherapy (and herbalism) is that if we practice it holistically and truly engage with the plants rather than treating the field as a modality limited to purchased herbs or little brown bottles of liquid on a shelf, it leads us back to the garden, beckons us to get our hands back into the soil, and connects us with the pace of nature again. That is a place where I truly believe we can all find healing.

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