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.