Susan Hess


Susan Hess

Therapeutic Herbalist and Educator, Farm at Coventry

How did your interest in herbal medicine begin?

Looking back, I can distinguish several moments that lead me to my herbal path. When I was growing up, both sides of my family showed me the value of digging in the soil, growing food, wildcrafting various fruits and nuts or wild fish and game. I remember clearly the feeling that nature quietly provided us with so many valuable gifts if you were just patient or observant enough to notice and respond. My great grandfather showed me my first wild edible plant, sheep sorrel, before I was 8 years old. I feel that was the moment in time that inspired me to always look down at the plants at my feet. (Still delighted to find sheep sorrel nearly 50 years later!) My mother and maternal grandmother were nurses so I also realized early in life the value and empowerment of sharing familial healing ways. Once I had my own children, I became very interested in natural healing methods. I had a few older hippie mama mentors who taught me about growing herbs and making tea. They shared books and introduced me to a few wild plants. They truly revolutionized the way that I would live my life. Soon after, I met David Winston and went on my first official medicinal plant walk. It was the pivotal turning point in a lifetime of delight and wonder at discovering useful gifts in the green world.

You’ve had quite a bit of formal herbal training. Please tell us about that.

During that initial plant walk with David in 1993, I learned about his two year herbal training program. My generous employers offered to pay for my education. I had two young children and worked full time, but I dove in with both feet and somehow juggled it all. It was the most energizing (and exhausting) time of my life! I went on to finish David’s third year practitioner level course, as well, and did an intensive clinical training with Donnie Yance and Chanchal Cabrera at the Wellsprings Centre for Natural Healing. I utilized my education to help customers in the health food store where I worked until 2000. In subsequent years, I had the pleasure of hosting and learning from many wonderful herbalists including Jennifer Tucker, Matthew Wood, William LeSassier, Kate Gilday, Robin Rose Bennet, Phyllis Light and of course, always continuing my education with David. Layer upon layer of herbal knowledge... it never gets boring and there is always something new (or old) to learn. Having a formal herbal education, of course, is a brilliant start, but learning by living with plants, season after season, year after year, is something you cannot purchase and has been the most valuable education of all.

Talk about the herbal training you do:

I love the old concept of ‘Domestic Medicine’: Complementary, preventative and curative home-based health care passed down from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, I see that beautiful concept as something that is sorely lacking (and necessary) in health care today. Less than a century ago every woman had some working knowledge of what to do when a family member fell ill. Because of my training, I felt more empowered as a mother when I could comfort my child using herbal remedies, even as a palliative measure, alongside prescribed medicines. Once a visiting nurse came by the house to instruct me on how to apply a mustard plaster for my son who had pneumonia, I realized then just how important the ‘home care mentor’ was in modern day health care. I then felt dedicated to teaching other people how to attend to their own families using safe and simple herbal remedies with confidence at home. This started as a few small instructional classes in the late 90’s which then expanded to 6 months, then 9 months and now into a full 12 month Homestead Herbalism program that begins in January every year. In 2014, I have the largest enrollment ever with 30 students divided into three concurrent classes. Another 9 students are enrolled in the first year of the Seeds&Stars course which is the study of elements and energetic of plants and people through the framework of natal astrology (which is a deeply personal passion of mine that was ‘brought out’ into the teaching forum through the encouragement of my students!) The 2015 session for this course has already filled and I plan to add another! Considering that I never planned to be a teacher, I feel blessed. I simply observed and listened to what I felt people needed and stretched to accommodate that need by using my own experience. It has been an extremely rewarding career.

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