Sunday, March 9, 2008

Herbalist Spotlight-The wonderful Ms Tina Sams of the Essential Herbal

~*~*~*~*~HERBALIST SPOTLIGHT-Tina Sams~*~*~*~*~*

I really admire this herbal sister. She is doing such a great work in the herbal world, not with fancy glossy, intangible, expensive journalism, but with real down to earth community publications. This is the only publication I seem to read all the way through and every issue brings me wisdom, and a sense of belonging to a greater group of people that love herbs as much as me. Either we are all off our rockers together, or a movement is coming together to make accessible the ancient traditional art of healing herbs.

I bring to you the Goddess of The Essential Herbal Magazine, Tina Sams.

Well let's see... I'm a 52 year old divorced woman, raising a 17 year old daughter. Those are the facts. In my head, I'm about 27. Not physically - oh no. Physically I am a fluffy little old lady. The mirror is not my friend (it's so negative!), and I manage to avoid it pretty well.

I have a long-term, long-distance relationship with the sweetest man on earth. That seems about perfect right now. It allows me space to work and raise this kid, while still giving me emotional support and love when the going gets rough.

Do you remember what was going on in your life that lead you to herbs?


We lived with my grandparents when I was young. My grandfather came from a long line of mountain people who farmed. He knew plants. He didn't know the real names for them, but he had a relationship with them. He knew how they smelled and tasted, what they were good for, and where to find them. We would go for walks, and he would offer small samples, crushing the leaves to give me a whiff. We picked berries, roots and leaves to take home. My grandmother was a thoroughly modern woman, embracing anything new and turning up her nose at the old ways. It embarrassed her, I think, when we brought things home so it was our good fortune that my mom would bake the berries into pies, the black walnuts into cakes and cookies, or brew us teas from the meadow mint.

I adored my grandfather and he died too young. Always when I am outside, shifting around fallen leaves to look for new growth or breaking a twig to get a scent for identification, I think about him. He gave me the interest and the ability. He showed me how exciting it can be to find the first nettle of the year, a new stand of elderberry...

And then I grew up. It seemed so cool to live in the city with all the hustle and bustle. I wanted to be a career girl, and make my way into the world. So I found a great apartment in a culturally rich section of town and began that trek. It started to become clear that every couple of weeks I would get edgy. If I didn't get out into the woods often enough, it started "the itch".

As I climbed the corporate ladder, my sister married a man who had/has a tree farm. She gardened and canned and preserved. She taught me more. We learned about perennial flowering plants and soon branched out into culinary herbs for gardening.

During this time I married and wanted to start a family. For nearly a decade we struggled with miscarriages, an ectopic pregnancy, and infertility. Finally my daughter was born, and suddenly the whole corporate world lost its shimmer.

My sister and I decided that it would be great fun to open an herb shop at the Renaissance Festival nearby. I figured that in 16 weeks of part-time work, I could make enough money to quit my "real" job. That was not even close to reality, but the job fell by the way-side anyway. It was too good to be home with my little Molly, and we learned to stretch a dollar. Soon we opened a full-time herb shop with an upstairs room where the kids could play. We stayed there for many years, growing a wholesale soap business at the same time.

Can you share some of the work that has most influenced you? Such as books, blogs, video and lectures.

The single most important book in my journey has been "Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Food Field Guide and Cookbook". It brought everything together for me, and began my passion for foraging.

Learning about herbs has not been a typical trip for me. When we started at the Renaissance Fair, we expected our customers to want culinary herbs. Period. That was SO not the case! Our customers were well versed in medicinal herbs, and we made copious notes each week. We'd take them home and study up on what they'd requested or taught us. Our customers have always been the true inspiration for our learning. That seems backwards to most people, but it was a strong push.

My sister and I also started in business before the influence of the Internet. At the time, there were lots of good books, and there were lots of GREAT herb conferences. We would travel to the conferences and hear renowned herbal speakers. We met and talked to the people from whose books we learned. It was impossible to leave a conference where you'd rubbed elbows with great herbalists and hundreds of enthusiasts and business people, without having lots of new information.

Additionally, we are within easy driving distance of The Rosemary House, ( a wonderful herb shop in Mechanicsburg PA. The founder, Bertha Reppert, is quoted and/or wrote sections in many of the herb books that were available in the 70's, 80's, and 90's. She was a charming woman who loved to share what she knew. Her daughter Susanna is very much like her mother in that respect, and I am fortunate enough to consider her a friend. The shop is celebrating their 40th year in May. They have incredible speakers and workshops. Most recently, they hosted a day-long seminar with Rosemary Gladstar, and in recent years have had workshops with Jeanne Rose, David Winston, and Susun Weed - among many others.

When making plant medicine, are you drawn to any particular method?

The simple answer is - whatever is available at the moment! Truly, it is just like cooking for me. There aren't any rules. I love the concept of "foods as medicine", and see every plant as an herb. At the same time, I would encourage people to try not to get hung up on exacting quantities or specific methods.

In other words, when I make a tincture, I put "some" of the herb into a jar with some alcohol to cover. That alcohol might be vodka if it is in the house, but it might just as easily be rum or brandy or even whiskey or gin. I use what I have.

The same goes for salves or balms. What kind of oil do I have handy? If the balm comes out too "loose", it just takes a little longer to soak in.

When our ancestors made preparations from plants, they used what was available, and it worked. Not only that, but each plant is different based on the nutrients in the soil where it grew, the quality of sunlight, amount of stress placed on the plant by amounts of rain or cold... There just isn't any "exact" when you are working with plants that you find for your own work.

Now soap is another story. The wholesale business is now my sister's, and I own the magazine and help out with the soap. That IS exacting, because it isn't for our own private use. When making something for sale, there is a need to be precise and specific.

Do you have a most memorable event, conference, or one on one experience with any of our herbal fore mothers and forefathers or any other key person used in your path of herbalism? And how has that influenced you today?

Well, without being too specific, there are herbalists and herb companies who attempt to convince people that only THEIR product will work for a given purpose. That has guided a lot of the way I look at things. It is more important to empower the individual to create their own herbal products. I resent it when I see that kind of advertising, and absolutely refuse to do business with those types of operators.

When we opened the shop we decided to carry Essiac. If you've ever looked into this product, you'll see that nearly everyone selling it suggests that only THEY have the true recipe. So we spent a full day at the Natural Products Expo questioning people about why we should carry their product. Finally at the end of the day, a vendor answered by saying, "well, I use the best ingredients possible, but there is nothing different about it. There is only one recipe." We proceeded to carry his full line of herbal extracts, because that was the truth.

That doesn't really answer your question, though.

Where are you located?

South Central PA Lancaster County, to be exact. Land of the Amish. This is really a spectacular place. Every time I travel, I am so glad to get back to the rolling hills, farm stands, and verdant fields of home.

Do you work with the public and could you describe your work? such as:
Do you teach classes?

My sister and I have taught many, many herbal classes. Soapmaking demos, herbal first aid, weed walks, and lately distillation are some of our favorites. We love to do talks together and bounce off each other.

Do you travel for herbal work?

Not enough. Occasionally we'll travel to a conference or a really good herb faire, but mostly I'm a homebody. In fact, doing the magazine is so much fun. I get to work in my yard!

How can people contact you to find out more about what you offer, calender of events, blogs, weed walks, etc?

Through the website -

We teach a few classes each year at both and at , both of which are herb shops in our area.

Do you have a vision for your work in the future or are you seeing how it unfolds? I see the magazine as a community. Sometimes I picture the readers as a huge group of friends who gather at the kitchen table with a mug of hot tea, sharing recipes and techniques. I love what I do.

Most of the readers are new to herbs and if there is one word of wisdom or sage advice you could leave them, what would that be?

More than anything, people need to learn to trust themselves. Reading and studying are fabulous, but in the end it comes down to knowing that you already know this stuff. It is part of us. It isn't some foreign, scary thing... it is part of who we are now and who we have always been.

Don't ever be afraid to try making something. This is nature... if it doesn't work, you can always compost it :-).


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