Terra Sylva’s Community Herbalism Program provides training in Western herbal medicine from a holistic and Vitalist perspective. The course begins with a firm footing in the foundational elements of Western herbalism:  the flavors of herbs, influences and actions of plants on the body—what we can notice directly with our senses.  We employ a traditional Vitalist approach to healing.  Vitalism respects the intrinsic wisdom of the human body and seeks to recognize and support the healing force that exists within us all, using herbs, food, and lifestyle changes as fundamental therapies. These time-honored skills and methods are deepened by in-depth lessons in modern botany, plant chemistry, human anatomy and physiology, and the study of disease.

At the same time, our program emphasizes immersion in nature and experiential learning. Whether outdoors on plant walks or in the classroom, we are always with the plants, studying them botanically and experiencing them sensually, learning their temperaments and their actions on our bodies. We’ll read the signs that are found on a person’s tongue, and practice clinical skills on actual patients. Throughout the year we will share the craft of medicine making in hands-on classes. We’ll cover many techniques for making plant medicine, from the intuitive art of the elixir to quick and effective tincture percolations.

We are surrounded by the famously diverse ecosystems of the Southern Appalachian mountains. The majority of herbs commonly used in the western herbal pharmacopoeia grow wild in these mountains, and many more are found growing in our gardens. These virtues make this location an unparalleled place to learn botany and plant medicine: the botany skills and plant connections that you learn here can be applied wherever you call home.

Environmentally-conscious herbalism is imperative in any setting. We teach ethical wildcrafting and emphasize the use of weedy and garden-grown plants. In this era of ecological catastrophe, we highlight the responsibility of herbalists to have conscientious relationships with their medicine.

Far beyond merely indulging a person’s curiosity about using plants as medicine, our six-month intensive training program is designed to impart the skills and knowledge that a graduate would need to begin serving their community as a holistic health educator and a provider of plant-based holistic health care. Community herbalism is a powerful, indeed crucial element in the creation of a grassroots alternative to the unsustainable, ill-informed, and unjust conventional health care system. Our school exists for those who want to be a part of that grassroots alternative.

Attending to community wellness implies recognizing the impact of structural oppression on the health of individuals and communities. The effects of racism, misogyny, poverty, transphobia and homophobia are important aspects of health and dis-ease. The Terra Sylva School makes clear the links between societal and individual ills. We incorporate anti-oppressive practice and education into our school’s curriculum. We acknowledge the enormous debt that North American herbalism owes to Native people without fetishizing or appropriating Native culture. We adhere to feminist values but avoid gender essentialism, and use trans-inclusive language. We believe firmly in teacher accountability. We value the experience of our students, are receptive to feedback, and will do our best to share knowledge effectively and maintain a safe space for all in the classroom.

The Elemental Approach

At Terra Sylva we maintain balance, and honor different ways of knowing and learning, by taking an elemental approach to our curriculum:

Invoking Earth, we are grounded in the herbal tradition. We share the lessons of our elders and teachers. The supreme teachers are the plants themselves, and immersion in Nature is foundational to our program. We are nourished by the Earth and nourished by tradition. Earth connotes the work of herbalism, though it doesn’t always feel like work. Ethical wildcrafting, medicine making and field botany are essential to our practice.

Water embodies our intuitive side. To learn from the plants requires listening, opening ourselves to their lessons, quieting our inner chatter to hear their voices. Water reminds us to remain receptive and open to Nature and to our inner world so that intuition and deep knowing can guide us. We teach the art of herbal energetics, of flower essences and subtle medicine.

Fire spurs us to action, passion and courage. This is experiential learning, learning by doing. We share our passion for plant medicine with our students, passing the torch to those who will both fight to protect Nature and work to create a better world. Herbalism as compassion in action.

Air brings us the gifts of the mind: new ideas from science, research and book learning, and ever-evolving theories of health, the body, and the interconnectedness of nature. Air is the insight and knowledge to weave all the elements of the art of herbalism together.