We continue the interview series on my blog with another amazing woman. After talking with psychologist Diana Pîrje about femininity and female empowerment, today we have an interview with Jessica Baker. She is an author, acupuncturist, herbalist, aromatherapy expert, and educator. She studied herbal medicine and oriental medicine since she was very young. In the last 20 years she had spread the word of plants into her community and with the rest of the world through her book on herbalism, classes, aromatherapy products, plant nursery, and podcast.
Cosmina: Can you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about your background in herbalism and oriental medicine?
Jessica: Hello, my name is Jessica Baker and I am an herbalist and acupuncturist. I have been studying herbal medicine and oriental medicine since I was young. Over the last 20 years, I have been spreading the word about the healing powers of plants through my book, classes, aromatherapy products, plant nursery, and a podcast. I have a Community Herbalist Certification and a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I currently focus on online herbal consultations but plan to see clients for acupuncture again in the future.
C: How did you first become interested in herbalism and oriental medicine?
J: It started when I was 21 years old, and I moved to Northern California. I moved to a really rural environment. By the time I was 21, my body was out of balance from using a lot of antibiotics. One day I went to the community public health department. And one of the nurse practitioners told me I needed to do the Candida diet and rebalance my body.
She also told me about herbal teas. After this, I had grown up drinking herbal teas that you could buy at the grocery store. My mom would get me Sleepy Time tea, chamomile, or peppermint. But in my head, I didn’t know that was herbal medicine until this woman also told me about an herbs class that a lot of people were taking. So in 1998, I took my very first herb class. And just fell in love with the idea of working with plants as medicine.
C: That sounds like an interesting story. And a lifelong one. You said you are a fan of herbal teas. What’s your favorite tea and why should people try it?
J: It’s hard to ask an herbalist what their favorite herb or herbal tea is, but I would say my go-to would be Chamomile because a lot of people just think of it as the calming tea before sleeping for children. But it really is a very nutritive plant, and a lot of people can grow it in their environment, making it a very universal one. At the same time, it’s also great for digestion, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is also really good for relaxing the nervous system and reducing all kinds of stress. A lesser-known, fun fact is that it’s also really effective in stopping the tendency of whining for those people who complain a lot.
C: It sounds like it has a variety of benefits. My grandma prepared Chamomile tea for me when I was young, but I didn’t know it has so many benefits. You also said you are interested in and that you practice sometimes acupuncture. Can you tell me a bit about it? What advantages are there in acupuncture?
J: After studying Western herbs for a few years, I studied with an acupuncturist and was introduced to Chinese herbs, acupuncture, and moxibustion. This made me realize that my understanding of Western herbalism needed a more in-depth foundation to diagnose people from a root level. Studying acupuncture with Dr. Christopher Hobbs made everything more well-rounded. Many people know him as an herbalist.
The first time I got acupuncture, I had an experience where I almost felt like I was levitating on the table, which I really liked. My body could let go and relax on a level that even getting massaged couldn’t do for me. I immediately felt this shift of energy, and the pain I was feeling also happened to go away. From a personal experience, I had never felt something that tuned in to what my body needed on a level that herbalism hadn’t done for me yet, even though the shifts were dramatic with herbalism as well.
C: For what do you use acupuncture and Chinese medicine the most these days?
J: Traditional Chinese medicine is based on research and science conducted across Asia and Europe. Incredible research is also being done on acupuncture, which is demonstrating its ability to reduce inflammation and create a more positive biofeedback loop. When we experience pain, the neurons in our brain start to create a loop, perpetuating the pain. Acupuncture helps to stop this by creating new neural pathways. In the United States, there is currently a lot of research being done on psychedelic mushrooms, which appear to have a similar effect.
C: You are talking about the pain loop that acupuncture can fix. By creating those new neural paths, do you think acupuncture and herbalism can also be useful in treating mental disorders or increasing the general mental wellbeing or something like this?
J: Yes, I do think that can be improved. My only experience with acupuncture outside of the United States was when I went to China as part of a school project. I was only there for a few weeks, but I did notice that they have entire clinics dedicated to acupuncture and Chinese herbs for mental health.
There are different categories of herbs, and some are specifically for treating issues like anxiety, depression, and insomnia. They also discuss the seven different emotions that humanity experience. And how techniques like medical Qi Gong can help to relax the mind and body. There is also research on meditative exercises for mental health and wellbeing.
Although it may not be overtly discussed in Chinese culture, Chinese or East Asian medicine has many different tools. In my personal practice, I have seen it work well. I have worked with many people with post-traumatic stress, which falls under the mental health category. The Veterans Administration even has clinics in some places that offer ear acupuncture for post-traumatic stress disorders.
Herbalism and Podcast
C: Changing the subject, can you tell me something about your podcast? I listened to a few episodes, and I found them really interesting. I think my readers would like to know how this podcast began and what themes they can expect to find if they listen to it.
J: Thank you for listening and reaching out about it. It’s called The Herb Walk podcast. Season six is just about to be released on the spring equinox, which is March 20th. Each episode will have different themes. However, the main theme is interviews with different herbalists, acupuncturists, and people in the cannabis space. Such as Dr. Ethan Russo, who is a neuroscientist and one of the oldest cannabis researchers. The overarching theme of the podcast is the love of plants, and I only invite people who share this love, whether they work with Chinese medicine, Western herbalism, or cannabis.
I love discussing about different herbs. I believe that, as humans on this planet living together, we should all learn about plants, even if we’re not in the same location or have the same cultures. In my experience, I’ve discovered that even plants that I know and love in Western herbalism are used in completely different ways in Chinese medicine.
The podcast is now in season six, but there’s no set number of episodes or schedule for release. I put it out as I feel inspired, which might not be productive from a business standpoint, but since I only interview people that I want to talk to, I’m okay with it. You can listen to it on all streaming channels except for Spotify.
C: I found it on Apple Podcasts. I could see your passion coming out through my headphones when you talk about herbs in this podcast. As you described your passion, I remembered how my grandma was explaining to me everything about the plants she had in her garden and how to use them. And I want to ask if you can go into more details about how you think herbs can influence our life. Besides drinking or eating them, is there any other use we can find them to make ourselves better?
J: Absolutely. I think the most important way to work with plants is to go outside into nature and take a walk. Other than basic survival, it’s the number one benefit we get from plants. Without organic matter to ingest, we wouldn’t be alive. We’ve been eating and drinking plants since we first got on Earth. But I think it’s important to slow down, take a walk, and actually observe what’s around us instead of walking really fast while we’re in our heads. It can have great benefits. If it’s a beautiful location, we may take a couple of seconds to snap a photo. But I think the most important thing is to put the phone down and actually look around us.
The herb class is what taught me that. I had been in nature on and off my whole life, but nobody had ever told me to take a break, look around, relax my eyes, and start seeing the details of everything around me. So that I think is the number one most important benefit we can take from plants besides organic matter to ingest.
Number two is our aromatic plants. We walk by rose bushes and there’s a percentage of the population that can’t pass by without smelling the rose. I’m one of those people. I don’t care where I’m at or where I’m going. I have to at least smell one of those roses. Growing your own rosemary, basil, and thyme in the garden, then bringing them into the house, can have an aromatherapy effect. Even if you’re making pasta sauce or something else, when you break up the herbs, you immediately get the aroma of it. I think it’s a great way to bring herbs into your life if you don’t want to drink tea.
Keep fresh herbs in the house, grow fresh herbs either around your house if you can, or out in the garden. And remember that we don’t have to use herbs only as medicine when we’re sick. We use them because we’ve always used them. It’s part of who we are.
C: You mentioned aromatherapy, and I couldn’t stop thinking also about the essential oils. Do you think they are useful in improving wellness of people when they use them? Or is herbalism more effective?
J: I do believe that. I had an essential oil company, which I still have, and I sell some products. However, I don’t sell as many because essential oils use so much plant material. It’s not a sustainable way for billions of people to take their herbal medicine this way because it takes hundreds or thousands of pounds of plant material to make just a few ounces of oil. So, I am a big proponent of using the whole plant if you can.
For instance, I make lavender, rose, and other infused oils without essential oils. Sure, they don’t smell as strong as an essential oil would, but they still smell great. And then, if you want to enhance the smell, you can use one drop of essential oil instead of using 10-30 drops.
I do love essential oils, but my perspective on them has changed over the years. When I first started learning about them in the 1990s, not that many people were using them. But now, they’re so popular, and we can’t sustain consumption at this level. There are big boxes of essential oils in stores everywhere, on every corner. It doesn’t matter where you are in the country; if you go to Walmart or another supermarket, the essential oils are there. And that’s thousands and thousands of stores. It hurts me to think of what we’re doing to the planet because even if the plants are organically grown, it still uses a lot of resources like water and soil.
Traditional Medicine Practices
C: What do you think is the main advantage of herbalism and everything that oriental and traditional medicine represents over the modern medicine? Why should people use traditional medicinal practices?
J: I think we should continue using traditional medicine because it has been passed down to us from our great grandparents and ancestors. Humans have evolved alongside plants, and history and archaeology support the benefits of plant medicine. We should not abandon this practice. Even though modern medicine offers pharmaceuticals and surgeries, we still need to embrace plant medicine to live healthier lives.
However, we need both types of medicine to continue. My sister would not be alive without insulin. And I’ve seen her on insulin since she was eight years old. I had a lifesaving surgery as a child and would have, had so many infections that antibiotics prevented. But if we truly want to live to be 100 and no longer die in our 40s, we need the help of modern medicine. But we also need to change our entire lifestyle to create more relaxation and include plants in our daily lives.
In Europe it’s a little bit different. In the United States, it’s all capitalism all the time. And it’s really hard to enjoy your life and to remind yourself that we don’t have to be productive every single hour of the day. So, we really have to fight against this mentality and accept that it’s okay to just chill and be.
I think that’s what herbal medicine gives us. It’s this reminder that it hasn’t been that long since we’ve began working ourselves to the bone. There used to be a time where there was a little bit more community feeling and not so much craziness. And I think that just being in nature and working with plants reminds us of that. And taking those breaks is so good for the body.
Also, you don’t have to go extreme and start living just for relaxation. You could drink a few cups of herbal tea a week and really notice some changes. We’re nourishing our body while drinking a lot of these herbs since they have a lot of like minerals. Maybe they’re not like nutrient and protein dense like other products, but the minerals and the micronutrients you’re getting from herbs are really beneficial.
C: That’s really motivating. And I know it’s very relaxing to just make a cup of tea, take a break, and live the moment.
J: Exactly. And it doesn’t have to be very long. 15 minutes is enough. It’s not like you have to be setting this ritual and doing it for two hours. 15 minutes is just fine.
C: Lastly, I want to ask if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self or to someone who is currently just not using anything related to nature, herbs, or traditional medicine, would that advice be?
J: I think my advice would be to just get a plant. Not something big. Something like a lavender plant or a violet, or something that is going to bloom and give you something beautiful to look at. Just bring that literally inside your home and tend to it. Put it in a sunny window, not too hot, so you don’t burn the leaves because they’re delicate. You water it maybe once a week, and sometimes you don’t have to water it for a couple of weeks. It’ll be just like an introduction to working with something vegetal that’s alive. And if it dies, it’s okay too. You can just buy another one, or you can go talk to the person at your garden center and explain what you want to do. You just start having little conversations and little moments in nature.
Or, if you live in an apartment building and you don’t get any sun, more than likely, within 2 or 3 blocks, there’s something alive. Maybe it’s on your way to work. You can leave a few minutes early to visit some trees or some community garden spots. Something where you can just start spending five minutes a day.
I think we all just need to step back and take baby steps. We don’t have to jump into taking 20 supplements, nor should we be taking 20 supplements. I would just say to do something very small with something alive a few times a week. That is a great place to start.
C: It sounds really inspiring and motivating, and I would probably go and buy a new plant for the house. I already have some, but I feel like buying some lavender now and seeing how fast it grows. Thank you for your time and very interesting insights into the world of herbalism and traditional medicine.
If you want to further explore the world of herbalism with Jessica’s help, you can find more information on her blog. On her blog, she also offers online classes on aromatherapy and oriental medicine, as well as some essential oils. Her book, “Plant Songs,” is also available on Amazon. If you just want to learn more about herbs from people with a strong enthusiasm on the subject, her podcast, The Herb Walk, is available online on Apple Podcasts or on Audible.
In the meantime, take a break, breathe, and enjoy the world around you. Spring is the time of vegetation renewal, so maybe this is the sign you needed to get a new plant for your house.
Please let me know your opinion on herbalism and oriental medicine in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to be the first to find out about new articles.
Disclaimer: Please note that this article contains an affiliate marketing link to a product on Amazon. This means that if you make a purchase through that link, I may earn a commission with no additional costs to you. Also, the interview was edited for clarity and ease of reading.