Herbal practitioner Kathi Keville discusses her background, advice to those going into the alternative medicine field and her daily routine of alternative therapies.
Profile Herbal Practitioner: Kathi Keville
Name: Kathi Keville
Hometown: Northern California Sierra Nevadas
Occupation: Herbalist and aromatherapist; director of the
American Herb Association; author of many books including
Aromatherapy for Dummies (IDG, 1999) and Herbs for Health and
Healing (Rodale, 1998); co-author of Women’s Herbs, Women’s Health
Education and training: Bachelor’s degree in art from the
University of California, Long Beach; certified massage therapist;
studied with various herbalists throughout the 1970s.
How did you first become interested in alternative
I began to study herbs in 1969. There were so few places to find
information, so a lot of my original training was in my garden. I
joined the Herb Society of America, so my original introduction to
herbs was anything but medicinal. I had a wonderful culinary herb
garden with more than fifty different species. I’d give tours of my
garden and tell people about the medicinal uses of these herbs. I
really just considered it folklore. It never dawned on me just how
potent these plants really were until I got sick and started using
In the early seventies I was really sick with the flu. I began
reading Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss and realized I had an entire
pharmacopoeia right outside my front door. I used the herbs in my
garden to make a tea, and as soon as I felt better, I went to my
medicine cabinet with a waste bucket and threw everything away!
What would you say to someone considering alternative
Unlike when I was getting started, there is so much information
available, it’s overwhelming. Look for a recognized, well-known
herbalist; look for hands-on experience—that’s the way to go. Be
careful of information on the Internet. There’s a lot of useful
information out there, but there’s also a lot of garbage. Be sure
to go to reliable sites and then see which links they recommend.
Here are the ones I recommend:
• American Herb Association:
• Christopher Hobbs:
• National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy:
• United Plant Savers:
• American Botanical Council:
What do you see happening with the interaction between Western
and alternative medicine?
My dream is that eventually more clinics will be established that
have different types of practitioners—naturopaths, herbalists,
osteopaths—and people will be referred to who is the most
appropriate to treat them. Western medicine is certainly a part of
this healing puzzle, and all modalities should be able to work
together. I’d like to see Western medicine change and become more
holistic and develop therapies for individuals instead of treating
people like cattle. This dream is already somewhat of a reality in
parts of Europe. In Germany, for example, doctors prescribe
hawthorn instead of or in conjunction with digitalis. So this is
happening in the western world, it’s just happening a little slower
in the United States, but I do think it will happen. People are
very dissatisfied with certain aspects of Western medicine,
especially HMOs, and will eventually demand more individualized
What is your daily routine of alternative therapies?
I try to practice what I preach. I have a very good diet based on
whole grains. I try to avoid sugars and I try to eat organically
grown food. I get plenty of exercise. I love to bike and hike, and
I do yoga. I take a lot of herbs and rotate my plan according to
what I need. I usually take more than what I need by incorporating
them into my diet, since I use myself to understand the effects.
For example, I eat lots of tonic herbs—burdock root, dandelion
leaves, purslane—and constantly throw them into sauces and
What are your hobbies?
I take an African dance class and a medieval singing class. I
first got into medieval singing because I found out the class was
doing songs of Hildegard of Bingen. She was a twelfth-century
herbalist who’s well-known for many things including music and
painting. Another hobby of mine is storytelling.
Do you have any funny stories to share?
I tell my students it’s important to label their products, so I
should know better. However, there was the time I added peppermint
oil to a jug of distilled water and forget to re-label it. A couple
of visitors poured it into their car’s radiator. They looked
horrified when they started it up, but that car had the sweetest
exhaust! Another time, I whipped up a beautiful batch of facial
cream. I poured the cream into a mayonnaise jar that still had the
label on it and stuck it in the refrigerator. An hour later, I was
in my office when I heard screams coming from the kitchen. My
family had bitten into sandwiches spread lusciously with neroli and
jasmine “mayonnaise.” There’s a similar story about the cocoa
butter suppositories, but I needn’t go on. The moral of this story
is label everything!
Read more about soybean foods and your health: Natural Healing Using Soybean Foods.