Herbal practitioner Kathi Keville discusses her background, advice to those going into the alternative medicine field and her daily routine of alternative therapies.
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 (Botanica, 1998).
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 medicine?
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 them myself.
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 medicine?
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 treatment.
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 soups.
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!
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