Natural Healing: Q and A with Herbalist Lesley Tierra

Name: Lesley Tierra
Age: 50
Hometown: Born and raised in Michigan. Now living in Santa Cruz, California, with husband Michael Tierra, an acupuncturist.
Education and training: Came to acupuncture through an apprenticeship; started out as a massage practitioner using herbs and went into acupuncture from there. Completed formal apprenticeship in Santa Cruz with Michael.
Occupation: This is Tierra’s fourth career. She was first a manager for Ohio Bell, then taught children photography and sold her nature photographs to artists in Montana and Wyoming. Then she took women vision questing in the California desert outside of Death Valley. Tierra is now an acupuncturist and herbalist, both as a practitioner and an educator, and shares her clinic with Michael, where she uses “whatever is needed for healing–acupuncture, herbs, dietary therapy, lifestyle counseling, and adjunct therapies.” She’s the author of several books, including The Herbs of Life (Crossing Press, 1992), Healing with Chinese Herbs (Crossing Press, 1997), A Kid’s Herb Book (R. D. Reid Publishers, 2000), and Traditional Chinese Herbal Diagnosis with Michael (Lotus Press, 2000). Tierra is currently working on a revision of The Herbs of Life that will include a 120-page chapter on treating specific ailments based on her twenty years of clinical experience. She also has an herbal correspondence school (with Michael) called the East West Herb Course that covers Oriental and Western herbalism. For more information, visit

HBC: Tell us about your kids’ herb book.
Tierra: My kids’ herb book was a lot of fun to put together, and I did so with the help of children. It’s quite unique because there are really no books available that teach children about herbs and how to use them. It covers eighteen main herbs that are particularly good for children and is filled with herbal lore, tons of projects and activities, and general information about plants and ecology. I also wrote a story for every herb and Michael wrote songs for half of them. Older children can make their own first-aid kits, grow gardens, and have a tea party, while younger ones can find a little hidden character, Mr. Greenleaf, throughout the book. Visually, it’s amazing, as the women who created the artwork and layout design did incredible jobs.

HBC: How did you become interested in alternative medicine?
Tierra: I was living in Wyoming doing photography and learned about herbs through friends. From there, I came to California to learn shiatsu and herbs in Santa Cruz. Then I met Michael, and it was a natural progression to acupuncture and what I do now.

HBC: What is your daily routine of herbal therapies?
Tierra: I’m always taking herbs for my own health as well as to learn, so I take whatever is needed at the time. I’ll also try different things, experiment, as I like to know from my own experience how herbs work. I tend to mostly use Chinese tonic herbs and Western herbs for cleansing various systems.

HBC: What is your most memorable experience?
Tierra: Garlic! One time when I was visiting my family I had walking pneumonia and nothing worked, so I got garlic juice from the local grocery store. I took a teaspoon every hour or two, and within the day I was almost over it. Garlic is one of the most incredible herbs for the lungs. Another time, I drank skullcap to sleep and it gave me the most vivid, Technicolor dreams, with flying and all. It’s amazing how a simple 1/2 cup of tea can do that.

HBC: What would you say to someone considering using alternative therapies?
Go for it! Do it and do it now. I can’t tell you how many people I see in my practice who have gone the traditional route, constantly seeking answers and not getting any. They finally turn to alternative medicine and start to get better. They could get results so much quicker and not let their condition get so serious if they tried alternative therapies sooner. I remember one woman who couldn’t move her thumb properly. She had had an operation that cut all the way up her arm to the elbow and her thumb still didn’t move properly. One session with needles and moxibustion (a therapy using mugwort) and her thumb started moving properly again.

HBC: What do you see happening with the interaction between Western and alternative medicines?
I think it’s wonderful that more and more Western doctors are using herbs. However, I’m concerned that they’re generally using herbs allopathically and mostly then by only following the medical research done on herbs. This can be dangerous, as this uses herbs more like drugs. Further, herbs have a broader spectrum of use that’s then ignored. The same problem is occurring with standardized extracts in that this form of herbs can have a more drug-like effect. Generally, the whole herb with all of its parts has safer and even different effects than does a standardized extract, which enhances only one specific constituent. I think it’s important that we don’t lose herbalism and whole herbs to a medical approach and community.

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