The legacy of Herbal Educational Services, Medicines from the Earth, and the Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine has taken root over the past three decades. Founded by Linnea and Larry Wardwell in 1993, with Ric Scalzo as an early contributor and mentor, their website BotanicalMedicine.org has nurtured the herbal community for the past 30 years by sowing the seeds of knowledge and connection across disciplines and modalities of clinical herbalism practice.
The first event was held in Ashland, Massachusetts, then moved to an extension campus of Boston University, which led to an island off the coast of Maine, then to venues in Oregon, and finally to Black Mountain, North Carolina, and the Sonoran University in Tempe, Arizona where herbal tradition and science are celebrated twice annually, bringing together a network of practitioners that now extends across the globe.
Roots of a Movement
“Ever since we were married in 1967, we’ve been interested in natural medicine, nutrition, herbs, and the natural world,” Linnea reminisces. In the early 1980s, the Wardwells, driven by a shared interest in traditional therapies, forged a friendship with Ric Scalzo, the future founder of Gaia Herbs. In those early days, when the Wardwells were directors of a meditation center near Boston, Ric lived and worked from there as well. In fact it was here that the Wardwells remember Ric making some of his first herbal products. Over the next few years, the beginnings of Herbal Educational Services would emerge and blossom.
In 1993, Ric approached Linnea and Larry with a transformative idea – to organize a symposium with a mandate to share herbal knowledge across many disciplines.. The inaugural Gaia Herb Symposium, held in a tent at a 4-H agricultural center in Ashland, Massachusetts, brought together herbalists and naturopathic physicians, creating a unique opportunity for exchanging ideas and discussing clinical methods of traditional herbal medicine.
At this first event, 7Song, who was working as part of a work-study program at the time, was charged with managing parking in the field outside of the 4-H agricultural center. Larry remembers he seemed to know everyone, and as the line to enter the parking area steadily lengthened, 7Song was enjoying each interaction as his obvious passion for herbal medicine was on full display. The Wardwells reflect on this warmly as their first introduction to 7Song, who went on to found the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine a few years later.
Thinking of that first symposium, Linnea smiles, “It opened our eyes to see so many people gathered to celebrate the herbs.” From there, the symposium became an annual ritual, evolving and expanding in scope as the community grew.
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Retreats & Gatherings
As the 1990s unfolded, the Wardwells, now residing on an island in Maine, continued hosting events and retreats focused on connecting practitioners of herbalism. In retreats organized by Ric Scalzo, the island’s shores welcomed herbal luminaries like Cascade Anderson Geller, Ryan Drum, David Winston, Svevo Brooks, Doug Elliott, and Juliette de Bairacli Levy, each dedicated to deepening and sharing herbal knowledge across disciplines and modalities.
During one of those events in Maine, David Winston hosted a gathering for attendees who would camp at night and spend their days exploring the wild land, foraging and identifying medicinal plants. Following this immersive experience, participants would convene at the Wardwells for an evening campfire. During one such gathering, as David was speaking to the group, the sky behind him was illuminated with an enormous blue shooting star, the biggest most attendees had ever seen.
In 1996, Gaia Herbs found its home in Brevard, NC, prompting the Wardwells to look to western North Carolina for their symposium. The Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, NC became the chosen venue, and Medicines from the Earth found its spiritual home amidst mountain streams, forest trails, and the camaraderie of herbal enthusiasts.
Simultaneously, in the arid landscape of Arizona, the Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine emerged, with the initial event taking place in an old elementary school with a panel discussion held outside in a courtyard under the stars. Notable herbalists on that inaugural panel included Lise Alschuler, Don Brown, Tori Hudson, Roy Upton, Terry Willard, and Michael Moore. In fact, the recording of this panel is punctuated with colorful language from Michael – during the event he was sitting under one of the main lights, and insects kept landing on his head!
If you have attended Medicines or the Southwest Conference, as they are commonly known, you know both feature traditions. Attendees may remember Larry’s introductions, songs by the fire, storytelling, herb walks, all day field studies in the desert, dining and lectures outside in the herb garden, intensives, panel discussions, and the warmth of kinship. Even during the pandemic, when the conferences migrated online, the flame of connection and learning persisted, reaching a broader global audience.
Cultivating Clinical Wisdom
Over the years, the symposiums expanded in scope to include an emphasis on clinicians addressing specific therapies for challenging conditions. The mission of Herbal Educational Services (HES) has crystallized into providing instruction centered on clinical experience, offering a wealth of information to health professionals, and fostering alternatives in care. HES now offers continuing education for clinical herbalists, naturopaths, acupuncturists, nurses, medical doctors, and other health professionals.
“We found a definite need for solid direct clinical experience by the speakers, helping other practitioners with useful clinical information and providing alternatives to pharmaceuticals,” Linnea shares. “This has become our core purpose and the guiding principle of Herbal Educational Services for many years, along with providing a welcoming weekend of connection and friendship.”
Community, Legacy & the Future
In 2019 at Expo West, the Wardwell’s accepted the American Botanical Council’s Herbal Community Builder Award. During the award ceremony, Mark Blumenthal remarked, “Few people have had such a profound impact on herbal education as the Wardwells.”
Linnea and Larry’s legacy is not just in the knowledge shared during events or within online courses, but in the community they’ve cultivated, a community rooted in a shared love for herbs, plants, and the healing power of nature. This is underscored by the friendships they have had the privilege to watch unfold, and the kinship they’ve encouraged between many herbalists over the decades.
As the Herbal Educational Services completes its 30th year, the Wardwells remain committed to their vision. Currently, over 2280 hours of clinical herbalism course content is available in audio and digital book format, and, more recently, on video, featuring over 100 teachers, spanning 23 years. Topics covered range from aging, allergies, and ADHD, to vitalism, wounds, and women’s health, with a wide breadth of topics covered in between.
They envision a future where sustainably harvested botanicals take center stage, and where the traditions of the last three decades continue to be carried forward with passion and heart.
As Medicines from the Earth returns to its spiritual Black Mountain, NC home in May 2024, the Wardwells stand at the helm of an herbal heritage, a legacy firmly grounded in the soil of authenticity, reverence, and a heartfelt connection to the herbal community. The journey continues, and the seeds they planted three decades ago continue to bloom, carrying the spirit of herbalism forward for generations to come.
EXPLORE: Watch video of Linnea and many more at Medicines From the Earth
Lily Holmberg holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in education. She has worked as a naturalist, a biology educator and has dedicated much of her career to premium, mission-driven and health-focused work starting with Whole Foods Market in the mid-2000s, at various roles over a ten year period at Gaia Herbs, and most recently at ŌURA. Lily has presented on topics including herbalism and herbal supplements, medicinal mushrooms, hemp, and more in front of national audiences.
As a committed gardener of medicinal plants, Lily maintains an urban garden in the Chicago metropolitan area and also cultivates land in the forests and fields of the Michigan countryside. She grows many varieties of unusual, rare, and commonly used herbs annually, using what she grows to promote health throughout the year. She’s passionate about movement, seed saving, and advocating for people to spend more time in nature. Lily can often be found in her kitchen cooking, and she’s always reading a good book or two.