Our Herbalist: Trinity Ava

Question:  Tell us about your background.

I was born in Southern California and was fortunate enough to be raised by a mom who followed her intuition and led us to a path of practicing wellness in body, mind and spirit.  I was fed a steady diet of creativity and healthy food.  I trained as an artist in piano from 5-12 and discovered classical ballet at 14. I fell in love with its non-verbal communication — my body making art.  I was fortunate to have a first career in my 20’s, in Europe, as a professional performing artist with contemporary dance companies. I loved it and continued for 5 years until my body couldn’t do it anymore. A painful injury turned me back to herbal therapeutics to help me heal from my injury.   I learned the power of true golden milk – a mixture or turmeric, ginger, and black pepper – to address pain, strains and trauma* 

Over the course of my dance career, I had begun to immerse myself in study of the science of life known as yoga and Ayurveda. While dancing in Amsterdam, I began my formal training in the use of essential oils and herbs as medicine and deepened my studies of Yoga. Once I had returned to the US, I became a certified Yoga teacher in 2009. I continued my studies of Ayurveda and earned an Ayurveda certificate to be a practitioner working with herbs, diet and lifestyle support. I also continued my education with essential oils and earned a certificate in aromatherapy. I soon started my first little herbal business importing essential oils from Europe and making therapeutic herbal and essential oil-based skincare. I also began working clinically one on one with many clients integrating Ayurveda and aromatherapy. 

I had discovered the beauty of Sonoma County back in 1999, and in 1999 I applied and was accepted to teach Aromatherapy classes at the California School of Herbal Studies (CSHS) in Forestville, CA. For the last 22 years I have been both a student and a teacher at CSHS (actually the oldest school of herbal studies in the USA and founded by some amazing herbalists including Rosemary Gladstar).  CSHS continues to teach me the deep and powerful roots of Western Herbal Medicine; how to tend the soil, to work in the garden and to grow medicine for self-care and community healing.  For almost a decade I also taught Aromatic Medicine at Bastyr University.  *Acknowledgement for some of teachers is below.

Alongside all of this, somehow, I have also had a career in branding and sales in the herbal world in parallel to my teaching and my own creations. In 2000 I went to my first Natural Products EXPO West, the largest trade show for natural and organic products in North America.  I connected with a dear herbal brother, who had a small herbal company offering organic and amazing herbs from India.  We joined forces with a small team and created Organic India® and I became the first national sales manager and educator for Organic India helping to bring a delicious herb called Tulsi-holy basil to the West and to brand Tulsi tea nationwide.  

In 2003, I had the pleasure of interning with Josef Brinckmann who was then VP of R&D at Traditional Medicinals®.  Traditional Medicinals is a well-respected and treasured herbal tea company based in Sonoma County and co-founded by Rosemary Gladstar (considered the fairy godmother of Western Herbal Medicine).  Josef continues to guide me and many others to understand the regulatory framework for herbal dietary supplements and offers a global perspective for the need to promote the sustainable harvest and cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants.   I had the great fortune to work for Traditional Medicinals® for 3 years as their National Educator.

Twelve years ago, I began consulting for Tadin Herb and Tea Co.® Tadin has been my heart pulse and dream client.  I have the pleasure of formulating delicious, affordable and beneficial herbal teas and products for the bilingual LatinX community. I have also had the opportunity to educate bilingually in an effort to bring greater health and wellness in North America.   I am honored to be part of the Tadin family/familia.

As of 2020, I have co-founded United Herbalist LLC.™ in the hopes of making herbal knowledge accessible to even more people in the US, and especially helping to integrate it into the medical industry.  www.unitedherbalist.com

*(I give thanks to my many teachers for  their influence on my journey:   Jose Swaanfled, Dr.Kurt Schnaubelt, Monika Haas,  Mandy Aftel, Candis Catin, Rosemary Gladstar, James Green, Mindy Green, Autumn Summers, Gayle Julian, James Snow, Ganga White, Tracey Rich, Nanak Dave Singh, Dr, Narendra Singh, Prashanti De Jager, Terri Jensen,Jane Bothwel, Josef Brinkmann, David Hoffmann, Dr, Vasant Lad, Dr. David Frawley, Christa Sinadinos, Sebastian Pole, Bryan Bowen, Mark Blumenthal, Michael McGuffin and the countless students who are my inspiration primary teachers.

Question:  How’d you become interested in herbalism?

My mom is the foundation for my interest in health, herbalism, and mind/body/spirt medicine. I had the good fortune of being raised to value what I put into my body and an awareness that herbs and dietary supplements could be helpful toward one’s wellbeing.  In my teens I suffered from bad acne. I was embarrassed by my skin and was in a constant search for relief. We tried the Western Medicine route: birth control pills, tetracycline, horrible drying products like Sea Breeze that burned my skin and made the acne worse. Later, while pursuing a dance career in Amsterdam in my 20’s, I found my first herbal and aromatherapy teacher  and begin to learn how to heal my acne and physical injuries with herbal medicine. My skin began to get better. I soon discovered Ayurveda and Yoga.  I further learned how to treat my skin with herbs, fatty oils, clays and essential oils to treat my acne and injuries — and it worked!  I began to drink turmeric-based teas and other herbal teas to help alleviate pain and inflammation, and I began trying to help other dancers to heal their injuries with herbs.  I was sold.  I still am.  Herbal medicine can offer many forms of support for the mind, body and spirit when used wisely, sustainably and correctly. 

Question:  Have you seen a shift towards ‘herbs as medicine’ over the past few years?  What potential benefits and costs does this shift present?

This is a really important question.  Globally and in the West more humans are using herbal dietary supplements, teas, and herbal products topically than ever before.  Here in the West, using herbs and essential oils and making herbal products has become trendy and hip. Herbal medicine is having a renaissance as humans again learn to seek support from aches and pains, stress, grief, colds and respiratory infections and to use herbs to promote immunity during a time of global pandemic.    According to the World Health Organization, (WHO) 80% of the developing world relies on Traditional Herbal Medicine as their primary modality for health care. That is not yet happening here in the USA.  And, as more Westerners catch on to the value and benefits of herbal medicine, we will continue to see an increase of sales.   https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/04/03/1796359/0/en/Herbal-Medicine-Market-Value-to-Surpass-USD-129-Billion-Revenue-Mark-by-2023-at-5-88-CAGR-Predicts-Market-Research-Future.html

The shift has both a negative and a positive.  The positive is that more humans are trying to take care of their body/mind/spirit with herbal medicine. Humans are rekindling their relationship with the earth, with natural medicine, food, diet and lifestyle awareness.  The bad news is that products sold are often contributing to more packaging and plastic waste, creating sustainability issues both from packaging and sustainability of the source for the herbs.   We can no longer wildcraft in most places on the planet as our consumption outweighs the demand. Ann Armbrect’s new book discusses some of the challenges of our times with supply chain issues and a global demand for “hot” herbs like turmeric, ashwagandha, Tulsi-holy basil.  https://www.amazon.com/Business-Botanicals-Exploring-Medicines-Industry/dp/1603587489  We need to support the next generation of herb farmers and local herbal gardens around the globe.

Lastly, sometimes this ‘explosion onto the scene’ of something leaves people undereducated about the power of herbs, essential oils, and their potential side effects.   Multi-level essential oils brands have promoted horrible and unsafe practices teaching that essential oils can be consumed in water and applied liberally undiluted.  These are not safe practices.   There is even a documentary film about it on NetFlix in the UNWELL /Wellness documentary that shows the near death of a woman who followed these unsafe practices of ingesting essential oils internally that were promoted by brands aimed to sell vs. educate safe practices of herbal medicine and essential oils.

Question:  How do you incorporate herbs in your life?

Herbal medicine is woven into the tapestry of our daily rhythm with my 8-year-old son.  We are herb nerds.  We hug trees and get dirty in the garden often. Daily, we wake and drink our herbal tea, usually Tulsi or hibiscus depending on the season.  We drink herbal tea off and on all day, along with plenty of plain fresh water.  We grow many herbs in our garden and incorporate this into our daily cuisine.  We gently graze throughout the day on nibbles from our garden, taking a bit of mint to brighten our minds or some dandelion leaves for their cooling, bitter and digestion-promoting benefits.  We are a distilling family — I have a 50-gallon still in which we distill medicinal and aromatic plants for their hydrosols and essential oils.  We spray hydrosols regularly on our skin to cool and calm our body when hot or grouchy or when we need to focus our mind for schoolwork.  Our food is our primary source of integrating herbal wisdom into daily living.  We put herbs into our smoothies and popsicles or scrambled into eggs or quiche.   Our salads always have fresh herbs from the garden.  We simmer all beans and meats in herbs, oils, garlic and onions to promote daily immunity.  We harvest flowers from the garden for the table for our meals.  We put herbs by our bed to help us go to sleep at night and to bring us sweet dreams.  We practice plant ID so that my son can recognize plants and poisonous plants.   We add herbs to our baths to bring us pleasure and to calm us down.   We use herbs infused into fatty oils (like olive oil), and apply these to our skin to protect our largest organ — our skin.  We make most of our own skin care products.   We use herbs like plantain leaf for first aid from a bug bite or bee string. Needless to say, herbs are a source a great pleasure in our family — they inform our relationships to each other and to the earth.

Question:  What are your go-to favorite herbs and why?

Oh, the toughest question ever. I’ll give you some facts about my favorite favorite, Turmeric, below.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) Plant part used: Rhizome

  • Primary actions: Strengthens your body’s response to occasional inflammation, maintains and protects healthy liver functions, promotes sinus and respiratory health, purifies and promotes healthy blood and circulation, promotes mental clarity and longevity, supports healthy menstrual cycles, promotes healthy skin (especially with occasional acne challenges).
  • Key words: Strong and powerful, rich in antioxidants, warming, bitter, moving, a panacea herb, strengthens the body’s ability to respond to occasional inflammation, nourishing, the golden friendly ally for young and old.
  • Flavour/aroma: Bitter, spicy, warming, aromatic, uplifting, yellow and staining.
  • Persona:  Spunky and bright, a life-long friend for healthy living, it leaves a lasting and staining impression, good for daily and regular consumption, long lasting and likes to be paired with healthy fats and spicy pepper and ginger

Turmeric where, when and why?

  • You feel run down and on the verge of an immune challenge
  • You feel like your joints and bones are as old as the dinosaur
  • You party too much
  • You smoke
  • You crave too much sugar and sweet
  • You are exposed to many environmental challenges; smoke, chemicals, cleaning products
  • You are a “skin” person; prone to skin challenges such as occasional acne and rashes
  • You often feel weighted, bloated or tired after meals
  • You love curry
  • You work hard in your garden or at zumba class. And you feel it.
  • You like to push your physical body and often need to recover
  • You get a cut/scrape (tea washes are traditionally applied topically).  Whole powder is used as a first aid remedy to stop bleeding.
  • You often feel cold, brittle or grouchy
  • You are challenged with seasonal conditions
  • You want to promote healthy liver function
  • You think, or feel, like you need to “cleanse”
  • You want to slow the aging process
  • You want less brain fog
  • You broke your nose while pogo dancing with friends
  • You want to experience less PMS and more regular menstrual cycles
  • Turmeric helps to maintain “cellular intelligence” to ward off many of the common health challenges of our times.
  • Turmeric has been used for thousands of years to support the body’s response to occasional inflammation.

Contraindications/safety: Not to use with acute jaundice or hepatitis. Use with caution if taking antiplatelet or anticoagulant medication unless monitored by a primary health care provider. Use caution for those with excess “heat” (Pitta) in their constitution, as turmeric is a warming/heating herb. As with all herbs during pregnancy and lactation, consult a healthcare professional prior to use. Caution with medicinal level servings if trying to conceive or while pregnant.  Do not use with children under 12 years of age. Discontinue drinking the tea if it produces loose stools or digestive complaints.

Question:  For one’s herbalism journey, where does one begin?

Such a great question.  In the tradition that I teach from, at the California School of Herbal Studies, we believe and teach that we are all herbalists.  It is our birthright to know and understand how to use herbs as food, medicine, for pleasure and to support ourselves when feeling off and when celebrating life!

The first step to learning about herbal medicine is understanding your unique nature — what herbs, foods, and patterns bring you pleasure and which ones don’t.  We start with smelling and tasting our food and teas mindfully, noticing the aromas, flavors and feelings that herbs provoke.  Do you enjoy sour taste, or spicy, or garlic?   What aromas of herbs are appealing to you? Specifically, notice what herbs and aromas feel good to you and which ones don’t.  Herbs are potent teachers and provoke strong reactions in the body.  They should be used judiciously and carefully, and you should take time to research and understand safety and contraindications of each herb you decide to work with.  Not every herb is right for everybody. Some herbs should not be used by asthmatics, or with children.  The American Herbal Products Association offers one of the comprehensive herbal data bases for understanding safe use of herbs.  www.AHPA.org

To find an herbal school near you and or for online learning opportunities, visit the American Herbalist Guild at https://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/school-profiles