Feb 23, 2014

5 Questions // Lydia Bartholow & Portland Apothecary

The fourth interview of our 5 Questions Series is with Lydia Bartholow. Lydia is an herbalist and  psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. In this series we are posing a set of 5 Questions to healers and makers that we love and admire. They are two different sets of questions accordingly, but both have in common an exploration of plants, intention and creative/healing practice. Do comment below to participate in the conversation and please share this interview!

1. What motivates you to work within the health field?

I came to the health field as someone who was very sick. I was fatigued, depressed, anxious and I used alcohol to treat all three ailments. I saw a myriad of health professionals – some of them were helpful, most were not. They seemed to love to talk at me, not with me. They told me what they thought was wrong with me and how they thought it should be fixed. They rarely took the time to hear me; to hear my story and to collaborate with me on how to heal. So, I was motivated to enter the health field and provide a different, hopefully better, model of care. I came to the health field with a deep interest in the healing power of a collaborative relationship between provider and client; a relationship that presumes that the client is the expert in their own experience.

 I’m also motivated by the political nature of health and health care. When I say political, I don’t mean republican or democrat, but instead, I am referring to the ways in which our culture allocates health care resources. Health status and the ability to access health care are a barometer of social inclusion. When I began to practice herbalism, I was working as a paid activist doing prison abolition work. This work was, and is, tremendously important, but I felt drained by not making a direct impact in peoples lives. In doing the health care work that I do now, I get to work with people that are extremely socially excluded, especially ex-prisoners, and I make a direct impact on their access to health care – and their overall experience of social inclusion or exclusion.

2. Is there a certain piece of advice you find yourself giving to your clients often? If so, what is it?

Ban fat-phobia!

I consistently find myself working with people to be less afraid of fat. And I mean this in two ways: 

1st, Dietary fat is a good thing – not something to be avoided. Popular nutrition has done us a tremendous disservice by convincing us that dietary fats will make us fat and give us heart disease. In reality, dietary fats help ease blood sugar levels and encourage nervous system health. And no, I don’t mean fake or hydrogenated fats. But if it’s a fat that your great-grandmother ate, it’s good for you, even (and especially) lard and butter. If you crave a hamburger, don’t worry about the fat – worry more about the processed bun surrounding the beef. For a great evidence-based article on this check out What if it’s All Been a Big Fat Lie, which was re-published in the NY times a few years ago.

2nd, Our culture hates fat people, especially fat women. The hatred is so intense that we’ve convinced ourselves that there is a much greater correlation between body size and health than there actually is. Indeed, the hatred is so intense that we condone things that are much more dangerous than body fat: shame, self-hate, yo-yo dieting, fad dieting and worst of all – food shame. Focus on nourishing yourself and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that you feel more and more comfortable in your own body.

3. Favorite books within your healing modality?

One of my favorite books, and one that I suggest to many people wishing to do work with underserved populations is Gabor Mate’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Read this book if you are at all interested in health care for the homeless, addicted, traumatized and tremendously underserved.

4. Are plants part of your practice, and if so, which do you find yourself using the most and for what reason?

Plants are a large part of my practice. As a mental health professional (a psychiatric prescriber of allopathic meds), I specialize in emotional trauma and addictions. The most useful, general grouping of plant medicines for both trauma and addictions are nervines. Specifically, I use Skullcap and Milky Oats on an almost daily basis to calm the nervous system in the immediate and to build nervous system capacity for the long haul. Interestingly, I work with a lot of individuals with intense histories of trauma and yet I know very few people in our culture who wouldn’t benefit from nutritive nerviness. Who doesn’t experience regular traumas related to gender, race, class or size, or intense and un-ending stress? Plants like Skullcap and Oats are useful for so many people – plus they are easy to grow in the Pacific Northwest (where I live and practice) and easy to prepare in a variety of fun ways.

5. Can you offer our community a recipe (this is open to interpretation)?

Our culture is so busy. We focus on getting things done, staying busy and being productive. We need to spend more time turning inward and nourishing ourselves. Herbal Mineral Tea is a great
way to do this because it forces us to spend time on ourselves each day, and it offers vital nutrients for the body. 

There’s no perfect recipe for mineral tea in that each of us will have different nutritional needs or taste buds, but here’s what I generally include in my nutritive teas:

Lavender and/or Rose

Seep the ingredients, covered (this is important because you don’t want to allow the amazing and important aromatic oils to escape into air) for as long as you can stand it. Often, at night, I need a
cup of healthy, hot tea before bed. But to really get the most out of a mineral tea, the tea needs to seep for at least 2-3 hours, because of this, many people chose to drink their mineral tea cold and to sip it throughout the day. 

Have fun finding your perfect combination of herbs for your personal nutritive tea and consider asking an herbalist to develop a mineral blend made specifically for your body.


Lydia Anne M Bartholow is a practicing herbalist and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. She is currently working on her doctorate at OHSU in addictions policy. She has a closed practice
in Portland, Oregon but is part of an amazing group of practitioners at Amenda Clinic. She often teaches herbalism courses in Portland, Oregon; for more info on these courses, check out her website.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this interview. I find it fascinating why people become involved and dedicated in the healing realm. Appreciation for all you do*