OVER 35 YEARS OF QUALITY HERBAL THERAPEUTICS

Where Are They Now?

Lisa Volta
Volta Market and Volta Organics

Tell us how you became interested in herbs.

My first real experience with herbs was with an acupuncturist recommended by a friend of mine. Nasal and skin allergies have been a major issue for me since childhood and, tired of the same old medicines that mostly had a temporary effect while making me feel fatigued and uncomfortable in other ways, I was looking for a new approach. After just a few weeks of regular visits and an herbal regimen, I was breathing deeper, my skin was clearing up, and I was feeling better than I had in a long time. The transition and results seemed almost magical compared to allergy tests, steroids, antihistamines, and smelly medicinal baths. I have a background in fine art and was inspired to start working the idea of magical plants into my artwork, making drawings and paintings of plants and people, mostly focusing on folkloric context such as good fortune, warding off negativity, etc. It sounds ridiculous but I kind of drew my way into wanting to learn more about herbs.

What kind of herbal training do you have?

I took my first official herb class in 2002. I was walking around the Lower East Side in Manhattan and picked up a flyer for Sunday herb classes with Arcus Flynn. I decided it was worth the weekly trips, signed up, and began to use herbs simply in my daily life. I really enjoyed her class, and the way she worked social activism into her workshops was right up my alley. A few years later I started making and selling soap with a friend of mine as “Loth & Volta.” The idea of making nice, organic, skin friendly bath and body products from scratch was very appealing to me for obvious reasons. In addition to soap making, I started experimenting with infusing oils, handling and using essential oils, making salves, scrubs, and salt baths. At this point most of my education came from reading books with easy to follow preparation and safety instruction by authors such as Rosemary Gladstar and Robert Tisserand.

A friend who had a good knowledge of herbs told me about David Winston’s class and got me very excited about learning more in a more intensive class setting. She came upon a workshop with Doreen Reggiani, a former student of David’s, which we both signed up for and loved. Doreen’s sincere appreciation for using herbs for everything from first aid to cooking played a significant role in pushing me to apply for David’s program.

What was your experience training under David Winston like?

I feel like I need to start at the beginning. When I approached David to take his class, I brought a portfolio of artwork, a very short list of my previous experience with herbs, and what seems in retrospect a crazy explanation that I wanted to learn more about the medicinal function of herbs for personal use but also to give some new meaning to my artwork. David didn’t bat an eye but described the typical student in his classes—doctors, nurses, acupuncturists, practicing herbalists—and explained that I would be at a disadvantage, knowledge and experience wise, but that I was welcome to sign up for the program. He was definitely right. A lot of the information was far beyond what I ever expected or planned to do with herbs. I spent a lot of time taking notes and sketching in class, enjoying David’s hilarious way of explaining things, and sitting in awe of a person who had such a seriously deep understanding of the way herbs interact with the human body. I appreciated David’s scientific approach to teaching and the amount of information given in two short years was staggering.

 

I’m still reviewing notes and seeing things I completely missed at the time and kick myself for not “getting it,” back then. One of my favorite practices was constructing Triune Formulas—the system is incredible and a genius way to study and understand how herbs work together to treat the whole person. It reminded me of a foundation sculpture class where I had to build a chair out of sheetrock. There’s a lot of ways things can fit together but they do have to fit, and you have to make the best decisions you can, using the material you have. In the end, you want to be able to sit on it and it should hold your weight without falling apart. Anyway, I enjoyed the process so much that I ended up proposing it as a topic for a series of portraits based on creating triune formulas for the people I painted and was awarded a grant and a small exhibition to make the work. I think the best part about David’s program for me is the way it has digested over time, long after the moment, still kindling the fire. It’s an experience I was lucky to be a part of.

How are you using your knowledge today?

About five years ago I launched my business, Volta Organics. I make organic soap, shampoo, bath salts, scrubs, salves, balms, shaving soap, beard oil, and more. So cleaning and pampering yourself isn’t quite the way of herbal medicine but I’ve been surprised at how many people have come to me, lifted their shirt, and asked me, "what is that?!" These are the times when I’ve been relieved to have some background in herbal medicine because I’m able to ask real questions and offer suggestions that go beyond selling someone something. I think maybe once or twice in five years has a rash had anything to do with what kind of soap that person was using. When I was doing street fairs, I would usually end up writing a list of things I thought would help and send them on their way, hoping they found relief.

Now that I have a storefront (I opened Volta Market in April, 2014), I’m fielding the same questions but am now able to provide ingredients, custom preparations, herbs, teas, tinctures, and be there to answer questions and respond to whether something is working or not. I’m constantly referring to David’s Materia Medica sheets and lots of notes taken over the years, and have a small inventory of go-to herbs and Herbalist & Alchemist formulas while I get reacquainted with plants that have gone off my radar.

There’s actually been enough interest in an herbal approach to healthcare in the neighborhood, and the questions are starting to get a little more involved, so I’d really like to continue my studies. I’m looking for a program that can accommodate a mother of a three year old, shop owner, soap maker, artist. I’m accepting recommendations. I always seem to have so much going on but the plants keep creeping their way in, so I try to pay attention. (I had a dream about ground ivy once so do what you will with that.)

Medicinal plant use aside, though, the most common way I’ve been able to use my knowledge is to make better choices when it comes to the products I consume and sell to others by honoring how plants are used—from growing and harvesting to the ingredients they’re manufactured with, to how they’re altered and marketed or used to benefit life. I think there’s so much inherent wisdom in plants and the natural world, and I hope I can always be receptive to that in spite of myself.