We sat down with Rebecca to learn more about her background, process, and business. Rebecca teaches about herbal medicine, sees clients and runs online apothecary shop, Kings Road Apothecary, offering elixirs, teas, scrubs, salves, and tinctures to help a variety of ailments ranging from colds to flu to stress. The herbs she uses are ethically and sustainably wildcrafted around Southern California.
Please tell us about your process.
Rebecca Altman: I gather native and non-native plants throughout Southern California and create teas, tinctures, and salves from the plants’ flowers leaves or roots. (Rebecca points to an exuberant white sage bush in our front yard). White sage is a native here in coastal California and has so many great properties! It is anti-microbial, analgesic, and treats wounds wonderfully. That antimicrobial activity extends to when it’s burned so when people smudge with it, they’re actually purifying the air around them.
Actually, white sage is so popular now it’s becoming over harvested. You see these giant stands of it and assume it is really prolific but it has such a small growing range and people will just yank up entire plants to make smudge sticks to sell on Venice boardwalk and places like that without caring at all that they’re causing irreparable damage. There are ways to gather plants that actually help stands of plants proliferate— create a relationship between those gathering and the plants, a tending of the wild. We herbalists call this wild-crafting. It’s how native peoples have been interacting with their environments for thousands of years: in ways that actually benefit both the plants and the people, not just one side of the equation.
How did you become interested in herbal remedies?
RA: It was about 14 years ago and I was sick and on a cocktail of medications. In the process of trying to get off them, and find a place where I could be healthy, I met a herbalist who sorta took me under his wing and taught me a LOT. We’d spend hours hiking out in the desert gathering plants, and he taught me tongue and pulse diagnosis. I had no idea at the time that it’d become my path— I still thought I was meant to be an artist— but I was absolutely obsessed with herbs, plants, and health. I devoured every book I could on the topic and kept collecting and making remedies from the plants I’d gather, then try them on anyone I could get my hands on. It wasn’t until years later that I thought of myself as a herbalist. One day, I asked my husband what I should be when I grow up. He pointed to our walls filled with collections of plants in jars and said, “I think that would be obvious!” But really, it took years of experimentation before I became comfortable calling myself a herbalist.
Did herbal medicine help you with your depression?
RA: Yes! I became much more balanced emotionally. I became more focus and grounded. But herbalism is not a magic pill. Herbal remedies facilitate changes, forcing you to face deep-rooted issues. Ultimately, you must face those issues before you can change. It was a combination of that, nutrition, exercise, and the mental changes that happened as a result of spending so much time outdoors in solitude.
What is the strangest case you’ve had?
RA: I had a really interesting case with a teenage girl who had been bleeding for 9 months straight. Think about how annoying and sometimes painful it is to have your period then imagine having that for 9 months straight!
She’d been to doctors who wanted to put her on birth control pills but she came from an incredibly religious family and that wasn’t an option. When we met she was really at wits end about the whole thing. It turned out through talking to her that she had a lot of pent up emotional issues (teenagers often have this in common) and so we talked a lot about finding ways to express her feelings, then I taught her about what I call ‘tree time’ which is basically having people spend time outdoors sitting with their butts on the ground and their backs against a tree.
I asked her to do it every day and while at it to pour her emotions into the ground instead of holding them in. Then I said I’d mail her a formula to stop the bleeding and help regulate her hormones over the next week. Well, she went home, did her tree time religiously, and by the 3rd day she’d stopped bleeding entirely. She didn’t even need to use the formula that arrived in the mail about 4 days later.
Have you thought about working with teens?
RA: Yes! I was such a troubled teen myself and would have really benefitted from learning about some of this stuff. I work with teens a lot in my practice, but my future plan is to teach classes for teenage girls.