Many future naturopathic physicians are excited to learn about herbal medicine, and rightly so. While studying plants can certainly expand one’s knowledge, traveling beyond the classroom will have a far greater impact.
The Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) offers a yearly selective called “Botanical Medicine in the Appalachian Mountains,” where students and resident doctors visit Gaia Herbs to gain invaluable experience with medicinal plants. This summer, 16 students and residents traveled to North Carolina with Dr. Patricia Gaines, professor of botanical medicine at SCNM, and learned from plant experts such as Gaia’s CEO Ric Scalzo, local herbalists and Dr. Gaines herself.
While lecture is important, Dr. Gaines said, this five-day trip offers an opportunity you can’t get in the classroom.
“Learning botanical medicine is best done though having experiences with plants and spending time with them,” she explained. “Having discussions about the plants, seeing where they grow, and being in their natural environment is so much richer than lecture discussion.”
Each trip includes an overview of botanical testing, a tour through Gaia’s analytical lab, multiple days on the Gaia Herbs farm—seeing and discussing plants they are cultivating—plus two days taking local herb hikes. Students get to see many of the foundational herbs used in Western herbalism growing in this area, which is known for its plant diversity.
SCNM student Erik Nelson said attending the summer 2016 Gaia selective “was one of the most memorable and integral parts of [his] naturopathic medical experience so far.”
Erik explained that the trip is unique because it combines laboratory science of standardizing and preparing herbs with the agriculture science of growing them. Plus, students and residents gain hands-on experience with the plants.
“As naturopathic doctors, it is important to understand where our medicine comes from,” Erik said. “If we are not making the medicine ourselves, we need to understand and trust the companies that we source from.”
Dr. Miriam Wheeler, resident doctor at the SCNM Medical Center, agreed that the Gaia trip made her more conscientious about where supplements come from before prescribing them to patients. Touring Gaia’s manufacturing plant helped her gain full confidence in Gaia’s products, while also showing her the importance of supplement quality, purity and efficacy.
“I definitely have a greater appreciation and understanding of the herbs now after spending days in the field studying, smelling and tasting them,” Dr. Wheeler added.
Gaia Herbs generously donates funds to SCNM’s botanical medicine department to help support students’ participation in the selective. The trip takes place based on the amount of student enthusiasm toward the selective, and Dr. Gaines expects the summer 2017 trip to garner just as much excitement as in previous years.
“This is more than just a selective about plants,” she said. “It’s about how using botanical medicine fits into overall treatment for patients, enhancing their vitality and wellness while also preventing illness.”