The Meet the Masters project is a mentoring initiative geared towards inspiring and educating herbalists on innovative ways to make a living with herbal medicine. In this ongoing series we’re asking prominent herbalists to answer the question: “How did you establish a career in Herbal Medicine?” I’m very excited to feature herbalist and internet maven Henriette Kress, who offers this down-to-earth, humble, and humorous tale of her trajectory as an herbalist. Henriette is our very first international Master in this series, and once you read this article (and visit her website) you’ll understand why!
I started to learn herbs when I was very little, with my grandma in Germany. We moved to Finland when I was 10, and grandma sent herb books in her twice-yearly packages. I used those to try to figure out what all the various plants in the finnish meadows and woods were.
I didn’t become a herbalist right away because there weren’t any herbal schools back then. Instead, I chose mercantile studies. That landed me in logistics. A few years later I became finance manager at a branch office of a large multinational company.
Few jobs are as boring as that of a finance manager. The money was good, though, so I saved up for my dream: to become a herbalist.
In 1984 or so, I found the local Useful Plant Society and joined their board. They asked me to teach classes about medicinal plants, so I did. I found that I needed photos for the lectures. My photos showed plants the way herb people needed to see them: habitat, whole plant, and detail.
Lectures now: if you want to learn about herbs, teach about them. It’s amazing how many tidbits students will tell you. Jot them down, jot them all down! Try the lot of them, and pass the good ones on to others.
The internet came along. I was online in 1992 with the help of a friend studying computer sciences at the local university. Ordinary people didn’t have a glimmer of a hint of a chance to get onto the internet until a few years later, when internet companies arrived.
But because I’d been reading the online herbal discussions (the herb mailing list and the usenet news group alt.folklore.herbs), I made the culinary and medicinal herb FAQs as soon as I got my own internet account, in 1994.
I also took control of the herb mailing list after a vexing series of unannounced and unexplained outages. When your main herbal lifeline is down every weekend and anytime there’s a prolonged holiday in Turkey, you do something about it. I’ve run the list ever since.
The FAQs were well enough received that sunSITE asked in 1995 if I wanted to run a website on their server, for free. Websites were prohibitively expensive at the time, so I said “yes!” of course.
Henriette’s herbal homepage launched in August 1995 at an address that is now defunct. From the first, the site sported the FAQs, herbal discussion archives and about 200 plant photos. I’ve added a lot more herbal information and plant photos over the years.
It didn’t take long for the site (and me) to become famous. The only other herb site with photos at the time was the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine, run by Michael Moore. This, too, was hosted on sunsite.
I do believe that neither of our sites would be as big without the other. Every time Michael added something interesting to his, I’d scramble to add something to mine, too, and vice versa. Our sites were very popular with the herb crowd because both of us added quality content.
(Here’s a top SEO tip: bring quality content without fluff. You’ll get top ratings in search engines, without any of the usual SEO tricks.)
In early 1998, I told my boss that I was going to the US for half a year to study herbal medicine. He said that if I did that, then I’d have to quit … so I did. He was rather surprised.
Now, here’s the funny part. When you follow your calling, your dream, your yearning, things will fall into place. Just like that. Trust me, it works.
When I got home from the US, I had the courage to start to see clients. It’s possible that I would have had the knowledge to do so earlier, but the SWSBM really brought home the importance of finding various causes behind imbalances and their symptoms.
I had mentors, of course. Whenever a client had a particularly vexing problem, I’d give Christopher Hedley a call (now there’s a great herbal master!), or Michael Moore.
In addition to seeing clients, I sold plant photos. (I might still be the only one in my University of Economics class to have something in the Wall Street Journal … a plant photo). I also wrote herbal articles for local newspapers and glossies and kept up my lectures. Soon I was responsible for the herb part of a local two-year naturopathic school, teaching there for five weeks a year.
In 2000, my first herb book in Finnish was published (“Mintusta voikukkaan”, “From mint to dandelion”). I’ve just published the fourth, “Käytännön lääkekasvit 2” (“Practical herbs 2”).
My first book in English, “Practical Herbs“, 2011, is a translation of my third book in Finnish (“Käytännön lääkekasvit”, 2010), which I wrote because the publisher wouldn’t keep the first two in print. My first two books have attained cult status over here: they’re utterly unobtainable. Nevertheless I believe that the newer two blow them clear out of the water.
In 2004, I started my herbal blog. Blogs at the time were almost exclusively navel gazing: “this is what I ate today” or “my kid cried, boohoo” or similar fairly boring topics. I saw the platform as a great opportunity for daily informative posts, and proceeded to prove the point. I kept it up, too, until my little one announced her arrival. Then, suddenly, I had other things to think about. (She’s a great little bundle, and the reason why I haven’t updated my website as much as I’d like during recent years: family is more important.)
So as a herbalist, I do several things, each of which are stronger or weaker as time goes by. It’s worthwile to concentrate on your strengths, but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on where the money comes in: food, gas and rent all need paying.
I’ve only been called a master herbalist in the last year or so, by herbalists I respect. (Others don’t count.) I’m not quite sure I’m there yet, but still, it warms my heart.
I do love being a herbalist. I haven’t done an honest day’s work since coming back from the SWSBM. Teaching for weeks on end isn’t work, it’s fun! As is all the rest of it. Were it not for my family, I’d work with herbs 24/7, all year long.
On that note: if you don’t love your herbal work, don’t make it into a profession.
Last year, I wrote an article called “Wisdom for herbalists“. It’s great, go read it!
Henriette Kress runs one of the oldest and most thorough online resources for herbal medicine: Henriette’s Herbal. Hailing from Helsinki, Finland, Henriette’s love of herbs began when her grandmother introduced her to St. John’s wort when she was only knee-high. An economist by training, Henriette left her lucrative career to attended SWSBM in 1998, and never looked back. She now spends her time seeing clients, giving lectures, and taking beautiful herb pictures. Henriette is the author of four books including Practical Herbs, which is her first book written in English.