My interest in medicinal plants goes all the way back to my earliest memories, but it was eczema that brought me to herbalism proper. I believe it was 1999 when the skin on my hands began to bubble. I was living the Austin party lifestyle – late nights of beer-drinking and grease-eating, alternating between coffee in the (mid)morning and valerian tincture to force my racing mind to shut off at (late) night. At the time I was working at a plant nursery, but had to leave because my hands suffered too much from the dirt and water. The open wounds on my palms cracked and oozed, itched and sometimes hurt so much I’d have to hold my hands in a neutral position, unable to use my fingers. I had already become a regular customer at Natural Magic, a local pagan shop where I would buy my little bulk bags of valerian and st. john’s wort. They hired me to work a few hours a week there, wrapping store-made soap and filling and labeling little bottles of various potions. I pored through the herb books, trying to figure out what to do about my body’s rebellion. Which herbs? It was so overwhelming and confusing. I knew that if I went to a regular doc, they would give me cortisone, and I didn’t want that. I needed help.
At the suggestion of Austin herbalist Ellen Zimmermann, I made an appointment with Dr. Philip Zbylot. That was a turning point in my life. He is an M.D. of preventative medicine and answered his own phone. He told me to bring a tape recorder and to expect the appointment to take an hour and a half. When I arrived at his office, I was surprised that it was so homey, not the white, overlit, sterile aesthetic I expected in a doctor’s office. We sat and had a long conversation. No poking or prodding or blood draw. He only touched me once, to note the size of my earlobes – earlobes that he said were of the type common to people who have absolutely no ancestral history of vegetarianism. At that point I’d been vegetarian for 17 years. He pointed out that I was very thick around the middle and explained to me the concept of leaky gut.
I left his office with a bottle of Robert’s Formula, an order for a food allergy blood test and a handwritten list that guides my self-care to this day:
2. low glycemic diet
3. 1 1/2 hours of movement per day
4. find contentment
All four of these recommendations were new to me and he encouraged me to research them on my own thoroughly before coming back. On the other side of the paper, he had drawn out a schematic of the conversions of omega-3’s and omega-6’s to the various classes of prostaglandins. My relationship to food was forever changed. That first papery layer of the onion removed, I began to see some minor improvement.