Interview with DIY Herbalism instructor, Paula Billig
Paula Billig of Paula’s Herbals is teaching our DIY Herbalism program at the Yoga Barn in Unionville, PA starting September 7th. Paula is a rising star in the local herbal community. With the once locally renowned and long-time herbalist instructors moving out of state in recent years, Paula is picking up where they left off to fill this gap in herbal education. Paula’s heart is in teaching and sharing the herbal wisdom passed down to her through her many teachers. Join our cohort of herbal students for our most in-depth program to date! We're sharing a few Q&As with her so you can get to know this incredibly knowledgeable Herbalist and the next big name in herbal education to hit our local area!
Q: Tell me about your background in botanical medicine.
A: I studied with my main teacher, Maia Toll, for 3 years while she was still offering in-person programs in Philadelphia. From her I learned plants and remedies, but also the community and social context of herbalism. This is “people’s medicine”, and we all should be able to look after ourselves so let’s learn it and share it.
I’ve also taken three more immersion (6-12 month) programs both in-person and online, as well as numerous 1 or 2 day workshops and lectures. These concentrations in herbal medicine expanded my understanding of the plants, how they work within us, how other practitioners work with them, and how to shape this into my “normal” life and not just be an “alternative”.
I started teaching small workshops and guest lectures about 5 years ago, which further challenged me to learn more as my audiences requested different topics. I’m so excited to offer this DIY program because every group I’ve faced has always come to the realization, “I can do this myself!” which is immediately followed with, “But how do I start?” This is how you start- learning one remedy, then another, and layering them together until it’s as simple and familiar as making your favorite meal.
Q: How will someone benefit from taking your DIY Herbalism program versus taking an online course?
A: This course is focused on DIY, on the practice of making remedies and doing it with your very own hands. That’s fun, and empowering, and it can also be intimidating. Having our class as a small, in-person group gives you two advantages: 1) I’m right there, telling you what to look for (and look out for), catching and correcting mistakes, guiding you through unfamiliar or unexpected things, and making the processes less mystifying, and 2) your classmates are next to you, going through the same adventure! For two decades I’ve taught and led groups of people doing things unfamiliar to them, and hands-down I can tell you it’s better when others are there too. Classmates cheer each other on, ask questions you may not have thought of or didn’t want to ask, learn from each other, and generally magnify and enhance the shared experience.
Q: Why do you think this course is worth the investment?
A: Learning how to make, process, store, dose, and preserve all of these foundational remedies is a big undertaking, and I will guide you through them step by step. At the end of our time together, you will have a cabinet’s-worth of handmade herbal remedies that represent a whole new skill set- the ability and confidence to support the health of yourself and your friends and family. You’ll also have the experience and moxie to continue making and experimenting, to develop your favorite and go-to items personalized for the well-being of yourself and those you care for.
Q: If you could give someone new to herbalism one piece of advice, what would that advice be?
A: This is not just theoretical- get out there and start playing with plants! Grow them, notice them, try them, start seeing them- and yourself- as part of a much larger and more intricate world. Shift the question “What is it for?” to “What does it do?” and you’ll become a participant in your environment. It doesn’t take a special skill to make a mug of herbal tea, but that simple act can both teach and heal you. You can read and learn, but herbalism especially demands that we interact and learn too.
Q: What do you like most about traditional herbal remedies?
A: I love the variety! There are so many remedies from so many traditions, and so many ways to use them. I also love that this teaches us to pay attention to our bodies and have more agency over our own health. Choosing between this tea, that tincture, or another remedy has a creative piece to it that works from our gut instinct, in addition to the deductive piece that uses reason and logic. It’s a little magic and a little science.
Q: What is one of the most interesting things you’ve learned about herbalism?
A: Plants are complex, really as complex as we are. And so we all develop our own personal herbalism. Some practitioners work with tiny doses, just a few drops at a time, and others use tea by the gallon, and both get great results. I had a teacher who turned to a certain plant when her clients were homesick, and she openly admitted she’d never met anyone else who did the same- but it worked. I think it is so interesting that there’s so much diversity and innovation within herbalism, even though we’re just working with the same plants humans have had throughout our known history.
Q: Is there a reason why the class will be capped at 15 students?
A: This program is very interactive and communal, with lots of flow and demonstration each day, and capping the group at 15 students means everyone will be able to see, try, experience, and collaborate. It’s important to me that we have a small group so that everyone has a chance to participate, ask questions, and be engaged, and so that everyone can get individual attention and assistance if they need it. This is also a good number to have if classmates want to form study or accountability partnerships, which is a great way to deepen your learning.
Q: What inspired you to become an herbalist?
A: When we were toddlers, my sister and I had constant ear infections and we were stuck on the antibiotic merry-go-round without ever really getting better. My mom has said that the turning point for her was overhearing our doc comment, “I love it when it’s twins, we get to see them every week.” No concern for our actual health, for stopping the cycle, for helping us- just the glee of endless job security.
She had a friend, a nurse, who had started taking her family to see an herbalist and it was really helping them. We lived in a very rural part of Pennsylvania, way before the internet, which might help you understand just how incredibly rare it was that there could even be an alternative there, let alone anything local. But there she was, Louann, and she was a life-changer.
I mean that literally. She changed our diet, she changed our habits, she gave us herbs in capsules and in tinctures, and we changed. We got well, and when we had to get physicals for elementary school the extremely miffed doctor sneered, “You can drown if you drink too much water,” because she couldn’t find anything wrong with us but disapproved strongly of us stopping sugar and milk and yeast and soda and not having those regular office visits anymore.
I think that this experience, while I was too young to remember it, permanently shaped me. That kind of ear and head pain is hard on a kid, but removing it was easy to understand- this worked, and even if it didn’t usually taste good and I was different from everyone else, I didn’t get sick anymore. I had an herb garden by 3rd grade, and I always told anyone who asked that I was going to be an herbalist. Everyone writes that essay in high school about your future career, and mine was on Naturopathy because I thought that was my path. It took me a few years to discover I didn’t have to move across the country for this, that I could train and study with wonderful herbalists right here in Philly, but when I found them I threw myself into the learning and have been building my skills and experience ever since.