A Baker’s Dozen Questions: Whoopi & Maya’s Herbalist Alexis Gandara

Alexis GandaraWhat is the day in the life of an herbalist like?
I can’t speak about the experience of all herbalists, but I know that in my life I work with herbs every day in one form or another. On some days, that might mean going out to gather poplar buds to make a salve for pain relief. On others, it might mean making a tincture of cedar or mixing a special herbal blend as a formula for a friend or client. On the best days, it means holding classes and plant meditations at my house with other herbalists I look up to, sharing the teachings and songs the plants have gifted to us with others. On the greatest level, it means connecting to plants all around me on a deep level, integrating them into my life—not just as medicine, but on an emotional level as well.

Can you speak about how the herbs travel through the body in different forms?
Essentially when one takes a tincture that travels down to the stomach, the medicinal aspect of the herb is absorbed into the blood stream and creates an effect. A rub or salve acts much more directly, entering the nerves and blood stream through the epidermal layer, causing a more rapid and topical medicinal effect. For high levels of pain, I would suggest that you continue applying the medicines throughout the day as desired for aromatic experience or relief.

Tell us about the herbs in the Whoopi & Maya tincture, how their properties affect the body?
Passionflower is super helpful when you’re trapped in the maze of overthinking. It’s high in the bioflavonoid apigenin, which makes it a fantastic ally for anxiety and insomnia. True to its name, it’s also an aphrodisiac. It helps you get out of your head and into your body. Passionflower is also wonderful for upset tummies, healing stomach ulcers, and soothing nerve pain (neuralgia). Raspberry Leaf is a super food (high in vitamins, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron), and a nurturing female tonic. It’s a great soother if you’re dealing with fibroids, endometriosis, and irregular or heavy periods. It regulates and brings balance to uterine and pelvic tone. If there is too much laxity, it tightens the tissues. If there is too much tension, it works as a relaxant.  It can help ease cramps, PMS symptoms, diarrhea, leg cramps, nausea, and IBS. Raspberry leaf is my favorite summertime iced tea. It has a tannin content similar to black tea but it’s way better for you. Motherwort is an invaluable female tonic herb. It helps keep your cycle regular, and it’s a fantastic remedy for cramps. Cramp Bark is an exceptional muscle relaxant. It’s used to calm all kinds of spasms and cramps, and it’s a great long-term ally for smooth muscle tension, cramp bark has a soothing and warming effect, It feels like a warm hug.

And what about the herbs in the Whoopi & Maya salve?
We’ve got cramp bark in this one too. It’s one of my favorites. Willow bark has been used for thousands of years to calm inflammation and quell pain. It’s active ingredient, salicin, is the precursor to modern-day aspirin. Willow bark is high in healing antioxidants, which help decrease inflammation and allow healing to take place. St. John’s wort and cramp bark make an excellent team. St. John’s wort is exceptional for treating nerve pain and menstrual cramps. It has a tonic healing effect on the nervous system. Its sunny disposition helps clear away anxiety, tension, and depression. Chamomile is a mild sedative, which has calming effects both inside and out. It gently calms inflamed skin, and in the same way it gently relaxes the mind. Chamomile is a classic herb for taming menstrual cramps and muscle tension. Chamomile is the Swedish massage of the plant world. It’s gentle, but it smoothes out all the kinks.

Can you give us a sense of the qualities each herb will bestow?
Ginger essential oil is the ultimate warmer. It stimulates circulation, which allows any herbs it’s paired with to reach the bloodstream quickly and efficiently. Ginger is very helpful for decreasing pain, ranging from arthritis to painful periods. Marjoram essential oil is a warming muscle relaxant and a fantastic pain reliever. It’s amazing for sorting out painful and irregular periods. Lavender essential oil calms anxiety, irritability, and insomnia, while uplifting the mood. It’s rejuvenating when you’re feeling depleted or exhausted. Patchouli essential oil is very grounding. It helps promote restful sleep. Its aphrodisiac effects smooth away anxiety, creating space for sensuality. It stimulates the pleasure hormones dopamine & serotonin and sexual hormones. Patchouli helps you get in touch with your root & sacral chakras, increasing your sense of safety and creativity. Neroli essential oil is an uplifting & joyful antidepressant. It’s wonderful as a gentle muscle relaxant, and it helps decrease nerve pain. Like patchouli, neroli is an aphrodisiac. It brings the “sexy” back to situations where it seems to have been forgotten.

Can you tell us about the origin of your career and life as an herbalist?
I’ve always been drawn to nature, plants, and people. My mother had a special green thumb and spoiled me with camping trips while I was growing up. In my twenties, I moved from Los Angeles to gorgeous northern California. I felt so at home in the wild, and I found a tribe of wonderful farmers and herbalists.

A painful, unexplained health issue brought herbs into my daily life. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on. Herbs came to my rescue. Seeing how plants prevailed where modern medicine could not was life changing.

Did you apprentice with any particular teacher?
I learned to make herbal infusions and herbal baths, and began including them as part of my daily routine. I studied plant medicine & shamanism with Blue Thunder Cloud who taught me to make vibrational medicine, and how to speak to the plants and receive their messages. I learned to conduct sacred work based on the Hopi medicine wheel. That’s when I knew it was my calling to be a medicine woman.

What’s your goal for the Whoopi & Maya line?
My goal in making this herbal line is to put something out there that I love and that I use in my home—and to share it with you. I want to help people build loving relationships with their bodies, with their health, and with nature. I want to share with you what I’m passing down to my children, what they in turn will pass on to theirs. That’s why I’m called to be an herbalist.

How do these herbs affect the mind as well as the body?
Herbalism has a big effect on the mind, the body, and emotions. Herbs can help us in a variety of ways: by granting relaxation, offering pain relief, reducing muscle cramping, strengthening immunity, and stimulating the senses. These physical effects also improve our mood and wellbeing. They invite us to honor ourselves. Feeling good and smelling good always help this out.

Are there particular herbs that help with women’s health beyond the period?
There are a number of herbs specifically noted to help women. Red clover is filled with isoflavones, phytoestrogens that help reduce the symptoms of PMS, hot flashes, and menopausal symptoms. Red clover is also vitamin and mineral rich, so it is a very helpful tonic herb for women as they age—and it’s even been shown to decrease bone loss. This is a wonderful herb to take in tea form, adding several heaping tablespoons to a pint of hot water and letting it steep for 20-30 minutes before drinking.

Are there herbs you recommend that women take every day and/or every day of their periods? And which of those herbs can be found in this line of Whoopi & Maya products?
Herbs work best when they are tailored to each individual. For some people with strong excessive bleeding, it may be helpful to take a gently astringent herb like yarrow or sage. For those who have pain around their menses, it may be beneficial to add a “nervine” such as lavender, lemon balm, or catnip—or else, an antispasmodic herb such as crampbark or motherwort. Lavender, cramp bark, and motherwort can be found in our Whoopi & Maya line right now.

Are there herbs you recommend every person take every day?
Herbs are best when they are rotated and not taken everyday. Some gentle tonic herbs such as oat straw, nettles, and red clover can be taken regularly for long periods of time. It’s still important to take periodic breaks to let your system rest.

What knowledge do you think is most important for all people to have about herbalism?
To me, herbalism is not just about taking a plant to heal a specific concern; it’s about creating a rich relationship with the plants themselves. The more I work with plants, the more I find that they are my allies. I hope that people who become interested in herbalism become interested in the plants themselves: how they grow out in gardens and in nature.

On a personal level, they have been profoundly transformative on a spiritual level, guiding me through emotional blocks and grow as a person. Since I’ve started using plants, my life has become filled with much depth and purpose. My hope for everyone is that they will come to feel this joy and peace as well.

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