The Chamomile Herb with Dr. Jillian Stansbury

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It was so much fun to interview Dr. Jillian Stansbury! She is a plant nerd in all the best ways, and every section of this conversation has so much wisdom infused into it. Not only does Dr. Stansbury give a ton of information about the chamomile herb’s many gifts but she also touches on the differences between the use of herbs and pharmaceuticals, her passion for ethnobotany, and so much more. If you like to nerd out on herbs then you are going to love this conversation!

A master at herbal formulation, Dr. Stansbury also discusses herbs that partner well with the chamomile herb for different health challenges, and shares her wonderful Tummy Tea Blend recipe.  You can find the beautifully illustrated recipe card for this in the section below.

Chamomile is such a versatile plant!  Here are just a few instances when gentle yet powerful chamomile can be helpful:

► To help calm and soothe a wound-up nervous system

► As a mouthwash for gingivitis

► For a variety of digestive issues from gas and bloating to irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis

► To help quell nausea

And there are so many other health challenges that can benefit from chamomile’s gifts! Tune in to the entire episode for all the details!

By the end of this episode, you’ll know:

► How Dr. Stansbury combined her training as a physician with her love of herbs, along with other healing practices, to create a truly holistic medical clinic

►  Why chamomile is such a versatile plant for your herbal medicine toolkit

►  How chamomile can be used to reduce some of the side effects of chemotherapy

► Ten digestive issues that can be helped by chamomile

► Why we can’t possibly know exactly how an herb does what it does (but that’s okay!)

► The difference between herbs and pharmaceuticals in treating health issues

► and so much more…

For those of you who don’t already know her, Dr. Jillian Stansbury has practiced as a physician in Battle Ground, WA for over 35 years, and she currently directs the Healing Arts Apothecary, which is open to the public.  She chaired the Botanical Medicine program at National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR for many decades and remains on the faculty.  Dr. Stansbury leads ethnobotany field courses in the Andes and Amazon each January, and is the author of 7 herb books, including the Award-Winning 5-volume textbook series, Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals, published by Chelsea Green.

I’m delighted to share our conversation with you today.


  • 01:08 - Introduction to Dr. Jillian Stansbury
  • 02:28 - How Dr. Jillian found her herbal path
  • 14:37 - Dr. Jillian’s five-volume Herbal Formulary book series
  • 21:59 - Medicinal benefits of the chamomile herb
  • 31:22 - What about sensitivity to chamomile?
  • 32:47 - Pharmacological vs. physiological therapies
  • 53:12 - Dr. Jillian’s ethnobotany field courses
  • 1:02:08 - New herbal skills Dr. Jillian is cultivating
  • 1:08:14 - Herbal Tidbit

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Transcript of the 'Lemon Balm Herb with Maria Noël Groves' Video

Rosalee de la Forêt:
Hello and welcome to the Herbs with Rosalee Podcast, a show exploring how herbs heal as
medicine, as food and through nature connection. I’m your host, Rosalee de la Forêt. I created
this Channel to share trusted herbal wisdom so that you can get the best results when
relying on herbs for your health. I love offering up practical knowledge to help you dive deeper
into the world of medicinal plants and seasonal living.

Each episode of the Herbs with Rosalee Podcast is shared on YouTube, as well as your favorite
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Rosalee de la Forêt:

Okay, grab your cup of tea and let’s dive in.

Early on in this conversation with Dr. Jillian Stansbury, I had one phrase that just kept running through my mind: This woman is brilliant. It was so much fun to interview her and every section of this conversation has so much wisdom infused into it. Not only does she give this fire hose of information about chamomile’s many gifts, but she also touches on how herbs heal vs. pharmaceuticals and how we may not know exactly how an herb does what it does—but that’s okay—and so much more. If you like to nerd out on herbs then you are going to love this conversation. 

For those of you who don’t already know her, Dr. Stansbury has practiced as a physician in Battleground, Washington for over 35 years, and also directs the Healing Arts Apothecary open to the public. She chaired the Botanical Medicine Program at NUNM in Portland, Oregon for many decades and remains on the faculty. She leads ethnobotany field courses in the Andes and Amazon each January, and is the author of seven herb books including the award-winning five-volume text book series, Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals published by Chelsea Green.

Thank you so much for being here. Thanks for being on the show, Jillian. I’m really looking forward to this.

Jillian Stansbury:

Thank you, Rosalee.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

I just want to dive right in and hear your story of how you became an herbalist, a naturopath and what brought you here to us today.

Jillian Stansbury:

You bet. I think like so many herbalists, it was just an intuitive relationship with the natural world, that always since childhood I have paid attention to plants and noticed when they bloomed, noticed the way that the flowers emerged and closed up into little buds. I like to gather dandelions. I couldn’t believe people consider dandelion as a weed when they were a beautiful flower, would make braids out of them to make festoons for our heads and to play games with them. I love walking home the longest way from school through the forest in the ravines. I think so many herbalists, just the natural comfort and affinity with the plant world, the forest, the trees, the understory, the tiny bugs and the butterflies just called to me like so many of us.

I think that I was also blessed to have farm folks as my grandparents. My family had a farm in Iowa that raised corn, soy and potatoes, as well as beef cattle—not dairy cattle—beef cattle and some hogs. I love visiting my grandparents and playing in the hayloft, feeding the animals and helping my grandfather survey the land on his tractor. They taught me things. Like most farmers, they had their own little vegetable garden that I didn’t really worked too hard. I was “working” with grandma or grandpa in the garden, and just learned how things grew, how they saved the seed potatoes. When I was on the tractor with my grandfather—I think this is all done mechanistically now—but he would want to save the biggest ears of corn in his seed box. There was a little seat for me on the back of the tractor that was a bench that would open up. The top of the bench would open and that was the seed box. I was just supposed to look at any corn that was getting shot into the back of this great, big bin on the back of the tractor and grab any of the largest best ones, getting up off my seat and putting them under my bench. Those are just some of my favorite memories that are all plant-based memories of my grandparents, farming with them, getting to know the plants, the season of the plants, planting them and just living with people that live close to the earth, simple farm life.

One other influence for me was Girl Scouts. I was blessed to have a Girl Scout team of leaders that would take us backpacking every month. We would get skills like being able to use our little gas burning stoves, put the tents up and down, pack our backpacks and go on little weekend hikes to get us skilled and in shape to take a big trip every summer. Those leaders also instilled in me an appreciation of plants because they would point out all of the plants along the hiking trail. They didn’t necessarily know medicinal virtues, but they just loved the plants and would name them as we went by. “Look, there’s swordfern.” “Look, there’s hepatica.” “Look, there’s some bloodroot coming up.” I adored that.

I think all of those early connections with nature led me to have an interest in science, in botany, in chemistry, in biology. I loved those subjects in junior high in high school. I considered majoring in botany when I was in college, but ended up choosing just premed, but my actual degree was in medical illustration and that allowed me to fuse my love of art and take a lot of art classes, as well as cover the whole premed program and study what I wanted. It was a special major that I had approved for me through the deans of both the departments of premed, science, biology, the BS program and the art program. I did not even know what naturopathic medicine was until my last year of college.

I was taking premed, as I said, and considering applying to medical school. I was looking for which medical schools featured a lot of nutrition and healthy lifestyle. To my surprise, none or hardly any, or maybe one class in nutrition and the whole medical curriculum. I was thinking maybe that’s not for me. Maybe laboratory science and being a lab tech. Maybe environmental science and going into forestry. I just loved the diagnostic imaging of electron microscopy. Maybe I could do a lab that featured doing electron microscopes. There are no jobs in that. Maybe you might have one at each university, but it’s not really a viable career path per se, but I was in that exploration of “Where do I go next? What’s my next step when I graduate from this medical illustration program?”

I was standing in the school’s library, flipping through this book of allied science careers and opened the page that said “naturopathic medicine.” I actually had a mini panic attack. Not quite panic, but more like excitement attack, like “Oh, my gosh! This is a career. There are schools. You can get a degree in it. They have herbal medicine. They do nutrition.” I was just so enthusiastic about it. I had moved to the Bay Area of California by this time and was graduating from San Jose State University and learned that there was a college in Portland, Oregon. So, I went up over the Thanksgiving break of that fourth year in college, was enrolled by the end of that year when I was graduating, to move up to Portland immediately upon my graduation from college.

It’s definitely been a good career path for me. I loved the school. I loved the people that I met there. Botanical medicine was certainly, by far, my favorite subject. I had such a great affinity for it since childhood and I took it upon myself just to take all of the electives, read all the books, grow a garden and start to make medicines. Most herbalists go through that excitement of saving the bottles and the bags, the plant starts, microgreens, growing this and tincturing that, making salves and oils. Really, my love of that has never ceased.

At this point in my career, I’ve been in practice for 35 years. This year is actually our 35th anniversary and we’ll be holding a celebration this summer, but I’ve cut back on the number of days that I see patients. It was full time, then it was three days a week, then it was two days a week, and now, I’m just one day a week and I run my little apothecary in the small town of Battleground, Washington, just about 40 minutes north of Portland, Oregon where I went to the naturopathic medical school. I set up this little practice, Battleground Healing Arts. I bought the property from an elderly doctor who created it in the 1930’s. It’s just an ideal little location for me. I converted what was a one-car garage that was right on Main Street that was this elderly doctor’s home, side by side with his medical clinic. I converted the garage into a little apothecary then added a solarium to the front. The inside of this house we have a yoga studio, massage suites and the clinic. It remains our clinic with other physicians and acupuncturists.

Now, really my day to day work is more having fun in the apothecary, kind of back to my roots. We make teas. We make salves. We stock medicines from all over the world. Sometimes we make special products that just don’t exist for certain patients. Extracting lobelia into castor oil is what I have going on my shelf right now, for a patient with COPD. It’s just so nice there are niche things. “I think these would be great. Nobody makes it. Let’s make it for this patient.” It remains my passion and joy to be around all the plants. I think there’s also something comforting, almost like the beauty of a wood pile or something once you get it all stocked for the winter. Just the beauty of being around all the herbs, the full jars and just the vibration that holds in a space, I think is just so comforting.

I like being in my apothecary even though I’ve been in it for 35 years now, I still like being in the apothecary around all those herbs. That’s really a grounding kind of healing space that it creates. People walk through the door. Apothecary is open to the public and people walk through the door everyday saying, “The smell is so marvelous in here!” and I can’t even smell it. I just must be saturated with it in every pore. The way you can’t smell things when you’re right in it. You have to leave the room and come back. Other people, I think notice too, the comfort of being around all those herbs just by walking through the door.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

What an amazing resource in place for folks in your area to have a healing arts center. Jillian, I’m reminded we have a mutual friend, jim mcdonald. I was just chatting with jim yesterday and I mentioned that I was going to be interviewing you for the podcast the following day. jim has many fond things to say about you. One of the things he said is, he goes, “The thing about Jillian is that she’s a naturopathic physician, but she’s really an herbalist.” He said something like that. “She’s really an herbalist.” Everything you’ve just gone on and on about plants, seasons and all that connection when you were a kid. Now, it’s your apothecary. All of that, yes, the herbalism runs deep. That’s just not always true for naturopathic physicians.

Jillian Stansbury:

That’s true.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

There are many different ways of being an ND. Not everybody has their own apothecary when they’re naturopathic physicians.

Jillian Stansbury:

That’s true. You are right. I’m very fond of jim myself. That’s sweet of him.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

He’s hard not to love for sure.

Jillian Stansbury:

For sure.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Alright, thank you so much for that story. I did not know your story, so it’s nice to hear that. I know that you’ve taught along the way. How you first became aware of you—I don’t even remember. Maybe 2010 or earlier? Down at Sharol Tilgner’s farm when she had her conferences, which I have to say I have so much nostalgia for those conferences. I can’t remember what she called them, but anyway, these gatherings--they had such a nice feel to them. It’s just a fun time to go down there. Sharol Tilgner is also a naturopathic doctor. Anyways, that’s where I first became aware of you. I took classes with you there.

In the past couple of years, you took on, which I want to say I’m so grateful for, but what I also consider somewhat of this insane endeavor to create five volumes of Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals, each volume focusing on a different system. Wow! These are treasured by so many people in the herbal world. I’m sure with naturopaths as well. Just one of these books—there are many. There is five total. Just one of these books has so much information in them. I can’t even imagine how much time it took to do just even one. I’m so curious. Where did you get the idea? When did you know it was five volumes? Did you realize how much work it was going to be at the onset? At what point did you regret it? Again, so grateful for it.

Jillian Stansbury:

Thank you.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Also, it’s published by Chelsea Green, which is my favorite publishing company. Everything they do is so cool.

Jillian Stansbury:

It’s a wonderful company to work with. I published a couple other small books. It was kind of a frustration and working with Chelsea Green was just marvelous. They only made my vision better and helped me publish it up and were marvelous to work with. Those books were a good 25 years in the making. It really just took five years, just five years to complete the polishing up process volume by volume. We basically did one per year for five years. They were all based on my teaching at the naturopathic medical school.

I was the chair of the Botanical Medicine Program for many decades. I remain on the faculty, but I no longer teach to the extent that I once did, but I had a concept of how to organize the basic volume of material based on that class series. How we organized the classes were by organ systems. You start with some basic vocabulary. What’s an alterative? What’s a demulcent? What’s an adaptogen? What’s an astringent? Like some intro vocabulary. We launched into GI. It’s always first because the liver and the gut are so foundational to health. Then you talk about the common GI complaints – irritable bowel or constipation or ulcers or reflux disorders, hepatitis, gall stones and teach the materia medica that are some of the most useful herbs for those, and then you go on to another organ system and another organ system. That was my concept for the textbooks – to have five volumes that would cover all the basic organ systems, respiratory, immune, allergy, reproductive, skin, cardiovascular, peripheral vascular, endocrine and so on. In so doing, each one of those organ systems might have 20 key herbs and 20 other little support herbs.

Throughout the books, the herbs might get mentioned again and again. There is a master index, actually, available from Chelsea Green. We were thinking about publishing it and then there’s the pandemic and we never really came back to the concept, but the publisher does have a master materia medica if you think, “Where did I read that? Which of those five volumes?” They do have that available. That system of creating those notes every year or maybe every few years, I would update my notes that I would give out to students so they would get a little better and a little better, or I would anticipate the questions that students would have, or I would have other little recipes that I could add. I made my notes better and better over a 20-year time period. However, some years I would use this font. Some years, I would have it spaced in this way. It wasn’t really consistent from a publisher context to have everything, all of the headings the same, all of the styles the same, all of the lengths of discussions and the narratives just all matching. It was all a hodgepodge of stuff. That’s what took five years just to take my basic notes structure and polish it all up. It’s heavily referenced as you probably know.

That’s important in alternative medicine, I think because so often, people that aren’t really in the discipline, one of the main objectives will say, “None of that folkloric stuff has ever been studied,” or “None of that has ever been proven,” which is definitely not the case. I wanted to showcase what research it really was. If it was a clinical trial, I certainly included that. In many cases, there’s not clinical trials, but there’s animal research. There’s molecular constituent research. There’s all that research on inflammatory mediators or cancer cell lines to showcase there’s a great deal of science research on these herbs and on treating these conditions. It’s not just folkloric old wives tales. I really worked hard. There’s thousands and thousands of footnotes in all of those textbooks and that was probably one of the more tedious or time-consuming things just to search PubMed and polish all of those supportive documents. If we say it’s an anti-inflammatory, we’ll hear studies that say it’s an anti-inflammatory. If it’s been shown to improve fertility in women with PCOS, here’s a study where it did just that and support, verify, validate so many of the folkloric claims with modern research.

That is time-consuming. It was a labor of love, certainly. I greatly enjoyed doing it. I do like to just nerd out on the research. It’s kind of a lazy thing you can do, laying on the couch on a rainy evening or something or in front of the fire. It’s enjoyable to me to write and to organize information and to search out those studies. It’s educational and fun.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Spoken like a true nerd. That explains a lot for me then. For 20 years, you are creating your notes for your classes, improving on them, building on them. I just look at this and I’m just in awe of it. This explains why it’s so amazing because it’s 25 years in the making, essentially. Thank you so much for having that vision and for teaching, giving back. I can imagine that these are probably textbooks that are used in a wide variety of situations now. They’re used by herbalists. They must be used in naturopathic schools. What a gift to us all that you went through that, so thank you.

Jillian Stansbury:

It’s my pleasure. Labor of love.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

I am always excited when chamomile comes up on the podcast because as listeners know, one of my very favorite plants. I was especially excited that I have a naturopathic physician on and you chose chamomile! Because I just feel like it’s a plant that could be dismissed or overlooked. I love that you chose chamomile and I’d love to hear why did you choose chamomile?

Jillian Stansbury:

I think it’s so safe, so gentle. It has such immediate efficacy for irritable bowel syndrome, a few gut complaints or nausea. That we’ll talk about. It’s safe to give to children. It‘s reasonably inexpensive and readily available. You could even go to the grocery store and pick up some chamomile tea and it would have some medicinal effect for people. I adore it as well. I always feel good, personally, drinking it. It’s not a powerful sedative, by any means, but you can feel a subtle calming effect just after a cup or two of chamomile tea. That’s a great thing in this fast-paced world, anything that soothes the ragged nervous system. Of course, Peter Rabbit’s mother gave it to him to calm him down after he had a scary escapade. It’s another one of those plants from childhood that you meet, so it’s familiar to everyone. I think it’s a good herb for any beginner herbalist. You’re right. Sometimes it gets overlooked with all of the flashy things from foreign countries, the adaptogens, the mushrooms and things that are cutting edge in their research for neurodegeneration or for new research coming out on this or that. Sometimes we can overlook just those standard culinary herbs or the grocery store herbs, and really, what powerful medicines they can be.

I’ve used chamomile most as a simple herbal tea. It’s nothing I’ve used in capsules. I really think its best virtues are as a tea, and certainly, as a tea if you’re trying to treat a tummy problem.

The recipe that I wanted to share with you I’ve been making it the same way the whole time I’ve been in practice. We just call it our “tummy tea.” It’s equal parts chamomile, mint, fennel and licorice. At this point, we are doing pounds of each and we mix it in a great, big garbage bag and then weigh them out into half pound or 4 oz. kind of quantities to dispense to patients. It’s delicious. Each one of those herbs compliments the other favor profiles as well as just the medicinal virtues, let’s just stick with chamomile for the moment.

Chamomile is a wonderful anti-inflammatory for the intestinal mucosa or any of the digestive mucous membranes. Even as a mouthwash for gingivitis or any kind of oral cavity inflammation or when somebody has GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, where stomach acid is coming up to the esophagus. A common reason for people to use Tums to antacids, to the proton inhibitor types of pharmaceuticals. It’s excellent for irritable bowel. It’s excellent for your run-of-the mill gas and bloating. Somebody that has a dairy allergy but indulges you in some ice cream at a party or something like that, drink in a few cups of that tea in a row. It can often work very quickly in a span of 30 to 60 minutes or so, for intestinal cramps, diarrhea, gas, bloating. It also is wonderful for healing ulcers and actual peptic ulcer, duodenal ulcer or lower bowel ulcers. There can be more challenging cases of colitis or ulcerative colitis, for example. You might think something as simple as chamomile is not up to the job of treating ulcerative colitis, but it’s actually a wonderful tool in your home protocol. It can be very helpful.

I have really relied on chamomile, especially as a tea. We have it in our tincture collection. I find I’m really using in that form because I prefer it in a liquid form of a tea. Also, of course, if you’re drinking a tea, you’re going to get the benefit of surface contact with the mouth, with the esophagus. If you drink two or three cups of it in fairly rapid succession, you can even fill up your stomach with it for at least 20 minutes or so. You can have a whole volume of chamomile tea down there that has the ability to touch the surface, digestive mucosa within the gastric membrane, and then it will get passed on to the small bowel, and ultimately, the large intestine and it’s soothing all the way down.

Licorice is a great compliment when there’s ulcerative lesions because licorice is known to increase the ability of the body to produce mucous that protects mucous membranes. We make mucous out of little, teeny goblet cells. They’re called that because that’s exactly what they look like if you’ll  look with a microscope at the intestinal or any mucous membrane. Histologically, you can see these little mucous-secreting glands that like look like little cups full of wine, little goblets that are secreting mucous that will coat and protect the surface membranes of our gastric mucosa. Licorice is a great compliment for ulcerative leak, whether it’s an infection like traveler’s diarrhea or whether it’s an autoimmune disease, like some type of colitis.

Fennel is a carminative agent. That means it dispels gas and bloating. Chamomile and fennel are great for just any kind of feeling of discomfort. Sometimes when people are really gassy, it can come up as burping, eructation. Sometimes it can go the other way as flatulence or sometimes it’s just stuck in the belly and feels really uncomfortable, that drum-like tightness of the belly. That’s kind of what infants seem to have as colic. This is safe even for babies. It’s just hard to get it into babies and nursing infants, so you give it to a nursing mother so a little bit is passed through the breast milk. You can even soak a cloth in chamomile tea, add a drop or two of fennel essential oil and put that over the belly of a baby or just anybody. Again, with more run-of-the-mill flatulence, dyspepsia, just an uncomfortable, gassy tummy.

Mint in that formula is another carminative agent, meaning to “dispel gas and bloating.” Mint is available as essential oil. It’s available as tincture. It’s available as pills. You can get those enteric coated pills you swallow, that are mint essential oil that makes it through your stomach acid and opens down in the intestines. Again, teas are such a beautiful and inexpensive way to get some of those medicines down into the gut, into the intestines.

Chamomile and mint together are wonderful for nausea that could be motion sickness and sea sickness. People that get queasy following chemotherapy. It even can work as an anti-nausea tool that’s due to a drug side effect or really, any case of nausea, those are worth a try. Those are just the ace in the hole digestive herbs – chamomile, mint, fennel and licorice. We’ve been making our tummy tea that way for decades. It’s tasty, so even children can enjoy it if they are prone to getting a tummy ache because they ate too much junk food at the friend’s birthday, or they’re prone to getting digestive upset. When they’re irritable, cranky kids, the chamomile will somewhat calm children down so that they can go to bed more readily or just hand them a cup of tea while you read them the bedtime story.

There’s such versatility to those simple culinary herbs. They’re virtually tolerated by nearly everyone. They’re safe to use with pharmaceuticals. They’re safe to use in infants. They’re safe to use in elderly, so it’s a great all-purpose tea that’s based on the wonderful chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Wow! I already love chamomile and now, gosh! It just does so much! I love that this tummy tea is so tried and true. Your books are bringing a lot of formularies to the forefront, but we, really, in Western herbalism, don’t have the extended tradition of these formulas that say, Traditional Chinese Medicine does, and so I love these tried and true formulas. Yes, I’ve been using these for decades. It’s amazing.

I have a couple of questions for you. One, I’m curious because you have extensive clinical practice, how often do chamomile sensitivities come up? Like people who can’t tolerate chamomile because they maybe have a similar Aster family allergy.

Jillian Stansbury:

I think it’s rare. I can think of one time in 35 years and it wasn’t really a side effect from ingesting it as much as it was from handling the dry herb that just liberates pollen and gave somebody itchy eyes--itchy, hay fever-like symptoms. In that case, I think a person could still consume it if somebody else made the tea for them and handed them the cup of tea.  There’s no pollen left once you strained it out. It’s different chemistry once it’s brewed. You’re not getting pollen in an aerosolized way in sensitive mucous membranes that triggers an allergic phenomenon, so I think it’s very rare. Those Aster family plants are for the most part, fairly benign for most people. In my experience, reactions to chamomile are very infrequent.

Rosalee de la Forêt: 

Alright, it’s good to know. I do hear that from time to time from listeners for whatever reason the chamomile doesn’t work, but it’s interesting to hear that limited amount of people you’ve come across in your extensive experience. Hearing you talk about chamomile from your everyday bloating and flatulence, to helping with nausea after chemo or helping with all colitises, like ulcerative colitis, the incredible impact it can have on there. It reminds me of something I was reading about in your books where you talk about the difference between pharmacologic therapy and physiologic therapy. I was wondering if you would share a little bit about those differences.

Jillian Stansbury:

That’s a great concept to consider when you’re treating patients or just to consider the virtues and the place where herbal medicine fits in creating health for people. I consider pharmacologic and physiologic as on a continuum. There are some herbs that we do want for their pharmacologic-like effect. “Pharmacologic,” you can think of the word “pharmacy” or to have a pharmacologic substance as a drug-like effect, or something that’s physiologic is aimed at restoring, repairing, supporting normal physiology. Sometimes, an example of a pharmacologic therapy might be a steroid. A person’s inflammatory response is so overboard or so pronounced or they can’t breathe, then you need a steroidal inhaler. They have itchy eczema and they just want to suppress it with a cortisone cream or something like that. You’re relying on a drug-like effect of a steroid to override what your body is doing and squash that down. In this example, squash it down, suppress it. In some other examples, somebody has narcolepsy that can’t drive because they would fall asleep at the wheel. You might need an amphetamine-like effect and that would be an example of using a pharmacologic agent to really stimulate somebody more powerfully than a cup of coffee would. Somebody with severe narcolepsy maybe take stimulants their whole life. Those are just obvious examples of a pharmacologic effect.

Of course, those pharmaceuticals are having a pharmacologic effect whether it’s an antibiotic to kill a microbe, a bacteria, a virus, a fungi or it’s a steroid or it’s an anti-inflammatory drug or it’s the over-the-counter Tylenol, acetaminophen, those NSAIDs to inhibit the enzymes that give us headache, give us joint pain, help us mount a fever, whereas, a physiologic substance is something that is not going to interfere with your body’s normal physiology. It’s not going to suppress it like a steroid. It’s not going to stimulate it like an amphetamine. It’s not going to block it like an NSAID whether it’s fever or pain, but slowly and more gently, you restore and support normal physiology.

Your physiology could be a bit sluggish because you’re old, because you have hypothyroidism, because that’s just your constitution and you want to do gentle things that stimulate bioflow and support cell reproduction, unburden the organs from the stress of just fats or things accumulating, and you just support normal physiology with liver herbs, with alterative, the high-fibered diet, with exercise and sweating. You can do physiologic therapies in ways apart from herbs as well, like heat, saunas, exercise or fasting, in some cases.

Or somebody’s physiology might be a little bit too ramped up. They’re having panic attacks and they can’t shut their mind off. They’re fidgety and can’t focus. We want grounding things that help calm down an edgy nervous system, but we don’t want to sedate the person. We’re not using downers and barbiturates. We might use meditation as a non-herbal therapy. We might use things that decrease hyper excitability of ion channels to put off a molecular mechanism that we know about. Kava is kind of drug-like, so we can almost put it in a pharmacologic camp. If somebody had an acute pain or acute panic attack, you could use kava, but I wouldn’t really say that’s using herbs in a physiologic way.

You could use chamomile, our favorite choice of today. That might not be powerful enough to halt an immediate panic attack, but if you take chamomile everyday, you might have less panic attacks by the end of the week, and certainly by the end of the month because you’ve normalized that physiology. We do know that chamomile affects GABA in the brain. That’s gamma-aminobutyric acid. That’s where valium, for example, binds the benzodiazepine category of pharmaceuticals. It does way more than that and that’s one of the beauties of herbs. We don’t just use herbs because they’re like valium.

Chamomile also soothes the gut and we might have more panic if we have leaky gut, or if we might have a more agitated nervous system if we have inflammation in the body. Herbs can work in so many multiple mechanisms at once. Often they do so in a gentle manner that restores normal physiology.

The point of physiologic vs. pharmacologic is not just to treat every disease or every problem that comes along with a pharmacologic big gun tool, but instead support a person’s normal physiology such that pretty soon they don’t have to rely on medicines any longer. Their own body is better optimized. Their metabolism is supported. Their organ function is supported. Their nervous system is supported. They’re made healthier. They’re made more regulated and stable in their homeostasis, meaning your ability to respond to stresses, your ability to right yourself. All of us have moments in the day where you might have to swerve out of traffic and it’s going to cause an adrenalin surge. Somebody pulled out in front of you in traffic and you need that momentum, that oomph to have a fast reaction time. There are other points in the day where you get a bee sting and you have to calm down that inflammation. There are always those little challenges and part of a healthy organism is to be able to respond to those challenges, ramp up your adrenaline or ramp up your inflammation, and then you did the job and you calm right back down to a state of physiologic balance.

We want in naturopathic medicine and herbal medicine to help people’s physiology be optimal, to be able to continually right ourselves when we’re exposed to different sort of stressors and challenges, and calm right back down to a state of ease. We can sleep well at night. We have good energy during the day. Our immune system can respond whether it’s a bee sting or a virus. Our nervous system can respond whether it’s an emergency or just getting our own ability to drive ourselves, to accomplish great things without exhausting ourselves or becoming a nervous wreck. That’s a challenge you come across a lot in clinical practice--people that can’t meet all those challenges and for good reason. My gosh! this world can be a lot whether it’s your job, your finances, your children, your neighbors, your taxes, your keeping your house cleaned up, taking care of your in-laws, your parents, your wayward brother. The world has its stressors.

In my own clinical practice, it kind have been a 35-year long parade of hearing people’s stories about how that exhausts them, gives them headaches, gives them back pain, makes them not sleep well, suppresses their immune system. The whole practice of herbal medicine is often using physiologically appropriate medicines to build up the immune system, to decrease the jagged edges of a nervous panic attack. It’s so that we can have this physiologic balance. Chamomile is great for that. Adaptogens are great for that. Alterative herbs are great for that. Many of the nutritive herbs like gotu kola, an equisetum and nettles – our food-like plants that help repair and regenerate connective tissues. We have so many different types of tools that are physiologic within our herbal medicine tool kit that we only have to rely on things like kava or taking a Tylenol just now and then. If we really choose if that’s what this body needs for pharmacologic effect or maybe you need an antibiotic now and then. Maybe if you can’t breathe, you need a steroidal inhaler now and then, but the goal of our therapy as we work together over time, would be to need that Tylenol less and less, or need your steroidal inhaler less and less because your own body can keep in balance, more physiologically balanced over time.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Oh, my gosh! That was just an incredible explanation of those. It really highlights the complexity of, one, being a doctor or an herbalist and matching people to those resources there. Also, where my mind went, Jillian, is I was thinking about how with pharmacological medicines, you explained kava could be one, for example. When we think about pharmacology like actual pharmaceutical drugs, those tend to be very simplistic in nature. They’re very single-focused. They’re like a dagger going in, doing a very simple focused thing, whereas, herbs are just so incredibly complex. They’re having this physiological reaction within our body.

Something I see that’s interesting that happens is that people, when they first start learning about herbs, they often might want to know what is that one thing? What is the one constituent within chamomile that does this thing? Just recently, somebody asked me what is the one nutrient found within Angelica that builds blood. What is the thing that does that? When you were giving that really wonderful explanation, I just kept thinking that they’re just so complex and they’re acting with our own body to have a physiological experience. Sometimes we can say we do know that this particular constituent plays a big role in this plant’s function, but it’s never the constituent. It’s never the “one” thing. It’s the complexity of the herbs and not only the complexity of the herbs, but how they interact with our body. Like you’re saying, this physiological response is helping us to do all the things that you explain whether it’s nervous system regulation or helping our bodies be able to adapt to change in the way that you explained it.

Jillian Stansbury:

Herbs, you’re so right that they’re a vast collection of a number of different active molecules or chemical constituents. You’re right that we have identified something like apigenin is a flavonoid in chamomile that contributes to anti-inflammatory effects, or matricin is another component of chamomile that’s antispasmodic to the smooth muscle, the stomach lining and things. You can study up on those things, but I guarantee you that science will mature and we’ll find another one and another one. Sometimes we find that they only work in tandem. You can try to pluck one of those chemicals out and make it a super powered, almost prescription-like extract, and then we find it never worked as well as that molecule left in its whole plant matrix.

Nature is wise in combining the flavonoids with the enzyme, with the trace minerals, with the resins, with the alkaloids. It’s often in conferences the people that are pharmacists or that are really following the drug model that ask the questions like, “What is it that’s the blood tonic in Angelica?” When you say, “That’s probably these 10,000 compounds,” it’s almost a deer in headlights like, “Oh, my gosh!” It rocks people’s world view once they realize how complex plants are.

The state of research right now in herbal medicine can really take you down some radicals. You have to be nerdy to like that or to go there. It’s almost like a game you play or a little puzzle to solve because there are so many different types of studies you can do. There are tissue culture studies that can induce disease models, induce a type of colitis in a rat or try to produce some type of neurodegeneration in animals; that’s really cruel and sad, but that is the state of the research at the present time. You can pre-treat or post-treat with the whole plant, or pre-treat or post-treat with just a single molecule out of plants and see if you prevent that neurodegeneration, or see if you can rescue animals in a stroke model, or see if you can heal the intestinal mucosa and a colitis model.

Even further down the rabbit hole, let’s just stick with the colitis idea, we know that there are certain inflammatory molecules that greatly increased in many of those immune modulation disorders like tumor necrosis factor and NF Kappa B and these interleukins. It gets so complex in a hurry that you can see that it increases this enzyme, or it increases this type of inflammatory mediator and that is said to be the evidence of how it’s working. Sometimes you’ll read in another book that’s contraindicated in lupus because people with lupus already have that tumor necrosis factor too high. They already have that one type of interleukin that’s already excessive. “We found that St. John’s wort—we found that licorice increases that, so that’s contraindicated.” It just drives me nuts sometimes because that’s not at all the truth of what the whole plant does. They might have just plucked out one molecule, created this disease model, looked at one isolated molecular constituent and then somebody makes the leap and says, “So, then we don’t use it in xyz conditions.” That’s often a tiny, little slice. That’s like looking at the world through the tinniest, little pinhole and trying to apply it holistically, because in many cases, you can study those very same herbs and they will lower.

This goes beautifully with our physiologic action of herbs. In many cases, the very same herbs that increase cortisol when it’s too low will be the same herbs that decrease cortisol when it’s too high. That’s maddening to the pharmacologic thinkers, like “What? How is that possible?” It really is! They optimize. They take both poles of disorder, the hyperfunction and the hypofunction, and they tend to be able to restore normal physiology.

Another common example of that is we find some herbs like echinacea that might improve immune response, so then people say, “Then they’re contraindicated in autoimmune diseases, right?” No. In many cases, you can still take echinacea for your strep throat or something if you have lupus. They’re not absolutely contraindicated. One that there’s a lot of research on in that regard is astragalus. Astragalus is used widely in Chinese medicine as a chi tonic, an immune modulating agent. We find it being used to boost our immune system. If you have low immunity and you’re getting colds, flu and infection all the time or having a long recovery period, a long convalescence until your lungs are all the way better, your energy is all the way better from a bronchitis or a pneumonia or some kind of infection, people will say, “Then you can’t take that if you have an autoimmune disease, right?” No. There are actually lots of published studies on astragalus for allergic phenomena and decreasing hypersensitivity reactions or normalizing some of those immune markers that are too high in the state of autoimmune reactivity, normalizing or optimizing or restoring normal physiology. So, the adaptogens, astragalus, medicinal mushrooms have lots of research on how they can work at both poles and be a physiologic medicine and restore and optimize that homeodynamic ability to regulate ourselves. Whether it’s too low or too high, they’re physiologically appropriate.

You are so right about the Angelica comment or just trying to identify the one active molecular constituent. Some plants might even have different constituents that do the opposite in them. Some of the cardiac glycosides some stimulate the heart rate and some slow and strengthen the heart rate. It’s not like we want to pick which one is the best when we use all of those cardiac glycosides that are present in the whole convallaria or digitalis. They tend to tone the [inaudible] heart action. When we just take the digoxin out only, or the digitoxin out only, then we have a little narrower therapeutic window of how we can use that safely because it has a more harsh or kind of unipolar effect. Plants left with all of their sum total of all the different molecules and all of the different chemical constituents, in general, tend to be nourishing, regulating, optimizing, tonifying and have a physiologically restorative effect.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Thank you so much. I’m going to be referring so many people to this podcast for years to come, I know because you’ve shared so much and that’s so important. I feel like every other week it’s another herb that falls into that area of, like you said, echinacea went through with autoimmune disease. I remember when ashwagandha was vilified for a while with different thyroid functions. Lemon balm is a really great example of that too. Elderberry went through it for all sorts of reasons. Anyway, it’s going to keep happening to herbs because, like you said, it’s just the way humans want to wrap their brains around something even though it’s not how the herbs actually are working. Thank you so much for all of that. Thank you for sharing so much about chamomile. Thanks for this Tummy Tea recipe. People can download the full recipe card that’s beautifully illustrated above this transcript.

Before we go, I just have a couple of more things for you. One, I know that you are leading ethnobotany courses and I would love to hear more about that.

Jillian Stansbury:

You bet. It’s my current passion besides the garden, of course, that’s always the eternal passion, but once my children were grown and I knew a lot of the herbs in my own neighborhood, I wanted to take some athletic vacations and hike the Inca trail. Machu Picchu always called to me every time I ever saw a photo of it.

One year, I think over 15 years ago, I decided to buy a ticket and go do it. On that first trip to Peru, after I hiked the Inca Trail, I had a few more weeks before I had to head home and I wanted to go see the Manu jungle. I absolutely loved it. I didn’t have a whole lot of exposure to the tropics, really, in my life. I’ve been to Asia in some of those jungles, but I didn’t know the plants well. I went for just a touristy kind of experience, saw the jungle, the bugs, the birds, felt the warm, moist air and so on. I wanted to go back and do it again.

I wanted to study with some people that really knew those plants, so I approached the Amazon Conservation Association who was doing work in the area to try and maintain the forest, maintain the animal habitat. They offered some financial incentives to some people to not cut down the trees just for quick money. They had some relationships with some of the tribal communities, some of the indigenous communities that lived in the Manu basin. I approached them to say, “I’m really looking for an herbalist. I don’t just want to study from a book. I don’t just want to study some of these PhD theses that flew down for a few months or a year and study the plants, publish their dissertation and flew home. I want to learn from people that have lived there for their whole lives, learn from their grandparents,” and so on. They allowed me to tag along with them to their next trip to study with the Wachiperi.

In the ensuing 25 years, I’ve become fabulous friends with the Wachiperi who started teaching me the herbs upon request. I pay them and I’ve become good friends with them. I support their own work in their own community, their sustainability, their capacity to keep their traditional life. I’ve also studied with the Matsigenka with the Yagua, with the Bora. I was very studious about it at first for a decade or so. I would take studious notes. I would try to look up the plant names. I would record things with a video camera. I would formally make oral history transcripts and archive them, spent hours and hours in my notes at home back in the US. It was a way that I improved my Spanish just listening to those transcripts over and over again and realize words I didn’t catch well, figured it out. Often, tribal communities only know the plant and their tribal name, very rarely the scientific name. I’m good enough with plant families that I could guess. I bet that’s in the Solanaceae family. I bet that’s in the Meliaceae family or Anacardiaceae family.

I would go to the Field Museum’s website who has an online archive of, again, people’s PhD thesis or different kinds of projects where they have plant family photos. You can type in something like “tropical Solanaceae yellow flower Peru” or something of that sort, and just get pages and pages of photos. I would scroll through and often find the plants. Sometimes I wouldn’t find it after hours of scrolling through, looking at photos and then think maybe that’s not that family. Maybe it’s this family, and then start all over again. It’s a lengthy process that, again, I spent 10 years on just making my notes be better and better or finding the Latin names for plants. Once I, for sure, had an identity of a genus and species, then I will go back to PubMed and see if there’s published papers, chemical constituent studies, any clinical research, any trials. Is it used in other countries? Is there a similar species that’s in Brazil or in Ecuador? Just nerded out, once again, on searching out those plants. Anymore, I’m not really trying that hard at it. I just have fun. It just evolved into my making wonderful friendships and going back year after year, studying with the same people over and over again.

I would realize sometimes once I got home, that they were pointing at a big tree. I failed to ask are they talking about the bark of this tree? Are they talking about getting the leaves? Or the fruit when they fall to the ground? I would go back yet again and say, “Last year you showed me this tree. Is it the bark?” “Just the sap.” “Okay.” Just year after year. Now, I have a smattering verbal knowledge. I don’t think I’ll ever be super duper in my recognition of all the plants of that beautiful, vast jungle contains, but I know enough to just share my enthusiasm and my rudimentary knowledge with students. It has led to me leading ethnobotany field courses.

Currently, we’re doing this every January. We meet in Cusco, Peru. We study the Andean plants for several days and then we take a week-long journey to go down to that Manu basin. It’s one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. We pass through many ecosystems in a single day. It’s the fascinating journey where we start at about 12,000 feet up in the Andes and down into the Sacred Valley, and then up over one more high pass, and then you pass down through the cloud forest, down, down, down, down, down. We end up by dinner time in the tropics. It’s a marvelous journey. We spend many days with the Wachiperi people and we look at their farming techniques. We go on herb walks in the forest. We do some of their traditional crafts like textiles, basketry and dye plants. We can do some of their tobacco snuffs and rituals, storytelling, spiritual bathing and a number of the mythological and spiritual traditions of the area. There’s plenty of time for eating good food and singing songs, and then we go back up to Cusco and have our closing celebrations and meeting with a few more people up in town.

All in all, it’s a marvelous 10-day trip. Anyone is welcome to join if you think that sounds like fun. Some of my patients have come along. The spouses of some herbalists have come along and I think enjoyed themselves. Some older teens have accompanied their parents. Anybody who thinks that sounds like fun is welcome to contact me at and I can put you on the ethnobotany mailing list, or my own website, has a little page devoted to the ethnobotany field course that I lead every January.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Wow. I had no idea you were doing that to the extent of the relationship you had with people down there. That just sounds absolutely amazing, so amazing. What an opportunity. Thank you so much for sharing that. When people hear about this and then they go on the trip, I want to hear about it, so make sure to tell me, for all of you listeners out there, what it was like.

Jillian Stansbury:


Rosalee de la Forêt:

My last question I have for you—first of all, thanks again for sharing so much of all of this. It’s just been incredible to hear from you just generously sharing so much of your expertise. Before you go, I have the last question, which is, what new things or skills are you currently cultivating with herbs?

Jillian Stansbury:

I want to focus more on using herbs in food-like ways, and not just the culinary herbs. I guess that’s a given. Of course, using rosemary, thyme, garlic, paprika and all of those in your daily diet, I think that’s very healthy for us. Plus, it just makes our life grand to have all those aromas, smells, colors and flavors. I would like to flesh out my own website. I’ve devoted more time to scholarly article material in my blog than recipes. I’ve kind of been promising people, “Watch this page coming soon,” and it’s been parked there for a few years. I’m going to be devoting a few more pages and time to using heart tonics, using mushrooms, using some of the concentrated nutrients, things for lowering your cholesterol, ways to get high-fiber, where you can put apple pectin in your daily diet, where you can get pomegranate juice into beverage or something. Just those fun kinds of inspiring tools. Not everything needs to be a tincture, a tea, a pill. How can we inspire the patients, the public, the community to get some of these wonderful health effects just from a few simple daily tonics? It might replace your coffee habit. It might replace your alcohol after a hard day’s work. It might replace a dessert with something healthier. Just to dabble with those fun, healthy, inspiring recipes, and of course, the colorful photos need to be used to inspire people.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

That is something I’m super passionate about, so I’m excited to see what you come up with.

Jillian Stansbury:

You’re great at that, Rosalee.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Like you said, I love the idea that we can just incorporate those things into our normal life so it does become normalized. Like you were saying, I love the idea too of how do we move—it’s great to use basil, oregano, obviously. How do we get other herbs into our life, especially interesting ones? I was at the Botanicals on the Beach conference a few years back. They were serving food to everybody. They made an eggplant dish with Echinacea. It was interesting because you had the tingle going on. It wasn’t overpowering, but it was definitely—I don’t know. I just thought about that, like how else can we incorporate things into our food that you just wouldn’t expect? I’m excited to see this come from you.

Jillian Stansbury:

Exactly! It will probably be a little at a time because it’s almost the gardening season upon us here in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t know when your listeners will hear this podcast necessarily, but this is our first sunny weekend that we’ve had with mid March and it’s supposed to be a warm, sunny weekend, so it’s not going to be at my computer this weekend.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

With that in mind, I’m all about getting you out of here so you could go enjoy the sunshine, go enjoy your garden. Thanks again so much for being here. This is just a fabulous chat and I’m just so grateful-

Jillian Stansbury:

It’s wonderful to talk with you. Thank you so much for having me.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

An absolute pleasure.

Thank you so much for being here. Don’t forget to download your beautifully illustrated recipe card above the transcript of this show. Also sign up for my weekly newsletter, which is the best way to stay in touch with me, below.

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One of the best ways to retain and fully understand something you’ve just learned is to share it in your own words. With that in mind, I invite you to share your takeaways with me and the entire Herbs with Rosalee Community. You can leave comments on my YouTube Channel, at the bottom of this page, or simply hit “Reply” to my Wednesday email. I read every comment that comes in and I’m excited to hear your herbal thoughts on chamomile.

Okay, you’ve lasted to the very end of the show which means you get a gold star and this herbal tidbit:

Dr. Stansbury mentioned that chamomile is gentle enough for an upset belly, but is also being used for patients undergoing chemo. It’s really an amazing plant. Here’s an interesting study about that, the chemo part.

The title of the published paper is Chamomile Infusion Cryotherapy to Prevent Oral Mucositis Induced by Chemotherapy. In this study, patients were split into two groups. One group was given cryotherapy made only with water and the other cryotherapy made with chamomile infusion. The results for that, the occurrence of oral mucositis was lower in patients in the chamomile group than in the control group. When compared to the controls, the chamomile group presented less mouth pain and no ulcerations. Cryotherapy was well-tolerated by both groups and no toxicity related to chamomile was identified.

So, here you go. Yet again, we’ve confirmed on this podcast that chamomile is absolutely incredible.


Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.  

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