Jan Wolfe, Family Nurse Practitioner, Herbalist, and owner of The Elderberry

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

Q. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

A. I’m Jan Wolfe and I’m the owner of The Elderberry. I was born and raised in Central Ohio. Herbalism was a part of my life from very early on. I was raised on a farm near a lot of aunts and uncles on my father's side. They were all farmers, and a lot of them worked with herbs growing up. Around 1954, pharmaceuticals became very popular, and they were no longer compelled to teach me about herbs. It was considered old medicine, and they fully embraced pharmacy.

As far as my career, I went into nursing school and worked in a few different places. I always incorporated small parts of herbalism, but I didn't have formal training. We didn't have the internet back then, so I read a lot of books. When the internet came on board, I started doing some online courses. About 15 years ago, I stopped loving my nursing career. It was a combination of the medical world pushing pharmaceuticals and rushing clients through appointments that didn't sit well with me. When I started as a nurse practitioner, a new client would have an hour and a half with the Doctor. By the time I left, everybody was getting a 15-20 minute appointment. That seemed to make it more appealing to push pharmaceuticals. There was an expectation that if you didn't get a prescription, it wasn't a worthwhile visit. Trying to talk about diet and exercise became more and more difficult. The attitude of the patients also changed. They seemed less concerned with exercise or diet because there was a pill that would resolve all their problems. It became challenging for me and at the same time. I had undergone some medical issues and started to notice the real limitations of our medical system. My disillusionment was building up, and then I got into Reiki. That was like my gateway into learning how to heal others outside of the nursing capacity. I really became interested in reiki when we moved to New Zealand.

Q. Why were you living in New Zealand?

A. My husband wanted to try a socialized medical system. He went as someone paid by the government. He wanted to see how that works. They provided us with a house, a salary, and a car for a year. When we came back to the US, I worked in a community outreach center, which I loved. It was heavily grant-driven. There were cycles with a lot of money and staff and then no money and minimal staff. I did that for eight years until it became too much.

Eventually, I found Sacred Plant Traditions Herb School by Kat Meyer. As I was getting ready to leave my position, they had openings in their next class. In that first hour of class, I knew this was where I was meant to be.

Halfway through the three-year program, you need to pick a project that you're going to work on. At that point, Kat had an apothecary that was open to the community in her house. She decided to close it to the public but mentioned that Charlottesville needed a community apothecary. At the same time, Heather Wetzel, one of the teachers, was developing her own private herbal consultation practice. I had the idea to create an apothecary- kitchen. I approached Heather to partner with me because I didn't have the experience she did. She said yes, and we've been working together ever since.

The store opened in 2013 right after I graduated. It's been wonderful. Every year we make more of our own products. We also sell local herbalists and artisans products because we need to support the local community. November 2019 was our biggest month and is growing steadily.

Q. What do you think has caused the increase?

A. I think people are starting to be more realistic about what Western medicine can offer. It does have its uses, but the over-reliance on a pill for everything has limitations. It doesn't always solve their problems. There's a part of medicine that's connecting less with the very people it's meant to serve. It's not just the clients, it's the providers too. I'm still tied to the medical community. It's amazing how many young doctors are coming to me.

So many of my clients have come to me after being told there isn't anything more Western medicine can do for them. They come because they're looking for a better quality of life. I think people get put on medications without really understanding what's going on. There's a certain amount of pain in life. I mean, we're human, we're walking this physical reality, we're gonna be in pain at some points in our life. And part of our work here is to learn how to work with that and to listen to what it's telling us. That can be difficult because they're stepping out of their comfort zone and embracing a therapy that they may or may not have ever thought about. Herbs can work on several levels at once - physical, mental, emotional - and opens people up to new experiences and perceptions of themselves.

Q. What are some of the most significant issues you're seeing?

A. Numbing is the most significant issue I see. Some of the main causes are our technology (cell phones, social media, etc) and psychotropic medicines such as antidepressants. It's especially hard for creative people. A lot of them will say I lost my zing. They never feel totally happy, and they don't feel totally sad. That may work if you're going through a horrible period of your life. Once things start calming down, you may find it difficult to reconnect to your life again.

It can be a difficult transition, but with the help of the herbs and other modalities, folks can start to reconnect with themselves. In addition to herbs, we refer people to therapists, craniosacral practitioners, trauma work specialists, acupuncturists...whatever they need to help with.

Q. How do you prescribe herbs?

A. The beauty of herbs is they work on multiple levels. Anxiety can be expressed in the gut or musculoskeletal, and each will require a different herb. If somebody comes in with anxiety, there's isn't one herb that works for them. It depends on how it's exhibiting in their body. What you do is match the energetics. Sometimes we talk about the energetics: hot, cold, dry, damp, moving, or stagnant. Most importantly, we try to identify the imbalance, then use herbs to recalibrate that balance. I'm always listening to the client to learn whether it's heat or dampness, stagnation, or too much movement going on. The beauty is I can take an hour and a half with them to figure out what's going on. We go through what's been their experiences/history, and how they're "wearing" those experiences. We talk about things on a variety of levels. Based on the above energetics, we develop a formula for that person. It can take many forms such as teas, extracts, oils, powders, vinegars, etc.

Q. How do you work with the plants?

A. I talk with them, grow them, read about them. We use the whole plant in formulas because there's a lot of constituents in plants that modulate the active ingredients. Scientists identify an active ingredient and pull that out and run with it. That's taking the component away from these modulators and setting it up to act without restraint. That's when you start getting side effects and are told that this particular herb is dangerous. Yet some herbs can be used, but only in very small doses for short periods. Those are the herbs you take only after consulting with an herbalist.

Teas have the lowest dose, so it's a gentle way to introduce an herb into the body. Some people only need a gentle touch. If people don't want tea, we also have extracts, and it could be in an alcohol base or vegetable glycerin base.

Q. Do you do Flower Bach?

A. We do some of that too. I don't make them, but we do use them in addition to herbs. We tend to use more alcohol-based extracts, but we also use some glycerin-based extracts. The downside of using glycerin is some herbal components need alcohol to be extracted. Sometimes we use vinegar.

Q. Why is herbalism so powerful? Are we taking on the properties of the herbs?

A. There are the actual chemical components in a plant, and then there are the energies they contain, so in a way, you are taking on their energies. You match the energies of the plant to balance the energies of the symptom or condition you want to treat. For example, flavonoids are great for building your immune system. They can also act as an anti-inflammatory. Herbs that are more on the nutritive end of the spectrum can also help with anxiety or move lymph. It's never just a single thing with them. Centuries of working with herbs have revealed their energetic effects, which help determine their best use in certain conditions.

Q. How does an appointment here look?

A. We offer a mini-consult (around 10-15 minutes), that's for acute things like a sinus infection, which includes a quick intake form, and then we can formulate something. If somebody comes with more significant or more long-standing issues like a lot of PMS problems or a chronic disease, we offer a more thorough consultation (1 - 11/2 hours).

Q. Do you make things here?

A. I'm registered with the Food and Drug Administration because we do create products in-house such as salves, extracts, syrups, powders, oils, creams, etc.. We make bone broths. We use local bones that are pasture-raised, and pasture finished.

Q. Is there any trend you're seeing with your clients?

A. Funny you should say that because traditionally November Through February, it's coughs and colds. This year it was flipped. It was all about anxiety and depression. Currently, I'm learning more about astrology to see what the big energy shifts are that are affecting everybody.

Q. What do you recommend for clearing spaces?

A. White Sage is my go-to for clearing spaces. If you don't have White sage, you can easily use regular sage. Both are antimicrobial and helpful in a burn state. We sell both White Sage Smudge sticks and loose culinary sage.

We smudge the store on a pretty frequent basis, and I do a ritual at least once a week where I focus on bringing all the negative energies collected here and sending it away. We probably smudge two or three times a day in the whole store. I also make sure I'm very, very present. On the days when I'm feeling a little frazzled coming in, I have some spritzers that have lavender in them, which is calming. I also have a rose spray because sometimes I think I need some nurturing too, and I don't want to take it from that person.

Q. What about if you want to remember your dreams?

A. If people want to remember their dreams or want to approach their dreams for answers to a question, you can drink, smoke, or keep a sprig of mugwort under your pillow. Mugwort is not a psychedelic, but some people can get vivid dreams. When you use mugwort, you want to do it with intention. You want to ask a specific question.

Q. What do you recommend for grounding?

A. Root herbs are very grounding. We often use bitter roots such as Dandelion, Burdock, Angelica. A lot of bitters are root-based.

Q. What are your thoughts on CBD?

A. I keep getting asked when we're going to start carrying or creating them. There are so many other options for obtaining CBD in our community. I don't feel a great need to make that a high priority. CBD has a lot to offer, but it's not a miracle cure - not all who try it get what they need regarding pain or anxiety relief. Some folks do better when using this in addition to herbs.

My focus is on taking a deep dive into learning more about cannabis from other herbalists who are currently using it in their practice. For me, that means growing the plant so I can develop my relationship with it. I recently got my grower's permit and am looking forward to developing a better understanding when I journey the seasons with the Queen.

Q. You prefer to sell the whole plant?

A. I do. The plant is the medicine, not the constituent. Different strains of cannabis offer various types and amounts of CBDs, even among those low THC strains. When you say the whole plant, you assume literally the entire plant is used. However, what often happens is they remove different components and then add some, but not all, of the constituents back. Sometimes they add additional terpenes (gives it its scent) from sources other than the flowers used to make the medicine. Some extraction processes will remove constituents such as lipids and/or waxes they deem unimportant and call it 'whole plant.'

I've been experimenting with making my extract with flowers from specific low THC cannabis strains. I sent them off to a lab to get tested and compared those results with what I carry in the store. Mine seems to be doing a little bit better as far as the variety of CBDs present. My interest is in those cannabis strains that are specific to help with sleep and anxiety. It's a work in progress.

Q. What do you love the most about your work?

A. The parts I like the best are the interactions with folks, whether it's teaching or consulting. I like talking with and meeting new people. I love learning things. I have people come in and say I have three autoimmune disorders and I'm being told this and this, could you do something for me? I accept that challenge if you're willing to work with me. It's blending my nurse practitioner background with my herbalism training.

Q. Anything you want to add?

A. I would say that herbs have a lot to offer. Everybody can benefit from herbs, even if it's just elderberry syrup in wintertime. I like working with kids because encouraging kids to talk to plants is so much easier. They get it without all the filters we as adults have. I think you need to listen to plants more and to work on developing that skill because I think it's going to be our saving grace.

To work with Jan you can click here.

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