For this herbal education series, I’m choosing to start with Kami McBride because enrolling in her Handcrafted Healing Herbal Oils course in 2020 was one of the most pivotal decisions of my career as an herbalist. As for most of us, looking back on that year is a blur that was unlike any other in my lifetime. While there is a lot of it that I’m honestly fine with allowing to remain blurry, that time of my life was also one of growth, particularly when it came to the ways in which I show up for and invest in myself, including my saying yes during Kami’s autumn launch of this wonderful online course.
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I was actually already familiar with the basics of the primary method Kami teaches in her course. I had learned the technique back in 2012 during a weekend workshop taught by a friend and former student of the late Michael Moore, founder of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine in Bisbee, AZ, but for reasons I may never fully understand I didn’t try it again until I was watching Kami’s free workshop about making calendula infused oil. The moment I saw her setup there were a few key details that made me think, “You know, it is about time I try that method on my own,” and I scooted straight to the kitchen.
I grew up and learned the basics of herbal medicine in the arid Inland Northwest, in the Spokane Valley, nestled in a rain shadow tucked between the Cascade & Rocky Mountain ranges. Not once while living there, or during my time spent in the desert of New Mexico & Arizona, did I have a batch of herbal infused oil get moldy (they did go rancid on me though, which I’ll get to later). Once I moved to Southern Appalachia it was the complete opposite, and it had been really getting on my nerves that I was seeing my hard work and money go to waste, especially during the season of my life where I had two babies in cloth diapers. As soon as I strained that first batch of calendula oil after following Kami’s instructions I knew I’d never have mold or rancidity issues ever again, and even more importantly I immediately realized that I was greatly underestimating just how powerful whole plant infused herbal oils could be.
What is it about herbal body oils?
I remember back in the first year or so that I spent poking around herb books thinking that while herbal oils seemed like a great way to start playing with herbs, that I couldn’t take them too seriously as a remedy for much. Like, “How many ways can you make an ointment?” I mean, I knew I could make creams and lotions as well, but I have never been a person who uses those so that wasn’t super motivational for me. My appreciation for that category of herbal products actually came after I learned how amazing and versatile herb infused oils actually are.
Before I could truly appreciate the value of herbal oils, I had to come to understand the power touch has on our minds and bodies on a cellular level. This understanding came during the 3.5 months the twins were in the NICU where we had the good fortune of being introduced to infant massage, through which I experienced some of the most surprising evidence of healing I never expected. While I understood on an intellectual and spiritual level what it means to work with these healing modalities, colloquially termed “holistic,” and “alternative” medicines, it was another thing all together to watch my preterm infant have major breakthroughs in her stalled progress due to the power of rubbing sweet almond oil on her skin in the most hospital of hospital settings.
To be transparent, at the time we were using the oil blend that the hospital staff provided for us, and not the same oils I make to use and sell today. Not only did they give us a bunch of oil that first day that it was more than enough to last the rest of their stay, NICU parenting is truly a complete departure from parental sovereignty which I talk about elsewhere. While it lived in the back of my mind that I could make oils that I would strongly prefer over the ones they provided, that wasn’t necessarily the most important thing at the time (you have to choose your battles in that place, I’ll tell ya.) What matters for this particular telling is that our experience there is an important landmark on my journey with herbalism and bodywork, even though I didn’t exactly know that at the time. Even in the midst of that particular chaos and confusion, I was learning some really valuable core tenets that guide my personal life as well as my livelihood today.
I do regularly ponder what it would have been like to employ these herbal oils for use with the twins, especially the sorts of blends I would have used. It’s even kind of fun to imagine the interactions I would have had with the staff about my using them, good, bad, or indifferent (because it would have been a mix, I assure you.) The thing is, that I have since seen the sort of effects that a truly potent handcrafted herbal oil can have on a person, so I don’t really have to guess as to whether they would have been the very best thing I could have had in my arsenal at the time. I have used them now for two-and-a-half years on the twins, their dad, myself, as well as lots of friends and family. My primary use for them is relaxation, sleep, and otherwise calming an overactive nervous system, as that is what I witnessed in NICU as being so deeply beneficial for the twins for getting past certain roadblocks we were encountering at that time. My secondary use for them is for musculoskeletal discomfort such as bruising, aching joints, sprains, and muscle spasms, and I do also find them useful for other topical applications such as cuts and skin eruptions.
What makes Kami’s method so special?
We moved to North Carolina pretty much immediately after the girl’s discharge from the hospital in Albuquerque, and we continued doing infant massage on them every night up until they hit the, “I do it myself,” phase. I fumbled about for a couple years trying to get a decent batch of oil from the herbs I was growing here at the farm, and getting frustrated with dumping quarts at a time in the compost bin even though I had been completely convinced that the herbs were dry and completely submerged, and damnit this year’s batch better not spoil on me! We’d go long stretches of using coconut oil because it was far more convenient and got the job done fine. I finally resigned myself to the fact that getting a good dehydrator would save me a lot of frustration, which was in fact true and I was able to get a few batches of oil I was happy with so I started bringing a few salves to my weekly farmers market along with the eggs and microgreens.
The salves I put out on my table the last few weeks of the 2020 farmers market season honestly just looked like a cake of beeswax (see below), and I wasn’t very confident in what they could do or what their shelf-life would be. Yeah, the oil was “fine”, but if I couldn’t get through a tin of it myself in six months because I wasn’t all that excited about using it, then was the one that customer just walked away with also destined for the back of a drawer? My experience up to this point had been that you should probably be pretty confident you’re going to be able to sell the salves you make pretty quickly if you were going to bother making an oil, because even if the oil didn’t mold it was probably going to go rancid if you tried to use it all up yourself. And again, I could only really come up with so many salve blends, plus it’s hard to sell something if you only feel lukewarm at best about it.
I knew from that workshop I took back in 2012 that the extraction method Kami teaches was a quicker method of oil extraction, and I vaguely remembered that the finished oil had more of the plant’s valuable constituents than it’s long & cold-infused counterparts. Once you see the difference in color it’s pretty undeniable which is the more potent product. I even knew that the method was going to be more shelf stable because of a couple of key steps in the process that help to prevent dreaded moisture and pathogens from invading the batch. I knew what method she was using, and that I could probably get by employing it by my own research and by trial & error. What ultimately sold me on working with Kami was that there was no denying she has probably made more gallons of herbal oil using this method than anyone else out there, considering she embarked on her career as a massage therapist and herbalist in 1988.
Don’t ask me why it still didn’t occur to me to work with the oils as oils at that point, but it didn’t. Not until the workshop series of Kami’s at the end of that market season! She went over a few application techniques that I never would have thought of on my own, and my mind was completely blown open by this idea of self-massage. In my mind, massage involved a giver and a receiver. It somehow needed the healer and the healed to be separate, which I realize now says a lot about how much of my energy I gave away for a good 25 or more years of my life (gee whiz!) With just a few demonstrations of different body-oiling techniques it came together in my mind how versatile and simple the use of herbal body oils could be for helping nudge a person closer toward homeostasis in a way that even a really strong tincture probably couldn’t.
So I signed up for Kami’s course and spent that winter working with the oils alone. I started with what I now consider to be my three foundational oils: Lavender, St. John’s Wort, and Mugwort, and just started by oiling my feet and the kid’s feet at bedtime. The next thing I knew there were bottles on my desk, by the bed, in my bag and in the car. I made some other value-added products as well, like body butters and salves, but what I felt most called to do was deepen my relationship with the oils alone. Working with the oils began to move stress and allow me to transform as a woman and a mother in ways that I had been pushing up against and not quite able to move through probably since before my Saturn return. Developing a body-oiling practice has been the very best coping strategy I’ve ever learned for dealing with stress and anxiety, as well as one of the most accessible and comfortable ways for me to practice embodiment and self-acceptance I’ve found. With regular body oiling I am far more grounded and proactive, and way less frenetic and reactive.
These days the practice of massage waxes and wanes among all of us in our house, but the major change thanks to Kami’s course is that now there is incredibly high-quality herbal body care products of all flavors and forms all about the house for everyone to dip into as they see fit. We had already fostered a family culture around the power of safe touch and connection that has been the gateway for our kid’s secure attachment and self-assurance. They sleep great and independently reach for what they feel they need a lot of the time which I have to say is not only pretty neat to see, but unlike with essential oils I am relieved to also not feel much need to make sure they aren’t using too much or the wrong thing should it cause a bad reaction.
I can still remember anxiously clicking the enrollment button on this course, in a moment of pure defiance against the anxiety that sat in my ear calling me an imposter for not having realized my dream of attending a full immersion, in-person herbal program; for not being healed enough; for not really knowing if I wanted a clinical practice (but still wanting to learn as though I would have one); for only ever being able to afford books and short-courses; for not fitting a certain aesthetic; for all kinds of things I have plenty of time, space, and attitude to begin unpacking now. Thanks to making the choice to invest in myself that day, I was liberated to niche down almost immediately and before I knew it the path kept becoming more and more clear. I’m not only more confident with my product making because of their dramatically increased efficacy and shelf-life, but I have come to feel emboldened on a deeply personal level through greater body literacy and an understanding of self-regulation through touch I had no idea I was missing. And, funny enough, I am now more than halfway finished with my massage therapy program and will be preparing to obtain my license and open my practice over the next several months. That is a door that I’m not sure I would have found standing wide open for me this past summer had I not listened to what my heart asked of me that day.
Okay, what’s the course really like?
The number one thing you get with Kami’s course, is Kami herself. She still answers every email personally, which is honestly astonishing and makes the course worth every penny. Even when it came to stuff stuff I didn’t expect her to answer, or there was also once when someone on her team answered me at first and she still followed up personally. I have taken quite a few online courses for herbal studies as well as other topics, and Kami is the only teacher I have ever had be so involved in me personally. Through this, I have also seen that she integrates the feedback she receives through keeping her finger on the pulse of her students. For example, she added a new module within the first year of my enrollment that covered selling and label compliance which is available as part of the lifetime access of the program. Kami also hosts live Q&A calls multiple times a year to answer student questions.
As of this writing there are 7 Primary Modules and 14 Bonus Lessons. Topics covered include making the oils using fresh and dried plant material (including invaluable insight as to how to decide which to use!); carrier oils; application techniques; specialty oils; plant sourcing; specific plant properties; caring for your oils; caring for your skin; CBD extraction; Kami’s blends developed over her 35 years of experience; how to make salves & body butters; labels, selling guidelines & record keeping; and tools, supplies & resources.
For a full description of the course outline and details on the next enrollment period follow this link: https://healingherbaloils.com/now?orid=93710&opid=122