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September 1, 2021

Alumni Spotlight: Erin Wilkins

Asian American woman pours jar of dried herbs into woven basket
In February 2020, our students had the opportunity to hear from an incredible alumna, Erin Wilkins. Erin is the owner of Herb Folk, an Asian American herb shop and clinic in Petaluma, California. She had advice for our students about finding their identity as herbalists & acupuncturists, anecdotes on practice building and working from a place of alignment Erin’s story of success as an herb shop owner and acupuncturist brings to light the creative potential and personal transformation possible with a career in East Asian Medicine.

Discovering Her Identity as an Herbalist

There’s a rich complexity in learning East Asian Medicine in the United States. Practicing East Asian medicine with integrity and authenticity requires constant self-reflection and inner work to be in alignment with our values, the Earth, the roots of this medicine, and the needs of our patients.

Erin went through a deep self-discovery process as a healer to find the right language to identify her work: Asian American Herbalist.

“For the last ten years, I self identified as an East-West herbalist…without really thinking about it. And when I did stop to think about it this last summer during shelter in place and the racial justice uprisings, I realized that I don’t even like that paradigm…I don’t believe that medicine and herbalism are either Eastern or Western, and I definitely don’t identify as an East-West person. So I started to… reconsider the language I use to talk about myself and my practice. And the words – Asian American herbalist – felt right on so many levels. I am an Asian American woman practicing traditional East Asian medicine. However, I learned the medicine here in America and in English. Asian American herbalism is how I identify the work that I do and that I embody.”

Erin’s undergraduate work included studying in Angela Davis’ Women’s studies department at UC Santa Cruz. This educational background informed her mindset on the power of language, and the importance of acknowledging power dynamics in work and life.

Making Herbs Her Own

Jars full of wellness foods on a wall from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Image from the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Wellness foods often get seen through a Western lens. These Bay Area Asian Americans are trying to reclaim them”.

After hearing about three highly respected East-West herbalists debate the Eastern energetics of a particular herb, Erin had an epiphany:

“It was the first time I realized that the energetics of herbs can be open to debate and subjectivity. While it remains essential that we follow the traditions of our teachers and honor generational healing lineages, there is flexibility in how we experience and prescribe herbal medicine. I realized that when we’re talking about the energetics of Calendula or even Chrysanthemum within Eastern medicine, there is room for our own takes as well.”

Erin has relied on this sensibility to build an herbal medicine practice and herb shop that incorporates locally grown herbs in addition to traditional Chinese herbs. She recognizes the historical precedence and wisdom in using what the land provides; she explained to our students that before the modern era, herbalists in China would have used what was accessible to them and learned from the plants that grew in their area.

Erin is passionate about supporting sustainable local economies for domestically grown herbs. She says that when local farmers ask which herbs they can grow for her, she’ll flip the question: “what do you grow and what do you have in abundance?” and then she works with the medicine in that.

Running a Healing Business

Another topic Erin highlighted in her talk with our students was the inner work and self reflection necessary to build and run a successful private practice. Some acupuncturists choose to work in Integrative or corporate medical settings, others work in collaborative or community clinics, and many acupuncturists enjoy the flexibility, simplicity, and empowerment of a private practice. Her advice on the matter is powerful.

“What I’ve learned as an Asian woman practicing traditional Asian medicine is the first thing that I need to do is to make this work sustainable for myself. Period. When you’re starting out your practice, of course you want to have your eyes and your mind on the community and social justice. But don’t lose sight of honoring yourself too. Put yourself in a position to have tools and finances for self-determination and for your wellness. Learn how to ask for what you need and charge enough in order to thrive, that entails doing inner work as a healer so that you understand and know your own value.”

Lasting Connections

Acupuncture school is a lot more than a Medical education: learning the East Asian medical philosophy can be a transformative experience on many levels, mind-body-spirit. Our students come to understand themselves and the world around them through the richness of East Asian philosophy and healing practices. Throughout the process, students find that the connections they make with each other and their teachers will sustain them and propel them throughout their lives and careers.

“I’ve found that some of the friends that I’ve made through AIMC really sustained me in difficult times…Remember that… this education isn’t just the knowledge and clinical learning that you’re going to take in. It’s also about the connections, the people, and the teachers that you’re with. That’s what it’s all about.”

Advice to Students

Wondering what you can do to create a successful career path of your own in holistic medicine?

  • Soak up the time you have with your mentors: “There are times when I fantasize about going back to school and sitting with the teachers… some of the specific teachers I learned from at AIMC, just to feel their energy again.”
  • “The first five years of your practice is your post-grad education. That’s your residency. Learn from teachers that resonate with you.”
  • Let your career be flexible: Erin had to witness & steward her business’s evolution over the last 10 years and then in particular to adapt to COVID-19.
  • Tap into your creativity: “As holistic entrepreneurs, I find that we have to be creative and adaptable entrepreneurs to thrive.” Erin recommends the book “Craft & Practice: Meditations on Creativity & Ethics” by Lise Silva Gomes to explore this aspect for yourself.

Erin’s Favorite Herbal Medicine

“My jam has always been flower medicine. Soft, pretty, underestimated, but if you take its head off it’s going to grow back. And probably stronger than when it first bloomed. I love that energy- unassuming strength.”

Come Say Hi! Connect With Erin

Asian American woman stands with her Japanese grandmother who is holding a mug of tea.
You can find Erin’s shop, classes and clinics online at HerbFolkShop.com. She shares about herbalism, culture, and activism on her social media accounts. If you want to be a part of her journey, follow her on Instagram and Facebook @herbfolkmedicine. Don’t forget to check out her current class and workshop offerings!

Study at AIMC

Are you ready to begin your journey into holistic and integrative medicine? Integrate practices from the East and West, find a career that works for you, and step into your power with an education from AIMC. We offer both Master’s and Doctorate programs, and financial aid is available to those who qualify. Contact our school today to learn more about how a future in integrative medicine could be right for you.

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