Suzanne Tabert is a bio-regional herbalist, wildcrafter, founder and director of herbal education at the Cedar Mountain Herb School, teaching from a lifetime of personal and academic studies of plants and their habitats. She is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, the American Herb Association, and is practicum supervisor and adjunct faculty at Bastyr University. She has been teaching herbal medicine for 30 years, with plans to continue throughout her lifetime.
My passion for herbs started when I was a little girl. My Aunt Mary, who passed away in 2006 at 99 years old, shared with me her quiet passion for plants. She had a sunroom in her home in Pennsylvania which housed dozens of beautiful plants which she taught me to care for. Aunt Mary taught me about her garden plants. She told me how to cook with herbs. She sent me home with seeds and cuttings. She showed me her money plant and taught me to plant it near the door to bring the money to the home, which is an old Slovak tradition. I always put parsley and garlic in my chicken soup because of Aunt Mary. She and my grandmother used to tell me stories about how my Great Grandma used herbs and common sense to keep them and their brothers healthy. I have Aunt Mary’s spearmint, which travels with me whenever I move to a new home. The root stock is over 80 years old. My apprentices and friends take home pieces of the roots to grow her spearmint in their own gardens. This is how I keep my auntie’s memory alive and rippling out across the country.
I was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Illinois with dirt so black it seemed that plants burst forth from seed the second they were tossed on the ground. My dad had a huge vegetable garden and when I was old enough, he would carve out a tiny plot for me each spring. I can almost see him pick a ripe tomato right off the vine, sprinkle salt on it and eat it without ever leaving the garden. I learned so much from my Dad. He canned pickles from cucumbers from his garden and made us kids eat kohlrabi raw which was quite a feat, I must say. I don’t remember everything I grew in that little garden of mine, but I do remember one year I planted seeds that grew into tiny seedless watermelons. I have never gotten over the joy of growing and eating vegetables I planted myself.
My dad remembered his grandma sending him out to pick dandelion leaves every spring. She sauteed them up with onions and garlic in bacon fat. What a treat! She understood that food is medicine. The nutrients in dandelion leaves are plentiful, and the acidic nature of the bacon fat helped to aid the calcium and iron to be better assimilated by her family’s body cells. She didn’t know the science, but she knew her plants.
When people ask who you are and you say ‘I’m an accountant,’ that is what you do, not who you are. For me, my work and who I am are the same. Not many people can say that. I am very truly blessed. Working with plants is my life and my day job. I have had and continue to have so much fulfillment in many different ways being with the plants and my students. My favorite part of my “job” is taking students to my favorite places and introducing them to the plants and their habits. Everywhere from deep in the woods, to the mountain tops and over the passes, to the ocean….plants are here, vital and waiting to be introduced. They have so much to offer and are so willing to teach, heal and nourish.
I have learned from a variety of people along the way, have read hundreds of herbal guide books, but it is really the plants who have taught me. I work with them every day, literally every day, harvesting wild herbs in a multitude of habitats, formulating herbal remedies, working with and teaching my amazing tribe of apprentices and day students, drinking herbal teas, cooking with herbs and using my herbals to keep my family, students, and friends healthy and nourished.
My science geek side has pushed me to learn as much as I can about the human body, its anatomy and physiology. My fascination with how the plants react on cells, molecules, organs, and body systems keeps me in the academic world as well as the forest.”