When Patricia Harpell left her job as CEO of a Boston high-tech marketing company after 23 years, she embraced a future entrenched in therapeutic yoga and wellness. But upon moving to Charleston in 2010, she couldn’t have predicted the runaway popularity of the South Carolina Herbal Society that she founded last September.
Just seven monthly meetings into its existence, the club already boasts 70 members. “People are hungry for this type of knowledge,” says Harpell. “They’re seeking traditional, natural remedies and healthier lifestyles.”
Of course, joining the Herbal Society doesn’t mean you have to give up Western medicine. Monthly meetings at the Charleston Horticultural Society’s educational center, as well as regular workshops, focus on everything from making herbal teas and lotions (“I don’t put anything on my skin that I wouldn’t eat,” says Harpell) to utilizing aromatherapy and growing medicinal and culinary herbs.
“In past years, massage therapists, chiropractors, and other holistic health practitioners have tried to organize, but no club or group has lasted,” notes Karyla Gaines, a Mount Pleasant psychotherapist and acupuncturist. “The Herbal Society ties us—and other interested locals—together through a common goal: living better through diet and natural, herbal medicine.”
Gaines is one of six society members who chose to take their studies to the next level, enrolling in the Gaiananda (Earth-Bliss) Herbal Foundations Apprenticeship Program lead by Harpell. Vivian Whorley—who was head horticulturalist at Mepkin Abbey for 11 years—also joined the six-month program, convinced by Harpell’s ability to back the folklore of herbal remedies with scientific explanations. “During my first class, we made a sleep pillow with lavender, rose petals, and dried hops. I don’t sleep well, so I had my doubts,” recalls Whorley. “I put it under my pillow and didn’t wake up until 9:30 a.m.—that hadn’t happened in years.”
And though the society boasts some expert members, Harpell emphasizes that people can pursue herbalism to any desired level, whether you’re digging in the garden or transforming your entire outlook on health. Many people already brew chamomile tea to relax, or use elderberry and echinacea to ward off a cold. Through the Herbal Society, they can learn why those remedies have worked for centuries, as well as how to whip up their own natural lotion and toothpaste in minutes.
“This group is dedicated to education,” says Harpell, “but also to having fun! The timing is perfect. People want to get back to nature.”
Find meeting and workshop dates, plus membership info, at scherbalsociety.com