Highlights from the Medicines from the Earth Herb Symposium
Highlights from the Medicines from the Earth Herb Symposium
By Tim Yarborough Posted 06-07-2019

Last weekend, members of the Vital Plan team retreated to the Appalachian mountains for the annual Medicines from the Earth Herb Symposium held in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Having attended several times over the past 15 years, our medical director Dr. Bill Rawls started bringing members of the Vital Plan team in recent years for continuing education, and to reflect on our mission of bringing herbal remedies to the world.

As a company, we strive to go beyond simply providing top quality and effective herbal products. We also aim to educate and inspire a movement toward making herbs a more central part of our collective approach to healthcare. This takes a team! So, this year we had staff from several departments — production, customer support, education programming, and content — along for the fun.

Line-up of teachers at the opening ceremony. Conference co-organizer, Larry Wardwell, launches his funny stories about the year’s presenters.

In contrast to some of the gigantic commercial natural health expos, this grassroots conference is attended by just a few hundred people, and it attracts some of the most gifted and experienced herbalists on the continent. Practitioners of all kinds attend, including folk herbalists, clinical herbalists, medical doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, physician assistants, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, acupuncturists, nutritionists, ayurvedic practitioners, naturopathic doctors, and others. Each has a valuable perspective to share, and a unique way of weaving herbs into their practice, and they gather to share their wisdom and advance practical applications of herbal medicine in all avenues of healthcare.

This rainbow of healthcare professionals working in collaboration is a big part of what it is going to take to change the way we approach health in this country. And since we work with many practitioners in our wholesale program, it’s very helpful for us to understand the problems they are dealing with so we can work to better meet their patients needs.

One of the highlights of the conference was the keynote address from Leo Trasande, MD, MPP, who gave a compelling speech about the enormous social, health, and financial costs of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. These seemingly ubiquitous toxins are found in our homes, offices, and the air we breathe.

Thankfully, there is a way out, and there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself from what Dr. Trasande identifies as the four major categories of endocrine disruptors — pesticides, flame retardants, phthalates, and bisphenols — as he explains in his book Sicker, Fatter, Poorer.

Vital Plan team members: Carin, Ryan, Tim, and Paulette enjoying class

Among the many other inspiring lectures, some of our staff’s favorites included:

  • Organ Reserve: Aging Gracefully by Kevin Spelman, PhD: Dr. Spelman shared a heavily research-substantiated argument highlighting the diverse array of phytonutrients in herbs as one of the keys to decreasing oxidative stress and other factors that accelerate aging.
  • Ethnobotanical and Native Plant Field Study with David Winston, RH(AHG): On this journey into the woods, we learned about the traditional and current uses of common and lesser known plants that surround us in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • Demystifying Detoxification with Jason Miller, DACM, LAc: This workshop reinforced our faith in the human body’s incredible ability to detox naturally. In addition to learning about ways to enhance and optimize these natural processes, we also covered key herbs and supplements to support the process further.
  • Slow the Decline: New Developments in Brain Boosting Herbs with Mary Bove, ND: We deepened our knowledge of natural ways to enhance mental clarity and sharpness in daily life, and about the science that guides the use of nootropic herbs like saffron, spearmint, bacopa, ginkgo, gotu kola, lemon balm, and others.
  • Managing Chronic Illness with Herbal Medicine – Useful Plants and Formulas for the Practicing Herbalist with 7Song RH(AHG): We laughed our way through 7Song’s irreverent — though extremely practical — lecture on improving patient success through preferred herbal delivery methods (capsules, tinctures, teas, salves, etc) and key formulas that he finds are most useful in his practice.

In addition to stimulating many ideas for new educational content and products, we were inspired and encouraged by the way presenters and practitioners alike are weaving together science and tradition in their use of herbs. While we owe a great debt of gratitude to the wealth of knowledge passed down through traditional use of herbs throughout human history, it is very helpful to see so many of herbs’ benefits being validated and further elucidated by modern research.

Hydrangea intermingling with a Smilax briar, stream trail, and Witch Hazel

One such validation was the continually growing evidence of using full-spectrum herbal extracts as more effective, generally speaking, than isolated individual components from the herbs. In most cases, research is showing us that the chemical constituents of these plants act in synergy for an enhanced, gentler, and gradual solution that supports us closer to the root of our health challenges. Just as plants benefit from these components in their full spectrum, so can we.

In addition to the rigorous lectures that we attended, we were thankful to enjoy some time recharging together with a delicious meal from one of Dr. Rawls’ favorite restaurants, the Laughing Seed, in downtown Asheville, and to spend time walking, hiking, and practicing a little yoga and qigong in the beautiful surrounding nature. The conference location is nestled into a cool and lush mountain cove, with streams weaving their way through the grounds. It was the perfect setting to clear our heads and take in the local flora, fresh air, and mountain views.

Many thanks to the Blue Ridge Assembly conference center staff for hosting us, and to Linnea and Larry Wardwell at BotanicalMedicine.org for organizing the whole event. We certainly hope to return in the future, and perhaps we’ll see some of you there next year!

About the Medical Director
Dr. Bill Rawls
Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.
  • Dr. Bill Rawls


    Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.

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