An origin story : digging Asparagus, rote memorization and resonance

Note: I’m quietly working on a resource I’d like to give away for free, in advance of the launch of the upcoming herbs course. It will be a helpful framework for you to build (and/or strengthen) your lifelong relationship with herbs. However, I don’t want to make this, nor go through the effort of building the upcoming course, if nobody is interested in getting any of it. So, I need your help again to gauge interest – details at the end of this article.

A brief history of my life with Chinese herbalism

I don’t know if there has ever been a more excited new student of Chinese medicine. I was so excited about my new school, I went to two “student for a day” information sessions. I was so excited, I called my professors ahead of time to chat. So excited that I read my syllabi and all uploaded class notes multiple times, weeks before classes began. Once I knew this was what I was meant to do, I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

The first year of classes was great – I’m a philosopher by training and the first year was a lot of theory. I drank it in, delved into Qigong, and started to get excited about my second year – HERBS AND POINTS AND PATHOLOGY, oh my! I bought all the required (and recommended) texts and started to study.

On to second year! Acupuncture was fine, and I was interested in pathology, but my heart just shone when I read through the herbs textbooks. Anyone who has been with Chinese Medicine Central for a while knows that I’ve been a gardner and a lover of all things growing and green for a long time. It comes from living in beautiful places for most of my life, I guess. I grew up playing in rivers and forests, climbing mountains and digging in roadside ditches for asparagus.

Sometimes, when I would crack those herbal texts, I would actually get tears in my eyes so powerful was the resonance.

But herbs are hard to teach, and to learn

Our herbs teacher was (and continues to be) a wonderful person and a first-rate clinician. But, what a task he faced! Students with diverse learning strategies, from all types of backgrounds, all coming together to learn an incredibly complex science and art – half of it in a different language! He worked diligently, trying to introduce us to the texts, telling clinical tales to spice things up. But ultimately, it was a lecture class and an exercise in rote memorization. Not so good for everyone.

I did fine, because my brain can work like that, but I saw dear classmates falling behind. A close friend, in fact, was driven ultimately to leave the school because of his difficulty with this – it was truly heart rending. People who came in fully prepared to dive deeply into herbs just couldn’t handle it, and the topic became as dry and dead to them as a slice of Ganjiang (dried ginger) left out in the sun for a week.

That’s why I started to look for another way

This is around the time I started Chinese Medicine Central, and began to explore topics in herbalism with a worldwide community. Of course, herbalism wasn’t all that was discussed on the site, but that was always my personal focus. I did research on my own, apprenticed with master herbalists, and spent a whole lot of time with the herbs themselves. During that time is when I started to understand why so many people struggle with herbs.

During my third and fourth years of school, I would work with peers who were continuing to struggle with understanding herbs. Some of what I said and did helped, and some did not. After graduation, I was blessed to begin testing my understanding with my own patients. I also continued to grow herbs on my own, continued to work with teachers, continued to read those classical texts.

Slowly, I began to create a method for learning (and teaching) Chinese herbs that could help people avoid the struggles that were so prevalent in my education.

I have been fortunate to have students at my alma mater to test my theories out on as well, since I was asked to teach the Chinese herbs lab during my first post-graduate year. A great honor! And I have taken my teaching there very seriously, striving every single term to become a better teacher. From the light in my students eyes and my pretty decent teacher evaluations, I think I’m doing a fair job.

But what difference does it really make?

One of the important things I want to communicate here is that this isn’t just a study method that I have been developing. It’s a method of getting these herbs in your bones as a living part of your knowledge ecosystem so you can effectively treat patients. That’s the deep point of all of this, right?

Starting as early as my first week in the student clinic, I saw the disasterous results of patients taking herbs prescribed by people who only know herbs as data points in a chart.  Robotic medicine doesn’t work very well.

There is something about herbs, and herbal formulas, that I really believe you can only fully comprehend by becoming completely immersed in the world of herbs. That includes with body, mind, and spirit – not to mention a variety of textual resources, particularly the classics of our medicine.

Even the smartest, most scholarly, practitioners sometimes lose their way because prescribing herbs becomes nothing more than a process of running down some mental flowchart. There is a lack of bodily awareness and a lack of deep connection – and sometimes a patient getting sicker is the result. I want to help people avoid this.

So what now?

It took me a couple of years to feel comfortable enough with what I had learned to offer it to the world. That’s the funny thing about the Internet and digital courses, different from teaching in person. People all over the world can take the course, and somehow it makes a teacher feel much more vulnerable!

In fact, I’ve received comments and notes of interest from people in Singapore, Japan, Spain, the UK, South Africa, every province in Canada and 40 US states!   It’s pretty amazing.

So, as a result of the deep need I see in the Chinese medicine community, and my own deeply resonant urge to help people really learn Chinese herbs and use them effectively, I’m moving forward with the creation of this course.

As I said in my note above, and mentioned in my latest newsletter, I’d like to create a free resource in advance of offering the full course to the public. The response to my free resource will not only help me hone my own thinking about the course, but also help people in their quest to deeply learn Chinese herbs, regardless of whether they choose to eventually take the course or not. That feels good to me.

This free resource, which I am provisionally calling “The Shennong Formula,” (look, people, the thing needs a title, ok?) will lay out the framework that girds everything I teach. I guess it’s the essence of what I’ve learned, not just in the last several years of learning and teaching Chinese herbs, but ever since I was a kid playing in the river, eating every berry off every bush I ran across, and climbing mountains. It includes a list of critical materials and resources to gather in your Chinese herbs learning, and I think will be a real help to many.

If you’re interested in getting the resource and learning more about the course coming in October, please sign up for the interest list if you haven’t already.

Click here to sign up to receive the Shennong Formula and to learn more about the course.

People there have already been sharing their insights with me about the best resources to use in learning Chinese herbs – which are going into building that materials list I mentioned above. The free resource will only be being released through that special interest list – so if you want it, you’ve got to go there and sign up. Don’t worry, it won’t be a ton of emails, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Honest.


About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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