November Sweet Talks with Leading Herbalist and Phytochemist

November Sweet Talks with Leading Herbalist and Phytochemist

Introduction

Meet Lisa Ganora, a renowned herbalist also known as the queen of herbal constituents, amongst other things, with over 35 years of experience. Lisa is a friend and collaborator of Manukora, lending her invaluable expertise in guiding scientific inquiries, supporting product development, and conducting research.

Her journey began amidst the rich herbal traditions of the Ozarks and the Appalachian Mountains and today, Lisa is a dynamic force in the world of herbalism, as the founder of the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism, current director of Elderberry’s Herbal Education Center, and a former adjunct professor of pharmacognosy at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. She is the author of Herbal Constituents, 2nd Ed., a popular textbook for practitioners of botanical medicine.

Lisa's deep-rooted passion for medicinal plants and natural healing began in 1986 when she embarked on a journey to study herbs in the Wise Woman tradition. Over the next ten years, she immersed herself in wildcrafting and medicine-making, learning from seasoned herbalists across New England and later in the Appalachian Mountains. During this time, she not only crafted herbal products but also became a familiar presence at events, sharing her herbal expertise through workshops and her traveling herb booth.

In 1997, Lisa pursued formal education in botany, chemistry, and health-related sciences at UNC-Asheville. Her dedication and passion were rewarded as she graduated summa cum laude, receiving multiple awards in chemistry and biology. Her insights into phytochemistry and her unique ability to harmonize traditional herbal wisdom with modern scientific knowledge make her a truly invaluable resource to the herbal and scientific world and we are very fortunate to work with her.

Join us as we explore Lisa's extraordinary journey and her profound contributions to the world of herbalism.

What initially sparked your fascination with plants and their healing properties, and how has this journey shaped your current role as a prominent herbalist and phytochemist?


Believe it or not, it was the humble Dandelion that first introduced me to the potential of herbs as healing agents. Dandelion root has long been known in traditional herbalism as a mineral-rich nourishing tonic that supports healthy liver function and helps balance blood sugar. It’s also known as a rich source of inulin, which feeds the beneficial gut microbiota and reduces the desire for unhealthy food and drink. Back in the 80s when I was struggling with a sugar/chocolate addiction, a friend in recovery turned me on to strong Dandelion root tea as a way to overcome cravings. She advised me to drink a cup every time I was about to indulge, and then not to fight the urge but to just let the Dandelion take care of it. I was amazed when after just one cup of the tea, I was able to cut my intake in half, and with every further cup I desired less and less until finally I was able to free myself of the addiction.

Up until then I only knew Dandelion as a yard weed so this was a major revelation – something I had not expected and had never learned in school! What – herbal medicine was real? Not just a funny old superstition? Because of my experience, I just had to know more. It was soon after that I found an advertisement for the Wise Woman Center, and what I learned there completely changed the direction of my life. Ever since, I’ve been learning directly from plants themselves, from teachers and healers of many traditions. I combine this with scientific investigation into the phytochemicals that synergistically bring about the actions and effects of medicinal plants. My hands-on background with herbs has given me the context for interpreting and understanding how those phytochemicals can benefit human physiology and health.




 

Manuka honey has gained immense popularity for its powerful properties. Being well versed with natural and herbal health, can you explain how you view Manuka honey in this regard?


I have to chuckle at how, many years ago, I used to think of Manuka as some expensive fad (this was a common perception among my American herbalist friends). Now that I’ve studied this potent honey in depth, and experimented with it myself, I realize how far off base that was! There are so many studies published on its unique array of constituents, harvested and transformed from the flowers of the Manuka bush – which is a highly valued and respected medicinal plant for the Indigenous people of New Zealand. So both tradition and science verify the unique properties of this honey as a healing agent.


As an adjunct professor of pharmacognosy, you've had the opportunity to educate future healthcare professionals. What message or knowledge do you hope to impart to your students, especially in terms of the importance of plant-based medicine?


It’s interesting to remember that all medicine was plant-based medicine up until fairly recently. I think that as a society, we got so fascinated with our ability to synthesize potent drugs in the early 1900s that we gradually forgot those old fashioned, tried and true remedies of our ancestors. But some things really are better addressed with herbs, and some with modern pharmaceuticals; and some conditions respond best to a combination of both! For building health and vitality, natural foods and herbs can’t be replaced. Medications can step in when needed, but neither type of medicine substitutes for the other. I love how “mainstream” medicine is moving in this direction now – because people have seen the benefits and results of bringing these two worlds together.

 



 

Being connected to the natural world, what practices or rituals do you personally incorporate into your daily life to maintain a sense of balance and connection with nature?


This is so important! It’s amazing how profound the simple nature-based practices can be for releasing stress, moving energy, building vitality, and balancing all the systems of the body. I like to start my day outside, feet on the ground, with affirmations and gratitude for all the elements: the fire of the sun that warms us, the air that we breathe, the water that flows within us, and the earth that holds us in space. For the plants (and animals and fungi) that nourish and heal us with good food and medicine. For the Creator / Great Mystery, the joy of being alive, and the opportunity to follow my calling to help people, plants, and Earth come together in mutual respect. After this I turn on the music for a personal dance party with stretches and wiggles to get my day pumped up with lots of energy! Then I drink a bunch of water and take my supplements. Next comes some good coffee with medicinal mushrooms in it, animal care at the farm, a paleo-style breakfast, and I’m ready for the workday. And I truly love the work I do with plants, so it’s more like “let’s start playing now!” At night I unwind by reading an actual paper book (!) and I like to do a little Moon and Star gazing if it’s clear outside. Self-care in connection with nature, gratitude, organic, local, and wild foods, herbs and supplements, following my calling, sharing my knowledge ... that’s how I find balance and connection. That, and going trail riding with my beautiful Mustang mare :>)

 

Throughout your career, you would have encountered a wide range of herbal products and remedies. What are some lesser-known or underappreciated herbs or herbal blends that you believe deserve more attention?


There are so, so many different healing plants on this planet! The well-known ones are great, and there are plenty of others you might not have heard of (yet!) that are also amazing. For example, Elderberry is famous for supporting immunity and winter wellness, but Aronia berries (popular in Scandinavia) are every bit as good for this. They are also rich in PAC, constituents related to flavonoids that have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity on a cellular level. And they’re an excellent source of anthocyanins, the type of flavonoid that makes both kinds of berries purple. Anthocyanins support the cardiovascular system and help protect us from toxins and free radical damage. Aronia berries are a bit astringent, so I like to infuse them into honey and mix that with various tinctures to form an “elixir” that I sometimes use instead of Elderberry syrup. Both Aronia and Elderberry combine beautifully with Echinacea and Ginger for the winter woes.

Another relatively unknown favorite is Elaea (Russian Olive), a lovely tree that is revered in Persian medicine but thought of as an invasive plant in the western U.S. The leaves and berries can be made into a tea that reminds me so much of green tea, but without the caffeine. It’s uplifting, gently stimulating, nourishing, delicious, and contains many of the same antioxidant and anti-inflammatory constituents! You probably won’t find this in the health food store yet, but I’m really excited to be collaborating on a project with some local farmers to bring attention to the amazing potential of this herb ... so stay tuned!

One more that comes to mind is the old European remedy, Elecampane – it doesn’t taste so great alone, but when you mix the tincture of the root with some honey, it makes an amazing “elixir” that really helps clear the lungs and relieve congestion in the whole respiratory system. Elecampane also combines well with Aronia or Elderberry and Echinacea (and Ginger). There are a number of products you can find that formulate immunity-supporting herbs in honey with Elecampane.




 

Have you experienced skepticism or resistance from individuals within the scientific community regarding the integration of herbalism into modern healthcare? If so, could you share some common reasons for this resistance and your strategies for addressing it?


Oh my goodness, yes – but not so often as I used to. Times are definitely changing for the better! I think a lot of us grew up with the assumption that modern pharmaceuticals were the “scientific” way to do health care and herbs were old fashioned, ineffective, or just plain weird. Maybe even dangerous! There are still folks who claim that herbs are “unregulated” and haven’t been scientifically studied. But it doesn’t take much digging to find out that this old meme is not really true. I could spend the rest of my life just reading studies on constituents and clinical actions of medicinal herbs, or working through regulations like GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices) and the DSHEA act that the FDA uses to governs the quality and sale of herbal products in the U.S.

Also consider the generations of traditional use that inform us about the safety and efficacy of plant-based remedies ... In the later 1800s and early 1900s, there were thousands of licensed, professional botanical physicians and pharmacists in the U.S. The Lloyd Library in Cincinnati, OH, has a massive collection of their works – Google it!  I think education is a strong component – understanding botanical medicine requires some specialized study. It’s not the same as conventional pharmacology; there’s synergy, variability, phytochemistry, etc. to be considered. So I think bringing “medical botany” and pharmacognosy back into the health sciences curricula would be a great idea! Naturopathic physicians and Functional Medicine practitioners are already making considerable progress on this path. And I see more and more people realizing that they can’t just be healthy by popping a pill. They are taking responsibility for restoring and supporting their own health and vitality with nutrient-dense organic foods and herbs – in addition to working with professional health care providers who understand these things.

 

What makes you a Manukora super user?


I think that understanding the beneficial constituents of Manuka honey and their synergistic interactions really helps me to know how and when to use it in my foods and medicines. For example, I’ll add some to my Chia Power Porridge along with Aronia and Goji berries, Walnuts and Sunflower Seeds, Cacao, Cinnamon, Ginger and a pinch of Cayenne. I know that I’ve pretty much covered all the bases with this warming, antioxidant rich, blood sugar balancing, superfood formula disguised as breakfast! I also like to use Manuka in my elixir formulas, especially those for supporting immunity and winter wellness. It’s really nice with Lemon as a throat soother, and I find myself using it quite a bit to cover the strong or bitter flavors of certain herbs. Also, with my menagerie of horses and dogs, I use it topically as an antiseptic wound healer. I take it just about everywhere I go, because I always carry some in my travel kit just in case.


If you could choose one movie/documentary/podcast in your field to recommend to our Manukora community, what would it be and why?

That would be Herbs with Rosalee, a wonderful podcast where Rosalee de la Forêt interviews all kinds of fascinating herbalists and shares her deep knowledge of natural healing with herbs and fabulous foods. She makes the world of herbalism so fun and accessible but isn’t afraid to go deep with the science either. I really enjoy her episodes and also her beautiful books with their creative recipes. I imagine a holiday dinner with drinks at her house would be an unforgettable epic adventure!

 

Summary

Well, that was quite something to read and we know it will have deeply resonated with a lot of you. With her invaluable insights and practical approach to herbal remedies, Lisa continues to inspire and educate, fostering a deeper connection between humanity and the healing power of nature. 

We are extremely fortunate to work with such a highly respected and renowned herbalist as Lisa, who shares our values of pure plant medicine. 

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