Bioregional herb school opens in Ashland

Ashland may be a new herbal Mecca. For years, the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine was the place to study herbalism. Its founder was Michael Moore, who has trained many of the clinical herbalists in the United States.

His lineage is carried on at the Vitalist School of Applied Herbology. Founded by Moore's protégé, Jon Carlson, it opened in its current location in February. Moore died three days later.

At the Ashland school 12 students recently crowded around the apothecary, a kitchen/laboratory with hundreds of bottles and an array of mysterious tools. One student chopped a woody root as apprentice Jennifer McCoy helped others understand the mathematics of tincture making.

Everyone regrouped as Carlson demonstrated how to make a dry herb tincture. When asked a question, he launched an off-the-cuff, yet encyclopedic answer, revealing in a few sentences his scholarly depth.

He showed them his wildcrafting kit in preparation for the upcoming field trip — three days on the Oregon coast in a beach house, with herb walks during the day and lectures at night.

Carlson, a former bike racer, became obsessed with herbs as part of his interest in health. An experience at the 1997 Rainbow Gathering cemented his fate. There he met prominent herbalist Seven Song, and volunteered in the first aid area, helping people with everything from dysentery to dog bites. Carlson said the experience "gave me the clarity and conviction that this was what I wanted to do with my life."

Research led Carlson to Moore, and a friendship began that deepened when Carlson attended Moore's school.

"Out of 30 people in the class I probably asked half the questions," Carlson said. "Michael was very patient, although some days he said, 'Jon, I'm ignoring you today so someone else can ask a question.'"

Carlson taught herbal first aid at Moore's school, and herbology at Prescott College. Then he did a three-year apprenticeship in five-elements acupuncture.

"It was profound," Carlson said. "It awakened me to the beauty and complexity of an ancient healing lineage. The tools of perception I gained have served me well."

He was drawn to the Ashland area for its botanical diversity.

"It's the second most botanically diverse area in the country," Carson said. "This is the northern end of the range of plants native to California, and we have plants from the upper Northwest whose range extends down this far. If you want even more diversity, go to the coast."

This rich environment gives students an unparalleled opportunity. Study of botany, body systems, and medicine making is backed by hands-in-the-dirt field time.

"Summertime we're outside every class," Carson said. "We're hiking, doing field botany, observing plants. That's our classroom — the wild spaces."

Even when held indoors, class is experiential. Roots are examined amid tincture tasting and plant nibbling. Guest lecturers speak, and photos of plants are projected on a huge screen.

At the same time, herbology is more academic with the advent of Moores' "evolved eclectic" approach. Physiology has joined Eastern-style energetic concepts, and traditional wisdom has joined modern herbal research. A scientific-artistic system has resulted.

"An herbalist is a matchmaker," said Carlson. "The herbalist must perceive the individual nature of the person, and the subtleties of the herbs, and understand how the two will mix."

Carlson teaches at the Wilderness Charter High School, as well as leading plant walks and medicine-making classes for the general public. He also maintains an herbal practice.

"Herbs are best suited for the area called subclinical pathologies. These are conditions, that while they may strongly impact the quality of people's lives, may not be serious enough to be either diagnosed or effectively treated through drugs or surgery."

The school is located at 340 A. St. No. 7, the former site of the Yoga Sanctuary. Tuition is $975 per trimester and includes field trips as well as private tutorials with students. Various workshops such as Acu-Yoga are offered from time to time as well.

Carlson can be reached at 890-6588 or at

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