Maia Toll and forest medicine

Author Maia Toll with The Illustrated Herbiary. Photo courtesy of Toll

In days of old, folks would harvest what they could from the earth to treat everything from headaches to constipation. And while modern medicine has evolved tremendously over the centuries, some self-care remedies and techniques, such as the use of herbs and other medicinal plants, continue to stand the test of time.

Author and herbalist Maia Toll says incorporating herbs and medicinal plants into self-care routines involves more than just a chemical reaction in the body: It’s a way for people to link their personal health and well-being with ancient traditions and the natural world.

“It becomes self-care to me when you have that moment of reconnection with the earth and the larger universe outside yourself,” notes Toll, who co-owns the downtown Asheville shop Herbiary.

Her most popular book on the subject, The Illustrated Herbiary, describes how certain herbs, flowers and other medicinal plants benefit what she calls the “whole-being.” For Toll, self-care also involves learning how to treat not only the tangible aspects of our well-being but also those that lie in the metaphysical realm.

“It means taking care of yourself on all levels, not just your physical body but also your emotional body, your spiritual being, your mental health,” she explains. “When you are aware of and tuned in to all those things and taking the time to make sure that you’re in balance in all those ways, that to me is self-care.”

But while adding new techniques to our repertoire may help us break out of old habits, Toll believes that managing our expectations of what we can hope to accomplish when caring for ourselves is just as essential as acquiring new knowledge and strategies. Her mantra is do what you can, when you can.

“All the time, I hear people saying, ‘I know you’re supposed to do yoga three times a week,’ or ‘I know you’re supposed to put essential oils on your feet before you go to bed,’ and then they have guilt that they didn’t do that thing, and it starts this whole spiral of always feeling behind and always feeling like you can’t do all the things that you’re supposed to do,” she explains. “If you’re ending up with a to-do list for your self-care, then all you’re doing is getting yourself further and further out of kilter and anxious and feeling like you’re not good enough, and that’s not the point.”

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