Mara Ribbin

Please enjoy the bios of our June students of the month: Mara Ribbin and Holly Nielsen!

Mara Ribbin

My early love of the natural world was encouraged by my grandmother. She was so at home there. I would often help her in the garden and some summers would help her harvest dulse seaweed along the North Atlantic coast. My grandmother was very familiar with herbs, but encouraged schooling rather than the “old ways,” so I did not really find my way to herbs until I was older.

I became an R.N. in 1964, working in psychiatry for 10 years, newborn intensive care at UCSF for 16 years, hospice and more, over a 34-year period that was very enriching and life-changing. I also watched health care change from care of whole persons into more profit-driven businesses with increasing emphasis on pharmaceuticals. Many, many factors contributed to this.

Early on, I also came to see the limits of Western medicine and sought to learn adjunctive therapies. In 1972, I began to study energy healing and, over the years, studied with many gifted teachers from many traditions, including shamanic. I bought Michael Tierra’s The Way of Herbs back in the early “Ëœ80s. I loved his experiences and knowledge of herbal energetic and what they could do, his emphasis on wholistic care, and the importance of diet.

I signed up at East West in 1995. There was no time limit on finishing back then, and I studied until 2001. Much of that time and, really until late 2007, life had other plans for me. Though my studies were often derailed, I continued to use what I had learned and knew I would always return.

I attended my first East West seminar last year and just returned from my second one last month. The seminars really jump-started my learning at a whole new level than I could do on my own at home. It is also such a great way to meet so many wonderful people who love plants and herbs and are interested in natural healing.

I plan to finish my lessons and attend my third student seminar next year and then work with a mentor. The emphasis on TCM assessment that East West provides is such a gift in being able to put together a plan of care that really addresses a person’s needs. I am so appreciative of the course, and all the truly extraordinary teachers, who live what they teach, and teach so well.

In addition to herbs and energy healing, I also love poetry (especially mystically inclined poets like Rilke, Rumi, Hafiz, Oliver), astrology, and inner growth.


Holly NielsenHolly Nielsen

I live in Chico, a university town in the Northern Sacramento Valley of California, with my husband, Casey, and our two lovely daughters, Seyda and Adelle, ages 6 and 3.

Growing up in Wisconsin, we were an outdoor family. My most vivid childhood memories all involve encounters with amazing plants in the Northwoods of Wisconsin: lifting back the spathe of a jack-in-the-pulpit to see “Jack”; watching a tiny wasp inside the large yellow slipper of the lady’s slipper orchid; seeing the blood of bloodroot for the first time under the cathedral of a mature sugar maple forest; and stumbling upon a faerie circle of tiny mushrooms in a clearing. As a child I was more often in the woods alone with the plants than playing with the neighborhood kids.

As an adult, this led me to choose botany as my undergraduate degree. I then headed west to bigger country and worked as a botanist in some of the most incredible places: the High Sierra, Hell’s Canyon of the Snake River, and the High Desert of eastern Oregon. My specialty involved working, mostly alone, in very isolated country locating new populations of threatened and endangered plant species. In this isolation, I began to reflect on the relationships humans had with plants and concluded that for my work to be more meaningful, I needed to shift it into this lens.

Finding the East West School of Herbology in the fall of 2006 was an epiphany in my understanding of the uses of plants as herbal medicine, (along with some useful animal and mineral substances!). The lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine suits my background as a scientist and the wonderful teachers and students of East West highly resonate with me. I’ve found my calling to become an East West herbalist and thus create profound meaning by utilizing my relationship with plants to help people attain balance and health in their lives.

I spend most of my free time either studying the East West course materials or in my garden. It is wonderful to see my children having a similar relationship with plants. Seyda is the herbal tea connoisseur and Adelle already knows most of the plants’ names in the garden. I also work with Seyda’s kindergarten class in a school garden.

Gardens have always been a metaphor in my life. It is a metaphor that we all need in our lives, if not actual time working a garden. We must become gardeners of plant and human communities with the intention of creating lasting health and beauty for now and for the future. To maintain the balance of life on this planet, we must be stewards of this green mantle. It is good to know Gaia is very forgiving of her children! I see our world as moving away from its old dichotomies and beginning to encompass this metaphor of the garden.

When I graduate from East West, I will begin my home practice as an herbalist with an office overlooking our newly planted extensive gardens already filled with over a hundred species of medicinal plants. Garden therapy, time spent working in and simply enjoying the centering sensory delights of a garden filled with birds, insects, smells, tastes and textures will be a part of my practice. I look forward to my mentorship with an East West herbalist and attaining membership in the American Herbalists Guild. Other herbal interests are working with and creating flower essences, wildcrafting, botanizing, and homeopathy.


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