In 1980 Michael wrote his first book on herbal healing, The Way of Herbs. He then began to write the syllabus for the three volume, 36 Lesson East West Herb Course in Planetary Herbology, a representation of over a decade of Michael’s previous experience studying herbal medicine, beginning with over 4 years living in the survival commune, Black Bear Ranch, deep in a remote part of the Siskiyou Mountains of Northern California. It was there that he experienced a calling to learn the medicinal plants of the region and use them as the preferred means of healing in his counter-culture community of men, women, and children. It was also in this region that he began studying with the Native Karuk people, who became his friends. Michael next went to Vancouver B.C. to study with Norma Meyers and subsequently with Dr. John Raymond Christopher. Later, he moved back to San Francisco where he began treating patients as well as extending his herbal education to become one of the first non-Chinese to study Chinese herbal medicine. Finally, he studied traditional Ayurvedic medicine with his spiritual mentor, Baba Hari Das.
During this time Michael rediscovered echinacea in an old San Francisco herbal pharmacy and brought it back into popular use as a valuable anti-infection and anti-inflammation herb. Later, he also brought Albizia to westerner’s herbal attention. At the same time, Michael became a California licensed acupuncturist and herbalist and then opened a local clinic. All of Michael’s experiences led him to write the East West Course in Planetary Herbology as a unique attempt to fuse Western, Chinese, and Ayurvedic herbalism, the three major herbal traditions in the world, into a robust herbal healing system.
In the meantime, Lesley left her job with big business in the mid-west and, traveling solo throughout the country, she landed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, In 1980 she traveled to Santa Cruz to train in holistic health and healing, with the intention to bring these skills back to Jackson.
There she learned Michael needed someone to type up the distance learning herb course he was writing and starting with lesson two, she typed up every lesson on an old mechanical typewriter. She never returned to Jackson but she married Michael, got her California and National acupuncture and herbal licenses, and continued as Executive Director, co-author, and co-teacher at the East West School of Planetary Herbology and its East West Herb Course to the present. Also, both privately tutored several generations of acupuncturists and herbalists as well as over ten thousand students throughout the world who have taken their herb course for over forty-two years. Additionally, Michael started the idea of the American Herbalist Guild, and he, along with Lesley and a couple dozen others, became co-founders of it.
Another person integral to the evolution of the East West School of Planetary Herbology is, Jill Unger. As the administrator of the East West Herb Course for over thirty-five years, she has interacted directly with students answering inquiries and personal questions regarding the course as it evolved, not to mention helped shape the direction of the school.
Thus, the course has been a fully cooperative endeavor for all three of us. It has rewarded us in many ways including right-livelihood, doing work we passionately love and believe in, forming new friendships with students and fellow teachers, plus the satisfaction of knowing it taught and graduated several generations of herbalists and leaders throughout the world in the field of herbal healing because of a solid foundation from the East West Herb Course and the East West School of Planetary Herbology.
We began teaching annual seminars, first in 1987 in Boulder Colorado, sponsored by Brigette Mars. That year and a couple of years later we went to Reevis Mountain School in Arizona. The next one was held at the Mt. Madonna Center in California, and then we started our annual week-long seminars at the Quaker Center in Ben Lomond, California, which continued for 25 years until Covid in 2020 when we switched to online seminars. In the 1990s we expanded our school for over a decade to a European branch in England. It was directed by Sarah and David Holland for eleven years until Britain joined the EU. During those eleven years, Sarah and David also held annual extended weekend seminars in England. At one point, a couple of herb course lessons were translated into Hebrew. Later, the East West School of Planetary Herbology extended its international training by taking students on two herbal training trips, one to China in 2016 and one to Costa Rica in 2018.
Now it is time for us both to start a new chapter in our lives and pass the baton on to one of our best former students, Dr. Thomas Avery Garran. He apprenticed with Michael for five years, went on to receive a master’s degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine, worked as a Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist, practicing acupuncture and herbal medicine. Thomas lived in China for over 15 years where he learned the language and married his wife, Holly.
Thomas was the first recipient of a PhD in Materia Medica Studies and Plant Pharmacy at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing: National Center for Materia Medica Resources and Daodi Herbs. Thomas began his passionate “way of herbs” journey learning the herbs of the Pacific Northwest and North America before delving deeply into the profound herbal wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He and Michael especially share a love of horticulture, including cultivating medicinal herbs.
Thomas has authored two books: Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide (2008, Healing Arts Press) and Western Herbs in Chinese Medicine: Methodology and Materia Medica (2014, Passiflora Press) about the use of Western herbs in Chinese Medicine (2008-2014). He is the co-author of a free e-book about the initial response to covid-19, Chinese Medicine and COVID-19: Thoughts and Reflections (2020). He is also the translator of two books—one is a book (with annotations) on growing and processing daodi, Growing Chinese Herbs: Daodi Practices for Growing and Processing Chinese Herbs (2019), and the second is forthcoming and is the first men’s health book published in Chinese medicine (mid-17th century).
Apart from all the above, Thomas has been a good friend and respected colleague. We are honored that he is now the new Executive Director of the East West Herb Course and East West School of Planetary Herbology. He is now busily incorporating his own contributions and visions for a new generation of students, lay herbalists, and professional herbalists to ensure the continuity of our school into the future.
Michael and Lesley