Things to Help You be Zen: Herbalism

A couple of years ago, when we were still new to our neighborhood, Little and I were in our front yard pulling cancerous growth off our baby magnolia tree. From across the street, a woman and her son about Little’s age came over bearing a welcome gift of home-baked banana-nut bread. It’s the warmest neighborly welcome I’ve ever received.

Little and I were slow with our response–we’re not the best bakers–but maybe a month later we left our own homemade sweet treat on their doorstep. Peanut butter banana and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, made with only the ingredients listed in their name.

Alas, a friendship was struck. Over the years, we’ve gone from running into each other around the ‘hood to fairly regular playdates and collecting each other’s mail when out of town and keeping an eye on each other’s houses during hurricanes.

I knew early on I’d found a kindred spirit. Aside from the radiation of kindness surrounding her, she said things like, “I haven’t met him, but he had a very positive presence,” talking about my then fiancé before they’d been introduced.

One day I glanced down and noticed a charm in the shape of a crescent moon hanging around her neck and asked about it. “It’s from my instructor at the Florida School of Holistic Living. She gave it to me the day I graduated and told me he knew I was ready to spread my wings.”

Again I say, hello kindred spirit. She and I have many-a backyard talks about parenting. We couldn’t be more different and yet we’re also similar. She homeschools her son, is vegetarian, a great listener and always seems Zen. I’m a hot mess who works full time and sends her son to school despite strong opinions on the public education system, I eat barbeque on a regular basis, and I’m a chatty Cathy constantly in crisis mode.


Yet, we share a philosophy of letting our children explore and be themselves. We strive to encourage their differences rather than squash them, and we both practice natural or holistic approaches to medicine. I, with a cabinet full to the brim of essential oils, and she with herbalism. Where I’m a dabbler, she’s more than a practitioner, she’s a teacher of natural holistic living here in Orlando, FL.

With her expert status and as one of the most Zen mamas I know, I asked her to grant me an interview. She graciously accepted and our Q&A session is below. For more on what to do with the plants she mentions, read her book recommendation at the end (she lent me her copy, and it’s good), and check in with her at the Florida School of Holistic Living which offers a home study course for students who are not local.

Interview with Maggie Richardson O’Halloran

Please introduce yourself and what it is you do, or what it means to be an herbalist.
I am Maggie O’Halloran, an educator and community herbalist. An herbalist is anyone interested in learning the plants the way we all had someone know them in our homes a few generations ago.

What is the number 1 dried plant every home should have? And why?
Chamomile. Do you remember the story of Peter Rabbit? After all of his shenanigans, his nerves were ruffled, his stomach was upset, he was chilled and had the sniffles. So his mom gave him chamomile tea and put him to bed because that plant covers all of those symptoms.


What are 3 plants every home should have in the garden? And why?
Rosemary is easy to grow in so many zones. It smells amazing and there have been studies on how the smell helps you to think more clearly. Add some rosemary to your afternoon tea for a brain boost. I like to gently rub the plant as I am walking by to get a whiff. It also has anti-infective properties, is astringent, and makes a great hair wash for folks with dark hair.

Aloe is another one easy to grow. The goo inside the leaves can be rubbed into burns, bug bites, and minor skin irritations.  The goo can be consumed to soothe the stomach. The green fleshy part of the leaf has been used to ease constipation so watch out if you decide to consume to soothe.

Lemon Balm is in the mint family so it grows easily in most climates. It makes a lovely uplifting tea or you can just chop up some leaves to add to salad. We use its antiviral properties to protect us from cooties too. Lemon Balm honey is really divine.

Please name an herb to help for being calm, to help energize, and to help purify (whether this is a detox if ingested or if there’s one that helps purify the air, say as an indoor plant, that’d be great).
Tulsi or Holy Basil is like a yoga class in a cup. It is calming, uplifting, and grounding. Green Tea is energizing without overstimulating the nervous system the way coffee can Leaving us feeling depleted. Red clover is full of minerals and supports the body in detoxifying. Great for post-holiday binging 😉


What is the difference between using herbal remedies and essential oils? Is there a benefit to one over the other?
It takes pounds of lavender flowers to make 1 oz of lavender essential oil which only accesses one product of a plant. Most of the plants I work with, I want to utilize all the plant has to offer.

Essential oils can be useful if used with a lot of caution for first aid or aromatherapy.

Is there a good plant to have for healing wounds? Something to use in place of Neosporin or Triple Ointment on the kiddo’s boo-boos?
I like to keep a combo of plantain (not the banana type fruit;), yarrow, and lavender liniment on hand for all things first aid or bugs. It’s in a spray bottle and works as a nice room spray as well.

I have a friend that makes a super salve!

What’s your favorite tea? And why?
Right now it’s Tulsi Lemon Balm. Tulsi I mentioned before is an adaptogen which means it helps my body deal with stress. Lemon Balm tastes wonderful and leaves me feeling like I just received a really good hug. It’s so uplifting and gentle.

How does being a mom help you with your work as an herbalist?
I get lots of opportunities to see herbs in action with all of the spills and cooties of childhood.

How does being an herbalist help you with being a mom?
My son has had one sick visit to the doctor in 7 years. Thankfully he has had pretty minor illnesses. I have been saved the stress of getting a sick kid to the doctor and he has been saved more germ exposure with a compromised immune system.

And plants help keep me nourished so I stay healthy and peaceful!

Why should we use natural herbs over store bought ointments and medicines?
It’s cheaper. Seriously.

Do you have a mama mantra that helps you keep your Zen as a mom? If so, what is it and is there a story behind it?
I bring myself back to my breath by saying “I am breathing in….. and out….” Doing this brings me back to the moment instead of whatever emotionally, sleep deprived, touched out, needing of self-care place I have gone to in response to whatever is happening in our day.

It came from my marathon running/ backpacking days. Where the pain, miles, head games would start to get to me. I would try to think about my breath and connect it with the rhythm of my feet. It always helped me work through whatever mental obstacle I was facing.

I find as a mom it is muscle memory to connect breath with chillin’ out!

Do you have recommended books for those of us who may want to explore more?
Rosemary Gladstar has Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. And, locals to the Orlando area can also come see me at The Florida School of Holistic Living for a class!

Do you have a mantra helping you be a Zen Mama? Or a lesson you’ve learned along the way you want to share with other mamas to help them be more Zen? Contact me if you’re interested in posting it here on Zen Mama Mantras.

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