How to Make Food Your Medicine

Nutrition, Healing, Herbs, and More Coming to Plant Food and Medicine Conference

Cheryl Fromholzer
Courtesy Photo

If we are what we eat — an old adage that most seem to grasp — then why do so many Americans want to be fast food burgers, frozen dinners, and high-fructose sugar? There is another way, and on October 27, the Plant Food and Medicine Conference comes to Santa Barbara City College to remind us how to eat healthier and reveal how a plant-based diet can even serve as medicine.

Featuring six seminars, on topics from essential oils to healing plants to cannabis 101, and two keynote speakers, the event is being organized by Jacqueline Lopez, whose husband nearly died last year from cancer-related treatments. “We shifted our source of nourishment and healing to plants as much as we could,” said Lopez, and the results inspired her to converge speakers from around the state.

Three of them give insight into their work and lectures below.

Cheryl Fromholzer, “Herbs: Nature’s Super Supplements”

Fromholzer owns an herb shop, holistic healthcare clinic, and educational center called Gathering Thyme in San Rafael. See

Tell me about your background and your store/clinic in San Rafael. My journey into Western herbalism began over 25 years ago with the birth of my daughter and the inability of “modern” medicine to provide answers to really common childhood problems. Hearing “she’ll grow out of it” over and over just wasn’t good enough for me. I began seeking holistic healthcare professionals and found real answers, sometimes in the simplest of remedies. This led me to realize that we’ve all been brainwashed to believe we need to give our health over to “professionals” who have all the answers we need. Hogwash!

Because of my love for the natural world, I naturally gravitated toward Western herbalism and have had the privilege to study with some of the greatest living masters in our field. After several years of study, I opened Gathering Thyme to offer my services to the community in a multitude of ways: as an herb shop, a holistic health-care clinic, and an educational center.

We are now in our eighth year in business in San Rafael, Marin County, CA. We are women owned and staffed by experienced clinical herbalists, so we can really truly help people with their health-care needs, both on the floor and through our clinic and educational programs.

Why has our culture moved away from knowing that nutrition can come from the plants around us? It was not long ago that every home had a garden. Families grew their own plants for food and medicine and tended animals for eggs and meat. Now, we have a prepackaged consumer society where food security is a major issue and fast food has become the norm. This disconnect from nature is vast and encompasses much more than the food we eat and has everything to do with the health of our planet.

Are there many cures for common ailments sitting in our backyard? Yes, we just need to know where to look. Many of the common “weeds” growing in the cracks of sidewalks and pulled from lawns are powerhouses of nutrients and phytochemicals that can help everything from bug bites to digestive complaints to cardiovascular disease. I recommend beginners start by seeking out your local herbalist and going on herb walks to learn to identify the many helpful plants that grow around you.

What are some of the more powerful plants in the California landscape that we should be using more regularly? Two of my favorite native California plants include elder and yarrow. The berries and flowers of the blue or black elder are used for colds and flus, fevers, coughs, and congestion. Elderberry syrup is delicious and can be used safely by the whole family. Elder to me is the “gateway” herb, as once families realize its remarkable benefits, they want to learn more about herbal medicine in general.

Yarrow is another incredible herb that can be found growing all over California. I prefer the wild native to garden cultivars. It is a great first-aid plant, used to heal wounds and prevent infection as well as slow blood flows, whether it’s a cut finger or menstrual flow. Yarrow is another helpful ally for colds and flus and can aid in poor digestion.

Yarrow is not appropriate for use during pregnancy but otherwise is a safe and effective herb for a multitude of conditions. It is so easy to grow and would make a lovely addition to any garden.

What is an herbalist? Is there a growing community of herbalists in the U.S.? An herbalist is someone who uses herbs for health and healing. But being an herbalist is much more than that. We are stewards of the earth, of the land and the plants and animals that live upon her. It is our responsibility (and privilege) to teach others the importance of reconnecting to the beautiful planet we live on, to respect all of life and to nurture and tend to the wild and to grow your own medicines.

There is a growing interest in herbalism, and that means there is increased stress on our wild plant populations. It is of utmost importance that we teach others how and when to harvest in a sustainable way — where our plant communities can not only survive but thrive.

What do you plan to speak about in Santa Barbara? I plan to speak about incorporating more herbs into our diets for their nutritional value, to promote health and healing. I’ll demonstrate some easy ways to incorporate herbs into our meals in delicious and nutritious ways and hope to inspire the audience to experience the power of herbs with their own community.

Dale Figtree
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Dale Figtree, “Empowered Diets for Miraculous Healing”

After ridding her body of cancer 40 years ago by changing her diet, Figtree became an author and expert in the nutritional world. See

How have you used nutrition to heal yourself? Forty years ago, I was diagnosed with a large cancerous lymphatic tumor in my chest cavity. After receiving the limit of conventional treatment that my body could handle, l was then told the tumor had shrunken but was not entirely gone — and there was nothing more that could be done — and was released from conventional medicine.

That was my wake-up call, and I started to research other ways to heal. I ended up working with a gifted nutritionist, who put me on a powerful food program geared to support the deepest levels of the body’s ability to cleanse, repair, and heal, which is exactly what happened. After three years, I had a CT scan, and I was told there was no more trace of cancer left in my body.

Do you find that Americans seem to think that healthy food can’t be delicious? How do you help combat that stereotype? Funny you asked that question as I recently published a cookbook called Delicious, Nutritious, and Simple just about that! I feel times they are a-changin’ and so many people are aware that wholesome, healthy food can also be delicious. In a way, it is silly to call it “healthy” food as it is just the real thing: real food that is not heavily processed with chemicals added.

What are some ingredients that provide the most bang for your buck when it comes to wellness? All the vegetables, all the fruits, avocados, nuts, in the least processed form. Any ingredient, if it is overcooked or overprocessed, loses its nutritional value.

There are also many trickster products on the market. Just walk down the aisle of any supermarket that’s advertising healthy breakfast, healthy snacks, etc. When one reads the ingredients, there are usually a few shockers, like hidden sugars, chemicals, and unhealthful oils.

Are there any foods that we think are healthy that aren’t? Canola oil, which is in many of Whole Foods’ prepared foods and also in many, many of Trader Joe’s products. It is touted as a “health-food oil” because it is a monounsaturated oil, but testing has shown that it causes breast cancer in lab animals. I first read about this in an article on the front page of the L.A. Times several years ago, but it seems the industry has somehow buried that one.

What will you be talking about at the conference? I will be sharing my healing experience and talking about how to create food programs that most powerfully support the body’s ability to clear out the underlying causes of disease and support the body’s extraordinary ability to self-heal.

Melissa Costello
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Melissa Costello, “How to Put ‘Easy & Delicious’ into Plant-Based Meals”

Costello is a “transformational eating coach,” author, and celebrity chef who regularly goes on television to share healthy but delicious plant-based recipes. See

It sounds like you started your career after going through some transformational changes yourself. How do you use your past to relate to your clients? Yes, I struggled for many years since childhood with yo-yo dieting and body-image issues. Because of my journey and getting to the other side of it through my own inner work and having support, I am able to empathize with my clients and support them in a very powerful way. I understand their struggles. I have been there.

Tell me about yo-yo dieting and why that’s not a long-term solution for nutrition. Yo-yo dieting keeps us stuck in a vicious cycle with food because we feel deprived and restricted, which ultimately leads to a pendulum swing to the other side of going off the rails. There is no middle ground. Diets are short-term solutions.

Statistically, over 90 percent of people who go on the diet, gain the weight back, plus some. To me, this is evidence that dieting doesn’t work. Being able to eat to nourish your body, while enjoying food, is the most empowering place to be in. But it’s hard for a lot of people to get there because we have so many emotional attachments to food and beliefs about food that keep us in a cycle.

For example, most people believe you have to really restrict your calories to lose weight, or only eat “healthy” foods, but we are much more complex than that. There are many more factors at play, and that is what I help my clients see: that weight loss is really not about the food; it’s about the mind-set we bring to it.

How can people tell a fad diet from a truly positive dieting strategy? I’m not sure if there is a positive dieting strategy. Any time you have to restrict or deprive yourself, unless it’s for true, deep-seated health reasons, it will always lead to that pendulum swing of overeating. It truly is about finding a way of eating that works for the individual — what feels good, what foods you enjoy, etc. — and then dealing with any underlying issues that are keeping you from relating to food in a “normal” way. I know this thinking is outside of the box, but it’s truly what provided food freedom for me and freedom from yo-yo dieting and hating my body.

What’s your go-to snack or easy dinner right now? Go-to snack is apple and almond butter. I eat very seasonally, so apples are in abundance right now and I like to pair them with a nut butter for more satiety. I love to make a pot of soup for the week as my go-to dinner, paired with a delicious side salad.

What do you expect to talk about in Santa Barbara? I will be sharing all about how to make plant-based eating simple and delicious. Many people have a preconceived notion that eating healthy or plant based is boring and doesn’t taste good. I will be sharing different strategies to cook simple, delicious meals, and I will be talking about overall health and the way of eating that works for each individual.

I don’t believe that everyone needs to be vegan or plant based, but I do know from research and my own journey that a plant-based diet does save lives and can heal many health issues that people are facing.


For more information and tickets ($30-$45) to the Plant Food & Medicine Conference at SBCC on Saturday, October 27, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., see


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