Roots - A Chat with Keren Dolan by Holly Hutton

Keren Dolan, the recently appointed chair of the American Herbal Guild Board of Directors, graciously agreed to chat with me about her family's strong ties to Northern Virginia and South Carolina. Keren, with help from stories of her mom's, started to put the puzzle pieces of her family's history together. Throughout most of her life, Keren has been immersed in academia and science, specializing in functional nutrition, western clinical herbalism and holistic aromatherapy. Keren's quest and joyful recognition that she comes from a long line of ancestors who practiced traditional healing and herbal medicine felt like coming full circle.

Grounded in the earth of South Carolina and Northern Virginia, Keren's maternal grandmother, Bessie was a dietitian, focusing on vitalism. Keren cherishes her grandmother's book “Vitalism” which she used as a reference. At its heart, vitalism is about living in accordance with nature, which one can trace as the backbone of Keren's family history. Those roots go back through the generations; she found out her 3rd great-grandparents, Marshall and Elmira Craig, in the 1800s, were freeman doctors practicing herbalism in Warrenton, Virginia. Marshall's and his mom were freed by their master, although, at the time, it was illegal for black folks to live in Virginia, without special permission. Tracing her family line back even further, Elmira Nickens Craig’s family line can be traced back to the 1600s in Northern Virginia. How did they learn to heal with herbs they cultivate from the land around them? Folk medicine in African American families are dynamic blends of multicultural traditions. But sadly many of those stories have been lost to our American culture ‘s tendency to globalize and homogenize the Black experience. Stories are emerging from the African diaspora as more and more people reclaim their family's herbal traditions.

Keren conveyed how the loss of identity for many African Americans due to slavery also includes the loss of understanding of their healing traditions. Often living parallel lives outside the primary medical system, people relied on local healers and oral traditions to pass down plant knowledge. The blending of African, European, and Native American plant traditions created unique systems that we are only beginning to explore. Keren's takeaway is how vital it is to capture these family narratives alongside the myriad stories of American herbal traditions. As we move forward, and she is excited about the future of the American Herbalists Guild.