Carolyn of Botanarchy
When it comes to holistic healthcare, LA-based Botanarchy Herbs & Acupuncture has a forward-thinking philosophy that we can get behind. The practice, founded by acupuncturist, herbalist and nutritionist Carolyn Barron, uses botanical medicine to enhance the body’s innate capability to heal itself, empowering the individual with the tools to recover authority over their own processes and regain autonomy over their own body. We recently caught up with Carolyn to learn more about her mission, and how she launched her dream job through Botanarchy.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 5 YEARS AGO, BEFORE BOTANARCHY?
CB: I was working under my mentor and finishing up my master’s degree, torturing myself with thoughts of failure, thoroughly convinced I would tank at running my own practice because I study plants + bodies, not business + economics. I was forming cabals with radical thinkers and growing herbs for medicine. I was writing pieces on biomimicry (how we can look to plants, fungi, and the natural world and emulate their structures for liberation and health). And guess what?! Their models of collectivism, adaptability, resilience, and regeneration work for running a business as well (phew! I didn’t have to go to business school after all).
I’ve been in the Chinese medical field since I was 25 (I’m almost 40 – praise!) and in some ways, it’s the only work I’ve ever done. Even when I was working in music PR and writing, friends and clients would come to me for advice on their ulcers and bacterial vaginitis. I look at brief forays in past professions, and there is an indelible, gossamer imprint of Botanarchy running through all of them, like the tiny veins you seen in plants, shuttling nourishment from the dirt to the flower. I think my time spent in the punk and Riot Grrrl worlds informed the ethos of my practice, cementing my commitment to ending the corporate co-option of the body, empowering others to think for themselves, and supporting the democratization of medicine. The time I spent studying writing and philosophy helps me weave metaphor into medicine, which brings medicine alive and allows it to profoundly touch my patient’s lives in a sacred, enduring way. Botanarchy serves as a perpetual reminder that everything I am doing now holds the imprint of my future potentiality, and even when it feels nebulous and abstract; it is supporting my becoming in ways big and small.
IS BOTANARCHY YOUR DREAM JOB/VENTURE?
CB: It is BEYOND. Truly, there is no other vessel for my magic! I would be utterly horrible at any other vocation.
NAME 3 OF THE SCARIEST MOMENTS YOU HAD WHEN BRINGING BOTANARCHY INTO FRUITION.
CB: Shortly after opening, I had a breakup with the romantic partner I was in business with, then found out overnight that Botanarchy was about to be fully and wholly mine. I struggled to conceive of myself as fit to inherit this multidimensional enterprise, and tend to it as a solitary being with a limited amount of skills and resources. I had to rewrite all my narratives about who I was and what I was capable of, and hush all the naysaying voices that made me feel paltry and small.
When my mom passed away earlier this year, I was certain I would fall apart and disappear into a bottomless abyss of sorrow. Unexpectedly, a tiny alchemical miracle happened for me during the grieving process: in the throes of pain, a new level of presence and sensitivity percolated through my work, and the simple act of being of service to others – bearing witness to their triumphs, defeats, and beautiful messiness – helped me transcend the trauma of her transition and acknowledge its perfect, fleshy humanness. Things fall apart, but they re-constellate into something new, more nuanced, amplifying complexity, expanding in purpose.
Because I hold space for a lot of patients in the throes of very complex conditions – high risk pregnancies, cancer, autoimmune flare-ups – and I have patients I have been seeing weekly for years, I didn’t take a vacation (not even a long weekend, really) until I had been open for two and a half years. I was terrified that everything/one would fall apart if I didn’t stir the cauldron all day and night. What if something happened? What if someone needed support? Disentangling from my practice for a few weeks to go on a right and proper vacation was like leaving a child at preschool for the first time. Thankfully, no one threw sand in its face, it didn’t choke on a lego, and I wasn’t hauled away for being a negligent mom. Distance supports autonomy, space gives room for new ways of being to emerge.
WHY AND HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO TAKE THE LEAP AND START BOTANARCHY?
CB: At the core of Chinese medicine is the concept that healing happens when we remove all obstacles blocking the flow of our unique tao, which can be described as our divine imprint of perfection and purpose, our natural rhythm, cadence, and path. What I’ve noticed through the years of guiding patients in discovering their own tao and supporting them in living it, is that the more we return to the depths of self, the more we can’t just simply ‘co-exist’ with the BS and cultural conditioning that feeds on our lack of self-awareness and insecurities, telling us that we aren’t already ‘enough,’ and that we have to edit all parts of ourselves out of the picture that don’t mesh with the current normative narratives of who and what to be. With that in mind, I wanted to see what it would be like if I put something into the world that was wholly my vision, completely unobstructed. What if I could create a space that eschewed all the trappings of ‘wellness’ that didn’t feel in alignment for me: a compulsively curated instagram, working in a corrupt insurance model that is not humanistic, valueing numbers & money over compassionate care, and not having accessibility for people of limited resources that need access to holistic care (a quarter of my practice is reserved for low income, sliding scale patients and pro bono work). I hungered to practice in a way that was more intuitive, less bound by the banalities of traditional medicine, and engage in a more imaginative way. I wanted to make space for sacredness to permeate my work and touch my patients lives on a deeper, more profound level, one that feels… slower, elongated, more intentional. Like sap rising and flowing.
So, I did it! I named my acupuncture practice Botanarchy, which to me hearkens to the idea that medicine can be both a form of resistance and a reclamation of original, authentic nature. The business was built on humanism, integrity, and respect for the flow of the natural world, and I truly believe that if you apply these principals to anything, it will blossom and grow and spread its tendrils of magic in all directions.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FORM OF SELF-CARE?
CB: I don’t particularly like products or stuff – I try to shun them as much as possible. Qi, on the other hand, is abundant and free, and accessible to all! Qi is the motive force of the cosmos – it’s pulsing within and without at all times, all we need to do is tune into the broadcast. Practices like qigong, tai chi, and acupuncture access this raw power that is our birth rite, and enable us to tap into the universal healer under any and all circumstances. Qi cultivation is the foundation of my health, and I’m in intentional contact with qi for most of my day. I love me some qigong in traffic on the 10 freeway!
Also, herbs, herbs, HERBS. Herbs are menders of psyche and soma, and they keep us in alignment with our wildness and allow the wisdom of nature to percolate through us. The right herbs given at the right moment are like a celestial blueprint for the articulation of the tao, they bridge the gap between heaven and human, finessing the qi flow like the supreme wizards they are.
I am not a fan of any self-care that becomes too rigid or dogmatic, which means sometimes self-care is abandoning all the practices for an indeterminate period of time, burning it all down. Waking up at 6am to go to yoga, but then deciding you’d rather drink too much coffee, read a novel in your underwear, then smoke a cigar out your window instead.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WAY TO TREAT YOURSELF?
CB: Like most women that run their own businesses, I work entirely too hard and struggle with the idea of treating myself, and have had to learn to soften into the care of others. When I need to surrender, I ensconce myself in the love and magic of the fierce cabal and medicine folk that I am proud to call my sisters and friends… magic needles + inspired adventure with my witchsis Emma Destrube at Fiver Rivers Holistic, divine guidance with intuitive goddess Julie Evonne Washington, integrative hypnosis and NLP with Morgan Yakus, energy and breathwork with Millana Snow, shamanic healing with sangoma Gogo Ekhaya Esima. Women taking care of women and standing for each other’s health and wellbeing; it’s basically the utopian dreams of my childhood made manifest. If that doesn’t do the trick, I escape to some primitive hot springs and soak naked under the stars in the sulfury brew with my beau.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU WANT TO SEND ABOUT HOLISTIC HEALING/CARE?
CB: With the instagramification of medicine, I think a lot of people believe that holistic healing is all about drinking kale smoothies in a bikini. I don’t think I’ve ever had a kale smoothie in a bikini in my life, maybe once tops, but I probably immediately excused myself and ran to the bathroom because my body can’t tolerate raw foods. I’m all for the democratization of medicine, the dissemination of free knowledge on all platforms, peers teaching peers, eliminating hierarchy and authority. However, the dominant things I see in the media about holistic health give a false glow of carefree arrogance. I think it scares people away from approaching this modality in the first place, because they think they have to be automatically perfect with a fridge full of exotic unguents to even qualify for the experience. This is a lie.
Holistic healthcare is shadow work, and the truth is we never get ‘healed’. We just learn to embrace the cycles of life on this planet – birth, growth, harvest, death, and renewal – with more grace and gusto. Each of these organic processes is a fundamental component of the universe and our bodies alike, and each phase carries its own wisdom and medicine. People often come to me in one of the more shadowy, ‘difficult’ phases, and want out as quickly as possible. I get it, it’s dark in there! They want to go back to what life was like before they had ‘the thing’. But we can’t go back, we can only go forward, transmute, and evolve. Take the swampy dark stuff and refine it into something new, the alchemy of turning lead into gold.
WHAT IS YOUR PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO STOP WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND CREATE THEIR “DREAM JOB”?
CB: Less fear, more bravery! Be fiercely, unabashedly in love with your own vision. Do not edit. Get off social media – don’t let the influence of others poison your well. You are already perfect and already there. Reject authority, trust your own senses, taste and sense and feel for yourself. Let your vision be guided by tao.