Hi, my name is Rebecca Altman, and you've stumbled upon my little corner of the internet. I make things (herbal bath, body, face and medicinal products); I write things (plant monographs, ramblings about nature and being human); and I do healing work (herbal and energetic). I also spend a lot of my free time in the wilds, [ethically and reverently] gathering the herbs I use to make things.
My goal, as a maker, is to connect people to the earth, and that is the intention running through every single product I make and thing I write: to connect you to the earth, to connect you to the untamed core of who you are, and to help you find the space to express that into the world. A big order, I know, but we all have to have our goals...
The brief story:
what: Herbalist. Mischief maker. Curator of fine plant matter. [re]Connecting people to the earth, one little potion at a time.
where: Los Angeles, CA, via Glasgow, Scotland.
why: I truly believe that each one of us has a *thing* in life. Something that lights our hearts up more than anything else, and that if we find that thing, then our lives take on a sense of purpose that steers us: an internal compass of sorts. My goal in life is to help people find that, through [re]connecting them with the earth, and the slow, rumbling, rhythms of nature. That’s my thing that makes me spring out of bed in the morning. And that’s what’s at the core of each one of these little offerings.
how: I gather the majority of the herbs that I use in the mountains of Southern California. The rest are organically grown or wild-harvested by other herbalists or shamans who I know and trust implicitly. Tied in with my intention to help people reconnect to the earth’s rhythms is the basic understanding that we are a part of the ecosystem, and for that reason, I always wildcraft ethically. This means that some things run out really quickly, or won’t be in stock certain years. Such is life; I hope you can understand that the covenant between us and nature is more important than making people happy. That said, I do try.
Favourite plants: YOU CAN’T ASK A HERBALIST THIS QUESTION. But if I had to choose: pinon, pedicularis, ocotillo, rose, white sage, desert lavender. Don’t tell the others though.
The long version:
Hi, my name is Rebecca Altman. I was born in London in 1981, moved to Glasgow shortly thereafter, and spent my days there happily drawing, reading and wandering in the woods until my whole family decided to move to California at the end of 1997. Scotland to Palm Desert: a big change.
Things happened: high school ended, I moved back to Scotland, college began, college ended abruptly when my sister died and I sunk into a pit of depression so deep and vast I saw no end to it. More things happened: a chance mis-diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a few years of being heavily medicated and gradually feeling as though my mind and body were no longer my own, a true understanding of what ‘insanity’ means and feels like. There are words like ‘disassociation’ and ‘manic’ and ‘depression‘ but at the time they didn’t mean much. Bless my parents, who knew me prior to psychiatry got hold of me, who said with no arguments allowed ‘you’re moving back in with us and we’re sorting this out’.
Six months. That’s how long it takes for the feeling of electric shocks in your brain to stop when you’re withdrawing from medications.
One year. That’s how long it takes for the emotional fluctuations to stop being so erratic.
Two years. That’s how long it took until, one morning I woke up and realised that I truly felt like myself again.
In the middle of this process, I met a herbalist.
To this day I have no idea what it was about me that made him say, out of the blue ‘do you need a job?’ but I am grateful for it every day, because those 5 words changed the course of my life. From him I learned pulse and tongue diagnosis, but more importantly, I learned that the world around me was alive with plants that I could use. I started hiking, gathering things, bringing them home and making teas with them, and researching their uses, and then experimenting on everybody I knew. Plants lit a path for me out of the darkness of a psychiatric hell hole. I had no idea who I was, what I was here for. I was unstable and couldn’t even trust my thought processes at the time, and yet every day I’d walk outside and feel a sense of peace and calm that stayed with me. I couldn’t trust my own brain, but i could trust that feeling, and so I let it guide me.
Around this time I also stumbled upon the Maker tradition-- an old European tradition of shamans, witches and healers who see and move energy in the world, without much fanfare or ceremony. It was a healing tradition with a very strong emphasis on self-healing and becoming who we want to be. I started studying with the Makers, a process that went on for over 8 years (the tradition is now something that I teach). It changed my life, changed me to my core, and it's probably the biggest influence in my work to this day, though, true to form, it's all under the surface, without much fanfare.
A few years later, I enrolled in Chinese medical school, and managed to stick out a few years of a program before realising that I was at my heart a Western herbalist: working with plants from halfway around the world held no attraction for me, nor did using terms that weren’t a part of my cultural lexicon. Which isn’t to say that I don’t like Chinese medicine— I think its fantastic, have been going to the same acupuncturist for years, take Chinese herbs on occasion, and often use a mixture of Chinese and Western perspectives as my diagnostic model, however for me, it just didn’t light me up inside, and if I’ve come to believe anything over the years, its that if you have the choice, choose things that light you up inside.
Around the time I dropped out of TCM school, I met herbalist Kiva Rose, and embarked upon an extended mentorship with her. Over the years I’ve been influenced by and learned from conversations and classes with other herbalists and friends: Jim McDonald, Howie Brounstein, Matthew Wood. But mostly, through it all, was this drive to explore, experiment, pick things and work with them and see what happened.
During this time, I started Kings Road Apothecary. It started out as a place to sell different formulas, but the ideas behind it evolved over time. The more I started to know who I was in the world, the more I started to want to help others find that too. What started as a simple potion shop has become my own personal stand for free will, for knowing who we are at our core, for expressing that into the world against all odds. This corner of the internet is my own expression: a stand against the chaos of the world, with a pen in one hand and a piece of plant matter in the other.