Trained Herbalist & Former Registered Nurse
Donna trained as an Herbalist for 3 years and established Spiral Herbal Remedies in 2017. Prior to this, Donna worked as a Registered Nurse at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for 13 years, Harvard's Teaching Hospital in Boston.
As 21st-century humans, our bias is toward evidence-based healing. The best part? It's there.
Our ancestors knew what they were doing. Tens of thousands of years of hypothesis, trial, evaluation, and repetition should be enough evidence but alas, it helps us 21st century beings to see how the NIH weighs in. Keep scrolling to learn more...
More about Donna...
What led Donna to become an Herbalist?
After working as a Registered Nurse for 13 years and then raising two children, Donna recieved her MFA in Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts in NYC in 2014.
At an Artist's residency, she was unable to make her sculptures because she had broken her wrist. The residency was surrounded by herbs so she decided to indulge her curiosity and spent her residency learning about herbs. As a former Registered Nurse, she realized she had a responsibility to be educated beyond Google so she began her studies. About a month into her studies, Donna attended another Artist Residency in Ireland. Prior to leaving for the residency, she looked up Irish Herbalism. Much to her shock, she discovered that her father's family - Troy - ran an Herbal Medical School in Munster Province from 1400-1700. It is thought that the Troys practiced medicine at least as far back as 1100. While in Ireland, she met with Irish Herbalism Scholar, Rosari Kingston PhD, professor at The University College Cork and author of the paper about her father's family. Rosari asked Donna about her mother's maiden name. That's when Donna discovered that both sides of her family had been part of a legacy of Hereditary Herbalism Families in Ireland. Lee is a derivative of the Irish word for Medicine - Leighis, and Liaig, which is the word for Physician/Doctor. That means her mother's family were Herbalists as well.
Irish Herbalism was outlawed in 1695 under strict Penal Laws imposed by the British who occupied Ireland and treated the Native Irish as subhuman for 800 years. The Irish were not allowed to have a profession, practice medicine, be educated, own land or livestock, speak Irish, and much more. These laws ended the legacy of Herbalism on both sides of her family and no one in her present-day family knew anything about this long history. Donna's mother was an intuitive healer while she was growing up and she believes that was the genesis of her healing endeavors. Epigenetics shaped Donna, leading her first to Nursing and then to Herbalism.
In Continental Europe, Herbalism ended in the Middle Ages, when autonomous women, operating outside of the Patriarchy were labeled "witches" and methodically killed. It is thought that up to a million (some texts say 9 million) women were burned at the stake, drowned, or hung. A large percentage of these women were Herbalists. Herbalists were a threat to the church because these practitioners worshipped the landscape and were able to heal without the aid of priests. They were also organizing protests against wealthy landowners who were claiming common land for their livestock. To control these women, the landlords and church created a law, Malleus Maleficarum. This law allowed intimidated men and discontented neighbors to label the women "witches", and the killing ensued.
Donna inhabits this tradition at a crucial time in our history when Big Pharma's focus has shifted toward profit. She still believes in science and that there is a place for pharmaceuticals but she also believes that Herbs can offer an Organic, plant-based, effective alternative.
Becoming an herbalist is also a radical feminist act. She reclaims a revered role in the community.
Donna honors and is grateful to the cultures that held onto these healing traditions and especially to her Afro-Guyanese teacher Karen Rose, of Sacred Vibes Apothecary, for sharing her broad depth of knowledge.
Donna is dedicated to ongoing study, including how nutrition, our environment, industrialized farming, and our microbiome play a role in health. Contact her here for a 1-hour consultation or stop by the shop for a free 15-minute consult.
Donna now teaches Herbalism from this broad perspective. Find more information here.
Located at 810 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, the shop is open daily from 12-7pm and is closed Tuesdays so Donna can make all the products for the shop.
Donna feels immense gratitude for the profound experience of carrying, caring for, and sustaining the lives of her two children during her time as an at-home mother. They will always be the most significant thing she has ever created. Her life honors them, their spouses, and her grandchildren.
Herbalism is Social Practice for Donna. Her role as Healer fills her with joy, allowing her insightful and fulfilling interactions while guiding people toward health. She also makes sculptures that embody her diverse past, merging care-based activities, organic forms, and the body.
To see more of her art, visit donnacleary.net