Marlene Adelmann, founder and director of the Bedford, Massachusetts-based Herbal Academy, died on February 16, 2022, at age 67 after an 18-month battle with a rare cancer. Marlene established the Herbal Academy in 2011 to share her love of herbalism with the greater Boston community and beyond.
Born January 14, 1955, in Richfield, Minnesota, Marlene’s passion for herbalism started with her studies in culinary arts after working in hotel management and raising her family. In 1989, she opened a catering company that focused on farm-to-table cuisine using locally sourced, organic, and wild-harvested ingredients.
Marlene truly lived the vision she sought, and through her catering business became a master of meticulous, delicious, and beautiful food. This background laid the foundation for how she approached the Herbal Academy. As her daughter Crystalle remembered: “Mom would stay up for days prepping hundreds of stuffed mushrooms and mini tartlets, then arrive on the event day looking totally unfussed and gorgeous to arrange flowers and breadbasket cornucopias while my sister and I passed canapés and filled glasses” (oral communication with K. Hughes, February 21, 2022).
Through her passion for food and healthy living, she began learning about herbs and how to use them for food and wellness. Marlene spent several years studying herbalism and learning through in-person classes and ongoing correspondence courses, including with herbalist and author Rosemary Gladstar and at The Boston School of Herbal Studies, and teaching others. She created an in-person herbalism course for a dozen students in 2011, and then received requests to offer the class more widely. She and her team, which included her husband David Mitcheson, MD, were inspired to move the course to an online format, and it received significant interest. Marlene continued to develop herbal learning resources and spearheaded the development of a catalog of courses and online offerings, growing Herbal Academy into a leading herbalism school.
“From those early times doing in-person herbal instruction, Marlene developed a clear vision of bringing herbalism to a wide audience in an accessible online format,” said Kerry Hughes, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist who joined Marlene in the school’s first year.
Marlene published textbooks for two of the academy’s foundational herbal courses (Introductory Herbal Course and Intermediate Herbal Course, volumes 1 and 2) as well as Botanical Skin Care Recipe Book (Herbal Academy, 2019). She also contributed articles to various herbal publications over the years, including Mother Earth News, The Essential Herbal, and Plant Healer, among others.
Marlene was an entrepreneur at heart and had a knack for ideas and inspiration. She was the driving force behind Herbal Academy and The Herbarium (a membership-based website with resources for continuing herbalism education), and she continuously dreamed up new offerings. She was especially adamant about and committed to creating accessible, affordable, and beautiful courses and other resources that could be enjoyed widely, and she was not afraid of the hard work it took to bring that mission to fruition. Marlene once said: “It takes a lot of work, true grit, and determination to follow your dreams, and quite a bit more grit and determination to keep it all going” (oral communication with A. Meyers, January 25, 2019).
After her cancer diagnosis and several months of navigating cancer treatment, Marlene asked her Herbal Academy team to create a resource for those seeking a holistic approach to cancer. This led to the development of the free 13-part “Held in Hope” series that provides trustworthy cancer resources from reliable and experienced herbal experts and medical professionals, uplifting stories, and a spirit of community for those facing a cancer diagnosis, as well as a sliding-scale holistic cancer care course with contributions from many leading herbal and holistic cancer support practitioners.
Herbal Academy will continue to fulfill Marlene’s mission and honor her legacy under the leadership of Marlene’s trusted team.
In addition to herbalism and culinary arts, Marlene was passionate about her family. She was the matriarch of a big and loving family, including her devoted husband, David; her three children, Crystalle, Emily, and Grant; stepchildren, Rebecca and Luke; and 10 grandchildren, who were her greatest joy.
After her cancer diagnosis, Marlene said: “It’s completely freeing to know that you do not need to have one special calling in life. One of my callings has been to deliver the most accessible herbal education to the world. I feel called to be a loving mother and Oma to my grandbabies. I’m now feeling an immense calling to bring hope and light to those sharing this cancer journey with me. Allow yourself to move in the direction your heart leads you, free yourself from the box, and do good in many ways. There’s no one calling” (oral communication with A. Meyers, March 5, 2021).
Jane Metzger, MS, is the director of education at Herbal Academy, a folk herbalist, and lifelong plant lover.
Amber Meyers is the director of operations at Herbal Academy.
Kerry Hughes, MS, is the principal of EthnoPharm and an ethnobotanist, herbalist, and author with more than 20 years of experience in natural product development.