Kay'aleya Hunnybee Bonnette, M.S.
Clinical Herbalist & Integrative Health Educator
Extended Professional Bio -
The Longer Story for folks who like to read!
About 20 years ago, life changed dramatically for Kay’aleya.
As an anthropology major in college, she realized she could write an academically solid research paper on the difference between the cultures of birth in Norway, India and Ghana and how those may impact societal values and norms, but she had no practical, sustaining skills to support the life she personally wanted to live. After graduating from Colorado College with a BA in Anthropology and a minor in Religion, she set out to gain the skills she sought.
For years, she lived as what she called “a practical nomad,” traveling around the country to work-trade in intentional communities, sustainability education centers, yoga retreat centers and ashrams, permaculture-centered eco-villages, and organic farms. During this time, she became certified in permaculture and ecovillage design and as a yoga teacher (200 hour level). She focused her entire life on not only learning skills, but immersing in communities that embodied those practices.
Along the way, she discovered herbal medicine when on a plant walk in Oregon, and her life transformed. That same day, she made her first tincture and crafted an herbal smoking blend for herself. Just a couple months later, she had weaned herself off of tobacco (after about ten years of a smoking habit). That winter, she used her immune support tincture to ward off every sore throat and runny nose she started to feel, and was impressed by how effective these herbs were at staving back what would have previously always turned into a cold or flu.
The following spring, she moved to western North Carolina to apprentice with an elder herbalist. While she didn’t know it at the time, this brief immersion into the life of an herbalist would inspire her for the next 15 years. From tincture pressing, to salve making, to gardening, to transplanting endangered medicinals, to filling orders for the local acupuncturist from the well-stocked apothecary, each and every aspect her time there would inform what she knew was possible on the path to becoming an herbalist.
Soon after, she felt drawn to learning not only about healing plants but about natural therapeutics and bodywork overall. She moved again and completed an 800 hour certification as a Natural Therapeutics Specialist and massage therapist at the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics, and for years she worked as a massage therapist and integrative bodyworker, blending her basic herbal knowledge with Swedish Massage, Shiatsu, Acupressure, Reflexology, Craniosacral and Polarity Therapy to offer clients individualized, intuitive sessions. It was also during this time that she first worked with a pregnant person, and felt the profound softness and sweetness of offering this work during the perinatal period. She went on to get certified in MotherMassage, which was training to work in pregnancy, during labor and postpartum, and included therapeutic breast massage.
As soon as she got the tiniest glimpse of working perinatally, she fell in love with it. This led directly to her certification as a birth and postpartum doula, and the beginning of her studies in homebirth midwifery. She started attending births as a doula, offering massage and bodywork throughout the childbearing years, and supporting families postpartum. She attended multiple midwifery programs until she found an affordable comprehensive school program that promised future accreditation, which she attended for a couple of years until the school unfortunately ultimately dissolved.
Throughout her years dedicated to birth work, she continued to deepen her herbal studies, through seasonal apprenticeships and garden immersions, online courses, conferences and in-person intensives. For years, herbalism was a peripheral hobby that eventually became a central focus of her life, and so she started to dive even deeper into her studies, going beyond community herbalism into clinical-level studies with a variety of teachers.
In the midst of deepening her clinical studies, she recognized that her understanding of effective herbal medicine would be greatly enhanced by learning a system of constitutional energetics, and with her background in yoga, she found Ayurveda intriguing. She took the opportunity to study at a local Ayurveda school and completed a 600 hour certification as an Ayurveda Health Educator. She also completed an Ayurvedic bodywork therapies training where she learned how to offer Abhyanga, Shirodara and Svedana professionally. This immersion into Ayurveda wove beautifully into her beliefs in health as a truly integrative concept, bridging the realms of body, mind and spirit, and has become a backdrop in her practice as an herbalist.
She worked for a couple of years at a popular local herb shop in northern California as an herbalist behind the counter, supporting customers and blending up individual tea formulas specifically for their needs. It was here that she finally claimed herself as an herbalist, and chose intentionally to bring this passion into a profession, which led her to seek out schools offering high levels of herbal education.
The academic that she had been earlier in life was excited by the prospect of going to the only accredited graduate school for herbal medicine that existed in the country, plus she knew that having those letters after her name would actually matter to some people in the wider world beyond the field of herbalism. So she gave three years of her life to obtain her Masters of Science degree in Therapeutic Herbalism (Clinical area of concentration) from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. While she was already fairly familiar with much of the materia medica covered in the program before going, the program taught her how to speak the language of physiology and pathophysiology, analyze integrative health research, and understand the ins and outs of phytochemistry at a deep level. She also received mentorship from some very skilled and experienced herbalists. And she witnessed examples of herbalists taking their careers seriously, not afraid to claim themselves as professionals worthy of making a living income.
During her time in grad school, she stayed aligned with her passion for sexual and reproductive health and focused almost every project or paper on these topics. In herbal pharmacy, she created a line of herbal products for the postpartum period. In herbal therapeutics, she worked on a collaborative project to craft a blend for overall resilience and wellness during the peri-menopausal years. Her in-depth pathophysiology project was on gonorrhea, and she did a therapeutic research presentation on herbal, nutritional and lifestyle approaches to endometriosis. When learning about herbal safety, she was especially interested in herbal safety in pregnancy and during lactation. By placing so much emphasis on relevant topics, she essentially crafted a custom degree to focus on therapeutic herbalism for menstrual, sexual, hormonal and reproductive health.
Additionally, she has been studying Herbal Medicine for Women with Aviva Romm, MD for nearly a decade, and soon will finally complete her certification with her as a Women’s Herbal Educator (i.e. an herbalist who works with women, non-binary and trans folks with wombs throughout their lifecycles).
After grad school, she experienced years of a mysterious chronic health issue centering in her heart, which has deepened her level of compassion for those with chronic, debilitating conditions a thousand-fold. While the experience of multiple emergency room visits and many trips to specialists for testing of all kinds was not fun, she has deep gratitude for now understanding first-hand how dysfunctional the well-meaning conventional healthcare system can be. She also has experienced the challenge of visiting alternative health care providers, including a highly respected acupuncturist, who really could not help.
Now, while she is not fully recovered and may never be, she’s committed to living the fullest life she can within the lingering constraints in her heart and body. Part of living fully is bringing all of her combined study and practice to the world through her weekly podcast, Herbal Womb Wisdom, and her forthcoming online courses. Eventually she also hopes to add one on one clinical sessions into her offerings again, too.