“Folk herbalism is the people’s medicine, tried and true, shaped by the land, driven by the healthcare needs of its inhabitants, and handed down through the generations by mouth and pen. Its vocabulary is that of geography, the plants, the elements, the earth and the sky. At its most glorious, folk herbalism heals the people and the land in one motion, because we really can’t separate the two. What happens to the land is reflected in health of our bodies, minds and spirits and folk herbalism acknowledges this interdependence. Without folk herbalism, we would be lost in a vast sea of corporate, pharmaceutical care. Lost without the herbal traditions that bring balance to this one-sided form of medicine, and lost without the understanding of the inter-connectiveness of the human body.
Folk herbalism is the yin to conventional medicine yang. It’s roots are deep, feminine and, and intuitive. And though it’s form may change over time and within cultures, its roots stay strong, viable and hardy. It will never die.” –Phyllis Light
Folklore and folk traditions have been insistent inspirations and influences since I was a child and can be credited in part with my initial interest in herbal medicine. First and foremost has been my life-long fascination with the herbs themselves, especially weeds and wild plants. These elements along with a deep desire to facilitate healing, empowerment and education have woven together in such a way that has made my path and vocation clear to me since my early twenties.
My mama and her people taught me early on about foraging wild foods and my family always had a garden, from potted tomatoes on the fire escape of an apartment complex in the inner city to large plots overrun with okra, peppers, onions, herbs and favorite flowers when we lived in falling apart farmhouses. Ranging from very rural to incredibly urban, my childhood and youth were spent by turn with farmers and migrant laborers, homesteaders and factory workers, folk musicians and theologians. The resulting exposure to such a diverse variety of lifeways, cultures, languages and stories has given me a great appreciation for the traditions and perspective of many peoples.
I am a traditional herbalist. By traditional, I mean that I work with methods and knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Yes, my work is informed by scientific research and recent medical findings but the core at the center of my practice is not only old, but ancient. For as long as humans have walked forest and desert, jungle and tundra, prairie and plain, we have learned from the plants and worked with them for food and medicine. While those of us with a mongrel European American heritage may not have a single, solid tradition to call our own, our perspective is nonetheless rooted in the places we live with and peoples that have come before us. My knowledge is rooted in my adopted home here in the American Southwest as well as my family’s homelands in the highlands of southern Appalachia, and long before that, of Scotland, Finland, Poland, the Ukraine, Norway, and Sweden. I have learned from people who call themselves Abuelas and those who call themselves Phytotherapists. The input of each and every one has offered me unique and irreplaceable knowledge.
The odd mix of dispossessed and impoverished peoples that form my family history have given me a unique view of healthcare, herbalism, food, human rights and home. As a result, my focus is on accessible, sustainable medicine that can be learned and passed on throughout a community. This often takes the form of food as medicine, cheap, common, and easily harvested plants as well as teaching in easily understood language that’s very much based in common sense.
My family has been based in southern Appalachia for many generations, as well as in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The land, herbal traditions, and plants rooted of the Northern peoples are particularly special to me even though my home is now here in the mountain wilderness of southwest New Mexico. The land where I live is one of the most biodiverse and wild areas in all of North America. The plants here range from desert succulents to monsoon dependent ephemerals to high elevation coniferous forest wildflowers.
With a overriding passion for the preservation and restoration of wild land, native plants and biodiversity, I am actively involved in the healing and growth of our 80 acre botanical sanctuary and wildlife refuge. Through my work in the reintroduction of indigenous plant species, propagation of existing species, and an ongoing biological survey of the land, I continue to fall ever deeper in love with the unique beauty of the Gila bioregion of New Mexico. The riparian canyon I live and work in is surrounded on all sides by the Gila National Forest and is seven river crossings from the nearest road. Our rustic homestead is built beside thousand year old Mogollon ruins, and the ancient song of this special place is clear to all who listen.
In addition to my teaching work and clinical practice, I co-organize/direct the Traditions in the Western Herbalism Conference, an international event held each September in the mountain Southwest. The HerbFolk Gathering is focused on providing a celebratory venue for bringing together the many and varied herbal traditions of the world while providing experience-based knowledge to students and practitioners. I also co-edit/publish Plant Healer: A Journal of Traditional Herbalism, an online quarterly magazine that includes columns, articles and artwork by some of the English-speaking world’s most compelling and knowledgeable practitioners and artists.