I wanted to share a new interview Jesse Wolf Hardin just did with Robin Rose Bennett, a wonderful Wise Woman herbalist who will be coming to the Sanctuary this August to teach an exciting herbal workshop!
Introduction: Robin has been a practicing herbalist for over 20 years, focusing on the spiritual and ecological lessons of the plants as well as the treatment of illness. What she is best known for is her rather extensive study of the wild carrot, particularly as an ancient and still viable means of natural birth control.
JWH) When is earliest mention of wild carrot (Daucus carota) being utilized for natural contraception, and what is the history of your own relationship to this special plant?
RRB) The earliest written accounts are about 2000 years old from ancient Greek medical writers such as Dioscorides, Scribonius Largus, Hippocrates, and Pliny the Elder. I imagine that women’s oral tradition regarding this usage is likely to be older still.
I first heard about it when I was in college in 1978. A young man showed me a bowl of bristly seeds and told me his girlfriend would chew one teaspoon of them within 24 hours after sexual intercourse and that it was effective for birth control. I was stunned! I began using Wild carrot seeds in 1985 after I’d completed an apprenticeship at the Wise Woman Center with Susun Weed. Susun’s first book included a paragraph about wild carrot for implantation prevention. Being a heterosexually active young woman in my 20s I wasn’t likely to forget having heard about a natural method with no side effects! By this time I was developing my trust in the plants and began to use it as my sole means of birth control. I began teaching about it over the next few years.
JWH) I understand that you can’t prescribe this, but only cite cases for women to consider in making their health and fertility choices. But the reports are amazing. Briefly describe the double-blind survey you took, and the results.
RRB) When I lived in NY City I did a grassroots study with 13 local women, 10 of whom had established their fertility through previous pregnancies. The women were given monthly calendar charts to note their cycles of ovulation and menstruation and when they had sexual intercourse and when they took their wild carrot seeds. This small study ended up with a 98% success rate over 13 months. I do want to clarify that this was not a double blind study. None of the women was given a placebo in place of wild carrot. Honestly I don’t think I would have had too many volunteers under those conditions! Since then I’ve learned about even more effective dosage protocols. Wild Carrot is a great gift, a Goddess-send for women and their partners. That said, the life force is a powerful thing and no form of contraception is guaranteed.
JWH) It would take quite a leap of faith, to depend on this method, don’t you think?
RRB) I agree! And yet, we take leaps of faith all the time, don’t we? Every time a woman trusts that the condom won’t break or give her a yeast infection, or that an IUD won’t cause heavy menstrual bleeding, a pelvic infection, or perforate her uterine wall, or that her birth control pills won’t give her breast cancer later on, or even that she won’t get pregnant using these devices or drugs, none of which have a 100% success rate at preventing pregnancy. I personally know of pregnancies that have occurred in women who’ve had their tubes tied! I envision a time when our daughters receive the plant wisdom of wild carrot from their mothers with easy trust (like a young woman today trusts her IUD or her birth control pill) because it is what her mother used, and what her grandmother used. The more generations that go by, the more natural it will seem to accept and trust a plant to help you choose how you want to direct your fertility and use your creative energies.
JWH) This would seem to be another way to empower women, by giving them conscious control over their fertility, without the side effects of birth control pills or the loss of sensuality in condom use. You believe in individuals taking personal responsibility for not just their fertility, but their well being.
RRB) I do. You can’t control fertility, though you can engage it and to a certain extent, direct it. This is true of healing, too. It’s about engaging the life force itself and that offers us a different way to look at health. Culturally we’re taught to conceive of healing and illness as if it were a military operation that we have to win, as if our bodies were against us from the beginning and we have to be armed and ever vigilant to prevent “them” from failing “us”. Even natural healers are prey to this conditioning. Growing beyond this perspective into a more compassionate and loving approach to taking responsibility for your well-being takes time and experience to see what works and what doesn’t, what actually supports healing. Cultivate a deeper relationship with your body, learn to listen to it and you will find that your body is wise, truthful, and its messages/symptoms are always rooted in love for you.
JWH) What is the role of medicinal plants, among our healing choices?
RRB) The medicinal plants offer us physical and spiritual nourishment. My teacher Keewaydinoquay said, “Of all the creatures of Earth the plants have remained truest to their original purpose, which is to give of themselves generously to all beings.” The plants are our elders and our healers. These healers know who they are, and what their purpose is. On a spiritual level what you are making part of yourself when you take a medicine plant into your body is that knowing, that wholeness. The plants and trees, and the weeds of the seas invite us back home to the Earth, to the living heart of Gaia. This then brings us home to the heart of ourselves, and that allows us to truly heal. Physiologically, the medicine plants match us on a cellular level and are able to be assimilated into the structure of our bodies more completely than nutrients that we ingest in any other form. They offer us primary nourishment for systemic healing, and tonic properties to restore or optimize the functioning of our body systems. The plants not only help us heal our physical ailments, they also help us to become more fully human. They subtly but surely help us reclaim our true nature of generosity, compassion, kindness, and joy.
JWH) Very well said. In the practice of Anima, we teach that healing is the restoration of wholeness, that we are inextricably connected to our environment, and that we need to treat (work towards the wholeness of) the natural world as essential extensions of our selves. I’d like to hear you describe the relationship between ecology and natural healing.
RRB) What is good for us is good for the Earth and what is good for the Earth is good for us. The clearest connections between natural healing and ecology happen when people learn to recognize, grow, and gather their own medicines because then the relationship between natural healing and ecology is experiential rather than conceptual. Indigenous and Wise Woman ways teach us that plants gathered with gratitude and respect share their best medicine, while those that are not asked for and gathered properly leave their best medicine in the Earth. We can’t just take the plants, make them “things” for our consumption without concern for their well-being, their abundance, their continuing healthy presence on the planet. The plants have to have healthy soil and water in order to grow and be of benefit to us, just as we need these things in order to grow and be of benefit to each other.
JWH) What is the role of the Wise-Woman – the Medicine Woman – in today’s society?
RRB) The Wise woman teaches from her own well of experience, walks her talk as truthfully as she can, and holds a vision of the sacred web of life. She freely commits to using her gifts in service of Gaia and all her relations. When you come for help with a physical and/or spiritual challenge, Nature, and especially the plants, are her allies in helping you heal yourself. The Wise Woman’s role is to help one who comes to her in a time of transition, not only to heal illness, but also to guide you to awaken your true nature, your full aliveness, to step into your wisdom, to own and develop your gifts and responsibilities as a human being. She helps you to awaken your physical senses and rekindle your direct relationship with all that is divine by guiding you to joyfully connect with Earth, especially the plants, flowers and trees. She is a mirror of the magic in the everyday and the power of self-love. What the Wise Woman offers her people today isn’t necessarily different than it once was, but extending the teachings out to as many people as possible has an urgency about it now.
JWH) Indeed, human societies have never been more in need of empowered women, rooted to the natural world and their own directed natures. How do you yourself stay intimately connected nature, and informed by the earth-spirit? Gardening? Time in a forest or wilderness?
RRB) Yes. I live in NJ and behind my home is a state forest I have access to, and I transformed my front lawn into my herb gardens. But, remember, I spent my first 10 years as an herbalist in NYC so I developed a certain determined mind-set to listen to and observe Nature. She’s there, even among the buildings and asphalt. I observe the plants and birds wherever I go. The weeds will wave to you from the side of the road if you pay attention to them.
JWH) Besides writing books and instructing apprentices, you also travel and teach, including at the Anima Center in New Mexico in mid-August. What kinds of experiences do they have?
RRB) Participants enjoy getting to “stop the world,” to encourage personal transformation and/or replenishment. A warm, supportive community usually forms quickly. We enjoy sharing weed walks, plant stories and medicinal information, harvesting, making medicines, planting, Goddess songs and dances, moving meditations, working with the elements, meditating with the moon, and creating joyous rituals for healing. There is often much laughter (and some tears) and we savor delicious, lovingly prepared foods. Guided meditations take you into sacred spaces, inside yourself, a plant, a stone, or even deep within Gaia herself. Sometimes we craft Spirit art. Always, we commune with the medicine plants and trees, the birds, insects, and animals, the water, air, and sun, helping us to awaken to the magic of every moment so that when the retreat is over we can take that magic back out of the circle into our lives, into the world. I’m excited and honored to be coming to work at Anima and am so looking forward to visiting your sacred land and working with Loba and Kiva Rose and the women.
JWH) All the world is inspirited and communicative, with every species having a unique story and lesson to share. What do you think the plants, and medicinal herbs especially, are trying to communicate to us?
RRB) The plants don’t speak as one voice, but essentially they “say” that they are here to help and guide us in healing ourselves. They teach that everything we need is already here. They enjoy being noticed, even admired, as well as being loved and appreciated and approached with gratitude. The plants are offering us a mirror of our own nature as human beings living in a web of relationship with everything around them/us. They guide us to be who we came here to be, both uniquely and as a species, and to share our gifts of beauty freely, for the benefit of all, as they do.
JWH) And if you knew that only one message would be heard by the majority of humanity, what would you personally hope to advise them?
RRB) We are being invited, cajoled, threatened, and encouraged to live from a new paradigm of love not fear, connection not separation, generosity rather than greed. It is obviously scary, but it is also exciting. There is a heartbreaking amount of deathing going on in our time and it will continue. However, just beneath the surface there is a great rebirthing happening from within people and it will become more and more visible over time. We are each more than we seem to be. The time we live in is full of promise and many people are feeling the call to fall back in love with life on Earth. If not now, when? Now is the time. Choose to renew and pursue your sense of connection with the immanent Spirit that is within everything on Earth for Earth holds the key to opening your heart to joy, and joy awakens your spiritual wisdom. You have to turn the key in order to evolve. You matter. There is only “us” and we are all inextricably intertwined.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is a founder of the earth-inspired practice of Anima, caretaking a restored river canyon where he coshosts folks for wilderness retreats, quests, and events like the Women’s Wisdom Plant Retreat with Robin Rose Bennett, Aug. 25-28: Anima Wilderness Learning Center, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830, www.animacenter.org. For more information on Robin’s courses, books and events, please go to: www.robinrosebennett.com, or call (973) 728-5878.