Kiva Hardin

Feb 132017

––New & Revised––


Posters & Online Graphics

to pretty please download and share!

Good Medicine Enchantment Poster Full-Color 8.5×11 Flyer to Print

Click on: Enchantment Confluence Poster (300dpi)


Kindly Help Spread The Word …thereby spreading this vital herbal resurgence!

• Print and post the 300dpi poster/flyers

• Post a 72dpi web graphic on your website or blog

• Use these graphics to announce these events to your mailing lists, on Facebook and Twitter


Good Medicine Poster 1 Full-Color 8.5×11 Flyer to Print

Click on: High-Res Confluence Poster 1 (300dpi)

Low-Res Color Flyer for Online

Click on: Low-Res Confluence Poster 1 (72dpi)


Good Medicine Poster 3 Full-Color 8.5×11 Flyer to Print

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Good Medicine Poster 4 Full-Color 8.5×11 Flyer to Print

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Good Medicine Announcement Small Low-Res Graphic for Online Use

Please place this Announcement jpg on the front page of you website and blog

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Good Medicine Announcement Low-Res Announcement, Larger & Horizontal, for Online Use:

Please share this Announcement jpg on your site, blog, FaceBook,Twitter and so forth…

Click on: Low-Res Confluence Announcement horiz (72dpi)


If you have a lot of places you would like to post flyers, email us your address with how many copies you can make use of and we will send them right out:


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Feb 132017

Southwest Vervain, Glandularia bipinnatifida

Note: For more on Vervain, please see my previous article

“With this the table of Jupiter is swept, and homes are cleansed and purified. There are two kinds of it; one has many leaves and is thought to be female, the other the male, has fewer leaves. Some authorities do not distinguish these two kinds . . . since both have the same properties. Both kinds are used by the people of Gaul in fortune-telling and in uttering prophecies, but the Magi especially make the maddest statements about the plant: that people who have been rubbed with it obtain their wishes, banish fevers, win friends, and cure all diseases without exception. . . . They say too that if a dining-couch is sprinkled with water in which this plant has been soaked the entertainment becomes merrier.
-Pliny, Historia Naturalis, Book XXV, 105???107 (With thanks to Stephany Hoffelt for her insights and help)

Many of the herbs we commonly associate with the heart, and with love in particular, are aromatic, and sometimes downright tasty. Rose, Hawthorn, Damiana, and Cacao are almost a liturgical chant from the herbalists this time of year. As well they should be, they’re beautiful plants that have profound effects on the way we experience love, lust, and our own embodiment.

But here I offer something different. A remedy for the arrow through your heart that doesn’t bring you love, but rather keeps you from it.

In Chinese medicine, the bitter taste is associated with the heart, and indeed, many of our most profound medicines for the heart leave a distinctly bitter taste in the mouth. There are many exampled in Chinese herbalism, but for those untrained in those traditions, think especially of Motherwort, long considered an important heart tonic in Western Herbalism. As Guido Masé puts it:

Based on new evidence, it seems clear that bitters are more generally cardio-protective, regulating the strength and intensity of the heartbeat and helping to strengthen a failing heart. This is of course something most good herbalists already understand, since it is a well-known tenet of traditional Chinese medicine: the bitter flavor is considered an important part of regulating and strengthening the heart, or fire, phase. But it is always interesting to note when modern research uncovers some of the mechanisms behind this age-old wisdom.”

While we have often been taught to avoid this challenging sensation, bitterness can be a gift, a moment of transformation that releases tension and allows energy to flow. Vervain is both bitter and acrid, and excels at triggering movement in the body, particularly in cases of stuck qi or blood resulting in tension and pain.

Southwest Vervain, Glandularia bipinnatifida

Tension –bone deep tension– is often a physical and emotional barrier to emotional love as well as to overall well-being. The kind of tension where you can’t draw a deep breath, where you find your shoulders pulled forward over your heart in a protective hunching, where you can’t stand the thought of a hug because one further ounce of overstimulation will snap your spine. Tension like a spike through your neck that emerges out your solar plexus, that results in chronic headaches, an inability to speak in anything besides a machine gun pentameter, and a suffocating paralysis where lack of breath makes it impossible to follow through on anything.

This is also the kind of tension that tends to manifest as emotional razor wire, leaving us isolated even as we wonder why we hurt everyone who attempts to touch us. What use is love when we ward against it with every motion and word? Both conscious and unconscious trauma is held tight in the body, coiling down into longstanding patterns that result in chronic tension.

There are two signature herbs I think of for relaxing tension that particularly impacts the heart. Lobelia, the cardinal relaxant herb for tension anywhere in the body is a phenomenal accompaniment to the second herb, which is the blessed Verbena of druidic fame. This plant has been considered a primary protective talisman throughout Western Europe, used in combination with other plants such as Yarrow and Eyebright by the Fairy Doctors and Wise Women to treat symptoms of poc sídhe, the fairy stroke, which results in a sudden and mysterious decline in one’s mental or physical health. More broadly, the herb has been worn or ingested as protection any kind of evil, ill will, or mischief.

Vervain, thanks in part to the teachings of Matthew Wood, is now considered specific to neck tension in Traditional Western Herbalism, which it does indeed have a powerful effect on. However, Vervain’s relaxant action also has an affinity for the liver and the heart. Where there is inexplicable irritation with fits of irrational anger and other signs of stuck liver qi, even small doses of the tincture can remedy the blockage. And when this irritation progresses to disturbed sleep, nightmares, and an inability to communicate any feeling besides frustration, Vervain can also soothe the upset heart spirit, releasing tension and allowing the heart to serve as an open channel and sensory organ once again.

Hillside Verbena, Verbena macdougalii

Adding an aromatic herb such as Tulsi or Rose can further assist in the movement of stagnant emotional tension, where the events that triggered the tension are long since over, but the body is still holding on to the visceral memory of it. This is not a way of forcibly exorcising demons, but rather an invitation to the pericardium, the protective membrane of the heart, to loosen its protective grip and allow sensation to flow in and out on the tides of emotion once again.

If what is needed is not further movement, but a deep grounding into the body and into place, then I would recommend something like Burdock root, oily and sweet and nourishing, so that Vervain opens the channels and allows the tension to run back into the earth. For those that feel absent or unable to be fully present in their bodies, this can also contribute to the enjoyment of pleasure and the acceptance of affection and love.

In addition to treating outright tension, I find Verbena to be very useful in addressing the exhaustion and depression that can come after a long period of tension drains a person of their energy and vitality. While I would not use large amount of Vervain in cases where there is clear deficiency, I do feel that it can be restoratively relaxing when used in small amounts with more nourishing and warming herbs and foods.

The world is more than mad just now, and rife with the tension that can drain us of life and love. So drink the bitter draught, carry a bottle of bittersweet honey-infused elixir, and make yourself an amulet of the delicate purple flowers. All are talismans against isolation, all are medicines to open the heart and guard our precious vitality in times of trouble.

Botanical Notes:

It’s fairly common to only see Verbena officinalis and Verbena hastata listed under medicinal species of the genus. However, there are a great many species, including V. bractaea, V. neomexicana, and V. macdougalii that also work at least as well. Additionally, the genus Glandularia is closely related, and works very similarly, generally more acrid and less bitter. 

Energetic Notes:

Differences among species to note are the relative proportions of bitterness and acridity. Verbenas tend to be more bitter, and Glandularias tend to be more acrid, all are more or less interchangeable, but with nuanced

Resources & References

Garran, Thomas Avery – Western Herbs in Chinese Medicine: Methodology & Materia Medica

Mac Coitir, Niall – Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends & Folklore

Masé, Guido – Bitters & Heart Health: Emerging Research

Ross, Jeremy – A Clinical Materia Medica, 120 Herbs in Western Use

Wood, Matthew – The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism

Wood, Matthew – The Book of Herbal Wisdom

Feb 082017

Short-Term House-Sitters

& Longer-Term Homestead Helpers Needed

At Kiva’s Remote N.M. Wilderness Sanctuary


Both short-time House-Sitters and longer staying Homestead Helpers are being sought for periods of time here at Plant Healer’s Anima Botanical & Wildlife Sanctuary: an incredible, isolated wilderness inholding 7 river crossings from the nearest pavement in the mountainous Gila Forest of S.W. New Mexico.

Anima is a United Plant Savers botanical refuge and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife preserve, with a focus not on growing domestic crops but on conserving, reintroducing and propagating native medicinal plants, and on encouraging growth for wildlife habitat.  The landscape is alive with ponderosa pines, piñon and oak, cottonwoods and willows, diverse flora and cactus, elk, deer, waterfowl, coatamundi, javalina, black bears, bald eagles, kingfishers and so much more.  For thousands of years this exact bend in river and the volcanic cliffs above it were the select location for the sacred ceremonies and rites of the ancient Mogollon peoples, and the intense energy of this place continues to awaken and stir guests who open to it. There is no cell phone reception on the property, and only solar power for lights, making your time here an immersion into a timeless and natural world.  Think of it as a retreat, in which you also contribute to the place and Plant Healer’s healing mission.

House-Sitting for 1 to 3 Week Periods

It has been impossible for us to accept invitations to other states to teach, or to personally help spread the folk herbal mission, without trusting that there is somebody dependable here petting the cats, tending and enjoying our remote cabin home when we are gone.

If we are ever to experience new bioregions and help spread empowered folk herbalism in that way, we’ll need someone or a couple committed to staying in a cabin here at our enchanting but isolated wildlands paradise for at least as long as we are gone. 

We welcome applicants for any of several possible travel periods in the course of the next two years.   The length of time needed will be from 5 days to 3 weeks, depending on how far we will be traveling and how many venues we will be teaching at.  Possible upcoming house-sitting periods are in Feb, Mar, April, Aug, Sept, and Oct of 2017 and 2018.  We also greatly need someone for this June 12th through 19th, while taking our young daughter Rhiannon to attend her ever first Plant Healer event! 

If interested, please email us for an application, with “House-Sitting” in the subject line:

Longer Stays Here as a Resident Homestead Helper

We have gotten so busy working on Plant Healer Magazine, Herbaria Monthly, annual events, and writing our own books and future courses, that we are also opening up the sanctuary to a limited number of people living here and helping for either short stretches or an extended period of time. In exchange for your glad assistance, resident helpers will be given a lovely little cabin in the pines to lodge in, as well as some instruction in the most fundamental aspects of living in an off-grid homestead.

Helpers are invited for 2 to 12 week stays, and we will offer extensions when desired and appropriate.  If someone ends up feeling called to commit to this place and mission, we can consider a longterm or potentially lifetime arrangement.

We ask for 3 to 6 or hours of assistance per day, 5 to 6 days a week depending on needs.  Tasks include the day to day necessities of firewood gathering and chopping, structure and rainwater system maintenance, solar system maintenance, food processing and preparation, and seasonal wild foods gathering.  The rest of the time is for you to enjoy this amazing wild river canyon, swim, read, rest, or create.  While we seldom need more than one helper, for the sake of social interaction we can try to schedule 2 or more helpers here at a time. 

Resident caretaker James will give directions regarding maintenance and outdoor chores, and Kiva and Rhiannon will provide some instruction when asking for help with tasks, likely to include: cooking with woodstoves/campfires/hornos, creative cuisine, food preservation, ecosystem restoration, rainwater caching, firewood procurement, wildfire preparations, learning or deepening skills while experiencing what it’s like to reconnect with one’s self and the land in a deep and meaningful way. 

Due to our many existing tasks and deadlines, we cannot promise instruction in herbalism to short term helpers, though we can provide herbal and Anima/Otherworld books and home-study course materials (laptop required) free while you are here.  We are able to offer personal herbal instruction, personal mentoring or life counsel only in the case of someone committing longterm to this sanctuary and work.

If interested, please email us for an application, with “Homestead Helper” in the subject line:


To learn more about Anima Sanctuary land and its history, please read the archived articles at:

(Please RePost and Share this appeal widely, thank you!)

Plant Healer’s Anima Botanical Sanctuary, NM

Jan 312017

Herbalism’s Sacred Dimension

Interview with Plant Healer Teacher:


in conversation with

Jesse Wolf Hardin

Dr. Tiffany Freeman blends her teachings and traditional values as a person of Cree First Nations descent with her studies and practice of Traditional Chinese and Western herbal medicine, to help us connect to our source of wellbeing. She is a Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor, registered Acupuncturist and Clinical Herbalist, educator, clinical practitioner, mother of two, and an avid admirer of nature.. She is the Co-founder of the Lodgepole School of Wholistic Studies in Calgary Alberta Canada, teaching a variety of courses in TCM, Western & Eastern Herbology, assessment techniques and Traditional Native teachings. A graduate from the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in 2004 with a diploma in Clinical Herbology, there she was grateful to have studied under Dr. Terry Willard Ph.D and Todd Caldecott Dip. Cl.H. After Graduation she became an instructor at the Wild Rose College from 2004 to 2011. In 2009 she obtained her Doctors of TCM diploma from the Calgary College of TCM & Acupuncture and her Alberta Acupuncture Licensure. Tiffany has spent over 15 years mentoring in the ways of Traditional Native Healing and ceremony with her Cree Elder and other traditional medicine teachers in Canada, is passionate about traditional medicines and knowledge sharing.  She will be teaching two classes at this year’s Plant Healer annual event, the Good Medicine Confluence, and hopefully will soon be writing for Plant Healer Magazine. You can read more about her clinical practice at: and her school at:

The following is a short excerpt from a much longer and very inspiring interview to be published in the February issue of Herbaria Monthly, Plant Healer Magazine’s FREE supplement for all. To be sure of receiving a copy, go to the left side of the Plant Healer website splash page and fill in your name and email address where shown:

Jesse Wolf Hardin: Greetings, Tiffany!  Thank you for talking to us and sharing a bit of your story.  It’s great to have you as a new member of and contributor to the inspirited Plant Healer community.

Tiffany Freeman: Thank you very much! I am so very honored to be a part of this gathering of herbalists and medicine people. I admire the good works & the passion that you and Kiva spread to the world, and I am so very excited to be a part of it!

Tiffany: The work that I do is as a conduit between the medicines that I provide and the healing capacity of the individual. That I help the person connect and tap into their innate healing abilities through the use of traditional medicines, whether my own indigenous medicines, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western herbology or the other tools I use. The distinguishing feature of my work is the use of Indigenous Medicine teachings as a part of my healing, the use of power animals, non-ego/ spirit medicine, spiritualism and journeying. I feel that my calling is a dual role of both healing facilitator and teacher. Aside from my clinical work I teach classes, workshops and hold circles.

Wolf: Do you consider that you have benefitted from particular inspiriteurs and teachers?

Tiffany: Oh yes, so many! I am still very inspired by and grateful to my original teachers of Herbalism, Terry Willard & Todd Caldecott, I have much deep respect for what they do and share with the world. My Cree Elder of course whom has been a huge part of my life and many of my big life events including the birth of my two children; My Chinese Medicine teacher of Master Tung’s lineage, Susan Johnson, and my dear friend & teacher of Orth-Bionomy, Baeleay Callister.

I am really inspired by the US Herbalists! What they share with people, their activism and depth of knowledge of the plant world. I am super excited about my generation of herbalists and how they are keeping that knowledge alive, my friend Yarrow Willard, Sean Donahue & Jim McDonald whom I have had the pleasure of meeting at another herb gathering that we were presenting at, Thomas Easley for keeping the Eclectic school alive & Kiva Rose for her folk roots, and that’s just to name a few. I also have a big fan crush on Rosemary Gladstar and would just love to meet her one-day and sing to the plants with her!

Wolf: What do you consider most important for a medicine person or herbalist to learn?

Tiffany: Letting go our your own human voice that dominates thought and listening to nature, spend time connecting to the plants and nature with honor and respect, learn to make your own medicines and importantly learn plant energetics and assessment techniques, and to realize that there are no one plant fits all situations, think holistically.

Wolf: What part do lifestyle, social and environmental imbalances play in overall health?

Tiffany: I believe that these things are very important to consider together, we are holistic beings, our environment whether internally or externally, socially, environmentally (the climates, seasons, pollution etc.) all play a part of our well being. We are the microcosm of the macrocosm on so many levels. Our emotions can be the cause or root of our disharmony. We embrace good health when we are in love with life and living in health. We reflect that back to our environment, our health is engendered by the health of our surroundings and we in turn engender the health of our surroundings with ours. Traditional peoples have always understood that life is a circle and movement through that circle includes not only ourselves but all our relatives in the natural world. The teachings of the medicine wheel impress the importance of living in harmony with the seasons and with the natural cycles of the life, when we live in harmony with and give honor to that circle all life flourishes. It is important to me that we address the physical concerns of our bodies as well as our environment without losing sight of the intrinsically spiritual nature of our existence.

Wolf: What ticks you off the most about what goes on with people and herbalism, and what’s to be done with it?

Tiffany: Ownership, that ticks me off. In my tradition plants were created before the people started their earth walks, they were created for the people, animals and all our relations to live. I am a strong believer in good quality education for folks that want to treat others, sell or distribute plants medicines but I also believe strongly in the ability of the folk, traditional or community herbalist. Most people only think of the “native” folks of the world when we think of traditional herbalists, but herbal medicine was an integral part of all our worlds’ cultures no matter their race or religion. The rights to use herbs as medicine is our right as human beings on this planet and our duty extends to care for those plants medicines, not over harvesting, wiping out plant species and providing a clean environment for them to grow; to use that right wisely with respect & gratitude.

Wolf: How do you deal with competing desires to make living from your craft and knowledge, and to share and spread it, or make it available to those who can least afford herbal counsel?

Tiffany: It is something I think of quite often. Teaching classes gives me that outlet to share knowledge as well as my clinical practice to put that knowledge in use, but those things are not always in people’s realm of affordability. To off set that cost I have clinical fees that are not set in stone, I will trade or use a sliding scale for patients that are unable to afford that fee. It’s a challenge balancing the needs of paying my own bills, rent at the end of the month and raising two kids with that of helping those who need help the most and cannot afford that care. A bonus in Canada is that many peoples extended health insurance through their work covers Acupuncture and therefore being a TCM doctor I can bill my sessions as such. 

In the past I have worked in the not for profit area with the Canadian Indigenous Women’s Resource Institute assisting with workshops on Indigenous teachings & medicine. Through Lodgepole School of Wholistic Study (the school that co-direct) I have created a way to empower folks to take care of their own health with a series of talks called “Folk Herbal Revival: Bringing Plant Power to the People”.  It’s a way to get people out, excited, learning about plant medicines and teaching them safety and ethics around using plants and for a very small fee to cover the cost of the room rental.

Wolf: What are some of your favorite powerful herbs to work with, and why?

Tiffany: Wow hard question! I have so many favorites. I guess right now I can say I am blown away by Corriolus (Turkey Tails).

I have had many opportunities to use this mushroom with cancer patients with great results. Its ability to protect the body and immune system during chemotherapy is incredible. My mom suffered terrible side effects from chemotherapy. Each time she finished a round of chemo she would end up in the hospital for 2 weeks with Neutropenia and major infections and now she struggles chronic infections acquired during those hospital stays.  I had done my best to suggest that she remained on the Corriolus throughout the treatments but the dieticians at the cancer clinic told her she must not take it. Instead she was given a drug that cost $3000 for one injection that was supposed to protect her from neutropenia. All it did was cause extreme bone pain while trying to force the bone marrow to produce neutrophils and within 3 days was in the hospital again for 2 weeks. She has since returned to taking the Corriolus and her doctors are amazed with how her blood work bounced back so quickly. After a quick research during this ordeal I found a medical study done on Corriolus and its effect on preventing neutropenia, actually showing how Corriolus beat out the drug that I mention in helping the body produce neutrophils! But even then the doctors were not convinced… but I am! Since then it one of my powerful allies and I am not afraid to recommend it and love the results I see.

Comfrey is also on my favorite list these days. So many have spread the fear of its usage, but I have much respect for this powerfulness. When the doctor says that, a broken foot, is going to need surgery and when you return 4 weeks later after using Comfrey (in a “Bone, Flesh & Cartilage” formulas by Dr. Christopher) fomentations and a completely healed foot I am convinced how well it works. And I’ve seen this same scenario time and time again. Right now in our family we are experimenting with Comfrey and its effectiveness on the teeth & alveolar bone.

Wolf: Are there any well known plants that you use in unexpected ways?

Tiffany: I use a well known, to the Cree at least, fungus called Wasaskwetiw, Diamond Willow fungus, as a medicine that is inhaled while sitting with a blanket over ones head, like a dry steam, to treat migraine headaches with great results.

I am also getting turned on to using hydrosols from a local herbalist/ alchemist friend in Calgary. Currently I am using Comfrey hydrosol as a mouth rinse to tighten up gums and loose teeth, and hopefully regrow jaw bone! And also experimenting with it on diastasis recti and loose abdominal tissue post surgery.

Wolf: When helping a client or friend, what constitutional systems, diagnostic models or means do you use to evaluate their condition and needs?

Tiffany: Mostly I use Traditional Chinese Medicine and Classical Chinese Medicine as my diagnostic model through the inquiry, inspection, pulse & tongue assessment. I also use Iridology, Auricular assessment, Ortho-Bionomy and journeying.

Wolf: Why is herbalism important?

Tiffany: In my culture plants (herbs) where created for people and all our relatives on this earth. They were here before all our relatives came: the birds, four legged, two legged and the winged ones. Creator put them upon the earth to hold life together, help sustain life, to be of service, provide food, shelter, medicine, and to be our teachers. Herbalism keeps the tradition of plant medicines alive.

Wolf: What do you hope most for herbalism and the herbal community?

Tiffany: That we keep passing the herbal knowledge down, we keep sharing it and in that keeping it alive; that we continue caring for our planet and the medicine that lives within it, as well as for our brothers & sisters. As herbalists I feel that we are space holders on this earth, holding a space for healing and connection.

Wolf: Ecologies are systems of reciprocity and mutual benefits.  The plants provide so much, what can we give them or do for them in exchange?

Tiffany: In my culture and many others too, reciprocity is given by honoring and respecting them by the way we harvest, prepare and work with them, we give them offerings when picking them and it is all done in a sacred way. It shows that we are grateful for all that they provide for us. In exchange they are in service to us and provide us with the healing that we need.

Wolf: That is the kind of approach, and excitement, that helps distinguish the empowered folk herbal community… a coming together of rebels, contraries and oddkins.

Tiffany: Herbalists, medicine healers and earth loving, health living activists can be a strange breed! Many of us have strong opinions combined with lots of passion; we share a wild love for plants and co-creating. We cuss, we sing, get dirty, say the wrong thing at the right time lol, eat weird things, are not afraid to put plants in our mouths, and will jump at any opportunity to make, whether a remedy or to participate in healing. We generally don’t fit within the conservative North America or flow with the status quo.  Plant healer publications appeal to that crowd. It empowers folk wisdom and at the same time appeals to our nerdy nature that needs accuracy and solid foundations of botanical sciences, with a healthy balance of earth based teachings. It provides a venue for the herbalist to get out of their comfort zone, to explore new possibilities and ideas.

Wolf: It is great to host new and compelling voices at our annual gatherings, which is partly why there are twice as many teachers and classes this year.  And it is’s great we were able to make space to host your teaching for the first time. What do you find most exciting about the classes you will be teaching at the Good Medicine Confluence in June?

Tiffany: It is very exciting for me to share traditional medicines with others, in a good way and through right of honor, for that I am grateful. Each circle teaching is so different; no two are ever alike no matter the topic. As that circle is opened a unique energy is created and is developed from of all who are a part of it. We share with one another on many levels even without speaking, we learn not only from the one delivering the teaching but also from one another. It’s a bond. The universe responds to that sacredness, connect and tap into it.

Wolf: Have you ever been to the Four Corners region of the Southwest where New Mexico, Arizona Utah and Colorado – mountains and deserts – meet, or do you have a feel for this area where you’ll be teaching?

Tiffany: I have never and I am very excited to. For years I have been having a vision while journeying about the four corners area and I am quite happy to meet it!

Wolf: What message would you most like to leave our Herbaria readers with?

Tiffany: The plant people are our teachers, our relatives; there is a need for great respect and love for them. When they are used in a sacred way, with Honor, Respect & Gratitude they are unconditionally in service to us as medicine & healers. The next time you go out to harvest, gather or pick ask permission, have a listen to what the plants may be saying, what kind of feelings do they invoke inside you? Spend some time in meditation with that, sing with them, and always bring an offering. In this way the forest and all its relatives will open up to you.

Wolf: Beautiful, thank you.  And for sharing yourself here, as well as with our attendees this June.

Tiffany: Thank you very much for the opportunity to share with the Plant Healer community. I am really looking forward to the Good Medicine Confluence!

Miigwetch hiy hiy – all our relations.


We are grateful to have Tiffany teaching two ceremonious classes at the Good Medicine Confluence, June 14-18, in Durango, Colorado:

Traditional Teachings on Sacred Tobacco

(1.5 hrs)

Traditional teaching on sacred tobacco is an adaptation of a workshop that was passed down to me from my Cree Elder, it is based on the Grandmother’s Sacred Teachings on Tobacco. In this experiential learning circle we discuss the importance and the history of Tobacco use in Indigenous cultures. How we as herbalists, healers and students of earth can learn to work with Tobacco for communication, respect and honoring. This will not be a course on all the bad stuff that can be attributed to smoking cigarettes nor is it a talk that promotes smoking. Here we are discussing natural tobacco and its roots. Participants will also learn how to make bundles or traditional prayer ties to offer to the plant, fungi kingdoms etc during harvesting etc. The four directions is also an important part of the talk and the colors and associated meanings will be addressed.

Working With Spirit: An Indigenous Medicine Sharing

(1.5 hrs)

Whether it is working with people, plants, the fungal kingdoms, or other realms, it is the utmost important to check your self at the door! To let go of our human voice that dominates, to step outside of that which binds us to our physical bodies, to our brains and to “let go and let creator.” Whether an herbalist or healer, a plant medicine grower, farmer, clinician or novice these Indigenous medicine teachings are integral to our own health & healing, to all our relations on the planet and to those whom we serve plant, animal or fungi. When we work with spirit we are in the heart space and are serving as a co-creator; In this place we create space for those to heal, to help them navigate into their innate ability to heal oneself. Through this we are giving respect and are witnessing rather than judging and therefore we fully open ourselves to the medicine kingdom and its communication. It is through this communication and through a respect for nature that we act as a conduit, connecting the medicine with those whom need it. Join a medicine circle where we will explore these topics and participate in a sharing of traditional indigenous teachings with Earth Medicine Woman, Tiffany Freeman.

For more information or to register to attend, please click on:

2017 Good Medicine Confluence Website

(Share & RePost Freely)

Dec 212016

On this longest night of the year here in the wild of New Mexico, I wanted to share my writings on La Guadalupe’s Torch, my much beloved Ocotillo, whose medicine has provided me so much light over the years. I hope that each of you are warm and loved, and that the darkness brings you both rest and regeneration. – Kiva

La Guadalupe’s Torch:

Mythos, Medicine, and Ecology of Ocotillo

(First published in Plant Healer Magazine)

by Kiva Rose

Botanical Name: Fouquieria splendens

Botanical Family: Fouquieriaceae

Common Names: Ocotillo, Coachwhip, Candlewood, Apache Whipping Stick, Vine Cactus, Wolf’s Candles,

Actions: Expectorant, lymphatic, pelvic decongestant, vulnerary, anti-inflammatory

Taste: Sour, sweet, bitter

Energetics: Mildly warm and moistening

A Candle In The Desert: The Healing Heart of Ocotillo

The desert has a raw poetry that peels back the visitor’s skin, exposing shimmering bone and raw sinew until, finally, there is nothing else. Veins of turquoise and chrysocolla thread through stone and stun me into silence. My hands still smell like Larrea resin and red clay while the mesas, buttes, and crumbling redrock spires surround me and remind me what home is.

This place where the mountains and deserts of Arizona and New Mexico meet, where the Ocotillo flowers stand scarlet against the rising moon and Oshá coils its roots down into the stony soil of the Mogollon Rim, is a landscape fallen from a storybook or carved from an ancient myth. While many use the word “barren” when describing or imagining the American Southwest, nothing could be further from the truth. The deserts and forests of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico are actually one of the most biodiverse landscapes in North America.

Even in the Sonoran Desert, set ablaze with wildflowers after a rain, there are few sights as striking as the Ocotillo in flower. Its scarlet blossoms bursting from twelve foot wands adorned with multi-colored thorns and small waxy leaves. Growing on rocky bajadas at the base of mountains jutting out of the wild deserts of the American Southwest and Mexico, La Guadalupe’s Torch is a sign of healing and heart in even the most extreme of landscapes.

The common name of Ocotillo stems from the Náhuatl word ocotl, meaning “torch”, an apt name considering its brilliant flowers and towering stature. Whenever I see this plant in flower, I think of Guadalupe striding through the desert, her torch held high to show the way to the profound medicine found at the heart of this land. Prickly as it may be, the healing power of the Southwest is intense and undeniable.

Appearing to be a haphazard array of thorny, crooked sticks for much of the year, Ocotillo only unfurls its leaves once the rains come. These flame flowered plants are amazingly well adapted to their arid surroundings, and leaf growth can be initiated a scant 24 hours after a rainfall. Their leaves are semi-succulent and waxy.  Their sour-sweet flavor and slightly bitter aftertaste is so intriguing, that when I’m processing the plant’s branches for medicine, I often get distracted eating them.  The plants often grow in colonies, creating compact and thorny forests illuminated by Spring blossoms, and adorned year round with claw-like thorns. Baby Ocotillos are especially beautiful, often possessing nearly iridescent bark and still soft thorns demonstrating a rainbow of violet, purple, blue, green, brown, and black. A number of birds and insects, including several species of hummingbird, are attracted to the sweet nectar of Fouquieria’s blossoms.

Ocotillo is found in the desert, canyon, and foothill regions, generally below 5,000 feet in the deserts of the U.S, but occasionally up to 9,500 feet. In my area, it tends to prefer rocky slopes, and especially favors bajadas. Its range extends from southeastern California to southern Arizona, souther Nevada, New Mexico, western Texas in the US and from Baja California to Chihuahua, Sonora to Coahuila and Nuevo León, south to Durango, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, and Zacatecas. I have personally experienced the plant primarily in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, and speak from my experience rooted in those ecosystems.

Blossom, Root, and Thorn: Plant Parts Used

While the bark seems to be the only part of the plant in common use in mainstream American herbalism by Anglos, all parts of the plant have been utilized traditionally and have value as medicine, fiber, and food. In fact, when I have been taught about this plant by local New Mexico and Arizona Hispanics, they have almost invariably referenced the flower rather than the bark. I have also known several Apache grandmothers to prefer the root over any other part, which speaks both to the versatility of the plants and the diversity of cultural traditions and habits. I work with all parts of the plant, including the curved thorn, preferring to integrate all possible facets of the plant and its medicine into my healing work.

Coughs & Colds

The flowers as well as the bark have long been used for treat spasmodic coughs, and while their action is fairly mild, it is consistent and widely applicable. I frequently use an elixir made of flowers, leaf, and bark extracted into honey and alcohol to treat the dry, hacking coughs common in my mountain village each Winter. Since the plant is also a lymphatic decongestant, it’s especially helpful in seasonal colds accompanied by persistent, spasmodic cough and hypoimmunity indicated by swollen glands, chronic sore throat, and the tendency to catch every bug that comes around.

Pelvic Congestion

The bark is best known as a pelvic decongestant, and this indeed where it tends to shine in clinical practice.  Southwest herbalist Michael Moore said of Ocotillo:

“It is useful for those symptoms that arise from pelvic fluid congestion, both lymphatic and veinous…. Most hemorrhoids are helped by Ocotillo, as are cervical varicosities and benign prostate enlargements.”

I have also found it useful in some cases of what is commonly diagnosed as interstitial cystitis, a frequent urge to urinate and accompanying discomfort, but with little actual fluid in the bladder. In the cases where Ocotillo will be most effective, it will be accompanied by at least some of the typical signs of of pelvic congestion, including varicosities, constipation with hemorrhoids, a feeling of fullness in the abdomen and/or groin, and an inability to efficiently digest fats. Along these same lines, local Hispanics sometimes recommend the use of Ocotillo bark in the treatment of bladder infections. It can certainly help alleviate the symptom of feeling unable to urinate even when the bladder is full.

Ocotillo frequently finds its way into my fomulae for prostatitis and similar, and I find that it tends to increase the effectiveness of other commonly recommended herbs for this ailment, especially Nettle root and Saw Palmetto. Again, look for the signs of pelvic congestion common to benign prostate inflammation and enlargement, including a feeling of fullness in the groin and difficulty urinating. Alder bark, another lymphatic native to the Southwest (and beyond), can also combine well with Ocotillo for this purpose.

I have also heard the flower being suggested for delayed menstruation by a Sonoran yerbera, and while I have never used it this way in my own practice, it does make sense that its blood moving actions could stimulate late menses.

Las Manos de la Guadalupe: Woundcare & External Use

The leaves make an excellent poultice for wounds, abrasions, bruises, and contusions by reducing inflammation and pain, while speeding healing and lessening the chance of infection where there is broken skin. The bark and flowers can also be used in the same way, and I make a salve that includes all three parts of the plant for general first aid uses, often in combination with Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), another common plant of the desert southwest. A liniment made from any part of the plant can also be useful in treating chronic injuries that present with a dull, aching pain and refuse to fully heal. In this use, I often like to formulate it with Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and find they often work better together than on their own.

Case Study – Interstitial Cystitis with Pelvic Stagnation

28 year old woman presenting with a diagnosis of interstitial cystitis, including symptoms of burning and stabbing pain as well as intermittent spasms in the urethra and bladder area, as well as frequent feeling of urgency, even when no urine could actually be excreted. No issues of incontinence, and no sign of microbial infection was present upon testing. She said that the pain and discomfort was severe enough that she had trouble remaining focused on her job as a psychologist, and made sexual intercourse uncomfortable to painful.

The client had a history of chronic urinary tract infections during her early 20s, that had been primarily treated with antibiotics. She also suffered from intermittent digestive troubles, chronic body pain, tension headaches, and premenstrual bloating, cramps, and headaches, but the interstitial cystitis was her primary complaint that she wanted addressed during the consultation. Since interstitial cystitis is thought to be an autoimmune disorder, and certainly reflects an issue of systemic inflammation, I find it important to address the metabolic and immune systems in addition to more symptomatic approaches.

Interstitial cystitis often (but not always) accompanies pelvic stagnation, and I’ve found that using general blood moving herbs as well as more specific lymphatics is often an effective initial approach to treating the symptoms of interstitial cystitis.

I first spoke to the client about nutrition, and stressed the important of eliminating any food triggers, and suggested trying an elimination diet to see if gluten may be triggering or exacerbating the condition. She wasn’t interested in pursuing that route at the time, so we proceeded with an herbal approach. I will stress here that it is often impossible to entirely clear the symptoms of IC without incorporating such dietary measures.

I also suggested sitz baths, but the client knew she wouldn’t follow through on them. I also recommended she looked into Cannabis tincture specifically for flareups with severe spasms, but there was no medical marijuana available in her state and she was hesitant to obtain the medicine through non legal means. Therefore, this regimen is strictly internal utilizing widely available herbs.

Blood and Lymph Moving Tincture

This formula is anti-inflammatory, astringent, blood moving, and lymphatic in nature. The Fouquieria, Ceanothus, and Paeonia very specifically act on the pelvic area, increasing blood flow and decreasing overall inflammation and congestion.

1 part Ceanothus greggii

2 parts Fouquieria splendens

1 part Galium aparine

2 parts Stellaria media

2 parts Paeonia brownii

Dosage: 30 ml 4x/day

Immune Decoction

This is a moistening, anti-inflammatory, and immune supporting formula to assist in addressing the foundational causes of the disorder. I often count on mushroom decoctions as the first tier in treatment for most autoimmune disorders.

3 parts Ganoderma spp. (Reishi)

2 parts Inonotus obliquus (Chaga)

1 part Fomitopsis pinicola (Red Belted Polypore)

3 parts Astragalus membranaceus (Astragalus root)

1 part Sambucus nigra (Elderberry)

2 parts Althaea officinalis (Marshmallow root)

Dosage: Standard decoction, simmered for appr. 20 minutes. 1 Cup 3x/day.

At the six week followup, client reported the symptoms being approximately seventy percent better, and was very pleased with the results and increase in quality of living. She opted to continue strictly herbal treatment rather than trying any nutritional approaches. Eight weeks later, she felt she was about eighty five per cent improved and wanted to stay on the same regimen, so I replaced the Galium with the same proportion of Withania somnifera in the tincture formula and had her halve the dose for maintenance.

At last checkin, about a year after the initial consultation, she said she only had occasional flareups, usually associated with increased stress or intake of wine, and otherwise had no symptoms. The client also reported great reduction in all premenstrual symptoms as well as the tension headaches.

Ecological Status, Cultivation, & Harvesting Ethics

Ocotillo is usually abundant in the areas it is native to, and is easily propagated by cutting, but is protected in some states, so take care to know local regulations when harvesting. It’s often best to harvest from private land, or where it’s being dug up anyway for development purposes. If you plan to have a long term alliance with this herb, you may wish to cultivate it from a harvested branch. This is also a great way to be sure the plant continues to thrive and proliferate.

This is a long lived perennial, and adult plants can easily be over a hundred years old, so treat Ocotillo with respect and care when gathering from it. Please note that harvesting branches, flowers, or leaves from the plant in a sensible manner doesn’t harm the plant at all, but be sure to make a clean cut and do the least damage to the surrounding tissue possible. Also remember that this plant, while common in its range, is only native to a small portion of the United States.


The medicine of Ocotillo bark tends to be considered best extracted via alcohol, although decoctions are a traditional preparation throughout the American Southwest. The flowers may be prepared as an alcohol tincture, an infused honey, an elixir (alcohol and honey), or as a tart and tasty beverage tea.

Consideration and Contraindications

There is no known toxicity in reasonable amounts as a food or medicine, but due to its blood moving nature, this is not an appropriate herb during pregnancy.

Resources and References

Austin, Daniel – Baboquivari Mountain Plants: Identification, Ecology, and Ethnobotany

Garcia, Cecilia – Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West

Hodgson, Wendy C. – Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert

Moerman, Daniel – Native American Ethnobotany

Moore, Michael – Los Remedios

Moore, Michael – Medicinal Plants of the Desert & Canyon West

Oct 312016



Treating Polarization With Diversity & Kindness Protocol

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Inspired by Election Acrimony, Attacks on Mountain Rose, Posts About Sam Coffman, Disparagement of The AHG, & Rosemary Gladstar’s Advice

I have lately felt besieged by both online pre-election stridence, and upset at the way some herbalists have taken to uncaringly attacking their fellow practitioners of the caring art.  I am also inspired by remarks on this very problem by the venerable Rosemary, pulled from the 21st Century Herbalists book interview with her I’ve been excerpting for the upcoming Winter issue of Plant Healer Magazine.  Kiva and I hope you give this post some thought, share it on FaceBook, inspire reasoned discussion, and help counteract counteract binary thinking and polarization in herbalism, a perceptual disease that could rip apart our vital healing field if left untreated.

|ˈbīˌnerē, -nərē|


1 a grouping, system, or notion, broken down and divided into two parts

We exist within an ever more binary paradigm, brought about by what I call the Binary Disease.  It is a disease infecting our society as ourselves, spreading by contact and example through entertainment, news and social media, with little research going into its prevention or cure.  In fact, it has even infected the community of natural healers, health providers and caregivers, much as it has the rest of our politic and culture, making it harder for people like herbalists to do their vital work.  Left unchallenged and unchecked, it can and will disorient, divide, and weaken us.  It is, as we speak, working to alter our very natures, resetting our traditional proven methods for interacting, evaluating, negotiating, compromising, adjusting, evolving, bringing together, getting along, influencing, and thus contributing to the wellness of each other and our world.

Symptoms of Binary Disease include:

•Increased inability or willingness to hear

•Gradual to complete loss of objectivity

•Loss of one’s reasoning facilities, or a growing unwillingness to utilize one’s ability to reason

•Expressed or feigned certainty, adamance, and righteousness

•Increasing mistrust of differences – of opinion, appearance, etc.

•Delusions, such as imagining it is fair to disenfranchise right-wingers but not progressives 

•Manifest disdain for other herbalists’ conclusions, approaches, or techniques

•Visibly increasing intolerance for not only disagreement but nuance

•Tending to be more reactive than response-able, more victimized than proactive

•Avoidance of interaction with anyone imagined to hold different views than oneself 

•Keeping company only with those who share the same views and lifestyle

•Increasingly viewing everything as “either/or,” good or bad, and people as “us” and “them”


Through the course of this disease, polarization and factionalization become accepted as the new norm, once praised “free speech” gets recast as an offense of the privileged, diversity of perspectives is demonized even by some who champion racial diversity, and root causes remain unaddressed as we blame some “opposing team”…all while human reason, diversity and unity get sicker and die.  


Pernicious Polarization

polarize |ˈpōləˌrīz|


1 to divide or cause to divide into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs

What a waste of brilliant energy.”

                                                    –Rosemary Gladstar

The very notion of binary is largely unnatural.  There is not just life and death, but infinite degrees of consciousness and life.  There are unlimited shades of gender, not just the touted male and female.  There are never only two options in any situation, no matter what the hell we’re told.  There are limitless shades of colors, not even in the darkest of our collective nights is everything ever just black and white.  Nobody can be measured simply good or evil, no matter how clearly benevolent or harmful their acts may seem.  Every human is a complex mix of traits and actions which we assess as degrees of good and bad depending on the context, our vantage and perspective, past experiences and future hopes, needs, fears, and aims.  Nothing and no one is as simple or as separate as the Binary Disease would leave us to believe.

gender-binary-response-72dpi gender-binary-bites-72dpi

I am writing this piece in a national election year, a period when it proved impossible to tune into any media source or social media platform without being barraged with unreasoned attacks – not only on the deeply flawed candidates, but on each other’s associates and friends.  Discourse disappeared as reason suffered, and it was nearly impossible to criticize the anti-constitutional pro-elitist and anti-freedom tendencies of either without being loudly and unthinkingly attacked by online mobs.  Meanwhile, the greatest enemies of freedom, humankind, and all of natural life, are the same profiteering one-tenth of one percent who pull the strings regardless of which party holds office.  By focusing our attention on the trumpeted dramatic differences in tone or on a few hotbed issues, the destructive ruling elite elite effectively keeps us the electorate distracted from the greatest threat to liberty, justice, and the environment, that has ever existed: the rapid concentration of wealth and thus influence in the hands of an ever smaller percentage of the population, a concealed ruling class that is uncaring, unethical, and unjust.  Most of us will never even hear the names of these parasitical despots, so adept are their lawyers and media manipulators at fixing our gaze.  Like stage magicians, they manipulate our attention away from the obvious mechanics of their tricks.  But as in the classic book and film “The Wizard of Oz,” we have only to step out of their thrall and outside our group-thinking team or choir and pull back the veil: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”  


There are only two choices in the election, we were told, and it wasn’t supposed to matter that both choices were in different ways dangerous and unhealthful.  So it is with the big news outlets, with the two most polar getting most of the audience.  They are not only an effect of this process, but also its purveyor, vectors transmitting the Binary virtual-virus from hate filled newsroom to their half of the viewers.  Whether it be the so called left leaning CNN or “ or self named “conservative” FOX network, biases are proudly championed rather than either avoided or denied.  In both cases, viewers are subjected to a comparable degree of closed-minded fundamentalism and party-line cliches.  Both networks appeal to our greatest fears, separate us into opposing and un-considering camps, stir our reservoirs of moral indignation, incite us to either circle the wagons and raise the walls, or else light the torches and silence or expel the “others.”


Social media such as FaceBook and Twitter also have an extremely polarizing effect on discussion, thought, and potentials for agreement.  The programs’ algorithms determine what traffic we see, and those we agree with most end up being the majority that we read, limiting our exposure to a diversity of new and contending ideas, and thereby accelerating the spread of Binary Disease.  The focus on approval and anxieties about being unaccepted and “unfriended” drives users into competing “Amen corners” where agreement is assured and nearly total, and where strident derision of those outside the group is easy and encouraged.  It becomes first easy, then the modus operandi, then de rigeuer, to disrespect.  This disrespect, whether raging or jaunty, is humiliating to the recipient, and disenfranchisement combined with humiliation is a perfect recipe for the creation of the very monsters we might wish to be relieved of.

3D render illustration of social media shaming button

Additionally, separation into polar factions means that most attacks come not from the people whose actions we fear most, but from the very people we share the largest number of priorities with, and from whom disapproval or betrayal is hardest to take.  The greatest damage to the fabric, cohesion, effectiveness and spirits of a community – including the loving community of herbalist care givers – may be the in-house shaming, internecine bloodletting  and fractious humiliation that Binary Disease enables.

Game of Thrones

Infection in The Herbal Community

We’re so busy creating ‘camps’ that we’re forgetting that we’re all ‘fighting the same battle’. Or better put, 

that ‘we’re all in this for the plants’!”


It seems to me surprising as well as tragic that herbalism has so little immunity against Binary infection, that it too is so scarily vulnerable to polarization and extreme, dogmatic self righteousness and vitriol.


Current examples abound, such as the online shit-storm that consumed attention, monopolized conversation, and did far more harm than good this Fall – bitter accusations and hurtful name calling directed against one of this community’s bulk herb providers.  An adamant but civil and proportional challenging of any company’s policies or actions is instrumental as well as appropriate, but it deeply harms the community and services of herbalism in general to venomously undermine providers which are demonstratively dedicated to social and ecological justice, and open to input, reevaluation and change.

A second example were the ad hominem attacks against a certain opinionated herbalist teacher and writer, whose opinions are open to debate, but whose intentions and actions are in keeping with the herbalist tradition of giving a damn and trying to make things better.  Writing him off as a classist, militarist, or racist,  proved to distract from those issues deserving of scrutiny and debate, and made his least considered and most reactive detractors look foolish given that he is married to a Hispanic of Native American blood, and in the past few years has provided free volunteer herbal and first-aid services to disaster victims, impoverished villagers in Central America, and First Nations oil-pipeline protestors in the American Midwest.  Such highly personal and largely misplaced attacks are counterrevolutionary as well as counterproductive.


A third example is the unwarranted hate heard expressed against the American Herbalist Guild.  Despite the tone of many online comments, nobody as far as we know joins the A.H.G. in order to be part of an anointed elite, elevated above the non-vetted, better than or disapproving of the nonprofessional.  Members of this organization appear to me to be motivated by largely the same things as their unaffiliated sisters and brothers, which is to say inspired by the plants and the possibilities of healing, and devoted to practicing or spreading this healers’ art.  Like the rest of the herbalist community, their members cover a spectrum from informal neighborhood practitioners to academics and clinicians.  Their motivations for membership sometimes involve a desire for and belief in the possibility of herbalism gaining the acceptance, respect and approval of the larger medical establishment, but more often certification is simply a way to feel our qualifications are affirmed and enjoy the camaraderie of association.  A better target than the AHG for disparagement would surely be the American Medical Association (AMA) or the Food & Drug Agency (FDA), both of which continue to denigrate, marginalize, regulate and penalize herbalists whether we include official letters after our signatures or not.


Don’t get me wrong, herbalism has long been denigrated… but usually by potion-fearing religious dogmatists, territorial M.D.s, and profit-protecting pharmaceutical companies.  Based on my readings of history, it seems out of character for herbalists to factionalize and stratify, for once self anointed and self elevated group to look down on their folkier and non-vetted counterparts, for those who reject the notion of capitalism to lambast any herbal business that manages against odds to succeed, for a ‘progressive’ posse to inflict suffering on those who use objectionable language, or for plant lovers to sarcastically diss others who cite science or research.

Binary thinking and polarization constitute what can be an utterly debilitatingly disease.  It presents as divisiveness and other unhealthy conditions, threatening a community and practice paradoxically dedicated to wholeness and committed to healing.


Individuation & Separation

“I vow to be in sweet surrender to your vision, oh, grandmother/grandfather flora, and to follow with the best of my intentions and integrity your guidance, realizing there are many paths that weave through the forest, and bring us home to the hearth and heart of herbalism.”


To be really healthy is to be both vital and whole, something that’s as true for herbalism as it is for herbalists.  This wholeness is an amalgam of dissimilar members with varying roles and approaches, interacting in individual ways which in concert contribute to the entire community.  It is a product of dynamic diversity, fed by creative individuation, and not of entrenchment, conformity, purity or “correctness” of any kind.

There is a huge difference between healthy individuation and septic separation.  Individuation in nature is variety and adaptation within the context, pattern and purpose of the whole.  One develops individual traits, abilities and propensities in relationship to one’s environment, including all other beings.  Individualization can usher in what will become beneficial adaptations among an entire population or even species, in relationship and response to its ecological community and habitat, and apart from it.

What contributes to polarization is not individuation but separativeness, and this separative momentum is abetted not by individuality but by polarization, factionalism, and class.  If we are ever tempted to see things in terms of opponents, there are no enemies more deserving of our defense than this disease of polarization, our self-segregation into binary blocs and head-nodding coterie.


This is not to say there is no need for rejection sometimes, the eschewing of the mean spirited, unjust, and harmful, with is crucial to ours and society’s healthful development.  Nor is confrontation always wrong, it can prove crucial in the face of  immense institutionalized inequity and terrific forces of destruction.  But putting everything on a polar scale of “good” and “evil,” and aligning with cloistered groups who think like us, is to misunderstand the nature of reality and contribute to the polarization that divides us, turns us into chanting team fans, makes us ignorant of all outside our teams, makes us ugly and unkind, and helps perpetuate the very conditions and injuries many teams scream about.

Oneness, not sameness, is a fact of the universe.  We are inevitably different, yet invariably related.  And we can rightfully oppose, but we can never be opposite.  Natural living beings do not seek to be or see themselves as the opposite of anything else, only to be wholly, effectively, satisfyingly themselves.  Life seeks to flourish (not survive!), to absorb new information and benefit from lessons (not to resist new ideas!), to evolve (not rigidify!), to celebrate and express (not whine or repress!), and to diversify (neither conform. nor toe the line!).

It is the shared values and customs of a community or tribe that preserves their group identity, but is it is diversity and change within its members that makes truth, understanding, improvements and healthy changes possible.  This is only possible when we truly listen to other perspectives and other peoples’ ideas, feelings, and criteria for decisions, and when we can integrate those differences into our patterns of knowing and acting.  We are made more effective, and therefore safer, through increased awareness of the source and often validity of other groups’ fears, needs, and intentions.  Silencing free expression and amicable debate reduces awareness and understanding.  Stifling the offensive makes serious offense more possible.  Shaming those who hold objectionable views makes it more likely they will act out in ways that hurt us and themselves as well as the living planet.  Misdirected anger not only damages our diverse community, it wastes our finite hours, our energy, and the vehemence that might be better aimed at the most harmful notions, presumptions, attitudes, habits, morays, dogmas, injustices, regulations, and institutions of our times.


Picking Our Targets: The Enemy is Us

“I think that we are our biggest threat.  Somehow, over time, we’ve developed very strong egos that want to make us ‘right’ and other herbalists ‘wrong’, our way the best and others not so good.  We let it get in the way of seeing the bigger picture, and end up fighting amongst ourselves.”


Clearly, we need to work harder to address issues, to confront and either evolve or rectify.  This is most effectively accomplished when we confront harmful concepts and acts, instead of humiliating any perpetrators.  We need to carefully pick the targets of our indignation and recriminations.  When we do identify and prioritize the people, businesses and institutions that perpetuate harms, our response needs to be one that makes betterment and healing more possible, not less.

After a lifetime of taking actions against the profiteers, manipulators, and agencies of injustice, classism, and destruction, I could fill hundreds of pages naming the most blatant progenitors and delivery systems of evil today.  From corporate giants in immoral enterprises from tar sands mining companies and nuclear weapons manufacturers, to rabid bigots and rogue, protestor-beating cops.  But given that we and our self-limiting biases are such an integral enabler of the disease cycle, we might want to stop thinking in terms of targeting and punishing altogether, keeping mending and bettering and healing our mission and forte instead.

Without a doubt, we need remain witness to the utterances and acts of our associates and friends, helping keep them honest and open… as well as stay on as questioners, fact checkers, assessors and evaluators of the deluge of supposed ‘facts’ being bandied about for various reasons.  It is only our responsibilities – our ability to respond – that function as a reasoned human counterforce to delusion and lies, to oppression and harm, to the current bifurcation of our healing movement into incompatible extremities.  We can, however, respond in ways that are more reasoned, open minded, receptive, purposeful, just, considered and considerate.  We need to care about not just the issues that matter to us, but about the people who do not share our ideas or values, and about the diversity and wholeness and vitality and future of this living Earth.


Diversity Treatment Protocol

“Diversity is where strength resides; all of us who love nature know this to be true. The more diversity within a community, the greater the strength of the community.”


In the case of any disease or ailment, one needs to:

•Make an accurate diagnosis

•Decide what the preferred or ideal outcome might be

•Determine the least harmful and likely most helpful treatment to facilitate that outcome

•Instigate or administer that treatment

•Monitor effects and results

•Modify and improve treatment as needed

When it comes to Binary Disease, a positive outcome might be the recognition that we are in the eyes of different groups the “others,” and that what we may see as “others” are in the most important ways “us.“. Communication that really communicates, which requires listening as well as speaking.  The speaking of truth and expression of understanding and concern.  Discussion that stimulates new ways of thinking.  Critical analysis rather than unthinking criticism.  The identification of common threats and shared problems, where and how they manifest.  And alliances for investigating, addressing and remedying them.  

We may thus identify an insidious trend towards following the “party line” of our chosen affinity groups.  We can observe symptoms, such as the fact that dogmatic rancor is getting worse, as exchanges are filled with unkind criticisms devoid of any real critical thinking.  We might determine that the natural immune system has been compromised by the Binary Disease, and is in need of herbs that help stimulate its immune functions, making us less thin-skinned and less likely to react, making it easier for already existing open wounds to bind and heal.  Rather than treating symptoms, we get better results by addressing and affecting the condition’s underlying causes.  If someone demonstrates displeasure, agitation and anger, we might realize it grows out of insecurity and pain, and therefore offer an infusion of recognition, understanding, acceptance or assistance.  A potential harm may need to be brought to light in order to be  halted or prevented, but we may choose to do that respectfully and reasonably.  We hopefully watch closely for effects and results, and then adjust our treatments accordingly.

In the case of social media, the gentle folk – the balanced reasoners and peace makers, the still sensitive souls whom are as yet neither calloused nor inured – regrettably tend to go silent online after being rat-packed for their attempts to understand or accommodate, assailed or dismissed because of their public statements of accommodation and hope.  And yet, it is the their voices – your voices – that are most essential if there is to be any return to productive reason, to compassion, pluralism and balance, both online and in society writ large.  As with a “stagnating liver,” a stimulating herb may be called for, in the form of a wide variety of voices, diverse thought, expression, creation, and solution.  An “angry inflamed liver” can be treated with calming herbs and anti-inflammatories, suggesting a strategy in which conditions are calmed and inflamed feelings cooled.  Even in rare but dangerous situations requiring immediate intervention, every effort must be made to neither inflame, exacerbate, or over-medicate.  We don’t want to try to enforce our own regimen, our group’s standards for health and behavior on others, as that would only encourage them trying to impose their ideas and traits on us.

While it is the shared values and customs of a community or tribe that preserves their group identity, it is diversity of and within, its members that enables truth, understanding, improvements, innovations, and healthy changes.  We need to deeply listen to a diverse range of perspectives and other peoples’ ideas, feelings, and criteria for decisions, and integrate those differences into our patterns of knowing and acting.  We are enriched, informed, stirred and stretched by diversity.  We’re made more effective, and therefore safer, through increased awareness of the source and often validity of other groups’ fears, needs, and intentions.  Even those forms of diversity and divergence that we find most challenging or discomforting, together contribute to ours and herbalism’s health.  Silencing debate reduces awareness and understanding.  Stifling the offensive makes serious offense more possible.  And shaming those who hold objectionable views makes it more likely they will act out in ways that hurt us and themselves as well as the ecology and integrity of the planet.

This is not to say there is no need for determined rejection, for the eschewing of the mean spirited, unjust, and harmful, something which I consider important to our’s and society’s healthful development.  Nor is confrontation always a bad thing, it can prove crucial in the face of immense institutionalized inequity and terrific forces of destruction.  The culture of shaming must also be challenged wherever it permeates, which can only be done by speaking out on behalf of the shamed.  But being judgmental without nuance, critical without consideration, and confrontational without weighing effects, harm, and the many possible consequences, damages us as well as other people and even our own aims.  Putting everything at one or the other end of an extreme polar scale of “good” and “evil,” and then aligning  ourselves with cloistered groups who think like us, is to abet and spread the Binary Disease, contributing to the polarization dividing us.  It can turn us into chanting team fans, and contribute to our ignorance of everything outside the perspective and precepts of our rah-rah groups, in the end making us ugly and unkind, and helping perpetuate the very conditions and injuries we oppose.


A Dose of Kindness

I believe in part we’ve forgotten the healing power of kindness.  If there’s one thing I think we’re missing not so much among herbalists, perhaps, but with humanity in general, it’s the ability to be kind to one another, and to listen deeply.  Then we might be able to move forward in a better way.”


Binary disease can be greatly reduced among herbalists, even if never expunged from the whole of society.  The rates of infection can be dramatically reduced, and those who already suffer from its effects can experience a lessening of symptom severity.  While decoctions of diversity can jump start the healing response, it may be best to follow up with restorative tonics suck as a dose of old-fashioned kindness.  A kind observation goes well with unpalatable revelations, making them easier to swallow.  You need not “turn a blind eye,” only a kind phrase.  Genuine concern can make discomforting suggestions feel like strong medicine rather than infliction or attack.  People hear best, whenever we know we are heard.  We do less damage to others, when we feel related to them, accepted by them, a part of them on at least the bio-organism or species level, on a spiritual level or the level of shared loves and and allied purpose.


Fellow Members, Shared Purpose

In our community, the center or the ‘whole’ is our love of the plants.  

Knowing this, how come herbalists can’t honor our differences, embrace our diversity, recognize its importance, 

and gather around the center – that unifying love of the plants?”


Even if we imagine that not everything living deserves to be treated with respect, surely we can be respectful, reasonable and kind with those who feel the same love we do for plants, they who get a tear in their eye when digging up and harvesting roots, who dance a jig and squeak with joy at the first appearance of herbal sprouts, who like us choose a poorly paying career trying help people or nature, and who suffer the same repression by this society and defamation by the many corporate, governmental, and elite nemeses of herbalism and herbalists.  Surely we can be careful with our treatment of fellow care givers, be kind to those who kindly give of themselves to the plants who bless us and the people in need.  Whatever issues or attitudes, loyalties or fears led to our enlistment by polar factions, we are still fellow members of a wondrous and honorable coalition of the relatively few, with a common if sometimes taken for granted purpose, an essential plant-hearted mission even if we sometimes forget that.

We in herbalism need in some ways to be more impassioned, responsive, adamant, forceful and insistent, without losing sight of the fact our work is to heal not wound.  The pertinent problem is not so much the imagined flaws and transgressions of some other group, but the Binary Disease that leads us to view them as “other” in the first place.  History shows us what terrible acts can be committed against “other” races, nationalities, and religions, and then handily justified.


When it comes to herbalists, those we posit as polar opposites happen to be given to the same mission as us, no matter how differently they may seek to accomplish it, and they’re certainly judged as no different than us by herbalism’s genuine enemies.  Indeed, all herbalists face the same threats and weather the same put-downs, share not only a kindly intention but a covenant and commitment to make things better.  

Hell, all plant healers belong to a single coalition of caring, as wildly divergent as we are, and as wholly diverse as we must be.  

The honorable way – the way that honors contrasting practitioners and brings honor to ourselves – is to act accordingly.


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Oct 192016


Announcing PreOrder for The New 2016 Plant Healer Annuals

949 Pages b&w 8.5×11”

2 Volume Softbound Sets

Every Winter we produce a strictly limited edition of 300 hard-copy book sets containing all the articles from the previous 4 quarterly issues of Plant Healer Magazine, as a special service to PHM member subscribers only.  The many amazing articles often end up in other Plant Healer compilation books as well, but this will be the only opportunity to have the complete year’s material in a single easily referenced place.

If you are already a PHM subscriber, you can order your Annuals book set by logging in to your personal PHM Member Page.

If you are not a Member-Subscriber of Plant Healer yet, you can still get a set of 2016 Annuals by ordering our discounted Plant Healer Enthusiast Package: a set of PHM Annuals shipped to you address, along with a 1-year re-subscription to the quarterly, full-color digital magazine.


Contributors include many of the most inspiring and pioneering herbalists in the field, including quarterly columnists like Guido Masé, Jim McDonald, Paul Bergner, Thomas Easley, Phyllis Light, Sean Donahue, Mathew Wood, Wendy Petty, Angela Justis and Dara Saville.  Departments include therapeutics, materia medica, radical herbalism and healthcare justice, cultivation, medicine making, wildcrafting, plant art, plant lore and the history of healing. See the complete Table of Contents at the bottom of this page.

Keep in mind that this will be a limited edition printing of your digital magazine, they will not be reprinted, and are certain to sell out early. To be certain of getting your personal copies of these limited editions before they sell out, PreOrder now. PreOrdered Annuals will begin shipping mid-November.  

table of contents part 1 page 1 table of contents part 1 page 1 copy table of contents part 1 page 1 copytable of contents part 1 page 1table of contents part 1 page 1 copytable of contents part 1 page 1 copy 3

Again, if you are already a PHM subscriber, you can order your Annuals book set by logging in to your personal PHM Member Page.

And if you are not a Member-Subscriber of Plant Healer yet, you can still get a set of 2016 Annuals by ordering our discounted Plant Healer Enthusiast Package: a set of PHM Annuals shipped to you address, along with a 1-year re-subscription to the quarterly, full-color digital magazine. Order the Package by clicking on the Bookstore Page at:

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Sep 222016

There is no doubt that this year’s Plant Healer event was more exciting than ever, with a record 345 folks – the sweetest, most vision filled, most diverse ever!  For many it had not only the feeling of coming home to a tribe and way of being, but also like a movement in which we co-create an alternative healthful alternative culture.  To see pictures and read about it, go to the Plant Healer website splash page and enter your name and email address on the left of the screen:


The 2017 Good Medicine Confluence

June 14-18 • Durango, SW Colorado

Over 80 classes by Over 40 teachers!

Now our attention goes to 2017’s all new Good Medicine Confluence, a broadened and colorful palette of topics under the motto “The Art of Healing, The Savoring of Life.” Stretched to FIVE full days, there will be over. As always, what we make available to you will be specially tailored to this tribe and mission, unique classes found nowhere else, creating with unique you a one-of-a-kind experience. The intention of every class will be to empower us, “enabling” action, manifestation and fulfillment long after the Confluence is over.


Please check out and share online this pdf about the new event:

2017 Good Medicine Confluence Invite

The location is incredible, lodging cheaper than ever, and we can hold many more people and include many more teachers and classes. Can you believe 80 classes, and not only by herbalists?

The new Good Medicine website is designed, up and ready to be viewed, at:


$100 Discount on Tickets

In 2017 you more than twice as many classes for about the same price as before!

In addition, you can get a full $100 discount if you purchase your tickets before the end of the year. Deadline: Dec 30th

Vend or Sponsor

For the first time we have room for lots of vendors besides sponsors, and you can get vendor tables, free tickets and more by becoming a Good Medicine Confluence Sponsor. Download and check out:

2017 Good Medicine Confluence Sponsor Info & Application

2017 Good Medicine Confluence Vendor Application


2017 Teachers & Classes

As always, it is difficult to get a balance between our longtime teacher cadre and the new voices that we want to rotate in and give a venue to, or the balance of information and inspiration.  At this point our herbalism class slots are basically filled, even if we have not agreed on topics and titles, and now sadly we have to start turning down proposals from folks we honor and love. We’ll save them for ’18!

We are still open to hosting teachers known for distillation, brewing, botanical dyes, cultivation secrets, cannabis edibles etc., with an invite to indigenous teachers and herbalists of color. If you or someone you recommend would like to apply, please fill out and return as soon as possible:

2017 Good Medicine Confluence Teacher Application


Here are just some of our already confirmed teachers, and what they will be offering in this eclectic and empowering mix:


Paul Bergner:

Comparative Materia Medica: Herbal Affinity Groups or Specific Medication?   1.5 hrs

A New Look at an Old Devil: The Risks & Benefits of Coffee   1.5 hrs

Sam Coffman:

The Art of the Free Clinic 1.5 hrs

Herbal Wound & Infection Management in the Field or at Home 1.5 hrs

Percolation Tinctures, Oxymels, Syrups & Simple Formula Making 1.5 hrs

Betsy Costilo-Miller:

Shifting our Story- Working with Body Dysmorphia and Eating Disorders 1.5 hrs

The Language of Lymph1.5 hrs

Sean Donahue:

Tryptamines: Human & Wild 3hrs

Oppression & Expression: Herbs for Chronic Stress Among The Oppressed 1.5 hrs

Thomas Easley:

The Hepatic System: Herbs & The Liver 1.5 hrs

Comparing Herbal Dosage Strategies, Past & Present 3 hrs

Lisa Ganora:

Cannabis Extraction – 1800s Pharmacist Style 3 hrs

Charles “Doc” Garcia:

The Secrets of Herbal Shotgun Syrup 3hrs

Amy Glasser

To Be Announced

Shana Lipner Grover:

Smokable Herbs 1.5 hrs

Topics in Wildcrafting (with Dara Saville) 1.5 hrs

Jesse Wolf Hardin:

ReWilding 1.5 hrs

The Calling: Purpose, Mission, & Role 1.5 hrs

Kiva Rose Hardin:

BrambleSong: A Bardic Approach to Herbcraft 1.5 hrs

Fairy Thorns: Walking The Third Road With Firethorn, Hawthorn, & Blackthorn   3 hrs

Kathleen Harrison:

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

Marija Helt

Plants of the Southern Rockies Plant Identification Walk 3 hrs

Favorite Substitutes for Osha 1.5 hrs

Medicinal Shroomery in the Southern Rockies 1.5 hrs

Stephany Hoffelt:

Working With Sexual Assault Survivors (with Alanna Whitney) 1.5 hrs

Being the Bean Feasa: Women As Keepers of Knowledge 1.5 hrs

Nam Joti Kaur:

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

Guido Masé:

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

Katherine “Kat” MacKinnon:

Plant Identification Walk: Medicinal Plants of The Mountains & Mesas 3 hrs

Weaving the Wild: Making Baskets for Gathering & Storage 1.5 hrs

From Seed to Seed: The Science & Spirit of Growing Your Own Herbs 1.5 hrs

Jim McDonald:

Sanguine Temperament: Inspired Action 3hrs

Ow! My Fucking Back!: Using Herbs for Back & Joint Pain 1.5 hrs

Gut Healing Teas 1.5 hrs

Joshua Paquette:

Colorado Materia Medica 3hrs

Neurognostics: Gathering Knowledge From the Heart of The World 1.5 hrs

Missy Rohs:

How to Afford Herb School: Involving Community and Embracing Creativity 1.5 hrs

Herbal Remedies in Times of Oppression: Nervines for When the World Overwhelms 1.5 hrs

Ramona Rubin:

Cannabis Topical Treatments 1.5 hrs

Dara Saville:

Drought & The Future of Medicinal Plants 3 hrs

Pedicularis: Community Coordinator & Facilitator of Change 1.5 hrs

River Restoration & Medicinal Plants 1.5 hrs

Topics in Wildcrafting (with Shana Lipner Grover) 1.5 hrs

Emily Stock

Star-Gazing Herbalists! 1 hr

Jen Stovall:

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

Jonathan Treasure:

Weed Wacking: Misinformation & Misconceptions About Medicinal Cannabis 1.5 hrs

FUQ: Medicinal Cannabis (Frequently Unasked Questions) 1.5 hrs 

Evidence Based Herbal Medicine – New Block on the Kids 1.5 hrs 

Angie True:

Waking Up From Psychiatric Drugs 1.5 hrs

Thyroid: At the Juncture Between Self and World 1.5 hrs

Roxana Villa:

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

Ginger Webb:

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

Alanna Whitney:

Transgender Therapeutics1.5 hrs

Pregnancy for Everyone Else: How to Get Pregnant Like a Lesbian 1.5 hrs

Working With Sexual Assault Survivors (with Stephany Hoffelt) 1.5 hrs

Briana Wiles:

Bodyworker Herbs, Oils, & Toils 1.5 hrs

Yarrow Willard:

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs

To Be Announced 1.5 hrs



Help Spread The Word – & the Movement – Please!

You can be a great help by printing and putting up posters in local herb shops, or spreading online the low res poster and graphics. If you would like us to send you already printed posters or postcards for Good Medicine Confluence, please write us at:

2017 Good Medicine Confluence 8×11 Poster for Printing

2017 Good Medicine Confluence 8×11 Poster for Online

2017 Good Medicine Confluence Small Graphic for Online

2017 Good Medicine Confluence Horiz. Graphic for Online


Thank you so much! You make it happen!

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Aug 212016

2016 TWHC Final Scholarships poster 72dpi

Plant Healer gatherings are rightfully known as the “Medicine of The People,” serving a unique community of herbalists and others who are not only professionals but everyday people, the common folk: part-time practitioners, backwoods mothers, volunteers at nonprofits, and kitchen-sink medicine makers.  As a result, few attendees of our past gatherings have been able to easily afford the trip to the beautiful Southwest, let alone the price of the ticket.  It is partly for you folks that we pick sites that has free camping in the adjacent national forest, and it is for you that every year we make available work trade positions, accept barter, arrange for time payments, and give away a significant number of scholarships to attend.  

Because we aim to support the marginalized and those at an economic disadvantage, it can be difficult for us to cover the bills… so it remains crucial that our community purchase enough tickets to cover the high costs of putting on the conference.  If you pay for herbal school, classes or online programs, please consider TWHC to be a component of your herbal education that is equally worth saving for and paying for.

If, however, you cannot afford to attend, don’t let a lack of funds get in your way!

We welcome you to apply to assist with work trade, make time payments, offer barter, and/or to receive a free scholarship… in support of your healing path.

1. Work Trade

We need a limited number of folks each year to assist with registration and sales in the Healer’s Market, and to shuttle teachers from the airport to the site.

We can also use help spreading word about Plant Healer publications and events through social media etc., and making calls to potential sponsors if either is something you would like.

2. Make Payments

It’s great to get time payments from those of you who with an income, who can’t afford the entire ticket price at once.  The value of a ticket for this purpose is $300.  You can take from 6 months to a whole year to cover the total, even when that means paying part of it after you have already attended.  All we need is your sincere commitment, and for your follow through on whatever payment arrangement that you commit to.

3. Barter

You can offer a mix of part payments and part barter, or even all barter, to cover the $300. value of your ticket.  Trades need to be for things we will actually use, so we’ve included some possibilities in the application below.

4. Scholarships

Scholarships are meant for those of you who are for whatever reasons unable to pay for your herbal education, including for schools and courses, and who do not have enough barter.  You can request a scholarship to cover either part or all of the cost of a Plant Healer event ticket.  We are more than happy to support those in need who are devoted to learning and practicing the herbal arts, it’s part of our mission!

To Apply For Assistance to Attend, please write for an application soon:

For more information about this year’s Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, click on the Events page at:

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Jul 202016

2016 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

You Are Personally Invited to Join Us – Sept. 15th-18th

for Plant Healer’s 7th Annual Gathering:

The 2016 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

–High Atop Sky-Island, New Mexico–

This year’s Plant Healer event will be the last held in Southern New Mexico before our move to the next site, and this may be your final chance to experience the awesome Cloudcroft area perched in an alpine forest 8000 feet above the surrounding deserts.  And as always, it will be an opportunity for the like-hearted oddkins of this plant-loving tribe to rendezvous together, enjoying an unusual weekend of practical herbal information, deep inspiration, and wild celebration.

50 Classes Like Nowhere Else • Native Plant Walks • Dance Concert & Masquerade Ball

For advance discount tickets, navigate to the Registration page from:

A list of Scheduled Class Topics follows for your convenience:

  2016 TWHC Classes 1-72dpi2016 TWHC Classes 2-72dpi2016 TWHC Classes 3-72dpi

For advance discount tickets, navigate to the Registration page from:

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Jun 272016

Aysgarth Close Up Waterfall

Clean Water For Health:


by Sam Coffman

As healers, herbalists have a responsibility to address all causes of illness including diet, lifestyle, and environment… and to recommend treatments and remedies besides herbs when appropriate. Access to clean water is one such problem that Plant Healer’s can’t ignore, as brought to light by recent events such as the contamination in Flint, Michigan pipes and the pollution of sources by the annually increasing number of floods worldwide. The following article is an excerpt from the Summer issue of Plant Healer Magazine, offering important information and materia medica for those of you not yet subscribed to our quarterly. Its author, Sam Coffman of the Human Path School, brings a wealth of practical info and beaucoup  experience to this and other vital topics.


Water is vital to life, as we all know.  Often, for those of us living primarily in a first-world environment, we take water completely for granted.  Turn on a faucet and water appears as though it were magic.  Flush the toilet and it just disappears.  Where it comes from, where it goes to and what happens to it in the meantime are all processes that are – most of the time and for most of us – completely disconnected from our daily lives.  Between our disposal of wastewater and what we pull from the tap, water in our first world, urban environment goes through filtering processes, destruction of all biological, living material, accumulation of numerous pharmacological and chemical toxins that aren’t filtered out, deposition into ground water and eventually back into our kitchen sink.  This is a far cry from the wild water coming out of a spring in the ground (which may have its own set of organisms that could overwhelm our body), and there are many humans –particularly in our country – who have never consumed any kind of water except the kind that comes out of a tap somewhere after being on the aforementioned journey through a public water system.

Flint Water Protestors

Whether wild water or tap water however, there are several important points to ponder on the topic of water and health:  What is the state of our water (i.e. quality and quantity) both in this country (USA) and around the world?  What can we do on a personal level to enable better water quality and quantity? How can we deal with water-borne illness? The World Health Organization estimates over 800,000 deaths per year due to water-borne diarrhea alone.  

When I first started doing medical work in developing nations it struck me as odd that a medical  mission would involve treating diseases that were obviously related to the quality of the water (e.g. parasites, kidney and urinary tract diseases, liver issues) without even so much as considering the need to address ways to change the source of the problem.  I saw so much of this that I realized any realistic health care effort in any community (anywhere on the planet) has to include water quality.  To take it to the next level, if you want to set up any kind of clinic and provide any kind of meaningful health care as an herbalist, you absolutely must have clean water at your disposal.

Sam Coffman Water Purifying Project

As herbalists in the USA this may not seem that this is an issue for you.  You can buy distilled or filtered water and have exactly what it is you need (whether to drink or use for medicine making) right at your fingertips.  However, herbalists have the extra responsibility of understanding health from the most organic and basic fundamentals.  This starts literally with at least knowing something about the source of healthy food and water.  Water quality (and quantity) plays a central role to any clinic you set up – whether in the middle of an urban area or in remote wilderness.

This article will focus on water purification methods and herbal strategies for water-borne diseases. The means to purify water are numerous, and depending on what kind of technology is available to you, can vary from primitive to advanced. Purification methods can be chemical (manufactured or even phytochemical), heat-based, radiation (UV) based and particulate filtration. One of the most reliable methods is heat.  Roughly speaking, if you can heat water to over 160 degrees F for at least 30 minutes, or above 185 degrees F for 5 minutes, or bring water to a rolling boil at all, you have created enough heat to purify water.  However there is at least one caveat to this.  You still should clean the particulate matter (turbidity) out of the water as much as possible before heating.  The clean the water looks, the better the results will be that you achieve by heating.   Another note about heating is that this will probably not remove chemical contamination.  The purpose of heat is to kill pathogens.Water borne Bacteria magnified

Aside from heat there are many other methods of water purification:   These include reverse osmosis, ultraviolet, ozone, ceramic, ion exchange, copper-zinc systems, distillation and more.  Many of these systems rely upon technology in order to be effective to any scale and are outside the scope of this article.

However, I would like to briefly cover one of the simplest and most effective water purification methods I know of that can be implemented even in a completely off-grid environment.  This method is called slow sand filtration and is a way to filter water very sustainably for a home, a clinic or a small community.

Slow sand water filtration is the type of system that the non-profit organization we work with and support (Herbal Medics) has built in villages and urban and rural clinics in Central America.  These systems are bulky and take a bit of labor, but they can be easily constructed using local materials just about anywhere in the world.   Building one together with a community is an excellent way to teach others how to set up their own sustainable water filtration system, because anyone helping will know how to do it for themselves by the time you are finished setting up the first system. The most difficult part of building slow sand filters is finding clean (food grade) water barrels and some kind of piping such as PVC.  We have set up prototype systems using tubing that consisted of bamboo connected by bicycle inner tubes, but PVC makes a much longer lasting and robust system of course.

There are a few critical concepts involved in the construction of a slow sand filtration system.  First, the most active part of this filter (within about 3 weeks after running water through it) is the biolayer of the filter.  Once this layer has formed, you do not want to starve it or dry it out.  Second, the vertical column length of sand is important.  Skimping on this distance will greatly diminish the quality of your filtration.  Finally, the flow rate (drip rate) of water through your filtration system is critical.  If water percolates too quickly through the filter, the amount of filtration that occurs will be greatly diminished.

So what are the details of these critical concepts and how can we make a slow sand filtration system?

At its most basic level, the slow sand filter consists of a single container (a 55 gallon, food-grade barrel is perfect) that has enough height to allow for at least 30” of sand.  From top to bottom, the filter has sand for at least 30” and then gravel (pea gravel size) for the bottom several inches.  The gravel at the bottom is primarily to keep the plumbing from becoming clogged with sand.

Sand Filter poste

At the bottom, we have to have some type of outlet for the water to come out.  The best way to do this is by using PVC pipe and drilling holes in it.  Making a “U” shaped PVC collector at the bottom using ½” or ¾” PVC works well. This then merges to a single pipe that exits the barrel (along the side) an inch or two above the bottom.  From here, the drain pipe needs to make a 90 degree turn back up to the top of the barrel on the outside.  This allows for a pipe (1” – 2” diameter) that we can fill with small chunks of charcoal.  A screen on either end of the pipe fittings keeps the charcoal from coming out into the water.

The important idea here is that the drain pipe final level (back near the top of the filter) is between the top of the water and the top of the sand.  In this manner, the top layer of sand should always be under water.  This allows our biolayer to form.  The term “Schmutzdecke” (also called “filter cake” in English) is a living layer of organisms that form within about 21 days after running dirty water through the filter.  This living layer of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms, eat the pathogens that are in the dirty water coming into the filter.  I would note however, that even without waiting 21 days for the filter cake to form, I (and my teammates) have drunk absolutely noxious water (prior to filtration) that has been filtered through the sand filter, and have never suffered any ill effects whatsoever.  This has been necessary from a liaison perspective.  When we set up a slow sand filtration system for a community somewhere, it’s not very effective (socially) to tell them that in 21 days everything will be fine, while waving goodbye.  I have to demonstrate the effectiveness of the filter before we leave if we are to have any credibility as an organization.  Once we have run about 100 gallons through the filter and the water is clear coming out, it’s time for me (and whoever is in charge of the primitive engineering team, at a minimum) to do a “bottom’s up” raising of the glasses and drink away!  This is usually followed by a lot of laughing and joking and everyone else drinking water from the new filters.  I am never worried about the locals, as they’re getting far better filtration even without any biolayer formation, than they were getting prior to us setting up the filter in the first place.

Slow_sand_filter diagram 1

In order for the filter to work correctly, the flow rate needs to be kept between 3 and 5 gallons per hour.  This limits the amount of water that a community can draw from a filter.  The maximum that a filter like this is good for, is about 120 gallons per 24 hour period, and in order for there to be 120 gallons per day, it is necessary to add a couple of pieces to this filter setup.  

First, a raw-water (pre-filter) container is necessary.  This is where the dirty water is pumped or scooped into, and can be any size.  The larger the better, and in a typical gravity fed system of course its outflow will have to be positioned slightly higher than the filter’s in flow.  The manner in which the water flows into the top of the filter needs to be controlled so as not to disturb the top of the sand too much.  This is normally done using baffles (PVC pipes with holes drilled in them something like drip irrigation systems).  We usually take a few $8.00 float valves with us when we’re setting these up, as it is the easiest way to control the flow between the raw water container and the filter.  There are certainly other ways, but the float valve makes everyone’s life easier and is so simple to install as a valve that opens and closes based on the level of water in the filter tank itself.

Slow-Sand-Filter diagram

Next, a final collection tank is necessary if you want a 24/7 water filter functionality.  The collection tank is fed directly from the filter.  This means that the full filter setup is a 3-container system:  A container for the raw water, the filter itself and a collection container for the water that has been filtered.  To use the system, a person first takes the water they need from the third container in the system – the collection container with clean water in it.  If there’s not an automatic system that fills the raw-water container, that same person can get the same amount of water they just used and put it into the raw-water container.  For instance, pulling it from a well and refilling the raw water container after taking the clean water from the filtered water container.  This ensures a 120-gallon per day maximum capacity of the water filter.  Calculating 1 gallon per person per day drinking water only, this system can serve over 100 people in a community.  However, we usually set up one filter for every 20-30 people, which allows for a minimum of 4 gallons of filtered water per person per day.


This approach gives me, as an herbalist, an entirely new approach to working with a community where a hugely disproportionate percentage of the population has the same health issues that are obviously related to poor water quality.  Between fracking, coal mining, corporate agriculture and political corruption (i.e. Flynt, MI), water quality is not something that is limited as a problem to only developing nations.  So if you are researching the health issues of a given community and are facing some type of water-borne epidemiological syndrome, then following along the same logic that a clinical herbalist should be using (work with the core problem whenever possible rather than just palliating the symptoms), this may give you another tool in your toolbox to consider using.

Let us address water-borne disease now, and some of the herbal approaches to resolving these disease states.

First, what are the common water-borne pathogens?  We can become ill from water that contains viruses (for example: hepatitis A and E), bacteria (for example: cholera, shigellosis), protozoans (for example:  giardiasis, cryptosporidium) and helminths (for example:  roundworm, tapeworm).

While it is possible to run down a list of specific pathogens and cite studies (whether valid studies is a whole different question) as to the effectiveness of a particular herb used for a specific pathogen, I think it is more effective to start the discussion with some of the general approaches we can take in the case of exposure to water-borne illness.  

First, the ubiquitous, acute onset of gastroenteritis that probably comes to everyone’s mind when discussing water-borne illness.  Narrowing down a set of options is a lot easier to do once we have gathered some information using even as simple of a mnemonic as SAMPLE:  Signs and symptoms, Allergies, Medications, Last known intake (food and water) and last known menstrual period if appropriate, Events leading up to the illness.  In addition to SAMPLE we can also use OPQRST to narrow down specifics on pain or discomfort:  Onset, Palliate/Provoke (“what makes it better or worse?”), Quality (“throbbing,” “sharp,” “burning”), Radiate (“does the pain radiate to other parts of the body?”), Severity (“on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life…”), Time (“how has the pain changed with any of the previous questions, since it started?”).

Bear in mind that beyond just working with one individual, you may be watching for patterns in a clinical environment.  After the third or fourth person comes in with the exact same symptoms, you have to start addressing community health questions.  How you go about doing that can range from quarantining (in the case of something like cholera) and helping set up water-treatment & hygiene plans in a remote or post-disaster community, to contacting local (e.g. county) health officials in a more first world setting.


In acute presentation of gastroenteritis, the herbal protocols are often going to be symptom-based.  Is there nausea and vomiting?  If so, can they keep anything down at all?  Dry heaves?  Blood? Diarrhea?  Color and consistency of the diarrhea if so (e.g. “rice water,” bloody, mucous, etc.), cramping?

Our primary concerns in the case of an acute onset of severe gastroenteritis (assuming that the herbal approach is the only option for whatever reason) are to prevent the patient from dehydration and support the recovery of the gut mucosa.  The latter is simple in theory but not always in practice.  Some of the most effective approaches involve helping clear the gut of what is causing the problem and reducing the inflammatory responses.  

Activated charcoal is a very useful substance in the initial clearing of the gut.  Whether toxins (e.g. food poisoning), bacteria or even protozoan infections, charcoal adsorbs and also helps to slow diarrhea.  As an initial protocol before giving any herbs, charcoal can often be very helpful.  The dosage can range as between one and two grams of charcoal per kilogram of body weight, every 4 – 8 hours.  Be aware that the person’s feces will likely come out black, and it should slow diarrhea somewhat.  Normally (in the absence of diarrhea), it is important to note that charcoal can cause constipation.  Note that we would not want to ingest charcoal at the same time as any herbs we were taking.  Much of the herb would bind with the charcoal, rendering both the charcoal and the herb ineffective.

Moving into herbs, what are some of the primary considerations?  We want to reduce gut inflammation.  We want to help restore normal gut mucosa function.  We want to overwhelm or kill off causative pathogens.  We want to support liver and kidney function (detoxification and elimination).  We want to palliate symptoms like cramping and nausea.  We also want to prevent dehydration, which involves both a rehydration solution as well as helping the gut absorb the fluids.  

“Gut inflammation” is a sort of generic term given to the physiological set of responses by the gut to a disruption in healthy function.  Pathogens have many various methods of fulfilling their own life cycles in their own quest to survive, colonize, feed, reproduce and find more hosts.  During that process that may be happening in our own gut, there is inevitably going to be an inflammatory response by damaged tissue of the gut.  Anything that reduces the pathogenic potency, increases our own tissue healing curve or both is going to reduce gut inflammation.  

Most berberine-containing herbs kill handle many of these aspects of dealing with gut inflammation.  They provide an astringency that helps reduce water loss.  They tend to have a directly anti-inflammatory effect on the gut.  They are usually anti-microbial.  They are also usually stimulate and support liver function.  Herbs that fit into this category are the Berberis and Mahonia species.  Other herbs include Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and Chinese Goldthread (Coptis chinensis).  My favorite herb to use for acute gastroenteritis is Algerita (Berberis trifoliolata).  The root of this plant is intensely bitter and yellow with berberine, while the leaf is somewhat sweet, a little sour, and an excellent anti-nauseal.

Another herb that is highly anti-microbial, astringent and wound-healing on the gut is Walnut (Juglans spp.).  I use the Juglans microcarpa here in central TX but the most commonly used medicinal species is the Juglans nigra.  I like to mix the unripe (but just starting to soften) hull with the leaf of this tree, about 50/50.

Juglans nigra Eastern Black Walnut

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) is not a North American plant, but can be grown here in the most southern climates, or grown in pots and wintered indoors.  It has been referred to as the “king of bitters,” and for good reason.  Aside from its overwhelming bitter qualities, it is another herb that is highly antimicrobial and has an astringing, anti-inflammatory effect on the gut.

I like to use Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) as well as its milder cousin, Western Mugwort (Artemisia ludoviciana) for acute gastroenteritis as well. Both are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory to the gut tissue, bitters and cholegogues. Both are also decent anti-nauseals, even when a person is already vomiting.  

Another antimicrobial that is also a superlative smooth muscle relaxant for cramping is Silktassel (Garrya spp.).  I know of herbalists who have used the leaves of this plant to mix with water as a form of water purification.  While I have not used it this way, I do use it quite often as an anti-spasmotic for smooth muscle throughout the body, to include the gut.  I use the leaf and bark of this plant, tinctured fresh.  I usually harvest it by pruning a bush and taking all the leaves and bark off of what I prune.  This usually comes out to being about 70% leaf and 30% bark.

Any mucosal vulnerary is going to have a soothing, anti-inflammatory effect on the gut.  This can include Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) root and leaf, Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp.) cactus flower, Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) leaf (if you don’t have a problem with the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which another topic), Plantain (Plantago spp.), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.) root and many others.  These are best prepared as a cold infusion, which also helps with hydration.  If you are preparing a rehydration solution anyway (1 teaspoon salt, 6 teaspoons sugar per quart of water is one of the most basic formulas), you can put it all together in a mucosal vulnerary rehydration drink.  

As a side note, Prickly Pear cactus can be used to filter water as well.  Fillet the pad and chop it into small pieces so that lots of surface area is exposed of the demulcent, gooey inside of the pad.  Put those pieces into a container with the water you wish to clean (pre-strain to clear as much turbidity as possible).  Shake, let it sit about 30 minutes, shake again and strain.  It is not anywhere near the filtration of a slow-sand filter, but the Prickly Pear pad is a flocculant and will stimulate aggregation of small particulates (fomites – homes for pathogens to live on) into larger particulates while adsorbing the same.

In a pinch, the Prickly Pear cactus pad can even be used to boil water!  Take a large pad, cut off the pointier end, fillet down the center very carefully to within about an inch of the edge (from the inside).  You can prop the sides open at the top using a small stick and pour water into the pad.  Water can be heated to easily 160 degrees for about 30 minutes in coals, without burning through the pad

All of the antimicrobial herbs mentioned above are going to give relief and help the body cope with a protozoal infection such as giardiasis or cryptosporidium.  Another strong antiprotozoan for those two infections particularly, is Chaparro Amargosa (Castela spp.).  



Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) is another anti-protozoal and one of the primary ingredients in formulas I have used to work successfully with cutaneous leishmaniasis infections, which are protozoal.

With any case of infectious gastroenteritis, it is imperative that the liver and kidneys be supported as well.  Support of the liver should be gentle to help it detoxify waste products that make it into the hepatic portal system.  Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) seed is of great use here.  Also helping to support liver function gently are Chicory (Cichoreum intybus) root and Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) leaf.  I like to use Burdock (Arctium lappa) root and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) root a lot as both gentle liver support as well as gentle diuretics whenever helping the body deal with toxins, pathogens, infection, lymph stagnation or other disease processes that increase the body’s need to deal with and excrete waste products. 

Parasites (helminths) are another topic that is a discussion on its own.  There is generally not going to be a singular herb or even a set of herbs that are anti-parasitic for all parasites across the board.  However as a rule, some of the general anti-parasitic herbs that work in formulas either directly, or supportively, are: Any of the aforementioned berberine-containing herbs, Elecampane (Inula helenium), Horse Radish (Armoracia rusticana), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum spp.), Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) Garlic (Allium sativum) and Cayenne (Capsicum annuum).

The importance of clean water cannot be overstated in the full spectrum of holistic understanding of our health.  In the case of infectious disease, it is paramount that we have a clear understanding of both the epidemiology of the area as well as the tools we can implement to create better preventative health for a community.  Once we have helped create sustainable, clean water, we can continue even better than before as herbalists and health care providers.


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Jun 132016

diversity faces herbalism

The Value of Cognitive Diversity, NeuroDiversity, & a Diversity of Approaches to Herbal Practice

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Violent attacks by anti-gay and anti-American extremists are indicative of the fear of social diversity, just as fear of neurodiversity and differences in perspective/response manifests as intolerance for anything but the accepted “normal.” The following defense and celebration of diversity is an advance excerpt from an upcoming Plant Healer Magazine column, by Plant Healer co-editor Wolf Hardin… feel free to share it with others and thereby advance this important discussion in these troubling times.


Diverse |diˈvərs, dī-| adjective
1. very different; demonstrating a great deal of variety
Origin: From the Latin ‘divursus’: meaning to ‘turn in individual ways’

We might find differences interesting and the exceptional may excite us, but it is sameness and normalcy that are most often sought. When entering a crowded party, we may gravitate to those most like us. Parents are known to brag about how their child is “just your average, typical kid,” apparently relieved if they grow up neither smarter nor less intelligent than those around them, fitting in by looking at and acting within this ol’ world in the same ways that the majority do. In fact, when most parents are handed their newborn child in the hospital, the first thing they do is to count the number of her fingers and toes, giddily announcing that everything’s alright: “She’s normal!” Never mind that a sixth digit could prove immensely useful, or that it is the child’s unique personality, particular differences and peculiarities that will make her most precious and memorable.

Diversity – a multiplicity of differences – is typically shunned in the larger society. It is not just perceived racial and gender diversity that’s often found threatening, nor the diversity of political beliefs and contending religions, but also the biodiversity that impedes or contends with the monocultures of agribusiness, the old or innovative architectural diversity that detracts from a city’s chosen modern theme, the diversity of thought that can make the job of controlling human behavior more difficult for the managerial systems of the elite minority. Variety – generally superficial variations of the same accepted things – is both acceptable and profitable. Diversity, on the other hand, is by its very nature complex, unpredictable, and to some degree resurgent and unmanageable… just like the field of herbalism itself.

My teaching, publishing and organizing work happens not in society writ large, but within a special herbal community that is characteristically nontypical, and that with few exceptions vocally supports ethnic, biological, and some other forms of diversity. And yet, even here, there is often a reluctance to value differences in opinions and perspectives… and there’s a percentage of herbalists who hold that divergence – including neurological diversity – is a malady needing to be addressed or cured. If none of us shared a common neurology, and the ways of seeing and interpreting the world which follows, it would be hard to imagine us coalescing and functioning smoothly as families, clans, neighborhoods or nations… and yet it is differences in perception as well as form and function that open new doors for personal, cultural and biological evolution. And the health of earth and life, as well as of our own personal life experience, is contingent on the interrelationships between wildly diverse things, beings, and ways.

Let’s take a diverse look, if you will, at how these themes influence, impact, impede or propel elements of an herbal practice.

Diversity sign

Tradition & Diversity

Tradition – the best as well as worst of traditions – depend on our doing some things in a closely similar way to our peers, elders and ancestors. A diversity of ways can feel threatening as well as confusing. Throughout history, we have understandably valued sameness for its familiarity and the relative security it provides. Change has often been tragic, and differences often proven dangerous. People who looked, dressed, and acted like us, were more likely to be related and less likely to be invaders from another place. Eating the same culturally prescribed meals prepared in the same ways, might logically reduce the chances of being poisoned by unfamiliar toxic species or improperly handled foods. Healers sticking to the same well-tested materia medica could ensure greater predictability when it came to effects and outcomes.

Traditions, including healing traditions, require a degree of uniformity and continuity to retain their usefulness, meaning, distinctive character and flavor. At the same time, they cannot further develop, deepen, improve, or repurpose without a separate or even counter current within them that challenges and tests their assumptions, advances new perspectives and possibilities, and suggests divergent ways and forms of manifesting. Diversity is the milieu for cross pollination and exponential variation, increasing ideas and options, mixing new colors from out of the enlarged palette, and enriching and informing any participants.

The ideas and principles that we treasure most, often sounded bizarre, absurd, or heretical when first uttered by impassioned outliers and oddballs. They were often dismissed at first, if not outright condemned. People who look and sound nothing like the norm have often inspired or instigated revolutions in thinking, in science, in culture and our social relations, and in the healing arts. We grow our materia medica and advance our formulations not through adherence to what is already known, but through intuitive leaps and mad adventures, through exploration and experimentation, through unheard of applications and unlikely combinations.

Certain societies and traditions have found healthy ways of incorporating and utilizing the “medicine” of divergence, valuing those individuals that are different, the holy fools who act as a counterforce to the pretentiousness of religious leaders and arrogance of rulers. Those beset with visions might in some cases be assigned the role of shaman or soothsayer. They who seem to exist in their own separate reality, could be tapped for ways of seeing outside the self-limiting box of “knowns.” While homosexuality was punishable among some Native American nations, there were also examples of incorporation such as the accepted transgendered “Contraries” of the Plains tribes, riding into camp backwards, speaking in virtual koans that disrupted normal perception. In historic Europe, being just a little different could get you ostracized, whereas being extremely, flamboyantly different could result in appointment as a jester, an emissary, or an advisor. These days, it’s not uncommon for teams of product designers and software developers to include one “free thinker,” tasked to add novel perspectives and make wildly unexpected suggestions to a working group otherwise made up of the practically conventional and cautious.

Folk herbalism feels like a natural home for the different, for the relative minority who do not accept the pervasive spin of the medical and pharmaceutical establishment. This field attracts people with an uncommon degree of caring and compassion, an unusual degree of desire to make their lives ones of service and benefit to the world, and often a strange compulsion to frolic with plants. By contemporary American standards most herbalists are categorically strange. Even those with white lab coats or professional letters after their names are, with very few exceptions, still a bit odd… just think about it for a minute! And even herbalists who work hard to be accepted by the mainstream will almost always be seen as fringe and suspect by the MD, the politician, and the average citizen. Herbalism is marked by a diversity of characters, philosophies, approaches, traditions, constitutional models, skills, treatments, and plant medicines… and the overall field benefits by any political, lifestyle, ethnic and gender diversity that we’re able to encourage and facilitate.

Plant Healer Diversity Poster-72dpi

NeuroDiversity & Autism

What is called “Autism,” like any other condition, exists as a spectrum of characteristics with a wide range of degrees. At one end of this spectrum, these characteristics can be so extreme as to make functioning in “normal” society nearly impossible without assistance, with every sight and sound seeming to assault the person’s senses, and all human expressions and gestures menacingly indecipherable. At the other end, someone with Asperger’s may not only have learned to adapt and function, but also to conceal their condition from casual observers.

The way that an autistic person might perceive and communicate is not objectively wrong, it is simply different… and one question, as always, should be “what is the message, lesson or benefit to evident differences?” Having a partner on the spectrum, I have witnessed the ways she is handicapped, but have also been witness and beneficiary of ways in which she is blessed and equipped. Because she thinks visually, my art and writing is perpetually fed new and improbable imagery, her proclivity for patterns brings new factors to light, her absence of filters means she expresses herself literally, and her inability to strategize means I can trust the in-the-moment sincerity of any purrings or outbursts. Not automatically knowing what “normal” people would do or say in a given situation, means she provides fresh if not always gentle input and response. She is a constant compulsive creator, and her obsessions have resulted in the development of helpful new herbal uses, the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference and Plant Healer Magazine. Her built-in intolerance for the clamorous and the pressing, the hurtful and the illogical, for great mistakes and common untruths, is – regardless of its neurological or psychological causes – both helpful, and commendable.

Looking to that percentage of autistic people who struggle to interact in society without anxiety and panic, it is natural for an herbalist or other health care specialist to want to address the distress and ease the unease. It becomes even harder not to label autism a disease, when the internet is full of organizations devoted to “stamping it out,” and scary stories attributing its cause to vaccinations, or a government conspiracy against the lower classes. In balance, we might look to contemporary literature and research linking Autism Spectrum “disorder” in some cases to creative genius, discovery and innovation.

Evolution is adaptation under stress, a process of bold experimentation with many forgettable dead ends and some truly significant new avenues of being and becoming. Social and cultural evolution has almost always been seeded, fomented and furthered by an odd and impassioned few, not by the norm nor the masses. Intellectual and societal breakthroughs have been spearheaded by rather abnormal thinkers and doers, crazed generals and mad scientists, mystics and marvels… and some of these exhibited what have been identified as autistic traits: Issac Newton challenged the religious and scientific establishment. America’s revolt against the English monarchy and the principles of its Bill of Rights owe much to the very Aspergy Thomas Jefferson. Alternating current (AC electricity) resulted from the unusual mind of the inventor Nicola Tesla, the very untypical Herman Hesse gave us ground breaking spiritual/philosophic books like Steppenwolf and Magister Ludi. George Orwell proved with his book 1984 that, contrary to popular citation, he could see that “the emperor wore no clothes.” Albert Einstein postulated theories of space and time that radically changed how we look at the physics of the universe. It took someone like Joy Adamson to personalize lions for the public in her book and then movie Born Free, and more normal people seem less likely to raise the priorities of animal conservation up to the level of those regarding human welfare. Pop music benefitted from the introspection of Nico, John Hartford, Ladyhawke and Mozart. Bisexual novelist Patricia Highsmith allegedly felt more comfortable with animals than most humans, and took lesbian lit to places it had never gone before. Alfred Kinsey wrote about human sexuality in radical new ways. There would one less Wonderland in our collective consciousness without the bizarre imagination of socially-handicapped Lewis Carroll, and Pink Floyd would have been a much more ordinary rock band without the psychedelic ministrations of Syd Barrett’s Autistic brain.*

celebrate neurodiversity

To the degree that we accept the value of ethnic and other forms of diversity, we must reasonably also accept the value of NeuroDiversity, the diversity of alternate mental, emotional, and perceptual states. Clearly, when herbalists and others work with clients with autistic spectrum or other supposed psychological or neurological “disorders” attention should be given not to cause movement towards some baseline or version of normality, but towards maximizing their positive experience, and assisting their healthful manifestations of their particular differences and individual gifts.

diversity kids no background

Cognitive Diversity & a Weirder Norm

However science eventually categorizes, describes or measures autism, and whether it is mapped chemically or electrically, it will likely always be helpful to explain it through the use of visual models and metaphors, such as referring to a persons cognitive “wiring.” An autistic person is thus said to be wired differently than average, resulting in different patterns of recognition, interpretation, and response. And this atypical wiring can result in atypical ways of experiencing, understanding, and altering or solving otherwise imperceptible, inexplicable, or intractable situations.

We live in a society rife with injustices, inequities and evils, in a time when keeping things the same would amount to perpetuating harm. Against a vast backdrop of normal and even institutionalized wrongs, from corporate hegemony to hateful dogma, exploitation, the destruction of nature and endless wars, any difference or change has at least a decent statistical chance of being an improvement, and it is only diversity of thinking that prevents the complete solidification and codification of the unhealthful condition of sameness.

It is perhaps sameness that we need to create a movement against, instead of against autism or deviance, divergence or diversity. Something like Societies For The Eradication of Sameness, for the sake of the world we hope to leave in one piece for our descendants. Websites raising funds to prevent the spread of unquestioning obedience and dangerous assumption. NGOs chartered to find a cure for the plague of clueless acquiescent normalcy. And I would add, with less tongue-and-cheek: a growing cadre of enthusiastic volunteers dedicated to the diversification of thought and approach, the diversification of monocultures and the monotheistic, of the monotoned, the monopolistic and monocratic.

At no point do I mean to say that autistics or other neurodivergents have an exclusive lock on originality and innovation, or even strangeness, nor that they are born to be the sole translators, arbiters or interlocutors between the worlds of the magical and the muggles, the normal and the wondrous, the mundane and the surprising. That mission belongs to all of us, the well-adjusted as well as the maladjusted. The relatively normal as well as we classifiable freaks. Cognitive diversity is no less important to our personal and societal health than biological diversity is to ecological balance and well-being of ecosystems. It is for us to develop and pass on to others an understanding of health and living that is conscious of differences and encouraging of diversity and divergence.

Face it, what we know of as the norm is going to get weirder as we learn more. If we look closely enough, we might see that “healthy” looks different depending on the person. And if scientists ever can locate, describe and map out cognitive variances including autism, I expect that we will find all people are “wired” at least a little bit differently from each other, that none of us are fully normal, that we all harbor and can express traits that are unusual, differences that distinguish as well as personalize us, and a diverse cognitive ecosystem by which grace we shine.

diversity hands in air

*For lists of more famous folks with apparent autistic traits, see:

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