Kiva Rose

Kiva Rose is a practicing herbalist, co-director of the Anima Herbal School and Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous as well as co-editor and publisher of Plant Healer: A Journal of Traditional Western Herbalism.

Jun 142015

Spiral Stone Tibradden


New Science, Vitalism, & Healing

by Guido Masé

Guido Masé is a clinical herbalist, herbal educator, garden steward specializing in holistic Western herbalism, valued columnist for Plant Healer Magazine, and esteemed teacher at the upcoming Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference atop New Mexico’s Sky Island (click on:  Guido’s teaching style is a good fit for Plant Healer publications and events, focusing as it does on conveying the interconnections within the human organism and between the organism and its surrounding ecology, with a constant eye to the amazing beauty such study reveals: at any level, and in many different “languages”, herbs mirror people, the plant and animal kingdoms grew up together as complements. Such a relational awareness provides meaning and context, critical elements to understanding and also to healing. Learn more about his work and the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism school programs at:

The following essay is excerpted from the Summer issue of Plant Healer Magazine, available by subscription.  To read an excerpt of an in-depth interview with Guido in an upcoming issue of Herbaria Newsletter, subscribe for free by entering your name and email at:


When I get to the top of a hill, or to a rocky outcrop in the forest, I like to take a moment and put my hands on the raw stone. It can feel hot, if it is exposed in the middle of a summer day; or cool, if it is deep in the shade of the forest. From here, if I slow down a bit, I can get a sense of the roots of the mountain, deep and rocky, cracked and trickling with water, deeper and deeper until it almost feels like I am in touch with a kind of consciousness. But are rocks conscious? Are they alive? Perhaps not in the traditional sense. Although without these rocky bones, the water would not flow the way it does. Streams and swamps would be different, soil would build up in different places. Different trees would grow, different birds would alight on different branches, we would walk different trails and build our homes in different ways. In short, without these rocks, everything would be different. Scoured by glaciers long ago, these stones are a vibrant, essential part of this valley. If the valley is alive, then the rocks must share a piece of its consciousness. Stones, plants, fungi and beasts co-evolved.

pebble stone spiralWhat does this mean? Can life forms be really simple – as simple as a pebble in the streambed? Can all the pieces of an ecosystem hold a kind of consciousness, maybe not exactly like ours, but still alive and perceptive? If you speak with healers from many different traditions, your answer will most often be affirmative. There is a vitality that courses through all of the world, from the waters of the ocean to the rocks of the highest mountains. There is vital force – and it may actually predate matter. It is pattern-organizing, it possesses understandable features, it is self-similar at many levels. Or so the story goes.

But this vital force, the élan vital, has been a discredited concept for over two hundred years in the Western system of thought. Those of us who talk about vitalism, about dissipation-adaptationnourishing this power in our gardens, our forests, our bodies and spirits, are ostensibly barking up the wrong tree: a tree that withered and died long ago. So it becomes very difficult, in academic circles, in writing, or even at family gatherings, to have conversations about vitalism, energetics, or other models that speak of qi, unseen forces, humors and balance in our physiologies. Energy systems are an archaic way of thinking. If there is an “energy” coursing through the universe, it is the dissipative force: everything is fading into a slow, homogenous dust. Entropy rules. Vitalism is dead.

Or is it? The Taoist masters talk about a “way” that generates all things, but also grinds them into dust. All around us, we see life increasing in richness. How can we reconcile the homogenizing force of entropy with the “clumping” and complexity everywhere? Many argue that this “clumping” is a rarity – and that may be the case – but it seems that, out of an initial clumpy distribution of energy in the universe, matter and life have exploded into greater and greater diversity in those rare places of high energy concentration. Why is this? Why did the dust surrounding our proto-star clump into planets? Why did the crust of our planet become so complex, when it was once mostly molten silicates? It all makes little sense, because concentrating matter into planets is the exact opposite of diffusion (and diffusion is a clear outcome of the entropic drive).

It turns out that built right in to the concept of entropy is a tendency to generate more and more complex structures. Jeremy England, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spends his days analyzing dissipative structures: systems that take in energy and efficiently distribute it over a wide area. The systems in question are exposed to an energy source and are suspended in a bath of some kind: water, air, plasma. A matrix. What the England lab has discovered is that a system of atoms or particles, when caught between an energy source and a matrix, will continually rearrange itself, increasing in complexity and reproducing its structure.

In so doing it dissipates energy into the matrix more and more efficiently. In other words, life arises to better fulfill the goals of entropy. Birth and death are the same thing. Yang flows into yin, harnesses substance, and generates the ten thousand things.

While this may help explain how life and a drive to complexity may exist hand-in-glove with the entropic drive of the second law of thermodynamics, it still doesn’t explain why people use concepts like the four elements, five phases, humors, ama and agni, or any other energetic descriptions. An animating, vital tendency may exist in all matter as it attempts to dissipate the energy of the universe, but why describe it in such broad, metaphorical strokes? Isn’t this outdated language?

scientistOne of recent history’s most prolific mathematical geniuses, Stephen Wolfram has spent years developing more and more sophisticated models of computation. He uses computers to simulate reality – and provide answers for engineers, weather forecasters, and scientists in a wide range of disciplines. But what makes his work unique is his approach to creating models. Take, for example, the problem of determining how a block of concrete will break under stress. What does the crack look like? Where does it go? This a very difficult process to predict accurately. Historically, it involved massive tangles of equations. Inputs including vector forces, the structure and density of the materials, temperature, pressure, and many, many more fed into these equations and a computer attempted to give a “best guess” as to the outcome. This approach attempts to predict outcomes by reducing the system to its components and their relationships.  Wolfram’s approach is different: instead of trying to identify and catalog all of the complexity of a living system, he looks for a simple system that behaves just like the complex one. He has hit on a just such a simple mathematical tool that generates endless complexity: the cellular automaton(.

cellular automatonThrough these constructs, he has created models that predict concrete shear much more accurately than any reductionist system ever has. So much so, in fact, that engineers now use a cellular-automaton-based system much more often: not just for concrete fracturing(4), but for urban flood planning, evacuation protocols(6), even the stock market – among many others. Two interesting insights follow from this development: first, many processes in the universe seem to follow this simple model, from seashell patterning, to concrete shear, to wood snapping, to spirals forming, to fractals nesting.  Second – and this is crucial – it is impossible to actually predict what the next step, the outcome of the system, will be without actually watching it move. That is to say, we can’t predict the future by taking a snapshot of the present, even if we know all the relationships and laws of the universe. This had been the dream of the Newtonian “clockwork” universe: the idea that we would
discover a master equation to predict all outcomes from a given set of conditions. Wolfram has proved that this is impossible for cellular automata, and calls it “the principle of computational irreducibility”. In the common tongue, it means we can’t get to understanding through reductionism. We have to watch the process flow. Ecologists are beginning to understand this inescapable fact.


Taking these two insights into the discipline of medicine, we can make some interesting observations. Prognosis – the art of understanding how a disease will progress, and also how a medicine or treatment will affect the progression – is very tricky business. There are many variables involved. We have attempted biomedical models, based on receptor structure, genetic expression, and so much more. These predictive models work fairly well, but there is still a lot of uncertainty, especially in the more subtle and complex situations. Take, for example, the use of antidepressants. Many physicians like to use SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), but often cycle through many different ones, starting with Prozac, then maybe trying Paxil, and finally settling on Celexa (for example). They are all SSRIs, but some work in certain people, while others don’t. I have even heard physician speak in strange ways about them. “I’ve found Paxil is better for a skinnier, anxious person,” they say. Huh?


So perhaps we can inform prognosis, and perhaps diagnosis too, by applying the idea that a given set of conditions (patient, disease and intervention) can’t really ever give a consistently accurate prediction through an equation or algorithm. Even our most detailed understanding of the body, even a complete map of the whole genome, the whole proteome, microbiome and interactome, cannot yield the predictive power we are looking for. Computational irreducibility proves this. So what are we left with? Useful approximations, for one – and medicine has been relying on these for the last century. But more importantly, faced with the fact that reductionist approaches will always be approximate, to deepen our practice and improve our results we would do well to follow Wolfram’s lead: if we don’t want to watch the disease process unfold in order to see what the future holds (because the future could include death!), perhaps we should watch a simpler model. After all, simple models are able to predict a range of different phenomena incredibly accurately, much better than reductionist approximations. Can this apply to medicine?

Guido Masé teaching at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference - The Herbal Resurgence

Guido Masé teaching at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference – The Herbal Resurgence

The cellular automaton models seem to apply at many levels of reality – from weather patterns to chemical reactions. The patterns they weave hold within them spirals, self-similar cracks, repeaters, reproducing sequences. This presents powerful mathematical evidence, beyond such well-known constants such as φ (phi), that broad self-similarity exists at all levels of reality, and that the same models are equally applicable at all levels. What if the processes we observe in medicine (disease, pharmacodynamics, healing) draw on these models, too? If this were the case, then by observing processes at one level, we could gain relevant insight into medicine and healing. Perhaps the way the weather moves, the way ice cracks and flows into water, the way summer clouds gather into storms on the updrafts of July, all can tell us something about the human body. Perhaps the way fire warms your soup, or wind dries your skin, can give insight into medicine and healing. The current cutting edge of science is telling us that an animating drive towards complexity, adaptation, and reproduction exists at the most basic levels of matter. It affirms that it is impossible to predict outcomes by reducing the current situation to components and running those components through an equation. And it encourages us to seek out patterns we can observe to understand how health and disease work, because reality, though complex, is based on simple patterns and is largely self-similar, with simple models underlying all behavior.  Does this sound familiar?

shell colored

What remains to be seen is whether these energetic, vitalist ideas actually have any bearing in medicine and applied pharmacology. While we have not yet fully built this bridge, the basic infrastructure does exist: network pharmacology, which uses concepts from systems and network graph theories, attempts to understand how medicine works by focusing on structures that are echoed at many levels of reality. Concepts like “hubs” and connectors, which are absent from “random” networks, are found easily in everything from ecologies to the interaction of molecules with the protein networks in human physiology. They can be used to predict how drugs will work in a living system, and how a disease will progress. Since we understand how networks work (by observing them at many different levels of reality), academic researchers are starting to apply these ideas to how medicinal plants help with disease, and how different people with the same  “condition” might respond differently to the same herb. This is powerful stuff, and it won’t be long now before traditional concepts of energetics will become a source of wisdom to understand how medicine works. Herbalists will be ready.

stone design

So next time you feel the cool stone beneath your fingers, deep in an old-growth grove, your harvest basket full of summer’s wild harvest, think about the vital force that brought this all into being. Remember how it courses through all things, invisible but understandable, with clear patterns that are both simple and incredibly powerful. Patterns that are encoded into energetic concepts. Energies that are brought to bear in healing human suffering. Vitalism is alive and well – you just need a new language if you want to talk about it with physicists and physicians. I prefer the poetry of weather, the whispers of spirits. But physics and math weave amazing stories, too. And herbalists have always been equal-opportunity storytellers.

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Jesse Wolf Hardin & Guido Mase at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference -

Jesse Wolf Hardin & Guido Mase at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference –

Jun 082015

Good, The Bad, The Efficacious

The Good, The Bad, & The Efficacious

Reassessing How We Think & Speak About Herbs, Ailments, & Ourselves

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

The following essay is excerpted from the Summer issue of Plant Healer Magazine, available by subscription.

“Our chosen language can either further or limit an immediate goal or larger mission. And it is the ideas that our chosen words convey that can either weaken our positions and purpose, or else help to make truly effective healing action possible.”  –The Language of Healing, Chapter 6 of The Plant Healer’s Path

What are the effects of the words we use – on our perspective, assumptions, and approaches?  What do we actually mean when we say that something is good?  How do terms like “bad” impact the client, their mood and ability to hope, their fears, stress and nervousness, and thus their ailments and outcome?  And how are we ourselves affected by our thoughts and statements, not just by what we take into our mouths but by those utterances that issue from them?

In the foundational book for herbalists – The Plant Healer’s Path – I wrote about the power and consequence of the words we choose to use, focusing on terms that are particular to a healing profession.  It is just as important, however, that we pay attention to even the most common and widely employed vernacular, since there can be so many different connotations… and because the meaning and associations they communicate can hamper as well as help our healing intention or mission.  

A perfect example is the matter of “good and bad.”  Over the course of years, I have heard an increasing number of herbalists equate “good” with “good enough,” thereby lessening their hunger to learn and their drive to excel, and thus their improvement and progress.  When folks gather to discuss which healing practices in particular have proven the most effective, and to point out which don’t seem to work, there is often someone in the group who wants to see every method or idea as equal.  “It’s all good,” they may say.

Even more potentially harmful is the use of “bad.”  Bad people are people who intend to cause harm, or who are aware they are doing hurtful things but do nothing to stop or change.  So, when we talk about a “bad illness” we are portraying it as not only severely but intentionally harmful.  A virus goes from being simply a self serving microbe to being a conscious villain in our telling.  When framed this way, healing becomes intercessional and confrontational, a war against disease instead of holistic treatment.  And worst of all, is how many people getting into herbalism insist that they are “bad herbalists.”  This language reinforces a debilitating lack of confidence in one’s abilities, feeding a sense of insufficiency, and engendering a sense of fatalism about the possibilities of improving.  Its tone infers that we are flawed, unworthy, and unblessed.

Good & Bad Herbalist Signs

Breaking Bad


1. Of poor quality; inferior.

2. Not such as to be hoped for or desired, such as a “bad outcome.”

3. Something that is “bad for you.”:

4. Something that is unlikely, such as: “her chances were bad.”

5. Something defective: a “bad assessment” or “bad choice.”

6. A part of the body that is defective, injured, diseased, or causing pain: for example, “a bad back.”

7. Feeling poorly, as in: “She feels bad.”

8. Feeling bad about something: feeling guilt, regret, or shame.

9. Someone morally depraved or wicked: “the bad guy.”

10. Something inappropriate, such as: a “bad joke” 

It is almost never helpful to use the word “bad” in reference to fellow healthcare providers, unless in the slang sense of “great” or “rad!”  I’ll explain why.

For example, in discussions about official new herbal product manufacturing regulations, I have heard it said that no one who strives for safe practices and obeys the law needs to be concerned, and that only “bad herbalists” or “bad producers” have reason to worry.  Not only is this an inaccurate statement, but this use of the word “bad” contributes to the stratification, exclusion, and elitism that folk herbalism generally and very thankfully avoids. Besides, how could one accurately and fairly declare what is good or bad?  Is a manufacturer bad if they fail to competently source and test the botanicals they use, or only if it deliberately and greedily sells useless or harmful products?  If someone’s assessment and recommendations have repeatedly proven harmful, it at least makes some sense to call him or her a “bad herbalist.”  Scarily, when using this label and measure it becomes all too easy to apply it to people who simply don’t know very much about herbs yet, or to all those who haven’t been able to qualify for a professional membership, or to any practitioner or producer willing to break with convention or law.

I have met thousands of plant healers and manufacturers over the many years that I have been co-creating herbal events and Plant Healer Magazine, yet I can say that I have never encountered a literally “bad herbalist” – which to my definition, would have to be a plant healer with bad intentions.  At worst, some of us can be misinformed, under-informed, or ineffective dispensers of recommendations and herbs, but no caring soul who is genuinely devoted to healing others can ever be fairly called “bad.”  Such characterizations can be poisonous to the folk herbal movement, damaging the cohesiveness and hence the health and reach of the community.

Potentially just as toxic, is that unfortunate habit I mentioned earlier – of unsure practitioners or out-n’-out newbies characterizing ourselves as “bad” herbalists.  While humility can appear lovely or noble, this kind of self-denigration does nothing to encourage us or empower our work.  Feeling bad about ourselves makes it less likely we’ll feel like striving to learn what we need, or to develop more advanced skills… makes us less apt to chance failure and criticism doing whatever we can with what knowledge we possess, in order to try and aid the ill people we know or meet.

The problems with this word don’t end there.  It’s said that one catches a “bad cold,” but thinking of a disease or condition as bad connotes evil more than severe, and puts both the health provider and patient on a course of conflict with what are often natural processes.  Infections are imbalances more than they are invasions, and natural healing is not counterattack or eradication so much as an orchestrated return to balance, wholeness and integrity.

Good PlantBad Plant There are also no such thing as good or bad herbs.  All have a potentially positive role in the ecosystem, and often in a natural healing system.  Some that can be harmful or even deadly in large amounts, are exceedingly beneficial in smaller, appropriate dosages. All can potentially have a negative impact, as well, depending on a person’s condition and symptoms, their constitution, and their overall vitality.  

The Wild Carrot in many botanical face creams may be “good” for others, but when I tried using them they greatly aggravated my HCV-triggered dermatitis, and I had to quickly switch back to Rosalee de la Foret’s Wild Rose cream to gently soothe my cheeks instead.   Liver stimulants like Berberis spp. have the potential to help people with a sluggish liver by initiating mild irritation, yet can be harmful to someone like me with an already overstimulated liver.  My partner Kiva points out that the warming aromatics of plants like Oshá can both dry up boggy, congested tissues and assist in either preventing or treating respiratory infection through its volatile oils and yet can actually aggravate dry, hot lung conditions in sensitive folks.

Before we refer to problems, practitioners or practices, plants or protocols as “bad,” let’s take a moment to question this loaded word’s various definitions as related to herbalism:

1. Of poor quality; inferior.

Is what we may call a “bad” disease really of poor quality, or is it actually quite well and robust?  Do you think it helps or hurts to categorize beginning or less effective herbalists as inferior?

2. Not such as to be hoped for or desired, such as a “bad outcome.”

Isn’t an outcome more accurately described as undesirable, unfortunate, or unpleasant?

3. Something that is “bad for you.”:

Gluten can be said to be unsuitable for certain people’s constitutions and digestion, but can it really be bad if it doesn’t mean to hurt us?

4. Something that is unlikely, such as: “her chances were bad.”

Are our chances of making a living from herbalism bad?  Or are they simply difficult odds to hopefully be overcome by our passion and perseverance? 

5. Something defective: a “bad assessment.”

An assessment/diagnosis may be inaccurate, but is it really bad?  It depends on if the herbalist offering the assessment intends well, or intends ill.  Obviously most practitioners as well as family members mean the best when they attempt to determine what is making someone ill.

6. A part of the body that is defective, injured, diseased, or causing pain: for example, “a bad back.”

We don’t call a person bad if they are weakened by disease or suffer an accident, so why would we call a well-purposed organ bad when it is having trouble?  It’s not a “bad back” if it bore a person’s loads for some part of their life, not bad because it hurts or fails after an accident, or after years of being subjected to poor posture or extreme loads. And rather than being defective, an organ is more often injured, impaired, obstructed, undernourished, or otherwise compromised.

7. Feeling poorly, as in: “she feels bad.”

Someone may feel in pain or even downright miserable, but they’re not “feeling bad” unless they are feeling like causing hurt to people or things… or perhaps, feeling deliciously mischievous, like ditching responsibilities, having an early shot of mezcal, or breaking some boring rules or conventions!

8. Feeling bad about something: feeling guilt, regret, or shame.

Are you really feeling bad about people’s illnesses and the worsening state of our world, or isn’t it more likely that you feel concerned, or disappointed, or alarmed, or unable to help as much as you would like?

9. Someone morally depraved or wicked: “the bad guy.”

And yet, some of us still speak of ourselves as being “bad herbalists”?  Really?

10. Something inappropriate, such as: a “bad joke” 

Finally, our use of this word isn’t a bad joke, it just that the consequences aren’t funny.  Our usage of such loaded terms does not constitute “bad language,” it is simply a case of problematic and sometimes counterproductive terminology.  And it will not ensure we’re seen as good, just because we learn to use the language better.

Some alternative terms to consider include:

Unsuitable: Not a good fit or match for a person or condition.

Problematic: Possibly useful, but with potential difficulties or side effects.

Counterproductive: Obstructive to the aims of a practice or treatment

Harmful: Causing bodily or other harm, usually conditional.

Severe: Extreme, in a negative sense.

Dangerous: Having the potential to cause harm or death, such as when a plant or drug are used improperly.

(And of course) 

Unwell: Out of balance, ailing, suffering.

Good and Bad Rubber Ducklings

Being or Doing Good

good |go͝od|(adjective)

1. To be desired or approved of.

2. Having the qualities required for a particular role

3. Possessing or displaying moral virtue

4. Obedient to rules or conventions

“Good” is a word that is used much more than “bad” in the herbalist community, and a quality more common to its members.  Herbalists tend to have hearts full of goodness.  We are likely try to good for others even when it doesn’t pay or benefit us directly.  We look for those herbs that work good in various situations, and we strive for a good outcome.  We do things for the good (benefit) of the plants and their habitats, of our society and cultures, for the good of the world.  Most of us try not to needlessly offend anyone.  We compliment each other on our good work.  Most of the word’s definitions describe the majority of people we call plant healers:

1. To be desired or approved of.

The work we do is highly desired, as is health and vitality itself, even if herbalism has yet to receive the approval of either the medical industry or the general public.

2. Having the qualities required for a particular role.

The primary qualities for being an herbalist are concern, compassion, appreciation for plant medicine, and a desire to learn and develop – which nearly everyone called to this field embody and exhibit.  

3. Possessing or displaying moral virtue.

Moral judgments have caused much inequity and misery throughout history, but if herbalism is characterized by a morality, it is in service to life, nature, diversity, balance, free expression and vitality.  Its virtues are compassion, devotion, nurturance and nourishment, alliance between natural medicines and the natural body, an active reconciling of science and intuition or magic, and a willingness to use methods outside the scope of conventional MDs.

4. Obedient to rules or conventions.

Okay, three out of four ain’t bad!  Herbalism, by its very nature, is truly unconventional in the modern age.  And what could be better, than trying to do good even when there are rules against it?

You are good – a good herbalist/person – if you care about the suffering of people and animals, if you delight in plants and are a student of their natures and actions, and if you do you best to assist the natural processes of healing.  This last aspect is perhaps the most important, since anyone’s goodness depends on the actual good that we do.

This Doesn’t Mean That “It’s All Good”

No one who cares about others and attempts to help them ought to ever think of themselves as a “bad herbalist,” but this is not to say that we shouldn’t make an effort to continue evolving.  If we do good work, we can probably do better.  The most experienced practitioner, just like the newbie, has some degree of capacity for new insights, to increase our knowledge, to develop greater understanding, and to improve our skills.  We shouldn’t wait until we reach some arbitrary level of knowledge and skills before trying to help people, but neither can we be complacent about our continuing education or our real-world effects.  “Folk” herbalism doesn’t mean without consequence, nor does it imply casual, undisciplined, or untested.  After all, there can be serious consequences to how we do or don’t treat ourselves and others.

Trying to help someone assess their health problems is a good thing, and there is no such thing as a “bad” assessment/diagnosis – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ineffective, unhelpful, counterproductive, and even downright harmful misdiagnosis.  At the very least, an inaccurate reading of a person’s symptoms, condition and constitution can mean spending time and money on a protocol that is unneeded, resulting in a delay in getting useful medical and/or herbal treatment for a worsening condition.  

Herbs are good things, you surely agree, and yet they are not always “good for us” – depending on various factors.  There are definitely certain dosages, situations, and plant species that can be harmful.  We’re much more helpful as practitioners when the expression and attitude “it’s all good” gives way to deepening understanding, evaluating, and discerning… determining which herbs to give for which conditions, to which types of people, in which amounts, and prepared in what particular ways.

Good and Bad split

A Language of Efficacy


1. Successful in producing a desirable or intended result.

2. Effective.

If our aim is to assist making ourselves, others, society, our environment, and the natural world more healthy, we would be wise to stop thinking, speaking and writing about these things in terms of good and bad.  I hate to sound like a stereotypical Choleric, but if our goal of healing matters, if results matter, then the optimum word is “effective,” and the operative question becomeshow effective?”  How effective a particular plant is, in what situations and amounts.  How effective our assessments and treatments are, as measured by outcomes.  How effectively we reduce the suffering of our clients, how effectively we encourage and support the revitalization of their very lives.

Increased effectuality requires extensive research on our parts, repeat experimentation (trial and error), continuing analysis, critical thinking, courageous reconsideration, adaptation and amendment.  It is through increasing awareness and effort that our work becomes more effective – potent, constructive, beneficial, successful, and for these reasons, valuable.  We’ll be more effective in our healing mission, and therefore more effectively satisfied and fulfilled, the more carefully we pick our path of learning, our work and role, our perspectives and approaches, our treatments and methods… our herbs, and our words.


(RePost and Forward Freely)

Apr 192015

Plant Healer Parents Group Forming

A commitment to teaching the craft, ethos, and values of folk herbalism to kids and teens is one of the most important things we can do for our species, our planet, and our future.  Asa, Lauren, and the Plant Healer Parents group are doing all they can to move this vision forward… not only by creating a program for your kids at the upcoming Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, but all year long through parent networking, sharing, and alliance.  Kiva and I recommend this google group as a resource to any parent or teacher of young’ns, whether you are planning to attend TWHC or not.  And we hope you enjoy our friend Asa Henderson’s beautiful piece that follows, excerpted from the latest issue of Plant Healer’s free Herbaria Newsletter releasing Apr 21st.  –Wolf & Kiva

Plant Healer Parents Group poster72dpi

Join in Encouraging a New Generation of Wild Herbalists

by Asa Henderson

The beauty and the frustration of raising kids is that they are full of wild energy. What I mean by energy is that thing that wells up in us and spills out into the world.  My son’s energy comes out as beautiful artistic creations, and (when he was a bit younger) as the impulse to tackle anyone he either liked or didn’t like.

Asa Lauren Athil at TWHC 72dpi

There’s a delicate balance that we have to strike as parents between letting our kids’ energies run completely wild, and squashing them or making them wrong and bad.  My son is learning not to throw things behind his head inside the house.  He’s learning to look where he’s going to land before he summersaults.  He’s (mostly) learned not to wrestle in school.  He’s also learning to play the drums, to practice a beat over and over again until it flows out of him without a thought.  He’s learned to write letters, and then some words, and now he spontaneously writes love notes to friends and relatives.

Irish woman and kids72dpi

There’s a finesse (which I have far from mastered) to directing our kids’ energies in life-promoting directions without repressing or condemning the energies themselves.  We have to strike this balance because those energies come from the place where we are one with Creation.  Those energies that well up inside us and impel us to act, they come from our basic life force, our basic vitality, our anima. And as a parent, my primary job is to guide this vital force, this little ball of energy that is my son, to express in ways that serve Creation.  Which is why one of my favorite things to do for him is to bring him somewhere where his vital force can interact freely with that of other creatures—plants, animals, sticks and rocks.  There’s a freedom a kid can have in a forest or open field that it’s a lot harder to give him in our very cozy 700-square-foot trailer.  Kids need time and space to throw, dig, pick stuff up at random and see what can be done with it, run, roll, hike, explore.  They need time being part of a system that reflects their vitality back to them rather than trying to control it.

26402 Arbor Day Foundation Nature ExploreThe Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference has been such a place for my son, every year since it (and he) was born.  That’s why I and my wife volunteered to coordinate a kids’ camp for TWHC 2015.  We already have an amazing group of parent volunteers (and other herbalists who love kids), who have come up with some wonderful classes and activities.  There will be nature-based arts and crafts such as printing with plants, coloring with plant pigments, and connecting with plants through song and movement.  There will be experiential explorations of herbs through taste, smell, touch, and medicine making.  There will be hikes, herb walks, imaginative adventure story quests, fairy houses, and lots of free play in nature.  We will have separate activities and childcare for young kids (under 3 or 4) and older kids, so the young ones will be safe while the older ones can explore more adventurously.

If you’re as excited as I am about this and would like to help make it happen or have an idea for an activity you’d like to guide, contact me at to volunteer.

But the most important ingredient in this awesome kids’ camp is the kids, so the most important thing you can do is bring them!  They’ll get to enjoy the freedom of being in nature and the kind of knowledge that only comes from direct experience with plants and wild places.  You’ll get to enjoy the classes while someone else plays with your kids.  Most importantly, the conference will benefit from the vitality of your kids, and the movement toward a humanity more attuned to nature will get a new generation of ambassadors!

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For more information or to join the growing Plant Healer Parents Group, email Asa at:

To register you and your children for the TWH Conference & Kid’s Camp, click on the:TWHC Website

Apr 142015

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Planning continues for the upcoming Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, and the release of yet more Plant Healer books and magazines… but somehow or other we are managing to also make time for another supplemental Herbaria Newsletter.  Herbaria is absolutely free to anyone subscribing, with the upcoming April issue containing 50 color pages of herbal information and inspiration.  You can look forward to the following and more:

• Catherine Skipper – writing about Medicinal Trees and learning to listen to them

• John Slattery, providing text and photos on the fascinating topic of harvesting and preparing edible Saguaro cactus

• Dale Pendell writes about the intersection of Deep Ecology, Wild Mind, & Psychedelic Plants

• Elka offers another delicious and healthy recipe –  Wild Mustard & Braised Beets

• An insightful interview with unconventional herbalist teacher Sam Coffman, including 1500 words of totally new material

• Plus a second interview, with the heartful herbalist, horticulturist, teacher and photographer Juliet Blankespoor

• And for those of you hoping to attend the 2015 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, we will be announcing this year’s exciting Dance Band!


You must be subscribed to be certain of receiving your April issue when it releases April 20th.

Subscribe Free by filling out your name and email in the space at left, on the Plant Healer website:

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Mar 262015

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We periodically like to profile our Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference teachers here, some of the best teachers in the herbal field today.

Shana Lipner Grover was one of the popular of last year’s instructors, impressing attendees with her vast herbal knowledge and considerable experience, her passion and love for the plants, and her clear communication skills.  We’re honored to promote her work, and to have her back teaching in 2015: one class on the late Michael Moore’s constitutional system, one on the very useful Ceanothus, and another with Rebecca Altman about medicinal plants of the Southwest and how place affects us and our treatments. If you don’t know, the Michael was one of the most influential herbalists of his generation, and his systems of assessment and protocols have been an immense influence on many practitioners including Shana, Howie Brounstein, and ourselves (Kiva and Wolf).

Shana Grover is a nature lover, plant medicine explorer, Clinical Herbalist, and all around wonderful person.  Her herbal school and business, Sage Country Herbs, is a result of over 15 years of working and playing in natures gifts.  She offers a Botanical Medicine Apprenticeship that is 80% field classes, and an ever expanding herbal product line by the same name.  Shana’s time is spent going for hikes, exploring ecology as well as offering plant walks, workshops and teaching about local, native and medicinal plants.  She also keeps up a clinical practice in North County, San Diego, with a focus on empowering people and their health through nutrition, lifestyle, and herbal medicine.

When we realized she did not have business logo yet, Wolf wanted to show our appreciation for her by taking time to draw one for her.  For the “sage” in Sage Country, Shana wanted a likeness of her local and much valued Black Sage (Salvia mellifera), which Wolf stylized and brought to life for her.  We’ll paste it here for you to see:

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If you are interested in attending her TWHC classes in New Mexico this September, check out the full descriptions below.  And we if you live in California, we recommend you consider attending Sage Country school as part of your important herbal education.

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Shana’s 2015 TWHC Classes:

Michael Moore Constitutional System: Anabolic/Catabolic/Thyroid

(1.5 hrs)

There are many different theories of constitution, 5 Element Theory, the Doshas of Ayurveda and the Four Humours are commonly recognized.  Michael Moore developed his own constitutional theory as a means to categorizing tendencies in the body to see a bigger picture of health. By utilizing constitution information, a practitioner can make choices in protocols to aid the body in finding balance beyond one organ system showing symptoms and effect change on a deeper level.  We will cover an introduction to understanding Anabolic, Catabolic and Thyroid constitutions and the manifestation of their tendencies in physiology and their herbal allies.

Ceanothus: Lymphatic & Beyond

(1.5 hrs)

Ceanothus is a North American native genus with many species and a wide breadth of medicinal function.  It is a woody shrub that ranges from small bush to small tree in size and diversity. This is a plant steeped in herbal history of this country from sea to shining sea! Having its greatest effect on membranes and the lymphatic system, and the interconnectedness with all other systems; Ceanothus is a powerful ally when used appropriately .  We will explore medicinal differences in species and parts used; as well as it’s role in inflammation, congestion, membrane integrity, immune function, transfer of fluids, cardiovascular function and much more.

Southwest Plants, Southwest Constitutions: The Influence of Place on Conditions & Treatments

(with Rebecca Altman) (1.5 hrs)

In this class Shana and Rebecca will talk about the ways that one’s place/bioregion influences the kinds of ailments are encountered and determines which herbs work best.  By way of example, they will focus on the ecological experience of moving to the American Southwest: how residing in a hot and dry location affects the constitutions of the people living there, and how the plants that grow there prove uniquely suited.  They will discuss therapeutics for environmental imbalances, while covering a number of key Southwestern herbs and their actions, such as Yerba Mansa, Ocotillo, Nettle, and Marshmallow.

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For more information or to register, click on this link to our: Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference 

Mar 202015

Free March Issue of 


If you haven’t already, subscribe to Plant Healer’s absolutely free Herbaria Newsletter for a monthly dose of herbal information and skills.  The exciting March issue will be released soon, containing 2 inspiring interviews and 4 articles for herbalists and anyone interested in using plants for medicine:

Paul Bergner3-72dpi1. Paul Bergner brings us the History & Vision of The Herbal Resurgence, an uplifting synopsis of the contemporary rise of folk herbalism that he wrote as a special Foreword to our new collection of Plant Healer Magazine articles from 2010-2014 – The Treasury of Herbal Wisdom.

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2. Dara Saville is becoming one of the better writers in this field, contributing to both PH Magazine and Herbaria.  An Albuquerque based bioregional herbalist, she shares with us the story of her new Yerba Mansa Restoration project, an ambitious effort to inventory and reintroduce this important native herb in the riparian Bosque along the Rio Grande River.

Yerba Mansa roots connected

3. Susun Weed is the long popular teacher of the Wise Woman Tradition, providing here an excerpt from her PH Magazine series on her Medicine Wheel of Plant Uses, this time a grounding and centering piece titled Coming Home To Our Roots.

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4. Sabrina Lutes is the primary contributor to PH Magazine’s column about administering herbs to children and pregnant women.  For this March issue of Herbaria, she contributes an original article on Integrating Herbal Modalities that has never appeared in PHM or elsewhere… hope you enjoy it!

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5. Katja Swift is the subject of our first Herbaria interview this issue, a Boston-based herbal practitioner with excellent deductive skills and an ability to personalize and bring to life even the most complex information.


6. Thomas Easley joins us in conversation for a second interview this issue, an up and coming herbalist teacher who recently moved his practice to North Carolina.  We expect you will find much of what he says fascinating and helpful, with these herbalist interviews providing inspiration for the deepening and growing of our own personal herbal paths.

To ensure you receive every month’s free issue, be sure you are subscribed.  To subscribe, simply enter your name and email address in the space provided at the left of the screen on our website:

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Mar 152015

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A Healthy Look at Anger

Hospital-Caused Deaths, Twitter Indicators, Heart Attack & Prevention

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Plant Healer Magazine

The second greatest cause of deaths in this country are factors associated with conventional hospital care, from misdiagnosis to resistant infection and drug side effects, as my partner Kiva and I regularly lament.  Recently our esteemed herbalist friend Paul Bergner alerted us to a report in a 2013 edition of The Journal of Patient Safety, discussing extensive research indicating there are an estimated 400,000 deaths per year directly related to drug-based modern medicine and hospital care.  These statistics, you must admit, are downright alarming.  More than that, they flat-out piss me off… as they likely anger a good number of our Plant Healer readers as well!

But be careful how angry you get when you stop to think about this regrettable fact, with anger looking more and more like a primary preventable trigger of the numero uno cause of death: the approximately 600,000 women and men succumbing each year to a fatal heart attack.  That anger triggers HCV symptoms and gall bladder pain, I can personally attest.  But some curious researching of twitter messaging habits makes me think about the ol’ ticker as well.

protesting-twitter-bird-72dpiSocial Media data is increasingly being analyzed by healthcare researchers for a better understanding of disease patterns and causes.  According to a January 14th, 2015 science report on National Public twitter-bird-angry-72dpiRadio, the internet platform Twitter has provided some very telling statistics.  Of particular interest to this discussion, it was found that those places where the greatest number of angry “tweets” issue from, strongly correlated with those areas reporting the greatest number of deaths from heart attack.  As NPR science reporter Shankar Vedantam explained:

“There’s new work now that connects Twitter with heart disease, because it turns out that you can trace many tweets to the location from which they were sent. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and other schools traced these tweets and then they analyzed the language in the tweets to see if they were expressing anger, or love, or boredom. And they find, in an analysis of more than 1,300 counties, that the amount of anger expressed on Twitter is a very powerful predictor of heart disease in those counties. And in fact, anger, hostility and aggression on Twitter is better able to predict patterns of heart disease than 10 other leading health indicators, including smoking, obesity and hypertension.

Bergner points reminds us that correlation is at best indication, and does not equal causation: “Sometimes two things that seem causally correlated are both caused by something else. What if living in a high crime expensive polluted city causes heart attacks, and also causes people to be angry?  With obesity and heart attacks, the correlation disappears when you remove insulin resistance, the insulin resistance causes the obesity and it causes the heart attacks.”

Yet, even if a direct causative relationship between anger and heart attacks remains unproven, it would seem to be their mutual causes that need to be determinedly addressed.  


There is much to be upset about, and crucial for a healer of any kind – herbalist, nurse, nurturer, culture-shifter – empathize with, hurt over, take exception to, and try to address, confront, transform, or otherwise heal.  Dwelling in our pain and anger, however, is likely to do more damage to our health than bring justice to the world.  Instead, acting on our feelings can vent dangerous pent-up frustration, releasing tension through direct action and purposeful effort regardless of how successful such efforts and acts are.  I am angry over the persecution of herbalists and marginalizing of herbalism, and the threat posed by pharmaceuticals.  I’m ticked-off about the lying and manipulative politicians of both parties who continue destroying the environment and supporting corporatism and war, riled at the disappearance of wild habitat for plants and animals and free spirited people, upset with onerous regulation and oppressive laws, disgusted with bioengineered foods and proprietary seeds.  And thus, my preventative treatments for possible future heart attacks include helping to gather, store and promote wild seed varieties, protesting against or working to change unjust laws, purchasing and restoring a riparian ecosystem and encouraging its plant and wildlife, refusing to vote for what we imagine to be the “lesser of two evils”… and supporting the herbal resurgence against all odds, in every ways possible.  With every strenuous effort I make, I can feel the anger resolve into calm deliberate purpose, feel the tension dissolving in my weight bearing shoulders, my busy head, and my still beating chest.

Most official and unofficial websites discussing heart failure give us the same, not always correct recommendations.  According to the MNT Knowledge Center, for example, the steps to preventing heart attack are:

1. Follow instructions on medications usage (!)

2. Make sure diet is low in salt, fat, and cholesterol (even though nutritional cholesterol has been proven to have no significant effect on the levels of harmful cholesterol in the blood!)

3.  Exercise in the form of a 10-minute walk…

4. Quit smoking, and

5. Avoid drinking alcohol.

Hell’s-bells, as my Papa used to say!  No mention of herbs, of course.  Not a single word about not bottling-up our emotions, or making changes in where and how we live.  Maybe we should add a fifth recommendation:


5. Don’t get angry, get even! (in other words, take charge of our own health, and work to change the dominant system!)

With that calmly considered amendment, I think I’ll ask our partner Kiva – the blender of genuinely remarkable Margaritas – if she’ll kindly fix me a drink.


Get 40+ pages of herbal health information from Plant Healer’s FREE Herbaria Newsletter, by signing up at:


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Mar 092015

Now Available To Order:


Vital Knowledge & Essential Skills

–––Selections from Plant Healer Magazine 2010-2014–––

Edited by Jesse Wolf Hardin & Kiva Rose – Foreword by Paul Bergner

345 pages, b&w, 8.5×11”  – Over 1,000 illustrations – Softcover $29

Order Your Copy Here

Now presenting a collection of intriguing, information-packed articles for the students and practitioners of herbal medicine at every level, gleaned from that esteemed quarterly: Plant Healer Magazine. 

Therein you’ll find much of what you need to provide effective health care to your family, friends, or paying clients, covering a wide range of topics from herbal history and cosmology to  using your intuition and “how to think outside the box,” from making assessments to which herbs to use for broken bones, pain or the immune system, from making herbal tinctures and unguents to enjoying herbal aphrodisiacs, and from tips for self nourishment to tips for launching your own successful herbal related business.  

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If you have been a subscriber of the digital magazine since the beginning, you may be interested in seeing many of your favorite articles in actual book form.  If you have yet to subscribe, or have only recently subscribed, here is your way to avail yourself of much of the wisdom that has been offered.  There has never been a book like this one, featuring over 50 in-depth contributions from 36 herbalist teachers:

Paul Bergner • Matthew Wood • Rosemary Gladstar • 7Song • Jim McDonald • Phyllis Light • Sean Donahue • Kiva Rose • Robin Rose Bennett • Guido Masé • Christa Sinadinos • Sam Coffman • Charles “Doc” Garcia • Juliet Blankespoor • Susun S Weed • Katja Swift • Mélanie Pulla • Dara Saville • Henriette Kress • Rebecca Altman • Rosalee de la Forêt • Corinne Boyer • Aviva Romm • Wendy Hounsel • Sabrina Lutes • Cat Lane • Erin Piorier • Michelle Czolba • Lisa Ferguson Crow • Beth Perry • Christophe Bernard • Merihelen Nuñez • Dave Meesters • Catherine Skipper • Nicole Telkes • Jesse Wolf Hardin

After decades of herbalism being both trivialized and criticized by the mainstream, there’s now an “herbal resurgence” underway – the long awaited reawakening, growth, and advancement of natural health knowledge and skills… and the coming together of a purpose-driven tribe.  The Herbal Wisdom Treasury will equip you with more of what you need on your continuing path of learning, practicing, and healing.

“By my count, in the last year, articles have appeared in Plant Healer by the founders of more than twenty North American herbal schools – fourteen of these are represented in the Treasury of Herbal Wisdom, representing every region in the country. Another fourteen herbalist practitioner/teachers appear in this collection, each with their own creative voice and accumulated experience. Plant Healer is the only resource available today, in print, on the internet, or at any conference, where you can encounter this diversity from among the innovators, the cutting edge thinkers, writers, teachers, and practitioners who are driving the creative evolution of herbalism in North America today.”     –Paul Bergner (NAIMH)

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Order Your Copy Here

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Feb 232015

It’s time for our quarterly Sneak Peek at the upcoming Plant Healer Magazine.  Our Spring issue is yet again over 280 pages long, with another diverse selection of never before published articles covering the information, skills and issues of importance to herbalists.  After a Winter of energies stored in the roots, we can feel the new shoots ready to burst out from us, new ideas to act on, new projects to create.  Most of us have homes or families to tend, but we also need to tend our vision, our healing purpose, our endless learning and continuous growth.

To help feed that growth and purpose, we bring you here another deep well of inspiration, information and experience, written by our fellow practitioners and esteemed teachers.  Several of these will also be teaching wonderfully unique classes for us next September, including Jim McDonald, Juliet Blankespoor, Sam Coffman, Dara Saville, and 7Song, at our annual event for the folk herbal tribe: Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

Thanks go to Susun Weed, who had to type her latest Plant Healer column one-handed after hurting her other hand on a teaching trip to Central America.  The engaging Larken Bunce is our interview subject this time, sharing the example of her plant-focused life, and offering important insights for fellow practitioners.  Juliet Blankespoor provides another advance excerpt from her amazing upcoming book on herbal cultivation, due out by this Fall.  And kudos to the accomplished artist Michael Ford for our latest Plant Healer Magazine cover, a wonderful tribute to Juliette Levy done in the style of early Illuminated Manuscripts.

Hurray for our latest Plant Healer writers!  We’re very excited to welcome the brilliant herbalist Guido Masé as our new columnist, launching his series with a considered and experienced look at FDA regulation and healthy community adaptation and response.  In future columns he will be covering all manner of topics from clinical to political, but always soulful and helpful.  We’re also happy to publish the first contribution by the talented and ecocentric Jared Rosenbaum, whose new book for young kids we also include a few sample pages of.  Jared’s sister Laura did the touching artwork for it.

Paul Bergner gifts us not only with another Herbal Rebel column (cautions regarding adaptogens), but also a synopsis of recent herbal history leading up to the current herbal resurgence you are all an important component of – a Foreword to our next Plant Healer book: A Treasury of Herbal Wisdom.  Releasing on March 1st, the book will feature many of the most intriguing, information-packed, and popular articles from Plant Healer Magazine from 2010 to 2014.

Below you’ll find a list of the Spring issue’s articles, to whet your appetite a mite ahead of time.  Subscribers can download your PDF issue on Monday, the 1st of March.  If you aren’t already subscribed, you can do so at: 

“Herbal medicine has the power, when applied the way it has always been applied – traditionally, relationally, locally, with heart and mindfulness – to heal and transform every system it touches. We have all seen this many times, be it between friends and clients, in doctor-patient relationships, or even on abandoned city lots. We see increased emphasis on herbal and nutritional medicine, along with other disciplines such as acupuncture and massage, being offered alongside modern technological treatment.”  –Guido Masé

Plant Healer Magazine Spring 2015

Plant Healer Magazine Spring 2015 Table of Contents:

Michael Ford: Cover Art: Portrait of Juliette Levy

Jesse Wolf Hardin: We Are The Seeds

Paul Bergner: Introduces The Treasury of Herbal Wisdom

Jim McDonald: Free-Thinking & Energetics

Paul Bergner: Caution With Adaptogens

Guido Masé: Navigating The Herbal Products Industry

Phyllis Light: How the Pine Tree Stole My Heart

Susun Weed: Turning The Spiral, Home to Our Roots

Juliet Blankespoor: Hibiscus

Virginia Adi: More Than Turmeric: Curcuma Zedoaria

Jesse Wolf Hardin: The Healer Part II: Shamans, Nourishers, & Culture-Shifters

7Song: The Herbalist Botanist

Katja Swift: The Herbs of Iceland

Sam Coffman: Lantana

Rebecca Altman: Desert Willow

Jared Rosenbaum: Spikenard: Lifeways of a Lesser Known Forest Herb

Sam Coffman: Vaccinations, Measles & Herbs

Dara Saville: Connecting With Our Heritage Through Herbs – Early American Herbalism

Jim McDonald: Primary Actions: Diaphoretics

Matthew Wood: The Liver Part V

Sylvia Linsteadt: For Children: The Rabbit Herbalist Part III

Jared & Laura Rosenbaum: For Children: The Puddle Garden: Planting a Native Garden

Cat Lane: Working With Animals: The Elderly Canine

Charles “Doc” Garcia: Foraging: Fishing & The One That Got Away: 

Wendy “Butter” Petty: Foraging: Spring Mustards: Chorispora Tenella & Lipidium Draba

Juliet Blankespoor: Cultivation: Step by Step Guide To Creating a Garden Bed 

Elka: Foodways: Preserving & Cooking With Lemons

Charles “Doc” Garcia: The Noble History of The Humble Cough Drop

Mike Adams: FDA Enforcement

Plant Healer Interview: Larken Bunce

Jesse Wolf Hardin: Fiction for Herbalists: The Medicine Bear Part XIV

Kiva Rose Hardin: In Praise of New Mexico, Rural Herbalism, & The Wild, Wild West

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Feb 092015

Announcing The February Issue of Plant Healer’s


Folk Herbalism, Starting an Herbal Business, Passion Flower, & Wild Nettles Recipes

The 40 pages-long February issue of Herbaria will be sent out to subscribers this Wednesday, the 11th.  These supplemental newsletters are absolutely free, but you must be subscribed to receive a copy.

Subscribe by entering your name and email address in the appropriate space, at:

This issue will include:

Passiflora (Passion Flower) by Juliet Blankespoor

Passiflora (Passion Flower) by Juliet Blankespoor

Passion Flower: Materia Medica, Ecology, & Edible Uses

Actions include: hypnotic (sleep-aid), analgesic (pain-reliever), hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), nervine, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), anti-spasmodic, and antidepressant

Read Juliet Blankespoor’s amorous ode to this “drop-dead gorgeous” plant with so many medicinal uses.   She writes that “Often when I am teaching, a student will interrupt my ramblings on ecology, botany, or cultivation to ask the proverbial “But what is it used for?”  This cut-to the-chase question somehow smells of skipping romantic courtship.”  Juliet’s plant profile and incredibly scrumptious photos are sure to inspire or excite your own love affair with this healthful Flower of Passion.

Elka harvesting yummy nettles to eat.

Elka harvesting yummy nettles to eat.

Spring Nettles Feast

Elka shares her story of a nettles-hearted feast, with mouth watering recipes such as Nettle Dip with Yogurt, Sautéed Mustard Greens with Parsnips, and Sautéed Onion with Acorn Meal.  As always, our partner and Plant Healer Magazine food columnist encourages us to celebrate and to savor every healthful meal we make, as we savor every healthy element of our precious lives.

Kiva Rose Hardin with wild Aralia.

Kiva Rose Hardin with wild Aralia.

What It Means To Be a Folk Herbalist

Kiva Rose writes about herbalism for all us folks, a true Medicine of The People.  “There are those who assert that the term “folk” applies only to non-professional or lay people using local or handed down knowledge to treat illness. More realistically, folk herbalism is simply whatever herbal practitioners (whether professional or not) and practices that aren’t currently recognized as valid or acceptable by conventional medicine and mainstream culture. In the U.S., that seems to be just about damn near all of us… Even where our traditions have fractured and been partly forgotten, new knowledge and experiences are forever sprouting up with each new generation – the insistent call and craft of plant-based medicine consistently regrowing even when cut down. Every folk herbalist is an integral part of this emerging resurgence from our shared roots.”

Filling herb orders at Humboldt Herbals.

Filling herb orders at Humboldt Herbals.

Starting an Herbal Business, Building Community:  

An Interview With Community Herbalist Julie Caldwell

There is a huge value to reading dialogues with other folks in the field of herbalism:  Hearing their stories, helps us understand and express our own.  We are forewarned and empowered by knowing their challenges and solutions.   Their passion for the plants and for healing affirms and encourages our own.  We will face similar choices, while choosing our own personal ways.  And the deep healing knowledge they share, helps give us the ability and tools to be more effective ourselves.  They provide examples and serve as worthy role models – modeling examples of the myriad ways in which we can honorably, effectively, and satisfyingly live and practice.  

In our most recent interview, we sit down with the heartful herbalist Julie Caldwell, founder and owner of Humboldt Herbals, and a most evocative teacher.  The complete conversation will appear later in Plant Healer Magazine, but for now you will be able to read an excerpt in February’s Herbaria – focused on launching an herbal business and making it serve the health and growth of the larger community.  We’ll close this post, with what we consider some inspiring Julie quotes:

“Herbalism (and most herbalists) is driven by a desire to help others achieve a full and vibrant life experience.  That’s a beautiful and powerful thing.  Our tradition is ancient, and our connection sacred.”

“Plant medicine is the people’s medicine.  We need to make sure as we move forward as an herbal community that we never lose touch with that basic truth, and that we do all we can do to foster self-reliance, empowering people to know how to use and embrace the medicine all around them.”

“The simple desire to help others is profound, and actions taken toward that end –  no matter how seemingly small – change the world.”

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Jan 072015


In Herbalism We Don’t Ascend, We Deepen

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

To someone getting into herbalism for the first time, it might seem improbable that there be any competition, jealousy or even dissatisfaction among fellow enthusiasts.  Unlike in other fields, herbalists are usually laid back and generally uncomfortable with the competitive nature of the dominant society, fame is both rare and rarely sought after, and there is no pyramidical hierarchy to scramble up.  And yet, we’ve heard more than a few wistful herbalists talk about the difficulty of “climbing the ladder” in the field of herbalism.


By “climbing the ladder,”  I believe they mean that it can be hard to garner attention, be credited, or achieve greater status.  We may witness the high degree of respect and admiration shown to long lauded herbalist teachers (such as Matthew Wood, for example), and question how if ever one might be shown the same.  Some are discomforted by how quickly certain young herbalists have gotten popular on the internet, and may feel increasingly bitter that their own years of practicing, healing and teaching have gone largely unnoticed by their more esteemed peers.  This is competition at its least healthy.

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Without question, the work of an herbalist – like most meaningful, service-full, and even heroic work – is done out of sight of the public and usually without the witness and approbation of others in our role.  It is much the same as with the community or environmental activist who gives years to a campaign to save our forests or our water with few people ever aware of their efforts, the fire fighter we never hear about unless killed in action, the nameless organic farmer supplying a healthy alternative food source to the whole goods markets where we shop, the compassionate pastor providing counsel to his congregation, the insufficiently thanked mother who nonetheless makes her children’s needs her priority.

Such things as the desire to be published, to be invited to teach at schools and events, to be paid an amount equal to the best other teachers, to be feted or vetted, registered or certified government approved, are all the result of a natural and understandable hunger to be recognized, valued and validated within the tribe we identify with.  Recognition, attention, and credit do not, however, automatically or necessarily follow deeds, nor can we expect them to be commiserate with our best abilities, skills, efforts and accomplishments. 

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Getting recognition involves an unusual level of knowledge, an ability to recombine and synthesize different ideas, a unique angle or specialty, and an ability to communicate through writing or teaching.  Yet even with all that, becoming renowned or being treated as eminent in a field like herbalism hinges on one’s visibility and accessibility, and uncommon charisma.  Not to mention pure unadulterated luck.

“Luck,” that is, if we think of being renowned entirely as a positive thing, rather than as affirmation balanced by the discomfortingly greater scrutiny, impossibly higher standards, and even unreasonable expectations of infallibility that can be imposed on the much renowned and publicly esteemed.  Or if we fail to take into account the sadness or even resentment sometimes evidenced by other well deserving but less well known practitioners.

Fortunately, it is the very nature of folk herbalism that there is no ladder… and there is an element of looking silly whenever we try to step up into thin air.  The “ladder” of success or merit that we might imagine, would in reality have nowhere to reach.  And in those hierarchical contexts where there is a real ladder to climb, it generally results in one becoming increasingly alone, ungrounded, out of touch with their foundations, and in danger of a serious fall. 

ladder to nowhere

It’s a good thing that our meaning and success come not from ascension but from a great and persistent deepening: Deepening our focus, our connection to earth, plants and patients.  Deepening our knowledge, intuition, critical thinking, and experience.  Deepening our sense of purpose and mission, and deepening our essential commitment.

The people most certain to notice our abilities and efforts, are the people we have quietly and with little reward helped to treat the ailments of and return them to a state of health.  Seldom ungrateful is the mom whose child’s condition was eased through the wise application of the optimum herbs, the choleric man who hadn’t known a good night’s sleep until following your recommendations, the person with chronic pain who thanks to you is able to reduce or eliminate the use of dangerous pain meds.  Anytime we have been recommended by someone, it is a sure sign we are esteemed and respected.  When a person who id impoverished makes you something in trade, it is surely the most satisfying possible wage.  When a family member, friend or client we helped takes the time to tell us how great they’re feeling, their mutterings are as sweet applause.  And when we are doing all we can, for all the right reasons, we’d best value, credit, and acknowledge ourselves.

Truthfully, being lauded or applauded, rewarded or even thanked, probably has nothing to do with why we got into herbalism in the first place.  You were likely attracted to the medicine of the plants in order to help ease your own difficult conditions or those of the people you love.  You may have continued your studies out of fascination or allure, perhaps a bit of scientific curiosity mixed with a healthy dose of enchantment.  As our affinity for the plants and understanding of their effects grew, we may have broadened our reach by helping people outside of our immediate circle, and then committed to a practice even though we could not reasonably expect to ever do much better than make a modest income in compensation for all our study and work.  The readers of Plant Healer – almost without exception – would have given their time and focus to herbalism even if there was never a dollar to be made on it, even if it actually cost us money to make and dispense our medicines, proffer our herbal diagnostics, and give advice to those in need.

Even those of us who have been into herbalism for the longest time, can still recall when we felt incredibly fortunate just to have escaped the delusions of modern pharmaceutically driven health care, felt anointed by the plants we work with and made whole through their alliance, felt amply complimented that people trusted us enough to ask for assistance, felt sufficiently rewarded by the smiling eyes of those we helped.  This doesn’t mean we don’t need to make enough income from our efforts to make it possible to live and continue with this work, or that we don’t deserve recognition from other herbalists, but it nonetheless is a call to remember our root motivations in giving so much of our lives to herbalism.  It is vital that we continue to acknowledge how blessed one is to be doing what we are, how rewarding our relationship is with the green growing beings, how fortunate we are to have our knowledge and skills needed and desired by others, and how truly precious and valuable the hugs and smiles are that our caring work inspires.

Success is a Matter of Definition, Direction of Choice72dpi

Whether beginners in herbalism or experienced practitioners and teachers, we should always be making an effort to improve, learn more, reconsider and reconfigure, add new skills and insights, incorporate additional traditions, include new materia medica, and increase the rate of positive outcomes we help facilitate.  And it is a worthy goal for us to create an endurable body of work and leave a lasting legacy, so that the gift that we are outlasts our mortal form.  That said, there is already much about us to be respected.  Anyone reading this is already knowledgable about herbs far beyond the general population, a compassionate giver more than a taker, an ally of the green and a substantial benefit to our world.  

Some Ladders Lead to The Ethers-72dpi

When we walk a path through the herb-filled wild places, we and the plants seem to recognize each other, and to recognize a shared purpose within the vital orchestrations of this living planet.  And in those moments when we see ourselves reflected in polished garden marble, a mountain stream or puddle of rain, we can not only recognize but honor the hearts, abilities and efforts of the healer imaged therein.

These things, alone, can provide much affirmation, and bring us great satisfaction.  Then, when others in the herbal and natural health communities trumpet our contributions, it isn’t the fulfillment of an anxious need, it’s something extra: an added sweetness to what is already a full plate, an appreciated luxury for an already satisfied herbalist living an already meaningful, purposeful and pleasurable life.

(This post is excerpted from a longer article appearing in the Winter issue of the quarterly Plant Healer Magazine, get it now by subscribing at:

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Dec 172014

As the snow falls on the mountains of southwestern New Mexico, I’m writing a few new seasonal blogposts for the Solstice and evergreen herbs for the Cold Moons. Now that I have some time to write again after finding the new conference site I’m looking forward to posting here more again, and some of those new posts will be up later this week and next week! In the meantime, here’s a quick look at the Plant Healer Bookstore selection this holiday season, and especially don’t miss the limited edition printing of the new Plant Healer Magazine Annuals which are already two thirds gone.

Sending you all snowy greetings from the mountains, and every green blessing!



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Dec 012014

New Conference Website,

Kiva’s new Moss & Mezcal Botanica, an Updated Bookstore


Discounted Advance Tickets On Sale For The 2015 Plant Healer Event!

–Discount Ends Jan. 1st–

TWHC Banner 6" 72dpi

Discount Tickets for the 2015 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

For the 6th year in a row, Plant Healer presents an incomparable event for the folk herbal tribe, September 17-20th.  Take advantage of the biggest discount of the year – $100 off the on-site price – if you purchase your ticket between Dec. 1st & Jan. 1st.  

The theme will be “Real-World Wisdom & Skills,” featuring an incredible 54 classes taught by over 30 teachers, and held for the first time in a veritable fairie castle high atop the amazing Sky-Island at Cloudcroft, New Mexico… less than a 2 hour drive from the EP airport. 

For more information and pictures, or to purchase your discounted tickets, please check out the totally remade Conference Pages at:

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The Moss & Mezcal Botanica

Anyone going to the main splash page, will be able to click on Kiva’s newly launched botánica and aromatics shop.

Moss & Mezcal replaces the previous Bramble & The Rose shop, and will soon be featuring strictly limited-edition perfumes, elixirs, and other botanical wonders made with Southwestern ingredients, evoking the spirit and magic of New Mexico – the Land of Enchantment.  Each product will be specially packaged with related art or gifts, resulting from a particular Kiva obsession, and reflecting a particular ecosystem and place.  And each will only be available as a limited edition run, that she will hand-number and sign.  You can get a first look at the site now, by going to:

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The Remade Plant Healer Bookstore

We are slowly decreasing the number of titles that we print and store here at our wilderness sanctuary, as we transition to on-demand printing through CreateSpace and  We aren’t in favor of big-corporations by any stretch, but working with Amazon means we don’t have to build more sheds to store copies, or transport them over a sometimes flooded river.  Most importantly, our new book titles are reaching outside of the U.S., and to folks far beyond the known herbalist tribe.

Now when you click on any of the books on the main page of the Plant Healer Bookstore, you will be taken either to 1. our own canyon shop for those titles we stock and ship ourselves, or else 2. directly to our CreateSpace printer for easy payment and fast shipping.

Go to:

Nov 112014

Announcing The Most Amazing New Conference Site:
A Veritable Fairy Castle Atop a Sky Island Wildland!

In the past few weeks, the two of us have spent over 300 hours painstakingly researching potential conference sites throughout the West.  Finding our required combination of sufficient classrooms, comfy lodging, free camping, wilderness surroundings, and closeness to an airport is amazingly difficult, and needless to say we can’t stand the idea of holding a plant event in a city, stodgy conference center or generic hotel.  There was much to love about our previous venues, but there has never been an herbal conference at a place like our new event site!

Traditions in Western Herbalism

50 Unique Classes! • 1.7 hrs. From Airport! • Dance Concert • Masquerade Ball • Native Plant Walks
Famous Margaritas & S.W. Brews! • Pool, Hot Tub, Natural Wonders! • Youth Village, Kid Classes, & Cooperative Childcare




Trippy Desert   Imagine, for a moment, the way it feels flying or driving into the stark Chihuahua Desert just north of Old Mexico, with otherworldly Yucca emerging triumphant from crimson soil and into an impossibly blue sky. Vast stretches of what looks like snow turn out to be the famed White Sands, reaching for miles into the lava rock formations of the Tularosa Basin.  white sands 3" 72dpiYou barely have time to take in the sight of the desert’s many powerful medicinal plants, before the road veers and begins climbing up the sides of golden cliffs gleaming in the setting sun like some fantastic Tolkein-esque parapets.  Within minutes you have moved into Juniper and Oak story, winding past rustic Apple orchards and then lush green Ponderosa Pines before topping out among giant swaying Spruce, Fir, and white-barked Aspen.


Otero Wildflowers 3" 72dpiOne more turn in the road, and the tiny town of Cloudcroft makes its appearance: charming lodges and bread & breakfasts, a saloon and cafes housed in buildings built in the 1800s when a narrow gauge railway brought awestruck tourists to this Southwestern Shangri-La.   Namesake clouds often cling to the peaks of this Sky-Island, a term describing those rare peaks stretching dramatically from desert to alpine.  Looking at your feet, you may be excited about the proliferation of high elevation herbs or the totally unique species of mosses, and gazing out over the tree tops you can’t help but be struck silent by the view of the deserts and hills seemingly so far down and so far away.




The Lodge from up high 3" 72dpiView from Lodge vertical 3" 72dpiFrom this “croft of clouds,” you proceed a final hundred yards up to what can best be described as a fairy castle, a magical looking adobe structure at the apex of this special mountain.  Originally constructed in the 1890s and rebuilt in 1911, the fabled Lodge is awash with history, furnished in original Victorian and Edwardian funk, and once a meeting place for the ballsy revolutionary Pancho Villa as well as 1930s getaway for quirky early movie stars like Clark Gable and Judy Garland. who mischievously carved their names in the wall of the old fashioned observation tower.  Portraits throughout celebrate its most famous lodger, Rebecca, the red headed ghost of a long vanished employee, reported many times to be still wandering the maroon-carpeted halls of this truly incredible building.

Classes will be held in 5 lovely classrooms.  One of these is in the oldest structure in the village, a hardwood floored meeting hall that will also be home to our Friday Masquerade Ball and Saturday night dance concert.  Those fortunate enough to reserve lodging there, will enjoy the aura of earthy vintage elegance, the outdoor pool and hot tub.  Rebecca bass relief 3" 72dpiOthers of you will find plenty of affordable rooms within walking distance in Cloudcroft, along with dozens of gorgeous campgrounds for setting up a tent or RV close by.  Thursday at 3pm we will launch this 2015 event with guided plant identification walks on area trails, and a multi-hued waterfall beckons only a dozen miles away.  Join us – and Rebecca – at another event of a lifetime!


“Resurrecting the spirit of Western Herbalism!“ -Paul Bergner

More Amazing Teachers Than Ever!:

Phyllis Light • Guido Mase’ • David Hoffmann • Howie Brounstein • Juliet Blankespoor • 7Song • Kiva Rose • Lisa Ganora • Jim McDonald • Phyllis Hogan • Sean Donahue • Larken Bunce • Kiki Geary • John Slattery • Shana Lipner Grover • Charles “Doc” Garcia • Lori Pino • Wendy Hounsel • Emily Ho • Katja Swift • Ryn Madura • Sam Coffman • Julie Caldwell • Thomas Easley • Julie James • Dara Saville •  Stephany Hoffelt • Julie James • Asia Suler • Rebecca Altman  • Ramona Rubin • Emily Stock • Amanda Mayther • Lauren Stauber • Asa Henderson • Jiling Lin • & Jesse Wolf Hardin

The Information Needed To Be An Herbalist
…Along With The Fun & Celebration An Herbalist Needs!

“I’m feeling so fulfilled, inspired, activated, blessed, and enriched by this radically meaningful weekend with healers and plant medicine workers in the magical forest.  The classes warmed my heart, stimulated my brain, and nourished my soul as well as helped me to articulate, define, and take pride in why I work with plants and see plants as teachers. This was the best weekend of my life!
–Chloe Groom (Rainbow Bliss Botanicals)


Wolf at Falls vertical 3" 72dpiMedicine of The People

The 2015 conference will continue Plant Healer’s tradition of serving not only the professionally oriented person seeking to learn new techniques and advanced info, but but also the informal or beginner herbalist, the unaffiliated and the outlier, the street medic and herbal activists who give their time to helping the disadvantaged and the homeless, the teenaged plant enthusiast, and the herbalist who treats only her own family.  Plant Healer events continue to serve as a home even to folks who normally avoid conferences, and as a nexus – drawing together the diverse folk herbal tribe, seeding new networks that can help not only our practice but our planet to thrive.

“An outstanding herbal conference, creating a network across the country that unites us all in this grassroots movement… helping to heal the world in our small and great ways.”
–Rosemary Gladstar

Youth Village, Childcare & Kid Classes

This year we’re welcoming the creation of a Youth Village at the “Pavilion,” featuring cooperative childcare with participating parents, as well as a half dozen classes especially for the young.   If you have school age children, consider taking them out for this fun experience, getting them their start in an herbal education.  And if you’d like to help make the Village happen by networking with other parents beforehand, teaching a kid class, or participating in the childcare program, please email Asa at:

“My son has grown up with the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, and this year’s event cements for me the vital importance of the conference to his development as a planetary citizen.”
–Asa Henderson

Friday Masquerade Ball,
Saturday Night Dance Concert, & Healer’s Market

There is nothing like evenings of socializing, entertainment, music and dance after full days of classes.  Thursday night is Tribal Tea Time in the Healer’s Market, where you can peruse quality herbal products, speak to the directors of herbal schools, and meet and greet friends old and new at any time.  The nearby historic “Pavilion” cabin serves not only as a classroom but also our concert hall, featuring a Plant Magic AudioVisual Show & Plants & Faeries Masquerade Ball on Friday evening, and our rockin’ annual dance concert Saturday night.

“Definitely the most inspiring herbal conference I’ve been to.  I loved being among herbalists who were talking about magic, intuition, and emotional healing and at the same time speaking to the political and social conditions we’re living under and how we hope herbalism can play a role in changing that.  It really was a transformative experience.”
–Monica Brown

Kiva on bridge by falls 4"-72dpiEvent Updates & Free Herbal Articles

Subscribe to Plant Healer’s totally free Herbaria Newsletter, an average 35 color pages, sent out 10 times per year.  Herbaria includes inspiring info-packed articles by some of your favorite herbalist writers, original new pieces as well as excerpts from past and upcoming issues of the quarterly Plant Healer Magazine, and of course the latest updates and developments regarding the 2015 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.  If you haven’t done so already, you can sign up now by going to our website and filling in your name and email address in the column at far left:

“Truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a conference setting.  If you can only make it to one herb conference next year, this should be the one!  Profound, inspiring, multi-cultural, grass roots, and sooooo much fun!”
-Julie Caldwell, (Humboldt Herbals)


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