Kiva Hardin

Oct 212015

We are pleased to announce the selection of teachers and classes for our 2016 TWH conference and celebration atop New Mexico’s mind-blowing Sky-Island.

It’s been harder and harder to make selections each year, as we struggle to balance our championing of new voices with our desire to bring back a core group of vital teachers that just keeps growing.  And hard it is to tell dozens of hopeful folks with great proposals that we cannot fit them in.  Even with 5 classes per slot, the spaces quickly fill up, with applications us receiving teacher application 1 to 2 years before each TWHC.

As always, we sought a balance of topics as well as personalities, with emphasis on their uniqueness as well as usability.  As usual, none of the 52 classes will be less than 1.5 hours in length, with the ticket price covering 14 in-depth 3 hour long intensives.  A full list of teachers can be found on the poster below, including the returning Paul Bergner.  Welcome back, Pablo.

Advance Tickets will go on sale Dec. 1st, a full $100 discount off of the Sept. price.

Imagine classes on bioregional herbalism, setting up a free clinic, doing effective intakes, plant identification, making potions, reading pulse, medical cannabis, herbs for Trans folks, dealing with Lyme’s disease, herbal activism and plant conservation, herbal cocktails for medicine and pleasure, and and and….

The complete 2016 Class titles will be announced in the November issue of Herbaria ezine, which you can subscribe to for free at:

2016 TWHC Poster-72dpi

Finally, the 2015 TWHC Class Essays Ebook is now available for sale to all, and can be found on the newly revised Bookstore page at:

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Oct 062015

October 12th is the release date for the first issue of Vol. VI of the remade Herbaria Ezine, an over 50 pages-long monthly supplement to the nearly 300 pages-long quarterly Plant Healer Magazines, providing content even to those unable to afford needed educational materials!  Issues feature abridged articles from the magazine and contributions by you – our empowered herbalist community.  First for you to see, is the new Herbaria masthead for 2016… we hope you like it.

Herbaria Free Herbal Ezine

Herbaria Free Herbal Ezine

And below you’ll find a sneak peek at this month’s Herbaria articles.

To be sure to receive the link to download your color pdf, enter your name and email address in the appropriate place at the left of the page on our website:


Herbaria’s October Contents:

Introducing The 2015 TWHC Class Essays

Providing a first look at the new Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference “Class Essays Ebook” – over 400 color pages of full length essay articles give away free to TWHC attendees, and this month being released for sale to the general public through the Bookstore page of the Plant Healer website.

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Kiva Rose Hardin: The Rosaceae 

An excerpt from Kiva’s extensive article from the 2015 Class Essays Ebook, on the medicinal properties and uses of various Rose family plants, in this section focused on common and wild Roses (Sweetbriar) –– including properties of the rose such as a relaxant nervine and liver relaxant, blood mover, anti-inflammatory, hyperimmunity, anti-infective and hemostatic, and its uses treating insect bites, abrasions, burns, and cellulitis.  She also shares with us here the recipes for her much loved “Rose Winter Tea” and special “Heart of Guadalupe” elixir.

Cannabis Medicine

Ramona Rubin: Cannabis Medicine Synergy

Ramona gifts us with a second excerpt from the new 2015 TWHC Class Essays Ebook
Resources for Herbalists, this time focused on medicinal Cannabis for use by herbalists.  She does an excellent job of covering historic context and prejudices, cannabinoid research, safe usage and dosage considerations, topical uses and drug interactions.  She writes:

“Until such a time that broad and systemic changes come to our medical system, herbalists and other holistic health practitioners have work to do on the front-lines, engaging patients in conversations about their Cannabis use and how to optimize it. When such healers and health advocates come from an informed, caring, non-judgemental place, they can support the patient to work with this “teacher plant” in ever more respectful and intentional ways, with clear objectivity and reflection. As we move towards decriminalization and reduced barriers to care these changes will extend onward to doctors’ attitudes towards medicinal and recreational Cannabis use.”

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Elka’s Recipes: Making Use of Acorns

In keeping with the Autumn wildcrafting season, Elka wrote for you a detailed article about utilizing the nuts of various Oaks: making Acorn flour, Acorn/Fir Tea, and yummy Acorn Mochi Cakes.

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Herbalist Interview: Matthew Wood

Matthew Wood is a true wise elder of the folk herbal tribe.  His early clinical books remain essential reading for plant healers, and each of his quarterly columns in Plant Healer Magazine are greatly anticipated.  Here we include a short excerpt from our conversation with Matt in our book “21st Century Herbalists,” providing inspiration and example for us all.  As he says:

“I feel that my generation did its job.  We discovered that herbalism worked, we rediscovered the lost art of Western herbalism, and we defended our rights.  But there are also a lot of prickly egos in the ranks of herbalism and it is not possible for my generation to critique ourselves or compare and integrate our own discoveries. So we leave it to the younger generation to flush out and integrate, test and prove, and add plenty of new things.  Cite us for our discoveries, and then make your own.  Have fun, enjoy! Teaching at Plant Healer events, I truly felt the torch being handed on.”

Stories & Photos: The 2015 TWH Conference

It has long been said that Plant Healer events are like none others, and last month’s 2015 conference and celebration was by almost everyone’s estimate the best TWHC ever!  It was as if all who came understood and were in tune with a resurgence not only in folk herbalism, but a resurgence in themselves that has ramifications for all they are and all they’ll do.  In our pseudo-official way, we proclaimed everyone present as Certified Wonderful, forever free to put these letters after their names in all correspondence: SEC, KWMM, PHF, BAH – Self-Empowered Caregivers, Kitchen Witch Medicine Makers, Plant-Hearted Fanatics, and all around BadAss Herbalists.  I can’t tell you how many people came up to us to say how the gathering reminded them “of why I do what I do, the original reasons for getting into herbalism”…. which wasn’t acceptance by the dominant medical paradigm, it was following our hearts and addressing a need.  It wasn’t about income, no matter how much we need to make a living, it was the possibility of a different way of life.  It was, we were told by person after person, about making our lives into gifts.  It was about caring and loving.  It was about the plants.

It is our privilege to present for you in the October Herbaria a selection of photos by ourselves and attendees, along with some of their stories, to share with you the feel of this TWHC’s empowering studies, sweet camaraderie, revitalized inspiration, and wild celebration.


Once subscribed, you can look for a download link to this issue in an email on Oct 12th.  Enjoy!

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Aug 302015

A Sneak-Peek at the Nearly 300 pages-long
of Plant Healer Magazine

Plant Healer’s quarterly issues are released the first Monday of every month,
with your Autumnal issue being available for download
Sept. 7th

To receive this issue when it comes out, make sure you are subscribed prior to the 7th, by going to:

Plant Healer Magazine Fall 2015

Along with our usual plant profiles and clinical skills, you’ll find this time a number of articles telling the fascinating history of herbs and herbalism, by Todd Caldecott, Thomas Easley, Lisa Ferguson and myself. Dave Meesters returns with a piece on radical vitalism coauthored with his partner Janet Kent, and we are running excerpts from our new “Wild Medicine, Wild Cuisine” book by Rosalee de la Foret, Elka, and Kiva Rose. For this issue’s interview, we bring you a compelling conversation with Boston based herbalist teacher and valued Plant Healer Magazine contributor Katja Swift.

For the first time we present the important new PHM column about competently treating animals with herbs:
“Animal Medicine – Herbal Healing for The More Than Human World”
by the caring, knowledgable, and experienced Cat Lane. It is time to give more attention to properly tending these amazing beings who hurt like we do, and who bring such great joy to their human companions. Please join me in giving a big welcome to Cat!

Sylvia Linsteadt provides our younger readers with a conclusion to her Herbalist Rabbit series, and we encourage you to suggest writers who might be able to create fun and educational herbal articles for our kid’s section in the future.

In keeping with Plant Healer’s “herbalism at the edge” approach, we have been increasingly hosting conference classes and featuring articles on the topic of medicinal Cannabis. As Kiva points out, it has too often either been denigrated and vilified or else trumpeted as a cure-all by true believers. The truth is that Cannabis has many positive medicinal effects whether smoked, vaporized, or used topically, and that there are also health concerns for at least some of those who constantly imbibe. Integral Plant Healer columnist Paul Bergner writes that:

“The battle-cry for legalization for many decades now has been “It’s safer than alcohol.” This is undoubtedly true, and it is also safer than Valium for insomnia, than opiates or NSAID for pain, and is effective for some people when pharmaceutical alternatives are not. But these are arguments for decriminalization, not arguments to fully inform patients and providers to the risks of daily heavy Cannabis use relative to its benefits. Practitioners working with patients who are heavy Cannabis users should be educated about the likely presentation of side effects and symptoms of withdrawal and dependence.”

In this same issue, practitioner and proponent Ramona Rubin writes about safe internal and topical uses of medicinal Cannabis, explaining that:

“My goal involves returning Cannabis to a well-informed place in the herbal pharmacopoeia. I see an emerging need for herbalists as educators and partners in the medical Cannabis field. As greater numbers of people learn about Cannabis for healing, and more research comes out about the positive effects for various conditions, people have questions, and herbalists are natural choices for knowledgeable plant healing advice. I hope this can be a starting place for a new generation of herbalists that can begin to sort through the emerging health research and strain development to assist patients find the optimal safe medicine at an optimal dose.”

As always, you can look forward to impressive pieces written by Plant Healer stalwarts Matthew Wood, Phyllis Light, Dara Saville, Sam Coffman, 7Song, Sabrina Lutes, and Julia Blankespoor. Returning herbalist author Wendy Hounsel offers some incredibly clear and useful information about some of the most common and important lab tests and values from the “2015 TWHC Class Essays” Ebook releasing in October, and awesome new columnist Guido Masé talks about integrating herbs into hospital settings while describing his latest fascinating trip to help the people of Tanzania, Africa. Methinks you’ll enjoy!


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Advertising in Plant Healer Publications

Advertising space in Plant Healer Magazine and Herbaria Newsletter is provided mainly as a service and prices are kept down for the sake of low-income herbalists and businesses that are just starting… costing between 1/2 and 1/10th of what other publications with similar subscriber numbers charge. For info on advertising in the magazine and newsletter,
download this pdf with its required Insertion Form:
PH Advertising Info


Herbs on Vintage Scale


Submit Your Ideas For Articles

Your experience and perspective are unique, and we want to encourage you to trust you have insights and information that would be of interest and use to others in our community.
We happily consider original, previously unpublished articles for this magazine,
and submissions of articles (previously published or not) for
Plant Healer’s free Herbaria Newsletter and its thousands of readers. Please download the:
Submission Guidelines

The deadline for the Winter Issue of Plant Healer Magazine is October 1st. There is no deadline for submitting to Herbaria Newsletter.


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Aug 172015

Now Available:


Modern Wildcrafting of Food & Herbs

Just Released!: 76 Essays on the contemporary art of wildcrafting medicinal and edible plants,blending materia medica & moving inspiration – including: 62 in-depth Plant Profiles (materia medica), with suggestions for how to harvest, cook, or make medicine out of each.

528 pages 8.5×11 – Over 1500 Illustrations – Available From The Bookstore Page at:


Wild Medicine, Wild Cuisine -

Plant Healer is thrilled to present for your pleasure and education an awesome collection of wildcrafting essays by 28 of the most articulate and informed American wildcrafters of this century, pulled directly from the pages of Plant Healer Magazine.  Learn about using wild plants for medicine and food from the empowering teachers, committed herbalists, sensory-filled cooks, caring conservationists and heartful wildcrafters helping to fuel the new paradigm of nature-connectedness and emerging culture of healing:

Phyllis Light • Dara Saville • Wendy Petty • Juliet Blankespoor • Samuel Thayer • Sam Coffman • Robin Rose Bennett • Elka • Rosalee de la Forêt • Erin Piorier • Christa Sinadinos • Charles “Doc” Garcia • Reneé Davis • Rebecca Altman • Henriette Kress • 7Song • John Slattery • Sophia Rose • Leaf • Corinne Boyer • Sean Donahue • Sabrina Lutes • Jared Rosenbaum • Rebecca Lerner • Susan Leopold • Tracy Picard • Kiva Rose & Jesse Wolf Hardin

Rhiannon gathering amaranth at Anima Sanctuary, NM

Rhiannon gathering amaranth at Anima Sanctuary, NM

More and more people are buying herbs to treat their problems before resorting to seeing an MD for a pharmaceutical prescription.  A large number recognize the degree to which medicinal herbs and natural foods can contribute to our health, well being, and enjoyment of the feast and challenge of life.  And a smaller but growing number of us realize that wild plants can be some of the strongest medicines, as well as contribute to some of the healthiest and tastiest meals.

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Unexpected Benefits

There are more and deeper benefits to wildcrafting than simply finding high potency herbs or free and healthy food, including the effect of wildcrafting on us personally, on how we feel, and how we see the world.  When wildcrafting, we are of necessity more aware, sniffing the air for signature scents, tasting flowers we find and the tips of new fir needles, scanning for the shapes and silhouettes of species we might hope to discover.  In the process, we develop an increased intimacy with our own natural senses and abilities as well as with the natural world we are all inseparable members and components of.  Before we have consumed a single bite or single dropper-full of our wild environs, we are immersed like seldom before in the features and flux of the elemental world, enriched by the experience of existing for however many awakened moments as a seeker and hunter, gatherer and guardian, participant in and celebrant of wildness again.

Slavic mushroom gatherer art

Wild Sustenance, Wild Tonic

Plant Healer Magazine contributors are as wildly diverse, robust, and impactful as the species they write about, each creating pieces that reflect their personal knowledge, experience, attitude and approach.  From systematic clinicians to an intemperate street medic, each adds to the potion and flavor.  The resulting collection constitutes a healing formula… and a substantive meal.  Learn, practice, tend, feast, and enjoy!

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 Order from the Bookstore Page at:


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Aug 102015

Free August Issue for Herbalists:


The free August issue of the Plant Healer’s Herbaria Newsletter will be mailed out Monday, Aug 17th.  To be certain of receiving a download link, be sure you subscribe before then

Simply go to our website and fill in your name and email address in the appropriate location on the far left side of the page:

This month’s issue features the following:

Kiva Rose: Growing Our Roots

In hopes of encouraging the folk herbal resurgence in the Southwest and local involvement with our September TWH celebration, Kiva put together a great article about our herbal heritage for New Mexico’s arts and culture magazine “Desert Exposure.”  But it is far too inspiring to only be seen regionally, so I have also included it in your August issue Herbaria.  As Kiva tells us there:

The wisdom of healing runs through every bloodline and our inborn relationship with the plant world informs us at the most cellular level. Every grandmother who tells the little ones at her knee the stories of ‘Seng hunting in the old days and teaches them the magic of rose petals infused in whiskey strengthens the web of our herbcraft just as every little boy singing secret songs to the trees and sharing wildcrafted watercress with his family brings new life to it. We are gathering, not just at the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference but all around the world, like-hearted Plant Healers and plant celebrants.  We link up as we awaken, from the backwoods of Maine to the back lots of Los Angeles, from the misty Northwest to the peaks of New Mexico… and from the treasured past to the unfolding future.  Our herbalists’ web is homespun and weathered, but it is also strong from the hands of a thousand generations weaving and reweaving, infusing it with wisdom, song, blood, and the wild insistence of weeds.  We are growing and advancing our traditions, together, from their roots.”

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Introduction to The Upcoming Plant Healer Book: “Wild Medicine, Wild Cuisine”

August 17th is the upcoming release date for our latest book for herb users and practitioners, pulled directly from the pages of early issues of Plant Healer Magazine.  The focus this time is on the contemporary wildcrafting of medicinal and edible plants, 523 pages of information and illustration by many of the leading herbalist teachers of our day.

“More and more people are buying herbs to treat their problems before resorting to seeing an MD for a pharmaceutical prescription.  A large number recognize the degree to which medicinal herbs and natural foods can contribute to our health, well being, and enjoyment of the feast and challenge of life.  And a smaller but growing number of us realize that wild plants can be some of the strongest medicines, as well as contribute to some of the healthiest and tastiest meals.”


Urban HunterGatherers

Wendy Petty: Suburban Zip Code, Wild Heart

Our 1st excerpt from “Wild Medicine, Wild Cuisine” comes from our friend and forager Wendy “Butter” Petty, wherein she makes clear that:

“It is a misconception that one can only be a proper wildcrafter while living deep in secluded wilderness. By night, I lay my head down in the pink glow of the city; by day, I am fanned by urban buzz. I am no less a forager, nor less wild at heart.  My greatest resources in the suburban landscape are the abundant plant species growing in irrigation ditches, the “weeds” that populate vacant lots, the stray greens that set up home in fallow fields, oddball ornamentals, and the fruiting tree limbs that overhang fences. These plants, particularly the native herbs which by necessity of living in a city that views them as pests, are lovely and tough abuelas. And the dry heat of makes for surprisingly sweet fruit and potent plant medicine. These plants are just as special as the ones adorning the slopes of the Rockies, and my relationship to their magic is unchanged. What is wild lies at the core, and is essential to the planet and plants, no matter if a city happens to be sitting atop it. The vital force of Nature is bigger and stronger than buildings and laws; cities are just a change of clothes upon our sweet Earth.”  


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Traci Picard: Foraging Medicine

Our 2nd excerpt from “Wild Medicine, Wild Cuisine”, herbalist and activist Traci Picard brings us a celebration of foraging and tips for ethical wildcrafting, wherein she makes the point that:

“Foraging is healing. We cultivate gratitude more easily, more deeply when we meet our food in nature, as compared to pulverized, pasteurized, fortified and wrapped up at bigboxmart. The mask is removed. It brings great pleasure and a deep satisfaction, as if hitting the proverbial g-spot of our primal soul. It is like scratching an infinite itch. We climbed out from the primordial ooze and immediately began the pack-bonding hunt for food. No one had to teach us how to look for foods because it is a natural instinct- the fulfillment of which our modern society literally blocks. Foraging stimulates creativity, promotes good circulation and encourages healthy elimination. Maitake hunting keeps our elders’ minds sharper than bingo and crossword puzzles. Learning to find and identify plants in the woods serves our children’s needs better than making endless cut-and-paste pilgrim- turkey tableaus. Foraging provides exercise. Foraging sharpens the mind, sight and memory. Foraging gives us time and space for processing, thinking, forging bonds. We learn to know and trust our instincts. It is a powerful medicine indeed!”


Robin Rose Bennett: Herbal Magic Part II

In Part II, Robin – an herbalist in the Wise Woman tradition – discusses herbal oils and ointments, herbal baths, and tree magic according to various historic practices and contemporary cultures.  In a section on White Pine, for example, she tells us:

“Tree magic, the easiest thing to do is sit or stand with the tree and let your imagination flow. You may not know how to identify trees. I hope this will inspire you to learn their names, or at least to look more closely and appreciatively at those trees that live around you. Listen to what the tree is telling you. Ask it for what you need. You could do some writing or drawing as a form of trance-work, perhaps working with a question like, “What can bring more peace into our home? What is keeping me from feeling at peace? Is there something that I can do to help?” Let the white pine of peace stimulate your inner peace, and help you to be and bring peace into the world around you. The tea is helpful for calm, deep breathing, which is known to help you properly focus and release or direct your anger.”


Toddler Noah Gathering Herbs

Amy Jean Smith: Little Noah’s First Herbal Harvest!

Amy sent us photos of her young son’s excited first herb harvest and medicine making for a 2014 issue of Plant Healer Magazine, and I couldn’t resist sharing these delightful images with our many Herbaria readers as well.  Amy Jean writes:

“Thank you for sharing this magical experience with us.  We hope you are inspired to cultivate and care for plants and create herbal medicine with even the very youngest members of your family.  It’s not every day that a 2 ½ year old gets to grow, harvest and make his or her own plant medicine so I thought I might just share a bit of Montessori knowledge that can be helpful in empowering even the youngest children to care for themselves and the natural world around them. Our joy and delight in the magic of the natural world and the realm of plant medicine is a beautiful inspiration to our little ones and those other little ones around us.  It is deepened and takes root when we slow down and gently and gracefully offer them the gift of helping them learn to care for the pants first and then to make plant medicines themselves.


Elka: Deconstructed Stir-Fry with Wild Fennel Flowers, Parsnips & Lamb’s Quarters

Elka, Plant Healer’s resident food-magician brings you another tasty recipe from her woodstove-hearted kitchen.  As she explains:

“This time I decided to do things differently and cook the parsnips, onions, and fennel in a single pan, simply boil the lamb’s quarters in a pot, and then serve any meat on the side. Wild venison had already been simmered on the woodstove all day, with molasses, mustard, barbecue sauce, onions and cranberries. But a simple dredging of sage or thyme and cornmeal and a quick fry in bacon fat or butter would work great as well, as an accompanying dish, if the cut is tender enough. Or if you’re vegetarian or vegan, just have some eggs or tempeh on the side, any way you like!”


Herbalist Asia Suler

Herbalist Interview #1: Asia Suler & Sean Donahue

We continue with our series of interviews featuring inspiring herbalists, bringing to light their plant medicine knowledge as well as personal stories that can help us navigate our own personal healing paths.  For August we present my conversation with two allied practitioners, both of whom contribute to Plant Healer Magazine and  teach at TWHC:  Sean Donahue and Asia Suler. One of the questions I asked was “What’s the most liberatory, wholistic, beautiful, meaningful, healthful future you can envision for the herbal community? ,” to which Sean replied:

“I see an herbal community where phytochemists and Hoodoo root doctors and Latina curendaras and western herbalists and plant magicians share knowledge and discoveries, recognizing that we are working with the same medicine even if we are using different languages and metaphors and frames. I see people paying careful attention to the health of plant communities, and harvesting only what they need, whether or not a plant is on a list of endangered or threatened species  (though I greatly appreciate what United Plant Savers does to identify the most at risk plants.)   And I see people developing practices grounded in work with the medicine that grows around them.  Plant Healer and the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference are already doing a tremendous amount to make this vision a reality.    And I think we can each contribute to it by teaching and practicing and living in ways that honor and respond to the living communities, human and ecological, that we are part of.   Connecting with plants reminds me that the world is alive and makes me fall in love with its beauty over and over again.”

Asia tells us:

” [I can envision] an earth community where everybody is an herbalist, because everybody recognizes their innate connection to the green and growing beings around them. I see, and feel, and call into being a community that is no longer defined by species, but celebrated as a diverse and co-creative family. A community that values the mutidimensional healing of all beings and ultimately recognizes that true healing comes from within. Herbalism, like any discipline with a name or definition, is just a bridge back to the truth: the knowledge everything is alive and important and that all we truly need to heal is to remember the truth of our being.”



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Herbalist Interview #2: Jim McDonald

Jim McDonald is a Michigan based herbalist with an excellent mind for the particulars of plant healing, and a gift for communicating it in ways anyone can understand.  It has been our pleasure to promote his work and raise his visibility over the years, increasing the number of herbal students who benefit from his knowledge and insight.  Jim is a featured presenter at this September’s Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, a Plant Healer Magazine columnist, and instructor both in his home state of Michigan and at selected national events.  Among his other tales and tips, Jim speaks to us in Herbaria about what it means to “qualify” as an herbalist:

Like Plant Healer, I’m pretty populist in my approach to herbalism.  I want all the people who “want to be an herbalist” to just be one.  No one needs to tell you what, that, or who you are.  No one’s blessing is required.  All you need to do it is to connect with the plants and learn how you can use them to responsibly help the people around you.  Do that, and you’re an herbalist.  There’s no need to compare yourself to others, or live up to any standard that’s not your own.  Let it be your life, let it be your art, your expression.  Be honest, be humble, respect your limitations, and honor your strengths.”


Hooker's Evening Primrose, blooming alongside a rewilded San Francisco River, SW New Mexico.

Hooker’s Evening Primrose, blooming alongside a rewilded San Francisco River, SW New Mexico.

Still Spreading Like Weeds

 Herbaria subscriptions are now reaching many thousands readers with its free content.  Unlike with Plant Healer Magazine, which goes out primarily to committed herbal students and practicing herbalists, subscribers to the newsletter and blog include crossover folks just getting into herbalism, or with natural healing as a side interest.  It feels like one way to spread this mission of healing and love – this weedy revolution!

Advertise Inexpensively

Display ads in Herbaria Newsletter are priced low enough to be affordable to folks launching new herbal related projects.  Space in our pages is intended for the common folk, small operations and family businesses… large corporations would need to explain why they deserve to be an exception. 🙂 You can download the combined magazine and newsletter advertising pdf here:

Advertising Info

Share Your Knowledge, Submit Your Stories

You don’t have to be a professional writer in order to have something worthwhile to share with others.  And unlike with PH Magazine, it’s ok f your writings have been printed or posted before, so long as they haven’t been too widely distributed before.  Therapeutics, herb profiles, medicine making recipes, tips for practicing, clinical skills, conservation and gardening.   If you’d be interested, please download the:

Submission Guidelines



 Wild green blessings to you allKiva & Wolf

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Aug 022015

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Free 300 Page Ebook for Western Herbalists

Many of you will be excited to hear we’re putting together a nearly 300 pages-long color Ebook, featuring lengthy and informative Class Essays from 25 of the awesome teachers presenting this year’s Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.  The fully illustrated 2015 Class Essays Book (valued at: $29) will be given absolutely FREE to all TWHC attendees, Sept. 17-20 atop New Mexico’s Sky-Island.  And come October it will be listed for sale to the rest of you who for whatever reason were unable to attend our classes and celebration.  Other events may provide some class notes and outlines, but we are the only conference to produce a full length book packed with the teachers’ wisdom and tips.

Below is a sneak peek at the massive 2015 Class Essays Ebook, and you can register or find out more information about attending TWHC by clicking on:


      The Herbal Clinic: Questions & Considerations For Setting Up a Functioning Clinic

Rebecca Altman & Shana Lipner Grover

      S.W. Plants, S.W. Constitutions: The Influence of Place on Conditions & Treatment

Juliet Blankespoor

      Medicinal Trees & Shrubs

      Photographing Herbs

Larken Bunce

      Tongue Assessment for Western Herbalists

Julie Caldwell

      How to Use Your Herbal Practice to Grow Health Community

Sam Coffman

      Wound Healing, Infection & Plant Medicine

      The Herbal Street Medic

Sean Donahue

      Neurodiversity: Human & Wild

      Phytochemical Conversations

Lisa Ganora

      How to Taste and Feel The Power of an Herb

Charles “Doc” Garcia

      Reflections on The Poison Path

Kiki Geary

      Stardust Goes Dancing: The Fire Element for Western Herbalists

      Mushroom Medicine

Shana Lipner Grover

      Michael Moore’s Constitutional Physiology

      The Multi Faceted Nature of Ceanothus

Emily Han

      Herbal Cocktails, Fermented Drinks, Bitters, Infusion & More

Jesse Wolf Hardin

      The Wild Herbalist: 

Kiva Rose Hardin

      Rose Family Medicine

Wendy Hounsel

      Lab Values for Herbalists

      Cervical Dysplasia & Abnormal Pap Tests: Treating Them Naturally

Julie James:

     Urban Wildcrafting

Guido Masé

     The Cardiovascular Exam

      Plant Saponins

      Healing & Magic From The Dolomite Alps

Jim McDonald

      Understanding Sympathetic Stress: Fight, Light, Freak, & Freeze

      Tending The Choleric Fire

Ramona Rubin

       The Role of Cannabis in The Herbal Healing Tradition 

Dara Saville

      The Joys of Being a Bioregional Herbalist

      Yerba Mansa

John Slattery

      Wild Edible Plants of The Sonoran Desert

      The Marvels of The Malvaceae Family 

Jen Stovall

      Herbalism as a Tool For Social Justice

Asia Suler

      The Medicine of The Land

Katja Swift

      Birth Control & Post Abortion: When & How Herbs Can Help

      ADD & Aspergers: A New Perspective

For tickets to the 2015 TWHC, go to:

For more book titles especially for herbal students and practitioners, go to the Bookstore page at:

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Jul 312015

The journey to the upcoming Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference & Celebration is one of the most amazing drives in the American Southwest, starting in the colorful desert elevations and winding upwards through oak and piñon covered hills, dramatic rock filled canyons, and into the lush aspen and fir forests at cloud height.  The plant life in these Sacramento Mountains is diverse and wondrous, with both plentiful and rare species of medicinal interest.  Both Phyllis Hogan and 7Song will be leading lovely plant identification walks at the event, and my partner Kiva Rose offers below a short overview of some of the herbs you can expect to find there. For more information about this year’s TWH conference or to register, go to:



Warming Herbs from High Places: 4 Upper Elevation Forest Herbs of the Sacramento & Guadalupe Mountains

by Kiva Rose Hardin

The plants I’ve chosen to write about here are not necessarily the most common, well known, or widespread. I’ve chosen them based on their medicinal value, and my personal experience with them. All four of them are exceptionally healing herbs with a long history of use in traditional medicine. They also all happen to be rather warming, and are perfect to study, harvest, and prepare for the cold moons ahead. 

In some cases, as with Oshá, I am specifically writing about them because I know they tend to entice herbalists and I want to provide a realistic look at the ethics of harvesting the plant as well as talk about a potential replacement in some situations. With both Angelica and Oshá, I want to stress the importance of having a solid knowledge of field botany and the ability to positively ID a plant from a field guide (preferably a dichotomous key) before even attempting to harvest either plant because of the danger of mistaking them for potentially toxic lookalikes.

If you attend the TWHC, please use your common sense, respect, and ethics when you harvest ANY local plants. As with many high elevation ecologies of the American Southwest, the Sacramento and Guadalupe Mountains contain many sensitive and endemic species. Be sure to positively identify (preferably with a dichotomous key such as Flora Neomexicana) any plants down to at least species level, and that you are harvesting in a sustainable manner! If in doubt, don’t harvest. 


Abies concolor – White Fir

Ecology & Abundance: An ornamental in many parts of the country, White Fir is native to the America West, including the mountains of New Mexico. All of the species within the Abies genus that I have worked with have very similar properties so if you find other Firs nearby they’re very likely to act and taste in the way I describe here. 

I especially like working with trees so that I can carefully harvest without doing any notable damage to the plant or population. In the mountains of New Mexico and Arizona, White Fir tends to be an understory tree in mixed conifer forest, usually growing underneath much larger tree likes Douglas Fir or various Spruces. 

Medicinal Traits & Actions: Like many conifers, White Fir is a stimulating expectorant that can help facilitate the clearing of respiratory bogginess and stagnation. Unlike some conifers, White Fir is tasty and gentle and less likely to cause aggravation of heat signs. The sap and resin of this Abies species is one of the sweetest and most appealingly aromatic of all the conifers I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. 

I like to work with this plant when I’m seeing any sort of chronic lung issue that’s resulting in a wet cough, inability to actually cough up the fluids, and general feelings of coldness, lethargy, and weakness. I find that it works particularly well in combination Aralia spp., Sambucus spp., and Inula. Oshá, Lovage, or Angelica can be added in cases where cold signs are especially pronounced, or if the signs are more mixed and include respiratory tension, then Lobelia and Cherry or Peach are more indicated.

Additional Thoughts or Notes: White Fir is also a great addition to many foods, whether savory sweet. Infused into vinegar, oil, butter, syrup (simple syrup or maple syrup), honey, salt, or just chopped finely and added when desired. It has something in common with Rosemary but is much less sharp, and also has a delicate citrus flavor. Too much will taste bitter, but used in moderation almost everyone enjoys the the aromatic tang, I even think it makes a great homemade ice cream flavor! 

Actaea rubra fruit

Actaea rubra – Mountain Cohosh/Sweet Medicine

Ecology & Abundance: A widespread plant throughout much of the United States, it prefers high elevation mixed conifer forests in the mountains of the Southwest. While certainly not weedy in its distribution, it is a hardy plant and can survive floods, logging, forest fires, and more. It often grows on wooded slopes, but can also be found in shady arroyos, and sometimes even in heavily logged areas.

Medicinal Traits & Actions: Actaea rubra essentially shares all the well known medicinal traits of its close (and much more popular) relative, Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), only it’s far more widespread and adaptable. It’s specifically useful for cold signs in the reproductive system, such as achy, crampy pains in the uterus. It’s also more generally helpful wherever there are cold signs accompanied by overall joint pain and body achiness. It’s a warming, sweet and acrid herb, so you want to use it where movement is needed and there are little to no excess heat signs. It’s not necessarily the right herb to use on its own for stabbing, sharp menstrual cramps with a red tongue and flushed skin. Look more for paleness, fatigue, and achiness. I find this herb to be incredibly helpful in cases of liver deficiency and vacuity, with symptoms of delayed or scant menstruation, lethargy, sensations of coldness, and digestive sluggishness and stagnation.

Additional Thoughts or Notes: When used where not indicated, Actaea species can cause a frontal headache and possibly a generally hungover and overheated sensation that’s very unpleasant. Should you feel that Actaea is indicated for a person demonstrating heat signs, moderate it’s warming, moving tendencies with more appropriate herbs in a formula. This is a very blood moving herb, and like most in that category, is not appropriate for pregnancy.

Black River - Ligusticum porteri flowers4Angelica ampla – Giant Angelica

Ecology & Abundance: Angelica is not uncommon in the American West, but certain species can be much rarer than others. Angelica ampla is considered to be endemic to the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico. This species of Angelica prefers high elevation wetlands

Like Ligusticum, Angelica is a member of the Apiaceae family, and can be mistaken by the inexperienced for a number of other, toxic species. Know your field botany, and only harvest when you have confirmed identification beyond a shadow of a doubt. Yes, I said beyond a shadow of a doubt. 

Medicinal Traits & Actions: Seeds and roots are both very useful, the seeds being milder and more palatable to most folks. Angelica is probably best known as an aromatic bitter used to calm and move stagnant, cold digestion. It is indeed very useful this way, and I frequently combine a bit of Angelica or one of its close relatives when giving cold alkaloidal bitters like Berberis or a cathartic like Iris to help prevent cramping or excess coldness where there are existing cold signs or a colder constitution. 

In addition, Angelica is a stimulating diaphoretic, especially the seeds, and very useful in stimulating the immune system at the first signs of viral onset in someone with chills and little sweating, along with other cold signs. Likewise, Angelica is a diuretic and the seeds are a traditional treatment for gout. Personally I only use Angelica in very specific chronic cases of gout where the person has clear cold signs, suppressed urine, and no acute inflammation. 

Look for cold and stagnation, such as boggy lung conditions, suppressed/scant menstruation, lack of sweating and cold sensations during viral onset, chronic constipation and flatulence, or achy pains.

Additional Thoughts or Notes: Not recommended during pregnancy, for those already exhibiting heat signs, or in large doses for those with existing overstimulated digestion. If in doubt, using something gentler and more general, like Yerba Buena or Chamomile.

Black River - Ligusticum porteri flowers4

Ligusticum porteri – Oshá

Ecology & Abundance: Oshá is sometimes considered at risk, especially at the edge of its range here in southern New Mexico. It can be very locally abundant, but given the plant’s popularity (okay, fine, cult status) and the tendency for individuals, schools, and companies to dig it out with wild abandon, I strongly suggest moderation and caution when harvesting. 

Medicinal Traits & Actions: Oshá shares much in common with Angelica, including its actions as a stimulating diaphoretic, immune stimulant, respiratory stimulant, and stimulating expectorant, and warming aromatic bitter for stagnant digestion. However, it seems more generally appropriate in nearly all respiratory infections or respiratory centered viral onset, with signs of sore throat, yellow phlegm, difficulty expectorating, and often a spasmodic but unproductive cough.

Note that while Oshá is generally seen as a lung herb, it’s far more multifaceted than it’s often given credit for, and can also be used in sinus infections, for the achy joints that often accompany influenza, treating acute allergies, water retention, and even for altitude sickness. Even tiny amounts of the root or any preparation of the plant can dramatically help the headache, dizziness, and other symptoms of altitude sickness, especially if ingestion is started before symptoms become acute. 

Oshá is great as a tincture, elixir, infused in honey, and any number of other preparations, but I do prefer to give small amounts of the fresh or dried to root to be sucked on slowly whenever the person is willing to deal with the taste of what my late teacher, Southwestern herbalist Michael Moore, termed “celery from hell”. It combines very well with herbs such as Aralia and Elderberry which can both potentiate the Oshá and make it go further while still retaining its effectiveness. 

Additional Thoughts or Notes: Do note that Oshá is frequently mistaken for other members of the Apiaceae family, including some very toxic genera. You must be 100% sure of your ID to harvest with this plant. Another potential concern is that other roots can become entangled with that of Ligusticum’s during growth and it can be difficult to differentiate between them. Trace every root from the plant to ensure that you don’t accidentally add Aconite root to your Oshá infused honey in a potentially deadly mistake.

Ligusticum leaves are quite tasty, and I love them in all sorts of stews and with wild game. Like Lovage leaves, not every cares for it, so start with a light hand until you get used to its unique flavor. Seeds and flowers are also both flavorful and medicinal. 

While not exactly an analogue, Lovage root has many actions and traits comparable with Oshá’s, and should be considered as an easy to grow replacement for many of Oshá’s milder and most commonly desired medicinal actions, including as an aromatic (and thus having an antibacterial action on the respiratory tissues) and warming expectorant. 

Ligusticum is a blood moving herb and not appropriate during pregnancy.

Resources & References

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

Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide by Thomas Avery Garran

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore

Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore

The Herbal Medic by Sam Coffman

Writings by and Personal Correspondence with 7Song

Writings by and Personal Correspondence with Jim McDonald

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Enchanted SIte page poster

For more information about this year’s TWH conference or to register, go to:

Jul 262015

Excitement continues to grow for the upcoming Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference & Celebration, over 50 in-depth classes for the students and enthusiasts of herbal medicine – Sept 17th through the 20th high atop New Mexico’s picturesque Sky-Island.

The Lodge is offering attendees a special discounted meals package, but these packages must be purchased in advance, and they have a strict deadline in which to reserve them.  If you intend to eat meals at The Lodge during TWHC, you MUST call them and pay for yours prior to their


See the poster below for full details on this meals package.  And for more information about this year’s TWH conference or to register, go to:

Eating poster

Jul 132015

July Herbaria – Special Free Edition for Herbalists

A Sneak Peek:

The free July issue of the Plant Healer’s Herbaria Newsletter will be mailed out Monday, July 20th.  To be certain of receiving a download link, be certain to subscribe before then.  Simply go to our website and fill in your name and email address in the appropriate location on the far left side of the page:

This month’s special issue is overgrown – nearly 70 color pages in length – and includes the following:

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Dara Saville: Connecting With Our Heritage Through Herbal Practice

Our friend Dara of Albuquerque Herbalism writes about how working with herbs increases our connection to all those healers who came before, with an intimate look at Early American healing practices prior to the rise of pharmaceuticals and the first onerous laws harming medicine sellers.  As Dara concluded:

“While herbal medicine in post-industrialized America is usually lumped into the category known as ‘alternative medicine’, many of us know that it is actually traditional medicine, and the original ‘Medicine of the People'”

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Juliet Blankespoor: Plant Photography for Herbalists

The ever-awesome Julietta of Chestnut Herbal School explains here how to take great photographs of the herbs we use, in advance of her Plant Photography class this September at our 6th Annual Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.  Subjects in this great article include aperture, shutter speed, composition, and background:

“Choosing a beautiful background is almost as important as choosing your subject. I will often look for contrasting colored flowers as a backdrop to my subject. Bright green light is also pleasing. Dappled light in the background can create an airy or painterly feeling. As mentioned earlier, shade in the background will often translate as a black backdrop in a photo if the image is illuminated with sunlight. Your background should add interest or contrast, but take care that is doesn’t distract from the story you are telling.”


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Plant Healer Event Reminisces

To start getting in the mood for the upcoming event, we’ve included both stories of the past five years of TWHC & Herbal Resurgence, and a bunch of fun pictures of you folks who attended.  One of the many contributors is Heather Luna of Nevada City Herbs & Tea, who wrote among other things this encouraging reminder:

“Saying good-byes were both sweet and challenging.  As herbalists, it is our job to inspire and awaken vitality in those who come to us, and here my own were re-animated and rekindled.  The good work in the world may now continue!”

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Robin Rose Bennett: Herbal Magic

Robin Rose shares with us here a piece on herbs for magical intention and ceremony, presenting an excerpt from her classic book “Healing Magic: A Green Witch Guidebook to Conscious Living – 10th Anniversary Edition,” with sections on Plants for Burning, the uses of specific herbs (and trees!), Here is a tempting quote from it by Robin:

“Plants are conscious beings of feeling and spirit, and they are blessed with an abundance of gifts to share. I have found that all plants are consciousness-altering. In this sense, plants grow us. They are wonderful allies to human beings, filled with love for us. Like birds and animals, plants don’t have to remember that they are part of nature; they simply are who and what they are. This inevitably helps us resonate with who we are as part of nature. Each specific plant also brings its own particular essence to a meditation, spell, or ritual.  Much of my time with plants is spent working with them as physical medicine for our bodies. I have discovered that there is a correlation—sometimes subtle, often obvious—between the physical medicine a plant offers and the spiritual/magical energy it imparts.”

You can find out more about her work at Wise Woman Healing Ways.

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Interview #1: Emily Han – Herbal Cocktails for Pleasure & Health

For the past several issues of Herbaria we’ve been including 2 interviews with compelling herbalists, whose plant medicine knowledge we are pleased to share, and whose personal stories help us navigate our own individual healing paths.  Emily literally “wrote the book” on herbal cocktails (see her site Roots & Marvel).  She will be teaching us about bitters, elixirs, cocktails, and how to ferment and blend at TWHC in a couple of months, do we’re glad we got to pick her brain a bit in advance!

“My intention for the class is to be accessible and fun as well as educational. We’ll talk about the art and science of crafting balanced cocktails; I’ll share some classic formulas and ratios as a foundation, and then encourage folks to put their own creative and healing spin on these. I’m coming out to New Mexico with a bunch of cocktail-making tools and ingredients and we’ll put them to good use in the hands-on part of the class. We’ll taste each other’s creations, and all go home with new skills and inspiration. …I envision a culture in which everyone practices herbalism to some degree, taking care of themselves, their families and friends, and the natural world around them. Thus, I believe my role – and the role of many herbalists – is to (re-)introduce people to herbs and empower them to integrate herbal practices into their daily lives through medicine-making, cooking, wildcrafting, gardening, having a sense of wonder, caring for the earth. If we can spark an interest in herbalism in various ways (such as cocktails or cookbooks), I think we can ultimately help create a healthier world.”


Interview #2: Guido Masé

Guido is an exceptionally gifted and perceptive herbalist teacher from northern Italy, a co-director of the unique Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, and valued columnist for Plant Healer Magazine.  We think you will find his words here fascinating and enlightening, a carefully selected excerpt from the much longer conversation undertaken for the future Volume 2 of Plant Healer’s “21 Century Herbalists” books of interviews.  For now, here’s a sneak peek for you:

“What I appreciate most about bioregional herbalism is the idea that the medicinal plants that grow really, really close (same watershed you drink from) are having an experience very similar to yours, they elaborate different chemicals than the same species four hundred miles away, and in so doing link you up to your local environment in a really profound way. Without eating wild medicinals that grow right outside your door, you are really just a guest, a transient in the environment. Folks who get all their food processed from the grocery store aren’t really as much of a part of the ecology-as-being as those who eat weeds. Taking bioregional herbs means you’re actually a part of the world around you, not just a guest. It doesn’t matter what herbs exactly – to a certain extent, just snacking on lambs quarters with a side of goldenrod tea allows you to be a functional, contributing part of the ecological organism.”


A New Herbal Networking Site

We want to help network the exciting new “Herb Rally” website created by Mason Hutchinson.  Mason’s caring vision is of a one-stop online hub, offering a comprehensive list of currently available herbal courses, media, workshops, and conferences nationwide… provided free as a service to all students, enthusiasts, and practitioners of herbal medicine.  If any income is generated through affiliating with organizations like Plant Healer, that money will go to fund herbal scholarships given out to those in need!  You can submit the details and dates of your classes, events, etc., and/or browse current herbal educational opportunities but clicking on:

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Spreading Like Weeds

 Herbaria subscriptions have more than doubled since this time last year, now reaching many thousands readers with its absolutely free content.  Unlike with Plant Healer Magazine, which goes out primarily to committed herbal students and practicing herbalists, subscribers to the newsletter and blog include crossover folks just getting into herbalism, or with natural healing as a side interest.  It feels like one way to spread and grow this mission of healing and love – this weedy revolution!

Advertise Inexpensively

Display ads in Herbaria Newsletter are priced low enough to be affordable to folks launching new herbal related projects.  Space in our pages is intended for the common folk, small operations and family businesses… large corporations would need to explain why they deserve to be an exception. 🙂 You can download the combined magazine and newsletter advertising pdf here:

Advertising Info

Share Your Knowledge, Submit Your Stories

You don’t have to be a professional writer in order to have something worthwhile to share with others.  And unlike with PH Magazine, it’s ok f your writings have been printed or posted before, so long as they haven’t been too widely distributed before.  Therapeutics, herb profiles, medicine making recipes, tips for practicing, clinical skills, conservation and gardening.   If you’d be interested, please download the:

Submission Guidelines



 Wild green blessings to you allKiva & Wolf

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Jun 242015

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by Dara Saville

An Excerpt from the New Plant Healer book:

The Traveling Medicine Show: Pitchmen & Plant Healers of Early America

Full color – 104 pages 8×11 – $24 – Order from the Bookstore Page at:

Read the truth about the largely wonderful if oft maligned historic herb sellers, the unfortunate shift from plant medicines to harmful pharmaceuticals, and the benefits and joys of resurgent herbalism in this modern age…. in a fascinating full color book filled with over 500 lovely vintage and contemporary illustrations.  For your enjoyment we present here an opening piece by bioregional herbalist Dara Saville of Albuquerque Herbalism, director of the Yerba Mansa Restoration Project, regular contributor to Plant Healer Magazine, and valued teacher at New Mexico’s annual Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.

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Jun 172015

The over 50-pages long June issue of Plant Healer’s Herbaria Newsletter releases Monday afternoon, June 22nd.  To be certain of a copy, sign up for a subscription beforehand, absolutely FREE, at:

And for now, here follwoing is a little taste of Herbaria’s latest inspiration and information:

Denise Tracy-Cowan, herbal skin care specialist.

Denise Tracy-Cowan, herbal skin care specialist.

Our friend and nearest wilderness neighbor is Denise Tracy Cowan of of Super Salve Co. who joins TWHC teacher Phyllis Hogan in contributing an Herbaria article on the science and sensuality of skin care, providing some herbal skin care recipes, telling us:

“Natural skin care is fun and easy!  Make your own love potion that suits your skin the best.  Go find your favorite vegetable oils that contain antioxidant properties like avocado, almond, apricot, and olive oils.  Then add a few drops of anti-aging essential oils, like neroli (orange blossom flower), rose, lavender, rosemary, sweet orange, lemon, lime, oregano, myrrh, or fennel.  Now you have a wonderful, nutritious, anti-aging oil splash for the entire body!  Herbs such as calendula flower, comfrey leaf, horsetail, coltsfoot, slippery elm, echinacea flower, borage, elder flowers, immortal, and yarrow are just a few herbs that help topically with cellular regeneration.  Age gracefully and fight those cell damaging, free-radicals every inch of the way.  Day by day, you will feel younger and look better.  Your beautiful, healthy vibrant, anti-aging skin depends on the natural skin care methods you use.”


Jen Stovall

Jen Stovall

We provide two very inspiring interviews with herbalist teachers once again, this time including Jen Stovall of Maypop Community Herb Store and Janet Kent from Medicine County Herbs & Terra Silva School, talking with me about subjects from their favorite medicinal herbs to issues of herbal justice and access.  As Jen writes:

“Herbal Justice represents the idea that health should be shared by everyone, regardless of race, gender, class, etc… and that herbalism can really level the playing field. At a time when the inequities of race are finally showing up in the media, it is really powerful to discuss ways that herbalists can act as emissaries of social justice.“

Janet adds that:

Janet Kent

Janet Kent

We are in the midst of a health crisis on the individual, societal and global level. The injustices of our society are laid bare in the extreme inequity of our wealth-based health care system. Holistic practitioners are especially well suited to identify and address these issues. As healers who draw our wisdom and practice from Nature, we are also perfectly positioned to address the current ecological crisis. Both of these factors inform the concept of herbalism as a tool for social justice.  While many forms of social work and activism can lead to cynicism, disillusionment and burnout, herbalism is more sustainable. The ability to make a real difference on the individual level, whether with a client or a student, is empowering. To see immediate changes in health and perspective replenishes us and strengthens our resolve.”


For our second interview excerpt, we present the New Mexico-based practitioner/teacher Dara Saville, truly one of the talented rising stars of botanical healing and champion of bioregional herbalism.  She speaks about the herbs of the state, gives us an update on the Yerba Mansa Restoration Project, and provides inspiring advice to herb lovers of all kinds:

There can be many roles for the herbalist to play depending on the circumstances of the local community.  Herbalists have always been there to help people find their paths, whether it is through illness and injury or in more metaphorical ways. I believe that role will always apply.  Today, the herbalists’ role has changed somewhat mainly due to the rise of modern medicine and they way that most people have moved away from their connections to the natural world.  We are no longer the main source of healthcare, but what people come to when they don’t know where else to turn.  While modern medicine has been wonderful at dealing with acute and emergency situations, this industry has not done as well in helping people with the many chronic inflammatory illnesses that are on the rise in recent times.  This dissatisfaction with treatments prescribed by physicians for chronic inflammations or more mysterious ailments has brought many people into my path.  While herbalism was once a way of life for many and a main form of medicine practiced, it has become a system of last-resorts, a place to go to when ‘the standard’ treatments don’t produce meaningful results or people are told there is nothing wrong with them despite their obvious suffering.  In addition to this changing role in providing for peoples’ health, the type of guidance that herbalists impart has also changed with the times.  In so many cases we must shepherd people back into connections with wilderness.  Over the last century the majority of people have migrated away from the natural world in favor of the security, comfort, and convenience of the modern industrialized and urbanized lifeways that seem so standard now.  If we are to help people feel better, we must first help them return to that lost connection of inter-being with plants, the land, and the source of all wellbeing.  I have found my role to be that of a facilitator helping people find their own paths to knowledge, experience, and meaning.  I can help them learn the basics, which provides a firm foundation and some degree of confidence for the rest of the journey.  I can open their minds to the possibility of deeper understanding and fulfillment through relationships with plants and other elements of the natural world.  I can take people into the mountains and Bosque and introduce them to the source of all learning.  That of course, is the source of life, and we can connect with that through plants.  I help people find that connection to something we have no words for.  To impart a combination of concrete learning and information while also cultivating this kind of experience and understanding is what I strive for in my herbal studies program.”

Dara Saville

Dara Saville

The loving Elka provides a wonderful soup recipe with wild Nettle for you to try, writing:

It’s another beautiful day in the canyon! The Cottonwoods have all leafed out, the woods are covered with Nettles, the Strawberry Hedgehog Cactuses are blooming and so are the Yucca stalks! Dear sweet Chamomile has escaped from the garden and makes me want to pet it, and smell it, as I walk by it on the path in front of the kitchen, and the crazy Fennel I planted last summer is now at least 4 feet tall! Rhiannon and I have been very busy getting up to our elbows in Nettles in order to stock the freezer with the best tasting greens money can’t even buy! It’s Stinging Nettle heaven! I haven’t seen so many in years. The rains have been abundant enough this winter, and it’s been raining way more than usual this spring! Which is so great, cause it not only helps reduce the fire danger but makes the Nettles keep sprouting new tops faster than even I can sometimes believe! So far we’ve managed to put at least 50 pounds of boiled Nettles in the freezer, and I can’t tell you how many we’ve eaten, but it’s been a lot of bowls’ worth, that’s for sure! Kiva has been loving my Potato Nettle Soup, of which we’ve been eating countless variations! We’ve also been eating lots of Nettles with Coconut milk and curry spices, with sautéed meat and Onions, with sliced Cucumbers and homemade chutney – yum! And I’ve been drinking endless mugs of vitamin and mineral-rich Nettle decoction – a perfect late Spring tonic!”

Elka harvesting yummy nettles

Elka harvesting yummy nettles

The noted historian and entertainer Gene Fowler contributes a lively piece taken from the Foreword to Plant Healer’s most recent book, The Traveling Medicine Show, now available from the Bookstore page at  Gene tell us:

“The “physic operas” were not always the dopey, low-down scams depicted in story and lore. While the med-show underground certainly harbored its share of con artists, there were also many sincere healing thespians hawking respectable remedies who tried their best to deliver an experience of wellness and wonder.  Even in cases where the medicine sold didn’t do all that was promised (as was also sometimes the case with more “mainstream” meds sold in 19th and early 20th century drugstores,  some of which contained dangerous levels of morphine, opium, etc.), the show itself delivered a placebo effect, lifting folks’ spirits and, consequently, helping the body to heal itself. Many med-show elixirs, of course, were derived from plants, drawing on  herbal traditions of Native America, the Old World, and the mystic distant Orient. The mesmerizing orators who ballyhooed their healing powers were alt-med pioneers. Today even the most austere physician will generally concur that some plant-based medicines are efficacious remedies. And few would deny that there is a connection between the mind, the emotions, and the relative well-being of the earthly vessel in which such mysteries are lodged.  All of which encourages a reconsideration of the American medicine show.”

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And I must leave you with a final excerpt from Plant Healer’s upcoming Herbaria issue, voiced by my partner Kiva Rose in her piece “Falling in Love With Flowers”:

“In a culture of deconstruction and fragmentation, it can be hard to re-vision the world through eyes that are able to see the essential wholeness of life and the dance that each participant contributes to that whole. It can be difficult indeed to see what connects us in addition to what separates us. And yet, it is the infinitely satisfying purpose of each of one of us to recognize our innate kinship to our larger self and to nourish it, one intimate relationship at a time. The better we know the food we eat, the trees we rest beneath, the birds that sing to us and the land that sustains us the better we will know ourselves. Likewise, the more attention and nourishment we give our bodies and our whole, authentic selves, the deeper we will be able to know the world around us. The impact ripples in every direction, showing us how very important every decision and action really is, how every note and every pause between notes changes and fills the song. Proving once again, how we really do have the power to effect and change, to heal the whole wide world through every flower we fall in love with and each conscious step we take.”

Kiva Rose with loved Artemesia

Kiva Rose with loved Artemisia


To read the entire articles, be sure you are subscribed before the June issue of Herbaria releases this Monday, the 22nd.  Simply enter your name and email address at the left side of any page at:

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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.


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