Kiva Rose

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

Mar 182013

The following is a 2,600 words-long excerpt of a great Plant Healer interview Wolf conducted with herbalist/gardener/teacher Juliet Blankespoor. You can look forward to a 5,800 word version in the next (Summer) issue of Plant Healer Magazine. The entire, full length 8,000 word conversation can only be found in our new book of interviews, “21st Century Herbalists,” what I consider to be the premier book of interviews with 21 of the most compelling practitioners alive today. I’ll be posting a full review here soon, and you can now pre-order a special hardcover limited edition from the site: –Kiva Rose

From “21st Century Herbalists” Book – Available at:


21st Century Herbalists Interview Excerpt:

In Conversation with Jesse Wolf Hardin

Intro: There is a greater than normal percentage of huge-hearted people in the plant medicine and wild foods community, of which there is no finer example than Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine‘s Juliet Blankespoor, a plant obsessed, mushroom hunting, herb growing, samba dancing teacher, totally adored by her grateful students. Her understanding of botany, anatomy, physiology and herbal actions is great, balanced by her relaxed teaching manner and the bliss and passion she exudes. A lifelong ecoactivist, her herbalism is deeply rooted in bioregionalism and deep ecology, celebrating both plant diversity, and diversity among our tribe. We’re happy to announce that she will be writing a regular column in every future issue of Plant Healer Magazine (, plus we’ll be bringing her back to Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous in September, this time teaching a class on bioflavonoids and a sensory-enlivening field botany hike. You can register now at:

Jesse Wolf Hardin: When I think of you, Julietta, the first thing I think of is love. I don’t mean our affection for you, but rather, your exuberant affection for the earth and the plants that spring from it and anchor to it, your evident love of life and learning, teaching and healing. Where does such love come from, what sustains it, and what does it give you in return?

Juliet Blankespoor: I have been blessed in countless ways, with the good fortune of health and home, and a loving community of family and friends. Not a day has gone by in my life where I wanted for food, clothing or shelter. That’s not to say that I haven’t had my hardships and struggles, but those experiences have truly strengthened my gratitude for all that is good in my life and in the world. I am also a highly sensitive and empathetic person and am often greatly affected by the suffering of our times. This pain, however, only motivates me to work more towards the healing of our culture and the Earth in a spirit of brightness. There are many aspects of my mind and heart still enshrouded with fear, which, for me, typically manifests as anger. And yet I am continually strengthened in my efforts to build love and kindness in my own character, I believe peace for all beings and the Earth starts in our own minds and hearts.

The love of plants has been my saving grace. My passion for herbs blossomed at a very low point in my life, when I was consumed with self-doubt and addictive behaviors. Making friends with plants filled a great void in my life, assuaging a deep loneliness and longing. I am forever grateful to have a calling and passion that sustains and motivates me every day. Like many a plant person, I often find it easier to relate to photosynthetic organisms than humans. My kinship with plants fills me with connection and belonging. I hope that I can share some of that beauty with my students and the world at large.

Wolf: What best distinguishes or defines your way of practicing and teaching herbalism?
Juliet: Helping people establish healthier patterns and meet their personal health goals is the bulk of my practice as an herbalist. I teach this approach to my students, as beginning herbalists often have the tendency to quickly recommend herbs without addressing the underlying factors that create imbalance. I like to have fun with my clients, joking when appropriate, and also letting them know that I am not perfect, and am not looking for perfection in their habits, diet and compliance. I aim to be a present listener and go into the consultation without preconceived ideas around their lives, disorders, or treatment. Sometimes I am the first person who has ever fully heard them talk about their body, and that in itself is a precious and healing gift. It is common for clients to feel open in this safe space, and thus reveal intense emotions around their relationships, life, or history. I have learned to schedule two hours for clients in case the need to move through heavy issues arises. I limit the number of people I see because of the intimacy of my practice, and also because I teach full time. Much of my practice is helping students with their intakes, as we review over 60 case stories each year.

I like to work with plants I have a direct relationship with and feel this strengthens my medicine. In fact, it is a big part of the medicine. I look to tradition, scientific inquiry, and my personal experience and intuition in helping to form connections between clients and healing plants. Understanding the human body and disease process is a big part of my work as well. With my students, I try to impart a general sense of curiosity and love for the green world and the human body; I feel this to be a solid foundation for any herbalist.

Wolf: What are the most important subjects different kinds of herbalists can focus on? And the most important skills?

Juliet: I think this depends on one’s aim. What kind of herbalist does one aspire to be? To know a handful of herbs intimately, is of more benefit than knowing a hundred plants superficially. Personally, I believe it’s important to find an energetic or constitutional system of medicine that you resonate with and apply yourself to learning it within the framework of your local herbs. A good understanding of disease process, nutrition, human anatomy and physiology is also indispensable.

Wolf: What are some less specifically herbal related abilities and skills that you consider important for an herbalist to develop and utilize?

Juliet: To be fully present while listening to people’s health stories. Maintaining compassion without taking on others’ illness or suffering. Clear boundaries and intentions. Recognizing one’s limitations and honoring one’s word. Knowing general danger signs and when someone must seek conventional medical care. Understanding that our clients have an innate knowledge of their healing needs.

It is important to know that herbal medicine may just be one part of a person’s healing path, and thus honor other modalities, including conventional medical care and pharmaceuticals. We must be careful to not harm our clients through the furthering of our personal herbal agendas.

Wolf: What do you tell folks who say they would love to grow a proportion of their plant medicines, but they don’t live on rural acreage? What about community gardens with shares, container gardening, indoor gardening?

Juliet: If space is limited, consider growing perennial plants with aerial parts as the medicinal portion- these plants will typically yield the most medicine for the allotted space. Mints, Bee Balm, Anise Hyssop, Holy Basil, Mullein, Gotu Kola, Southern Ginseng, Spilanthes, and Yarrow are good choices for small gardens. Community gardens are another great option; if you specialize in growing medicinal and culinary herbs, consider trading with your vegetable-growing garden neighbors. I will caution against growing medicinal or edible plants close to the foundation of older homes as the soil often contains lead and residue from pesticide spraying; the plants will bio-accumulate these toxins.

Wolf: I am concerned about any herbalist who feels no exchange of information or mutual recognition when engaging a plant. At the other extreme, I worry about the dangerous miscommunications that can result from projecting our own thoughts, hopes and fantasies onto plants whose needs, priorities and very “language” are their own, not ours. I know of the case of a man who almost died from ingesting a highly toxic species after he believed it had told him it was okay. And I am frankly disturbed whenever someone presumes a plant is telling them it is happy to sacrifice its life in order to ease their ailments. What do you think?

Juliet: I cannot know what it is to be a plant, and am only able to conceptualize their reality within the framework of my own human experience. As with all life forms, plants invest a huge amount of energy into their survival and reproduction, but perhaps they are more in tune with the web of life and the energy that moves through cycles of death and birth. I will always favor harvesting part of a plant so it can live and regenerate if at all possible, but part of being a human is taking life, and I have made peace with that. I do ask permission from plants before harvesting them and sometimes I feel a willingness from the herbs and sometimes I get a definite feeling of no. At times I wonder if I am projecting my own feelings and thoughts into the situation, but still I ask, as it gives me greater humility and appreciation for my medicine.

Wolf: What herbalist attitudes, assumptions or popular misconceptions do you see as problematic?

Juliet: I find that many practitioners of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine believe that western herbalists have no framework of energetics, and thus are limited in their abilities. I also see how easily herbalists and the public are swayed into believing that exotic herbs are superior to the abundant plants from our own bioregion. I am especially concerned about food dogmatism, as it doesn’t address genetic, constitutional, and spiritual diversity of dietary needs.

Wolf: Science and botany are sometimes looked at with derision by herbalists, just as scientists are often suspicious or even hateful of earth centered spirituality (“Woo-Woo”), anything bordering on “magic,” and even herbalism itself. But a sense of the miraculous would seem essential to scientific inquiry, and scientific method, research and understanding vital to even the most “heart centered” or “intuitive” herbal practice. Please address the relationship of science and spirit, science and folk herbalism?

Juliet: Wow, that is such a big question with an infinite number of possible responses, even from myself. I am naturally curious, and a Virgo to boot, so botany is right up my alley in the way that everything is more ordered within the context of taxonomy (everything in its proper place, just like I enjoy my home). Science springs from an innate human curiosity of the world, and also encompasses the human tendency to explain. I don’t see it at odds with spirituality. In fact, it is the detailed intricacies of biology that gets me the most excited in life. I think one possible limitation lies in believing that the unexplainable and nonreplicable aren’t real. Believing only in scientifically proven phenomenon of the world originates, I believe, from repulsion to the blind belief inherent in many forms of religion. So many people have been hurt by organized religion and have thus clung to scientific validation as the only form of reality in our world. Science is only as good as the humans engaging with it, and we all know humans have some room for improvement!



Wolf: One of the classes you are teaching at Herbal Resurgence in 2013 is on field botany, something Kiva and I consider very important. Please tell our readers why and how botany and plant identification are important in the practice of herbalism… and how truly fun and marvelous both can be.

Juliet: The more we can recognize patterns in plants, the more intimate and connected we are to the green world. If we learn the terms connected to these patterns, we can communicate with others. Some of the terms are obtuse, but let’s forgive our ancestors and get on with it. Think of it as learning a secret code that only plant geeks can communicate with. If we want to forage for wild herbs or food, then correct identification is necessary. Plus, looking at flowers through a hand lens is so juicy, who wouldn’t want to do it until their eyes got too sore?

Wolf: Sweet!

Describe your feelings about the certification or registration of herbalists, intended to qualify and legitimize plant practitioners? What are the problems around exclusion and elitism, and what might the solutions be?

Juliet: I understand the needs of the public in determining the qualifications and competency of a practitioner, however I am not in favor of licensing or certifying herbalists. I think licensing has the potential to benefit a few practitioners and exclude many more due to politics, differing practices, or an inability to conform to standards or protocols. Licensing can create the possibility of setting up limitations, as seen in our midwifery communities. Nurse midwives have many protocols they must follow or they will lose their license. There is little flexibility to tailor their practices to each unique birth. Losing one’s ability to practice is a strong incentive to toe the line— in our community it means the nurse midwives have much higher rates of interventions and cesarean births as compared to the non-licensed midwives.

I am however open to the dialogue, and really just want herbalists to have the freedom to practice in their own way. Herbalists can seek professional membership in the American Herbalist Guild, and perhaps that is enough of a “certifying” system. I am grateful to be able to practice though, even without seeking such a status myself.

Wolf: The clinical model (public and private clinics) has been an effective service model, but there are others… and there will need to be alternatives if herbal regulation or prohibition become intolerable, or if there’s the predicted economic or other system collapse. What are the alternatives now, and what possibilities do you envision?

Juliet: Many herbalists have worked outside the monetary system, instead choosing to barter their services and medicines for other goods and services needed. I believe reciprocity is important in most healing work, but it certainly doesn’t need to involve money. In exchange for my teaching, herbal services, plants and medicine I have received fresh vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, massage, carpentry, cleaning, gardening, cooking, medicine making, clothes repair, office work, pottery, canned goods, mead, childcare, clothes, crystals and plants and medicine I did not already have. Bartering is so incredibly fun and basic, and can meet a lot of our needs! Traditionally, most healing has taken place at home – at either the patient’s or the practitioner’s house. Many herbalists, such as myself, still see people in this model. If the world ever changes to the point where most people do not have access to mass produced pharmaceutical or herbal medicines, the need for people who know the local herbs and wild foods will be great.

Wolf: Given the troubling and challenging times we are entering, do you believe there’s an imperative to expand the role of herbalism beyond a simple healing practice – to a counterculture that could serve as a counterbalance and tribal/grassroots alternative to the status quo, help enliven a new earth-based mythos, empower resistance to injustice, contribute to at least localized ecological health, and impart some boogie and joy?

Juliet: Bring it on!

Wolf: It’s been a pleasure to talk with you like this, an honor to host you as a teacher, and a blessing to have your support and alliance. Thank you so much, Julietta!

Juliet: What an honor for me, I am deeply appreciative of all you and Kiva Rose create for the herbal community, and the spirit, art, and wisdom you bring to the table.


(Please RePost & Share)

Mar 052013

Now Available To PreOrder, Retail or Wholesale

Jesse Wolf Hardin in intimate conversation with 21 of the most intriguing herbalists and foragers of our times:

21st CENTURY HERBALISTS: Rock Stars, Radicals and Root Doctors

386 pages, 8.5×11” with over 500 b&w photos and illustrations

Limited Edition – Special Fern Colored Linen Hardcover Version – $39

For both subscribers & non-subscribers… Pre-Orders will begin shipping out to you in just a few weeks

Order Now from Plant Healer Magazine – “The Magazine Different”:

Wholesale: If you have an herbal business, food coop or online store, we can also offer a 40% Discount on orders of 10 or more copies. Write us with how many copies you’d like to carry, along with your address, and we’ll invoice you for the total:

Interviews With: Rosemary Gladstar • David Hoffman • Susun Weed • Matthew Wood • Phyllis Light • Todd Caldecott • Kiva Rose Hardin • Juliet Blankespoor • Jim McDonald • Bevin Clare • Margi Flint • Ben Zappin • Phyllis Hogan • 7Song • Doug Elliott • Kevin Spelman • Sam Coffman • Charles “Doc” Garcia • Ryan Drum • Kristine Brown and Wildman Steve Brill

Rosemary Gladstar & her mother Jasmine- from 21st Century Herbalists

Juliet Blankespoor teaching – 21st Century Herbalists –

Featuring: •Herbalist’s secrets, tools & tips •Previously unshared stories about these herbalists’ childhoods, education, experiences, perspectives, loves, peeves, and hopes… candid, vulnerable & unscripted! •Underutilized herbs, and little known uses for commonly known plants •Constitutional models, energetics, diagnostic methods, case study examples, treatment protocols •Herbal healing traditions, Making a living at herbalism, Tips on how to effectively teach •Talking with plants, shamanic plants, & the wounded healer •The cultivation of herbs, foraging & wildcrafting, plant conservation, invasives, & sense of place •Approaches to registration, certification, regulation and licensing… plus herbal activism •Diverse visions of the future of herbalism, and how to best get there •Inspiring and encouraging personal advice to herbalists and others

We hope you love it, and find it a useful resource for years to come.

Thank you in advance, for RePosting and Sharing this announcement.

-Kiva Rose & Wolf Hardin

21st Century Herbalists book, back cover –

Feb 192013

Plant Healer Magazine cover – Spring 2013

Plant Healer Spring Issue


–Releases March 4th–

The Spring issue of Plant Healer Magazine releases on Monday the 4th of March, another diverse collection of herbal information and inspiration, wildcrafting fervor and plant obsession that we’re thoroughly excited about!  We have to be excited, in order to spend so many hundreds of hours on every detail of its content and appearance, but a look at this issue’s content will readily show you why.  Once again, we offer you a Sneak Peek at the upcoming articles, over 250 pages of never before published material written by many of the most informed, candid and compelling foragers and herbalists.

Spring Content

We’re featuring another deeply powerful column from our dear Phyllis Light, composed while dealing with her precious mother’s declining health, and one from Robin Rose Bennett’s upcoming book that she sent in the midst of grieving the sudden loss of her ever-so-loving partner.  Their devotion to getting herbal information and inspiration out to you under these circumstances if extremely impressive, and made more powerful by the devotion they demonstrate to their families.

We also are honored to include a first time submission from Guido Mase of VCIH, combining science with folklore in an enlivened explanation of the processes of immunomodulation.  Hopefully you’ll get to read more of his work here in the future.  Thank you, Guido, from Kiva and I, and from all our grateful readers.

Contributors to Plant Healer have asked us to tell them what theme we are going for with a particular issue, so they can tailor their article submissions accordingly.  In fact, we don’t assign themes, preferring our authors write about what has them most excited at any given time.  It is only after I have started doing the magazine layout that a particular theme may organically appear.  This time, that theme would have to be “Attitude,” with strong opinions and spunky irreverence characterizing pieces by Sam Coffman, the irrepressible Rebecca Altman and Traci Picard.  Instead of Paul Bergner’s usual column, he’s contributed a contemporary history of the herbal medicine struggle in Nicaragua where he, 7Song and other herbalists staff clinics each year.  The historical biography of frontier folk herbalist George Halleck Center, reveals to us a Medicine Seller willing to risk income and even freedom to speak out on health topics, women’s rights, Native American issues, and the threat to herbalism that big pharmaceutical companies and government agencies posed even way back then.
Finally, those of you who may have missed our friend Christa Sinadinos’ Aphrodisiacs class at Herbal Resurgence last September, may be thrilled to see her awesome article here on the herbs of love’s passion!  She joins with our other amazing contributors, both famed and unknown, in bringing to you the following:

Jesse Wolf Hardin: The Folk Herbal Tribe
Art Poster: Tribe’s Alive!
Paul Bergner: Nicaragua: An Herbal Revolution Unveiled
Art Poster: When You’re Small, Fix What You Can
Phyllis Light: The “Herbist” Tommie Bass
Art Poster: A Tradition of Healing
Kiva Rose Hardin: Ocotillo
Charles “Doc” Garcia: Stinging Nettles: Pain, Memory & Healing
Art Poster: Risking The Sting
Art Poster: The Undammed Surge of Life & Love
Christa Sinadinos: Herbal Aphrodisiacs
Plant Healer Humor Poster: I Love My Botany Teacher
7Song: The Rosaceae (Rose Family)
Jim McDonald: Foundational Actions: Demulcents
Susun Weed: Edible Cultivated Seeds
Art Poster: Plant Lover
Herbalism in Frontier America – George Halleck Center
Art Poster: This Beautiful World
Guido Masé: Botanical Immunomodulation
Art Poster: Artemisia vulgaris
Herbal Education Options
Herbal Schools Directory: Choosing The Best School For You
Resources for Herbalists
Sabrina Lutes: Mother’s Healing Basket: 1st Year
Kristine Brown: A Kid’s Day At The Spa
Rhiannon Hardin: Lovely Chamomile
Mélanie Pulla: Building Roots: Herbs, Income & The Art of Receiving
Traci Picard: Hell Yes! – Plant Allies are Everywhere
Rebecca Altman: The Old Ways (Are Here Now!)
Sam Coffman: Prickly Pear Cactus: Deepening Relationship with Medicinal Plants
Art Poster: A Prickly Sheath Conceals the Sweetest Core
Loba: A Bioregional Spring Feast
Wendy “Butter” Petty: Culinary Uses for Tinctures & Elixirs
Art Poster: Krumcake Girl
Sam Coffman: Herbalism & Licensing: Strategies for Response
Plant Healer Humor Poster: Bureaucrats Will Find & Regulate You
Plant Healer Humor Poster: No Worries, We’re Grandfathered
Matthew Wood: Cardiovascular System (continued)
Plant Healer Interview: Ben Zappin
Jesse Wolf Hardin: Divergent Streams: Mainstream & Alternative
Plant Healer Humor Poster: Conformity – Questionably Healthy at Any Age
Art Poster: Gaia by Oberon Ravenheart Zell
David Hoffman: Deep Ecology & Deep Herbalism
Art Poster: Gaia by Lauren Raine
Art Poster: The 8 Principles of Deep Ecology by Arne Naess, Sessions & Devall
Art Poster: Gaia Mountain by Cortcio
The Medicine Bear Novel for Herbalists (Part VI)
Art Poster: Why Bears Are Medicine
Kiva Hardin’s Medicine Woman column
Art Poster: Plant Healer Bitters (1890s advert)


Herbal School Directory

The idea for a sample issue actually came from our Marketing Manager, Jamey Jackson, who felt moved to get free material to the many schools listing their on-site and online courses in the Plant Healer Herbal Schools Directory.  Our extensive list is offered as a service to those students of plant medicine who have decided to sign up for on-site or home-study courses, to help in selecting the school and teacher best suited to them.



We heard this month from the directors of three new regional herbal conferences, each giving Herbal Resurgence a degree of credit for inspiring them to try their hand at it.  Bioregional conferences are special in their local focus, emphasizing the traditions and teachers of specific regions of the country, whereas Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous is an international event for the folk herbal community.
We were also recently touched to read that the motivated herbalists Carla Vargas-Frank and Olivia Pepper are operating a mobile, gypsy trailer Apothecary, fueled by their time at the Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous (when it was still known as the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference).  Inspiring folks to pursue their dreams, is at the very heart of the Resurgence/Plant Healer mission.  Click to read the entire article: Medicine Wagon.


Free Sample Issue

If we didn’t have enough work creating this issue, new books for you and the Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous, we also got an urge to put together a new sample Plant Healer Magazine that anybody can download.  It is over 140 pages long – the size of a medium sized book! – containing not just snippets like before, but rather, full length articles drawn from the last couple of issues.  Included are recent pieces by Matt Wood, Susun Weed, and Kiva Rose.  As a subscriber, you won’t find any new material here, but we would love it if you would help announce, share, and distribute this gift to folks who have never read the Magazine Different.  Click here for the Free Sample Download.


21st Century Herbalist – Book of PH Interviews Releasing in Early March

Finally, we thought you’d like to know that copies are on their way from the printer of 21st Century Herbalists, the first collection of in-depth interviews with what we light-heartedly call some of the most intriguing and inspiring “Rockstars, Radicals & Root Doctors” of our time, from David Hoffman to Rosemary Gladstar. Featured are lengthy, personal and candid conversations with 21 herbalists and wildcrafters, some of which have appeared here in abbreviated form but can now be read in their entirety, and a number of other interviews that are a long ways from finding a space in the magazine.  385 pages long, with over 500 photographs and other illustrations.  Tips, tools, and insights attend the telling of their life stories, serving as examples for us, inspiring each of us to live our dreams of plants and healing even in the face of any challenges or costs.  You’ll be able to order soon, from the Plant Healer Website.


Deadline For Plant Healer Submissions

The next deadline for submissions of your original writings will be April 1st, for the Summer issue.  We encourage you to send articles on topics that you know the most about, have the most experience with, and that excite you the most… even if you have never been published before.  No matter how famous any of the Plant Healer writers are, it will always be the people’s magazine, the venue for your collective voice.  Download the Contributor Guidelines from the Plant Healer website.


To subscribe, Submit, Advertise, or Read the Sample Issue, go to:

Thank You!

A big thank you and warm blessings to you – our readers, our friends, our allies, our tribe.

(freely re-post and share)

Feb 042013

Alternative Healing & The Mainstream

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Excerpted from Wolf’s upcoming book “Plant Healers and Wisdom Keepers”, and will also appear an  in the Summer 2013 Issue of “the Magazine Different”:

Intro:  One of the most difficult things facing anyone, is the tension between the pressure to fit in and the desire to be our unique selves.  It doesn’t help that the credibility of our chosen field of herbalism is often discounted or discredited, even by our parents and peers, making herbalists question their worth and seek some kind of accreditation that might earn acceptance.  And yet, we find that there is both some pleasure and advantages to be found in not having been accepted as “mainstream” in the past 500 years.

“Better to be who and how we are, than to try to fit in!” –Rosemary Gladstar

A grieving herbalist friend of ours posted on a private group about how family members were threatening to disown them both over their attendance of an herbal conference.  Other people posted about similar situations of being ostracized, pressured or manipulated by parents, siblings, and friends for practicing herbalism “instead of getting a real job.”

In the latter cases, the insinuation is that being an herbalist is neither “real” nor respectable work, even if the herbalist is in fact making a decent income for their selves and their loved ones, with some of us treated as if we are irresponsible hippies or aimless daydreamers by the very people who most loudly assert their love for us.  In the former situation, it would seem that the woman’s family equate herbalism with something far more threatening than simple NewAge indulgence or unregulated plant constituents, with a darker, more nefarious, subversive, or even unholy purpose implied.

It’s alarming when we recognize the degree to which herbalists continue to be looked down upon, trivialized, dismissed, defamed, vilified, and directly or indirectly pressured to move on to a more practical vocation.  It’s also mighty odd, given that scientists consider over two-thirds of the world’s known plant species to have some medicinal use, that more than 7,000 of the medical compounds found in the modern Pharmacopoeia derive from plants, and that even the most generic grocery stores sell a plethora of commercially profitable herbal preparations these days.  Yet, for all its commercial successes, the actual practice of studying and recommending medicinal plants for the treatment of illnesses and imbalances remains largely unacceptable, beyond the norm, outside the fold.

This is arguably a problem we need to recognize and be ready to deal with if and when it comes up.  At the same time, as far as problems go, “going our own way” can feel mighty darn good!



Acceptance & Belonging

The desire to belong is strong, whether to a family, clan, club, church, professional association, ethnicity, culture, or nation.  This is true not only for herbalists but for most of humanity, and also for a majority of our fellow animal species.  Membership in a group provides pleasing company and increased physical security, help with hunting or extra sets of eyes to watch out for approaching danger.  More significantly in the case of we humans, is the opportunity to identify with others sharing a common purpose, with similar interests, opinions, desires, priorities, and codes of behavior.  Membership can translate into emotional security, offering comforting friendships, alliances, and pacts. We may enjoy our efforts more, and accomplish more in alliance.  Plus, to be accepted by those we identify with or look up to, is to have met their criteria and qualifications, bolstering our sense of worthiness and competence, while providing both a place and a way to belong.



Just being a plant lover, herbalist, or folk healer makes us a member of not only a community, but a lineage of purpose.  This may not always feel like enough, however, and we may have a natural psychological hungering to feel an accepted part of the larger culture, the mainstream, the norm.   We may even feel guilty about not identifying more with it, earning more of its praise and rewards, or being happier when we are in the midst of it.

There’s no question about it.  There are obvious indisputable advantages to our embracing professionalism, legitimacy, organization, or guild registration, or otherwise earning credibility with the authorities and at least some portion of the mainstream consumer public.  Official and public acceptance remains rare, fickle, conditional, and uncertain, however, and only ever comes at a high cost in terms of the years given to formal education and many thousands of dollars in tuition fees, as well as in our efforts to prove ourselves.  And at no point is it likely that a “certified herbalist” will be viewed by either the professional community, or the average consumer as equal to an industry scientist or licensed medical specialist.

What we find, are:

•Some unregistered herbalists feeling inferior to, or else excluded by the approved members of professional herbal associations.
•Community herbalists imagining that they are insignificant, just because they mainly treat their families, neighbors, and friends.
•Caregivers working nights to pay for nursing school, in hopes of more certain employment aiding the ill.
•Nurses feeling inadequate or under-recognized and underpaid, in comparison to medical doctors working in the same facilities.

And even if we earn a half dozen letters of credit and affiliation at the end of our names, get a well -paying position doing herbal research or a teaching job at the university, we will still be seen by many outside of our community as fringe, as pseudoscience, as a counter-current or side channel.

Once we come to terms with this fact, we have the choice of either:

1. Consciously and willfully rejecting the process of accreditation, legitimization and public relations, sacrificing any benefits…
(or else)
2. Willingly focusing our energies and resources on winning as much acceptance as possible regardless of the extent of inequity or disregard, and without fooling ourselves that herbalism is or will soon be truly “mainstream” again.



Stream Morphology

“…mainstream culture – there was no fitting into it back then, there’s no fitting into it now.”

–Bob Dylan

From the very beginnings of what it means to be human, the shape of herbalism and the shape of the mainstream of human society and culture were the same, and where people migrated or ideas evolved, the principles of natural healing and cabinet of plant medicine knowledge would go too.  When a culture swerved towards one direction or the other, its medicines swerved and undulated in unison, for it was not only the preferred way of healing, it was often the only effective means.



This began to drastically change in the early Middle Ages, especially as “familiarity with healing herbs” became an indicium, an official indication of witchcraft according to the Catholic Inquisition of the so-called “civilized nations.”  In Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and England especially, terrible tortures were used to extract confessions for a horrific number of accused witches, many of whom were accused for no more reason than a profane oath, a tendency towards disobedience, or “the gathering of fruits and plants for medicine.”  Many were apparently turned in by jealous or weary spouses anxious to be free of them, and many more were easily implicated by their role as midwives, herbalists and healers.



Most herbal practice at the time included a bit of conjuring, invoking, entreating or praying, making it easier to understand how the Inquisitors following Father Bernard Gui’s 1315 manual Practica oficii Inquistiones, were able to convict so many people on evidence of “collecting herbs on bended knee while facing the East and praying the Lord’s Prayer.” (Inquisitor Gui also cited “discovering hidden facts or manifesting secret things” as reason for conviction, something I would be found particularly in violation of).  In Peter Binsfield’s 1622 manual Commentarius en Titulum Codices lib. IX de Maleficis Mathematicis Et Cetera, his indicium included something as simple and seemingly innocuous as “seeing a woman gathering flowers from various trees and putting them into a pot.”  This, in spite of the fact that herbs had long been used ritually by the church itself, and that a rival inquisitorial tract, Girolamo Menghi’s 1626 Fustis Daemonum, suggests that “A good preventative of demon possession” is to combine not only gold and other ingredients, but also Frankincense and Myrrh.

By the 1700s, the mainstream of society was veering even farther from the course and cause of herbs, becoming ever more estranged from the natural world.  Professional organizations in Europe, and then in America, began to insist that only their vetted members were competent enough to be paid a wage for their consultations and house calls, and by the 1920s and 30s were able to frighten lawmakers and voters into passing laws against unlicensed practice.  While England made it possible for practitioners to earn accreditation and a license, in other countries including the United States it became possible to continue practicing only if one denied that they were diagnosing or treating illness.  While herbal product sales increased dramatically in the 1970s and 80s, herbalism itself became indelibly linked to – and tainted by – an association with commonly dismissed New Age thinking and practice.  Plant Medicine has largely remained a semi-legal, semi-outlaw, alternative field ever since… and we probably need to get used to it: a different healing stream, committed to following its own evolving direction, aptly finding its own channel of ingress and expression, proudly assuming its own characteristic shape.



The Mainstream

I have to tell you… normal is highly overrated.
–Charles “Doc” Garcia

mainstream |ˈmānˌstrēm| noun
1. ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional
2. the dominant trend in opinion, fashion or the arts

Let’s be clear: Increasing public acceptance of and support for herbalism is a worthy and perhaps even necessary goal for us, irrespective of its degree of attainability.  I say this, because the more people whose trust we can win over, the more we can help… and the more support that herbalism will have, as increasing numbers of regulations are decided or voted on.  No matter how polar their politics or what ethnicity they might be, the majority of U.S. and European citizens think of themselves as being in the “mainstream.” For this reason alone, if we want herbal healing to be embraced by the larger society, it is to them we must appeal, to them we must hope to educate and stretch, entice and inspire.

That said, before we go too far in our attempts to be accepted by and integrated into the mainstream, it could be helpful for us to first take a good look at its character and direction.  Whether we are talking mainstream medicine, fashion or entertainment, you’ll note that it tends to be marked by:

•A general absence of critical thinking.
•Acting out of fear, such as a fear of unconventionality, the fear of medical self-care, a fear of trusting the aid or advice of anyone unofficial.
•Default acceptance of the opinions, research, beliefs, prejudices and proclamations of people and institutions in power, popular celebrities and official “experts.”
•Dependence on and subservience to the edicts and strictures of officials, agencies and authority figures.
•Endemic superficiality, responsive to sound bites rather than making deep investigations.
•Allegiance to conformity, or even uniformity, as exemplified by fads, adherence to fashion trends, uniforms, dogmatism, regulated behavior and self-restraint.
•Greater individual worry about appearing “weird” or different, than concern about doing the best thing.
•Mistrust of and resistance to the unfamiliar, unusual, untypical, uncommon, unconventional, unorthodox, out of the ordinary, irregular, abnormal, aberrant, “strange,” exceptional or unique, eclectic or eccentric, adaptive or creative.
•Disregard for options and alternatives, more resistant to considering new ideas, methods, means, products, practices, and possibilities.

Those outside of the mainstream are more likely to:

•Act out of vision or instinct, hunch or hope.
•Listen to the pronouncements of authority figures, agencies and official “experts” with a critical ear.
•Personally experiment, and independently evaluate.
•Investigate deeper, and weigh supposed facts against personal intuition and observation.
•Challenge entrenched beliefs, systems, prejudices, and protocols.
•Sometimes question their own habits and assumptions.
•Place more importance on authentically being themselves, than on conforming in order to fit in.
•Value and appreciate the unfamiliar, unusual, untypical, uncommon, unconventional, unorthodox, out of the ordinary, irregular, abnormal, aberrant, “strange,” exceptional or unique, eclectic or eccentric, adaptive or creative.
•Be more afraid of being a meaningless, conformist “cog in the wheels,” than of being thought of as different or weird.
•Be open to options and alternatives, considering new ideas, methods, means, products, practices and possibilities.



My dictionary definition of “mainstream” includes “conventional,” which that same edition describes as actions “based on or in accordance with what is most generally done or believed.”  For this simple reason, we cannot be truly and completely conventional if we are an herbalist who acts on or in accordance with our own observations and beliefs, convictions and aims.

We may think we could be happier fitting fully into the mainstream, or that it’s the most practical and safest choice, but if so, it would be best to first decide if it embodies the values and characteristics, the goals and means for getting there, that we personally aspire to.

And if it is students, clients or customers that we seek, we would do well to be realistic about the propensities of the mainstream, how many we can serve and how deeply we can engage and benefit them… and grateful for the creative, sensitive, receptive alternative.




alternative |ôlˈtərnətiv| adjective
1. one or more things available as additional possibilities
2. of or relating to behavior that is considered unconventional and is often seen as a challenge to traditional norms

Nearly everything alternative is painted in the mainstream as being either extreme, subversive, heretical, unseemly, fatuous, or foolish.  Alternative schools are often dismissed as undisciplined daycare for the children of liberals, and alternative novels criticized as being for the effete.  Members of the mainstream often seem to enjoy being disgusted and mortified by what they call “alternative lifestyles,” from communal living to gay marriage.  And anything other than conventional medicine is considered quackery, whether via deliberate fraud or self-delusion.

A number of mainstream scientists speak as if alternative medicine (including herbalism) meant “ineffective or unproven” or “without any scientific basis or verifiable results.” Alternative practices “do have scientific value,” quipped one of the commentators on, but only “to psychologists studying delusional behavior!”  A standing joke among MDs, is that “alternative medicine” means an “alternative to medicine.”  This includes plant medicine in the eyes of the great majority of them, considered of little more use than colloidal silver and magnet therapy.  One online rant goes as follows: “Herbal Medicine?  Give me a break!  If herbs pass the test, they’re just medicine.  And if they don’t, they’re just soup and potpourri.”  This prevailing attitude on doctor’s forums and in many scientific circles helps explain why up to a third of all herbalists go to such incredible lengths to establish academic, professional and scientific credentials.  They don’t spend so much money on formal education and memberships just to get a better job in the field, or to be better informed and positioned for influencing the academic community… they’re hoping at the least, to avoid being completely ignored, disregarded, denigrated, and dissed.

The writer Richard Dawkins calls alternative medicine – herbalism included – “a set of practices which cannot be tested, refuse to be tested, or consistently fail tests”… and without mentioning that most research is conducted by an industry with a vested interest in profitable synthetics, is usually done on isolated compounds rather than whole plants, and fails to take into account individual constitutional factors.  Thank you, Dick!  His is one example of how the mainstream discredits any but conventional, institutional practice… by totally missing the point!

As I have learned from Kiva, herbal effects are indeed testable – in some convincing way or another – if:

•Using whole plants, not constituents.
•Paying close attention to dosage, when to use dry or fresh plant material, and means of preparation
•Looking for more than an isolated action or effect.
•Taking into account the constitutions and health histories of those in the study.
•Measuring health as more than the alleviation of symptoms.



Herbalism and other nature, folk, tradition, and experience-based healing practices are not merely complimentary adjuncts to “modern medicine.”  They’re vital alternatives to the conventional, blind-sided, narrow minded, profit motivated, corporate financed, pharmaceutical drug pushing, in many cases life endangering medical paradigm.

Nor is alternative medicine an insubstantial alternative to “real medicine,” it is an alternative way of perceiving the body, illness, treatment, and the very notion of what it means to be healthy.

“It is often thought that medicine is the curative process. It is no such thing… nature alone cures. And what [true] nursing has to do… is to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him.” –Florence Nightingale (from Notes on Nursing)

You might think of alternative medicine the way you think of alternative energy.  Wind and solar power are alternatives to mountain-leveling coal mines and air polluting power plants.  Or the way you think of healthy whole foods from the woods or garden, an alternative to the mainstream American diet of processed carbs, sugar and salt, hormone laden meat, genetically modified vegetables, canned food, and snacks.  Or like what is undoubtedly the best music these days, not the formulaic (certified, licensed) mainstream music being pushed, but the often unsigned (uncertified), independent musicians creating new Alt-Country/Americana, Alternative Rock, World Fusion, Alt-Latino and more.  Think about how much the mainstream media sucks, and how necessary are any alternative sources of much needed news.

In a similar way, we are the alternative – to a fearful, highly distracted and controlled humankind, increasingly divorced from its nature and from the natural world, out of touch with its native intuition, instincts, emotions and their triggers, dreams and service, purpose and calling.  And herbalism is an alternative – to institutional/industrial health care, to viewing the body as a mechanism or chemical factory, to treating symptoms instead of causes and imbalances, to the restricting of health care access and total dependence on technology and drugs.

Some of you may be attached to identifying with or being thought of by others as mainstream, but let’s get serious!  How mainstream is it today, to practice plant medicine apart from its twisted pharmaceutical successors, to make one’s own preparations, to think of health as wholeness instead of an absence of symptoms, to provide advice to nearly anyone who asks, to put ethics and quality ahead of income, or to be concerned about the health of plant populations as well as of the people served?

I frankly don’t know hardly any mainstream-type people in the field of herbalism. Nobody has done more to broaden the appeal of herbalism than the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, for example.  Yet on closer examination, we see that she, like I, has a soft spot – and acts as a magnet for – radicals and activists, wild women, frisky fellow and self-proclaimed freaks, outlandish outliers and edge-dwellers.

“These people are my tribe. I’m one of them! I identify with them because I’m a bit freakish and outlandish myself! I just have a sweeter cover, perhaps, than many of my fellow radicals, is all!” –Rosemary Gladstar



If your reputation is based on clinically informed medical herbalism, you’re clearly still not mainstream if you teach aromatherapy, promote critical thinking, or sing “I’m An Herbal Rebel” at events full of other alternative-type folks.  You may be an officer of the American Herbalist Guild making inroads in the scientific or legislative community, but you are unavoidably alternative if you’re also an activist, eco-tourist, or conservationist, teach energetics, or had an herbal epiphany at a Grateful Dead concert.  Academic degrees are impressive, as are any years of study you may have put into your botany or chemistry, but these things are not enough to earn you full mainstream membership, if you are known to administer to the homeless, volunteer in Nicaragua, fight to protect endangered Sandalwood trees, foster free clinics, run a first aid station at a Rainbow Gathering, sleep in the back of your herbal business to save money, prefer nature documentaries over action-movie superheroes, or discuss in public what plants seem to be communicating to you.

Sorry, but at most – if you are quiet and guarded about much of who you are and what you believe, and are careful with your appearance and language – you may be partially accepted by a mainstream that you can only partially relate to.



Confluence & Divergence

“Just because I have success, doesn’t mean I’m part of the mainstream.”
–Matt Drudge

So what might be a healthy relationship, a healthful confluence with the predominantly unhealthy mainstream?  How can we interact with it that serves both our well- being and our purpose, draw from it what we need or desire, trade with and help its members, influence and help heal its culture?  Consider the following model/parallel.

In many parts of the world, for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years, the majority of the population lived outside of the few urban areas, gathering or producing food, living in rural villages with cultures that helped keep them aligned with the spirit and needs of the land.  Cities, with their closely packed buildings, constant commotion and mind numbing noise, were seen as rather unpleasant places one traveled to in order to trade their rural produce or crafts for things that couldn’t be obtained elsewhere, meet and hopefully mate with someone from a different town or tribe, and party hearty!  With any luck, one would wake up suffering no worse than a hangover, recover their wagon and newly scored goods, and then get the hell out of Dodge as quickly as their feet, horse, or jalopy would carry them.

Imagine now, if you will, mainstream society as an old-school urban center, with the herbalist as the ecocentric outlier, a feed-stream periodically entering the mainstream in order to exert a positive effect, teach or be taught, exchange products or services for what’s needed or enjoyed, dance with the most attractive elements until late at night… but always returning to the alternative of our true community, to the source and heart of herbal wisdom, identity and mission.

If we are to give our lives to this work, we perhaps need to become more comfortable with, and find more satisfaction in being different… and to be more fulfilled and satisfied, serving not the masses so much or so deeply as the exceptions – those exceptional folks courageously looking beyond current convention for the most natural, healthful alternatives.

I was once asked if I had ever treated “mono.”  Even if I were a clinical herbalist, I likely still would have had to say “Yes… monotony, monopolies, monotheism, monoculture, and monosyllabic cliches.”  And a good treatment for that is a protocol of divergence, diversity, multiculturalism, and intelligent investigation and communication.


Go Against The Flow – by Jesse Wolf Hardin – Share Freely –


Let us return our watercourse analogy again, in closing.

While the mainstream features the greatest volume, it is also in some ways the narrowest and straightest channel, herding, compacting, densifying and considerably accelerating everyone caught up in its flow.  As anyone who has ever been caught up the central current of a fast river knows, it can be exceedingly hard to paddle out of its hold and into a preferred path.  Even within the river itself, there are deep currents that do not run nearly so fast, and to either side can often be found shallower waters slowed by their more intimate contact with shoreline terrain, affording one time to consider both where one is? heading and what we are passing by.  There are even eddies, areas where the water catches and swirls, sometimes sending floating objects temporarily back in the direction of the headwaters, the source.  Each of these is an available alternative to mainstream:  The depths, where meaning is paramount but few reside.  The gladly uneven, explorative, meandering edges.  And the pivotal moments of eddy spin, when we’re helped to find our way back in the direction of the dream and connection, to where our herbal journey began.

Indeed, what we have been calling “alternative” is never a single option, but a multiplicity of directions, possibilities, methods, means, and personal styles.



Rather than seeking a single unified body of herbalism, let us celebrate the many divergent streams.  And rather than obsessing about herbalism’s acceptance into the mainstream, let us celebrate our divergence.  Let us be happy with the healing effects we are able to have on any members of the dominant culture… and thrilled with those atypical and alternative thinking folks who will continue to comprise our main clients and favorite suppliers, our students and teachers, our allies and tribe.


Excerpted from Wolf Hardin’s upcoming book “Plant Healers and Wisdom Keepers”, and it will also appear an  in the Summer 2013 Issue of “the Magazine Different”:

And help yourself to the Free 154 Page Long Plant Healer Sample Download:

Plant Healer Sample Issue


(Feel free to re-post or quote this – with a link please)

Jan 302013

A Free Sample Issue of Plant Healer Magazine
PDF Download Gift
140 Pages, 20 Complete Articles, Over 250 Illustrations

“Plant Healer is amazing… the most beautiful magazine I’ve ever seen, bar none!” -Phyllis Light

Plant Healer Magazine Free Sample –


We’re giving away a free 140 pages long Plant Healer Magazine Sample – the size of a small book!  Those of you who subscribe, will have already read the 20 articles that appear in their entirety here, but now the rest of you can get also get a feel for the “Magazine Different”… while taking advantage of this gift of valuable information for anyone interested in herbalism, wildcrafting or foraging articles:

Jesse Wolf Hardin: For The Love of Plant Lovers
Choosing An Herbal School
Herbal School Directory
Paul Bergner: Critical Thinking For The Herbalist
Phyllis Light: Tree of Life
Rebecca Altman: In Defense of The Quick-Fix
Stories of The Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous
Herbalism On The Frontier: J. I. Lighthall
The Art of Plant Healer: Ernst Haeckel
Herbalpreneurship & Making a Business Plan
Kristin Brown: Make Your Own Herbal First-Aid Kit
Jesse Wolf Hardin: Finding Your Path in Herbalism
Matthew Wood: The Lymph/Immune System
Juliet Blankespoor: Growing Medicinal Herbs in Containers
Sam Thayer: Wild Rice
Loba: Harvesting & Drying Wild Plants
Susun Weed: Edible Seeds
Robin Rose Bennett: Everything is Medicine
Kiva Rose: Exploring Traditional Models of the Healer’s Practice

Please help yourself to this PDF download, and share it with others.  Unlike the Plant Healer subscriber download codes, this link in unmonitored and free for all.

Free Download:

“This is the first publication I’ve seen in my 38-year career that captures the wild diversity of herbalism in North America while still reflecting excellence and high-level practice… points of view from many regions, traditions, and schools of thought.. for the practicing herbalist from entry level to advanced, inclusively.” -Paul Bergner

Plant Healer Described

If you didn’t already know, Plant Healer is the largest, most comprehensive publication ever created for the herbalist and forager communities, a quarterly PDF over 250 pages per issue long, a yearly total of over 1,000 full color pages covering the practice, history, culture and art of folk herbalism as well as wild foods foraging.  Plant Healer combines cutting edge science with heartful intuitive practice, practical skills that enable and personal stories that inspire. Enjoy a diverse range of articles on everything from botany and cultivation to wildcrafting and traditional foods recipes, from diagnostics and treatments to coverage of regulations and the history of herbalism, from herbs for expecting mothers and tools for starting an herbal business, to plant art and herbalist fiction.  Contributors include:

Paul Bergner, Matthew Wood, Kiva Rose, Phyllis Light, Jim McDonald, 7Song, Sam Thayer, Loba,
David Hoffman, Susun Weed, Christa Sinadinos, Juliet Blankespoor, Sam Coffman, Robin Rose Bennett, Sean Donahue, Rebecca Altman, Rosemary Gladstar, Christophe Bernard, Henriette Kress, Kristine Brown, Virginia Adi, Wendy Petty, Mélanie Pulla, Traci Picard, Darcey Blue French, Renee Davis, Susan Leopold, Sabrina Lutes, Catherine Skipper, Sarah Baldwin, Sophia Rose, Katheryn Langelier, Charles “Doc” Garcia, Kiva and Wolf… and many, many more.

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(Please be so kind as to RePost and Share this announcement… thank you!)

Jan 292013

7Song and I at the very first Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous, photo by the very lovely Linda Saboe

In my clinical practice I have seen everything from widespread issues such as anxiety, insomnia, and menstrual regularities to deep seated chronic conditions like lupus, cancer, and viral hepatitis to more acute and first aid type situations that include punctures, head wounds, and blunt trauma. I’m interested in all the ways in which the body can work and heal, but I admit an overriding fascination with first aid.

One thing I like about first aid is that it calls on me to adapt quickly to the situation, and get good, clear results. Certainly I like those kinds of results in any case, but in first aid it’s incredibly important that treatment be effective and quick. Hesitation or lack of skill can mean increased harm to someone, especially if they’re looking to you for care in an emergency situation. I enjoy this challenge, and also find I my learning increases very rapidly in cases where I am able to see results (or lack thereof) right there and then. Longer term healing results in first aid situations are also very helpful, but when someone is bleeding, running the risk of a serious infection, or has lost their mobility through an acute joint injury, we also need to see more immediate results.

First aid is also probably where I’ve seen many herbalists struggle. We’re rarely trained to act in the quick, efficient, and precise manner necessary not only for treatment, but perhaps more importantly, for triage and figuring out whether you should be tending the person yourself, getting them immediately into conventional medical care, or something in between. Knowing what herb (or not) to use is only one small piece of the equation, with keeping a cool head, good assessment skills, and other basic emergency medical training often being even more important.

Almost every year at the Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous, Wolf and I have worked hard to make sure there’s at least one first aid or medic type class, because we believe these skills are crucial to those providing care to their family and communities. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to travel to attend a conference, medic training, or similar event. I also encourage folks to attend CPR classes, and even EMT training. Ideally, we then get to study with another herbalist who has hands-on experience in first aid and is willing to let us observe, hopefully while explaining the craft to us. It’s unfortunate then, that right now, these kind of opportunities can be difficult for many of us to come by.

With all that said then, you’ll understand why I was so incredibly excited when I first heard that John Gallagher of was collaborating with my dear friend and herbal mentor, 7Song, to create an online multimedia course focused specifically on first aid! 7Song has had extensive experience in first aid, both in the U.S., and internationally, including situations of mass water contamination, food poisoning, severe wounds and infections, and much more. Using a well integrated blend of conventional medical skills and herbal knowledge, he has a huge amount to offer anyone interested in furthering their understanding of acute care and first aid. He’s even spent decades doing medic work at the Rainbow Gatherings, gatherings of around ten thousand people in remote areas with scant medical care. There, he’s treated countless folks for free, his work often entirely funded by his own wallet and donations. He even brings students from his Northeast School of Botanical Medicine to train further generations in these important skills. Lucky students!

To top it off, John is being his usual generous self, and giving away significant amounts of material, starting right now, with a free video of 7Song at Rainbow! 7Song has never allowed his work there to be filmed before, so this is a great treat to those of us who haven’t been able to attend and work with 7Song. No matter what your experience level, I suggest you check this out. Even if you’ve been practicing herbalism for decades, you will likely learn a great deal from 7Song!

Even better, there will be more videos from 7Song teaching practical first aid later this week.

Click on this link or the picture below to check out the video with 7Song



Jan 232013

Sam Coffman & The Herbal Resurgence
–Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous – Near The Grand Canyon – Sept 19th-22nd–

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sam Coffman leading a Plant Walk

We’re really stretching the bounds of herbalism and herbal conferences at the 2013 Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous, hosting over 50 of the most adventurous class topics again this September.  From Anne Merrill’s “Ecology of The Body” to “Animist Herbalism” by Sarah Lawless, teachers will be taking the craft ever deeper into the heart of what the folk tradition is all about.

Now, thanks to a last minute rescheduling, we’re pleased to announce the addition of a teacher who can provide a radically strong emphasis on herbal empowerment and preparedness:

Sam Coffman!

Sam is the founder and instructor of the Human Path courses near San Antonio, Texas, a curricula that it rare or even unique in its combining of herbal instruction, physical fitness, self defense, nature awareness and path finding, foraging, mental acuity and much more.  He is a rare fellow, an ex-Special Forces medic who is committed to our humanity’s role in and responsibility to the living planet whole, and someone who combines strong opinions with deep kindness, irreverent humor and outright fun.  Rather than suggesting we hide our heads in the sand and just hope for the best, he suggests we instead equip and train to be “the best possible human in the worst possible circumstances.”  Check out his classes, blogs and more at:

Sam the Plant Healer Writer

Sam will be writing regularly for Plant Healer Magazine, not only on issues of importance but also practical skills such as “ditch herbalism,” herbal first aid, foraging and more.  Read his awesome first contribution on the topic of Licensing in the upcoming Spring issue, available for download on March 4th.  Subscribe at:

Sam Interviewed in our new book 21st Century Herbalists

My just completed interview with Sam is one of the most extensive, inspiring and challenging of the 21 conversations appearing in the new Plant Healer book: 21st Century Herbalists.  This 386 page, heavily illustrated book will be sold through the Plant Healer website to NonSubscribers as well as Subscribers, and will hopefully be ready for sale March 1st.  Look for it.

Sam’s Classes at Herbal Resurgence 2013

Last but not least, Sam will be teaching a minimum of 2 cutting edge classes at Herbal Resurgence this Fall.  These include one on post-disaster herbal treatments from a man who truly knows his “stuff”… and the first class on the terrible GMP regulations that have been driving small herbal medicine makers out of business.  Other conferences have been featuring workshops on “how to comply,” making Kiva and I all the gladder to have Sam reminding us there are alternatives to ignorance, obedience, surrender or resignation!

1. Remote & Post-Disaster Herbal Medicine: From Regional Disasters to The Zombie Apocalypse
with Sam Coffman

Natural disasters, social breakdowns and political upheaval are all a natural part of human history, but can be seen to be increasing in frequency and severity.  In addition to this, many of the same issues that can be found in a post-disaster setting can also be encountered in a remote setting where resources are limited, and the skills to survive and flourish in these scenarios can make us better and more enlivened practitioners in our everyday lives.

Sam will focus on how herbalists and herbal medics actually can have an advantage over allopathic care in a post-disaster or remote setting as the primary health care responders, addressing:

•What are a few of the most important health-care concerns in this kind of environment that don’t require herbs, medicine or supplies?
•What are the primary considerations in setting up a remote clinic where there are little to no resources?
•How do you physically structure a clinic to maximize efficiency and security concerns while giving patients the best care possible when time is limited?
•What is the importance of triage in an herbal clinic?
•What herbal preparation methods work best for a remote or post-disaster setting?
•If I could only choose 10 herbs, what would they be for a post-disaster or remote setting?
•What types of herbal pharmacy methodologies are most efficient in a remote or post-disaster clinic?
…and much more.

2. GMPs: The Dietary Supplements Good Manufacturing Practices Law and Its Impact on Herbalists
with Sam Coffman

During the summer of 2007 the FDA established a regulation entitled the “Current Good Manufacturing Practice” (CGMP) In Manufacturing, Packaging, Labeling, Or Holding Operations For Dietary Supplements. The Dietary Supplement (DS) CGMP rule requires persons who manufacture, package, label, or hold a dietary supplement to establish and follow current good manufacturing practice to ensure the quality of the dietary supplement and to ensure that the dietary supplement is packaged and labeled as specified in the master manufacturing record.  Navigating your way through this set of regulations as an herbalist is extremely time-consuming and tedious. Sam will break down the DS GMP specifically as it applies to the independent or small-business (less than 20 full-time employees), and clarify as succinctly as possible what the DS GMP means and what options exist to work with or around this set of regulations.  We will cover:
•The history of the current GMP and how (and why) it got to what it is today.
•The DS GMP explained as simply as possible in 10 minutes or less – as it applies to medicinal herb products.
•Is the World Health Organization’s GMP different than the US GMP?
•Who is subject to DS GMP regulation by the FDA?
•What’s the worst-case scenario, legally, and how would it play itself out step-by-step?
•What actually drives the FDA’s need for compliance on DS GMP and how can that be to your advantage?
•How do your 9th amendment rights stand up vs. DS GMP?
•When to use and when not to use an attorney
•For Intrastate commerce only: The legality of Federal mandates to regulate a product that does not cross state borders.
•What is prima facie evidence and why do you need to understand very clearly how this applies to you as a clinical herbalist – whether in relation to GMP or anything else related to your practice?
•What is the easiest and least expensive roadmap through the DS GMP mess for the small business herbalist who complies 100% to these regulations?
•What are all of the options based on who you are and how you are providing your herbal products to the public?

Sam is a full-time teacher and herbalist in Central Texas.  While protecting himself legally as a practicing, clinical herbalist (and individual supplier of herbal formulas & preparations), he stepped “through the looking glass” in regards to the American legal system and clearly understanding what our actual constitutional rights are as United States citizens.  He has worked with attorneys on these subjects, but more importantly with private citizens who have spent years researching constitutional law and legal precedents.

If you are looking for a through explanation of the regulations and your rights, options and possible responses, than this is the class for you.  And many of the lessons that apply to the GMP situation will apply to any other regulating or restricting of herbs or herbalists that we have to face in the future.

To Purchase Early Discount Tickets, Go To the Registration Page at:

Sam and The Resurgence Tribe

Kitchen herbalists, clinicians, teachers, anarchists and patriots, homesteaders and urban visionaries, herb growing mothers and children who love plants… and now Sam Coffman, another welcome addition to the diverse fabric of this folk herbalism tribe, contributing in his own signature way to this alliance of purpose we call the Herbal Resurgence.  Medicine of The People, and so much more.

Thank you Sam.  And big thanks to you ALL, for being a part of this.

(please repost and share – thank you!)

Jan 212013

Some may feel trapped indoors during the cold moons, but I enjoy both the warm respite by the wood stove and the chilly adventures out into the Junipers and Pines to gather lichen, evergreens, and take pictures of the ice glistening against the moss, lichen, shelf fungi, and a thousand different textures of bark and needle. Cold as it has been in these mountains for the last several weeks, sometimes dipping down to -20 F, I’ve still been wildcrafting when the fancy takes me. Corkbark Fir from the higher mountains packed solid with snow, Desert Cypress from the middle elevations, and sticky chunks of gold and amber tinted Pine resin blown from trees by recent heavy winds.

The Corkbark Fir will be macerated in a good whiskey, before being blended with strong Mexican coffee, homemade Vanilla extract, goat milk caramel, cacao, and heavy cream for something that could be called Irish Cream, but probably shouldn’t considering its being made here on the border between the United States and Mexico by a mixed blood medicine woman of Appalachian origins. Whatever it is, it’s damn good, a belly warming liqueur with a creamy taste on the tongue and the heady aromatics of Abies arizonica permeating each and every drop.

The resin of our native Piñon Pine, Pinus edulis, on the trunk of the tree.

The Desert Cypress will be cooked down with tree and bee resin, flower infused honey, beeswax, and aromatic leaves to become part of a new batch of Juniper and Cypress incense. Whatever is left from that will be infused in oil for warming and aromatic salves and creams. If you’re reading this and curious about making incense from your own local aromatic plants, you’ll want to read my Plant Devotions in Smoke post from a while back for a basic outline of how to create bioregional incense.

I’ve been grateful to have a good store of Devil’s Club and Ocotillo on hand this year, as it’s been my personal immune blend and I’ve found its warming, lymphatic tendencies to be perfect for this strange season of rapidly fluctuating temperatures accompanied by some of the worst strains of cold and flu that have been seen in a good long while. A fierce protective formula of two well thorned plants. The Ocotillo was gathered when I visited the nearby Sonoran Desert a few months back, and the Devil’s Club was a gift from a generous friend in Alaska.

Now, just because I use these two plants doesn’t mean they’re exactly right for you. What herbs will be the most useful in warding off seasonal bugs for you will instead depend on where you live, what grows there, your constitution and health, along with a number of other factors. If you’ve been wondering how to best prevent or treat seasonal cold and flu this Winter, you might want to take a look at my previous post called the Elder Mother’s Pantry, which covers a wide ranging seasonal materia medica with an emphasis on energetics so that you can choose what might best work for you or your family.

Cream of Evergreen Liqueur

Here follows a basic account of how I make my liqueur, but you can easily change it up to use a blend of evergreens or whatever Abies species is local to you, or if you don’t like Whiskey or Scotch you can choose a different alcohol. Most any good tasting liquor can work here, just make sure it’s at least 40% alcohol. Whatever alcohol you choose, pick something fairly high quality. If you choose basement whiskey here you’re going to taste it in the finished product, and if you choose a fine sipping whiskey, you’re going to appreciate it later as it blends and mingles with the spices and evergreens.

As I’ve noted below, remember to chill your whiskey before combining it with the cream or curdling may happen, which definitely lessens the loveliness of the finished product.


  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk (make it yourself or find a good brand without corn syrup)
  • 2-4 Tbs Cacao (I like full fat whole roasted Cacao ground down, but a high quality cocoa powder can also work)
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla extract, preferably homemade
  • 1/3 Cup very strong coffee or 1 shot espresso
  • 1 tsp Canela/Cinnamon
  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 2 Cups Corkbark Fir (Abies arizonica, but you can use other Abies species) tincture or elixir made with leaves, and some small twigs. Be sure the tincture is chilled or the milk/cream can curdle!


  1. Combine condensed milk, cacao, vanilla, coffee, and spices in saucepan over low to medium heat.
  2. Stir frequently and allow to just barely simmer for about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, ideally chill in fridge or cool pantry for about an hour.
  4. In a quart mason jar, combine chilled whiskey/tincture, heavy cream, and condensed milk mixture.
  5. Shake well for up to 10 seconds.
  6. Taste, and adjust flavor to your liking by adding more cream or whiskey, and any further spices you desire.
  7. Store in fridge or cool pantry.
  8. Should last a couple months in a fridge, probably less than that in a pantry but I have yet to find out because we use it up so fast.

A Few Ideas for Serving and Consuming

  • Sipping slowly while eating Roasted Acorn & Fir Shortbread
  • Spiking a strong New Orlean style cup of coffee
  • Flavoring homemade ice cream
  • Adding to cheesecake filling for an extra kick
  • Or, sip with Pine Nut Biscotti, there’s even a recipe for it right here from my student and excellent cook of fairy treats, Rebecca Altman,

Another pleasure of Winter for me is a revisiting of my favorite music, most of which is rife with dissonant banjos and wailing or whispered vocals. I confess a great love of gothic americana and traditional storytelling, from the English ballads brought over to Appalachia to Mexico’s weeping corridos. Here in southwestern New Mexico there’s a peculiar overlap and integration between Country & Western, Norteño, Tejano, Ranchera, Hiphop, and mountain music. As a root woman enamored of all the cultures that have formed me, I find myself listening to a combination of all of the above, always leaning toward the rawer, more authentic music. Whether from the streets of East L.A., the mountains of North Carolina, or the borderlands between the US and Mexico, the tunes I favor all have the feel and flavor of the land and culture they sprang from, as deeply rooted as the medicines I gather.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a favorite song of mine that fuses Appalachian music and Hiphop into one incredibly infectious song with a nod back to the deep South I was born from, and as the song says, never forgetting where I come from…

Dec 092012

Whether To Be a Professional or Not

Choosing Our Path – Part II


Professionalism At Its Best, A Defense of Amateurism, Adepts, & Standards We Can Share In Common

by Jesse Wolf Hardin 

Reclaiming Amateurism 

am•a•teur: noun: 1. a person who engages in a pursuit (esp. a sport) on an unpaid basis; 2. a person considered contemptibly inept at a particular activity. adjective: inept or unskillful.

Hey dictionary, thanks for nothin’!  I personally happen to like thinking of myself as an overqualified amateur, from whom nothing can be expected but anything is possible… though I concede the word is considered nothing but a put down by most people these days.  “Amateurish” is used to mean “unskilled”, though I have never heard the efforts of amateur Olympic athletes – many of who can outperform their professional counterparts – derided as amateurish.  Even the dictionary definitions suck, since 1. many nonprofessionals are well paid for their efforts, even in the field of herbalism, and 2. there are many skillful amateurs or nonprofessionals, and plenty of examples of inept professionals in every field I know of.

While I often choose the ambiguous sounding term “non-professional” to avoid misunderstanding or lengthy explanation, I am also happy here to reclaim the label of Amateur, and confidently run alongside or ahead of the pros in my own satisfyingly nonconforming style.

Amateurs arise and be counted!  It’s high time to put an end to anti-amateur legislation and amateur bashing,  time for Amateur Pride hoodies.  An Amateur/Professional Alliance.  A major coming out!


a•dept: noun: 1. a person who is highly proficient and accomplished at something.  (period)

While I am fine with the word “amateur,” by my redefinition it still covers the entire range of nonprofessionals from the very least competent to the most able.  A better term for nonprofessionals who are focused and devoted, wise, experienced and consistently excel at what they do, is “Adept.”

As with the adjective, the noun originates from the 17th century Latin “adeptus”: to achieve.  Adepts are achievers, and that achievement is attributable to their knowledge and abilities as much as to their natures and drive.

Just as there are adepts in spiritual traditions who have given decades to the study and practice, so are there martial arts adepts who are the best in their field, and herbalist adepts who have with or without formal training become not only capable, but exceptional when it comes to the uses of plant medicine.  Calling someone a “Master” herbalist or master anything else seems absurd, since nobody ever completely masters (controls, knows everything about) any darn thing!  Calling someone (or ourselves) an adept, however, says only that they are profoundly wise and extraordinarily proficient and effective, while allowing that there is always room for further learning and improving.

There can be, of course, no set criteria for when someone is to be considered an adept.  If anything, it is determined by their continuous performance, accomplishment and results, and is spread beyond immediate witnesses and beneficiaries via story and reputation.  An adept may very well be a professional, but not all adepts are professionals by any stretch.

Potential Advantages of Being a Non-Professional, Amateur, Adept

Nonprofessionals are often better as shape-shifters that can transform rather than conform, self-approve rather than wait and apply for approval, and choose to practice herbal medicine regardless of any regulations or laws that may ever be passed against it.  Advantages include:

•Knowledge is attained from wider sources (an infinite reading assignment list, openness to the approaches of other traditions and cultures) and through alternative and often more intimate means (personal experience, family tradition, apprenticeship with a healer).

•Nonprofessionals make evaluations based on someone’s inherent nature, wisdom and day to day acts, rather than on their position or accreditation.

•One can act on a need, desire or calling immediately (open up an herbal practice, buying land and growing herbs, spending weekends wildcrafting, resist unjust regulations) and without waiting first for any degree, certificate, invite from an agency, or other formal process that would slow you down or derail you.

•The nonprofessional acts out of her or his own personal code of ethics, rather than needing to agree completely with and act according to an organization’s or agency’s ethical guidelines.

•Freedom (given, imagined, or seized and insisted on).

•Personal empowerment.  No permission is sought, and none required, to do what feels best.

•Succeeding or failing at one’s aims is the only qualifying exam.

•Status is determined by performance (evidenced skill, ethics, results) rather than conferred by title.

•There are infinite natural hierarchical levels for one to fit into, organic, overlapping, shifting and transforming, based on wisdom displayed, skills utilized, and the perceptions and needs of those around us.

•Nonprofessionalism comes with fewer pressures to conform, along with more opportunities to distinguish oneself.

•Informality, beloved informality, making it easier to relate to, communicate with and influence the other nonprofessionals of the world, everyday folks who have grown to distrust the pronouncements of so called “experts”, the intentions of corporate managers and regulations of agencies and authorities.  A nonprofessional, community/folk herbalist speaks the language of the people being served, and is as good at being heard by plain folk as the pros are at getting the ears of business, school and government administrators.

•If regulation or prohibition of herbalism increases, being a professional may no longer provide any immunity, and a nonprofessional, nonclinical model may be the only choice left for continued practice.

Potential Drawbacks to Being a Non-Professional, Amateur, Adept

There is usually only one set of tests that someone has to pass before being ever after considered a professional, but the nonprofessional and outlier is daily tested.

•Less credibility with professionals and bureaucrats means less direct influence on groups, business and agencies.

Unlike being thought of as a professional, being called an adept is no advantage when it comes to access to the institutions and powers-that-be, and in fact causes a lot of red lights to go off in the minds of bureaucrats and administrators.


•Because nonprofessionals have less credibility and access, they have to work even harder to change the system from the outside.

•Without management oversight and professional pressures, it can be dangerously easy to start putting less effort into projects, or to get unfocused, distracted or diffuse.

•The pay for nonprofessional work can be pretty shitty.

•Hypocrisy & The Religion of NonProfessionalism: Noncomformist, anarchic, alternative and low income folks can be hypocritical in unfairly writing-off the professionals in their field.  And it is more of a challenge or more heroic to be nonprofessional or poorly paid, thank it is to deal with university b.s., put on a dress skirt or suit and try to make a difference in the often hectic and unpleasant environs of a county clinic, a public school, a too brightly lit research lab or State Senate building.  Our allies are all those who share our earth-hearted values and healing intent, no matter what the title, label, costume, or means for making a difference.

Non-Professional Herbalism At Its Best

There are ways to make up for any inherent drawbacks in nonprofessional herbalism.  Inability to access institutions can result in you finding creative new ways of affecting your community and culture.  While a high paying professional career can be difficult and painful to move on from, failure to be hired by a company can prod you to start your own herb related or other business that you have always wanted to.  Not worrying about professional status, can make changing school majors or job focus easier, and not being bound to the accepted norms of professional dress and demeanor means you can more openly voice your real opinions, and more wildly, loudly and colorfully express your true self.

You can set your standards and goals for studying and practicing as high as the most rigorous professional group, or even higher if that is your need or desire… but the inspiration, direction and drive is daily up to you.

Being an effective nonprofessional or adept may require that we:

•Seek continuous education throughout our lives, from unconventional sources, with the intention of being ever more effective at healing or whatever we believe matters most.

•Ensure that we are tested and improved through hands-on effort, experience and experiment.

•Give equal attention and value to both means and results.

•Use our reasoning minds as well as our hearts to evaluate and make choices.

•Study science and consider evolving research, and weigh it against our intuition and experience… even if we have found reason to distrust corporate controlled science or detest its bias against natural healing.

•Stop resenting the existence of money and feeling guilty about making any.

•Develop a personal code of honor/ethics, and live by it.

•If we don’t accept direction and discipline from “superiors,” then it is all the more important we be self-directed, and disciplined in the pursuit of our aims.

•Working without imposed form or protocol, means we must ourselves create form for purpose, and avoid the dreadful, nebulous, amorphous “it’s all good” mush.

•Take great care as to what we commit to, and then keep our commitments (“in a professional manner”!)

•Categorize priorities and schedule hours.

•Insist on either not-so-highly paid work that feeds our souls and serves our purpose, or else better paid work that bankrolls our real work, our off hours medicine making or book writing.

•Function in a professional environment sometimes, whether we like it or not.


Herbal Professionalism At Its Best

Many of the potential negatives associated with professionalism can be eliminated, lessened, remediated or compensated for if professionals and their organizations are diligent and make the effort.

Mountain Rose Herbs is an example of a company that functions in a highly professional manner, with qualified and often accredited staff.  They are a commercial seller of bulk herbs and more, and yet the plants they work with do not feel commercialized so much as valued… and shared.  Their need to make profits does not prevent them from making conservation and environmental issues, cultural sensitivity, fair trade policies and education their priority when decision making.

I’ll include a list here of guidelines and things to watch for the professional herbalist, with none more important than putting core values at the heart and forefront of all one does.  As Bevin Clare so well explains:

“In herbalism, firmly evaluating and establishing your embodied values is the first step to becoming a professional. What is a core value for you which cannot shift, and what is part of your image which can adapt and change?  These values for herbalists are typically larger than the self, they involve the health of the planet, the plants, the wider herb community, access to plants, etc as well as many other more personal and individually oriented values.  You may find that parts of who you are can adapt to help those around you to feel more comfortable without compromising your core values.  Without these strong and acknowledged values you may find yourself compromising for the sake of professionalism, which is a slippery slope.”

Always, we need to not only look with our minds but our hearts, and not only at the personal, immediate and local, but at the bigger picture, at ramification and reach, potential consequences and future possibilities.

“These values can help you determine your stance and view on a number of challenges which appear as we navigate the professional world,” Bevin continues.  “They can help you make decisions for the whole, asking questions about how things have an effect beyond your own professional status and how they help your immediate community, larger herb community, the planet and plants as a whole.  Walking the world as a professional with a global and big picture view can cultivate deeper healing in many ways.”

Being a professional and an herbalist at the same time would seem to require that you:

•Understand why you got into herbalism or healing in the first place, and hold on to that original inspiration, motivation, and joy.

•Be willing to dress in a suit and tie or wear your hair up if that’s what makes it possible to get increased access to those systems doing the most to help or hurt this world, or otherwise contributes to your being more effective in your work… without, of course, pretending you are something you’re not, repressing your true self or setting aside your values.  As Bevin Clare puts it, “Simple changes in my appearance opened doors to me and allowed that professional connection with a wider audience, and more plant medicine in more lives.”

•Work to change the businesses, associations and agencies that we work with, so they better serve your empowerment and aims, rather than submitting to overt or subtle pressures from employers, government and groups to compromise or conform.

•Recognize and emphasize the non-monetary value of your services and products, the deeper non-economic reasons for what you do, even as you work to make a living from your products or services.  Take regular note of the ways you give to the world, income producing or not.

•Remember that your degrees, accreditation, salaries and awards do not make you better than any other herbalist, only in some ways better equipped… and take care not give the impression that non-professionals are inferior or inconsequential.

•Make not just profit (or even effectiveness!) your only criteria in decision making, but also authenticity, honesty, deeper significance, justice, education, environmental and social impacts, and beauty.

•Fully exploit your position and advantages for the good of your larger aims of education, helping and healing.  If you have a degree, put it to use.  If you work for the government, you may be one of the few chances it has of implementing healthful and liberating policies.  If you are professor, continuously develop the curricula beyond the known templates, challenge yourself and the administration as well as your students.  Even if you are being paid lots by a supplier of supplements, make ethics and honesty of claims a priority along with product quality.  If you discover dishonesty in advertisement or ethical violations, take it up with your employer and go public with the info if need be.  If your position involves directing and management, take risks to do the right things, seek information and input and then bravely initiate changes, launch programs or products, and otherwise further what is your most essential and meaningful mission.

•Be willing to earn less, or even be fired from your job, if it threatens to compromise your ethics or lessens instead of increases your ability and likelihood of fulfilling your most valued goals.

Standards for Both Professionals & Non

Whether we seek to be professional or not, there are many characteristics and values that all can strive to embody and proliferate.  Only a few examples follow:

•Form, Function & Result

While professions and their members can become rigid and un-adaptive,  nonprofessionals can be transitional and amorphous to a fault.  Function and results are sometimes downplayed as less important than art and expression by the non, while pros may error in stressing functionality but not meaning or beauty.  And while results should never be the only criteria or measure, they certainly do matter.

•Reason & Feeling

Crucial is a balancing of left and right brain, intellect and heart, reason and feeling.  Lean too far in either direction and we err, failing ourselves and those we might wish to help.


Essential for all, is basic respect.  Respect for each other, free of the smug superiority and righteous disdain that professionals and non can sometimes display for one another.  Respect for everyone’s personal connection to plants and calling to help heal, for students as well as teachers, volunteers as well as paid workers, for the enthused young as well as the learned elder.  Respect for new ideas and approaches as well as for established schools of thoughts and traditions of herbalism.


Since childhood, I have abhorred how phony and fatuous politeness can be, shallow conversations characterized by a rote and impersonal civility rather than the expression or real feelings and honest opinions.  Even the most discomforting of remarks can seem preferable to the practiced superficiality and disingenuousness of the polite corporate spokesman engaged in public relations whitewashing, or the polite sounding politicians working to regulate or even eliminate the practice of herbalism by the people of this country.

On the other hand, there’s much to be said for the art of courteous discourse.  Exchanges in person or in emails can address issues without projecting our personal issues, and minus unhelpful drama.

•Punctuality & Follow Through

There are few qualities of professionalism more useful than following through on commitments in a timely and punctual way, qualities that are sadly all too rare amongst us proud non-professionals.

•Accountability & Responsibility

Professionals are accountable to their peers, organizations and employers, but accountability is no less important for all of us needing an honest public measure of our accomplishments and mistakes, effects and results.  When not mandated by rule or protocol, it becomes necessary that we volunteer our work for inspection, and take responsibility for both what we do and fail to do.  Professionals or not, we need to learn to accept, assume and deepen responsibility for our choices, actions, and failures to act… defined in the Anima tradition as the practiced “ability to respond.”


People sometimes use professionalism as a synonym for proficiency, though all can and likely should strive to be as proficient as possible at whatever we do, for the sake of excellency and effect regardless of the level or lack of expectations.


In The End

Knowing whether or not we want to go the professional route can make a big difference in the realization of our most meaningful purpose and ideal role.  And yet, devoted professionals and nonconforming non-professionals alike may be attributing too much import and baggage to what is but a derivative term.

If we look up the roots of the word “profession,” we see that it derives from the Latin “profiteri,” meaning only to “declare publicly,” from the notion of being “an occupation that one professes to be skilled at.”  (Indeed, the expression “the oldest profession” didn’t arise because historic prostitutes formed professional associations that qualified and certified its members, but rather, because the not always unhappy practitioners professed to be sex workers… often loudly, in public spaces, and sometimes in the form of a most lovely song.)

If we profess to be a plant healer, then, we are in the original sense already a professional herbalist… if always and forever a student with more left to learn.

And no matter how many degrees or certificates we might earn, no matter how many accomplishments or awards or how professional our actions or demeanor, most of us will always sense ourselves as something more than simply professionals.  Plants, the natural world and what they teach and give, are seldom experienced as just a profession by any of us.  They are our interest and infatuation, our passion and obsession, our calling and service, our pleasure and delight.

I’d go so far as to say most professional herbalists would be more chill about being referred to as amateurs, if they’d take a look at the roots of this word as well: Amateur, from the late 18th Century Italian amatore, from the Latin amator, from amare… yes, “to love”, it means the most extreme expression of our caring!  Being paid or not isn’t really what distinguishes amateurs or adepts, it’s that they love what they do so much they’d do it regardless of income or lack of income, and whether or not they get permission, approval or acclaim.

Hell, it’s actually true of most of the herbalists I have ever known, and all that are precious to me, from papered botanists, research scientists and herbalist guild leaders to undocumented curanderos, kitchen medicine makers, and anarchic plant providers working the streets: What they do – what we do – is rightly done out of love.


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Dec 042012


Howie Brounstein and Rebecca Altman at the 2012 Herbal Resurgence

Registration Opens

Tickets are now open for the 2013 Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous (formerly the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference), taking place in the lush forests of Northern Arizona, Sept. 19th-22nd.

51 unique cutting-edge Classes, taught by 29 of the most compelling teachers in the field of herbalism today.

Join with your favorite presenters, as they push beyond their normal conference fare.  A celebration of folk herbalism and the wilder herbalist tribe.

For a list of the classes, go to:

Limited Time Special – Expires Dec. 15th

Get the lowest price of the entire year on 2013 tickets, only $255 if purchased on or before December 15th.

To get this special price, go to the Registration page

New Video Short on YouTube

Videographer Carey Campbell filmed the 2012 event as well as interviews with many of our teachers.  We’ve been given all the footage to make use of in promotion or a future documentary.  Until then, he has put together a short video snapshot of our unusual gathering and posted it on YouTube for anyone to see.  Please share this link with anyone you think might be interested:

Herbal Resurgence Video

Dec 032012

As any of you who have been following this blog for any length of time know, my partner Wolf is an incredible artist, and has created countless illustrations to accompany my writing and work. He was the one who drew my first logo, back when I was still doing medicine making under the name Bear Medicine Herbals, with the sweet grizzly bear, Oshá in flower, and the blue moon in the background. The deeply felt and exquisitely expressed magic of his art perfectly matches what I want to convey through my writing and healing work.


It was to him, then, that I turned to when I realized that all of the recent transitions in my life and work required a new pictorial representation. I very much wanted it to represent both a return to my original medicine woman roots, as well as showing the work of the healing journey I’ve been on for the last decade. I needed it to show my ongoing intimacy with herbs and their medicine on many levels at once, from the nutrient rich healing of the Mallows to the mycorrhizal mystery of fungi. In my vision of the picture, I saw the stark cliffs of the canyon met by the soft curves of our San Francisco River, and somehow incorporated into the medicine woman herself, clearly showing the intersecting of land and human, and inseparability of the woman from the place she finds her medicine. And as my own nature and work is both lunar and fiery, I wanted to find a way to work those elements in as well. I couldn’t imagine a logo that didn’t somehow incorporate my charming but elusive ally the Ringtail Cat. Or one that shied away from showing the reality of a temporal, but intense life alongside the euphoria of fully engaging the beauty that surrounds us at every turn. Every time I tried to describe it to Wolf I felt that my words fell short of communicating everything that needed to find its way into this signpost of transition, and representation of the gifts I have to give this world.

Thankfully, Wolf doesn’t always need words to understand a vision, and he managed to weave together not only all of this, but so much that I couldn’t even find the syllables to ask for. I was stunned by the black and white version, and couldn’t look away while he was adding color to it. I was both elated that he’d understood what I was trying to say, and humbled by the obvious beauty and power it, that I sometimes have difficulty seeing in myself. From the Oregon Grape Root twined into her hair to the way he perfectly capture the posture in which I often sit while teaching or talking to the bones and feathers dangling from her hair and ears, the logo represents the me that I’ve been working to slowly uncover from layers of scars and armor. All of this combined and condensed into a powerful image that draws the eyes into its play of color of form. And throughout, the ancient archetype of the medicine woman sings in the focused gaze, purposeful hands, plant allies, and the moon that holds her sleeved cloak together.

This logo wasn’t meant just to decorate bottles of syrup and tincture, though it will surely do that beautifully. It was also meant to help me step across a border I’ve been hesitating at, stalling while I tried to gather enough breath, strength, and will to walk to the edge, and keep going. My book, The Medicine Woman’s Herbal, has long been waiting for me to complete the few final chapters required to publish it. It’s been nearly done for over a year, and I’ve been so caught up in my other work, as well as my personal transitions, that I’ve barely looked at it. And of course, insidious whispers of self doubt over whether it was truly good enough to be shown to the world eat away at my resolve and focus, and have sometimes left me wondering whether it was even worth finishing. I’ve poured myself into its writing, including many years of clinical experience, thousands of hours of research, personal insights, my vision of plant medicine, and most of all, my bone deep connection to the healing and transformative power of the plants. And in the end, it is because of that connection and power that the book will be finished, because speaking with the voice of the land and plants is more important than my personal insecurity and fear of vulnerability.

In addition to the book, I have a new course in progress, to be titled13 Moons to the Medicine Woman: A Journey in Herbcraft, Earth Ceremony, & Folkways, that brings my teaching back its earthen origins. Through this 13 month course, I hope to provide students not only with the knowledge necessary for informed self-care, but also a grounded way of facilitating connection to the land, wildness, plants, body, community, and self. Many folks have written asking about my original Medicine Woman mentorship, which is no longer open to new students, and with this course I hope to provide a portal into the same intense self exploration combined with the gifts and skills of the medicine woman in a form accessible to more students. I’ll be announcing more information about enrollment and the course in the not too distant future.

Writing this blogpost feels like a breath released after too many months of struggling to hold it all in, and it’s a relief to come back home to what I’ve always been, and have continually been growing into. I’ve written in more detail about the process and events that have led me back to the book and this new course, and resulted in this logo, in the Winter issue of Plant Healer, released this first Monday of December. You’ll also see the change in my column name there, now entitled The Medicine Woman: Herbcraft & Folkways For the New Mythic Times, as way of bringing all this work full circle.

With deep gratitude to all of you who have taken the time to read and respond to The Medicine Woman’s Roots over the last many years, and for all the love and generosity the herbal community has heaped on me. There is no other group of people I’d rather work for and with.

For the Plants,






Nov 262012

Whether To Become a Professional Herbalist or Not
Choosing Our Path – Part I

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

excerpted from a longer article in the upcoming Winter issue of Plant Healer Magazine

pro•fes•sion: 1. a paid occupation, esp. one that involves formal training and qualification.

We each have an ultimate personal role to fulfill, one that by its very nature maximizes our abilities and imparts maximum meaning to our daily acts.  While it may look something like the roles we see others assuming, it will in certain ways be significantly different from what everyone else does, a position, purpose and way for which we alone are ideally suited.  We’ll need to choose again and again between options and paths as we progress in that fulfillment, basing each choice on our sense of what that evolving role might look like.

One’s personal path of herbalism forks early on, providing an initial and fundamental choice between two distinct – and distinctly valuable – courses we could take.  There will be many other forks and branches as we go along, but one of the very first choices we need to make is between doing what it takes to be a professional herbalist, be it clinician, researcher, professor, or product developer… or going our own way, independently and informally studying and practicing.

Anyone considering their role, purpose, means or place in the broad field of herbalism today, would do well to begin with:

To Be, Or Not To Be?

That is the question.  Or at least, it’s one of the first of many important questions.

If you choose the costs and benefits of becoming a professional, then you need to promptly commit your time and funds to the required formal education, and then apply for and submit to the judgements of both accrediting associations and regulating agencies… preferably without first giving too many years to being uncertain, unfocused, uninvested or directionless.  Likewise, if you end up choosing to forego the costs and benefits of going pro, there is no need to run up a huge bill for a university education.  You can look instead to unaccredited herbal schools, to apprenticeships and even self-education… and when and how you practice will be determined by you.

Before we continue, let me offer this disclosure: I am not, by any account, a professional myself.

While I impose upon myself some mighty high standards, I generally put style and results ahead of both professionalism and income.  I am but a an increasingly wise nonprofessional with satisfyingly no need or desire to be vetted, endorsed, approved or certified by any board, group or agency.  I do not consider my work on this planet to be my profession, even in those rare situations where it makes me money, no matter how many years I have dedicated to it or how much gratitude or acclaim it may have earned me.  My work – of teaching, writing, painting, organizing, activism, wilderness restoration, plant conservation and healing in all its forms – is far more my passion and art, my calling and purpose, my mission and thus my source of greatest satisfaction.

That said, I can step back and see not only problems and drawbacks to professionalism, but also a number of incontestable pluses making a profession of one’s work, investing the long years earning necessary degrees and then qualifying for the recognition and acceptance of honored peers.

Potential Benefits to Being a Professional

Being a professional means to be qualified, which means to have one’s recountable knowledge, skills and abilities tested by those vested with the authority to make such determinations.  Whether it is the government, a university or an established herbal guild doing the testing or approving, the resulting accreditation, title or stamp of approval can result in greater public trust in the value (and safety) of what you have to teach, sell or otherwise offer to the world.
Even in herbalism, there may be roles you’re interested in that are easier to get with a professional degree from an upper tier college, including teaching herbal medicine at the university level.  Both college degrees and certification by peer groups and guilds can contribute to getting hired by professional clinics, certain herbal schools, and businesses involved with the research and development of herbal products.
A standard of competency is a worthy aim, in this form or others.  One of the best measures of our knowledge and abilities comes from holding them up to a recognized standard.  Another is to be fairly challenged and tested, whether by circumstance or in the course of vetting and protocol.

Becoming professional is a process of legitimization in the eyes of our qualified peers, the vested authorities, and our students and clients.  It requires, assumes and advertises adherence to professional codes and obedience of regulations and laws.  Unless and until the practice of herbalism itself is outlawed, the professional will have the greatest immunity from enforcement and harassment.

An accredited professional is also considered to be an authority and have a “legitimate opinion” that’s more deserving of being listened to.  Like it or not, professional status is what it usually takes to qualify as an authority figure in the larger society… hence we see that the officers giving the orders in the military are professional soldiers, that people spend billions of dollars seeking health care from what they trust are professional if sometimes unbelievably unhelpful doctors, and the public tends to grant even the most thuggish policeman the status of law enforcement professional.
If we want to be able to direct the activities of others, or if we simply want to be listened to and given credibility by the greatest number of or most influential of people, we should at least consider going the professional route.

•Connection                                                                                                                                                                              Being recognized as a professional, results in connections to “powers that be”, but also in being able to link up people, information and medicine in what can be effective ways.  As Bevin Clare (Vice President of the American Herbalist Guild) defines it, “the goal of professionalism is to be able to connect with people.”  And she uses her own experience as an example: “When I began practicing and reaching out to a more financially affluent community in Boston I realized quickly that some parts of my appearance were making my clients feel uncomfortable since they were considered, by them, to be unprofessional. My initial reaction was that I wasn’t going to change who I was to make them comfortable, but when I sat with it I realized these things weren’t my values, and my values dictated that I bring plants and their medicine to as many people as I could.”

Even the most non-materialist of herbalists has a need for a certain amount of financial income, not only to survive in this day and age, but also to fund those passions or causes that mean the most to us.  The sometimes greater incomes of professionals in any field, can fuel plant medicine research, fund health care for the under-served, or pay for the organizing and activism that may prove essential to the future of this craft.

•Published Codes of Ethics
Every profession is expected to have a code of ethics that its members subscribe to, a standard of behavior that reflects membership morality.  The most laudable of the old time Western outlaws heeded a code that prohibited cowardice, the striking of a woman, and ratting on one’s partner if captured… and the most heinous of villains are those politicos and corporados who, regardless of what they might say, truly have no ethics to anchor, temper or guide them.
A mission statement of general intent is not hardly enough.  Our particular codes of ethics should be spelled out, to ourselves and all others.  Studied and deeply considered.  Tested, and then either resisted if found faulty, or honored and adhered to at all costs if proved worthy.

Professionalism involves not only garnering credit, but also giving credit, beginning with the citing of sources, referencing of research, and the attribution of quotes.

•Infiltration & Integration
Recognized professionals may have additional credibility to help introduce and integrate plant medicine into publicly funded health clinics, hospitals and hospice care, elementary and secondary school curricula.
One way I enjoy thinking of it, is as infiltration – infiltrating a government approved and subsidized, corporate influenced, often unhealthful paradigm with the seeds of change… via those plant extensions and herbal agents who are willing to make the sacrifices, jump through the hoops, speak the language, and conform to a degree necessary to initiate change and ensure improvement.

What we must weigh these benefits against, are the potential problems with professionalism as we often see today.  Only upon consideration of both its advantages and drawbacks, can we determine which of the two main paths to take to our shared general goal of healing with, through or being inspired by nature and herbs.

Potential Drawbacks to Professionalism

The following are indicative of contemporary professionalism in general.  It remains for those making herbalism their profession, to avoid any dangerous pitfalls.

•Problems with Qualification & Inorganic Hierarchy
Hierarchy in itself is not only unavoidable but totally natural, one of the ways that species and individuals within each species sort themselves out according to purpose, role, ability and skill, penchant and character, energetic and action.  It is not always hierarchy involving dominance, as is the case in wolf packs for example, but always a planetary self-evaluation that arranges and assigns according to manifest – both shared and individual – gifts, weaknesses, uses and needs.
The problem with human created hierarchy is that it is often constructed of a very limited number of social classes (roles, and ways to belong), and that those classes are clearly disproportionate in both importance and reward.  In an organic hierarchy there are innumerable subtle variations and there is much overlapping, with a large and adaptive range of roles arrayed not only in order of importance or authority but in patterns of alliance and purpose, ecotones and transition zones.  Professional models usually split all aspirants into a few inflexible castes, beginning with those accepted, and those rejected.  A further breakdown may be between guest members and professional members, or between professional members and executive members.  But usually lacking, is a form that grants a degree of acceptance and support to all well intended and effort making people, with a role (a means to be focused, effective and free valued) that is in at least some ways unique to them, with acknowledgement that truly sees what they offer and do rather than merely grading them as qualified or unqualified, “pass” or “fail.”  An inorganic two or three tier system can result in folks viewing it as an exclusive club, an elite caste to which the common folk need not aspire, or as the only approved means to do the work we’re called to do.

•The Unmeasured
While length of study or practice can be measured, and stored knowledge tested, many valuable skills for both professional and non-professional herbalists can’t be or usually aren’t, including: real wisdom, dedication, genuine intuition, empathy, communication skills, connection making, and the ability to synthesize new ideas and methods out of existing information and models, determining new healing approaches or uses for specific plants.

•Requirement for Permission
Being (or remaining!) professional requires acceptance and approval from one’s “superiors,” along with their direct or codified permission to do things.  This is true for employed nonprofessionals as well, though not with as much on the line to lose.

•Potential for Disempowerment
It can feel powerful to come together in a group with a common cause, reassuring to win admittance and approval, but it can also be disempowering when it leads us to imagine we were ineffective before being admitted, that we are only competent if others agree that we are, only somebody special if a panel of directors confirms, only an herbalist if we have our diplomas or certificates, only free to practice and help this world if and when the latest government regulators allow.  The more we are paid a professional wage, the more we likely need to be concerned about pleasing the market or not contradicting the politics or ethics of our employers.  The more we function as professionals, the more restraint is often expected of us, and the more subject we’re likely to be to external controls.

A need to meet qualifying standards or regulations can in itself contribute to conformity unless guarded against, and is the more problematic when qualification depends on the approval of either feared or admired individuals in power.  When we know not only what the directors, council members or agency directors want, but also what they seem to personally like, prefer or favor – what their politics are or what kinds of people and things they least admire – we tend to reign in those aspects, appearances or attitudes that we worry may be unappealing or offensive, as well as to exaggerate those traits, opinions or styles we consciously or subconsciously feel could win us acceptance.

•Feeding Into Self-Worth Issues
The drive to be admitted, accredited, certified or made legal, can be more of a desire for acceptance and approval than a strategic choice to be a professional herbalist.  The fact that Herbalism is generally sidelined in this society, largely cast as fringe and outside the norm, has increased herbalists’ hunger for acceptance… and acceptance is rooted in the very natural need to belong.
The problem is when self-worth becomes dependent on admittance and membership, or for that matter, on the approval of any person, entity or group outside of our selves.  No one knows our aims, weaknesses, strengths, compromises, failures or accomplishments better than us… when we are honest and paying attention.
Hundreds of years of herbalism being increasingly trivialized, denigrated and vilified by the mainstream, has resulted in many plant people today automatically questioning their role and worth, wondering if they’re “really herbalists” if they don’t have a store front or letters after their names, wondering if they have a place, if others herbalists will accept them, and simply if they are good enough.  Professionalism can feed into herbalist’s self-worth issues, calling attention to our being evaluated, unrealistically inflating the egos of some of those who are accepted, and seriously stifling the aspirations and enthusiasm of some who are rejected.

•False Advertising
Being an accredited professional is formal assurance of knowledgeable, qualified, quality, competent, effective consultations, medicine making, research and conclusions, writings and teachings.  Students, clients and readers expect a level or degree of product or service that is both immeasurable and uncertain.  Professional MDs with enough framed certificates to fill an office wall have in instance after instance done more harm than good to their patients, and many an unflattered granny-wyfe has done wonders while displaying no paper and making no claims.
Professional standards can be misleading, just as the grades a kid gets in school can sometimes lead to the wrong conclusions about his strengths, problems or potential.  Consider how a practitioner may be especially good at one thing such as evaluations, not quite so good at something else such as therapeutics, intimate with a few powerful plants and utterly unable to key out the identities of some others.  And an herbalist may be less than competent when addressing some condition or illness, but have an awesome track record when it comes to treating others.  A practitioner or teacher’s reputation is the best indication of their likely effectiveness, though even this is no guarantee.  And how good you actually are at your work, is in no way dependent on either professional status or official recognition.

Professionalizing one’s work tends to mean commercializing.  At its most basic, this is simply assigning financial worth to our services, products and time, so that we can actually make a living from doing what’s needed and loved.  Plus we aren’t helping or affecting people if they don’t buy (aren’t exposed to) our medicines or consultations, and my writings aren’t aiding or inspiring new people unless they’re exposed to (purchase) my books or Plant Healer magazine.
The problem is that once we begin to measure our work and apportion our finite hours according to the number of units sold or dollars made, we run the risk of increasingly providing a more profitable but less meaningful, deep, challenging, controversial or life changing product or service. Linking self-evaluation and self-worth to the amount of income produced, gives short shrift to the various cultural, political and aesthetic considerations.  A corporation is forced by design to make decisions based on the projection of maximum profits, even when those decisions might run counter to its own founding mission or other company aims.  Somewhat similarly, professionals are bound to protocols and priorities that make it hard to put beauty and purpose, effects on the community and planet, ahead of success and profit.
Herbalists need an income they can live on.  But what herbalists provide to people is invaluable, even (or especially!) when they do it for very little money.

Professionalism is rife with formalism: excessive adherence to prescribed approaches, forms and methods.  This includes the emphasizing of “formal training” and university degrees while de-emphasizing informal training, apprenticing, and the value of individual experience.  An example in the herbal field is requiring a clinical assessment model from an established tradition, with no provision for a unique personal or eclectic, synthesized variation.  At its worst, formalism obstructs change, dampens spontaneity and makes adventure and debate less likely, constricting natural interaction and relationship similar to the way a professional’s business suit constricts movement, stereotypes them as stuffy and unexpressive, and makes fun food fights less likely.

While most professions and professional organizations have codes of ethics, the pressure to appear to fit in, meet standards and retain support, approval or legitimacy can lead to much fudging and pretense.  One needs only to think of the hypocrisy of physicians sworn to the Hippocratic Oath.  Bringing “no harm” is an impossible goal in the natural world, especially when asked of those risking dangerous measures to potentially save a life… but claims of ethical intentions and standards by the wholesale purveyors of so often harmful pharmaceuticals is disingenuous at best, and often criminal in truth.  Herbalism has so far been one of the least hypocritical and most intrinsically ethical professions, and it is crucial that it stay that way.

•The Religion of Professionalism
All too often professional groups give off the vibe of being exclusive, privileged, superior, elevated, its members ensconced behind a wall of certification like wealthy families sheltering inside the walls of a gated community, cleanly removed from the uncomprehending or even resentful residents of the surrounding ghetto or barrio.

•The Relegation of Professionalism/Amateurism
It is extremely difficult to have a vetted, officially qualified, professional class/caste without the implication that Nonprofessionals/Amateurs are by means of process inferior: less knowledgeable, effective, safe and trustworthy.  This remains an inherent problem of perception, even though many professionals may personally hold certain amateurs, kitchen witches, housewife medicine makers, street herbalists, self-taught practitioners and teachers in high regard.


In Part II, we will look at reclaiming positive herbal “Amateurism,” and the advantages and disadvantages of being a non-professional Adept.  To read the entire article, subscribe at
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Nov 212012

Creek Indian Medicine

by Phyllis D. Light

Intro: Phyllis is one of the more naturally insightful herbalists we know, as well as one of the few in our community blessed to have grown up in a place-based healing tradition.  Southern Appalachian Herbalism is informed not only by African, Celtic and other European strands, but by the perspectives and practices of the indigenous peoples of the region.  We are pleased to share with you the following excerpt from Phyllis’ column in the upcoming issue of Plant Healer Magazine, an introduction to Creek Indian medicine and materia medica in particular.  To read the twice-as-long version with more history and plants included, subscribe to:

A Bit of History

My traditional herbal training included large doses of Creek Indian medicine learned from my grandmother in north Alabama. Not a well-known form of Native training but one indigenous to the lower Southeast, Creek Indian medicine. The Creeks were one of the first Native groups to be swamped by contact with Europeans, particularly the Spanish, and were also the first of the Five Civilized Tribes. They were known for their hot temper and warring ways, hence the expression, “Good Lord willing and the Creeks don’t rise.” They were willing to fight with almost anyone over almost anything.

After the disease holocaust brought by the Spaniard, DeSoto’s expedition, the descendants of the Creeks and remnants of several other tribes banded together to form the Creek Confederacy or the Muscogee, the People of One Fire. Since the Trail of Tears, Creek Indians can be found on the reservation land in Oklahoma, with the Seminole in Florida, with the Poarch Creek Band in Alabama, in various state recognized bands, and scattered in small pockets throughout the original lands.

My maternal great-grandmother was a descendant of Creeks who chose to hide in the coves and hollows around Cotaco Valley and in this way avoided the Trail. I grew up in the same area that my Creek ancestors had lived for many generations. My great-grandmother, a full-blooded Creek, was the second daughter in a family with three sisters. According to Creek law, if a woman’s husband dies and she becomes a widow, then her sister’s husband takes her for a wife. And if a wife dies, her unmarried sister must step forward and take her place. My great-grandfather eventually married all three sisters and family reunions are really unique.

Medicine Ways

Because of their eclecticism, Creek medicine ways were always evolving. Training usually began at an early age and the positions were often hereditary, but not necessarily so if a talented person was born outside of the traditional families.

The first category, the main medicine person, was the Knower which the whites called the Prophet. This person was especially gifted and could see into the future and could also see into the past. The Knower had the visions for new cures and was able to diagnose diseases. This person was also in charge of all the mystical and magical energies which could either be used for healing or used during battle against enemies. The next category was the Carrier, also known as the Assistant, persons who were drawn to learn about the medicines and carry the information into the future. Their knowledge, acquired through rigorous training, was very practical. These were the teachings which required no initiation, were based on experience and were passed from generation to generation. The Carriers were taught only the good use of the medicines, not the bad, and were considered a force for healing and light. They were good solid herbalists.

The Specialist was responsible for the caretaking of the ceremonial grounds. This person had to know all the rituals, songs, dances and needs of a particular ground. A lot of back-breaking hard work and earth tending were required of the Specialist and for this reason, it was considered a male only position.

The Creeks used a system based upon four elements: fire, earth, air and water. For example, a decoction or infusion was considered to carry all four elements; plants from the earth, water to make the tea, fire to heat the water, and, as the steam rises, air to instill breath into the tea. Sometimes the herbalist would blow into the tea with a hollow tube, such as cane, to instill air (breath) into the tea if needed. This strong emphasis on the four elements is still apparent in Southern Folk Medicine today, as the mixing of the different cultures in the South created a regional medicine. The four elements form the basis of the Southern Blood Types (bitter, sweet, sour, and salty) and is also inherent, to a lesser extent, in the Greek medicine which also influenced Southern Folk Medicine.

A Few of The Plants

Plants are used for physical illnesses, for emotional illnesses, and for spiritual illnesses and practices. In the true tradition, a song would accompany the remedy for a particular situation or illness but much of that has been lost in time.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), white medicine, is used for many illnesses including shortness of breath, heart problems, cough, pneumonia, to stop bleeding, for endurance, to stave away hunger, and for sore throat. It is used to build the body after illness or injury and to drive away ghosts. It also used in a formula for a man to attract a woman. Ginseng is much more than an adaptogen and was often mixed with other herbs to facilitate, potentiate and carry the remedy to its needed location. As a white medicine, it is used to bring peace and balance to the body or to rebuild what has been lost. If you will notice, these are not the common uses of ginseng touted in modern herbal literature.

My father used American ginseng almost exclusively because he knew how much to use for a particular situation. I had to find, harvest,  prepare, and use ginseng in all its power before I could seriously study another herb. That took me seven years. Most people use too much ginseng as a tonic. A capsule is too much. I generally recommend three drops daily of tincture of wildcrafted ginseng. While this low dose may not seem like a very potent amount, it’s perfect for a tonic. Let it build up in the body and over time, a difference can be noticed.

Red root (Salix humilis), red medicine, is called red root because it turns the water bright red when decocted. It grows throughout the prairie regions including the Black Belt prairie of Alabama. Unfortunately, this herb is getting harder and harder to find. Like many other members of the willow family, red root is useful for fevers, malaria, headaches, and to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. It is also used for liver conditions, general aches and pains, and for sunstroke. Red root helps to remove poisons from the body and was part of a spring tonic. This herb was also used for cleansing before ceremony and to drive away witches.

I never knew red root. It was already very scarce when I was learning my herbs. However, spicebush roots (Lindera benzoin) are often used as a substitute.

Rattlesnake master (Erynigium yuccifolium), a red medicine, grows in well-drained land. It helps reduce inflammation and pain and has a marked effect on the nerves, making it useful for neuralgia. Rattlesnake master supports the kidneys, adrenal glands and the spleen. It was used for malaria and other high fevers and for venereal disease. As a red medicine, it could also be used for cleansing and purifying the blood and played an important part in ceremony. As its name suggests, the plant was used in rattlesnake bite.

I still use rattlesnake master, though it is getting harder to find. It is diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, and stimulant. Rattlesnake master is excellent for pelvic inflammation and is useful in many women’s urinary tract and reproductive complaints.

Lobelia, or tobacco bloom (Lobelia inflata), was one of the seven sacred herbs to the Creeks. It is used in many formulas and for many different illnesses, offering a broad range of actions and as a potentiator for certain formulas. A potentiator is an herb that makes the formula work better and faster. Lobelia is excellent for any type of respiratory illness, including cough, colds, pneumonia and asthma. It is also used to ward off ghosts. Lobelia’s oldest form of use is smoking and legend says that smoking lobelia predates smoking tobacco. It may also cause vomiting in large doses.

I often use lobelia, just a few drops, in formulas as a potentiator. Other potentiators include cayenne, wild ginger and smartweed. Lobelia is also useful as a stop smoking aid due to the presence of lobeline which attaches at nicotine receptor sites. I caution clients using lobelia for stopping smoking that after a couple of days of use, smoking may cause nausea.

These are just a sample few of the sacred herbs of the Creek Indians, and you will find many others listed in the full length version of this article (appearing in the Winter issue Plant Healer Magazine). In future columns I will also be discussing sweet bay magnolia, tulip poplar, pine, spicebush, yaupon holly, grape vine, oak, river birch, wormseed, mistletoe, buckeye, slippery elm, sycamore, wild cherry, baptisia, devil’s shoestring, honey locust, pipsissewa, sarsaparilla or green briar, prickly ash, callicarpa, tick trefoil, goldenrod, wild ginger, blueberry, black berries, Solomon’s seal, poke, redbud, milkweed, pink root, boneset, sumac, mulberry, wild plum, wild crab apple, wild rose, dogwood, New Jersey tea, stillingia, impatiens, rabbit tobacco, dandelion, yarrow, elderberry, and mullein.

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Nov 192012

Plant Healer Sneak Peek… & Community Alert

Releasing Dec. 3rd is the Winter issue of Plant Healer, Issue #9, continuing our mission to not only inform and inspire, but also assist the revitalization of our folk herbal community.

New Content

We’ve added 2 new departments this quarter.  The first is called “The Herbalist Mother: An Intuitive Approach To Health, from Pregnancy to Childcare,” that will be written by Sabrina Lutes an other contributors.  The second is a column focused on each person finding and developing their unique gift and role within the herbal community, entitled  “Choosing a Path.”  And Kiva’s always anticipated “Medicine Trails” column has been renamed “Medicine Woman,” in concert with her upcoming Medicine Woman Herbal book planned for release in ’13, and with what will be her next herbal and lifeways Home Study curricula: The 13 Moons To The Medicine Woman.  The subtitle of her revised column is “Herbcraft and Folkways For The New Mythic Times,” which gives a taste of what you can expect.

Community Alert

It breaks our hearts to hear that Meadowsweet Herbs in Missoula, Montana has shut down its production of excellent hand-prepared plant tinctures, as a result of the ongoing crackdown by the enforcement agents of the FDA.  They are just the latest of an ever growing list of small producers who cannot afford to meet the expensive and laborious requirements of recent GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) laws.  While others have been able to meet the requirements, it is only the latest in what will certainly be a continuing progression of ever more stringent regulation and perhaps even prohibition.  In response, we bring you a special edition of the Weedy Revolution department, beginning with an inspiring overview of herbalism as activism by first time contributor Sarah Baldwin.  Sarah’s piece is followed by my expose of regulation and its effects on herbal producers and practitioners, prefaced by commentary by 7Song, and including conversation on GMPs by many in our community.  This article includes a simple, clear outline of our range of choices, from laborious compliance to daunting activism, and the advantages as well as disadvantages of community herbalism going more underground.  Choices will need to be made… by the maker of herbal preparations now as the crackdown heats up, and eventually by everyone involved in any way in the business of herbalism.

“Some gentle folk commented to me this could be the start of new renaissance in American herbalism. I’m less poetic. This could be the start of a well needed revolution. It is time to remember the wisdom of our grandparents and our elders and bring it back to the forefront of herbal practice. It is time to bring back the heart and passion of American herbalism.”         –Charles “Doc” Garcia (Curandero)

Sneak Peek: Contents – Winter 2012/13

For The Love Of Plant Lovers – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Art Poster: The Healer’s Love

Specific Medicine by Paul Bergner

Plant Healer Humor Poster: Never Believe a Specialist

Herbacolypse Now: Herbalism As Activism in a Shifting World – by Sarah Baldwin

Compliance or NonCompliance: GMPs, Regulation & Response – Jesse Wolf Hardin

Herbal Humor Poster: Pancho Villa, Outlaw Herbalist

Creek Indian Medicine – by Phyllis D. Light

Art Poster: Embroider Our Lives With Beauty (Ukrainian Needlework)

Grandmother Sea Buckthorn – by Leaf

Magnolia Grandiflora – by Sabrina Lutes

Leaves of Scotland, Ireland & England – by 7Song

Astringents – by Jim McDonald

Plant Healer Humor Poster: Herbalist Nightmares #2

The East – Seeds – by Susun Weed

The Art of Cameron Zarrabzadeh

The Lymph/Immune System – Part IIby Matthew Wood

Immune/Lymphatic System – by Robin Rose Bennett

Prostatitis/Pelvic Stagnation Case Study – by Rebecca Altman

Knives For Herbalists – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Herbal Rituals For New Mothers – by Sabrina Lutes

Art Poster: For The Mother (17th Century) – by Georges de la Tour

Make Your Own Herbal First-Aid Kit – by Kristine Brown

Making & Using Hydrosols: Home Distilling by Catherine Skipper

Bringing Herbs To Market: Principles of Effective Marketing – by Mélanie Pulla

Art Poster: Dr. Morse’s Yellow Dock Root Advertisement (c1900)

Choosing A Path – Part I: Professional or Not – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Meditations On The Winter Pantry – by Wendy “Butter” Petty

Prickly Pear: Looked at But Rarely Seen – by Miss Bri Saussy

Sacred Stuff For Sale: Wild Rice – by Sam Thayer

Growing Medicinal Plants – by Christophe Bernard

Art Poster: Mushroom Love – 1890s Advertising Card

Fire-Roasting Vegetables – by Loba

Elderberry Jellies – by Sophia Rose

Art Poster: The Brick Oven

Nourishment For The Winter Monthsby Katheryn Langelier

Self-Care: Part IV – The Conclusion – by Katja Swift

Parental Advisory: Exploring Offensive & Obscene – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Plant Healer Interview I: Charles “Doc” Garcia

Plant Healer Interview II: Sean Donahue

The Medicine Bear – Novel For Herbalists – Part V – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Art Poster: Winter’s Magic – Bear Skull Botanica

Medicine Woman Column – by Kiva Hardin

Plant Healer Humor Poster: 50s Ad Parody: Now Even His Mother Approves