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: www.TheHumanPath.com

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: www.PlantHealerMagazine.com

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, http://www.cauldronsandcrockpots.com/2013/01/pinyon-pine-nut-biscotti/

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.


To read the entire article, subscribe at www.PlantHealerMagazine.com

Repost and Share freely, credited and linked please.

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 www.PlantHealerMagazine.com
Repost and Share freely, credited and linked please.

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.

(you are welcome to repost with credit and links)

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


Nov 142012





2012 Herbal Resurgence Class Notes Book



For those of you who missed out on attending the 2012 Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous in Arizona last September, we’re now offering a special combined Class Notes and Event Book in pdf form, 230 pages of priceless herbal information from a majority of last year’s Resurgence teachers.

We’ve included much of the Event Book that was handed out to participants, with information on the site’s history and plant diversity to give you a feel for the gathering, along with awesome herbal info and tips including:

7Song: The Herbalist Street Medic

7Song: Patient Compliance For The Practicing Herbalist

Paul Bergner: Sitting With a Plant

Paul Bergner: Sitting With a Patient

Howie Brounstein & Kristi Reese: Safety & Drop Dosage

Howie Brounstein: Herbal Neurology: Seizure Disorders

Bevin Clare: Making A Living As An Herbalist

Bevin Clare: Training The Herbal Clinician

Sean Donahue: Healing Through The Veil

Rosalee de la Forêt: Creating An Herbal Free Clinic

Lisa Ganora: Wolf Chemistry – Organoleptics

Lisa Ganora: Extracting Herbs With Honey

Charles “Doc” Garcia: Pain

Charles “Doc” Garcia: Death & Dying

Jesse Wolf & Kiva Rose Hardin: Bioregional Herbalism

Kathleen Maier: Heart As An Organ of Perception

Kathleen Maier: The Endocrine System & The Chakras

Jim McDonald with Kiva Rose: Creating a Personal & Dynamic Practice

Jim McDonald: Energetics & Aphrodisiacs

Tania Neubauer: Tales From The Front Line

Tania Neubauer: Successful Models For Community Health Clinics

Christa Sinadinos: Herbal Aphrodisiacs

Christa Sinadinos: Herbal Treatments For Hypothyroidism

Katja Swift: Working With Chronic Illness

Nicole Telkes: Herbal First Response

Nicole Telkes: Weedcrafting

Jane Valencia: Wildchild Learning

To order, go to:

(Thank you for RePosting and Sharing)

Nov 042012

The following is excerpted from a much longer piece featured in the current issue of Plant Healer Magazine, and that will be included in Wolf’s next book, “Finding Our Medicine”.  As far as I know it is the most extensive and inspirational work ever done on the seldom explored subject of personal, practical plant totems.  Thank you for reposting and sharing this! -Kiva Rose

Identifying & Learning From Our Most Personal Plant Ally

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

The Ojibway word “totem” originally refers to a plant or animal symbol for a specific family or clan, not unlike the creature emblems on ancient European Coat of Arms.  Thus we talk about “totem poles” when referring to trees carved into vertically stacked animals, each signifying a different clan of the Haida and other coastal Alaskan natives.

In the last century, however, “totem” has increasingly come to refer to an individual’s particular spirit helpers or signifiers.  This is more in keeping with the ancient shamanic sense of plant and animal spirits, teachers and guides, though the word itself wasn’t previously used in this context.  Most often, and in many different languages, the word used was “helper”… and help is something a personal totem can amply provide, thanks to its individual resonance, familiarity and similarity.

A totem is not “other-worldly,” no mater how mysterious or magical it might appear.  It is of, native to, and a component of this earth.

It is not just for Indians, for shamans, or for hippies.

Your totem is not your savior.  Not an authority that will tell you what to do.

It is not an English-speaker, and you will need to learn from it with more than your ears.

Your true totem is also not likely to be (as the website for one plant medium asserts) the “first plant that comes into your mind when you close your eyes and meditate.”

Your totem is not a visitation, nor a product of your imagination.  Not a foolishness or indulgence.  It’s probably not a broadly popular, charismatic or cliché species.  And it is not necessarily even your favorite!

It is real and measurable, and simply your single most revealing, single most helpful botanical ally and aide.

“…if we’re only listening for words – for language in human terms – then we’re barely listening at all!  The world speaks to us in the ancient tongue of touch and color, texture and fragrance, through taste and breath and every part of our senses.  Listening through our whole body teaches to be open to the world and each other in a whole new way and with a depth and subtlety that even the best words cannot begin to approach.”
–Kiva Rose

All of life speaks to us, though certainly not in a language most are used to hearing.  And no creatures or persons communicate more personally, bodily, relevantly or poignantly than one’s totems.

When practiced with intense awareness and uncompromised honesty, the plant totem quest and realization can be a functional method and means for increased self knowledge and self actualization, interspecies alliance, enablement and growth, a system or partnership which can result in a more effective herbal practice, improved learning and teaching, and a new or heightened commitment to a purpose beyond the narrow, predictable, conformist, mundane and unsatisfying.

We use a comparison chart of botanical designs and attributes to positively identify a new plant we discover.  A totem is a way to “key-out” our authentic personalities and personas, to help distinguish the pretend from the genuine, projection and spin from understanding and wisdom.  It can provide us with another way to see ourselves, and to honor our selves as we would honor the most powerful and significant of all the plant species to ever come into our lives.

Every plant, every creature, lives to serve itself and contribute to its ecosystem, with an intrinsic value and evolved roles irrespective of any service it ever provides to you or your kind, your culture or the herbal practice and field.  That said, a totem can serve to personify, inform, mirror, model, connect, inspire and initiate.

Seeking out one’s totem is a deliberate and sometimes lengthy process, not like giving job interviews to strangers, but more like rediscovering something that had all along been integral to their selves and lives.   I’ve heard people say they didn’t feel like they had vetted and selected their beloved spouse so much as fortuitously or even magically “reunited” with their “soul mate,” that after years of searching for a partner they’d finally “gotten out of the way” of whatever destiny or process that then brought them together.  They may feel they have found or been given the one person who could be their ideal partner in struggle and growth, bliss and purpose.  Similarly, we can methodically search from among our encyclopedia of plants, in yard and wilderness for years without luck, or – through a combination of our heightened awareness and kind synchronicity – feel we’ve been led to or visited by the one species that best serves as our totem.

For this quest to be successful, we first need to get past all assumptions, preconceptions, clichés, anthropomorphic diversions and narrow categorizations to gain a sense of the various possible totem plants’ core nature, attained through direct physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual interaction.  This is easiest done through a series of specific steps that Kiva Rose lists as “observation, sensory experience, emotional response, cognition, integration and application.”

We can then appraise and test any candidate species we feel profoundly connected to, whether seemingly revealed through method or magic, with a series of questions such as:
•Does it feel especially familiar, allied, relevant, related?
•Or significant, communicative, essential, momentous?
•Is there anything about its form, shape, color etc. that reminds you of yourself?
•Do you act on the world – or contribute to it – in any ways similar to how the observed plant does?
•Or do you respond similarly to stimuli, threat, reward, isolation, exposure, stress, nourishment or care?
•Has it been in your life for a long time, appearing again and again like someone seeking your attention?
•Or has it only fairly recently become significant in your life, but in a very dramatic, vital, extreme or timely way?
•Has it proven to be particularly potent medicine for a chronic ailment or imbalance of yours?
•Or has it been medicine for your emotional balance, helping you deal with especially difficult traumas or situations, to calm you enough to function or arouse you sufficiently to accomplish what needs to be accomplished?
•Do you find yourself thinking about it for no obvious or urgent reason?
•Or did it come to you in a vision, or appear to you in dreams?
•Does it feel like you have somehow dishonored or trivialized it, when you speak of it loosely, to those who may not care?
•When you have avoided it or ignored the thought of it for awhile, do you feel out of sorts, neglectful, unassisted or unmoored?
•Do you feel unreasonably relieved when reunited after a physical absence, or after a long period of not giving it any mind?

•Does it seem to ask anything of you, require response, point to a mission or calling, excite significant acts?

Plant Spirit Portrait of Wolf by Marloe

Please note that your totem is not always the plant you’d most like to resemble or emulate.  A giant redwood sounds like a strong and noble totem, many would like to think of themselves as being sweet as Honeysuckle, and I can’t tell you how many people I know that for good reason call themselves Rose!  It may even be a plant that’s not very popular with people, yet it may still be your totem, instructor, and significator… if a number of the following conditions are met.

One’s totem plant will often be associated with a particular bioregion, so that when you say its name – Ginseng for example – people immediately think “Southern Appalachians.”  It is usually one that grows locally, native to or often associated with the region where you live.  But if not, it will likely inhabit the area you grew up in, or else where you entire being feels most at home.  Even if your totem proves to be a known world traveler, green gypsy, botanical opportunist or incessant vagabond – such as Russian Thistle (Sola tragus) – it will still be strongly associated with the place where you either are, used to be, or are drawn to and will probably end up one day.  It will thus be place-based, and inevitably recognizable, au fait, au courant.

Your totem will seem imbued with significance, with the plant bearing, imparting or signifying meaning well beyond what any casual observer might glean.  For whatever personal reasons, you will experience it as personally and particularly notable, noteworthy, weighty and important.  You will find your plant to be signal, apparently calling for you attention, and expressive of a presence, quality, characteristic, form or way of being or doing that has uncommon relevance for you.

It will be a species that you feel highly familiar with, conversant with, specially informed by or about, no stranger to, at home with.  It could be a pervasive weed, a rare herb that you find special, or else a threatened or disappearing plant… but in any case, it will be one that when you see it, feels like “Aww, there you are!” as though an appearance by an old friend you can never predict the arrival of but who could always be counted on to drop by unexpectedly, at the most mysterious or fortuitous times.  No matter how rare the species might be, or how uncommon or bizarre its form or function, it can never be called exotic because it is too well known by you… and too close.

You will feel a very close connection, even when physically apart.  You will know details about it gleaned through personal interaction, facts and nuances that other people would not necessarily find interesting.  You may feel that the plant somehow recognizes you, resonates with you, knows you, that there is nothing you either can or need to hide from it.  If words passed between you, it would be as with folks who have been married for twenty years, with each of you finishing the sentences that the other starts.  It will also be like the newly in love, “in their own world” with an impassioned oneness that no few can see and none participate in, in the exact same way.

Being in its presence will seem in some ways like a shared secret.  You may automatically feel a need for discretion, to conceal or guard from the public that which your totem plant communicates or reveals, protecting it from misappropriation, trivialization and ridicule.  Even when there will seem to be no harm in telling people about the depth of your relationship, you will probably feel that it somehow dilutes, distracts or disrespects, to expose that relationship to the uninvited or unconcerned, uninitiated and uninvolved.  When you do share its story, you will wish it to be to people most attuned to hearing you.  And at those rare times when you lead others to your totem’s refuge – and into its presence – it will be those you most trust, who are most sensitive, respectful, and likely to learn from, benefit from such confidence.

You and your totem plant will feature close, recognizable similarities in character (personality, style, energy, impression), form (aspects of actual appearance, shape, color, growth patterns) or function (you and your plant’s roles within the respective human and biological communities).  A redhead is more likely to have a red blossomed plant, an Oak woman likely to be broad shouldered and strong and a Willow man thin and flexible, a slow starting but perseverant and evocative person associated with Mandrake, an herbalist with a potent medicinal plant… though not necessarily so.  These may be analogous (performing a similar function but having a different evolutionary origin) characteristics, attributes, features, properties, essential qualities or peculiarities, and herbs actions and your own affects on people.  You might find patience exemplified by the ephemeral Desert Anemone (Anemone tuberosa) which can wait years for the right conditions to sprout from hidden tubers.  You may share insistence and movement with something like Wisteria or Bamboo, and share a preoccupation with the cracks between the worlds with the sacred night-flowering Datura.

Your relationship with your totem plant could very well feel extrasensory, requiring and inspiring connection and communication at a level beyond the physical senses, unencumbered by conjecture and prejudice.  Your encounters with it may appear preternatural or ultra-natural, extraordinary or inexplicable, unaccountable, fantastic or even phenomenal, and the timing of its appearances or instrumental usage appearing incredibly significant and synchronistic.  If you come upon it with other people, it may seem an ordinary discovery to them and a momentous one to you.  You may have first become familiar with it at a time of bodily illness or emotional challenge and transition, or you may notice that it always seems to show up just when you need unburdening and cheering.  It may follow you from the field or garden into the house, as a picture or thought that won’t let us leave it behind, as the predominant inspiration for your art or recurrent feature of your poetry or story, or in dreams the come to you again and again.  It can serve as the flower that illuminates your quests or fuels your migrations, or as the heartful medicine leading you in the broadest and deepest sense to health and home.

Perhaps not consciously, but certainly by its very nature, a totem is a plant in alliance with you and your greater intentions, mission or purpose.  It is your ally, confidante, guide, supportive reminder, co-traveler, and somehow even partner in your complimentary and overlapping roles.  More than reflecting or clarifying who you really are,  “resonating” with you or providing example and consort, it will seem to empower and motivate, instigate and percolate, to enable a connection, ability, vision, or your proactive efforts on behalf of some valued goal.  It can help you to not only treat ailments, but to also understand a condition or situation, find the resources you need, or recall your native talents and reservoir of strength and determination.  Your totem will serve, fuel and support not only your process of becoming ever more self aware, but also your most insistent calling and purposeful acts.

A totem plant will never imply or tell you what to do, or what you should do.  “Should” is not even in the language of the natural and inspirited world.  What it will do is to help point you to or remind you of your own desires, needs, gifts and missions… and to help initiate your acting on them.  It can inspire you to realize your calling and actualize your dreams, to play your individual part in the conscious co-creation of a personal reality and larger world.  If your totem were a childhood friend instead of a plant, it would be the kid your parents don’t want you to play with because it has such a profound influence on you… worried in their motherly and fatherly way that it could be leading you to walk a wilder, unconventional path, inciting/exciting you to follow your heart rather than follow the rules.  Your totem brings to you not a sealed assignment or set of exacting instructions, but a mischievous dare to rally and risk, to move and progress.  If and when you identify your totem, look ever so closely.  Along with whatever other hints or gifts it may convey to you, is a most personal imperative.

“We need to treat plants, their spirits, our totems with more regard and reverence than we have. We need to stop only approaching them with the mindset of usefulness and consumption, and confront our biases and human chauvinism. We need fewer herbal[ist]s that treat plants and fungi as our personal medicine cabinet, and more thought toward dried herbs as sacred remains.”
–Lupa, Therioshamanism Website

You’ve noticed that when folks identify with an animal totem, they often create an altar-like space to honor it, gather historic and mythopoetic images of it, purchase an old ceremonial mask with its countenance, get a picture of it tattooed somewhere on their body, and carry or wear actual pieces of the animal such as a tooth necklace, bits of fur and bone in a medicine bag, or a fur vest rescued from a dusty secondhand store bin.  This is not macabre aesthetics, but a ritual honoring.  When they interface with any actual animal parts, they often treat them as not just representative of the animal but as spirited artifacts, venerable extensions of the once living creature that link us to them and the inspirited, informative natural world in powerful ways.  Yet when they collect dried plant parts, travel with an herbal sachet, or sleep with dream-stimulating Artemesia beneath their pillow, they may be thinking more often about what these plants can do to or for us, rather than feeling how they connect us back to the living plants themselves, to their species, communities and ecosystems.

With a real and awakened sense of what it means to find and ally with a plant totem, we become inspired to treat every bag of dried herbs as special and sacred, to arrange and appreciate old branches as much as fresh cut flowers, to heed the hints and proddings, to savor every blessing and utilize every lesson that totems or any other plant ever teach us… switching from asking what a plant can do for us, to what we can do together in partnership.

Our plant totems first contribute to our being and self knowing, and then – necessarily, essentially, wondrously – to our purpose and practice, to ever more effective ways of sharing our knowledge, contributing to the great healing, manifesting our love.


(You can read more of Wolf’s writings in Plant Healer Magazine, in the archives of this Anima blog, and in the free Writings section of the Anima website.  Share freely)

Oct 282012

Botanical Names: Dieteria bigelovii (formerly Aster bigelovii), but also Aster tataricus, Symphyotrichum (formerly Aster) novae-angliae, Aster subspicatus, and probably many others.

Common Names: Purple Sticky Aster, Bigelow’s Spine Aster, also Douglas Aster, New England Aster, etc.,

Taste: Bitter, sweet, aromatic

Impression: Oily, aromatic

Energetics: Slightly warm, Moistening in the oily sense

Actions: Aromatic (and thus, Carminative), Relaxant Diaphoretic, Expectorant

Specific Indications: Lung deficiency, Cough with cold signs, Asthma with tension and spasmodic coughing/wheezing, Cough initiated by cold/flu onset with tension

I first learned of this beautiful medicine from Jim McDonald through his work with the very similar New England Aster, which in turn led me to look for a local plant with similar qualities. Many SW herbalists just shrugged their shoulders at me and pointed to the nearest Grindelia patch, but as much as I love Gumweed, these fragrant purple asters are their own special bit of magic.

Here in the mountains of New Mexico, the Purple Sticky Aster creates a sweet smelling lavender flower mist across the mesas, especially beneath the blue-green boughs of the Juniper trees. It’s well named and sticky enough that the flowers or flower buds can stick firmly to one’s clothing or leave an oily yet glue-like coating on the fingers after petting a flower or leaf.

In the Gila bioregion of southwest New Mexico, this is a plant of middle to upper elevations, and I have not seen it outside of the mountains. It tends to flower primarily from mid-September to the first frost in my area, and sometimes even persisting through light frosts for some weeks. A working knowledge of field botany is very helpful here, as the Asteraceae are abundant as well as abundantly confusing, especially given the taxonomy changes made within the last decade. I’ve watched many people repeatedly confuse the different species, and sometimes even begin to harvest the wrong plant because they weren’t being sensorily aware, and didn’t notice they were picking a similar looking but much less resinous Machaeranthera species. A visual characteristic that makes this plant somewhat easier to identify are its distrinctive glandular phyllaries, seen on the underside of the flower. In general though, the stick resin the plant exudates through its glands are the easiest way to distinguish it from other purple rayed, aster-like flowers in this region.

While the most commonly used, and well notated, species used medicinally among Western herbalists in North America is the New England Aster, our local Dieteria bigelovii is resinous, aromatic, and also well suited to the job. I haven’t experimented much outside these two species, especially since I haven’t found any other local species that exhibit anywhere near the same amount of sticky resin as the Dieteria.

Finding the Breath: Aster as Respiratory Remedy

Clinically, I have observed a simple of Aster flower tincture both reduce and eliminate the need for inhalers during allergy and fire season. I’ve also seen it dramatically reduce chest tension, wheezing and shortness of breath in those with mild to moderate asthma during exposure to wildfire smoke. This often works well both symptomatically and long term.

Thus far, I have seen this remedy be most specific to respiratory tension with a feeling of pressure and constriction, sometimes accompanied by spasmodic coughing and a tickly throat. It can dramatically relax that claustrophobic tightening sensation in the chest that’s about to turn into an asthma attack or full on coughing/wheezing fit. I find it an exceptionally important medicine in the treatment of mild to moderate asthma, especially childhood onset asthma where there is a tendency to tension and attacks triggered by emotional stress.

As Jim McDonald says of New England Aster:

“A tincture of the fresh flowering tops of new england aster seemed clearly indicated as a respiratory remedy, being uniquely clearing, relaxing & decongesting to the head & lungs.  This effect is readily apparent when taking a bit of the tincture; the effects aren’t subtle and can be easily perceived.  It seems to act very effectively to break up stuffy lung and (to as lesser extent)sinus congestion, though as it’s not especially astringent, it doesn’t stop a drippy nose as well as, say, goldenrod.  It is, however, uniquely antispasmodic for the lung tissue; it relaxes and dilates the respiratory passages.”

This seems equally true of our local Purple Sticky Aster, which smells like a cross between Lavender and some sort of sticky baby shampoo. This has been a primary remedy of mine in many respiratory cases with symptoms of tension and congestion both in the cold season’s bronchitis and related respiratory distress as well as the annual fire season.

I have used it in combination with Elecampane and Grindelia in strep throat, and while the other two herbs are probably more active in reducing microbial overproliferation, the Aster is definitely soothing and relaxing, especially if there is a concurrent cough, fever, or respiratory tension. It is most useful if used in the early stages of the infection, rather than waiting until the affliction is at its worst.

Aster is also considered a fundamental respiratory medicine that has been used for over two millennia in China.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the roots/rhizomes of Aster tataricus (Purple Aster/Zi Wan) are specifically used to resolve excess phlegm and stop coughs,. This is more specifically true where there is a cough related to viral onset (usually cold/flu) associated with lung deficiency. In such cases, I find the herb to be especially helpful when formulated with Western Spikenard (Aralia racemosa, although it’s likely other species in the same genus would work as well) berries and rhizomes. I consider the combination of Aralia and Aster to be one of our most important native herb combinations for treating almost almost any case of lung deficiency, particularly in preparations that include honey, such as in elixirs or honey frying.

Fever Tea: Aster as  Relaxant Diaphoretic

Sticky Aster and New England Aster are gentle relaxant diaphoretics, particularly indicated where there’s irritability, tension, and the inability to relax. This means that a hot tea/infusion of Aster will relax the circulatory system in such a way that it allows for enhanced peripheral circulation. In turn, this will increase the ability of the immune system to prevent or deal with microbial overproliferation in cold/flu (or other viral crud).

The Alutiiq people of Alaska have worked with a similar species, Aster subspicatus (Purple Daisy/Douglas Aster), for all manner of fevers, especially when occurring alongside cold, flu, or childhood eruptive diseases such as measles, as well as in the treatment of coughs and sinus congestion. In this case the root is generally decocted or chewed directly.

I like a strong infusion of Yarrow, Sticky Aster, Elderflower, and just a pinch of Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa var. menthifolia in this case) as a general diaphoretic formula. These plants are all local to me and easily gathered and kept on hand for Winter viral episodes. If the individual has a tendency toward to bronchitis, or has ongoing asthmatic issues, then I find the Aster to be an especially important addition, as it is especially good at helping to prevent lung crud from settling in before the fact.

The Purple Haze: Aster as Relaxant Nervine

In addition to Aster’s phenomenal action on the respiratory and circulatory systems, it also earns this blog post’s title with its ability as a relaxant nervine. While its primary affinity does seem to be on respiratory tension, Aster does have the ability to relax tension in the nervous system as well. I rarely use this plant as just a general nervine, but do frequently utilize it where folks have anxiety associated with chest/lung tension. So, if you’re someone who manifests nervousness as an inability to get a deep breath or a feeling of tightness in the chest, this plant could be very helpful as a nervine on its own or in an appropriate formula.

Parts Used & Preparations:

Parts: Traditionally, the root has been the part used in both European and Chinese medicine. However, I (and Jim) find the flowers just as useful, if not more so. However, when treating chronic coughs with distinct immune and lung weakness/deficiency, I especially like the rhizomes fried in honey to help create a more moistening and strengthening preparation.

Fresh Plant Tincture: I primarily use tincture in order to most efficiently extract the resin and aromatics.

Infused Oil: My attempts at infused oil have been useful in healing mild wounds or as a chest rub but not super strong. I tend to use it more in formulae than on its own.

Water-Based Preps: Tea and infusion are usable, but again, much more mild, and the flowers tend to turn fluff immediately upon drying. The fluff and leaves (and roots) do work medicinally though, and in years where the plant is especially abundant, I do gather enough for infusions as well. A great preparation I picked up from Jim McDonald:

“I generally add a bit of fresh flower tincture to a hot infusion of the dried flowering tops, and use this for fevers with respiratory tension combined with an agitated disposition… it’s a relaxing diaphoretic..”

Also, fresh plant works well in infusions, and I prefer it to the dried when its practical and possible.

Infused honey and elixir:  I find that Aster lends its medicinal properties very well to honey, whether the fresh flowers or the dried rhizomes. As previously mentioned, I tend to stick to the flower overall, and find that the flowering tops make a lovely elixir with alcohol (I like whiskey with Aster, but whatever you prefer) and a good honey. Infused honey is also lovely, but I’ve only ever used the fresh flowers for that so far.


Aster formulates exceptionally well with Grindelia and Elecampane for respiratory infections of many sorts, especially where there’s tension and a dryness associated with lack of oils. This is also a great combo for strep, if used at the very first sign of onset or relapse.

Aster and Lobelia are a fantastic team for addressing the early stages of many asthma attacks, most specifically if emotional upset is triggering the attack.

As I mentioned above, I love Aralia spp. and Aster together for chronic lung deficiency where the person tends to get a respiratory infection from every bug that comes around. Another lovely addition here is Fir (Abies spp.) if there’s a chronic low-grade cough associated with cold signs.

Hawthorn, Rose, and Cherry all have some amount of lung/nerve affinity and work well with Aster, especially where distinct tissue inflammation is a factor. Cherry being most specific to acute spasmodic issues, but all three helpful for longer term issues.

Considerations: I tend to agree with Chinese medicine that Aster is less suited as a single herb remedy for treating excess heat associated with a cough or fever. However, it can still be useful in this circumstance in the right formula. In general, a mild and gentle medicine appropriate even for small children. No overt contradictions that I know of.


New England Aster – Jim McDonald: http://herbcraft.org/aster.html

Personal correspondence and classes with Jim McDonald

King’s American Dispensatory

Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories (Hulten)

Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology (Chen & Chen)


~Photos & Text ©2012 Kiva Rose~

Oct 222012


Your new Herbal Resurgence is uploaded and ready for you to check out!  Kiva spent most of the last several days creating it with new software, making the menu more intuitive and easy to read, and making the many crucial judgment calls that are the primary reason we can never hire development out to a webmaster.  While there’s admittedly a lot of work involved for both of us, we feel it requires our personal attentions, and the results are certainly most gratifying!:


We’ve gone for a new look yet again, exuding more of this event’s particular wildness, flair and exuberance with each subsequent upgrade.  I created the masthead to reflect Arizona’s lush green forests as well as the burnt orange and shaded umber of its fabled canyon cliffs, while completely rewrote the website text to better describe the unique spirit of both this gathering and tribe.

The Herbal Resurgence splash page leads to three different branches of the site, one to a Community section that will increasingly include links and forums for discussion as a networking tool for our far flung tribe; a second branch leading folks to Plant Healer Magazine, and a third taking you to pages about the upcoming Resurgence Rendezvous.  Included already, are the 2013 Class Descriptions and Teacher Bios, with the complete class schedule being added December 1 when the first discounted tickets go on sale.  You’ll note that great classes begin already on Thursday afternoon in ’13, kicked off by with Paul Bergner, Sarah Lawless, Phyllis Light, Jim McDonald, Sean Donahue and a sacred-time plant walk with Phyllis Hogan.

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“Folk herbalism is the people’s medicine, tried and true, shaped by the land, driven by the healthcare needs of its inhabitants, and handed down through the generations by mouth and pen. Its vocabulary is that of geography, the plants, the elements, the earth and the sky. At its most glorious, folk herbalism heals the people and the land in one motion, because we really can’t separate the two..” –Phyllis Light, SE Herbalist

“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

Oct 142012

Announcing the Teachers for the
Sept 19-22

Against all odds, Herbal Resurgence/TWHC continues to act as a seedbed for the revival and reinvigoration of folk herbalism in the western world, fostering its culture, serving its diverse community, and growing in ways never expected.

Download the Announcement for 2013 Details

For the latest details about the upcoming 2013 event, download and share the:
2013 Herbal Resurgence Information

New Herbal Resurgence Website

I wrote almost entirely new text for the Herbal Resurgence website, which will be up later this week!  Kiva is hard at work creating pages and layout even as we speak. It effectively replaces the old Traditions In Western Herbalism site with three important components.  Branches extend to the Resurgence Rendezvous (rewilded conference) pages, Plant Healer Magazine, and a Community section that we will increasingly turning into a forum and networking resource for everyone in our resurgent folk herbal community.

Announcing Our 2013 Teachers

There are a lot of ways in which Herbal Resurgence is different from other conferences, from having teachers and students mingle, and supporting the voice of younger and less known herbalists, to encouraging conservation and activism.  From the “get-go,” the result has been attracting an audience of the most passionate and personable plant people, inluding the independent and the disaffiliated, kitchen herbalists, alienated youth, outliers and self-described misfits.   And from the beginning, we’ve had a ton of applications to teach from the most amazing herbal teachers, enthused to bring to this event, community and movement, their most detailed, personal, vulnerable, daring, adventurous class topics…. this year ranging from crucial clinical topics to Animist Herbalism and Curanderismo.

Of all the difficult tasks that come with organizing the Resurgence, one of the hardest for us is having to tell any of our teacher applicants that all the slots are filled, or that we needed a different topic in order to have the balance of material that we need.  And one of the most pleasurable of our tasks, is being able to write back and tell them that their proposal has been accepted…

…and to be able to announce to you next year’s amazing lineup!  Included are a number of teachers we’ve never hosted before, alsong with treasured returnees that are some of the most insightful herbalists, as well as most devoted to the Resurgence and its goals.  Without further adieu, we proudly present to you our 2013 presenters:

Caroline Gagnon • James Snow • Matthew Wood • Mimi Hernandez • Phyllis Light • Kiva Rose • Paul Bergner • Juliet Blankespoor • Kiki Geary • Ben Zappin • Sarah Lawless • Ingrid Bauer • Phyllis Hogan • Mike Masek • Bevin Clare • 7Song • Jim McDonald • Larken Bunce • 
Charles “Doc” Garcia • Howie Brounstein • Anne Merrill • Darcey Blue French  • Julie Caldwell • Denise Tracy Cowan • Katja Swift • Sean Donahue and more
Our hats off to them!

Expanded to 4 days of classes! – Classes start Thursday the 19th

The clamor for us to lengthen this event has been loud and continuous, and this year we accepted too many incredible class proposals to possibly fit it all into less than 4 days. This next Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous will start Thursday afternoon (Sept. 19th) rather than that evening, with a full set of awesome classes following the day’s opening welcome.


The next issue of the newsletter will be released in mid to late November, with class descriptions, and reviews and photos from the 2012 event sent in by folks who attended.  To subscribe, simply go to the Intro page of the Herbal Resurgence/TWHC website and enter your email address.
Have a great Fall, and join us in looking forward already to a wild time in the Coconino in September.

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Oct 102012

Though I live on the cusp between Faery and human dwelling, it is indeed Autumn here in the Canyon. My apologies for the seemingly random resend of the Summer Solstice post by feedburner to my email subscribers. Perhaps feedburner objects to the coming cold season? In any case, we canyon folk are sadly watching the golden Cottonwood leaves be carried away by the Fall winds even as we enjoy the cooling days and downright chilly nights, and look forward to Winter’s fertility for planning and planting wild seeds that will grow in the next warm season.

Our on-site helpers made a batch of gingerbread cookies today, and I’ve been restocking the masala chai jar in anticipation of many clay mugs full of spicy warmth as the days grow shorter. Tomorrow I’ll be heading up into the White Mountains just above us to harvest White Fir, Douglas Fir, Blue Spruce, and various evergreen resins to craft into syrups, elixirs, teas, salves, incense, and much more. Scarlet Rose hips and yellow leaves gleam against the white trunks of the Aspens, somehow making it easier to hunt down shelf mushrooms or see an especially tempting swath of Usnea on the forest floor.

I hope that, wherever you are, you’re taking time to notice the shift of the seasons around you. That you feel the changing temperature of the earth beneath your feet, the sweet spice of the air as it moves across your face, hear the way the choruses of bird wing, frog song, and insect buzz quiet or louden near you, and sense the thinning of the veil as the nights lengthen.

Autumn in the White Mountains of Arizona

Watching the Grasses Turn Gold