Dec 032012

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

For the Plants,






Nov 262012

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

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

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

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

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

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

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

To Be, Or Not To Be?

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Benefits to Being a Professional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Drawbacks to Professionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Creek Indian Medicine

by Phyllis D. Light

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

A Bit of History

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

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

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

Medicine Ways

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

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

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

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

A Few of The Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nov 192012

Plant Healer Sneak Peek… & Community Alert

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

New Content

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

Community Alert

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

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

Sneak Peek: Contents – Winter 2012/13

For The Love Of Plant Lovers – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Art Poster: The Healer’s Love

Specific Medicine by Paul Bergner

Plant Healer Humor Poster: Never Believe a Specialist

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

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

Herbal Humor Poster: Pancho Villa, Outlaw Herbalist

Creek Indian Medicine – by Phyllis D. Light

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

Grandmother Sea Buckthorn – by Leaf

Magnolia Grandiflora – by Sabrina Lutes

Leaves of Scotland, Ireland & England – by 7Song

Astringents – by Jim McDonald

Plant Healer Humor Poster: Herbalist Nightmares #2

The East – Seeds – by Susun Weed

The Art of Cameron Zarrabzadeh

The Lymph/Immune System – Part IIby Matthew Wood

Immune/Lymphatic System – by Robin Rose Bennett

Prostatitis/Pelvic Stagnation Case Study – by Rebecca Altman

Knives For Herbalists – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Herbal Rituals For New Mothers – by Sabrina Lutes

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

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

Making & Using Hydrosols: Home Distilling by Catherine Skipper

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

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

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

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

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

Sacred Stuff For Sale: Wild Rice – by Sam Thayer

Growing Medicinal Plants – by Christophe Bernard

Art Poster: Mushroom Love – 1890s Advertising Card

Fire-Roasting Vegetables – by Loba

Elderberry Jellies – by Sophia Rose

Art Poster: The Brick Oven

Nourishment For The Winter Monthsby Katheryn Langelier

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

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

Plant Healer Interview I: Charles “Doc” Garcia

Plant Healer Interview II: Sean Donahue

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

Art Poster: Winter’s Magic – Bear Skull Botanica

Medicine Woman Column – by Kiva Hardin

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


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:

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.

(Please Share This Announcement)

“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.

(Please repost and share)

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

Oct 092012

Rosemary with Jim McDonald and Phyllis Light at the first ever Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference!

There aren’t many of us American herbalists not familiar with the beloved Rosemary Gladstar, whose work actively promoting and spreading herbalism has had an incredible impact on the accessibility of plant medicine! While most know her best from her books and teaching, Rosemary is also an activist, phenomenal networker, community creator, endangered plant advocate, gardener, and much more. I met her personally for the first time when she graced the very first Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference/Herbal Resurgence as a teacher and speaker.

Rosemary helped create a huge resurgence in herbalism at a time when botanical medicine was neither popular nor accessible for most folks. She traveled to Europe in order to study, and brought back with her an incredible enthusiasm that forever changed the face of American herbalism. I have huge gratitude to this amazing and prolific woman who helped forge the way for the rest of us. Her work helped make it possible for each of us to study, practice, attend conferences, and otherwise celebrated the plants as individuals and as a community.

Given that she can only be in so many places at once, I’m so glad that John Gallagher has taken it upon himself to help preserve Rosemary’s teaching in a video format for the first ever, instructing us in her personal remedies in an easy to learn and fun way. Here’s a link to the first video, perfect for the turning seasons, and features a wonderful cough syrup that I’m personally a big fan of.

Rosemary’s Cough Syrup 

Thank you, Rosemary!!

Sep 302012

Geranium caespitosum

Canyon Alder, Alnus oblongifolia

As the light shifts from the brilliance of high Summer to the shadow-touched gold of Autumn, and the last flood of color bursts from the wildflowers, I find myself rearranging my herb shelves. Nutmeg, Ginger, and Cinnamon get pulled to the forefront, along with the rooty earthiness of Burdock, Elecampane, roasted Chicory, Astragalus, and Codonopsis. I sort through the clay and glass containers filled with dried mushrooms for medicine and food (often at the same time), stopping to sniff their wild musk in between other tasks. Dandelion-leek miso and jars of seaweed are pulled out for easy access, and the tea kettles and soup pots are all brought out and reintroduced to the woodstove.

In the kitchen, Loba’s been turning mountains of fresh Peaches into jam, sauce, and chutney, with jars of home cured green Olives and mounds of caramelized Onions adding to the already enticing flavor of the chutney. Amaranth seeds are being shook free of their colorful husks, while I harvest the last of the aromatic herbs from the garden. Chile relish adorns the pantry shelves, and jewel tinted Stinging Nettle leaves have been packed into bags to be stored in a friend’s freezer. Soon enough, bone broth spiced with crushed Ancho Chiles and infused with the healing properties of wild mushrooms and herbs will be bubbling all day and evening on the woodstove in our tiny cabin kitchen, nourishing the bellies and immune systems of family and friends.

The last of Summer’s wild greens, the Watercress and Wild Mustards and Amaranth are being relished at nearly every meal, chopped up and added to bowls of Elk stew or handfuls tossed onto salads. Preserved berries seem to find their into every meal, from Elderberry chutney with venison to spiced Raspberry jam to the Russian Cranberry kissel. The Epazote is starting to turn from lime green to red and we hurry to gather it up to dry with the other wild seasonings, so that we have plenty of spice blends for the Winter.

Rhiannon Enjoying the Spiced Peach Crisp she made for Mabon

I especially enjoy the transition from the flower and leaf teas of the warm season to the spicier, rootier brews of the cold moons. From my Smoky Chai blend to Russian Caravan tea to my favorite Spiced Root Brew I am annually delighted by the reintroduction of steaming mugs of my favorite beverages into my daily routine. And of course, these warming herbs do more than taste good, they also promote greater immune function and prepare us for the viral onslaught that often accompanies seasonal changes.

As my friend and student, Ananda Wilson, puts it in her Plant Journeys blog:

“I think one of the best preventative medicines for the immune system is connecting to the rhythms of the seasons. I felt fall the morning of August 1. There is a deeper calendar in our bodies that lets us know what we need to do to keep ourselves strong and resilient. This is the learning we do as a tribe of re-connectors; plant medicine people, real food makers, and self-employed artists. We give ourselves the room to be gut-led, weather-led, cycle led.“

And indeed, the land we live with tells us, speaks directly to our bare feet on cold ground and lifted face to chilly breeze, when the season is shifting. An aware body and open senses allow us to tune into the nuances and moods of time and place. Once we pick up on the beginning of the shift, we can take action accordingly, pulling out those immune elixirs, root teas, mushroom soups, warmer clothes, and sleeping longer hours. Our family loves celebrating the turn of the year with extravagant festivals complete with a well adorned home and lots of seasonal treats. For many of us, it may not even require thought after years of practice, especially if we already have a routine in place for the turn of the wheel of the year. As fun as the celebration is, the most important part still lies in the actual noticing, the connection between our skin and the skin of the earth, where our toes touch the dirt and fading flowers.


Peach Crisp & Blueberry Tart to celebrate the Autumn Equinox

One of my favorite easy preparations for the Winter Tea Season (yes, it is so official that I capitalize it) is to make root, bark, and spice infused honeys to use add warmth, flavor, and immune boosting properties to my daily (or, hm, hourly) beverages. Of course, these honeys aren’t restricted to beverages, they’re also great in all sorts of treats, both sweet and savory. We love adding Elderberry-Cinnamon infused honey to berry tarts, or using Sassafras and Ginger infused honey to sweeten an Apple pie.  Some herbs to consider infusing in honey for this purpose:

  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla
  • Spikenard (Aralia spp.) berry and/or root
  • Astragalus
  • Oshá (please buy from an ethical source if you choose to work with this plant)
  • Lovage
  • Fennel
  • Anise
  • Nutmeg
  • Clove
  • Cayenne
  • Balsamroot
  • White Fir needle
  • Pine needle
  • Spruce needle
  • Sassafras
  • Elecampane (incredibly useful, but a bit debatable on the taste front) root
  • Birch (aromatic spp.)
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Lavender
  • yeah yeah, you get the idea, and so many more….

Simple, common sense medicine, but still so good!

The last flush of Yarrow flowering next to our Mabon picnic blanket

Loba, Rhiannon, and I celebrating the Autumn Equinox

Sep 242012

We’re fresh back from putting on our 3rd annual event for herbalists, now called The Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous: Medicine Of the People, By the People, For the People.  What a shindig!  There were more participants, and there was more diversity, energy and excitement than ever before!  One of our first tasks after getting home, was to start packaging the newly arrived Plant Healer Annuals, two volumes that are each the size of a phone book, and the color Art of Plant Healer book that goes with them.  Thank you for spreading the word! -Kiva

Now Shipping Volume II of the

Now a 3 Book Set!
Featuring over 1,000 pages total, of Articles, Photography and Art – All 4 Issues From


including a Free 60 page full-color book:

The Art of Plant Healer – Vol. II

The second edition of the Plant Healer Annual is now available, nearly thousand pages of information and inspiration, 2 thick 8×11” perfect-bound books filled with nearly every article gracing the 2011/2012 issues of the “Magazine Different.”

Hundreds of photographs and full-page fine art illustrate pieces by leading edge herbalist teachers and authors, each contributing their most in-depth, personal and inspiring work on absolutely every aspect of herbal practice, wildcrafting and plant culture… for herbal practitioners and students of every level.  Departments include plant profiles, field botany, tools and tips of the trade, energetics, therapeutics, cultivation, healthy food and delicious recipes, interviews with herbalists, humorous posters, plant artists, plant gathering and wildcrafting, herbal traditions and medicine in the Old West, herbalist fashion, articles for and by kids, and even herbalcentric fiction.

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

Volume II Features Writings by:

Paul Bergner • Phyllis Light • Matthew Wood • Susun Weed • Robin Rose Bennett • Christa Sinadinos • Jim McDonald • Aviva Romm • Juliet Blankespoor • 7Song • Kiva Rose Hardin • Samual Thayer • Renee Davis • Charles “Doc” Garcia • Rosalee de la Foret • Henriette Kress • Kristine Brown • Katja Swift • Loba • Sean Donahue • Virginia Adi • Jane Valencia • Susan Meeker Lowry • Susan Leopold • Nicole Telkes • Ananda Wilson • Cat Lane • Darcey Blue French • Wendy Petty • Melanie Pulla • Traci Picard • Lisa Ferguson • Sabrina Lutes • Jesse Wolf Hardin and many more!

Art of Plant Healer book Free with Every Annual

Beginning with Volume II, every black and white Plant Healer Annual book will come with a companion Art of Plant Healer book containing over 50 of the most striking color illustrations to appear in the last year of issues.  Printing is high quality, and pages can be carefully removed for framing and hanging.  Copies of the Art of Plant Healer Volumes I and II can also be purchased separately by anyone on the Plant Healer website.


Art of Plant Healer Available To NonSubscribers

and Free to Subscribers – with every Annual


New Annual For Plant Healer Subscribers Only

The Plant Healer Annual – both Volumes I and II – are available for sale to existing subscribers only, to allow those who are enjoying the digital Plant Healer quarterly to also own a physical, hard-copy version.  As a subscriber, you can order either Annual now by going to the website and signing in to your personal Member Page.  You can also wait until the next time you renew your subscription, and then get the combined year’s subscription, Annual and Art of Plant Healer at a discounted rate.

New Subscription and Annual Combination

Those of you signing up for Plant Healer Magazine for the first time, can save money by purchasing the latest Annual and Art of Plant Healer along with your subscription.

For more information, to subscribe or to order the new Annual, please go to:


(Thank you for RePosting and Forwarding this Announcement, friends!)

Sep 032012

Intro: The following is an article appearing in the Sept. issue of Northern Arizona’s much loved culture and entertainment paper “The Noise.”  Adroit author Sarah interviewed Wolf and myself for this lengthy article on folk herbalism, Wolf’s powerful new novel The Medicine Bear, and the 2012 Medicine of The People conference Sept. 13-16…. meant to inspire people of all ages and cultures, far beyond the hard core herbalist community.  Thank you Sarah!  And thank you friends… for reposting and sharing. –Kiva

The International Herbal Resurgence Learns and Celebrates In Arizona

by Sarah SuperNova

“To Omen, they were not just wondrous sunshine-eating entities, without whom humans and most of the life on Earth would die. Plants were proof of miracles, and reason for hope.  The inspiration for a good and balanced life, and examples of how to live it.  They were her ever growing, ever reaching truth.  They were the medicine she would need.” (Excerpt from The Medicine Bear by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

It’s nice to think it all began with a dream or a vision, but more likely than not, it began with providing a solution to a problem.  The world is full of so-called problems, and, thanks to healers of all sorts, the world is also full of solutions.  The particular solution in question here is this: medicine for the people.

In the mid-1990s, for a variety of reasons, a once-thriving community of herbalists began seeing a decline.  Herbal medicine – and the informed and practiced people who put the plants to use – were in trouble.  Plant medicine schools were losing students and many herbal conferences were closing down as large corporations began to enter the world of selling herbal supplements.  Jesse Wolf Hardin, author, plant lover, and co-founder of Medicine Of The People, formerly the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference (, recounts: “We’d witnessed political infightings and been saddened by what was often an air of conformity, resignation and even quiet desperation in what should by all rights have been a practice and community that brings great joy.”  So Jesse, and his partner, Kiva Rose, an herbalist of both traditional folk and modern clinical pedigrees, decided to launch the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference (TWHC) in order to, in Jesse’s own words: “assist in the reinvigoration of the ‘people’s medicine.’ Our major focus is on making herbal knowledge available to everyone in these times of increasing government regulation and corporate monopoly.”

2012 marks the 3rd year of the event, which runs from September 13-16, and takes place at Mormon Lake, near Flagstaff.  In previous years, the conference was held at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, but what’s now called Medicine Of The People quickly outgrew that venue and Jesse and Kiva found just what they were looking for right here in Arizona.  Jesse explains: “We were won over by Mormon Lake’s old timey cabins and classrooms, its rustic yet comfy facilities, and more than anything else, its lush landscape and the awesome nature trails leading in every direction from the site.”  The conference site is nestled in a vast conifer forest, featuring incredible local plant diversity, much of which is quite similar to the plants of their home at the Anima Sanctuary (, just over the New Mexico border, east of Springerville.  He and Kiva live in what he describes as a “restored riparian wilderness, and a botanical and wildlife sanctuary, seven river crossings and several bends of the canyon from the nearest pavement.”  It’s the perfect place to forage for native foods and medicines and deepen ones study of what is freely offered by the land.

This conference focuses on Western herbalism because, although Eastern systems such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine are highly regarded and quite beneficial, focus on those exotic traditions has led to a neglect of herbal systems native to our own continent and bioregion, causing people to ignore plant medicines that often grow right beneath our feet.

And what is “folk herbalism” anyway? Strictly speaking, it refers to non-professionals using handed-down knowledge to treat illness.  But, Kiva believes that, realistically, folk herbalism is “any practice not currently recognized as valid, acceptable, or popular by conventional medicine and mainstream culture.”  In the United States, that means just about every herbal practitioner, professional or not.  Therefore, this revival of interest in folk herbalism stems from a pure desire that healing with plants be by the people, and for the people.  Kiva thinks everyone has a right to “sustainable, inexpensive remedies that actually work, without worrying about academic theories or even government endorsement.”

Jesse has noticed, with much excitement, that the demographics of people interested in herbalism has been rapidly expanding.  “It’s no longer just turtle-necked ‘health nuts’ or New Agers that show up, but rather, moms and pops, college students, street kids and the elderly who are literally sick of the pharmaceuticals that regular doctors routinely prescribe.  There is a new and rising wave of herbalists of all ages, insistent on learning the old ways and the new twists.”  TWHC attracts esteemed clinical PhD’s as well as excited novice herbalists.  There is something for everyone, including classes especially for children and teens.  Most of the classes will be taught in a lecture format, but there will be plenty of hands-on medicine making, and plant identification walks along the trails surrounding Mormon Lake.  And the conference is not all about study; there will be time for fun too!  Evening concerts feature Arizona’s own Big Daddy D & the Dynamites, and from Los Angeles, the very danceable gypsy rockers AK & her Kalashnikovs.

Speakers include big names in herbalism like Matthew Wood and Paul Bergner, with class topics ranging from the clinical, like Musculoskeletal Health and Clinical Skills, to the esoteric, like The Heart as an Organ of Perception.  Sean Donahue will speak about entheogens in the treatment of trauma, and curandero Charles Garcia will speak on death and dying for caregivers.  Other topics include disaster preparedness, aphrodisiacs, discerning plant properties by taste, roots midwifery, and social and political activism among herbalists.  The list of classes is long and inspiring, and can be found on the TWHC website.  This is truly a special event!  Check the website for camping details for out-of-towners; for locals, day passes will be available at the gate.

There is much to learn from the constantly growing and changing world of nature.  Among wise herbalists and responsible wildcrafters, there is a general philosophy that requires inner and outer silence while gathering herbs and plant material.  One must quietly be with the plant for a time, and not simply rush in and start hacking away.  Part of this contemplative slowness is to feel the energetic quality of the plant, and express gratitude.  Jesse clarifies: “We recognize its [the plant’s] needs, as well as its gifts, honor, and integrity.  If and when we harvest or snip from its limbs, we do not ask permission to cause it pain or take its life, but rather, we acknowledge that it feels pain and has a desire to live and thrive…and then give thanks.”

And plant medicines affect us not only physiologically, but energetically as well.  Jesse explains: “Plants have been given credit for contributing to a spiritual sense of interconnectedness, or ‘oneness,’ the sense of accessing a transglobal body of collected terrestrial wisdom.”  And the spiritual and energetic medicine of plants can change our lives.  “Herbs are an affordable way to manage our own health,” Jesse states, “and they can also lead to realizations that are deeply personal, emotional, even spiritual, and inspire us to make lifestyle changes that result in us becoming more self-sufficient, as well as healthy.”

Together, Jesse and Kiva publish Plant Healer Magazine (, a quarterly journal of the folk herbalism resurgence, featuring articles and artwork by leading herbalists in the field.  This comes from their passion for the plants, and their usefulness on all levels: that they are nourishing, medicinal, oxygen producing, and beautiful.  “And we teach that it is personal familiarity and deep intimacy with the herbs that can make us more intuitive and effective herbal consumers and practitioners,” Jesse expounds.

Kiva has been interested in plants and their medicines since early childhood, learning about gardening and wild food foraging from her mother.  Her decision to follow herbalism as a life path was inspired by reading Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West.  “From there on out,” she says, “it’s been constant study and immersion in botany, botanical medicine, physiology, and the history of our healing traditions.”  Kiva reiterates that although not everyone may choose herbalism as an occupation, everybody “can benefit from the empowerment and usefulness of foundational plant-based self-care.”  Herbal medicine is democratic, freely given by the Earth, and truly a medicine for the people.  “The more that we learn and teach,” she continues, “the greater the reclamation of our natural human heritage, the vital threads tying us to place, plants, and the healing of ourselves and our world.”

One of Kiva’s herbal passions is what she calls “weedwifery.”  In disturbed lands all over the world, plants we call “weeds” prevail, and with good reason!  Weeds are the tough, resilient pioneer species that populate disturbed soil and prepare it for future, more long-term plants.  And in the meantime, these weeds provide us with a great deal of food and medicine.  For her, the common, generally ignored plants can be just as important as the exotic ones that are harder to come by.  Kiva speaks more about this on her own website (

Jesse’s intimate relationship with plants began as a child, though he grew up in the suburbs.  He had always been drawn to the authenticity of the natural world, “it’s diversity and oddness, enchantedness and eloquence,” as he proclaims.  He was fascinated by the simple suburban weeds, many of them edible and medicinal, and even his mother’s houseplants, and his fascination with the plant kingdom only continued to grow throughout his life.  He now considers himself an herb interlocutor and agent of the plants.  “I am helping grow and deepen the herbalist community while promoting herbalism’s values, aims, and aesthetics.  My work in this field naturally follows my years as a naturalist and ecological activist.”

Besides co-producing the Medicine Of The People conference, Jesse is a writer, and a selection of his articles, mostly exploring spiritual life in the natural world, can be found at  He has recently published a richly-narrated historical novel called The Medicine Bear (, which follows the story of a wild-woman herbalist named Omen (in many ways inspired by his lovely Kiva!), and an adventurous writer, fascinated by the animal and mineral world, by the name of Eland.  The archetypal Medicine Bear follows them along the way, over the course of decades, from the end of the 19th Century, well into the 20th.  The story takes place in the historical Southwest and Jesse describes some of his process: “I, like the Medicine Bear, am a product of the fertile milieu of the Southwest’s inspirited places and Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures.  As a denizen of this place, the book’s accurate history of this area is my history, and its characters are amalgams of my neighbors and loved ones, from native traditionalists to cowboys to those folksy, big-hearted purveyors of herbs.”  Jesse is the author of 7 books, including Old Guns & Whispering Ghosts: Tales & Twists of the Old West (, and entries in The Encyclopedia of Nature & Religion, with The Medicine Bear being his only novel.

Most of the premise and narrative arc of The Medicine Bear came to Jesse all at once, and the writing of it was more challenging emotionally than technically.  It is a tale of transformation, and the writing of a tale almost always takes the writer along the same journey.  Within the scope of the novel is Omen’s fascinating apprenticeship to a curandera, which would speak to anyone interested in folk healing arts, and into the Mexican Revolution, with Pancho Villa’s retaliatory raid on a town in New Mexico, of interest to those who wish to learn about suppressed Southwestern history.  The Medicine Bear is written from the eyes of a naturalist, each landscape – and the plants that inhabit it – described in great and loving detail.  The book is richly illustrated Jesse’s original drawings and relevant historical photographs, which create a sense of place and weave the reader deeper into the history of the era.

Ultimately, in all that they do, be it the conference, private clinical work, writing, foraging, and any other way of working with the plants, Kiva, Jesse and their family feel the need for self and community care skills to be a task of utmost importance.  Herbalism is one way to go about this.  “As the price of pharmaceuticals goes up and their dangers become ever more evident,” says Jesse, “herbal knowledge is becoming once again as essential as it was in the days before the advent of ‘modern’ medicine.”


The next Medicine Of The People conferences will be held

Sept. 13-16, 2012 —- and then —- Sept. 20-23, 2013