Mar 072016


Dearly Needed Are The Committed Few… Herbalists

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

An Excerpt from the Spring 2016 issue of Plant Healer Magazine, now available for download by subscription from:

pond lilly flower 72dpi

The very last message you’d think an herbal magazine would want to put out there, is that an herbal practice isn’t ideal for all.  But if the leafen slipper fits, wear it!


Many years ago, I was partners in an art gallery on the historic Taos plaza, in northern New Mexico.  While this ancient settlement had long been known as an art and writer’s colony, home to such eclectic impassioned misfits as D.H. Lawrence, by the mid 1970s its prime real estate had been taken over from the Hispanic locals and gentrified by the marketers of generic paintings and tourist teeshirts.  Visitors from Texas and California could find the exact same souvenirs in shop after shop, while the upscale galleries mostly featured variations of the same R.C. Gorman style five-minute portraits of stylized Indian maidens with their iconic clay pots.  Depending on one’s income, a vacationer could choose either high-brow or low-brow wall decoration without hardly a single diversion into the otherworld of mind opening, heart wrenching, soul stirring arts.  

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Our “Mountain Unique Gallery” was thus an anomaly, vividly contrasting with the surrounding commerciality, sameness and normality, employing a cadre of visionary hippie craftsmen and several intense native artists from Taos Pueblo.  Inside, a glass pyramid display case held strange handmade silver talismans, Mayan styled eagle pendants with chatoyant opal eyes, red catlinite medicine pipes, hand forged knives with ancient mammoth ivory handles scrimshawed with a delicate lacing of colored blossoms and fanciful green leaves.  Walls were covered with Mexican retablos showcasing Dia de Los Muertos skeletal dancers and the holy Virgen de Guadalupe, with paintings by myself and a posse of relentless culture shifters – surreal landscapes and even surrealer mindscapes, mandalic medicine wheels and inspirited wildlife, glowing Peyote buttons and wandering medicine women.  Sage incense and strange music spilled out the door and onto the sidewalk surrounding the plaza, swirling amongst those passing there, and acting as a sort of filter – gently dissuading the most staid, tentative or typical browsers while enticing those on a search for the authentic, the magical, the unusual.  And to settle the matter for the curious but uncommitted, a custom made stained-glass window set into the gallery’s turquoise blue door spelling out these telltale words: “Not For Everyone.”

Upon reading this missive in colored glass, nearly all would pause with the door knob in hand, then press their face closer to the window to see what destinations of the imagination this portal might provide.  Of these, a majority would then turn away, sometimes picking up their pace, hurrying on to the next shop as though pursued by some barely forgotten dream.  And some – not “everyone– sensing their flawed yet wondrous selves to be something other than ordinary, would be drawn into the experience, into a personal inner journey that each scent, sound, and image in turn encouraged.  No one was barred or excluded, but the honest, expressive authenticity and palpable spirit of the space and its artists resulted in the thousands of monthly Taos visitors self-selecting who among them would move on… and who would enter and be opened, behold and participate.

I tell you this story, because it is much the same with herbalism, natural healing, and the plant-loving folks who study and practice its craft – whether or not we realize, and whether or not we yet value the natural processes and dynamics of distinction and selection.  There be no need for stained glass exclamation or the holding of signs, for it to be evident that plant medicine is also “not for everyone.”  Nor do we need to intentionally assume the work of filters ourselves, excluding those we think undeserving and certifying those we accept, because it is the constitutions and characters of people and the character of herbal practice that together provide the sifting and the assignments.  

You might wish, like I have, that every living person was interested in learning something about plant medicine, so as to be less dependent on the expensive and often unhealthful modern medical system.  And you might like to think that everyone with a strong interest would also have the innate characteristics and make the life choices necessary to effectively practice this healing art.  It is a function of both evolutionary specialization and human diversity, that individuals be born with different constitutions, tendencies and responses, that we grow up with varying degrees of different abilities, with specific weaknesses and strengths, and with a wide range of natural inclinations and developed interests.  Assuming we follow our hearts and callings, pay attention to our deficits and utilize our blessings, we might each find an individualized role that best contributes to our mission, our health and wholeness.  And of course, there will always be those who choose to turn away from any wafting new scents and unfamiliar music, rushing past any doorways to derivation and distinction in order to stay in line with the norms, conform to the expected, and maintain one’s comforting place in the crowd.

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It’s okay that so many are pulled towards other interests and fields than herbalism, given the problems we could end up with if there’ weren’t a majority able and pleased to fill important conventional roles in established society, health techs to mechanics.  And it’s okay that some take an interest in herbalism and then drift away, because people’s health outcomes are not something we’d necessarily want in the hands of the uncommitted or unfocused, the dispassionate or unable, the less caring or less aware, the inexperienced or poorly informed.  It’s most helpful when an herbalist is completely into what they are doing, in love with each aspect and component of the work as well as with healing’s worthy aims and botanical means, determined to continuously improve, and clearly feeling joy or satisfaction in the manifesting of their practice.

Herbs are for everyone, equally, I think we can agree, with no one undeserving of their gentle aid.  But herbalism – an herbal practice where one makes medicine or advises clients, a lifelong cleaving to its truths and to its dissemination – is truly not for everyone.  It’s not for everyone because it:

  • Heralds from and reminds us of the natural world that civilization largely seeks to distance itself from and elevate itself above.
  • Will probably continue to appear old-fashioned or New Age, as strange, suspicious, and fringe to the modernist, uninitiated person.
  • Will probably never be fully accepted by corporate drug interests or sanctioned and adopted by the medical establishment – and would certainly be altered, manipulated, depersonalized, denatured and harmed if it were.
  • Often fails to bring about the immediate symptomatic relief that most have come to expect from prescriptions of modern drugs.
  • Is most effective and helpful in combination with often undesired changes in the diet, activities and lifestyle that helped bring about the condition in the first place.
  • Is less effective and possibly even counterproductive if we’re either unable or unwilling to utilize critical thinking in our assessments of accepted “facts,” new research, and our personal experiences.
  • Cannot guarantee a substantial or secure income in most cases.
  • May not provide the personal recognition we need, or the status we desire.
  • Requires not just cursory attention but unending studies, which not everyone can be expected to give the time and effort to.
  • Is not a job so much as a service, purpose, mission, or calling.
  • Puts pressure on the practitioner, since results always matter.
  • Is greatly benefitted by exceptional sensitivity and perceptivity, and by uncommon intuition.
  • Constantly shows us what is ill, and challenges us to contribute remedy and balance.
  • Relentlessly pulls at our hearts, and stirs our compassion.
  • Is propelled by passionate insistence and total investment, something apparently only maintainable by the more obsessed and devoted of leaf turners, pulse takers and potion makers.

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Being not for everyone, means that there may always be only a relative minority of people drawn to being herbalists, able to learn and discern, so enraptured with the powers of the plants or moved by the suffering of the ill that there is no other choice they can be happy making.  Does this describe anyone you know?  Because not everyone is herb-savvy, you already do or may soon fill a very important role in your chosen community.  Whatever individual knowledge, experience, vision, discovery, aesthetic and style that you bring to the endeavor, contributes to and helps define your special contribution.  Others are fortunately cut out to be tailors and web designers, and find the greatest satisfaction and purpose there – but you are likely most yourself when you are working with plants, assisting the healing of not just bodies but psyches, spirits, societies, and the wounded earth from which plant medicines arise.  You are likely most fulfilled in your being and doing – most wholly the gift you can be to yourself and the world – when you are invested fully in learning new herbal information, using that knowledge to help someone whose sick, tenderly tending herbs in your garden or in pots on your sill, wildcrafting in woody city lots or gladly wild places, or making tinctures and salves with an irrepressible smile on your face.

To this realization, we have the option of adding decades of determined learning and committed practice.  Not everybody is going to do that, but this is all the more reason why the world needs those who do: the self empowered, plant infused, admirably unusual few.

Herbalism is not for everyone… but it may well be for you.


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This article and many others available in the new Spring 2016 issue of Plant Healer Magazine:

PHM Sneak Peek Spring 2016-72dpi

Feb 212016

Sneak Peek: Plant Healer Spring Issue 



Releasing March 7th:

Nearly 300 pages of new information and trademark inspiration for herbalists.

Winter was wondrous here in the Gila (hee-la) wilderness where this magazine is produced,   again creating a mosaic of original unpublished writings from our diverse family of contributors.  Following are the Spring Issue table of contents, along with a description of the features and changes that you subscribers can expect. 

If you are not already subscribed, you can sign up now at:

PLANT HEALER MAGAZINE art by Melissa Du Bois

Our Spring 2016 cover, “Sisters of the Healing Plants,” is a stylized portrait of my copublisher Kiva Rose with her sister Hannah, posed on the medicinal river Alders that bless this river canyon… art that was created for us by another sister of Kiva’s: Melissa “Missy” Du Bois.  I’ve commissioned a series of botanical/healing drawings from her, and not because she is my Kiva’s family of course – but because I am greatly impressed with her compositions, colors, and especially her evocative, fluid lines that bring alive not just the herbs she shapes but even the fabric of the dresses and cloaks she portrays. Melissa welcomes a limited number of paid commissions each year, and you can reach her through us with any commissions or comments:

Our devoted Plant Healer contributors are almost all working on new projects for you.  Phyllis Light is developing her course in Appalachian herbalism, Paul Bergner continues to expand his offerings and plans a new book based on his PHM column on Herban Legends, Matt Wood has another book coming out, Thomas Easley has started a new school on his new rural property, and Juliet Blankespoor’s big herbal immersion online course should be available for signups sometime in April.

PHM Sneak Peek Spring 2016-72dpi

Thank goodness for the critical thinking and heartful teachings of our Herbal Rebel, Mr. Bergner – Pablo as I like to call him – doing as much as anyone to examine the wishful thinking and common falsehoods that can endanger our clients as well as sour practice and our field.

Phyllis Light provides a similar service this time, getting us to look at the dangerous tendency for us to diss conventional medical testing and discount non-herbal approaches.  And Guido Masé takes us further into matters of the FDA and herbal regulation, something that this very insightful herbalist teacher has had a lot of experience with lately.

Juliet provides us with a column on Purple Dead Nettle, and another on sprouting with heated beds – exclusive excerpts from her upcoming course and book.

Our partner Elka continues her food column with a look at ways to prepare legendary Leeks, and Sabrina Lutes uses the Herbalist Mother department to explore the possibilities for crucial but oft neglected herbalist self nourishment and self care. 

In her column Animal Medicine, Cat Lane exhibits her extensive knowledge and great love for both plants and animals, this time explaining the common health issues associated with animal rescues, and making recommendations for their herbal treatment.

Dear friend Jim McDonald writes about Nervines this time, the sense and sensibility of his foundational Herbcraft column being truly part of the foundation and strength of this magazine. 

Asia Suler continues to impress us with her developing communication and photography skills, artfully blending together ingredients of solid practicable herb info, personal experience, and a palpable sense of the spirit of plants and this ancient sacred work of helping and healing.  She continues her Seasonal Herbal column here, evoking the feel of Spring and its plant and other medicines.

Plant profiles are found this time in the rechristened department, Materia Medica, with a lovely article on Yellow Pond Lilly by first-time contributor Judy Lieblein, someone we hope to feature more from in the future… plus great excerpts from the new Materia Medica book, including one on Artemisia by the wise woman Robin Rose Bennett, and another on the medicinal benefits of Aralia by the very astute California mother, teacher and practitioner Christa Sinadinos.

Susun Weed’s fun and practical new piece on vinegar is one of our favorites of hers so far, and surely satisfies your many requests for more of her “how-to.”

Our department Seeing People features another article by Boston based plant healer Katja Swift on the topics of ADD and Autism, and two excellent never-before-published pieces by Sam Coffman, one on treating the eyes with herbs, the second on treating slow-to-heal wounds. 

Speaking of Sam, his piece on political correctness and cultural appropriation in the last issue of Plant Healer proved inordinately controversial, resulting in quite a bit of hubbub on social media.  It also resulted in a more nuanced exchange between author Coffman and herbal activist Dave Meesters, featured here in the Gathering Basket department, as well as my own paean to constructive disagreement and healthy debate which follows their debate. 

While some forms and means of disagreement can be good for our folk herbal movement, the same cannot be said of plagiarism and failure to credit, intentional and unintentional. While we believe all herbal information should be spread and shared, it is all too common to see information and even specific personal recipes repeated and reprinted without approbation or acknowledgment.  Herbalists work hard and often have very little income, so giving them credit is one of the best forms of compensation as well as being the honorable thing to do.  In addition, there are all too many cases of people copying each others’ business and event models, promotion, and even product names without credit or remorse.  Our thanks go out to longtime Plant Healer contributor Rebecca Altman for her well considered and well spoken article casting a light on this problem we can together find ways to address.

For our interview this time, we talk at length with herbalists, activists and TWHC teachers Janet Kent and Jen Stovall. Their stories and ideas encourage us to notice what needs healing, in our communities and in our psyches as well as in our bodies, and through their example they inspire us to each be all that we can be, acting on all we know, on behalf of all we love.  Don’t miss it.

Spring Changes to Plant Healer

Spring is a time of change and growth.  In the garden that is Plant Healer, one valued column has come to an end, and three new ones have taken root.

First, we bid a fond farewell to one of our most longstanding series, our friend 7Song’s “Botany Illuminated,” as his busy schedule forces its retirement. For the past five years he has made plant identification understandable by us all, an important skill for all herbalists whether we wildcraft or order all our plants online. We hope you’ll join us in thanking 7Song personally for his Plant Healer column and photographs over the years, and join in encouraging him to create new material for any of our Plant Healer departments once he’s able to take time for writing again.

Field botany, plant identification, herbal actions, plant ecology and more will now be covered by the remarkable California herbalist Shana Lipner Grover.  Her studies and experience equip her for this important role, and we hope you will enjoy the first of many installments of Shana’s new quarterly column “Botanica.”

Our second new column is “Of Wilderness & Gardens,” by New Mexico herbalist, geographer and ecologist Dara Saville, highlighting the complex relationships between people, plants, and the land.  Dara will deftly explore the dualities inherent to herbal thinking: logic and intuition, mind and heart, analytic facts and inexplicable truths – and in the process, she will help bring us closer to ourselves, the plants we depend on, and the healing land we’re extensions of.

Our third new quarterly column is a commitment of Sean Donahue, a genuinely visionary herbalist, and translator for and advocate of natural healing, neural and cultural diversity, the healing plants themselves, and all the oddkins, misfits, and rebels of the greater Plant Healer tribe.  Each issue his Intersections & Crossroads column will dance among the patterns formed by the overlapping of “people and wilderness, science and folk traditions, ecology and our health, healing and revolution.” Our early faith in Sean’s special gifts has proven well founded.

Finally, Plant Healer continues its evolution with a change in name for our “Plant Allies” department, its quarterly collection of in-depth herb profiles now to be called the less artsy but more explicit term “Materia Medica.”


March Deadline for Listing Schools in the Upcoming


A Plant Healer Service

Write us for an application soon if you operate an herbal school or online courses, or if you know about any schools who might want to be included. 

The 2016-2020 edition releases this coming May, with an extended deadline and applications accepted until the end of March. For full details or to apply, download the:

Herbal Schools Directory Invite (2016-2020)


Discounted Tickets On Sale For


Sept 15-18th – Atop New Mexico’s Sky Island

Plant Healer has helped inspire and support many herbal events over the years, each with its own particular flavor and style, and none that replicate the intense and curious mix of teachers, topics and attendees that is the peculiar Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. Treat yourself to the information you need to be the best herbalist you can, along with an enchanted location and much deserved celebration. Full info and discount tickets now available by clicking on the Events page at: 


March Deadline for Articles


for The Upcoming Radical Herbalism Book

Last call for submissions for the upcoming Plant Healer book

“Radical Herbalism.”  Topics can be wide ranging, including herbal justice by whatever definition, free clinics, tips for street medics, arguments against certification and registration, suggestions for herbal activism, health care access, gender and class issues in herbalism, race and herbalism, bioregional herbalism, surreptitious guerrilla gardening, herbalist empowerment etc. Write for details, current contents, and deadline:


Share What You Know:


Your experience and perspective are unique, and we want to encourage you to trust you have insights and information that would be of interest and use to others in our community.  

We happily consider original, previously unpublished articles for this magazine, 

and submissions of articles (previously published or not) for 

Plant Healer’s free Herbaria Monthly ezine and its thousands of readers.  Please download the:

Submission Guidelines

The deadline for the Summer Issue of Plant Healer Magazine is April 1st.  

There is no deadline for submitting to Herbaria Monthly.


New 2016 Specs & Pricing


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

download this pdf with its required Insertion Form:

2016 Advertising Guidelines PDF


And finally, please do write us at any time with your thoughts and comments… at:

(Thank you for sharing and re-posting this sneak peek)

Feb 012016

You may have seen it on Facebook or Instagram, or heard somebody talk about it – but yeah, we just received a new shipment of  Plant Healer shirts.  They are on better cotton this time, silkscreened with a new cream and purple design. Wolf used historic thistle designs from the Scottish rebellions to represent what is nothing less than a loving herbal resurgence: an uprising in the face of pharmaceutical hegemony and herbalism’s official status quo. Profits support the Plant Healer mission of empowering individuals and growing the tribe… including scholarships to Plant Healer events, and production of the free Herbaria Monthly (subscribe at  for folks unable to afford a Plant Healer Magazine membership. Presenting soft long-sleeved shirts, attractive fitted v-necks, and short sleeved tees that let you colors shine. 

Herbalist Wearables poster 3-72dpi

You can order yours by navigating to the “Wearables” page from our website:

Wearables poster 4-72dpi

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Jan 262016

Debate & Oratory old poster 72dpi


–––––––OPEN TO DEBATE––––––

Vital Disputation & Healthy Disagreement in Herbalism

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Plant Healer Magazine & Events –

A recent article in Plant Healer Magazine opened up discussion on the topics of political correctness and cultural appropriation as relates to the practice of herbalism.  There was at least one person we will not name, who admitted never having read the magazine, and yet used social media to call the opinionated, adept and earth-loving author Sam Coffman a “Donald Trump.” 

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This same otherwise caring person also accused the publishers of the magazine of being bigoted for printing the piece.  This of course hurt the feelings of my co-editor, who grew up a runaway in a ghetto, and who supports the emphasis we put on herbal access, justice and empowerment in spite of the heat that puts on us.  You might think this would result in our deciding to avoid running any controversial material or addressing any sensitive issues… but instead it increases our desire to raise important but difficult topics that impact our work and relationships, and to encourage healthy and respectful dialogue among the wonderful folks who often try to avoid debate.

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Our herbal community places a high value on kindness and cooperation, with most herbalists being highly sensitive to the feelings and sufferings of others.  As healers, most of us would prefer to mend and confer than confront, even when dealing with a harmful untruth or unjust situation.  And there is also a tendency among some of us to treat conflicting ideas as both are simultaneously and equally true and applicable.  This well meaning effort to make all things compatible has the unfortunate effect of damping dialogue and debate, limiting the natural systems of testing and reassessing, and reducing the value of what is most real and effective.

Calvin disagreement 72dpiThis doesn’t mean we would be better off arguing all the time over some principal or “fact,” and we certainly suffer as a community anytime there is a personal attack, acidic gossip, online bullying, guilt-tripping sermonizing or self righteous shaming.  Internecine conflict among subgroups is divisive, and is one of the ways in which the dominant paradigm maintains its insidious control.  and yet it would be stifling if everyone thought alike, and debate – even heated debate – has the potential to lead to a clarification of our own understandings, as well as to the discovery of areas of agreement, shared values, and common aims.  Besides, our tribe is made stronger through a diversity of dissimilar opinions, opinions that change and adapt with each new bit of input and information, with each intellectual and moral challenge.

Do we require an apology from the facebook attacker? Not at all, I for one am pleased people care enough to raise hell.

That said, there is for almost everyone reason and opportunity to make amends.

It would be great if our movement were free of moralizing, bickering, and infighting, granted… but at the same time, we could also use just a mite more productive disagreement.  




1. lack of consensus or approval


Lack of approval and consensus can be a good thing.  Let me explain.

Consensus – getting every relevant person to agree – is in some ways optimal for groups involved in things that greatly matter, including activists making decisions that could jeopardize their cause or their lives, and healers of any kind on whom the health and well being of a person even partly depends.  On the other hand, expecting or holding out for consensus has again and again derailed what could have been meaningful action on the part of environmental and social activists from Earth First! to the Occupy movement, and the tendency of herbalists to adhere to “common wisdom” and “accepted truths” has at times reduced critical analysis and experimentation, hampered new discoveries and slowed the development of new perspectives.  Consensus can also lead to inflexible and potentially inaccurate dogma, with a diversity of thinking being replaced by unquestioning conformity and group-think assumptions.  Without variance, discussion and debate, herbalism is in danger of becoming increasingly dogmatic and inflexible.  We surely do not want to become like a posse of church ladies, tsk-tsk’ing the unenlightened, nodding in unison at each other’s righteous umbrage.

What I recommend is something between: seeking agreement and an alliance of values and approaches without constraining analysis and creativity, or dissing variance. 

Gandhi Honest Disagreement 72dpiWe don’t need to approve of something for it to have at least subjective credence and value.  We likewise do not need any other herbalist’s, herbal organization’s, or government agency’s agreement and approval to be correct in our opinions or methods, or valid when it comes to the roles we fill.  Not the conservative medical establishment’s approval, nor the approval of the meanly ridiculed politically-correct “PC Police.” 

And no matter how rationally or objectively “right” we are about anything, we undermine its truth and power when we try to insulate it from either the appraisal that tests it or the disagreement that contrasts, challenges, and thus enlightens and vitalizes it.





1. a disagreement or debate

It is the nature of a majority of caregivers to shy away from impassioned opinion, disagreement and controversy.  Many herbalists tend to avoid contention and blogs for disagreement 72dpithe “negative” even when it involves important issues of government regulation and certification, the intersection of social justice and herbal practice, of access and affordability, the healing of both the social body and our physical bodies – while those who are most predisposed to debate tend to be focused almost exclusively on social issues, and are often moral absolutists certain of the righteousness of their stance.  They may come across as loud and indignant, or alternately claim they are above the fray and only concerned with staying positive… in either case communicating possession of an elevated understanding and moral superiority even when addressing topics like elitism, racism, and hierarchy. 

This is not, however, a good argument against airing our differences and disputes.  Social issues cannot be separated from healthcare issues, and I think it would be great to see more disputation over the specifics of an effective herbal practice, an airing of strong differences of opinion about herb actions and uses, dosages and combinations.  Disputes over terminology and definitions, over invasive species and the impacts of human sprawl on plant and animal habitat, over how we present and represent ourselves to the rest of our contemporary society.  Disputes about the best soil to grow a certain herb in, which parts of the plant to use, and whether it is plentiful enough for us to ethically harvest. 

The effects on the herbal community of a “shaming culture” that pillories individuals for their opinions are more caustic than any wrong-headedness.  And reasoned, compassionate disputes are so much less harmful to our community than social media attacks, backroom nastiness, hidden agendas, ignored injustices, or undisputed untruths.  Disputes are downright healthy whenever they inspire applied critical thinking, leading to an open-minded and reasoning analysis of our own cherished ideas as well as those of others.

Agreement handshake 72dpi“Dispute” is a Middle English word with origins in the Latin disputare meaning ‘to estimate.’  Its origins can be found in dis – meaning separate or apart – and putare meaning to “reckon.” To dispute is t0 risk the consequences of disagreement in making and announcing your thoughtful estimation.  This estimation requires separating out factors and features in order to better reckon their truths, relevance, and effects.  And we’d best apply it to every aspect of every thing.  Nothing is, as the saying goes, “beyond dispute.”  There is nothing that shouldn’t be explored and estimated, and then re-explored and estimated again!  No topic is too sensitive to be considered off-limits, and no examination should ever be dissed as heretical.  Look at things from one direction, then another, and then another, seeking not only the most comprehensive understanding but also the most healthful application or response.

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1. a discussion on a particular topic in a public forum, in which opposing arguments are put forward

For the past five years we have found it nearly impossible for us editors to get reader reactions to specific content, receiving instead simply general compliments on the overall mix of skills, information and ideas, perspectives and approaches in each nearly 300 pages-long issue of Plant Healer Magazine.  We have run anarchist urban wildcrafters next to conservative herbal gardeners, articles by Christian home-schoolers along with with pieces about traditional indigenous healers and by Goddess worshipping Wise-Women, the work of evocative folklorists beside that of exacting academics and scientists, and this diversity of experience and thinking has seemed to feed the consistent growth of the magazine as well as what Paul Bergner coined “a new herbal resurgence.”

It is, however, extra satisfying to me whenever any of our content has stirred passions to the point of online discussion, discourse and debate.  Heated conversations have at least the potential to add some light!  The expression “open to debate” makes sense, given that you have to have an open mind to be a fair and effective debater.

I greatly value those of our writers and teachers willing to voice strong opinions, while being open to the possibility of being mistaken… including Sean Donahue, Renee Davis, Charles Garcia, as well as Dave Meesters and Sam Coffman who continue the dialogue in the upcoming Spring issue of Plant Healer Magazine. It is the mission of this periodical and journalism itself not to push any agenda, promote any single tradition or approach, foster dogma or enforce any “party line,” but rather, to instigate estimation and critical thinking, to challenge every entrenched “status quo,” to encourage creativity, to showcase diversity of thinking as well as further those ways of living that contribute to human dignity and planetary well being.  It is our work – the good work – not only to spread empowering herbal information but also to seed and feed deep investigation of our themes and feelings, of our analysis, public discourse and debate… affecting and aiding others as we are able while making clear for ourselves what is real or not, from the stories we tell ourselves to the medicines we ingest and recommend. 

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This doesn’t mean I want to avoid issues of right and wrong.  It is wrong to call a writer a bigot because they dare address issues like cultural appropriation which have been troubling and sometimes capturing most of the attention of herbalists of late.  And I dare say it is right to speak out about how ideas of race, gender, class and privilege impact individuals, herbalism, and our usually shared aims of making this a healthier and lovelier world.  If you have to pin me down, I would say it is wrong to stuff our feelings, wrong to vent without listening, wrong to be personally hurtful.  And it is right – if anything at all is right – to notice, to feel, to care, to freely express and share… and to act on the urge to help that so often follows among all you deep feelers, culture shifters, and plant healers.

On the subject of healing and caring I reckon you agree with me.  But I thank you, for all of herbalism, anytime you don’t.

–Jesse Wolf Hardin

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Jan 122016

Plant Healer’s Upcoming 2016-2020


Invitation to Promote Your School of Herbalism or Online Courses

to tens of thousands of herbal enthusiasts – by participating in this special directory of physical and online schools

Deadline for Confirmation: Mar 25th  –  Deadline For Materials: Apr. 15th – 

Releasing: May 1st-June 1st, 2016

  Plant Healer Herbal Schools Directory Cover-72dpi

Every 5 years, we – the editors of Plant Healer Magazine – produce a special Herbal Schools Directory describing and listing the contact info for a majority of online courses and physical schools, and featuring a detailed Herbal Education Guide to help potential students decide which opportunities will serve their interests and needs best.

We’d love to include you in our upcoming PDF edition, with a listing and description, and/or a profile and mention in the text of the introductory Herbal Education Guide article.

The basic listings are FREE to you, so that even the smallest schools can be listed and described.  If you choose, paid Promotion Packages will get you even more coverage and visibility while supporting this service.

If you have a physical or online school, please fill out the application and return it before mid-March to be listed.  Or if you know of someone with a school, please either tell them about this post or give them this Link:

PH’s Herbal Schools Directory Invite & Application

Jan 062016

Plant Healer Magazine’s Free




Anniversary Supplement Graphic 72dpi

The Winter 2015/16 issue of Plant Healer Magazine has been released, with a record 350 pages of herbal information and skills, and featuring a special 128 pages of special Anniversary sections celebrating this publications 5th Anniversary.  For any of you who are NOT a subscriber and missed it, we have prepared a FREE PDF supplement filled with overviews, reminisces, an interview with Jesse Wolf and overview of beautiful herbalist art. Click here to download:

Plant Healer Anniversary Celebration Supplement

PHM Anniversary Supplement Contents


(Please Help Share this Announcement & Free Supplement Link)

Dec 082015

Deep Discount Tickets to the 2016 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

$100 Advance Discount – Good Until Dec. 30th Only

2016 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

TWHC – The Herbal Resurgence – is the annual gathering of folk herbalists and culture-makers held the 3rd week of September in a vintage lodge in enchanted forests, high atop Southern New Mexico’s sky-island. In 2016 there will again be over 50 unique classes like nowhere else, taught by some of the most moving of thinkers and practitioners of our day.

For the month of December only, advance ticket purchasers are rewarded with the biggest discount of the year, with $100 taken off the regular adult ticket price for this limited time only.  These bargain tickets are on sale now, but will expire at the end of the month.

For more information or to get your discount, click on the Conference section and then the registration page at:

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2016 THWC Poster 2-72dpi

Dec 042015

Announcing Juliet Blankespoor’s Incredible New Online Classes – Beginning With Her


It is always an honor to help spread the word about the good works of our Plant Healer Magazine writer/teachers, and never more so than in the case of dear Juliet Blankespoor’s new Herbal Immersion online course available January 8th.  With the help of PHM columnist, Asia Suler, Juliet has created one of the most credible, comprehensive, and aesthetically enticing set of courses ever, steeped in her years of hands-on experience, and illuminated by her beautiful photography.

If you would like to start your studies immediately, you can begin now with her already active Medicine Making modules, and receive full credit towards the full Immersion Course when it releases.  This Medicine Making portion teaches how to make herbal preparations of all kinds, kitchen medicines, and topical herbal treatments. You can both get a special advance discount price and support Plant Healer projects by registering through this link:

Chestnut School Medicine Making Course

Juliet Medicine Making Course-72dpi

Click here:

Chestnut School Medicine Making Course

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Nov 292015

Plant Healer Interviews

Plant Healer Interview:


Culture-Shifter & Herbal Ally

interviewed by 

Melanie Pulla, Phyllis Light, Paul Bergner, Sarah Baca, & Mason Hutchinson

Jesse Wolf has done a lot for the herbal community as well as the plants we love, including interviewing both the respected elders and the new voices of the herbal resurgence for Plant Healer Magazine and our book series 21st Century Herbalists.  Now to mark Plant Healer Magazine’s exciting 5th Anniversary, the extra large Winter issue will feature an interview with rather than by Wolf.  This conversation between Wolf, a journalist and four herbalists, provides insights not only into the nature of my partner, but also the nature of the herbs and practice that we all so love.  An interesting excerpt follows here, with the entire much longer conversation available to member subscribers in the Winter issue releasing Dec. 7th.  You can subscribe by going to    –Kiva Rose

Jesse Wolf Hardin interview title page

Sarah: Jesse Wolf, as we talk you are coming up to your 5th Anniversary of publishing Plant Healer Magazine, and you just put on the 6th annual Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.  How does it feel?

Wolf: Nothing else I have ever done has felt more effective than serving the well being of the all life by helping to inform, equip, encourage, and support a resurgence of empowered healing.  And nothing yet has been as satisfying as helping weave that culture of healing back together with the quest for meaningful lives and lifestyle changes, deepened purpose and individual roles, to social change and ecological restoration, to ancient mythic lore and contemporary mythic dimensions, and to the sensory and aesthetic rewards of our beauteous arts. 

Sarah: Over the last decade much of what you’ve been writing has been for an audience interested in herbalism, wildcrafting, and natural healing.  Obviously there were already tons of available books about herbs and how to use them, I guess what was missing from the literature were the actual considerations involved with an herbal practice?

Wolf: I need to know I am meeting important needs for people by spending so many hours in front of a computer, instead of wordlessly making art or blissfully wandering along the wild river that flows in sight of my cabin window.  I write to shine a light on the natural world and our true selves, to make the allies of wild and diverse life laugh, feel informed and affirmed, and I write to discomfort the  destroyers of nature and truth and wildness.  I write in defense of other species, and to awaken our own.  And most of all, I write whenever I feel I can contribute new information and new perspectives, alternate or additional ways of looking at things that increase and inform our choices.  This has meant a deep exploration of the motivations, intentions, definitions, ethics, practice, and culture of herbalism, including but not limited to: Its purpose and forms, options and roles.  The reasons for getting into the field and the difficulties faced.  Different ways of practicing, different areas to specialize in.  Making satisfactory income without feeling guilty about it, while providing service to those least able to pay.  The aesthetics and the art of herbalism.  The joys and satisfactions of working with plants.  The history of herbalism, as well as the latest health and plant research.  Elucidating the sources of inspiration, excitement, and beauty, as much as the means and methods.  Exploring the whys as well as the hows of a self-identified “herbalist” or “healer” role.

Polish herbalistMelanie: I’ve often found that there’s a sense of elitism within herbal circles in regards to whether someone has an active clinical practice or not, with the prevailing notion that being a clinician not only makes you more credible but also more respectable and worthy of the title “herbalist”. Certainly clinical work is one way of generating and growing your knowledge, however it seems no less worthy for an herbalist to be in their apothecary or kitchen spending hours perfecting an herbal recipe – or in the field for days keying out plants and learning their growing patterns. I love how in The Plant Healer’s Path you emphasize the validity of “clinical” work that occurs outside a formal clinical setting. Can you elaborate on why this kind of work is not only valuable, but also important?

Wolf: First of all, no one can tell you if you are worthy of being called an herbalist, not  a professional organization, or a federal agency, or even our peers with more experience than us.  We are made worthy simply by the strength of our intent and focus, and the degree of our efforts.  Levels of competency are another issue, but are only proven by our results and effects over time.   We alone can make the determination whether our knowledge, commitment and daily practice makes us an herbalist or not.  And whether others call us an herbalist or not, will hinge on the good we do in working with plants.

I have three things to say in regard to “clinical.”  First, there are many different forms of – and means and venues for – clinical work.  Second, not all important work with plant medicines is clinical.  And third, even entirely non-clinical work with plants greatly benefits by a clinical-level commitment to increasing knowledge, maintaining accuracy, increasing efficacy, and adhering to ethical codes.

For our purposes here, “clinical” means directly working with people, personal interaction with the intent of helping them regain their health.  This can certainly happen outside of a clinical setting, such as in client’s homes, or even on the sidewalk with “street herbalists” handing out shotgun remedies to the homeless, and herbal medics volunteering at the sites of natural and human-made disasters.  Making herbal tinctures in one’s kitchen can be done strictly by following a recipe, but the best formulas are created in response to observations and experiences, whether our own responses to herbs or the responses of the people we are trying to help.

Traditional Herbalist Hoodie-ashMelanie: Thank-you.  I love your vision of future medicine people proudly and boldly claiming their title, and integrating themselves in all aspects of community and place. I also appreciate that medicine is so often equated with an ingestible substance as opposed to a broader scope of practice that includes other modalities such as story, counsel, empathy, and healing touch to name a few.  As Asclepias of Thessaly wrote, “first the word, then the herb, then the knife.” Since you are so apt with semantics and etymology, would you mind sharing the way you personally define medicine?

Wolf:  I would agree with Asclepias if by “first the word” he meant we first address the condition with inquiry and intake, verbal comforting or re-envisioning, discussion, counsel and advice.  The addition of medicinal plants and foods, massage, realignments, acupuncture, massage and other noninvasive treatments can follow as appropriate, supporting the changes in attitude, perspective, diet and lifestyle that words explored and inspired.

The English word “medicine” derives originally from the Latin “medicus”, “the physician,” and commonly refers to ingested or injected agents of healing.  We also hear, of course, that “laughter is the best medicine,” that time is medicine for the grieving heart, and that love is medicine for the spirit or soul.  In historic cultural terms, the word for “medicine” was usually synonymous with “power” – not as in power over somebody or something, but as in the power to act and affect.  Ancient “hunting medicine” usually involved rituals of supplication and intent, but their purpose was to awaken the power to find and collect animals to eat.  The medicine of the Seer was the power to see into the truth of things, to see the patterns in the movement of energies and progression of events.  “Wolf medicine” might be the powers of discernment and courageous action.

To my reckoning, “medicine” is power, but more specifically, the power to help and heal.  This is certainly about more than the healing of illness and wounds, but also emotional, spiritual, social, cultural, and ecological healing, utilizing whatever medicine that each of us is born with, learns or develops, in order to contribute to health and wholeness.  The word “heal” originally meant to “restore to soundness,” and I would say medicine is anything that contributes to the regaining of soundness, wholeness, and animate vitality.

Medicine is more than tinctures and teas, it includes such things as empathy and concern, tending and touch, ritual or prayer, visualization and positive attitude.  There is the medicine of nature and place, which The Healing Terrain explores.  There can be medicine in art and music, medicine in beauty.  In reconciliation or resolution.  In giving, and receiving.  Medicine in love, medicine in a hug.  

There is even medicine in disruption, whenever habit and structure have proven unhealthy.  

It is for us to find our personal medicine: our individual mix of born gifts, special abilities and learned skills, our original innate power to affect other people and the world in meaningful, helpful and healthful ways.  And then to identify, mobilize and utilize the many medicines around us and available to us – including but not limited to medicinal herbs – for the essential purpose of healing.

Sarah: Could you speak about your personal journey and healing work, and the roots of your intimacy with plants and plant medicine?

Wolf: I grew up in the suburbs, nothing like the wilderness river canyon that has been my home for the over three decades.  That said, from earliest memory I was drawn to the natural world, its authenticity compared to the artifice of many people’s lives, its diversity and oddness, enchantedness and eloquence.  This led me to wildlife that was either pervasive enough or small and slow enough for my inspection… and to plants, easier to find, or fun to climb.  I spent much of my childhood exploring and finding refuge high in the branches of trees, as people walked busily below without noticing.  There may have been few coyotes in the neighborhood, but there were exotic green beings from around the word used to landscape the nearby yards, and my friends the weeds that I respected for their brilliance and tenacity long before I was aware of their medicinal value.  Even my mother’s house plants served as conduits to the natural world, as agents of a radical vision of intensity and liberty, seductively subverting the barefoot boy who studied their examples and helped tend their needs.

Wolf in Military SchoolSarah: You weren’t always an agent of alternatives, were you?  Weren’t you an accomplished student in church and military schools at one point?

Wolf: Church and military schools were just of few of the many varieties of private schools we tried, with my mother and I mutually searching for the more challenging curricula I hungered for.  I was kicked out of the church schools for insisting on asking all the wrong questions, and answering out of turn.  The military schools were more satisfying academically, if only I didn’t hate giving orders as much I hated getting them.  I was adept at repeatedly winning Sergeant stripes with fancy drill team work and high class grades, but proved just as good at losing those stripes for defending some shy boy from an upperclass bully, refusing a direct order that I found demeaning or stupid or both, and once when they discovered I’d been stuffing my bed at night to make it look like I was asleep, while sneaking out like a prisoner in a jailbreak movie, skulking through the alleys and backyards in the moonlight.  

I’ve often told the story on stage, of the day I realized I couldn’t stomach the regimentation a minute more, when even the sameness of the suburbs and a comfortable life with supportive parents would be too much tameness and sameness to bear.  Every afternoon after classes we were ushered out into a large grass field surrounded by a 10 feet high concrete wall, where we would line up into platoons and practice marching to orders.  You know, right face, left face, right oblique, like in war movies except we ranged from 6 years old to 17.  It seemed obvious early on that waiting for orders resulted in reduced independent thinking and acting, and that every “soldier” was pretty oblivious outside of their part in the script as “commanders” and “troops.”  I decided to capitalize on this fact by taking up a position at the rear of my platoon, and as we tromped past a particularly large old avocado tree at the edge of the field I tried dropping out of line to see if anyone noticed.  They didn’t, true to form, and I shinnied up the tree and into its branches.  From there, I could see  on both sides of the wall, and contrast the two.  On one side, were my all-male classmates marching in line like ants, kids taught to keep clean and hide their emotions and “act like a man” absurdly shouting out in unison chants like “G.I. Beans, G.I. Gravy, Gee I wish I joined the Navy,” with hardly a single one of them regardless of rank getting the least bit of enjoyment out of their role and activity.  On the other side, children of mixed gender who were probably supposed to be in school somewhere, were instead happily crawling around the as yet vacant lot, hiding behind the unleveled hillocks and in a rusty drainpipe, before leaping out and making the most undignified but happy sounds.  At the right moment, I leapt onto the wall and over, walking home to my always supportive if often perplexed parents.  I explained that they’d be saving money on my schooling thereafter, that I’d “jumped the wall”… and while I spent some more loving time with them the first few years after, in the deeper sense I never went back.  

I slept under bridges and in crash pads, traded for a Harley motorcycle that had been stolen from the California Highway Patrol lot, tripped with the hippies at Twin Poles, Topanga Canyon.  Visited Rolling Thunder, hung out on merry prankster Ken Kesey’s Springfield Dairy farm in Oregon, got in and back out of trouble, and then journeyed to this place I would call home for the remainder of my life.  Beyond the wall, as my difficult author friend Ed Abbey liked to put it.

Phyllis: You’ve ended up simultaneously serving as a teacher, example, and leader of an herbal movement dedicated to preserving and celebrating folk traditions.

Wolf & KivaWolf: Partnering with Kiva Rose, her passion for herbs and herbalism resulted in our infusing ourselves deeper into this community, and in our helping to inspire some deep ecological sensibilities – a sense of vitality and purpose meant to sustain folk medicine through the many challenges ahead.  We have dedicated ourselves to championing an herbalism that is accessible and empowering, individualized and personalized, diverse and wondrous, to encourage the organic growth of its aesthetic culture and earthen healing values.  I brought to Plant Healer Magazine and gatherings my perspective as a child of nature, runaway street kid, community volunteer, wilderness dweller and ecological activist.  In turn, folk herbalism has given me another important means for the healing of my self… and a language and tools for me to help heal bodies, psyches, communities and bioregions in need.

Phyllis: How did you come to incorporate herbal folk traditions into your environmental philosophy?

Wolf: Kiva and my approach to everything is “folk,” in the sense of things being created by and for the folk, the people, as opposed to systems used by an ascended fraternity of medical practitioners, benefitting only those who can afford it.  Folk music, even when it uses electronic loops and beats.  Folk art, regardless of when or how it is made.  Folklore, the mythic tales that infuse the plants and work with added meaning.  Folk means drawing from millennia of experience and discovery, and learning from a lineage of artisans… but it also means each artist and each generation putting their own mark on the field, holding true to the heart and root of traditions while adding a little something of themselves, their experiences, and their vision.  Folk arts are not slavish adherence to tradition, but respectful embellishment and adaptation according to sensibilities, needs, and new information.

Folk herbalism is often defined in opposition to conventional modern medicine, or in contrast to professional clinical practice, similar to how folk art is contrasted to so-called fine art.  Fine art is touted as evolved, refined, complex, and sometimes subtle, while folk art is referred to as primitive, innocent, simplistic, and maybe quaint.  MDs and some lettered clinicians use related terms to describe folk practices, while holding up their systems or approaches as superior.  Even some herbalists that adamantly eschew official status, such as Susun Weed, still associate the term “folk herbalism” with superstitious and uninformed practice. 

To the contrary, Folk herbalism – as you, Phyllis, have said – is at its core simply herbalism for regular folks, medicine for the people.  As such, it’s best defined neither by adherence to custom nor by its rejection.  Folk is ever-evolving, therefore it doesn’t require we follow any herbal dogma or stick strictly to any time tested protocol, any more than it requires that we diss the latest medical research or the methodologies of professional and academic herbalists.  After all, herbalism only stops being “folk” at the point that we support stratification, organizational hierarchy or a vested elite, or act as if income or status are even close to being as important as the act of providing care.  And all herbalism is folk that seeks to empower individuals to help with their own and others’ healing, regardless of approbation, certification, registration, or legislation.  It is thus a broad perennial tent that a wide range of herbalists can intertwine, grow and bind under.  Folk does not divide body from mind, or the healing of the body from the mending of our society and the land.  And because of all this, folk is the herbalism we want most to encourage and promote. 

Helping others is how we achieve our humanity.  Those who denigrate or regulate folk herbalism, or assert that the work of healing is meant for a privileged, vetted few, are harming not only art and tradition but our humanness at its very best.

Paul Bergner and Jesse Wolf HardinPaul: I don’t see you engaging in this, but what can you say about the tendency to cultural appropriate that is common in some herbalists in North America?

Wolf: After hundreds of years of being systematically exploited by colonial empires, it is easy to see a similar exploitive pattern in someone copying a culture’s ideas or ceremonies and possibly making money off of them. It can understandably be offensive for someone who grew up in a tradition to witness a seemingly generic honky dressed up for the part, performing ancient healing rituals out of context and probably doing them wrong, or handing out the wrong herbs or advice.  To appropriate, however, is most understood as to take something away, to take for oneself, and what is most criticized as appropriation might be more accurately called emulation instead. 

This emulation can be intrusive and dishonorable if it involves publicizing secreted or sacred knowledge, exploitive if done for commercial gain, fraudulent if we claim a culture that is not our own, and tacky and offensive if we are mimicking… regardless of our best of intentions.   On the other hand, emulation is one of the ways that knowledge, values, ways of perceiving and doing are spread.  All aspects of culture are influenced and informed by “outside” groups.  Especially when it comes to healing knowledge, it is not something we can ethically restrict to any one group, nor in most cases is it possible to keep the information from getting out in spite of any efforts to ensure its exclusivity. Arabic art techniques motifs were replicated through much of Africa and Europe, even influencing far away Viking jewelry design, but how much was unattributed copycatting of a profitable craft, and how much was actually the advancing and furthering of Arabic sensibilities and cultural reach?  Western medicine owes much to the Greeks, who learned most of their healing craft from Arabic sources.  Westerners  wisely avail themselves of Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine constitutional models and formulas, and health practitioners in India have understandably incorporated Western medical research into their knowledge base.  When it comes to herbs in particular, they are a boon to all but are born for themselves, thus no one can claim them as their own, neither a corporate researcher wanting to patent the elements of life itself, nor any indigenous group.  

The line between exploitation and dissemination lies in the how as well as why we do what we do.  Respect your human sources.  Respect all honorable existing cultures and respectable traditions.  Ask to learn or share, don’t assume or take.  Don’t pretend to be anything but what you really are, which is most often a multi racial, multi cultural, eclectic mutt.  Ultimately defer to neither modern civilized authorities, traditional conventions or taboos, so much as to the plants themselves – and to our common, ancient, global mission of healing.

Rhiannon hugging Anima Sanctuary AlderMason: What wild, native Gila plant nourished you the most this year?

Wolf: The Alder with its twisting exposed roots gripping fast to rock and bank even during the most violent floods, drinking from the same river as me and the rest of the living canyon, setting into motion fantastical quests and instigating yet more tales and books with its enchanted-forest visage. 

Phyllis: Your love of the earth is apparent in your teachings, writings, and other works. Was there an event or events in your life that brought you to the awareness of the necessity of taking better care of Mother Earth?

Wolf: For me, it was a growing awareness of the de-naturing and destruction that started before I could barely speak, concurrent with my engagement with and love for the natural world.  Since I was a child I have been blessed with noticing and intensely experiencing nature in all its forms, even in the various cities and suburbs where I grew up.  I concealed myself in ornamental hedges and then laid my head at ground level to observe life from the perspective of a bug, observed the growth of baby birds no one else seemed to see or care about nesting in hollow street signs, was enraptured with the wondrous dandelions growing at the edges of the concrete.  It seemed impossible for me to pass a single butterfly or as yet unidentified plant without pausing to take it in, but this same ability or compulsion to notice everything also meant being unable to ignore the suffocating asphalt and screaming sirens.  The young eyes that followed the bridge swallows first flights, could not miss the remains of  birds and dogs and cats and raccoons killed by our species’ speeding vehicles.  Watching the clouds to see what whimsical shapes they might take, meant painful awareness of the valley smog those cars and our factories produce.  I would go to the very edges of the housing developments to seek out the still wild, but that made it even more painful when the bulldozers continued scraping ever farther in service to sprawl.  

Pained as this awareness made me, it too proved a blessing.  Witnessing hurting life forms required I be their champion if not hero, injustices clearly demanded resistance and redress, and every tragic imbalance seemed to call for a remedy.  The more I saw people pulling and spraying those Dandelions, the more effort I put into gathering their seeds, sneaking into gated yards, and pressing them into the ground with my little fingers.  As a teen, knowing what our government was doing to our draftees as well as to the Vietnamese people and ecosystems meant I must join in the demonstrations to halt the war, even in the face of charging riot police, and so it was inevitable that I help lead campaigns to save ancient Redwoods and Firs from clearcutting once I had walked beneath their towering branches, and that I would stand in front of a land-clearing DC8 Caterpillar after having held the leaves of the coastal White Sage like the holding the hand of a lover. 

That is perhaps the key lesson here.  Not just that there are things worth defending, restoring and propagating… but that it is what we come to love most, that we’re likely to care for best.  And falling in love is something that requires our intimate observation, adoration, involvement, participation, and relationship.

For over a dozen years I was a core organizer for the radical wilderness activist group Earth First!, melding music and entertainment with civil disobedience and media campaigns.  In the 1980s I gave hundreds of public speeches and musical performances under the nome de activist “Lone Wolf Circles,” at rallies we called “The Deep Ecology Medicine Shows,” and I worked to bring together conservationists and herbalists including by inviting Michael Moore to give an herb walk at an Earth First! Rendezvous in the Jemez Mountains.  I launched workshops and courses on spiritual ecology, that addressed the healing of our psyches along with the wounded natural world.

Wolf & Dana Howling Gonzo Poster 1991It had by then become clear that everything I have ever done has been in one way or another been in the name of healing: addressing the wounds of unnecessary wars and the injustices to indigenous peoples; the dissolution of natural ecocentric cultures and destruction of the Redwood and Fir forests; the extirpation of New Mexico Wolves and California White Sage; the unwholeness and stress of good people unsure of their rights, worth and abilities.  That it evolved into my working for the plants, and working with plants, feels only natural and right, as does the interweaving of bodily healing and the healing of our world.

Wolf New Settler Interview cover 1986Protest Against Clearcuts USFS HQWhatever else I have been or become, I’m dedicated and determined, grateful and appreciative of this mission… and fully excited about the possibilities of each purposeful healing day.

Melanie: Wow, that’s beautiful. I got chills hearing this. It’s so true that we all come to this work on our own path, and that we all bring a diverse and unique background to the work. It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to follow the thread of healing from addressing social injustices to restoring ecological health to championing a new paradigm for herbalism. It’s quite a powerful trajectory!

Phyllis: Tell us about Earthen Spirituality. 

Wolf: The winding river canyon where we live is host to many dozens of now primarily indiscernible subterranean pit houses, homes once inhabited by the peoples that archaeologists call the Mogollon, but who knew themselves as the Sweet Medicine People.  And near this exact bend where we built the pine board hobbit houses of our teaching center, can be found the remains of the largest kiva in the area.  Kivas are the underground chambers dedicated to religious ceremony, and at least one such structure marks those places selected to be the center for group ritual for an entire region.  At certain significant times the black tressed natives would have walked from many miles both further up and down the river, gathering to exchange stories, to trade and to flirt, but foremost to attend or actively participate in the ceremonies and prayers that they believed would ensure their peoples’ well being.  Many is the retreat guest or student who has come to us with a tale of having heard the muffled sound of drums or flutes emanating from the cave-pocked cliffs, or heard laughter intermingled with the glug, chortle, and bell like ring of the river as it rolls over rocks and plunge pools.

For them as us, all the world would have felt alive.  For people living so intimately with the land, everything would have felt personable and energized, endowed by a creator or creative force with a spark of spirit deserving of acknowledgment and respect.  The myriad plants springing forth from the unlikely alchemy of seed and soil, the complex creatures that provided humankind with vital lessons and valuable examples as much as they did clothing and food.  An energy or spirit vibrating in the volcanic rocks, glowing in the light of a setting sun.  Spirit in taste and scent, struggle and fun.  Given voice through the river, recorded in the patterns of tree bark, danced in the Fall spiraling of cottonwood leaves.  Spirit tracing its own movements, in graceful designs in weed lashed sand, and spirit empowering every giving person’s helpful hand.  Spirit in the hopeful child’s face, in the hearts and deeds of they who served love, truth and place.  Spirit taking flight in songs, echoing off the kiva’s earthen walls, and emboldening young alders to do the “impossible” by planting determined roots in what is an always unpredictable, shifting shore.  

Anima Sanctuary cliffs in mist

These immanent aspects and qualities of the canyon are no less discernible to the residents and guests arriving today, whenever we quiet the persistent commentary of the mind long enough, and they become too intense to ignore as we begin to reawaken our physical senses, our intuition and ancient dormant instincts.  They are, in fact, so vitally present that even the rare distracted visitor who is nearly unconscious of their surroundings, will still sometimes stop in mid sentence to try and gauge what they are feeling, wondering why they are responding emotionally when they intended to keep the conversation constant and superficial, or why they are now beset by repressed memories of unfulfilled needs or unlived hopes, missions or dreams.  At the least, nearly everyone experiences the canyon’s sometimes unsettling intensity, usually leading to a sense of all things’ interconnectedness and the ultimate connivance of their purpose and design.

This earthen spirituality I’ve called “Anima” is a unifying and animating force of creation and proliferation, of adaptation and manifestation, of life begetting life.  What I put forward was an evolving study and practice for living awakened, ultra-aware, purpose driven, choice filled lives… informed by the Anima and all elements of the natural world.  Discussion and disagreements about religion can be helpful, but can be set aside in this case.  For the agnostic or atheist, Anima can be readily described in the language of new science, and for the religious it can be explained in terms of a God-given force that animates and fuels as well as connects all things to one another, as choice/divergence, transformation/evolution, set into motion by divine intention.  

An Anima practice begins with awareness we can’t suppress, insights we can’t ignore, the noticing of distraction and dishonor we can no longer tolerate, and a calling that won’t let us be.  It involves self exploration, growth and actualization.  Conscious interdependence, interpenetration and interaction.  Expanding understanding and heightened sensation.  Compassionate contact and reciprocal contracts with the inspirited land.  Such a life could be called “spiritual” by those so inclined, but a spirituality that neither denigrates nor denies desirous existence.  Life’s hungers, disappointments and pleasures are as catalysts accelerating our manifestation, transformation and growth.  It is an assignment that we of necessity sign up for again and again, each and every moment anew, promises kept and the dance each of us do. 

There is something awesome, mysterious, “spiritual” or “magical” about all of life.  This is true even of that which has been scientifically analyzed and explained, being no less amazing and incredible once comprehended, and inevitably leading to other directions and questions, patterns and possibilities beyond our ken.  It is as unhelpful to dismiss or ridicule all things “spiritual” as it is to claim that everything important that can be known has already been both proven and written.  

Awakening to the experience of hyper alertness, being and belonging, can be both transformative and blissful, a state of self-realization and intense mindfulness sometimes referred to as a “shamanic state,” “rapture,” “satori,” “samadhi,” or “enlightenment.”  Such states are not so much about transcending matter or flesh, however, as about re-immersion in the depth and breadth of embodied reality: deep seeing, deep tasting and smelling, deeply dreaming…. touching and praising the universe through the world that is not “ours” but “us.”  Contrary to what we may have heard, enlightenment is neither “forgetting the question” nor figuring out all the answers.  It is casting a light, not only on outward form but on the inner recesses of truth and being.  It is the intense experience of conscious interpenetration, the wordless, timeless thrill of being propelled into realization, relationship and responsibility, challenge and delight. 

Jews, Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Pagans, Agnostics, Eclectics and all others… we have the option of growing past both spiritual and anti-spiritual dogma, and working together to co-create the world, not as the pawns of fate but as beings born with inherent responsibility, and some potential for critical thinking and decision making – and at our best, the ecstatic organs and effective agents of a larger whole.

Phyllis: Your life seems to have helped shape your concept of “rewilding.”  Could you define it for us?

Wolf: I coined the term “ReWilding” in writings in 1978, and introduced it widely to audiences during my 1985 Deep Ecology Medicine Show tour.  Others have adopted it since, some who apply it only to the act of restoring human-impacted lands to something similar to their previous wild and natural state, and some for whom it is means anarchic liberation.  In my original essay on the topic, I call for a re-wilding (return to empowered real/original nature) of land, social relations, the human mind and body.

Wild Herbalist by Jesse Wolf HardinRewilding is a coming into self, neither a retreat to the past nor a transformation into something new.  Instead, it is a re-formation, a reflowering, a reinhabitation of natural form.  It is the uncomplicated if difficult cessation of pretense, artifice, conditioning, labeling, distraction, manipulation, domination, preoccupation with the future, suppression and repression.  For the land, this can mean the replanting of logged or mined property, the clean up of toxic wastes, minimizing the over-competition of invasive exotics, the reintroduction of extirpated native species, and basing future human interaction and residency on its effects good and bad.  For society, it surely means an evolution in what we value most, in how we relate and interact, and our relationship to money.  It may mean a reduction and redistribution of governing power so that the worst that can be done is committed by individuals or small groups rather than by a corporate/governmental complex and its elite, the fostering of truly democratic regional governance.  It would surely mean treating a healthy environment as invaluable to the well being of people as well as other life forms.  For us, it means being our real selves, the best most vital selves we can be, taking responsibility for who we are and we do or don’t do.  Wild mind means tuning into our instincts and insights, stirring our awareness, seeing the world in fresh new ways, daring to imagine what is possible, daring to envision what could be but may have never been before. Wild body is present, sensory, communicative body, giving us constant feedback about what we eat, how we do what we do, and how much sleep we get.  It houses our hungers for food, touch, sex, and it acts as an agent for our awareness and the choices that will come of that.   

Naturally sensitive and compassionate healers sometimes seem uncomfortable with their innate, irrepressible wildness, associating it with childishness, disruption, a lack of discipline and the disruption of peace.  As I write in The Healing Terrain, rewilding can be a discipline, an intentional practice of re-becoming that maximizes and unleashes our natural propensities, abilities and gifts.  The most enlivened, conscious, effective and joyous healer is the rewilded healer, and as Stephan Buhner puts it,“We herbalists are nearly the last bastion of the wild.”  If you want to picture an image of rewilding person, just picture a kid at an age before succumbing to insidious self-doubt, fearful obedience and stultifying conformity… embodying, trusting, expressing, and acting on her or his feelings and knowings, crying when sad and laughing uproariously when happy, valuing adventure over comfort and safety, willing to risk adult disapproval by running barefoot through grass and mud, picturing whatever they want to become, and not seeing any reason why they can’t accomplish their grandest goals.

Paul: The concept of a Calling is central to most of your teaching, its importance in connection to Nature.

Wolf:  Yes indeed.  As you so well know, a calling isn’t simply doing what we think is most needed, nor what gets the most approval or benefits us the most financially.  Neither is it simply doing something we enjoy instead of feel indifferent about or oppressed by, though one indication we have found our calling is how incredibly compelling, gratifying and satisfying we find even the most arduous or challenging aspects of our work.  Our calling is the optimum role that we – our natures, constitutions, characteristics, abilities, predilections, and interests – can fulfill.  It is one of the greatest gifts to us, at the same time as our most significant gift and service to the world.  

I have a sense that we – as integral elements, agents and organs of the planetary whole – are informed by that whole at a deeper level than we understand, that we are connected to a biotic grid not unlike the way trees are hooked up to and can communicate through a vast fungal mat just beneath the ground to an energetic network that connects all things, and through which the whole exerts influences on the direction of its parts.  If so, a calling could be the ways in which we are purposed.  And if so, it would remain something we need to recognize, choose, assume, and fulfill… similar to destiny which we must seize or walk through like a door, as opposed to fate which we have no say in.

In no sense is it a summons from an outside authority, a call from something apart from ourselves.  Even if it is the prodding of nature rather than just our own desire and compulsion, we are integral to and an extension of nature, so it is more akin to one bodily system calling on another system to fill a crucial function.

It seems terrible to spend a lifetime working at things that we’ve resigned ourselves to, that we’ve justified as being practical, doable and profitable, with little consideration of the effects on our spirits, the sidelining or even suspension of our dreams, the losing of our focus on what moves us most, the de-prioritizing of our creative urges and deeper missions, the failure to utilize our greatest potentials.  Enlivened and fulfilled are those who ride their passions like dragons in a purposeful direction, who respond to a particular imploring song that only they can hear, and fill a role that contributes in their own special way to the healing and wholeness of the world.

Melanie: You have written about herbalists having been “marginalized” as a result of their interests and practices, and “a minority today among all the health approaches and professions.” This comes across as an astute but surprising observation since plant medicine is an important and valued component of countless cultural traditions. Can you elaborate?

Stellaria 72dpiWolf: Regional systems of plant medicine were not only traditional but crucial for most if not all human societies from the very beginning.  Yet, by the 18th and 19th centuries this had all begun to change, with anti-herbal propaganda and legislation becoming the new norm.  Today, interest in herbal “supplements” has continued to increase, and yet the vast majority of the population continue to associate the use of herbs with either ignorant country hicks or what they consider “New Age nonsense.”  There is a subset of licensed nurses struggling to recommend herbal alternatives without violating their professional codes and corporate regulations, but there are only a relatively very few mainstream health professionals who give herbal therapy a thought.  This is the reality today, and we face further estrangement, regulation and possibly even official prohibition in the future.

This should tell us two things at least.  First, that we need to consider the degree to which we hope to market to or influence the values of the dominant culture, and take into consideration how our attitude, image, language, education, level of competency, accreditation or non-professionalized folk approach effect our goals.  Secondly, it should tell us that no amount of accreditation or professionalization will earn herbalism the support of the corporatized, pharmaceutical-centric  medical system, that we need not feel inadequate or freakish for practicing “archaic” plant medicine.  There is no work more important than the healing of bodies, psyches, spirits, and the land… and no greater role we could play today than embodying a holistic alternative to the separative mainstream paradigm of distraction and destruction, corporate greed and drug dependency.

Herbalism does not need mainstream acceptance to be valid or viable.  Folk herbalism is an alternative stream, divergent, un-dammed, serpentine, free flowing continuously throughout the times of acceptance or nonacceptance, popularity or obscurity.  It is incredibly empowering to look to one’s own intuition, studies, research, and especially personal experience and results… for reassurance of the value of healing plants and the importance of this work.  When we understand and accept the relative rarity and alternative nature of herbalism, we come to see how embodying the role of herbalist today is an act of liberation from a system and its lies, and recognize the natural world as place of reconnection as we take on the responsibility for our own health and the health of the people and even ecosystems around us.

Trends and even cultures will come and go, but there will always be a need for self care, community health care, and plant medicines… and at least an impassioned and dedicated minority giving their lifetimes to the day to day furtherance of herbalism.  I’m excited that this living thread – this story – is ours to live and tell.

Phyllis: Are you concerned about the regulation of natural health approaches to personal care in this country? 

Wolf: I worry greatly about the hurtful effects it will have on practitioners, and the clients of healers and community clinics that may have trouble getting help once presented with the likely scenario of onerous or prohibitive regulation.  I do not worry about the survival of herbalism one bit, however, even in the face of the most oppressive imaginable laws and the most invasive possible enforcement.  It is impossible to stop people from using the plants that grow in their yards, fields and lots, and impossible to prevent them from advising and administering to each other when in need.  They can make it dangerous to run a public business, sell medicine out in the open, or advertise, but knowing folk herbalists as I do, most will continue making medicine with one hand, while flipping off the regulators with the other!

Wolf portrait Nov2014Phyllis: What about it being our responsibility to determine the direction of the practice of herbalism?

Wolf: Absolutely.  But we can only ethically and sustainably do that through education, influence and example, not by voting for a platform, making official proclamations, and then trying to make everyone tow the line. Plus, as in the natural world, it is far more effective to lead through example than to try to herd cats. 

Herbalism is and will be known by the identity we collectively impart.  Each of us contributes elements of personality – from punky antiauthoritarianism to dignified professionalism, and from nature loving sensibilities to a passion for ensuring justice – that together constitutes, defines, and expresses its complex character.  My hope is that its character will always include the greatest love for plants and healing, and the greatest determination to serve both.

Mason: How do you see the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference evolving? 

Wolf: Every year we try to balance reuniting the loyal core teachers that have helped define the event, with new teachers, new and unusual topics, and in that way new voices, new ideas, new perspectives and ways of thinking… and always with the characteristic TWHC/Plant Healer feel and flavor.  In this way we retain the cohesiveness and continuity of tribe, while letting the event continue to develop and morph.  We’ve considered growing it and involving some non-herbal, food and community related classes… and imagined the benefits of shrinking it to a smaller and longer event with a limit on the number of people.  In practice we have had no such options –  each Autumn we find that the next year’s event has been decided and defined by the teachers we selected, and by the passions and directions they each bring to this cauldron of possibilities.

One thing for certain, is that it will always be “different,” with the amazing folks who attend being the ones defining, manifesting, and celebrating that difference.

Sarah: When I hear people talking about Plant Healer, there are three things that get repeated again and again: how effectively you inspire a deeper relationship with the natural world, how you and Kiva have have become a champion for neurodiversity including autistic people, and how you have made so many people of all different kinds feel like they have a voice and a group where they feel recognized and accepted.  Is there some thread that connects all three of these?

Wolf: The diverse natural world, neural diversity, and diverse healing ways and roles are all threatened by the mechanisms of the dominant sociopolitical paradigm and the pressures to normal and same.  And likewise, all three can provide treatment, option or solution.

In the case of nature?  For thousands of years there have been great efforts made to transform the natural world to a commodity consisting of profitable “resources” and manageable monocultures, an incredible diversity of food species and seeds reduced to a relatively few crop varieties, single-species tree farms spaced perfectly for mechanical harvesting, mountains leveled for coal mining or development, winding rivers forced into straight canals, expressions of uncontrolled wildness suppressed with the aim of making things more acceptable, profitable, comfortable, and theoretically secure, with the engineers of these projects and campaigns seeking prestige from a professional and political elite.  The remedies we hope to help inspire involve: Support for genetic diversity through the protection of habitats, the conservation, propagation, and banking of viable, natural and heirloom seeds, along with fervent resistance to development that threatens plant and animal species, and opposition to Monsanto patenting seeds and big Pharma patenting organisms.  Teaching people to recognize the intrinsic value, and value to the ecosystems, of all species regardless of their perceived monetary or resource value.  Engaging in and encouraging personal immersion in the natural world in ways and at times that heighten our senses and increase awareness, stir compassion, bolster a palpable sense of interrelation and incontrovertible responsibility, alert us to our instincts, and awaken us to our feelings, and needs, and visions, and most meaningful dreams. NEURODIVERSITY-Message-72dpi

Neurological diversity?  For at least the 50,000+ years that humans have been considered “civilized,” divergent ways of thinking, believing, appearing and acting have been increasingly and methodically suppressed.  It is natural for creatures to fear the unfamiliar, but the more civilized, urbanized, organized, stratified, and “normalized” humans have become, the more there has been systematic ostracizing, marginalizing, institutionalizing, and even demonizing of any members of our own species deemed to be different.  This increase is evidenced from the Catholic Inquisition’s torture and execution of heretics (those who think differently) to Adolph Hitler’s eugenics and massacre of not only Jews but gays, gypsies, the “mentally handicapped,” intellectuals and free thinkers.  Today we see it peaking in religious intolerance with extremest Christians, Islamists verbally or physically attacking anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs, anyone who doesn’t look or act as they do, and in social and political intolerance with right-wingers hateful of progressives, and with some politically correct liberals distrusting and dissing anyone who takes exception to one of their strong opinions, tenets or assumptions.  Original thinkers who were in some times and in some contexts treasured for their abilities to perceive “outside the box.” adapt and innovate, are now mainly valued in manufacturing and commerce while being shunned or attacked for suggesting alternative ways of perceiving and living.  Current campaigns to “stamp out” Autism are scarily reminiscent of the eugenic campaigns of the 1930s and 40s, labeling neural diversity a disorder, and positing a standard for normalcy that everyone either measures up to or fails.  The fact is that everyone is in some ways unique, with a personal mix of weaknesses and strengths, difficulties and abilities, personality traits and ways of seeing things, and there may be no true normal condition or behavior beyond people’s efforts to conform or pretend!  The remedies we encourage for this involve: Educating people about the value of all diversity including neural.  The vociferous defense and support of the neurally diverse including but not limited to the much maligned Autistic community.  The celebration of neural, perceptual, and psychological differences, knowing that neural diversity can lead to experimentation and deviation, and therefore can be a driver of biological as well as cultural evolution.

And helping people feel especially at home in the Plant Healer community? There are relevant parallels as well as connective threads.  It was the strangely impassioned and partially crazed folks that human kind once looked to for divination and direction, to launch movements and to lead wild expeditions, to act as communicants and mediators between the human and natural or spiritual dimensions.  But then came the thousands of years of fear-based pressure towards uniformity during which the different were increasingly seen as disruptive or threatening.  In some places the handing out of herbs was no longer considered the realm of precious community wise women and medicine men, but was instead said to be the work of the devil.  Beginning in the mid 1800s and cresting in the 1950s, infatuation with modernity and technology combined with anti-herbal pharmaceutical industry propaganda to destroy most Americans’ trust in plants’ ability to heal as well as in the purveyors of plant medicine.  Herbs were portrayed as dirty and impure, either marginally effective and greatly bested by the latest drugs or else dangerous to use.  People were led to believe they should set aside their opinions and experiences, mistrust their instincts, put their lives in the hands of certified professionals, and thus turn away from the mothers and midwifes and herbwyfes, the traveling medicine show sellers, and the plants themselves that humans had relied upon since taking our first steps on the surface of this planet.  The same day that I read about the latest Orwellian FDA restrictions on making medicine, 

I also recently read a certain Arizona herbalist’s rant against “hippie” herbalists, and followed that to online discussions about how we should all dress more conservatively in order not to give herbalism a bad name with normal people, and to announcements for conference workshops on how to comply with unjust stipulations.  Clearly the social and regulatory pressure to conform, abide and obey is as great as ever, with herbalism in danger of being ever more formalized and burdened until the likely day when it is essentially made illegal.  The pressure that so many herbalists today feel to fit into a uniform, acceptable mold, necessarily makes me think about how neurally diverse folks must feel as a result of campaigns to “cure” autism and push people into becoming more “normal.”  And it might remind us of allied campaigns to tame wild nature, or to elevate certain species of plants while denigrating and attempting to eradicate unqualified and apparently unacceptable weeds.

Providing for the folk-minded herbalist in all her and his many varieties and forms has meant also creating a valued place for the delightfully divergent, for the outliers, independents and mavericks, for both the quiet unseen introverts and “unseemly” extroverts.  Creativity is itself deviation from the norm, and I have so loved joining in helping to create a “home” and a venue for human diversity of all kinds including neurodiversity, a nexus for the valuing of and defense of biological diversity, a context wherein cultural diversity is celebrated and furthered by the naturally and the gladly anomalous!  The truth is that variation and individuality are inherent and universal, nobody is exactly the same as the next person, and therefore nobody can fully be considered normal no matter how hard they are coaxed to try, or how much pressure and manipulation they suffer.  Let them be free of the need for the approval of the destroyers and the normalizers – because what justice or beauty is there in the supposedly normal, in the normal politics that oppress us and the planet, in the normal ways of treating women and people of color in this society, in buying normal if not necessarily tasteful fashions made by exploited workers, in the normal business of exploiting and bankrupting the living earth, or in what is now thought of as normal medical care?  I am glad to affirm and join in their happiness with their weedy selves and atypical ways… and to be a participant in an ever more conscious evolving of our diverse expressions.

Sarah: What do you see as problems in the herbal community, apart from matters of registration and regulation?

Wolf: I don’t see a lot of problems – in need of processing and solving – so much as as pitfalls and traps to be wisely avoided.  I detail many of these in The Plant Healer’s Path, including:  Imagining we will never be good enough at this work, or don’t know enough yet to be of any help to others… or on the other hand, imagining that anyone can be equally good at the healing arts regardless of studies or experience.  Projecting our feelings, motivations, and thoughts onto the plants.  Thinking that herbs exist for us, rather than for themselves first and then the entirety of the interdependent ecosystem.  Political correctness and guilt, at the expense of nuance and discussion.  Being afraid to express opinions that could discomfort others, or raise issues that likely need dealing with.  Looking to authorities and organizations for permission and approval.  Worrying we’d be better off if we and our craft “fit in” better with prevailing system and ways.  And taking ourselves too seriously.

I don’t mean to suggest our work and goals, or illness and suffering, are not serious matters.  It is precisely because they are so important and sobering that we need to balance that with laughter and frivolity – what I call the “Four Humors”: Dark humor (also known as “operating room humor, an effective pressure valve underutilized by many among our gentle and sensitive herbalists.  Silliness and light hearted play, including with our pained clients.  Teasing, fooling, and playful irreverence.  And especially, knowing how to laugh at ourselves, our ailments, our contradictions, and especially the beliefs we’re most attached to.  Each of these four can contribute to helping make both our clients and ourselves feel better – and isn’t that a big part of our missions?

Melanie: Rather than prioritizing the implementation of regulations and standards, as some within the field are doing, you emphasize the importance of sharing our own story – of collectively writing our own narrative. This portion of your book is a definite “call for action” where you present a very compelling case for why this is important, followed by clear guidelines for how we can each begin to effectively share our own story. In your opinion, what would be the ideal outcome from herbalists stepping forward and claiming their voice through story?

Wolf: All of life is a story, either composed by our selves as we create, form and direct our own lives, or largely written and directed by others – by controlling parents, critical teachers and peers, corporate driven media and advertising, fashion fascists, dogmatic religious leaders, political leaders and elected officials regulating every aspect of our existence.  Our personal story, and our collective story as a community of healers, will only avoid being shaped by others if we take responsibility for shaping it ourselves.  This is true in a very practical, not just metaphoric way.  Herbalists, like any conscious group of well meaning people,  can easily be misrepresented if we don’t show ourselves, if we don’t tell them and demonstrate to them who we are and what we are about.  We can be controlled and even crushed if we do not assert ourselves and make sure the story turns out different.  We can fall into traps of uninteresting conformity and unquestioning obedience into the system’s ready made script for us, with a prearranged progression, a shortage of dramatic depth, and a meaningless end.

Storyteller Poster

Melanie: So essentially, our sense of power comes through owning and sharing our own personal stories; through being the primary writers of this script. If we want herbalism continue to evolve as a powerful vocation, then we need to own and share our personal stories as healers, artists, activists, scientists, and generalists. We need to define the story for ourselves rather than allow external forces to define it for us.

Consider the analogy of herb schools teaching students as being similar to fertile plants producing lots of seeds. In order for these seeds to be capable of sprouting and maturing themselves, then they have to be equipped for the elements through proper nourishment and hydration. One of the reasons I love your book The Plant Healer’s Path is that it provides nourishment to those parched seeds – the herb students who graduated without a clear understanding for what to expect in the real world.

Wolf: Our personal destinies, and the destinies of human kind and other life forms, all depend on the reclamation of meaningful purpose, on a radical rewriting of our stories so real and empowering that even the best fiction pales… the remaking and healing and manifesting of our lives, and the glad telling of our tales.

Phyllis: Jesse, you are a man of deep passion and fire. What fuels that fire? 

Wolf: I believe that as an internally impelled choleric/wood I was born with fuel a-plenty, and challenges motivate me more than discourage.  And I am conscious and sensitive enough that there are always needs and causes to respond to, address, and hope to heal.  

What I require is direction for this energy and drive, signs of the most effective routes and means, triage, and prioritization… and I need inspiration.  I need inspiration the way I need each vital breath of air.  Motivation is provided by the wrongs that I can try to address, the injustices I am called to resist, the suffering of people and other life forms that I long to ease, but it is inspiration that suggests to me remedies, cures, alternatives, and solutions, that has me look up and forward instead of only down at the difficulties and details.  It’s inspiration providing me with reasons for hope.

Wolf with Guido MaseI am inspired by the responses of the plant healer community, their love for the natural world, their courage in doing this healing work even when they get little support and make little money, and their gratitude for an herbal movement that includes rather then excludes them.  I’m inspired by Kiva’s work on healing her damaged self, body and psyche, even more than by what she knows and is able to do.  I am inspired by the teachers and writers we attract and support, by watering the seeds of their potential in whatever ways we can and then watching as they blossom and flourish – such as the inspiring Jim McDonald, Sean Donahue, Asia Suler, Shana Lipner Grover, all the wonderful gifted people writing for Plant Healer Magazine or teaching at TWHC… and so very many more.  I’m inspired by the caring community of employees in the dozens of special eco-hearted companies we work with like Mountain Rose Herbs, and the hundreds of small herb shop proprietors like Julie Caldwell’s Humboldt Herbs serving not just as sources of medicinal herbs but of advice and concern, as centers for community arts, education, and the resolving of issues.  Inspired by kickass people like Wendy Hounsel melding herbalism and nursing, and by those balancing science with folk tradition and alternative sensibility such as Larken Bunce, Phyllis Light, Juliet Blankespoor, and the rather amazing Guido Masé… but also by Paul Bergner’s incisive critical thinking.  Inspired by those providing free herbal care on the streets of Oakland, in Guatemalan clinics, in the underserved villages of Tanzania, and by all those working on herbal justice, access, and herbs for mental health, such as Janet Kent and Dave Meesters.  By Thomas and Terrie Easley’s devotion to what matters most.  And it sometimes creates loops of ever greater excitement and vision, such as how inspired I am to hear when attendees at our events were themselves inspired enough by us to launch their own herbal businesses, activism, clinics, regional events and radical conferences.

And most of all, I am inspired by the plants, inspired by their familiarity and strangeness, known properties and utter mysteries.  Inspired that they affect everyone a little differently, depending on one’s condition and constitution.  Inspired by the fact that Wild Yam stops my gall bladder attacks every single time, even though there is almost nothing we can find in the literature to explain it yet.

Sarah: You call your community a “tribe,” but I thought the word was reserved either for existing indigenous peoples, or else used as as put-down.  We mostly use the expression the Hopi “people” now rather than Hopi “tribe,” for example. What is that makes this group of folks you gather tribal?

Wolf: We’re not an organization in the sense of set institutions, bylaws, or approved membership.  We are too populous and diverse to be a family, as close as we may feel to each other.  We are a tribe, in keeping with its dictionary definition as a recognizable society united by specific traditions, with social loyalties and alliances, a shared nature-inspired and nature-informed culture including associated literature and arts.  Sure, the word has been applied by colonists and conquerors to peoples considered primitive and uncivilized, but that just makes us all the prouder.  Membership is self defined, not determined by superiors.  Those who feel similarly about the earth, plants and healing, who speak a common language of thinking and caring, and who feel drawn to and intimate with our people and purpose, become by their nature and choice an integral part of and contribution to the wilding Plant Healer tribe.

We are a truly diverse tribe of oddkins, individualists as well as communalists, misfits when it comes to the status quo, visionaries and doers, allied in our quests to learn and to assist, bound by our love and our commitments.  And we are part of a larger coalition as well, one rooted in our ancient history of healers, if expressed in greatly different ways.  Plant Healers are allied with numerous forms of natural healing practice, not just with folk herbalism.  

No matter what herbal community any one of us identifies with, we are thrust together by the very fact of our love for plants, appreciation for nature, service to something beyond mere survival, income and comfort… and our compulsion and dedication to our chosen healing processes.

Sarah: Not everyone has access to herbal knowledge, or for one reason or another will ever even try using herbs.  It’s not easy today to stay out of the often harmful medical system, let alone to have an impact on human culture or the environment.  And I can only imagine the challenges to becoming a practicing herbalist considering all there is to deal with.

Jesse Wolf Hardin 2015Wolf: Sure, we need to face the reality of living in trying times of corporate hegemony and social conformity, environmental destruction and citizen resignation or complacency.  We’re in a time when we will have to act to ensure herbal access and justice, and need to do a lot more to protect the plants that heal and protect us.  But we are also living in a place and time of possibilities, of more choices than ever before, and with potentially more information, synthesis, comprehension, and motivations to act on our determinations and follow our paths.  

In spite of all the challenges, obstacles and handicaps, it remains possible to better orient ourselves in the physical world, and to explore our personal gifts, needs, feelings, purpose and direction.  Possible to deepen our awareness and understanding of natural authentic self.  To awaken our bodily senses, learning to better sense the world we are an integral part of.  To recognize more patterns and notice more beauty, to hear more exquisitely, to taste every nuance of our food, to savor even the mundane details of our mortal lives.  To tap our bodily knowing and creature instincts, and sometimes to increase intuition.  To deepen our sense of place… of family, home, land, ecosystem and bioregion.  Further our awareness of and active relationship to the natural, revelatory world.  Recognize the intrinsic nature of and animating force in everything, and every thing’s intrinsic value apart from human use.  Increase our sense of self worth and confidence, based on our true abilities rather than imposed or imagined characteristics and gifts.  Come to better understand our fears, and how to use them as markers for what needs our attention, as fuel to act, to change what needs changing.  Realize that we are a co-creators of not only our reality but our world, and commit to acting accordingly.  Discover how to give back to the earth that provides and inspires.  Learn how to grow from every mistake or misdirection.  Get beyond victimhood.  Detach from unhealthy habits, expectations, judgments, and ways of thinking.  Develop healthy attachments to life, spirit, values and missions.  Make every moment a decisive moment, and take responsibility for what we both do and don’t do.  Reawaken a childlike sense of wonder and connection.  Learn how to best utilize our gifts and skills for the good of ourselves and the world.  Discover how to actively fulfill our individual most meaningful purpose.  Learn to better celebrate and deeper savor….

Sarah: Wow!  Anything else you’d like to add?

Wolf: The need and calling for self-care and community care skills like herbalism has never been greater.  As the price of pharmaceuticals continually goes up and their dangers become ever more evident, and whenever the general economy is shaky, herbal knowledge is again accepted as it was in the days before the advent of “modern” medicine – as essential.  There is a new and rising wave of herbalists of all ages, insistent on learning the old ways and the new twists, treating their families or serving their communities.  It’s that which has us giving nearly all of our time to these projects, the necessity for a “Medicine of The People, By The People, For The People”… and the satisfaction that comes with helping to feed and further this aroused herbal resurgence.

Informed Folk Herbalism is only one piece – albeit a very important one – in what is a larger interweaving of social action, earth stewardship and crucial cultural change. With increased attention to the self-empowering field of herbal healing, we will again and again be making the connection to the necessary, active healing of our wounded hearts and psyches, healing the schism between us and the rest of nature, healing our communities and the damaged earth that we and our herbs together grow from.

This – and so much else – is cause for wild celebration!


You can read the complete interview in the Winter 2015 issue of Plant Healer Magazine, releasing Dec. 7th.  You can subscribe to by going to:

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Nov 222015


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Nov 152015

Now Available to Order, the New Plant Healer Book:


Herbal Actions & Treatments, Diagnostics, Therapeutics, & Clinical Skills

Edited by Jesse Wolf Hardin & Kiva Rose Hardin

620 pages • 8.5×11” • Over 1,000 Illustrations • $45 B&W Softcover

One of the primary missions of Plant Healer Magazine is to provide the skills and tools required to develop the most effective herbal practice possible.  As a result, this respected publication has attracted contributions of in-depth essays from some of the greatest thinkers in the world of herbal medicine today, 87 of which are pulled directly from the Quarterly for the pages of The Herbal Clinician.  25 different writers/teachers cover a wide range of topics related to seeing clients and treating their ailments botanically.  

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Nov 082015

November Herbaria – Free Ezine for Herbalists

A Sneak Peek:

The free November issue of the Plant Healer’s Herbaria Monthly will be mailed out Nov. 10th.  To be certain of receiving a download link, be certain you are subscribed before then.  Simply go to our Plant Healer website splash-page and fill in your name and email address in the appropriate location on the far left side of the page:

Herbaria Free Herbal Ezine

Herbaria Free Herbal Ezine

November’s issue is 54 color pages in length, and includes:

Introduction to The Herbal Clinician

This issue of Herbaria will introduce our latest Plant Healer compilation book, over 600 pages long with over 1,000 illustrations: The Herbal Clinician, pulled directly from the pages of past Plant Healer Magazine issues.  25 different writers/teachers contribute 87 original pieces, covering a wide range of topics related to seeing clients and treating their ailments botanically.

Jim McDonald & Lorna Issacson

Jim McDonald: Understanding Relaxants

10 pages of fascinating information on herbal relaxants by PHM columnist and TWHC teacher Jim McDonald, excerpted from the new book The Herbal Clinician.  Jim begins by saying:

“The general term “relaxant” is frequently bypassed in favor of referencing specific types of relaxants; people more frequently refer to “antispasmodics” or “nervines.”  However, I feel that the underlying, inherent quality really is best defined simply as relaxant… you look at a person, and ask the general question: “does this person need relaxants, and to what degree?” Then you think about specific applications. We also, when looking at relaxants in a broader sense, forgo distinguishing between physical and mental or emotional tension – assessments first, then move on to specific refinements when choosing your herbs.” 

Melanie Pulla

Melanie Pulla: Herbs, Income, & Art of Receiving

Also excerpted from the new The Herbal Clinician book is a great tip-filled piece by Melanie Pulla for herbalists in business, and those considering starting an herb related enterprise.  She writes that:

“Herbalists are poised to create and grow some of the most visionary businesses imaginable. However, we must first care for our financial needs by addressing our core and limiting beliefs around the generation of income, and implementing the necessary tools that will enable our businesses to thrive. This will allow us to generate deep and powerful roots as herbalists – roots that are capable of nourishing entire communities.” 

Teachers & Attendees at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, NM

Teachers & Attendees at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, NM

2016 TWHC Teachers Announced

It was very difficult, but we have confirmed our 2016 conference teachers and classes.  See them announced here first.

Crabapple by Elka

Crabapple by Elka

Elka’s Recipes & Tales: Crabapple

Wonderful Crabapple juice and sauce recipes, and Harvest-time abundance!  Elka explains:

“Crabapples just might be one of our country’s most underused treasures. They don’t always look or taste like much, but they can be a real treat! If you know somebody with what you think might be a Crabapple tree in their yard, don’t be shy! Ask them if you can harvest their Crabapples, and whether they might want a jar of the delicious sauce in exchange!”

Paul Bergner & Tania, Herbalists

Paul Bergner: Praising The Community Herbalist

Some people in the herbal community diss “community herbalism” in comparison to “clinical,” while others like us consider community herbalists as fundamental, and clinical work simply a subset of the many important ways of practicing.  Paul, our PHM flagship columnist, has his own thought-out perspective, and provides here tips for making that practice more effective.  He tell us:

“In 18 years of running clinics in Boulder, I supervised a little more than 3000 cases. In 4 years of running the store in New Haven I figure I had exposure to more than 200,000 opportunities to observe people engaged in changing their health. I met more people, more kinds of people, people of more age groups, and people in more stages of health in the community setting than in the clinical setting. Of course the quality of information from a brief conversation on and floor of a store is different that that obtained in a formal intake or follow-up, but I can say unequivocally that the experience with the public in this setting established a foundation upon which all my further work was built.”

Charles Garcia & Lori Pino

Charles Garcia & Lori Pino

Herbalist Interview: Charles Garcia -Curandero

We love including eclectic, idiosyncratic, politically-incorrect (P.I.) herbalists in the wild mix that is the Plant Healer tribe.  Doc Garcia is one such character, a streetwise ex-cop potty mouth with deep relationship to herbs, a most compassionate heart, and service to the homeless.  Featured in this issue of Herbaria is a poignant excerpt from our lengthy discussion with him, first featured in our book “21st Century Herbalists,” available from the Bookstore page at:

“I go looking for the sick. I bring my goodies in a canvas sack or cheapie backpack and walk the streets like a cheap crack whore looking for a trick. In the old days, the sick came to you or if they could get word to you, off you would ride on your hot-blooded stallion…okay grandpa probably used a mule and later his Model T Ford. Now where they merge is speed. You might be able to make a diagnosis, you might not. Either way you will treat the symptoms first and watch what happens. I carry a portable stove in my bag. I carry some herbs which can cover a large amount of ailments and if I’m lucky, I can give treatment. Sometimes I can go out on the street and find Fennel, Yarrow, wild Chamomile, Ginkgo, certain tree leaves, ornamental Rosemary, etc. If you know where to look, you’re never more than a couple of hundred yards from herbs. With a buck or two I can run down to the nearest mercada and buy an onion, a garlic rose, maybe a squash, and make soup for the sick. In an hour or so I can treat the homeless with the same efficiency as if they came to my home. ‘Work fast heal fast’.” 

For your issue, go to our Plant Healer website splash-page and fill in your name and email address in the appropriate location on the far left side of the page:

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Oct 212015

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 TWHC Poster-72dpi

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

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Oct 062015

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

Herbaria Free Herbal Ezine

Herbaria Free Herbal Ezine

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

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


Herbaria’s October Contents:

Introducing The 2015 TWHC Class Essays

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

Wild Rose by Jesse Wolf Hardin-72dpi

Kiva Rose Hardin: The Rosaceae 

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

Cannabis Medicine

Ramona Rubin: Cannabis Medicine Synergy

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

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

Acron 72dpi
Elka’s Recipes: Making Use of Acorns

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

Matt Wood & Sean Donahue-72dpi
Herbalist Interview: Matthew Wood

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

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

Stories & Photos: The 2015 TWH Conference

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

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


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

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