Oct 282012

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

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

Taste: Bitter, sweet, aromatic

Impression: Oily, aromatic

Energetics: Slightly warm, Moistening in the oily sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Breath: Aster as Respiratory Remedy

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

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

As Jim McDonald says of New England Aster:

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

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

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

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

Fever Tea: Aster as  Relaxant Diaphoretic

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

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

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

The Purple Haze: Aster as Relaxant Nervine

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

Parts Used & Preparations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Personal correspondence and classes with Jim McDonald

King’s American Dispensatory

Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories (Hulten)

Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology (Chen & Chen)


~Photos & Text ©2012 Kiva Rose~

Oct 222012


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


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

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

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

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

Oct 142012

Announcing the Teachers for the
Sept 19-22

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

Download the Announcement for 2013 Details

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

New Herbal Resurgence Website

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

Announcing Our 2013 Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Oct 102012

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

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

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

Autumn in the White Mountains of Arizona

Watching the Grasses Turn Gold

Oct 092012

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

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

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

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

Rosemary’s Cough Syrup 

Thank you, Rosemary!!

Sep 302012

Geranium caespitosum

Canyon Alder, Alnus oblongifolia

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

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

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

Rhiannon Enjoying the Spiced Peach Crisp she made for Mabon

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

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

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

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


Peach Crisp & Blueberry Tart to celebrate the Autumn Equinox

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

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

Simple, common sense medicine, but still so good!

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

Loba, Rhiannon, and I celebrating the Autumn Equinox

Sep 242012

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

Now Shipping Volume II of the

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


including a Free 60 page full-color book:

The Art of Plant Healer – Vol. II


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

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

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

Volume II Features Writings by:

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

Art of Plant Healer book Free with Every Annual

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


Art of Plant Healer Available To NonSubscribers

and Free to Subscribers – with every Annual


New Annual For Plant Healer Subscribers Only

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

New Subscription and Annual Combination

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

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



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

Sep 032012

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

The International Herbal Resurgence Learns and Celebrates In Arizona

by Sarah SuperNova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The next Medicine Of The People conferences will be held

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


Aug 292012

Plant Healer Interview:

Sean Donahue

In dialogue with Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sean Donahue has been a devoted component of Plant Healer and the Medicine of The People/TWH conference since the very beginning, and will be bringing some compelling classes to the upcoming event in Arizona, Sept. 13th through 16th.

Plant Healer Magazine: Welcome, it’s good to be including you here.While we are happy to feature interviews with the most famous of contemporary herbalists, it is also a special commitment of ours to showcase, support and further the work of both younger generations of herbalists and those still less widely known.  We applaud all who are making their mark in their own personal style, putting their heart into this work with scant income and very little recognition., and especially those like Sean who prove steadily deepening, expanding and improving… and for  a larger, all connecting purpose.  You will surely find worth reading our conversation on the present and future of herbalism, Sean’s own healing metamorphosis and the incontrovertible magic of planet and plants.

Healing yourself has been core to your work helping with the healing of others.  Was asthma the first big health challenge?  How did your conditions advance your thinking about healing, what tangible changes came from it, and how has it informed and influenced your herbal practice and teaching?

Sean Donahue:  Asthma and depression were deeply intertwined in my life from the time I was a baby.   And connected with my asthma was the story told in both subtle and direct ways by doctors over and over again that my body was broken and there was little that could be done about it — a story I was parroting by the time I was 2.  Overlaid with Catholic theology, (which I took deeper and further than the rest of my family because it was the first spiritual outlet I knew), that since that my health problems were intractable led to a pretty profound alienation from my body.  And that in turn led me to neglect my health in ways that had me well on my way to heart disease and diabetes by the time I was in my thirties.

When I first encountered Elecampane in January of 2007, that all began to change for me.   When I tasted the first few drops of the tincture, I understood innately that instead of just changing a physical process in my respiratory tract, the plant was awakening my body’s knowledge of its own ability to heal.   As the Elecampane stimulated my lungs to clear the mucus that was filling them, I felt myself breathing in a new way, and felt myself letting the world in in a new way.  And from that experience, I began to relate to my body differently.  After years of trying unsuccessfully to punish and shame my body into health, I began to love and celebrate my body into health, taking new pleasure in eating and moving in ways that made me feel stronger and more vital.  My body, my sense of self, my life shifted shape.

And this is where I think where some of the most profound healing occurs — in the way plant medicines can shift our experience of our bodies and our sense of our selves in relation to the world around us.  In bringing people and plants in contact with each other, what I am doing is facilitating a conversation between two living beings, and what’s communicated in that conversation is information about ways of being embodied in this world.  Some of that information comes in the form of phytochemicals that signal changes in the body at a physical level.  Some of it is communicated in ways we can’t yet describe in mechanistic terms.  But either way its not a passive process, its a process of stirring and guiding and supporting the body’s own capacity to heal.

Plant Healer: What are your fears, how have they affected you and how have you dealt with them?

Sean:   My deepest and most abiding fear has been that there is some part of me that can’t be trusted with power, that if I allow myself to be strong, to be confident, to speak my truth, to bring forward all of who I am, that through accident or ignorance or temptation I’ll somehow bring hurt to the people I love.   That fear has made me hold back a lot in my life.  But I’ve dealt with it by learning to live more and more from my heart.    I trust my heart to temper and guide me.   And knowing that, I can trust myself to be in the world more fully than I have ever allowed myself to be before.

Plant Healer: How can someone use fears to motivate rather than immobilize themselves?

Sean:  We learn to be afraid because we are trying to avoid repeating situations where we can get hurt.   I think its important first of all to have compassion for ourselves in that.  To recognize that the parts of us that are afraid are trying to protect us, but that sometimes they do that in a misdirected way, responding to the visceral memory a situation evokes rather than to what’s actually happening.

So I think we can work to dismantle the stories around those fears and to bring up and release the emotions tied up with them.    Which is delicate work, because it makes the rawest parts of us vulnerable.   And it requires a part of ourselves that is ready to be the watcher and the guardian for those parts that were hurt.

And in that process, those parts of ourselves can become more fully integrated, can move into the here and now, and can stop locking away parts of our power from ourselves.

Plant Healer: What are your feelings about herbal education, schools, mentors and teaching ourselves?

Sean:  I think there is tremendous value in listening deeply and carefully to the experience of those who have gone before us and those who have been doing this work for a long time — whether its through reading, through formal classwork, through apprenticeship, through conversation, or just through watching the ways they work with plants and people.    But ultimately, we all have to make sense of the information out there on our own terms, and ground it in our own direct experience.   I believe in ways of teaching that help people develop their own frameworks for understanding and working with plants and people, rather than repeating received knowledge and replicating preset protocols.

Plant Healer: You’ve talked a lot elsewhere about the influence Stephen Buhner has been on your thinking and practice, so tell us who else (contemporary or historical) has been an inspiration, reality check or guiding light… and why.

Sean: Matthew Wood’s re-discovery and re-articulation of the energetics of traditional western herbalism is absolutely brilliant, and has deeply influenced my own understanding of the ways plants work in people’s bodies.   And he relates to plants in the same kind of intuitive, poetic way that I do, but brings an incredible precision to that approach that I admire tremendously.

Margi Flint has taught me a tremendous amount about sitting with clients, reading their bodies, hearing their stories, and asking the right questions.

Through them both, I feel the influence and presence of William LeSassier, whom I never had the chance to meet.

I love the ways jim mcdonald conveys complex ideas about energetics in really clear and simple ways.   And just knowing that there is an herbalist as original and amazing as he is who has carved out his own path has helped me overcome some of my insecurities about my own lack of formal training.

Kiva’s devotion to bioregional herbalism has greatly inspired me to look at the plants growing around me in new ways.

During the time I worked and taught with Darcey Blue French, I learned a tremendous amount from her about nutrition, food sensitivities, and energetics that changed the way I practice (and the way I eat!)

The herbalists I met in Boston when I was first beginning to see clients — Melanie Rose Flach, Tommy Priester, Madelon Hope, Katja Swift, Iris Weaver — were tremendously gracious in sharing their insights about working with people and plants.  Tommy taught me a tremendous amount about coming from the heart and working to help people realize their own innate goodness and perfection.   Katja is someone I know I can always turn to for help in seeing a situation from another angle.

Mischa Schuler introduced me to the plants and to my own ability to listen to them.

I look a lot to the great herbalists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — Cook, Lyle, Ellingwood, Thurston, Scudder for the insights they gained working with people and plants every day for decades.   And I am grateful to people like Henriette Kress and Paul Begner and Jonathan Treaure for making their work easilly accessible online.

My magical training has been a tremendous influence on my work as an herbalist as well.  My teacher, Karina BlackHeart, has continually challenged me and supported me in releasing guilt and shame and fear and embracing love as I stand more and more in the fullness of who I am.  She is an inspiration and guide to me as I work with other people to stand in the fullness of who they are.   Reaching back through her lineage, I draw on inspiration from Victor Anderson, praying as he did to know myself in all my parts, and on Cora Anderson, who prayed for wild innocence.   And through their lineage to generations upon generations of witches and faery doctors and cunning folk stretching back before the beginning of recorded history.

Plant Healer:  You’ve also said that the plants themselves are the most important teachers we can have.  Please explain to folks what you mean.

Sean:   We share common ancestors with plants, and our biology, our chemistry, even our structure of consciousness are similar.   They are sentient beings that share the experience of being embodied on this planet.  When we make medicine with them, we are not working with some inert substance, we are connecting with something alive.   What that encounter will bring will be different for each person.   Other people`s experiences can serve as a guide for what to expect and as a reality check to help us differentiate intuition from wishful thinking, but each of us develop our own relationships with the plants we work with.   And those relationships are richest and deepest when we get to know each plant on its own terms.

Plant Healer:  What have been your most exciting discoveries, amalgamations or realizations since getting into herbs?

Sean:   Realizing that the idea that the world is alive and speaking to us is not a metaphor, but a literal reality, and that embracing that reality changes everything about the way you live.

Plant Healer: With the imposition of one official regulation or piece of legislation after another, it seems that the government is slowly making it harder for small businesses to produce and sell herbal preparations, effectively handing the production of plant based medicine over to the same kinds of giant corporations making a mint on pharmaceuticals.   And this has been just as true under a Democratic administration as under a Republican.    Is it burying our head in the sand, to downplay this threat or even inevitability?

Sean:   Its certainly frightening and sad watching small medicine makers shutting down their operations because of the costs and logistics of complying with regulations that don`t really have anything to do with the safety of the medicines they make.   The recent FDA threats against Meadowsweet Herbs in Montana were a real wake up call to the herbal community signalling that we may be entering into a period of time when the government does make it a lot harder to buy and sell herbs.

But I also think that its important for us to remember that while many commercial medicine makers provide a great service to our community, and making medicine is one way a lot of herbalists make ends meet financially, herbalism and the herbal products industry are not one and the same.   Herbal commerce can be regulated or even shut down by governments.   But governments have never succeeded in regulating the relationships between people and the plants around them.  Our community will respond and adapt to what`s happening.   And in part that will likely mean more herbalists working with the plants of their own bioregion and teaching people how to make their own medicines instead of selling products to them.    And that could be a very good thing for both people and plants.

Plant Healer: How would you suggest that we can oppose, affect or mitigate such regulations and policies?

Sean: Honestly I am not sure we can.  I am all in favor of people putting energy into grassroots lobbying and public education campaigns, and I think they do have a chance of working.   But I also think that much of what is most powerful and transformational about herbalism also makes it inherently subversive, and that we can`t realistically expect the state to legitimize what we do.

Plant Healer: I agree.  As in my days as an organizer of Earth First!, I see education as important though never the factor that results in tree saving choice, resistance to injustice and repression as an essential response for any aware and honorable person,  and value the effects on us personally even if we are not effective politically.

On the other hand, I agree that it is a lesson of nature and thus plants, that we need to be who we really are, do what we feel called to do, in spite of any repressive regulation or abolition.

So tell me, if we prove unable to prevent such laws, could it be a viable strategy for small producers just to hope they are under the radar and won’t be penalized?  Or will it become a matter of the herbalist on the block providing only for immediate family and neighbors, in the healing field’s version of a revolution’s “autonomous cells of resistance”?  Any insight or suggestions?

Sean: I think people will get creative, find new ways of sharing knowledge and sharing medicine — some will do business by word of mouth in their own communities, some will teach people to make their own medicine, some will try to stay under the radar, some will openly flout the law.    And I think every one of those approaches is legitimate.   It’s a highly personal decision.

Plant Healer: I couldn’t resist making a motto for the Medicine of The People/TWH conference “If herbs are outlawed, only outlaws will administer herbs.”  Shouldn’t we all be asking ourselves at what point we would surrender our practice or medicine making, and at what point we might prefer to be lawbreakers?  Where is your personal line?

Sean:  For me personally, the law doesn`t really come into the equation.   My commitments are to the plants and the people I work with.

Plant Healer: Good enough.

What do you think are the essential or deeper problems with the institutionalizing and “legitimizing” of herbalism?

Sean:  I think there is a great danger that in creating one set of standards that everyone tries to adhere to that we will increasingly favor the repetition of a body of received knowledge and the adherence to a fixed set of protocols  over personal engagement with plants and people, sacrificing creativity and diversity,

Plant Healer: Is the field of herbalism in danger of severely contracting if we aren’t legitimized?  Do you think that one is more acceptable or bearable than the other, and why?

Sean: I don`t see a need for us to be “legitimized.“  If we live and work with integrity, if we practice our craft with skill and precision, if we treat people with compassion and respect and help them to heal, our work will speak for itself.   That`s the only form of legitimacy I think we need.   And that has to be built and earned as we go, it can be conveyed by any institution.

Plant Healer: What is your personal definition of “folk herbalism” and what is important about this concept and term?

Sean:  To me, Folk Herbalism is the living tradition of working with plants to transform lives through medicine and magic.   We take in the knowledge and stories and practices of the people who came before us, combine them with our own experiences and perspectives, and create something that`s relevant to our own time and place.   Its an ecological model of creating and passing down knowledge.

Plant Healer: It has the potential to be potentially a powerful vehicle for social as well as environmental change.  Talk about this.

Sean:   Folk herbalism puts knowledge and medicine into the hands of the communities that use them, rather than making them the province of a limited class of officially recognized experts.   It allows people to be full and active participants in their own healthcare.   And once people reclaim that kind of authority in one are of their lives, they begin to see the possibilities for liberation and transformation in other realms.

Plant Healer: Most groups or communities of purpose have some kind of mutually agreed upon mission statement, as well as a mostly agreed upon code of ethics.  First, how might you describe the shared mission of the herbalist or folk herbalist of today?

Sean:  Our work is to support people, communities, and ecosystems in their own natural healing processes.

Plant Healer: Well said.

Plant Healer: What are some of your favorite plants to work with, and why?

Sean:  The plants I end up being called to work with tend to be unusual and often somewhat forbidding — Devil’s Club, Skunk Cabbage, Ghost Pipe.   They tend to inhabit spaces between worlds – swampy places where earth and water meet in the case of Devil’s Club and Skunk Cabbage, the understory of the forest and the world beneath the forest floor in the case of Ghost Pipe.   The process of getting to know each of these herbs well feels like a many layered initiation.   Its not that I seek out unusual plants, its just they are the ones that end up calling me.

Plant Healer: You have been writing for Plant Healer Magazine since its inception.  What drew you to it, what makes it different from all that preceded it?  And what do you believe to be Plant Healer’s distinctive role in or gift to the community?

Sean:  Plant Healer is one of the few places where I see science and tradition given equal weight and equal scutiny.   And it brings together an amazing community of voices — the best I have seen assembled in print anywhere.

Plant Healer:  At this year’s Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference, you’ll be teaching a class on psychedelic or entheogenic plants, as well as herbal first aid to help folks “come down” from an anxious or disconnected trip.  Since at least the 1920s, Westerners have been aware of and exploring the potential therapeutic benefits of Psilocybin mushrooms, Datura, Peyote and so on, including my friend Ralph Metzner who worked with Timothy Leary at Harvard.  What do you find entheogens can reveal for someone, and how can this aid the emotional and physical healing process?

Sean:  Enthogens can help people break free from fixed patterns of thought and emotion — which, in the right conditions, can play a significant role in helping people break free from addictions and heal from trauma.  Dr. Gabor Mate is doing amazing work along those lines in Vancouver . . .  Of course great care is required here, because putting a person into a disorienting situation can also trigger old traumas or create new ones.

Apart from a therapeutic context, entheogens can help people experience the multiplicity of realities and worlds.   And many an herbalist has first discovered the consciousness of plants and fungi when ingesting plants and fungi that alter human consciousness.

Plant Healer:  Speak about the mystery and true magic of medicinal plants… and why both mystery and mythos are vital to our experience and evocation of the craft.

Sean:   Plants are conscious beings with biologies remarkably similar to our own who live outside the framework of human culture, human judgements, and human assumptions — and so they can help us discover ways of being in this world that are otherwise beyond our imaginations. Poetry and ritual and magic help us connect with plants at a level beneath and beyond linear thinking, allowing them to work their magic at a deeper level.  Myths and folktales and folkways contain traces of the history of the ways people and plants have interacted and Waymarkers that show where the road veers off into the crooked path that leads into the wilderness of the heart.

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

Plant Healer: You are not in herbalism just to study, teach or serve.  Tell us what you love most about herbalism and what you do in particular… what and why you love so much.

Sean: Connecting with plants reminds me that the world is alive and makes me fall in love with its beauty over and over again.

Plant Healer: And there may well be some readers who never attend a class of yours, and perhaps never see another word written by you.  If so, what final words would you like to leave them with?

Sean:   Plants and people reveal their secrets over time, when met with patience and sincerity.   Remember that, and the world will teach you all you need to know.

Plant Healer: We sure appreciate your devotion to this work, and to the conference and Plant Healer.  We hope you feel the support.

Sean: I am deeply grateful for your support and for the amazing community you have created.


Sean will be teaching in a few weeks time in Arizona, and you can meet him there.  Go to: www.TraditionsInWesternHerbalism.org

For more of Sean’s work and vision, please go to: www.medicineandmagic.com

You can read the much longer interview with Sean in an upcoming issue of Plant Healer.  You can subscribe at: www.PlantHealerMagazine.com

Aug 262012

Plant Healer


(Herbalist, Wildcrafter, Grower, Activist…)

Plant Healer Magazine – the “magazine different” – is calling for new writers with new perspectives and a deeply personal and powerful style… on subjects related to herbalism and herbal related arts and culture.  We have a cadre of awesome authors contributing to create each over-250 page long issue, but we’re still always open to something new!  And you do not need to be well-known or previously published to be considered.  You only need to be speaking from your experience, on topics for which you have the most passion and interest.


Articles From Outside the U.S. & American Culture Sought

We’re especially desirous of English language articles by writers from all over the world.  Please consider writing about the important herbalists, herbal history and traditions of your region or country.


Length & Requirements:

The main requirement is that your article be original and previously UNpublished online or in print.  Diverse voices and styles are welcomed, from professional and academic to folksy and even cheeky!  We accept submissions from 2,000 to 4,000 words in length, and sometimes even longer when the subject matter requires it.


Departments To Submit For:

  • Traditions in Focus: Exploring Western Folk Medicine
  • The Primordium: Field Botany
  • The Allies: Plant Profiles & Monographs
  • Constitutional Approaches & Herbal Energetics
  • Seeing Folks: Case Studies & Therapeutics
  • A Distillation: Herbal Medicine Making
  • Tools & Tips
  • Into the Forest: Wild Foods, Foraging, Wildcrafting & ReWilding
  • From the Ground Up: Conservation, Restoration and Propagation
  • From the Hearth: Traditional Foodways, Recipes & Food Facts
  • BirthRoot: Midwifery & Herbal Childcare
  • I’m An Herbalist, Too!: Articles For & Sometimes By Kids
  • A Weedy Revolution: Advocacy and Activism


Next Deadlines for Articles: Oct. 1st

Quarterly Deadlines for Submissions: October 1st, January 1st, April 1st, July 1st

To submit or query, first go to the Submissions page on the website and download the detailed Submission Guidelines.

For Guidelines, or to Advertise or Subscribe, go to:



(Please RePost and send to any budding, plant-loving writers you know)

Aug 212012

The “cat’s out of the bag”… the much beloved
Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference
is now

Medicine Of The People
The Folk Herbal Resurgence

…a name we believe does a better job of evoking the wild spirit and populist mission, incorrigible attitude and inimitable character of this one-of-a-kind event, coinciding with our move from Ghost Ranch to Mormon lake in the lush green Coconino Forest of Northern Arizona.  The umbrella website and community will be HerbalResurgence.org, with Medicine Of The People becoming the permanent name of our annual conference and celebration.  The TWH website will still be active as we gradually make all the changes.

Another factor in the change, was how many people were having trouble either remembering or saying “Traditions In Western Herbalism,” calling it a number of other things instead.  To be clear, we were never the “Ghost Ranch Conference,” and all the more so now that we have outgrown their facilities and found our great new site.  While our location will always be the Southwest – and the truly magical southwest aesthetic, spirit and vibe will forever remain a big part of its character and feel – we do not want to be thought of as the “Southwest Herbal Conference,” since we are an international event and not a regional one.  And while “Kiva’s Conference” might have a nice ring to it, it is far more “Your Conference,” created and sustained to serve the deepening and growing of this community and movement that Paul Bergner was first to dub an “Herbal Resurgence.”  Susun Weed and others have long used the term “the people’s medicine” to refer this folk healing practice meant to be accessible to all… and it is to all, that we dedicate our event’s name “Medicine Of The People.”

We originally titled our event the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference in order to make clear our commitments to the neglected folk herbal traditions of the so-called Western World, and to a core of solid, usable herbal information.  Unfortunately, our original moniker fails to express the ways in which this utterly unique happening differs from is normally thought of as a “conference” of any kind, being held far from a big city in a wild natural setting, and intensely focused as we are on:
•Helping make herbal information and care available to all – the Medicine Of The People!
•Fostering and supporting the broadest range of herbal students, schools, organizations, and uncertified family practitioners as well as professionals
•Empowering and enabling all practitioners, in a time of increasing regulation and potential prohibition
•Helping preserve and share historic herbal traditions, and to honor and teach the history of herbalism
•Honoring and celebrating indigenous and folk herbal traditions, from all cultures and races
•Making the connection between effective herbal healing and relationship to the natural world
•Involving the personal, the spiritual, shamanic, mystical and mythical
•Drawing from both accepted scientific research, and research and conjecture from the frontiers of new science
•Promoting health as a matter of emotional, social and ecological wholeness, not just bodily wellness
•Encouraging not only herbal practice, but the aesthetic and art of herbalism
•Providing a hub and rendezvous point for all those drawn to this diverse community and profound resurgence
•Encouraging the involvement of youth, and preparation of coming generations
•Inspiring and exciting, stirring and emboldening, informing and inciting
•Assisting a vital culture shift, providing support to all you culture-shifters… and the folk herbal resurgence
•And providing a means, a place, and a reason to yearly gather and celebrate!

The transition is underway, the seeds planted, the logo revised and new hoodies and tees are ordered.  We hope you’re as happy as we are with the name of this Gathering, Rendezvous, Confluence, Intensive, and 4-Day College… nah, make that UnSchool… and Festival.  Party.  Reunion.  Revival.  Revolution.


See you September 13th, or seeya next year.

The website will be HerbalResurgence.com – with traffic temporarily still being sent to:


The Medicine Of The People

And you can leave out the word “conference.”


(Please RePost and Forward… thank you!)

One of several new tee and hoodie designs, soon to be sold at the conference and online

Aug 172012

We’re pleased to help announce the 2012 American Herbalist Guild Symposium, Synergy in Herbalism, held October 19-21 at the lovely Seven Springs Resort in Pennsylvania, open to non-members and members alike.  Excellent classes with a clinical focus offer something for advanced as well as beginning students of this craft.

Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference has always been about the Medicine Of The People, offering a home for the edge dwellers of herbalism, independents and outliers, but no less so an intended home to the professional and the accredited.  We share with the AHG a dedication to the protection and furtherance of herbalism, and applaud the Guild’s emphasis on continuing to evolve and become ever more representational, attracting new people and preparing a new generation of herbalists.  Members we have talked to are all excited about the continuing changes, the AHG symposium being moved to a rural resort instead of in a city, and move to a focus on “cutting edge.”  If we help serve as inspiration or instigation for any of this shift and growth, we are most gratified.  And we’re happy to make the many new or younger folks that we attract aware of the Guild and its goals, as we extend the tent of this contemporary energized Herbal Resurgence over all impassioned allies of medicinal plants and the empowering practice of herbalism.

Go to the AHG Symposium website to register:

Aug 132012

Last Of The 2011 Plant Healer Annuals – And Upcoming!

Limited Number Remaining:
2011 Plant Healer Annual Book

We’re down to our last 70 copies, and with the upcoming release of the 2012 version, it’s uncertain if we will be printing any more of the 2011 Annual – 800 pages of articles, interviews, photos and art from the first year of Plant Healer Magazine.  If you want to be sure of having a copy of Volume 1, you might better order yours while they last… by going to the Plant Healer website:

Coming Soon: 2012 Plant Healer Annual Book

Indeed, we’re only a month away from the release of the new 2012 Plant Healer Annual book, Volume 2, a nearly 1,000 page, phonebook-thick hard copy in B&W that we will begin shipping out on September 20th.   Anyone ordering an Annual with their subscription or resubscription after Sept. 20 will receive the 2012 version.

Coming Sooner: The 300 Page Long (!) 2nd Anniversary Edition
of Plant Healer Magazine

Kiva and I have been working hard for months on the next (2nd Anniversary!) issue of Plant Healer Magazine, with her carefully editing every piece, and my spending until late every night deciding on the placement of each illustration according to subject, attitude, color, tone and size, taking pains with the colors of every border or frame regardless of how many readers concern themselves with such details.  Another 60 hours or so will be required before Kiva has finished any photo captions I left, and inserted the final internal links to make navigation from the Introduction and Table of Contents possible.

“Come Hell or high water,” you can count on this Fall issue being ready for you Monday, Sept. 3rd –  and yes, it’s over 300 pages in length this time, even though we told ourselves we weren’t gonna to do that… an excessive, extreme, outrageous, and arguably insane amount of material we know!

The problem every single issue, is that we get submissions of excellent and truly original material that feels impossible to reject or even postpone!  Then this time, moderation had to take a seat to the acceptance of a long piece on theosophic herbalism too fascinating not to add pages for, followed by a surprise (and surprisingly compelling!) submission from the herbalist Christophe Bernard from France that simply had to fit somehow.  Then, when it looked like we weren’t going to get a completed herbalist interview back in time for the coming issue’s Plant Healer Interviews department, I opted to rush into a necessarily lengthy, vulnerable, insightful and exciting dialogue with Kiva Rose herself for the magazine.  The only complication was that – right on the deadline – we received great interview responses from our friend and TWHC teacher Phyllis Hogan, and I couldn’t bear to leave either of these two conversations out.  The result is what (we promise!) will be the last and only over-300 page Plant Healer issue.  Make sure you’re subscribed, to download it soon.

–Jesse Wolf

(Please RePost and Share)

Jul 302012

Plant Healer Interview

with Charles “Doc” Garcia


In Dialogue With Jesse Wolf Hardin – May, 2012

Doc teaching at the very first Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

Doc Garcia is the founder of the California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism, street herbalist and well intentioned provocateur, as well as a regular Plant Healer writer and teacher at the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conferences.  His teachings and unique personal style impresses, excites, amazes and sometimes offends or dismays, but never fails to earn a reaction.  How to describe him?  The Doc is a street warrior known to go around packing love, savvy and herbs in his quest to tend the hearts and bodies of society’s diverse underprivileged, its unseen fringe dwellers and needy outliers.  He is Teresita seeing to the wounded in the most hands-on ways, Pancho Villa standing up to the powers that be, and the Chinese wise fool Lo Pi, vendor of improbable insight and vital laughter.  A novelist whose words function as Robbin’s “can-openers of the mind”.  He’s a pragmatist with the soul of an artist, finding beauty in barrio street sounds and medicines in twisted parking lot weeds.  And a lover, most of all, a lover of diversity, wildness, rebels and outcasts, old trees and young whipper-snappers, of well spoken words and well made tinctures, of those street people he ministers to with his herbal first-responders bag, an old-school lover of the very act of healing, of uncorrupted truths, and of life.  La vida.

Plant Healer Magazine: What was your first exposure to plant medicine?

Charles “Doc” Garcia: I honestly don’t know. The taste of yerba buena is the first thing I can remember. Literally. We didn’t have much money for doctors. So mom took care of us with yerbas (herbs) and remedios (remedies). It’s always been a part of my life.

Plant Healer: Define Curanderismo for us, and describe its roots and branches.

Doc: That would take a whole book and there other books about that. In a nutshell curanderismo is the healing arts of the combined Spanish and indigenous cultures. In California that was primarily herbal. In other states and countries it can have less to do with herbs and more to do with prayers, ritual, and magick. So I must  be very careful to call myself a curandero to someone who is from another country. They may think (as in Columbia) that I’m a seer or fortune teller. In Puerto Rico it is someone who delves into the occult. The term curanderismo is archaic medieval Spanish. It simply means, the curing arts.

Plant Healer: Curanderismo usually has a strong religious – Catholic – component, and yet we also hear it associated with witchcraft, the Brujo, even devil worship.  What’s up with that?

Doc: Blame the late Carlos Castenada. He was either the greatest anthropologist of his time, or a great novelist. I met Castaneda in my early twenties when a friend took me to the UC Berkeley campus. My friend unwisely said I was from a family of curanderos, so Carlos fixed me with his power-stare, or the hairy eyeball as I call it. So I stared him right back. Eventually we got tired and exchanged some untruthful pleasantries, shook hands and walked off. We did not impress each other. Eventually when I tried to read his tripe I found he used the terms curandero and brujo interchangeably. That did not earn him points to me. A curandero or curandera does one thing. Heals. They also live by a code. Never charge and never use magic (for lack of a better term) for self aggrandizement or to harm…even if your life or someone else is at risk. You can shield, you can confuse, and you can block. If you have rituals to help diagnose a problem, fine. Other than that, you don’t use magic.

Brujeria is dark magic. Now must indigenous peoples had no concept of an ultimate evil deity like the devil. That had to be learned from the padres or Protestant missionaries. (Who also taught the Missionary Position by the way.) Brujos or brujas might use the devil as a symbol, but the idea of devil worship or Satanism is seldom found in Hispanic mystical practices. Not to sound melodramatic but there is unending war between the practitioners of both arts. Now to make matters MORE confusing, brujos and brujas also know how to heal. Sometimes they even cause the illness just to heal it. Of course they expect recompense.

Plant Healer: How does your modern day, streetwise practice differ from traditional Curanderismo, where do your ideas or methods diverge?

Doc: It’s like night and day. 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. Kinda like every episode of HOUSE. I carry a portable stove in my bag. I carry some herbs which can cover a large amount of ailments and if I’m luck, like HOUSE, I can give treatment. Sometimes I can go out on the street and find fennel, yarrow, wild chamomile, ginko, certain tree leaves, ornamental rosemary, etc. If you know where to look, you’re never more than a couple of hundred yards from herbs. Like my mom and grandfather did, I carry bullion for soup. 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.

Plant Healer: How much emphasis do you put on determining constitution when making a diagnosis and prescribing herbs?

Doc: A lot. But not in the sense in how it is taught today. Relying solely on constitution issues (and I don’t mean the Second Amendment) can be limiting. Having all available information is wonderful. But, like in the first season of HOUSE, his main complaint about diagnosis from personal information was EVERYBODY LIES. Of course I want to know the obvious, allergies, medical history, etc. But I want to know about lifestyle, activities, how you fuck (no joke… one client got migraines doing it missionary style….damn those missionaries….but no other way. What does that tell you? It told me a lot.) In the old days, everyone in the neighborhood, or tribe, or cave, KNEW everyone’s lifestyle. The information was right there. Now I need to ask, observe, play SherlockfuckingHolmes, and then find the right herbs or foods. But sometimes, all your information comes up zilch, nothing, nada. What are you going do? If you’re HOUSE you wait to the last commercial and come up a beautiful and perfect diagnosis. If you’re me, you treat symptoms, see which ones subside and then figure out why. People have to be cared for before they are cured.

Plant Healer: What are some of the most underrated and under-utilized herbs?

Doc: I had a wonderful ongoing argument with the late Michael Moore about this. I believe chamomile is very underused by the majority of practicing herbalists. Also, the Rodney Dangerfield of herbs (“I don’t get no respect.”) is chickweed.

Plant Healer: A recent Plant Healer poster I made says “The earth provides the medicines we need… not to live forever, but to liver better.” Would you agree with mine (and Kiva’s and Anima’s) stress on the wholeness, enlivedness and richness of existence, over the simple elimination of disease or alleviating of discomfort, pain or other symptoms?

Doc: Absolutely! Curanderismo is a holistic form of healing. Stress, depressions, lifestyle all must be dealt with but not necessarily at the same time. First thing…get the patient out of pain. Once your client is functional then deal with the deeper issues. Diet and a change of lifestyle (within the lifestyle) can work wonders. While being happy doesn’t always cure an illness, it gives the client a fighting chance at improving at a rapid rate. We use music, colored flowers, baths, sunlight, changes in food, even a glass of wine or a culturally banned food to help people heal. (Once you get a Jew to eat a shrimp with garlic butter, they never go back!)

Plant Healer: What’s Doc Garcia’s personal succinct definition of healing?

Doc: As pithy as it may sound, my mother probably had the best description. “A person can’t grow back an arm or leg. But if they can be happy with their life afterwards, they’re cured.” I guess that covers it. I work with a lot of the terminally ill. Nothing I can do will change their fate. Same for my homeless. But if I can make that one day better, they’ve been healed.” I’m not out to save the world. The world is too big and too fucking complicated to save. I’m trying to save one person for one day.

Plant Healer: How does one best attend to that healing?

Doc: With the truth.

Plant Healer: What are the most important qualities of a healthy/healthful life?

Doc: Hmmmm? Great question. I could give the boiler plate answer, eat good, sleep good, all things in moderation, have goals etc etc etc. Bull shit. Not everyone can do that. To be healthy is to enjoy your virtues and vices equally. Laugh. Laugh til you shit your pants. Love powerfully. And if that love dies then believe you will love again. Help a friend. Hell! have a friend! You can get angry, but don’t think destructive thoughts.

Know the difference between fucking and making love and enjoy them both.

Maybe, just maybe this is what kept me alive after being beaten to pulp by bullies, beaten by the San Francisco PD Tactical Squad, stabbed by an ex-girl friend, shot twice, losing a daughter to a drunk driver, having a stroke, and being fired from two careers for not lying for the powers that be….maybe all that kept me alive.

Plant Healer: What are the most important qualities of character?

Doc: Empathy, honesty, courage (all kinds), and open mindedness.

Plant Healer: Describe your work in street medicine, administering the poor with herbs you gather or pay for out of pocket.  How did you get into it, and when?

Doc: It must be twelve years now. My memory is a little shaky from my last minor stroke, but I remember a winter evening driving near a small park not too far from my home. The people were just sitting there in the cold. While it does not snow in the San Francisco bay area you can still die from hypothermia. Having almost died in a snow storm I know how easy it is to sit down and just wait. So I drove home, got a load of blankets and gave them out. I may have given out some old sleeping bags. Then I saw what they were eating. Not much. Went back home and made some soup. I returned day after day, mostly with soup or hot food. They always hit me up for change, which at that time I didn’t have and wouldn’t have given it to them anyway. In a very short time I heard the coughing and wheezing of flu, bronchitis, and god knows what else. I started making phone calls to two cities where the park intersects and learned that nothing was being done. So I got my tinctures and off I went. Suddenly, at that point, everyone became suspicious of me. Do-gooder are not always welcome. Suckers are. So I decided that I would go undercover. Hey, I’d been a cop. How hard could it be? Fuuuucccccckkkkk! In various parts of town the homeless wondered who I was, what I was, and why I was doing whatever I was doing. And they got sicker and sicker. So I started observing. Watching the rhythms of the night so to speak. When did certain problems get worse? Check time. When was bronchial issues the worst? Surprisingly summer time. Who was psychotic? Who was functional? Who had HIV? What was the most common problems with men? What were the common problems with women? And it went on for months.

So…I bought used clothing that didn’t fit to well, let my hair grow, didn’t shower as often, carried a cheap backpack or bag, and just hung out with the wretches whenever I could. Then I would treat myself for a cough, or phelgm, or a skin problem I faked. If they asked what I was doing, I’d explain. Then I’d offer some. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes not. But I had my in.

They invited me to stay in a squat or a hidden camp and I did. I had my little cook pot and chemical stove, so I shared soup and made teas and decoctions. Sometimes I would disappear for a week or two. No one asked where I had gone. It was just part of the life. I knew I couldn’t carry all the herbs I needed so I tracked out an area where I could stash some, pick some, or steal some. The homeless gave me a post-masters education in dumpster diving and squat living. The rest is history.

Plant Healer: How important are free clinics?

Doc: Free clinics are now beginning to offer more herbal alternatives if and when they can get a knowledgeable practitioners. They are incredibly important. But they tend to offer herbal services when the allopathic cupboard goes dry. Since most clinics are allowed to run under the guidance of a doctor or nurse practitioner there is some contention as to when to use herbs, for what, how much, and how often. The majority of allopaths know nothing about herbal treatments and tend to be very conservative in their use.

Plant Healer: Talk to us about guerrilla gardening in urban and public environs.

Doc at the 2012 TWHC

Doc: Hehehehhe!  Guerilla gardening is the planting of herbs or veggies in accessible if illegal environs. Those of us who partake in this activities tend to be closemouthed as to where are gardens are. The trick is to find the right environment for said flora, plus the ability to access it. The gardens can vary through the seasons. I tend to grow medicinal herbs in areas where wild herbs might be growing. Where fennel grows, thyme can grow. Where sage grows, rosemary will grow. Onions can be planted almost anywhere you can find a steady drip of moisture… say, the side on an abandon building.  Healing flowers can be planted in urban parks. The city’s department of public works is often stretched fairly thin. Moving grass is a low priority. Plus, if it looks like it was professionally planted they will assume it was authorized by someone. A few years ago Prunella was sprouting all over the ghettos and barrios of Richmond.

Plant Healer: We love the diversity in herbalism overall and in the Plant Healer folk herbalism community in particular, from well educated clinical practitioners to spike haired dumpster diving plant lovers… with none being less typical than you, sir.  Everyone wants a place and way to fit in, but would you say that “normal” is a tad overrated, and fitting in a bit constrictive?

Doc: Normal is over rated and constricting. It is the moral equivalent of Orwell’s 1984. And it can be dangerous. Normal was informing on your Jewish neighbor in the early days of Nazi Germany. Normal was owning slaves in (pick your own favorite culture). Normal was building huge pyramids and then running away to a place with no fucking oil! Normal was throwing your kid out of the house because he was gay. No no, you can have normal.

Plant Healer: What are the greatest threats to the practice and community of herbalism today, both from within and without?

Doc: Regulation. With regulation comes enforcement. And you can’t take the word force out of enforcement. With regulations comes limits on herbs and cultural protocols. I fear the American Herbalist Guild like a virgin boy fears a priest, a redneck fears bad moonshine, an Irishman fears cold beer, Utah fears same sex marriage, and the Ku Klux Klan fears another minority president.

Plant Healer: If you could do anything you wanted with the remainder of your life, if your future were a blank canvas unencumbered by obligation or habit and you held every available color, what might that composition look like?

Doc: If I had good health I would walk a thousand miles. Note book, camera, backpack, walking stick. If I could not do that, I would like to find a cabin or homestead in New Mexico or Arizona. Try to live a comfortable if primitive off grid type life, and read the classics. Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Pilgrims Progress, the poetry of Keats and Shelley. Then biographies of great people. Curie, Pasteur, Lincoln, Elizabeth the First, Kipling, Burton. I’d make love to a gentle woman in the evening. Make jam in the morning. Tend my garden. Make goat cheese. Write letters by hand. I guess that covers it.

Plant Healer: Tell folks a bit about what you will be teaching at the TWHC this September.

Doc: I’m teaching two classes. One on Chronic Pain: An Hispanic Perspective. I’m excited about this as I’ve never lectured directly on this topic. I will be sharing how Hispanics have dealt with chronic pain in the past, both with herbs and patent medicines, but also the mindset of those who have dealt with this depressing condition. I think folks will be surprised. One thing you won’t hear is, “Pain has something to teach you.”

I’m also teaching a class on Death and Dying: Coping for the Herbalist/Caregiver. I first taught this last year with the aid of a dear friend who is a hospice nurse. This deals with recognizing the signs of care giver burn  out and finding coping mechanisms, herbal, social, maybe spiritual, and dangerous.

Plant Healer: How do feel about coming back to teach for us again?

Doc: I love coming back. I was frankly surprised to invited back the second year. I still remember the shocked faces of some of the students who survived my lectures the first year.

Plant Healer: If you had only a short amount of mortal breath with which to give to herbalists and others a bit of your distilled wisdom, what advice might you give?

Doc: That’s easy. And not very profound perhaps. I would say two words: “Give care.”

Jul 172012

Intro: The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2012 issue Plant Healer, herbalist Matthew Wood’s excellent explanation of the basics of Greek Herbal Medicine, a predecessor to subsequent Western herbal healing traditions.  This never before published work is an example of the contributions Matt has been making to Plant Healer Magazine through his regular column, and to our contemporary herbal community. Matthew is also teaching on related subject matter at this year’s Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference in the lakes region of northern Arizona!

–Kiva Rose and Jesse Wolf Hardin

Greek Herbal Medicine: The Four Qualities and the Four Degrees

by Matthew Wood

Excerpted From the Summer Issue of Plant Healer Magazine

To Read the entire piece, subscribe at: www.PlantHealerMagazine.com

Wild Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, ©Kiva Rose

The Galenic system of herbalism is based on the energetics of the four qualities (hot and cold, damp and dry) and their subdivision into four  degrees or grades. Over the centuries the original meanings of the qualities and degrees have been forgotten so that today it is almost impossible to understand the Greek system at first glance.

How could this be the case?  Remember that the Greeks didn’t have thermometers they couldn’t measure temperature or humidity in an objective way.  They had no idea what  heat  or  damp,  therefore they understood them by what they did.  Thus, example, heat is that which  purifies  a substance so that impurities are driven away (this is how we might think of fever), or which mixes substances so that they become one substance in nature (like cooking ingredients together in a soup).  This may not seem like a very important distinction at first, but it becomes much more important as the properties of heat are divided into  degrees.

We also don t understand degrees as the Greeks did.  We look upon degrees as a system of measurement of intensity or space or time, like numbers on a thermometer or around a circle.  For the Greeks, on the other hand, degrees were divisions and each division was completely different in nature.  Thus, for example, heat in the first degree opens pores, heat in the second degree thins fluids, in the third degree it warms and in the fourth it burns.  Furthermore, the second degree includes the first and fourth includes them all.  Thus, the degrees are really more like what we would call  grades.   Like grades in a school one is either in one grade or another and the fourth grade builds on and includes the properties or lessons of the third, second, and first grades.

We would tend to think of heat in the third degree as slightly warmer than heat in the second degree, but this is not what the Greeks meant. Warmth was only one of four major qualities or grades of heat.  How were they to discuss the smelting of iron ore versus the burning of wood if they didn’t have a system of measurement?  Melting ore to purify out the metal seemed to them to be a type of thinning.  The ancients could not measure the difference on a thermometer so instead they observed the actions of heat: opening, thinning, warming, and burning, and arranged them in ascending intensity.  The grades of the qualities therefore refer to actions, not measurements.

And yes, these  actions  are more or less the origins of what we call  actions  in herbalism today.  Thus, remedies cooling in the first degree are  refreshments  (this is now a food, not a medicine), coolants in the second degree are  refrigerants,  those of the third degree are  sedatives  (they not only reduce fever but sedate the mind).  Those of you who learned your medical lessons from Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies will know that  vapors  are caused by excessive heat agitating the nervous system and are treated by cooling medicines.  Herbs cold in the fourth degree so benumb consciousness that they are anodynes like opium.

If we multiple each of the four qualities by the four grades we will arrive at a total of sixteen actions, some of which are still used by herbalists today, some not.

We herbalists are the heirs of magnificent traditions.  We have the dozen or so great American Indian female remedies from the Natives of this continent (black and blue cohosh, wild yam, trillium, raspberry, true and false unicorn root, etc.)  We also preserve the ancient Greek system of energetics in our herbal actions, though we have lost the thread leading back to the energetic system that spawned them.

This change took place in the second half of the seventeenth century, at least in Anglo-American medicine.  In 1654, Nicholas Culpeper still understood the meaning of the four grades of the qualities, even though he used astrology instead of Galenic medicine.  Without doubt, he had been trained in them as an apothecary s apprentice.  Yet in 1689, in his terrific analysis of tastes, actions, properties, and pulses, John Floyer understood the degrees as we would today, as intensifications in taste, sensation, and degree on the thermometer, not as different actions.

The Four Qualities

The four qualities trace back to Aristotle and here is what he said about them:

Hot is that which associates things of the same kind. . .  while cold. . . associates homogeneous and heterogeneous things alike.  Fluid is that which, being readily adaptable in shape, is not determinable by any limit of its own, while dry is that which is readily determinable by its own limit, but readily adaptable in shape (Aristotle, quoted by Mure, 1964, 73).

In Aristotelian philosophy and Greek Medicine hot and cold are considered  active  because they have the power to act, while damp and dry are  passive  because they are acted upon.  This takes some thought to appreciate.  To get water to move takes an outside force.  The same is true for a stone.  Thus, damp and dry are  passive.   Heat, on the other hand, can move objects.  For this reason, treating the temperature was more important than the humidity.

Descriptions of the four qualities are based on William Salmon (1709, v), and include some quotations from him.  For a list of the symptoms of the four qualities refer to The Traditional Healer by Hakim Chishti (1980).



The positive property of heat is to remove inessential and foreign material in order to purify and restore the essence or constitutional type.  Heat does this by opening up channels and pores to remove impurities, thinning stagnant humors and fluids to allow them to run off through the opened channels, burning up (metabolizing) impurities and toxins, and increasing the internal fire of digestion and metabolism to drive waste materials out of the body, at the same time providing life forces, nutriment, air, and water to feed the tissues.

Warming Medicine: The ancients considered the living body to be warm in the first degree when it was in health.  Thus, such remedies “are hot in the first degree, are of equal heath with our bodies, and they only add a natural heat thereto, if it be cooled by nature or by accident, thereby cherishing the natural heat when weak, and restoring it when it is wanting” (Culpeper, 1989, 207).

The layout of the first three degrees of heating medicines teaches us that there is an inner fire in the body, constantly driving out impurities towards the periphery (the channels of elimination), and that this fire keeps the fluids thin and moving and the pores and channels open.  Thus, there are three stages in which cold overwhelms the body: first blocking the external pores, second thickening the fluids to obstruct the internal pathways, and third lowering the inner flame of life.  Note that when a body is cold in the third degree, or needs remedies warm in the third degree, heat symptoms or putrefaction can appear due to accumulation of waste products.

Agents hot in the fourth degree combat foreign growth processes that have overwhelmed the self-governing mechanism of the body, or the basic essence or type.  This includes primarily cancer and growths.

First Grade. These remedies “abate inflammations and fevers by opening the pores of the skin” (Culpeper, 1981, 207), to let out chill and blockage that has invaded the body, returning it to its normal temperature.  These remedies are primarily relaxing diaphoretics such as chamomile, agrimony, peppermint, spearmint, catnip, calendula, peony, and lobelia.

Second Grade. These agents not only open the pores, but dissolve   rough humors  and  obstructions,  so that the fluids can be allowed to flow out through the open pores.  These remedies are primarily warming bitters: fennel, elecampane, frankincense, galangal, calendula, and nutmeg.

Third Degree. These medicines open the pores, liquify fluids, and raise the inner heat to drive obstructions and chills to the surface and out through the pores.  They “help concoction,” that is, cooking in the stomach, warm and comfort the viscera, and “keep the blood in its just temperature” (Culpeper, 1989, 207).  Thus, they fight putrefaction and plague, and can induce fever in order to cleanse the body.  These remedies are primarily  antiseptics  and  stimulants.   Asarum, cumin, ginger, hyssop, pennyroyal, black pepper, rue, cayenne, savin, southernwood, calendula, elecampane, wild marjoram.

Fourth Degree. Medicines that raise blisters, corrode, and burn the skin.  The more gentle ones (rubifacients) are used to stimulate blood flow to areas that are emaciated, paralyzed, understimulated, or undernourished, while the more severe ones (esxharotics) are used to burn away and remove foreign growth processes that have overwhelmed the self-protective agencies of the body ““ warts and cancers.  Nettle, black mustard, garlic, onion, savory, and chelidonium.



As a positive force in the body, cold keeps different parts, tissues, organs, spirits, and mental faculties integrated into a functional whole.  Remember that cold, according to Aristotle, binds together things compatible or incompatible.  Thus, when cold is lost the different parts of the body start to go their separate ways.

Cooling Remedies: “Observe, that those medicines that are called cold, are not so called because that they are really cold in themselves, but because the degree of their heat falls below the heat of our bodies, and so only in respect of our temperature are said to be cold” (Culpeper, 1981, 207).

Cooling medicines were once very important since there was no refrigeration in ancient times.  At the very minimum, they were used simply to cool people off on hot summer days.  However, cooling medicines do much more than this.  They are not only refrigerant  (cold in the second degree), but sedative.  They settle the spirits and nerves, like when boiling water is settled by turning the heat down.  In fact, cold medicines were used to settle “vapors,” which were an old way of describing hysteria, nervousness, convulsions, and other conditions where the energy seemed to be rising up out of control.  Very much the same concept is found in Chinese medicine, were stones, shells, and heavy medicines are used to weigh down the spirit, so that it doesn t fly up and create problems.  Note that  hysteria  (from the Latin word for uterus) refers both to feelings out of control and uterine spasms.

First Grade. Agents cold in the first degree are suited to heat that has not yet settled.  The person only feels stuffy and bothered, as on a hot summer day.  Thus, medicines cold in the first degree “qualify the heat of the stomach, cause digestion” and “refresh the spirits” (Culpeper, 1981, 208).  This is the origin of salads, which are found in European and Middle Eastern cooking, but not traditional in India and China.  Fresh vegetables and fruits are considering cooling enough to refresh on a hot day.  This is also the origin of soda pops.  Even today one can still obtain rose water and orange petal drinks in the Middle East which are used to cool on a hot day.  The Anglo-American version of this drink was  switchel,  made from vinegar, sometimes with ginger and molasses.  Most fruits qualify here.  Rose hips and petals, peach fruit and leaf, lemon, lime, orange petals (not the fruit), strawberry, blueberry, elderberry rob, lemon balm, cherry juice, domestic lettuce, cucumber, parsley, tomato, etc.

Second Grade. In this degree the heat has become inflammatory, so that agents cold in the second grade “abate inflammation” (Salmon, 1709, v).  These are what we would today call  anti-inflammatory.   The old herbalists termed these agents  refrigerant.   Examples include lemon, commonly used in  fever drinks,  elder flower and berry, lemon balm, rose hips and petals, peach leaf, wild cherry bark, strawberry, yarrow, etc.

Third Degree. These agents bring down excessive sweating caused by heat out of coontrol, hold back matter from discharge, bring the blood back down from the head, and keep the vapors from rising, which reduces mental restlessness, vertigo, and fainting.  Thus, they are suited to conditions in which heat is driving the fluids actively out of the body and raising vapors upwards to agitate the mind and brain.   Examples include lemon balm, yarrow, lavender, poppy flowers, and rosehips.

Fourth Degree. These medicines cause unconsciousness or diminish consciousness; hence they are used in extreme pain, morbid vigilance, ravings, and violent delirium.  These are mild to powerful sedatives or poisons such as wild lettuce, opium, and hemlock.



The dry quality, for Aristotle, does not just dry out and desiccate substances, but hardens them and gives them the structure necessary to have boundaries and separation from the rest of the world.  The ability to hold anything inside the body is due to the dry faculty.  Thus, in the first degree dryness protects the exterior from outside influences, while in the fourth it hardens.

Drying Remedies: “Drying medicaments are such as make dry the parts overflowing with moisture,” writes Salmon (1709, v).  “Drying medicines consume the humours, stop fluxes, stiffen the parts, and strengthen nature,” writes Culpeper (1989, 208).  These remedies are primarily astringents that contain fluids and restore prolapse, or alkaline remedies that remineralize the electrolytes in water.

First Grade. Medicines dry in the first degree are said to “comfort and strengthen nature” (Salmon, 1709, v).  This means they close the pores and keep the body from being attacked by cold during the winter.  I only know the American Indian remedies used in this way: sumach, witch hazel, comptonia, and ledum. Note that remedies warm in the first degree open pores while those dry in the first grade close them or keep them closed.

Second Grade. Agents in this degree not only strengthen nature but astringe tissues to increase the tone, so that they do not collapse.  These would be astringents such as sumach, witch hazel, oak, raspberry leaf, blackberry leaf, lady s mantle, and horse chestnut.

Third Grade. In this degree medicines not only strengthen nature and increase the tone of the tissue but stop the discharge of fluids.  These are astringents such as yarrow, water lily, blueberry leaf, and sumach. Care should be taken to use astringents that have an affinity to stopping blood flow rather than powerful astringents that merely pucker the tissues closed.

Fourth Grade. Agents dry in the fourth degree not only strengthen nature, bind the tissues, and stop discharges, but  harden  the tissue to resist consumptions “where great fluxes of the bowels have” occurred, or where the lungs are subject to unstoppable catarrhs and bleedings.  They “stop catarrhs, and all fluxes of blood and humors, are highly stiptick, and dry up a super-abundancy of moisture.”  Examples include rose petal and yarrow. The famous  rose petal conserve  of Avicenna was used for tubercular bleeding and expectoration.



The damp quality is that which allows substances to move through one another without friction, it is the lubricating substance.  As a substance is thinned it becomes more “damp.”  Moistening agents not only increase fluid but are nourishing because food has to travel through fluids (water and oil) to get to the tissues and feed them.

Moistening remedies: These moisten the surfaces, add dampness to the internal organs, move water into dried out, hardened tissues, bring nourishment into the body, dilute or thin fluids to move out stuck deposits of water, and make  slippery.

First Grade. Agents damp in the first degree act on the mucosa of the respiratory tract to  smooth the roughness of the windpipe,  and reduce coughing.  These remedies are  demulcents  or  mucilages.   Here we would place violets, water lily, marshmallow root, slippery elm, comfrey, and fenugreek.

Second Grade. Medicines damp in the second degree act on the mucosa of the digestive tract to loosen the belly, lubricate the passages, and promote elimination.  They do not purge by catharsis but by moistening the stool.  They also make the womb  slippery  to promote fertility and passage of the baby.  I would extend this category from mucilages to fixed oils or nutritive oils and nutritive tonics and foods.  Slippery elm, fenugreek, burdock, American ginseng, and some of the Chinese sweet tonics.

Third Grade. Agents damp in the third degree moisten the body and “relax parts contracted or hardned.”  These are the  emollients.  Many of the mucilages are emollient.  Examples include marshmallow root, comfrey, and fenugreek, but we would also think of mullein.

Fourth Grade. These agents move the stool when it is stuck or remove water through the bowels when the kidneys are deficient.  They are purgatives, hydrogogues, and cathartics.  Examples include yellow dock root, rhubarb root, cascara sagrada, senna, and poke root.



“Temperate medicines are such which work no change at all, in respect to heat, coldness, dryness, or moisture.  And these may be temperate in some respect” and not in another.  For example: “1. As being neither hot nor cold, and yet may be moist or dry.  2. As being neither moist nor dry, and yet may be hot or cold.  Their use is, where there are no apparent excesses of the four other qualities; to preserve the body temperate, conserve Strength, and restore decayed Nature” (William Salmon, 1709, v).