Intro: One commitment of Plant Healer publications and events is to provide an accessible, non-exclusive nexus and welcoming home to the existing diverse community of herb users, nature lovers, and community healers. Every issue of Plant Healer Magazine is a coming together of the wide ranging tribe, a plant-communal intercoursing and exchanging of ideas and tools, and each September’s conference in New Mexico is a rendezvous and reunion of like-hearted souls, students of health and agents of change. At the same time, we’re given to the mission of reaching out beyond known and self proclaimed herbalists, to fuel the interest of others, encourage interaction with allied disciplines, and publish and host new teachers, new writers, new voices with new perspectives and a different quadrant of knowledge to share. Our guest post below is written by one such new voice, Ramona Rubin, since 2015 bringing to the Plant Healer Community a sharp mind and atypical skill set, a deep knowledge of medical marijuana science and issues, and an excited hunger to learn all she can about herbs and personal/planetary healing. Her recent story serves as encouragement to everyone getting into this field or attending a Plant Healer event for the first time. The path of the Plant Healer begins with a simple moment of realization, and profound intimacy with a plant itself. –Wolf & Kiva
The Herbal Journey Begins With a Single Leaf
by Ramona Rubin
It was just over one year ago that I attended my first Traditions in Western Herbalism conference. I was awed at the open-hearted sharing of herbal wisdom and inspired by those practicing a vibrant healing tradition. I was also significantly overwhelmed at how much foundational information about plants I did not know. The names of many plants swirled around me in waves of Latin, indistinguishable hues of leafy green against my ears.
I understand all the plants are all related, that they evolved from oceans of algae to colonize the land so many many years ago. I know modern genetic techniques are revealing further secrets about the evolutionary history of plants. Yet I felt like the outsider at a family reunion, hesitating on the sidelines just trying to make sense of the relationships and connections, catching clues as to who has co-evolved with whom, picking up glimpses of shared morphological structures, parallel phytochemical strategies, or niche ecosystem function.
Returning home from the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference last September, one of the first things I did was order a copy of Thomas J. Elpel’s Botany in a Day. I then consulted google for directions, and headed up to the East Bay Regional Parks Botanic Garden where I spent the afternoon meeting California Native plants, sitting with them, reading their ID tags and attempting to key them out. My first goal, I decided, was to first gain a broad and basic understanding of the family tree of the plant kingdom, the basics of how to recognize a plant as a member of its family. Once that was clear I would then learn everything else.
That first visit in the garden ended so beautifully, playing my flute in the lush creek canyon area at the bottom of the garden accompanied by the sounds of birds and flowing water gurgling stream. I decided right away that I needed to return, return often, and share this great learning place with others. A week later I sent a text out to a few herbalist and naturalist friends. Five of us gathered in the garden. We made our way slowly, greeting and introducing one another to plants we know, ones that caught our eyes, ones we want to know better.
It was winter, so the manzanita was in bloom, but many of the annuals were sleeping for the winter, and not all that showy. My friend Lauren paused by some modest little leafy sprouts as we passed the pond.
“Do you know Yerba Mansa? This is an amazing healing plant here!” she exclaimed.
We all gathered around to learn from one another about Yerba Mansa and ended up sitting on the grassy lawn by the pond for the better of the next hour. Some of us were familiar with the plant in medicinal formulas, had never seen it growing, but knew of it as a local and sustainable substitute to over-harvested, ecologically-threatened goldenseal. Sitting there in the winter sunshine we crushed a fresh leaf and let the fragrant oils saturate our fingertips, the aroma spicy, pungent, deeply medicinal smelling.
On our way out, as the garden gate was being closed at the end of the day, I asked the gardener how to learn more about the garden and get involved. “Our docent training program is about to start next month” he replied.
Back home I researched the garden that was founded in 1940 and managed by the East Bay Parks District. For a modest subsidized fee I would receive over 60 hours of training, covering botany, California geology and geography, Indian uses of plants (ethnobotany), plant adaptations, pollination, seeds, gardening and cultivation, as well as how to lead tours.
My training began in January and ran through June. I rescheduled my work to allow for those blissful Tuesday mornings, spent half in lecture taking notes, and half walking the garden paths, learning plants and taking photographs I would later look up and annotate and post to the California Native Plants Society Facebook page.
I took hikes as frequently as I could that spring when despite our severe drought wildflowers faithfully decorated the hills and woodlands. I discovered the amazing potential of my cell phone camera macro lens setting and spent hours identifying the plant in my photos using the Calflora website as a reference.
When it came time to present a plant talk to my classmates I brought us back to the grassy field next to the pond. The shy tender little leaves that had graced that pond back in December had leafed out and flowered, and the Yerba Mansa was in full bloom. I was prepared and had done my research. I shared about the herbal uses of Yerba Mansa, the ethnobotanical lore of use in prevention of snakebite, occurrence at sites known for human habitation, springs across the Southwest.
I began leading full tours in the summer, opening the walks with recognizing the amazing beauty and abundance of the state. With great pride I would introduce those on my tours to those special plants whose hotspot of biodiversity are in the state. The manzanitas, the ceanothus (redroot), eriogonum (buckwheat).
Last fall I returned to TWHC at the new site in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Another amazing lineup schedule full of topics and teachers of fascinating variety.
This year, I sat in classes listening to healers discussing the botanical allies they turn to, what grows near them that they rely on and make medicines from in their homes throughout the country. The Latin names no longer washed over me in glazed-eyed waves. Names would elicit pictures in my mind, of friends back home. I’d recognize the genus, but maybe not the species, and think “ah, I know your cousin back home in California, your relatives grow there”.
I share this story because I am amazed myself at what one year meant in terms of my learning. Finding local resources, connecting to the bioregional bounty, gaining a comprehensive overview of the plant families and an appreciation for the multitudinous variation of flower design. In getting to see the garden evolve and change over the last year I gained an appreciation of how the medicinal components of the plants represent ecological roles and communication with the environment. I gained a deep appreciation for botanic gardens in general, and their role at the intersections of conservation, research, horticulture and nature therapy. On the way home from Cloudcroft we stopped at a desert botanic garden in Arizona. My goal for the next year involves visiting more gardens and appreciating the ways that these different social values of conservation, medicinal plants education, habitat cultivation, intersect in harmonious and beautiful ways. I also strongly encourage herbalists to become involved in caretaking and promoting places where people can come together and learn about their local botanical heritage.
Ramona welcomes you to attend her two compelling classes at the 2016 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference atop New Mexico’s Sky Island, Sept. 15th-18th:
Topics in Cannabis & Neuropsychology
This class will discuss selected topics of the psyche, which may include such ideas as memory and forgetting, the healing of PTSD, sexuality, or authentic motivation in the context of the endocannabinoid system and cannabis use. Our goal is to develop a working understanding of the endocannabinoid system and its role regulating the appetites, neural development and homeostatic regulation. Some of the material will draw on traditional uses of cannabis in precolonial cultures, and we will discuss the early psychological research published in the 1970’s on through some more contemporary findings, as well as the emerging movement of combining cannabis with yoga and mindfulness for healing benefit. There is an emerging interest in cannabis for addressing women’s sexuality and we will discuss some ways to maximize these benefits with supporting herbs and formulas.
Exploring The Water Garden: Stories of Aquatic & Riparian Plants
According to many creation narratives, including that of science, our planet earth was once a watery soup. Plants evolved to colonize the emerging habitat of dry land. In the garden mythologies of the planet, water is a key element, and a necessary ingredient in life. This class will take a metaphorical walk through the water garden, encountering some key allies adapted to an aqueous or riparian habitat. Central to our exploration, the sacred lotus, will be encountered from global religious and spiritual traditions, as well as the wonders of modern chemistry. Other plants we may encounter along the way include cattails, clubmosses, horsetail, yerba mansa, water lily, water mint, calamus, and watercress.
For more information on this event, or to take advantage of the advance discount tickets, go to the Events page at:
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