Grassroots Herbalism: The Weeds & Wildlings of Folk Medicine
by Kiva Rose
Any of ya’ll who’ve been reading The Medicine Woman’s Roots for very long are likely familiar with my penchant for all things weedy and wild. Garden flowers are pretty enough, but I prefer the bad attitude of rebellious weeds and fierce insistence of wild plants growing out of sharp-edged rock crevices and boggy swamp bottoms. Rare, esteemed herbs from the other side of the globe can be useful enough medicines, but my heart (and the heart of my practice as an herbalist) definitely lies with the common, abundant plants that grow just outside my door and down by the river.
Even in my small, feral garden, I don’t baby anyone. If they can’t hold their own with the Lamb’s Quarters and Wild Mustard, that’s just tough. I’m a great fan of such qualities of tenacity, fierceness, badassness (yes, that IS a quality, if not a word) and even a bit of outright mule-headedness can serve very well. And really, this is where my roots grow deepest – among strong, willful plants, land, culture and people. Yep, I like weedy and wild people too. Stubborn, skeptical and child-like in the way that rural and earthy (even while still urban) folks can be. Whether in Appalachia or the Mountain Southwest, I am inevitably drawn to those who not only survive adversity, but thrive despite the difficulties.
I see grassroots herbalism as having direct connections with local plants, with the land both we and the herbs grow from and with the people we work with. All this directness leads to a certain kind of messiness. Sometimes picking your own medicine means there’s strange little bugs in your most recent harvest and sometimes talking to folks about their problems on their back porch leads to a much more complicated conversation than if you’d kept it in your air-conditioned office. Working this way, you get to know the plants in the context of their environment, of their relationship with other plants, with the dirt, with humans. Likewise, we also learn to understand people in the context of their human community and the connections they have to place and more-than-human people (you know, critters of various sorts).
I approach healing as a means of facilitating wholeness in whatever form that takes for each individual. Context is essential to any sort of wholeness. I don’t want to isolate bits of synthesized plant parts for my remedies, and I find my best success therapeutically has always come from working with whole plants. And I don’t desire to remove the people I help from their circumstances and ways of being. I work best when I get to know folks, hear about their life and what they love and what gets under their skin. I can’t really imagine any old-time root doctor or indigenous medicine person working any other way, and it seems the only approach I know how to practice anyhow.
If you want to make lots of money with herbs, this sure as hell isn’t the way to do it. Often enough, I don’t make any money at all for the work I do or the herbs I hand out. Sometimes I get live chickens or whiskey (for tinctures, folks, for tinctures) or fresh plants or even slabs of fresh killed Elk for my work. I, like just about anyone else, do need money to feed my family, tend the land where I live, and even just to pay for all that alcohol for tinctures. But I enjoy working by donation whenever I can, and being able to give regardless of a person’s financial status.
The work I do (and love) is folk medicine, it’s accessible and subversive and messy and is all about the magic of the everyday. It revolves around good food and weeds and conversation and a return to the heart of what healing is all about: wholeness embodied in the individual, the community and the land.
In case you’ve missed it up ‘til now (or have waffled a bit about actually getting signed up), I and John Gallagher of LearningHerbs.com are doing a free teleseminar (this means you call in on a telephone and get to listen to us ramble on about our favorite subjects) on Wednesday evening (that would be June 9th) called the The Wild Remedy: Grassroots Herbalism from Your Backyard and Beyond. This includes a whole bunch of giveaways including a year subscription to HerbMentor.com and even a free ticket to the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference in September. Space is limited but there’s still room as of now so head over to http://WildRemedy.com to learn more and to sign up.
Note: I’m rather behind on my emails (as per usual). I get a crazy volume of correspondence in, and I can’t always write everyone back even though I’d love to. And if you’ve written about studying or consulting with me and its been more than two weeks and you haven’t heard back, feel free to write again. I can’t promise an immediate response, but you can figure I’m working on it.
All Photos ©2010 Kiva Rose