Archive for the ‘Wild Plants & Traditional Healingways’ Category

Clean Water for Health: Filtration & Herbs

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Aysgarth Close Up Waterfall

Clean Water For Health:

FILTRATION & HERBS

by Sam Coffman


As healers, herbalists have a responsibility to address all causes of illness including diet, lifestyle, and environment… and to recommend treatments and remedies besides herbs when appropriate. Access to clean water is one such problem that Plant Healer’s can’t ignore, as brought to light by recent events such as the contamination in Flint, Michigan pipes and the pollution of sources by the annually increasing number of floods worldwide. The following article is an excerpt from the Summer issue of Plant Healer Magazine, offering important information and materia medica for those of you not yet subscribed to our quarterly. Its author, Sam Coffman of the Human Path School, brings a wealth of practical info and beaucoup  experience to this and other vital topics.
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Water is vital to life, as we all know.  Often, for those of us living primarily in a first-world environment, we take water completely for granted.  Turn on a faucet and water appears as though it were magic.  Flush the toilet and it just disappears.  Where it comes from, where it goes to and what happens to it in the meantime are all processes that are – most of the time and for most of us – completely disconnected from our daily lives.  Between our disposal of wastewater and what we pull from the tap, water in our first world, urban environment goes through filtering processes, destruction of all biological, living material, accumulation of numerous pharmacological and chemical toxins that aren’t filtered out, deposition into ground water and eventually back into our kitchen sink.  This is a far cry from the wild water coming out of a spring in the ground (which may have its own set of organisms that could overwhelm our body), and there are many humans –particularly in our country – who have never consumed any kind of water except the kind that comes out of a tap somewhere after being on the aforementioned journey through a public water system.

Flint Water Protestors

Whether wild water or tap water however, there are several important points to ponder on the topic of water and health:  What is the state of our water (i.e. quality and quantity) both in this country (USA) and around the world?  What can we do on a personal level to enable better water quality and quantity? How can we deal with water-borne illness? The World Health Organization estimates over 800,000 deaths per year due to water-borne diarrhea alone.  

When I first started doing medical work in developing nations it struck me as odd that a medical  mission would involve treating diseases that were obviously related to the quality of the water (e.g. parasites, kidney and urinary tract diseases, liver issues) without even so much as considering the need to address ways to change the source of the problem.  I saw so much of this that I realized any realistic health care effort in any community (anywhere on the planet) has to include water quality.  To take it to the next level, if you want to set up any kind of clinic and provide any kind of meaningful health care as an herbalist, you absolutely must have clean water at your disposal.

Sam Coffman Water Purifying Project

As herbalists in the USA this may not seem that this is an issue for you.  You can buy distilled or filtered water and have exactly what it is you need (whether to drink or use for medicine making) right at your fingertips.  However, herbalists have the extra responsibility of understanding health from the most organic and basic fundamentals.  This starts literally with at least knowing something about the source of healthy food and water.  Water quality (and quantity) plays a central role to any clinic you set up – whether in the middle of an urban area or in remote wilderness.

This article will focus on water purification methods and herbal strategies for water-borne diseases. The means to purify water are numerous, and depending on what kind of technology is available to you, can vary from primitive to advanced. Purification methods can be chemical (manufactured or even phytochemical), heat-based, radiation (UV) based and particulate filtration. One of the most reliable methods is heat.  Roughly speaking, if you can heat water to over 160 degrees F for at least 30 minutes, or above 185 degrees F for 5 minutes, or bring water to a rolling boil at all, you have created enough heat to purify water.  However there is at least one caveat to this.  You still should clean the particulate matter (turbidity) out of the water as much as possible before heating.  The clean the water looks, the better the results will be that you achieve by heating.   Another note about heating is that this will probably not remove chemical contamination.  The purpose of heat is to kill pathogens.Water borne Bacteria magnified

Aside from heat there are many other methods of water purification:   These include reverse osmosis, ultraviolet, ozone, ceramic, ion exchange, copper-zinc systems, distillation and more.  Many of these systems rely upon technology in order to be effective to any scale and are outside the scope of this article.

However, I would like to briefly cover one of the simplest and most effective water purification methods I know of that can be implemented even in a completely off-grid environment.  This method is called slow sand filtration and is a way to filter water very sustainably for a home, a clinic or a small community.

Slow sand water filtration is the type of system that the non-profit organization we work with and support (Herbal Medics) has built in villages and urban and rural clinics in Central America.  These systems are bulky and take a bit of labor, but they can be easily constructed using local materials just about anywhere in the world.   Building one together with a community is an excellent way to teach others how to set up their own sustainable water filtration system, because anyone helping will know how to do it for themselves by the time you are finished setting up the first system. The most difficult part of building slow sand filters is finding clean (food grade) water barrels and some kind of piping such as PVC.  We have set up prototype systems using tubing that consisted of bamboo connected by bicycle inner tubes, but PVC makes a much longer lasting and robust system of course.

There are a few critical concepts involved in the construction of a slow sand filtration system.  First, the most active part of this filter (within about 3 weeks after running water through it) is the biolayer of the filter.  Once this layer has formed, you do not want to starve it or dry it out.  Second, the vertical column length of sand is important.  Skimping on this distance will greatly diminish the quality of your filtration.  Finally, the flow rate (drip rate) of water through your filtration system is critical.  If water percolates too quickly through the filter, the amount of filtration that occurs will be greatly diminished.

So what are the details of these critical concepts and how can we make a slow sand filtration system?

At its most basic level, the slow sand filter consists of a single container (a 55 gallon, food-grade barrel is perfect) that has enough height to allow for at least 30” of sand.  From top to bottom, the filter has sand for at least 30” and then gravel (pea gravel size) for the bottom several inches.  The gravel at the bottom is primarily to keep the plumbing from becoming clogged with sand.



Sand Filter poste

At the bottom, we have to have some type of outlet for the water to come out.  The best way to do this is by using PVC pipe and drilling holes in it.  Making a “U” shaped PVC collector at the bottom using ½” or ¾” PVC works well. This then merges to a single pipe that exits the barrel (along the side) an inch or two above the bottom.  From here, the drain pipe needs to make a 90 degree turn back up to the top of the barrel on the outside.  This allows for a pipe (1” – 2” diameter) that we can fill with small chunks of charcoal.  A screen on either end of the pipe fittings keeps the charcoal from coming out into the water.

The important idea here is that the drain pipe final level (back near the top of the filter) is between the top of the water and the top of the sand.  In this manner, the top layer of sand should always be under water.  This allows our biolayer to form.  The term “Schmutzdecke” (also called “filter cake” in English) is a living layer of organisms that form within about 21 days after running dirty water through the filter.  This living layer of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms, eat the pathogens that are in the dirty water coming into the filter.  I would note however, that even without waiting 21 days for the filter cake to form, I (and my teammates) have drunk absolutely noxious water (prior to filtration) that has been filtered through the sand filter, and have never suffered any ill effects whatsoever.  This has been necessary from a liaison perspective.  When we set up a slow sand filtration system for a community somewhere, it’s not very effective (socially) to tell them that in 21 days everything will be fine, while waving goodbye.  I have to demonstrate the effectiveness of the filter before we leave if we are to have any credibility as an organization.  Once we have run about 100 gallons through the filter and the water is clear coming out, it’s time for me (and whoever is in charge of the primitive engineering team, at a minimum) to do a “bottom’s up” raising of the glasses and drink away!  This is usually followed by a lot of laughing and joking and everyone else drinking water from the new filters.  I am never worried about the locals, as they’re getting far better filtration even without any biolayer formation, than they were getting prior to us setting up the filter in the first place.

Slow_sand_filter diagram 1

In order for the filter to work correctly, the flow rate needs to be kept between 3 and 5 gallons per hour.  This limits the amount of water that a community can draw from a filter.  The maximum that a filter like this is good for, is about 120 gallons per 24 hour period, and in order for there to be 120 gallons per day, it is necessary to add a couple of pieces to this filter setup.  

First, a raw-water (pre-filter) container is necessary.  This is where the dirty water is pumped or scooped into, and can be any size.  The larger the better, and in a typical gravity fed system of course its outflow will have to be positioned slightly higher than the filter’s in flow.  The manner in which the water flows into the top of the filter needs to be controlled so as not to disturb the top of the sand too much.  This is normally done using baffles (PVC pipes with holes drilled in them something like drip irrigation systems).  We usually take a few $8.00 float valves with us when we’re setting these up, as it is the easiest way to control the flow between the raw water container and the filter.  There are certainly other ways, but the float valve makes everyone’s life easier and is so simple to install as a valve that opens and closes based on the level of water in the filter tank itself.

Slow-Sand-Filter diagram

Next, a final collection tank is necessary if you want a 24/7 water filter functionality.  The collection tank is fed directly from the filter.  This means that the full filter setup is a 3-container system:  A container for the raw water, the filter itself and a collection container for the water that has been filtered.  To use the system, a person first takes the water they need from the third container in the system – the collection container with clean water in it.  If there’s not an automatic system that fills the raw-water container, that same person can get the same amount of water they just used and put it into the raw-water container.  For instance, pulling it from a well and refilling the raw water container after taking the clean water from the filtered water container.  This ensures a 120-gallon per day maximum capacity of the water filter.  Calculating 1 gallon per person per day drinking water only, this system can serve over 100 people in a community.  However, we usually set up one filter for every 20-30 people, which allows for a minimum of 4 gallons of filtered water per person per day.

AA13

This approach gives me, as an herbalist, an entirely new approach to working with a community where a hugely disproportionate percentage of the population has the same health issues that are obviously related to poor water quality.  Between fracking, coal mining, corporate agriculture and political corruption (i.e. Flynt, MI), water quality is not something that is limited as a problem to only developing nations.  So if you are researching the health issues of a given community and are facing some type of water-borne epidemiological syndrome, then following along the same logic that a clinical herbalist should be using (work with the core problem whenever possible rather than just palliating the symptoms), this may give you another tool in your toolbox to consider using.

Let us address water-borne disease now, and some of the herbal approaches to resolving these disease states.

First, what are the common water-borne pathogens?  We can become ill from water that contains viruses (for example: hepatitis A and E), bacteria (for example: cholera, shigellosis), protozoans (for example:  giardiasis, cryptosporidium) and helminths (for example:  roundworm, tapeworm).

While it is possible to run down a list of specific pathogens and cite studies (whether valid studies is a whole different question) as to the effectiveness of a particular herb used for a specific pathogen, I think it is more effective to start the discussion with some of the general approaches we can take in the case of exposure to water-borne illness.  

First, the ubiquitous, acute onset of gastroenteritis that probably comes to everyone’s mind when discussing water-borne illness.  Narrowing down a set of options is a lot easier to do once we have gathered some information using even as simple of a mnemonic as SAMPLE:  Signs and symptoms, Allergies, Medications, Last known intake (food and water) and last known menstrual period if appropriate, Events leading up to the illness.  In addition to SAMPLE we can also use OPQRST to narrow down specifics on pain or discomfort:  Onset, Palliate/Provoke (“what makes it better or worse?”), Quality (“throbbing,” “sharp,” “burning”), Radiate (“does the pain radiate to other parts of the body?”), Severity (“on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life…”), Time (“how has the pain changed with any of the previous questions, since it started?”).

Bear in mind that beyond just working with one individual, you may be watching for patterns in a clinical environment.  After the third or fourth person comes in with the exact same symptoms, you have to start addressing community health questions.  How you go about doing that can range from quarantining (in the case of something like cholera) and helping set up water-treatment & hygiene plans in a remote or post-disaster community, to contacting local (e.g. county) health officials in a more first world setting.

Unsafe_drinking_water

In acute presentation of gastroenteritis, the herbal protocols are often going to be symptom-based.  Is there nausea and vomiting?  If so, can they keep anything down at all?  Dry heaves?  Blood? Diarrhea?  Color and consistency of the diarrhea if so (e.g. “rice water,” bloody, mucous, etc.), cramping?

Our primary concerns in the case of an acute onset of severe gastroenteritis (assuming that the herbal approach is the only option for whatever reason) are to prevent the patient from dehydration and support the recovery of the gut mucosa.  The latter is simple in theory but not always in practice.  Some of the most effective approaches involve helping clear the gut of what is causing the problem and reducing the inflammatory responses.  

Activated charcoal is a very useful substance in the initial clearing of the gut.  Whether toxins (e.g. food poisoning), bacteria or even protozoan infections, charcoal adsorbs and also helps to slow diarrhea.  As an initial protocol before giving any herbs, charcoal can often be very helpful.  The dosage can range as between one and two grams of charcoal per kilogram of body weight, every 4 – 8 hours.  Be aware that the person’s feces will likely come out black, and it should slow diarrhea somewhat.  Normally (in the absence of diarrhea), it is important to note that charcoal can cause constipation.  Note that we would not want to ingest charcoal at the same time as any herbs we were taking.  Much of the herb would bind with the charcoal, rendering both the charcoal and the herb ineffective.

Moving into herbs, what are some of the primary considerations?  We want to reduce gut inflammation.  We want to help restore normal gut mucosa function.  We want to overwhelm or kill off causative pathogens.  We want to support liver and kidney function (detoxification and elimination).  We want to palliate symptoms like cramping and nausea.  We also want to prevent dehydration, which involves both a rehydration solution as well as helping the gut absorb the fluids.  

“Gut inflammation” is a sort of generic term given to the physiological set of responses by the gut to a disruption in healthy function.  Pathogens have many various methods of fulfilling their own life cycles in their own quest to survive, colonize, feed, reproduce and find more hosts.  During that process that may be happening in our own gut, there is inevitably going to be an inflammatory response by damaged tissue of the gut.  Anything that reduces the pathogenic potency, increases our own tissue healing curve or both is going to reduce gut inflammation.  

Most berberine-containing herbs kill handle many of these aspects of dealing with gut inflammation.  They provide an astringency that helps reduce water loss.  They tend to have a directly anti-inflammatory effect on the gut.  They are usually anti-microbial.  They are also usually stimulate and support liver function.  Herbs that fit into this category are the Berberis and Mahonia species.  Other herbs include Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and Chinese Goldthread (Coptis chinensis).  My favorite herb to use for acute gastroenteritis is Algerita (Berberis trifoliolata).  The root of this plant is intensely bitter and yellow with berberine, while the leaf is somewhat sweet, a little sour, and an excellent anti-nauseal.

Another herb that is highly anti-microbial, astringent and wound-healing on the gut is Walnut (Juglans spp.).  I use the Juglans microcarpa here in central TX but the most commonly used medicinal species is the Juglans nigra.  I like to mix the unripe (but just starting to soften) hull with the leaf of this tree, about 50/50.

Juglans nigra Eastern Black Walnut

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) is not a North American plant, but can be grown here in the most southern climates, or grown in pots and wintered indoors.  It has been referred to as the “king of bitters,” and for good reason.  Aside from its overwhelming bitter qualities, it is another herb that is highly antimicrobial and has an astringing, anti-inflammatory effect on the gut.

I like to use Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) as well as its milder cousin, Western Mugwort (Artemisia ludoviciana) for acute gastroenteritis as well. Both are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory to the gut tissue, bitters and cholegogues. Both are also decent anti-nauseals, even when a person is already vomiting.  

Another antimicrobial that is also a superlative smooth muscle relaxant for cramping is Silktassel (Garrya spp.).  I know of herbalists who have used the leaves of this plant to mix with water as a form of water purification.  While I have not used it this way, I do use it quite often as an anti-spasmotic for smooth muscle throughout the body, to include the gut.  I use the leaf and bark of this plant, tinctured fresh.  I usually harvest it by pruning a bush and taking all the leaves and bark off of what I prune.  This usually comes out to being about 70% leaf and 30% bark.

Any mucosal vulnerary is going to have a soothing, anti-inflammatory effect on the gut.  This can include Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) root and leaf, Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp.) cactus flower, Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) leaf (if you don’t have a problem with the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which another topic), Plantain (Plantago spp.), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.) root and many others.  These are best prepared as a cold infusion, which also helps with hydration.  If you are preparing a rehydration solution anyway (1 teaspoon salt, 6 teaspoons sugar per quart of water is one of the most basic formulas), you can put it all together in a mucosal vulnerary rehydration drink.  

As a side note, Prickly Pear cactus can be used to filter water as well.  Fillet the pad and chop it into small pieces so that lots of surface area is exposed of the demulcent, gooey inside of the pad.  Put those pieces into a container with the water you wish to clean (pre-strain to clear as much turbidity as possible).  Shake, let it sit about 30 minutes, shake again and strain.  It is not anywhere near the filtration of a slow-sand filter, but the Prickly Pear pad is a flocculant and will stimulate aggregation of small particulates (fomites – homes for pathogens to live on) into larger particulates while adsorbing the same.

In a pinch, the Prickly Pear cactus pad can even be used to boil water!  Take a large pad, cut off the pointier end, fillet down the center very carefully to within about an inch of the edge (from the inside).  You can prop the sides open at the top using a small stick and pour water into the pad.  Water can be heated to easily 160 degrees for about 30 minutes in coals, without burning through the pad

All of the antimicrobial herbs mentioned above are going to give relief and help the body cope with a protozoal infection such as giardiasis or cryptosporidium.  Another strong antiprotozoan for those two infections particularly, is Chaparro Amargosa (Castela spp.).  

Castela

Castela

Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) is another anti-protozoal and one of the primary ingredients in formulas I have used to work successfully with cutaneous leishmaniasis infections, which are protozoal.

With any case of infectious gastroenteritis, it is imperative that the liver and kidneys be supported as well.  Support of the liver should be gentle to help it detoxify waste products that make it into the hepatic portal system.  Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) seed is of great use here.  Also helping to support liver function gently are Chicory (Cichoreum intybus) root and Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) leaf.  I like to use Burdock (Arctium lappa) root and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) root a lot as both gentle liver support as well as gentle diuretics whenever helping the body deal with toxins, pathogens, infection, lymph stagnation or other disease processes that increase the body’s need to deal with and excrete waste products. 

Parasites (helminths) are another topic that is a discussion on its own.  There is generally not going to be a singular herb or even a set of herbs that are anti-parasitic for all parasites across the board.  However as a rule, some of the general anti-parasitic herbs that work in formulas either directly, or supportively, are: Any of the aforementioned berberine-containing herbs, Elecampane (Inula helenium), Horse Radish (Armoracia rusticana), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum spp.), Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) Garlic (Allium sativum) and Cayenne (Capsicum annuum).

The importance of clean water cannot be overstated in the full spectrum of holistic understanding of our health.  In the case of infectious disease, it is paramount that we have a clear understanding of both the epidemiology of the area as well as the tools we can implement to create better preventative health for a community.  Once we have helped create sustainable, clean water, we can continue even better than before as herbalists and health care providers.

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A Healthy Look At Anger

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

angry tweet bird art by john aslerona-72dpi

A Healthy Look at Anger

Hospital-Caused Deaths, Twitter Indicators, Heart Attack & Prevention

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Plant Healer Magazine

The second greatest cause of deaths in this country are factors associated with conventional hospital care, from misdiagnosis to resistant infection and drug side effects, as my partner Kiva and I regularly lament.  Recently our esteemed herbalist friend Paul Bergner alerted us to a report in a 2013 edition of The Journal of Patient Safety, discussing extensive research indicating there are an estimated 400,000 deaths per year directly related to drug-based modern medicine and hospital care.  These statistics, you must admit, are downright alarming.  More than that, they flat-out piss me off… as they likely anger a good number of our Plant Healer readers as well!

But be careful how angry you get when you stop to think about this regrettable fact, with anger looking more and more like a primary preventable trigger of the numero uno cause of death: the approximately 600,000 women and men succumbing each year to a fatal heart attack.  That anger triggers HCV symptoms and gall bladder pain, I can personally attest.  But some curious researching of twitter messaging habits makes me think about the ol’ ticker as well.

protesting-twitter-bird-72dpiSocial Media data is increasingly being analyzed by healthcare researchers for a better understanding of disease patterns and causes.  According to a January 14th, 2015 science report on National Public twitter-bird-angry-72dpiRadio, the internet platform Twitter has provided some very telling statistics.  Of particular interest to this discussion, it was found that those places where the greatest number of angry “tweets” issue from, strongly correlated with those areas reporting the greatest number of deaths from heart attack.  As NPR science reporter Shankar Vedantam explained:

“There’s new work now that connects Twitter with heart disease, because it turns out that you can trace many tweets to the location from which they were sent. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and other schools traced these tweets and then they analyzed the language in the tweets to see if they were expressing anger, or love, or boredom. And they find, in an analysis of more than 1,300 counties, that the amount of anger expressed on Twitter is a very powerful predictor of heart disease in those counties. And in fact, anger, hostility and aggression on Twitter is better able to predict patterns of heart disease than 10 other leading health indicators, including smoking, obesity and hypertension.

Bergner points reminds us that correlation is at best indication, and does not equal causation: “Sometimes two things that seem causally correlated are both caused by something else. What if living in a high crime expensive polluted city causes heart attacks, and also causes people to be angry?  With obesity and heart attacks, the correlation disappears when you remove insulin resistance, the insulin resistance causes the obesity and it causes the heart attacks.”

Yet, even if a direct causative relationship between anger and heart attacks remains unproven, it would seem to be their mutual causes that need to be determinedly addressed.  

angry_laptop-72dpi

There is much to be upset about, and crucial for a healer of any kind – herbalist, nurse, nurturer, culture-shifter – empathize with, hurt over, take exception to, and try to address, confront, transform, or otherwise heal.  Dwelling in our pain and anger, however, is likely to do more damage to our health than bring justice to the world.  Instead, acting on our feelings can vent dangerous pent-up frustration, releasing tension through direct action and purposeful effort regardless of how successful such efforts and acts are.  I am angry over the persecution of herbalists and marginalizing of herbalism, and the threat posed by pharmaceuticals.  I’m ticked-off about the lying and manipulative politicians of both parties who continue destroying the environment and supporting corporatism and war, riled at the disappearance of wild habitat for plants and animals and free spirited people, upset with onerous regulation and oppressive laws, disgusted with bioengineered foods and proprietary seeds.  And thus, my preventative treatments for possible future heart attacks include helping to gather, store and promote wild seed varieties, protesting against or working to change unjust laws, purchasing and restoring a riparian ecosystem and encouraging its plant and wildlife, refusing to vote for what we imagine to be the “lesser of two evils”… and supporting the herbal resurgence against all odds, in every ways possible.  With every strenuous effort I make, I can feel the anger resolve into calm deliberate purpose, feel the tension dissolving in my weight bearing shoulders, my busy head, and my still beating chest.

Most official and unofficial websites discussing heart failure give us the same, not always correct recommendations.  According to the MNT Knowledge Center, for example, the steps to preventing heart attack are:

1. Follow instructions on medications usage (!)

2. Make sure diet is low in salt, fat, and cholesterol (even though nutritional cholesterol has been proven to have no significant effect on the levels of harmful cholesterol in the blood!)

3.  Exercise in the form of a 10-minute walk…

4. Quit smoking, and

5. Avoid drinking alcohol.

Hell’s-bells, as my Papa used to say!  No mention of herbs, of course.  Not a single word about not bottling-up our emotions, or making changes in where and how we live.  Maybe we should add a fifth recommendation:

keep-calm-and-dont-get-mad-get-even-72dpi

5. Don’t get angry, get even! (in other words, take charge of our own health, and work to change the dominant system!)

With that calmly considered amendment, I think I’ll ask our partner Kiva – the blender of genuinely remarkable Margaritas – if she’ll kindly fix me a drink.

Blockage-Leads-to-Heart-Attack-72dpi

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The Enchanted Healer -Reflections by Melanie Pulla

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

THE ENCHANTED HEALER

A Guidebook for Finding Your True Medicine

Reflections by Melanie Pulla

Portal to Enchantment

Every once in awhile, you come across a book that resonates such truth that it compels you to pause and reevaluate your decisions; and then it inspires you to implement significant yet necessary changes in your life. Let me introduce you to Jesse Hardin’s The Enchanted Healer: treasure map to your soul’s desires, field guide for identifying your authentic self, and handbook for transmitting your message to the world – unadulterated.

When – not if – you read this book, prepare yourself for a journey that may take some time. Jesse Hardin’s The Enchanted Healer will accompany you along a quest that is equal parts educational, inspirational, and transformational. As your guide along this journey, Hardin reacquaints you with the enchanted world that is all around us:  a world that appears mundane if only for our inability or unwillingness to tune into our senses and wake up to the present moment. He offers numerous strategies and practices for excavating the scripts that prevent us from fully embracing our authentic selves. He then helps us follow those breadcrumbs back to our wholeness. This is the truth-telling, paradigm-shifting, honesty-inducing book we’ve all been waiting for.

woman in light 72dpi

Awareness, Sensing, and Feeling

One of the key takeaways from this book is that Hardin reminds us about the importance of embracing the present moment and having a heightened awareness of our surroundings – a philosophy that is endorsed by numerous somatic therapies and spiritual traditions around the world. His application of these practices in the context of healing modalities offers a fresh perspective on why sharpening our sensory awareness is of utmost importance: “It is crucial for healers to not become complacent, inured, or for any reason get in the habit of feeling less and numbing out more. The efficacy of our lives and practices hinges on our sensitivities, our innate and developed senses, our ability to notice, feel and respond” (p. 83).

The Enchanted Healer is truly a guidebook; Hardin illustrates several techniques and practices that modern health practitioners can use to support their journeys back to mindfulness and awareness. These techniques are simple, but not necessarily easy, and Hardin’s teachings have a way of getting to the heart of everything you’ve been avoiding in a refreshingly disarming way. The work is clearly laid out, and the journey awaits; the only way out of the darkness is through the tunnel of transformation.

The Journey to My Enchantment

The Journey to My Enchantment

Healing, Re-patterning, and Conscious Creation

Healing the healer is an ambitious task, but Jesse Hardin’s The Enchanted Healer boldly embraces the challenge, and the result is quite remarkable. Even the seasoned self-help junkie will encounter new tools and techniques for the soulful introspection and mindful exploration of new terrain. These include such things as story, sexuality, totems, and sacred indulgence to name a few. A common thread connecting these various healing modalities is the importance of releasing limiting beliefs and re-patterning the stories we tell ourselves in order to activate meaningful changes in the world: “The effective healer will be the one who not only senses and comprehends who and what they are trying to help, the clients, medicines and the illnesses, but who also knows intimately the extent of their own healing knowledge and skills, the limits of their comprehension or abilities, their habits and filters, feelings and needs, motivations and style.” (p. 111) From this standpoint, anything is possible including the conscious creation of our selves, our communities, and our healing paradigms.

Enchanted Healer by Jesse Wolf Hardin  www.PlantHealer.org

Metamorphosis, Transformation, and Embracing Your Authentic Self

One of the most poignant elements of this book is the soul-shaking contribution of Kiva Rose. Rose brings a raw authenticity as she shares her personal journey through the tunnel of metamorphosis and self-discovery. She notes, “If we are untrue to our own nature, we cheat both ourselves and those we seek to help. While adaptation to new circumstances can be not only necessary but commendable, it must not be at a cost to our integrity as medicine people and allies of the plants.” (p. 255) Her beautiful and moving prose effectively illustrates how going against the grain can be a powerful expression of love and creativity, especially when it reflects the true desires of your deepest self.

The Enchanted Healer is best read with your heart wide open, senses alert, and mind flexible enough to allow for changes to occur. This book invites your authentic self to play a central role in your work as a healer; work that matters because it offers a profound opportunity for you to share your deepest gifts with the world.

I found The Enchanted Healer to be a refreshing rule breaker and paradigm shifter, and arguably one of the most thorough guidebooks for transformation in the contemporary herb world. So consider this: are you ready for change and open to receiving transformation? If so, get your copy of this must-have book and embark upon your own journey towards finding your true medicine.

Now shipping.  Order your copy of The Enchanted Healer through the Bookstore page at:

www.PlantHealer.org

Enchantment PreOrder Poster 72dpi

Mélanie Pulla is a visionary herbalist who studied plant medicine at CSHS and SWSBM, and then earned a BSc in Alternative Medicine from JSC. In 2009, She opened her first business: a health food boutique, apothecary, and juice bar.  She’s a full-time mom who writes awesome articles, including for Plant Healer Magazine (http://www.PlantHealerMagazine.com) and the popular Herb Geek blog.

This review first appeared in Plant Healer’s free monthly Herbaria Newsletter, subscribe at www.PlantHealer.org

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The Healing Terrain: Coming Home to Nature’s Medicine

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Now Available, Plant Healer’s Newest Book:

THE HEALING TERRAIN
Coming Home to Nature’s Medicine

by Jesse Wolf Hardin
with Kiva Rose, David Hoffman, Phyllis Light, Robin Rose Bennett, Juliet Blankespoor, & Dara Saville
Foreword by Judy Goldhaft (Planet Drum Foundation)

309 pages, 8.5×11” B&W Softcover – $29

Click here to Order: Healing Terrain Book

The Healing Terrain front cover 72dpi

“Rightfully at the core of all Natural Healing is nature, from the herbs it provides to the positive healthful examples it offers.  By deepening our conscious relationship with the land, we create the opportunities and conditions for increased sensual engagement and creature awareness, empowerment and self-authority, uninhibited pleasures and fun, and greater effectiveness at nearly everything we might try to do in life.”    –Jesse Wolf Hardin

I’m excited to announce the release of the third book in our healing trilogy, “The Healing Terrain,” written with my partner Jesse Wolf and our Plant Healer allies Phyllis Light, David Hoffman, Juliet Blankespoor, Robin Rose Bennett and Dara Saville.  I’ve watched for the past year as Wolf searched out the most amazing photographs and art, and placed them in the most visually pleasing ways, illustrating inspiring content about the art of wildcrafting and growing herbs, biorgional herbalism, plant natives and “invasives,” the healing powers of nature, becoming more native, rewilded and empowered as healers, and connecting with place.  Those of you who know my personal story, know how crucial my canyon home and its native medicinal plants have been to the healing of my body, mind and spirit.  Along with the other two titles in this trilogy (“The Plant Healer’s Path” and “The Enchanted Healer”), “The Healing Terrain” strives to provide insights and tools for your own deepening connection with the source of all medicine and healing: this living earth.

Judy Goldhaft and Peter Berg, directors of Planet Drum. ©2009 IWe’ve been blessed to have Forewords to our other books written by herbalists like Matthew Wood and Phyllis Light, but this time we reached out a little further, and are thankful to have one penned by Judy Goldhaft.  Judy and her life partner Peter Berg have been two of the greatest influences on what we have come to know as “bioregionalism”: the practice and art of living sustainably in place.  Back around the time the pioneering “Whole Earth Catalog” was featuring the first photo of our planet taken from outer space, San Francisco was coming alive with social and eco activism, and Judy was busy using dance and theater to raise consciousness and inspire change.  From her work with the Diggers to directing the wonderful Planet Drum Foundation, she has lived a life and done the work that makes her the perfect person to introduce our book.  Her complete Foreword follows, along with the table of contents.  Your order will be shipped direct from our printer, CreateSpace, sparing us storage and shipping.  Hope you love it!

Thank you.   –Kiva Rose

Ainu Snyder quote poster

Foreword to The Healing Terrain

by Judy Goldhaft

It’s always amazing to pick up a book and discover it is not the book you expected.  Jesse Wolf Hardin said he had put together a book about using plants in healing and healing the places plants live.  Sounded simple, interesting and very bioregional.  But the book is a deeper more inclusive investigation than Jesse’s brief description. The book is a journey for those who have forgotten how important place is, and a handbook for developing an awareness to relate to a place while becoming a more balanced and whole person.

girl and deer 72dpi

The Healing Terrain recognizes the importance of a life-place (bioregion) to our beings and our health. The book begins with a deep exhortation to the reader to discover his or her own place as the first step in healing oneself, becoming a healer or becoming a complete person. It challenges the reader to recognize their personal place and to refocus for a more meaningful life, and then provides the tools to do this.  There are lists throughout the book to help actualize practical manifestations of the abstract ideas, helping the reader travel beyond the philosophical discussions of place and rootedness to actually experiencing and delighting in their bioregion.

amazing-garden-flowers 72dpiThe word bioregion represents a deceptively simple idea. The concept realigns priorities so humans are contained within the place (bioregion) — not governing or exploiting it. This simple notion opens up the possibility that the whole interdependent ecosystem could become the basis for a society’s decisions. This deeper understanding of a bioregional outlook is reflected in the importance that “Rights of Nature” are being given in South America.  New social mores are emerging which are entwined with the natural world.

Living with the planet requires diversity, adaptability, creativity, and self-regulation. Within this book difficult questions are dissected, examined, and considered from a multitude of perspectives. There are bold in-depth discussions of the tangled questions about living with other species and the authors are fearless in considering all topics — including wildness, bodily functions and sex. The tone of the conversations is always balanced and inviting, never preachy or judgmental.

Man hugging Basil 72dpiThe voices in this book come from people who have been putting bioregional sensibilities in the center of their lives for years. The community presents a series of personal approaches to universal ideas. They are deeply rooted where they live and encourage you also to become aware of your bioregion, in a very deeply understanding way.  They provide guidelines to reconnecting to the earth and personal heightened awareness while welcoming diversity and recognizing how difficult it is to do this.  The two main voices balance and fulfill each other. Jesse Wolf speaks poetically yet in-depth about historic, social, scientific and political considerations and analysis; Kiva Rose weaves a fabric of personal experiences and direct observations that she shares openly with ingenuousness and heartfelt warmth. They provide different paths and explanations to access the information and heart of this work.  From the section “The Healing Roots of Home”:

“On a practical level, to live bioregionally is to acknowledge and participate in the ecosystem we are a part of, rooted – in a very literal sense – in the land that we live on. What this means will vary according to the needs of the land in a particular area, whether it is establishing trees or restoring the soil… or simply helping maintain the diversity that already exists with careful harvesting practices and a prayerful attitude towards the spirit of the land.”

House with Roots 72dpi

The book itself has been thoughtfully put together, its format a manifestation of the ideas being expressed. The pictures and quotations are intrinsic aspects of the book. Each reiterates the ideas and could be the subject for meditation or rumination. This collection of philosophizing, musings, experiences, graphics, epigrams, and quotations reinforce each other and produce a balanced whole. It doesn’t just encourage “a vital return to balance,” the book itself is a balance—of head and heart, scientific and experience, words and graphics — a truly accessible set of information on many levels.

The Healing Terrain is like a long love poem to a bioregion — water is treated as a lover, there is a love affair with the geology, plants are longtime companions, etc. Be prepared to fall in love.

Click here to Order: Healing Terrain Book

Elka gathering wild herbs and food in a misty S.W. forest.

Elka gathering wild herbs and food in a misty S.W. forest.

The Healing Terrain Contents

I.    Nexus: Grounds For Healing
Jesse Wolf: The Journey Home: The Call to Stay & The Call to Roam
II.    Rooting – Where We Are, & Where We Most Belong
Jesse Wolf: Tips For Cultivating Sense of Place
III.    Grounding – A Geology of Place
Kiva Rose: The Weedwife – Coming Home, Weedy Ways
IV.    Healing Waters – Sweet Medicine, Hydrotherapy & River Tales
Jesse Wolf: Creating an Organic Calendar
Kiva Rose: The Ripening Fruit – Living With The Seasons
V.    Bioregions – Defining, Being Defined By & Drawing FromStellaria 72dpi
Dara Saville: Place-Based Herbalism – Practicing at The Crossroads of The Southwest
Kiva Rose: The Healing Roots of Home – My Journey Into Bioregional Herbalism
VI.    The Landed Healer – Finding, Purchasing & Restoring Land
Jesse Wolf: 15 Tips For Wildlands Restoration
Jesse Wolf: Strategies For Land Protection
Kiva Rose: Reading The Leaves – Learning The Names & Ways of  Plants
VII.    Building a Relationship With a Plant
Juliet Blankespoor: Planning Your Healing Garden
Dara Saville: Gardening Natives –  Reflecting the Wildlands in Your Medicine Garden
Kiva Rose: Deep As Root & Song – Wildcrafting
VIII.    Plant Adventuring
Jesse Wolf: Herbaria: The Importance & Joy of Plant Collections
Kiva Rose: In The Pines – Pleasure & Healing From an Ancient Tree Ally
IX.    In Balance – Invasive Species, Natives, Healing & Wholeness
Jesse Wolf: Guidelines & Reminders
Robin Rose Bennett: The Terrain of Home – The Healing Land, Commitments of Love
Kiva Rose: Sustainable Wildcrafting & Foraging – Tending The Wildest Garden
X.    ReIndigination – The Necessity of Learning to Become Native Again
Phyllis Light: The Geography of Healing
XI.    An Ecology of Healing – Treating The Body As An Ecosystem, & The Ecosystem As A Body
David Hoffman: Deep Ecology, Deep Healing – Herbalism’s Place In The Living Whole
Kiva Rose: The Cartography of The Heart – Finding The Road Home
XII.    ReWilding – Unleashing The Wild Empowered Healer
Kiva Rose: Spiraling Deeper
XIII.    The Blooming – Growing, Thriving, Spreading Our Seeds

 

Shrooms & Ferns poster

Click here to Order: Healing Terrain Book

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The Healing Arts & The Art Of Healing

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Intro: The following is a chapter from our newest book The Enchanted Healer, by my partner Jesse Wolf Hardin.  The Enchanted Healer is our only full-length book with all full-color pages, covering the topics like herbalism and shamanism, medicines of the enchanted forest, body/mind balance, the heightening of awareness and the senses, plant spirit and intelligence, vision quests, places of power, cabinets of wonder, and much more.  “The Healing Arts” makes the case that our efforts to heal ourselves, others, and this earth, is beautiful – and that beauty matters!   To order your own copy of The Enchanted Healer, please go to the Bookstore Page at: www.PlantHealer.org

The Healing Arts & The Art Of Healing

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––

The Living, Healing Arts

art  |ärt|noun:
1. the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works appreciated for their high level of quality, particularly their beauty and emotional power
2. works produced by such skill and imagination
3. (the arts) the various branches of creative activity
4. a skill at doing a specific thing, improved through practice

Healing Arts woman with pestle 72dpi

The term “healing arts” can be used to refer to a collection of holistic, noninvasive fields, traditions and techniques, generally expected to include such things as herbalism, acupuncture, chiropractic, counseling, and massage therapy.  These practices and any other forms of healing people and planet are “crafts” – carefully learned, practiced and applied – that then become “art” at the point where we:
1. We make our work a creative process and apply our own imaginations.
2. Strive to maximize our skills, and do the highest possible quality of work.
3. Seek to touch/affect people at the deepest emotional and spiritual as well as physical levels.
4. And try, as a matter of both course and principle, to do that work as beautifully as we possibly can.

These days a stark line is often drawn between conventional medical care and alternative or holistic therapies, between phytotherapy and folk herbalism, between hard science and folklore, between the necessary growing of food crops and the nonessential raising of ornamentals, as well as between the supposed florid Artist’s life and the sober existence and sensible priorities of the “normal” woman or man.  Not so in many ancient and tribal societies, nor in the attractive land-informed cultures that we are together working to create.  For them and us – from nourishment to remedy, from planting to harvest, birth to death – is an opportunity to meld ritual and necessity, substance and gesture, artfulness and practicality, working to make every act and result not only productive but evermore meaningful, beauteous and satisfying!

There is little doubt that a healthy psyche is an integral component in the healing of the body, and that any healing of the collective/cultural psyche is essential to any last remedy of the current ecological and psychological imbalances.  As the pioneering psychotherapist Carl Jung wrote, “An Artist is a vehicle and moulder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind.”  And I am not talking about the Artist as a rarified elite.  My sense is that the Anima, the vital life force of this living planet seems calls upon us each to serve others, the planet and ourselves by consciously participating in the ours and human kind’s evolution, as the crafters of our society and artisans of our lives.  It is what the sacred indivisible whole/holon wants and needs to seed, and what I in my own personal role am devoted to grow.

What we hope to sow and water in this modern un-landed culture is not only more artistic and meaningful form in our day to day existence, but also the sprouting art of life: the art of conscious, responsive, celebratory relationship and mission.  Mine and my partner’s intent with Plant Healer Magazine and books not only to help preserve and nurture branches of the endangered traditional healing arts, but to reclaim and showcase the many graphic styles, potent symbols and aesthetics… not only to help inform and inspire effective Healers but also to encourage – with all our deeds and hearts – ever more artistic manifestations of the active art of healing.

Living Arts: Art that lives; and the act of making an art of our every act and moment.

Healing Arts: Art that heals; and making an art of our every healing act.

Healing Arts mortar and pestle-72dpi

Examples of Artfulness

Just as there are different styles of art, there are different styles of teaching, of restoring the land,  of practicing herbalism or the healthful laying-on of hands.  It is the herbalist community that I have been most closely associating with over the past decade, however, and it is my fellow lovers of plants and their medicines that I can quickest site as examples of what I’m talking about. While no two herbalists are alike – exhibiting a very wide range of tastes in clothing and lifestyles – the vast majority I’ve known all demonstrate a very personal, individualized art of living and healing.

Notice how folk herbalists of any culture find hidden patches of desired wild plants largely by their form and color, as in tune with the patterns and hues composing the land as is a painter with her visions of forms and palette of endless chromatic possibilities. We can see surely the art in their purposeful ascertaining of patterns and composing of response, in their deeply partnered dance of natural healing and allied plants… and in what they collect on their shelves, hang on the wall and wear on their bodies.  Each of these herbalist’s clothes express their particular persona, the decorating of home and clinic to reflect their particular values and beliefs, preferences and desires, hungers and callings.

On their desk may be a collage of the tools of inquiry, alongside the frivolity of plant deco.  We may note the curving lines and brass sheen of a vintage druggist’s scale, a hand-me-down magnifying glass, a surreal earth goddess or primitive carved crucifix, the predictable vase or Mason jar with flowers long ago having died and dried into twisted shapes too amazing to throw outside.  On the window sill, colored glass of some sort that’s sure to refract into the room its enchanting morning lights, Arkansas crystals and sun hungry potted sage.  And on their persons, dress and accoutrements that communicate something about the kind of people and practitioners that they are, their character and interests evident in a display of threads…  whether modest but attractive skirts singing out their roots in the rural South, or loose fitting clothes from Thai pants and Guatemalan wapil blouses suggesting globally acquired wisdom and a relaxed demeanor, or sculpted shirts and ties that function as statements of health care professionalism.

Framed and hung are photos of not just kids or grandkids or aged sepia portraits of unsmiling great-grandparents, but images of treasured places as well, from topographic maps marked with one’s favorite spots for gathering wild herbs, to snapshots of significant spots on an oft visited wilderness trail.  Paintings of flowers, or goddesses, or faeries, or vine covered cottages that invite us to world of veritable magic.  Historic drawings of Yerba Mansa or flowering Mullein, or voluptuous Victorian era mushroom porn.  The deep greens of Mormon Lake’s forests may draw the eye to the words centered on an HerbFolk Gathering flyer, wreathed in images of medicinal plants and some of the teachers that champion them.  Competing with glowing gallon containers of precious tinctures, are likely books chosen for not only the valuable information they contain, but for their illustrations as well.

Art can be seen not only in the objects they surround themselves with, but also in their gestures, acts and tasks.  Just watch how they customarily acknowledge, empathize with, speak to, ask for the collusion of, and somehow express their profound gratitude to those medicinal plants that they kneel before in acts of humble connection or unplanned ceremony.  See, also, the deft movements of hands and blades as leaves are separated from flowers and roots, not unlike the sculptor removing elements of stone or wood to reveal a focused and refined purpose within.  Their creation of formulas can be in some ways like the art of cooking, with brilliance, intuition and adaptation augmenting tradition, evaluations made with alert taste buds and noses that know.  The rhythms of their interchanges with clients and patients can be like practiced choreographies with room left for on-the-spot improvisation – in what I think of as the herbalist’s song and dance.  Inspired and fueled by not only necessity and compassion but impassioned aesthetics and taste, theirs is a practical trade made into something complexly personal, focused on a vision and purpose, intent on increased excellence and effectiveness – a point of service and connection that is art at its most relevant.  Important.  Magical.  Sacred, even.

Healing Arts herbal woman element-72dpi

The Artist-Healer

The work of the Artist-Healer could well be considered sacred work, in that style and symbol can not only decorate and communicate but also educate and consecrate, helping us to perceive the connections between all forms living and non, the relations between all elements and beings, and the inner heart, soul, spirit of each and every thing.  And as with any sacred endeavor, their work is most numinous and powerful when the Artists are themselves transformed in the process of its inception and creation.  This ceaseless falling apart and being remade is characteristic of the Artist as it is of the Seeker, the Shaman, the spiritual Adept.

Whenever we artfully work, employing symbols and energies, inspiration and intuition, there is an energetic threading between us and those who participate in the experience, between the viewer and the viewed, and the viewer and the Artist, between the Healer and the client or society or place.  Through the art we make and experience, we’re each transformed into an agent and component of creation, our sense of mission fueled, our senses and dreams heightened, our emotions stirred, pierced by an overwhelming sense of the inseparable unity of all things and the timeliness and importance of our healing, helping, beautifying efforts.

Creatively giving shape and form to the underlying energies which animate our species in a “container” that can hold the experience allows for a shamanic, holy, and whole-making ritual to be made real in time. The act of participating in the creation of art is a magical, ceremonial rite, a sacred liturgy, a higher-dimensional form of communion, a kind of “performance art,” which simultaneously transfigures the unconscious energies in both the Artist and the surrounding field. The act of art-making partakes of the nature of the divine, in that the entire universe, which is itself a living work of continually-unfolding art, becomes infused with endless-inspiration as we consciously realize our relationship with our ever-evolving and never-expiring, creative spirit.

There can be no doubt that modern industrialized medicine can help mend serious wounds and successfully treat some conditions.  It is generally not, however, a craft since it there is little hand work and most diagnosis is based on a computer generated template/model of symptoms and prescriptions.  It is hardly ever an art, since it is a relatively rare M.D. these days who has gone beyond the trade’s impersonal practices to a place of passionate dedication, or who sees and treats a whole person rather than symptoms and organs.  They avoid getting to really know their patients, avoiding getting too close, eschewing “messy” emotions.  Their offices and hospitals are institutional and uninspired, usually only slightly less ugly and conformist than a prison.  While sometimes proficient within a limited model, they are often lacking in the earmark of artisanship: creativity!  To the contrary, alternative Healers of all kinds tend to be more creative and adaptive, looking beyond the assumptions and conventions, acting out of a passionate sense of mission, and doing their work in a deeply personal, empathic and artist way.  With personal aesthetics.  Honed sensitivity.  Engaged emotions.  The involvement of their spirits as well as minds.  Intentional style.  A strong sense of calling.  And practiced flair.

Healers outside of institutions and norms tend to be mistrusted, undervalued, discounted, even legally harassed precisely because of their Artist’s ways, because they serve a calling and fulfill it authentically and stylistically, daring to bypass conventional dead ends, and to be creative in the ways that they instigate and support healing.  We unconventional artisans are denied official accreditation, and when we do seek professional status it comes only from groups themselves outside the “credible” norm.  The Artist-Healer, however, will not be satisfied walking the beaten path, needing to follow the inner creative urge instead, being self-empowered to make choices and make turns based on insights and experience.  And they work not only to heal a person or community, but to be a container and conduit for the expression of the creative thrust, intent and direction of the Anima, of the life force, the dynamic natural whole.

Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, Pagan, Pantheist, Agnostic or whatever… the work of the Artist-Healer is to serve something larger than themselves or a client.  It is to serve a larger purpose and aim, to serve something akin to “spirit” no matter what we choose to call it.  And to do it in the most loving and lovely ways.

Healing Arts crafts-72dpi

Conscious Crafting

craft |kraft|
noun:
1. an activity involving skill in making things, usually by hand
2. demonstrating a high level of skill in carrying out one’s work

We’re each connected to one another, to self and home through blood and bone, magic, history, need, service, touch, caring and love — manifest through the moving force of our crafts.  Craft is one way in which we express our inner spirits, serve our planet and our purpose, and make both real and physical our seemingly magical co-creation of our world.  Craft is our deliberate and potentially artistic manifestation and effect, as opposed to that which we unconsciously cause or create.  At one level it is our practices, our applied skills, our trade.  At a deeper level it is every conscious way that we make our visions visible, respond to the needs of the people, culture and land around us, and otherwise share our dear gifts.

All things, all beings are at once both creator and the created, the influenced and the influence, the actor and acted upon.  It is the option of the Healer – and the Seeker, the Activist, Teacher, Shaman, or Shifter –  to be fully, vividly aware of the effects we have on the world… to make every act as intentional, and as beautiful, as we’re able.

In the present dominant paradigm, craft is often thought of as something one purchases or is an audience to, instead of inhabits and embodies.  But it was not always so.  Not so for the pale villagers of ancient Europe who left us the sculpted body of the archetypal Earth Mother, the bearer of all of life.  And not for the first hominid inhabitants of this state called New Mexico either.  The ancient  pueblo people left behind shards of painted pottery that continue to evoke the Great Mystery, fired clay fragments of a life of honoring, picture-puzzle pieces still vibrating with the energy of years of reverent touch.  They spoke their fealty for the land in rock art carved out of their collective and individual souls, lightning bolts and the seed-carrier Kokopelli painted on the sides of caves.  Here too are the forms of the crafters’ fingers and palms, their signatures, the marks of their self-aware beings, in painted hands reaching out to descendants and heirs alike across the chasm of time.  They gifted enduring images of their priorities and loves, deities and dreams.  They left behind for others their holiest expressions of wonder and communion, the evidence of a marriage with place and spirit consecrated through timeless craft.

It is no less true in the case of contemporary arts and crafts, in the painting the fantasies and mythologies that enliven, share and extend our beliefs.  In the making of jewelry that are talismans meant to empower or mend, the fashioning of clothing that not only covers and decorates but reveals something about us and celebrates what we love.  Drumming that’s ever improved, enlisted to communicate with primal visionary self and the “Great Spirit” that informs us.  Massage, that not just relaxes but helps to heal.  Words, too, are craft when formed with care, delivered with rhythm and design, woven into ceremony, employed to inspire courage or heal a broken heart.  Poetry that stops thought and inspires a more intense living of life.  A novel that moves the reader to tears, to change, to action.  Correspondence and diary entries, as honestly and lyrically and one can make them.  Words that can evoke the smell of rain on the fur of a wild creature , the taste of lightning, the warmth of man or woman’s flesh and the feel of the ground where they lay in lust.  Careful conversation with friends, with words invested with meaning and mission.  Words not blurted out or spilled from lips, but formed like a stone canyon elegantly carved by a flowing river.  A child reminded of her intrinsic worth.  The ill consoled, informed and encouraged.  An endearment whispered in a willing ear.  Even our most mundane daily labors rise to the level of craft, art, even ritual, when done consciously with all our heart, awareness and skill, for more reasons than the simple making of an income.  And even the most repetitive chores, whenever they’re executed with both intention and panache.

We are all potential crafters, of course, in that we are born with a chance to craft every aspect of our lives.  Craft is by it’s very nature proactive.  We craft medicines, craft a practice, craft a strategy for how we want to influence our world.  We craft a home out of a mere house, craft family and community, craft our futures to the extent we can.  The word “craft” is first and foremost a verb of great power, denoting direction, activity, process, effort and purpose.  It is only secondarily a noun, referring to an association of activated individuals, or the creations, effects and outcomes of the active Healer.

Part of our purpose as sentient beings on/in this planet, is to make an articulate contribution to conscious, responsive, celebratory relationship, to true encompassing health which is wholeness.  In our ecstatic revealing, bridging and healing, we have the opportunity for a further dissolving of any boundaries between us, the living land, the Anima, or spirit.  Between the creator and the created.  The Healer and the healed.  The crafter and the craft.

Healing Arts still lifes-72dpi

The Artist-Healer’s Responsibility

Being responsible for the form and effects of our actions can be daunting, and staying on the sidelines, avoiding being a force, trying to remain unseen and out of the loop might be tempting… but it is simply not possible.  Even if we were to try to avoid responding, initiating, confronting, creating, or in other ways taking any responsibility, we would still leave some imprint on the world.  We therefore may as well make it a true reflection of our authentic selves, serving our caring purpose.  At best, we can make that imprint evocative, inspiring, instigative, aesthetic, excellent and exciting.  Every awake act, every motion or gesture of our hands can be the craft and art that communicates who we are, who we strive to be, and what we hope to give and achieve.

The pencil for the writing of ours’ and world’s story – for the creation of our art – is in part in our hands, ready for us to make the changes that are needed.  We have an entire chest of colors to choose from, with the now and future our unlimited canvas.  We have the pharmacopea botanica for most of our bodily healing needs.  All the necessary materials, it seems, are at hand for whatever project we might launch, awaiting only the actual sweep of the painter’s brush, the slice of the sculptor’s knife, the swirl of the kitchen ladle, the gathering and processing of the herbs, the pouring of the salve of tincture, the purposeful and ceaseless reaching out to help.

The result of such graceful deliberateness – I repeat – is our connection… including connecting with the proactive practice and craft now weaving us back into both the literal and magical material of our experience and existence.  Together we co-create the living fabric of our reality as well as of our culture, assuming some response-ability for how it turns out… jointly painting on that billowing fabric the story of our missions, our struggles, our miracles, and our beautiful, beautiful hope.

You are at once a Healer and a person still actively engaged in your own healing.  You are the subject and creator, witness and participant, viewer and doer.  As such, this kinetic relational process that we call “art” involves – even requires – not just the illustrator’s pen or paint, writer’s keyboard or gardener and conservationist’s shovel and seed, not just the activist’s manifesto or massage therapist’s table, cotton bandages or healthful herbs… it needs you.

See what you can do.

________

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Divergent Streams: Herbalism & The Mainstream

Monday, February 4th, 2013

DIVERGENT STEAMS OF HERBALISM
Alternative Healing & The Mainstream

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Excerpted from Wolf’s upcoming book “Plant Healers and Wisdom Keepers”, and will also appear an  in the Summer 2013 Issue of “the Magazine Different”:

www.PlantHealerMagazine.com


Intro:  One of the most difficult things facing anyone, is the tension between the pressure to fit in and the desire to be our unique selves.  It doesn’t help that the credibility of our chosen field of herbalism is often discounted or discredited, even by our parents and peers, making herbalists question their worth and seek some kind of accreditation that might earn acceptance.  And yet, we find that there is both some pleasure and advantages to be found in not having been accepted as “mainstream” in the past 500 years.


“Better to be who and how we are, than to try to fit in!” –Rosemary Gladstar

A grieving herbalist friend of ours posted on a private group about how family members were threatening to disown them both over their attendance at an herbal conference.  Other people posted about similar situations of being ostracized, pressured or manipulated by parents, siblings and friends for practicing herbalism “instead of getting a real job.”

In the latter cases, the insinuation is that being an herbalist is neither “real” nor respectable work, even if the herbalist is in fact making a decent income for their selves and their loved ones, with some of us treated as if we are irresponsible hippies or aimless daydreamers by the very people who most loudly assert their love for us.  In the former situation, it would seem that the woman’s family equate herbalism with something far more threatening than simple NewAge indulgence or unregulated plant constituents, with a darker, more nefarious, subversive, or even unholy purpose implied.

It’s alarming when we recognize the degree to which herbalists continue to be looked down upon, trivialized, dismissed, defamed, vilified, and directly or indirectly pressured to move on to a more practical vocation.  It’s also mighty odd, given that scientists consider over two-thirds of the world’s known plant species to have some medicinal use, that more than 7,000 of the medical compounds found in the modern Pharmacopoeia derive from plants, and that even the most generic grocery stores sell a plethora of commercially profitable herbal preparations these days.  Yet, for all its commercial successes, the actual practice of studying and recommending medicinal plants for the treatment of illnesses and imbalances remains largely unacceptable, beyond the norm, outside the fold.

This is arguably a problem we need to recognize and be ready to deal with if and when it comes up.  At the same time, as far as problems go, “going our own way” can feel mighty darn good!

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Acceptance & Belonging

The desire to belong is strong, whether to a family, clan, club, church, professional association, ethnicity, culture, or nation.  This is true not only for herbalists but for most of humanity, and also for a majority of our fellow animal species.  Membership in a group provides pleasing company and increased physical security, help with hunting or extra sets of eyes to watch out for approaching danger.  More significantly in the case of we humans, is the opportunity to identify with others sharing a common purpose, with similar interests, opinions, desires, priorities, and codes of behavior.  Membership can translate into emotional security, offering comforting friendships, alliances, and pacts. We may enjoy our efforts more, and accomplish more in alliance.  Plus, to be accepted by those we identify with or look up to, is to have met their criteria and qualifications, bolstering our sense of worthiness and competence, while providing both a place and a way to belong.

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Just being a plant lover, herbalist, or folk healer makes us a member of not only a community, but a lineage of purpose.  This may not always feel like enough, however, and we may have a natural psychological hungering to feel an accepted part of the larger culture, the mainstream, the norm.   We may even feel guilty about not identifying more with it, earning more of its praise and rewards, or being happier when we are in the midst of it.

There’s no question about it.  There are obvious indisputable advantages to our embracing professionalism, legitimacy, organization, or guild registration, or otherwise earning credibility with the authorities and at least some portion of the mainstream consumer public.  Official and public acceptance remains rare, fickle, conditional, and uncertain, however, and only ever comes at a high cost in terms of the years given to formal education and many thousands of dollars in tuition fees, as well as in our efforts to prove ourselves.  And at no point is it likely that a “certified herbalist” will be viewed by either the professional community, or the average consumer as equal to an industry scientist or licensed medical specialist.

What we find, are:

•Some unregistered herbalists feeling inferior to, or else excluded by the approved members of professional herbal associations.
•Community herbalists imagining that they are insignificant, just because they mainly treat their families, neighbors, and friends.
•Caregivers working nights to pay for nursing school, in hopes of more certain employment aiding the ill.
•Nurses feeling inadequate or under-recognized and underpaid, in comparison to medical doctors working in the same facilities.

And even if we earn a half dozen letters of credit and affiliation at the end of our names, get a well -paying position doing herbal research or a teaching job at the university, we will still be seen by many outside of our community as fringe, as pseudoscience, as a counter-current or side channel.

Once we come to terms with this fact, we have the choice of either:

1. Consciously and willfully rejecting the process of accreditation, legitimization and public relations, sacrificing any benefits…
(or else)
2. Willingly focusing our energies and resources on winning as much acceptance as possible regardless of the extent of inequity or disregard, and without fooling ourselves that herbalism is or will soon be truly “mainstream” again.

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Stream Morphology

“…mainstream culture – there was no fitting into it back then, there’s no fitting into it now.”

–Bob Dylan

From the very beginnings of what it means to be human, the shape of herbalism and the shape of the mainstream of human society and culture were the same, and where people migrated or ideas evolved, the principles of natural healing and cabinet of plant medicine knowledge would go too.  When a culture swerved towards one direction or the other, its medicines swerved and undulated in unison, for it was not only the preferred way of healing, it was often the only effective means.

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This began to drastically change in the early Middle Ages, especially as “familiarity with healing herbs” became an indicium, an official indication of witchcraft according to the Catholic Inquisition of the so-called “civilized nations.”  In Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and England especially, terrible tortures were used to extract confessions for a horrific number of accused witches, many of whom were accused for no more reason than a profane oath, a tendency towards disobedience, or “the gathering of fruits and plants for medicine.”  Many were apparently turned in by jealous or weary spouses anxious to be free of them, and many more were easily implicated by their role as midwives, herbalists and healers.

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Most herbal practice at the time included a bit of conjuring, invoking, entreating or praying, making it easier to understand how the Inquisitors following Father Bernard Gui’s 1315 manual Practica oficii Inquistiones, were able to convict so many people on evidence of “collecting herbs on bended knee while facing the East and praying the Lord’s Prayer.” (Inquisitor Gui also cited “discovering hidden facts or manifesting secret things” as reason for conviction, something I would be found particularly in violation of).  In Peter Binsfield’s 1622 manual Commentarius en Titulum Codices lib. IX de Maleficis Mathematicis Et Cetera, his indicium included something as simple and seemingly innocuous as “seeing a woman gathering flowers from various trees and putting them into a pot.”  This, in spite of the fact that herbs had long been used ritually by the church itself, and that a rival inquisitorial tract, Girolamo Menghi’s 1626 Fustis Daemonum, suggests that “A good preventative of demon possession” is to combine not only gold and other ingredients, but also Frankincense and Myrrh.

By the 1700s, the mainstream of society was veering even farther from the course and cause of herbs, becoming ever more estranged from the natural world.  Professional organizations in Europe, and then in America, began to insist that only their vetted members were competent enough to be paid a wage for their consultations and house calls, and by the 1920s and 30s were able to frighten lawmakers and voters into passing laws against unlicensed practice.  While England made it possible for practitioners to earn accreditation and a license, in other countries including the United States it became possible to continue practicing only if one denied that they were diagnosing or treating illness.  While herbal product sales increased dramatically in the 1970s and 80s, herbalism itself became indelibly linked to – and tainted by – an association with commonly dismissed New Age thinking and practice.  Plant Medicine has largely remained a semi-legal, semi-outlaw, alternative field ever since… and we probably need to get used to it: a different healing stream, committed to following its own evolving direction, aptly finding its own channel of ingress and expression, proudly assuming its own characteristic shape.

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The Mainstream

I have to tell you… normal is highly overrated.
–Charles “Doc” Garcia

mainstream |ˈmānˌstrēm| noun
1. ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional
2. the dominant trend in opinion, fashion or the arts

Let’s be clear: Increasing public acceptance of and support for herbalism is a worthy and perhaps even necessary goal for us, irrespective of its degree of attainability.  I say this, because the more people whose trust we can win over, the more we can help… and the more support that herbalism will have, as increasing numbers of regulations are decided or voted on.  No matter how polar their politics or what ethnicity they might be, the majority of U.S. and European citizens think of themselves as being in the “mainstream.” For this reason alone, if we want herbal healing to be embraced by the larger society, it is to them we must appeal, to them we must hope to educate and stretch, entice and inspire.

That said, before we go too far in our attempts to be accepted by and integrated into the mainstream, it could be helpful for us to first take a good look at its character and direction.  Whether we are talking mainstream medicine, fashion or entertainment, you’ll note that it tends to be marked by:

•A general absence of critical thinking.
•Acting out of fear, such as a fear of unconventionality, the fear of medical self-care, a fear of trusting the aid or advice of anyone unofficial.
•Default acceptance of the opinions, research, beliefs, prejudices and proclamations of people and institutions in power, popular celebrities and official “experts.”
•Dependence on and subservience to the edicts and strictures of officials, agencies and authority figures.
•Endemic superficiality, responsive to sound bites rather than making deep investigations.
•Allegiance to conformity, or even uniformity, as exemplified by fads, adherence to fashion trends, uniforms, dogmatism, regulated behavior and self-restraint.
•Greater individual worry about appearing “weird” or different, than concern about doing the best thing.
•Mistrust of and resistance to the unfamiliar, unusual, untypical, uncommon, unconventional, unorthodox, out of the ordinary, irregular, abnormal, aberrant, “strange,” exceptional or unique, eclectic or eccentric, adaptive or creative.
•Disregard for options and alternatives, more resistant to considering new ideas, methods, means, products, practices, and possibilities.

Those outside of the mainstream are more likely to:

•Act out of vision or instinct, hunch or hope.
•Listen to the pronouncements of authority figures, agencies and official “experts” with a critical ear.
•Personally experiment, and independently evaluate.
•Investigate deeper, and weigh supposed facts against personal intuition and observation.
•Challenge entrenched beliefs, systems, prejudices, and protocols.
•Sometimes question their own habits and assumptions.
•Place more importance on authentically being themselves, than on conforming in order to fit in.
•Value and appreciate the unfamiliar, unusual, untypical, uncommon, unconventional, unorthodox, out of the ordinary, irregular, abnormal, aberrant, “strange,” exceptional or unique, eclectic or eccentric, adaptive or creative.
•Be more afraid of being a meaningless, conformist “cog in the wheels,” than of being thought of as different or weird.
•Be open to options and alternatives, considering new ideas, methods, means, products, practices and possibilities.

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My dictionary definition of “mainstream” includes “conventional,” which that same edition describes as actions “based on or in accordance with what is most generally done or believed.”  For this simple reason, we cannot be truly and completely conventional if we are an herbalist who acts on or in accordance with our own observations and beliefs, convictions and aims.

We may think we could be happier fitting fully into the mainstream, or that it’s the most practical and safest choice, but if so, it would be best to first decide if it embodies the values and characteristics, the goals and means for getting there, that we personally aspire to.

And if it is students, clients or customers that we seek, we would do well to be realistic about the propensities of the mainstream, how many we can serve and how deeply we can engage and benefit them… and grateful for the creative, sensitive, receptive alternative.

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Alternative

alternative |ôlˈtərnətiv| adjective
1. one or more things available as additional possibilities
2. of or relating to behavior that is considered unconventional and is often seen as a challenge to traditional norms

Nearly everything alternative is painted in the mainstream as being either extreme, subversive, heretical, unseemly, fatuous, or foolish.  Alternative schools are often dismissed as undisciplined daycare for the children of liberals, and alternative novels criticized as being for the effete.  Members of the mainstream often seem to enjoy being disgusted and mortified by what they call “alternative lifestyles,” from communal living to gay marriage.  And anything other than conventional medicine is considered quackery, whether via deliberate fraud or self-delusion.

A number of mainstream scientists speak as if alternative medicine (including herbalism) meant “ineffective or unproven” or “without any scientific basis or verifiable results.” Alternative practices “do have scientific value,” quipped one of the commentators on Randi.org, but only “to psychologists studying delusional behavior!”  A standing joke among MDs, is that “alternative medicine” means an “alternative to medicine.”  This includes plant medicine in the eyes of the great majority of them, considered of little more use than colloidal silver and magnet therapy.  One online rant goes as follows: “Herbal Medicine?  Give me a break!  If herbs pass the test, they’re just medicine.  And if they don’t, they’re just soup and potpourri.”  This prevailing attitude on doctor’s forums and in many scientific circles helps explain why up to a third of all herbalists go to such incredible lengths to establish academic, professional and scientific credentials.  They don’t spend so much money on formal education and memberships just to get a better job in the field, or to be better informed and positioned for influencing the academic community… they’re hoping at the least, to avoid being completely ignored, disregarded, denigrated, and dissed.

The writer Richard Dawkins calls alternative medicine – herbalism included – “a set of practices which cannot be tested, refuse to be tested, or consistently fail tests”… and without mentioning that most research is conducted by an industry with a vested interest in profitable synthetics, is usually done on isolated compounds rather than whole plants, and fails to take into account individual constitutional factors.  Thank you, Dick!  His is one example of how the mainstream discredits any but conventional, institutional practice… by totally missing the point!

As I have learned from Kiva, herbal effects are indeed testable – in some convincing way or another – if:

•Using whole plants, not constituents.
•Paying close attention to dosage, when to use dry or fresh plant material, and means of preparation
•Looking for more than an isolated action or effect.
•Taking into account the constitutions and health histories of those in the study.
•Measuring health as more than the alleviation of symptoms.

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Herbalism and other nature, folk, tradition, and experience-based healing practices are not merely complimentary adjuncts to “modern medicine.”  They’re vital alternatives to the conventional, blind-sided, narrow minded, profit motivated, corporate financed, pharmaceutical drug pushing, in many cases life endangering medical paradigm.

Nor is alternative medicine an insubstantial alternative to “real medicine,” it is an alternative way of perceiving the body, illness, treatment, and the very notion of what it means to be healthy.

“It is often thought that medicine is the curative process. It is no such thing… nature alone cures. And what [true] nursing has to do… is to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him.” –Florence Nightingale (from Notes on Nursing)

You might think of alternative medicine the way you think of alternative energy.  Wind and solar power are alternatives to mountain-leveling coal mines and air polluting power plants.  Or the way you think of healthy whole foods from the woods or garden, an alternative to the mainstream American diet of processed carbs, sugar and salt, hormone laden meat, genetically modified vegetables, canned food, and snacks.  Or like what is undoubtedly the best music these days, not the formulaic (certified, licensed) mainstream music being pushed, but the often unsigned (uncertified), independent musicians creating new Alt-Country/Americana, Alternative Rock, World Fusion, Alt-Latino and more.  Think about how much the mainstream media sucks, and how necessary are any alternative sources of much needed news.

In a similar way, we are the alternative – to a fearful, highly distracted and controlled humankind, increasingly divorced from its nature and from the natural world, out of touch with its native intuition, instincts, emotions and their triggers, dreams and service, purpose and calling.  And herbalism is an alternative – to institutional/industrial health care, to viewing the body as a mechanism or chemical factory, to treating symptoms instead of causes and imbalances, to the restricting of health care access and total dependence on technology and drugs.

Some of you may be attached to identifying with or being thought of by others as mainstream, but let’s get serious!  How mainstream is it today, to practice plant medicine apart from its twisted pharmaceutical successors, to make one’s own preparations, to think of health as wholeness instead of an absence of symptoms, to provide advice to nearly anyone who asks, to put ethics and quality ahead of income, or to be concerned about the health of plant populations as well as of the people served?

I frankly don’t know hardly any mainstream-type people in the field of herbalism. Nobody has done more to broaden the appeal of herbalism than the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, for example.  Yet on closer examination, we see that she, like I, has a soft spot – and acts as a magnet for – radicals and activists, wild women, frisky fellow and self-proclaimed freaks, outlandish outliers and edge-dwellers.

“These people are my tribe. I’m one of them! I identify with them because I’m a bit freakish and outlandish myself! I just have a sweeter cover, perhaps, than many of my fellow radicals, is all!” –Rosemary Gladstar

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If your reputation is based on clinically informed medical herbalism, you’re clearly still not mainstream if you teach aromatherapy, promote critical thinking, or sing “I’m An Herbal Rebel” at events full of other alternative-type folks.  You may be an officer of the American Herbalist Guild making inroads in the scientific or legislative community, but you are unavoidably alternative if you’re also an activist, eco-tourist, or conservationist, teach energetics, or had an herbal epiphany at a Grateful Dead concert.  Academic degrees are impressive, as are any years of study you may have put into your botany or chemistry, but these things are not enough to earn you full mainstream membership, if you are known to administer to the homeless, volunteer in Nicaragua, fight to protect endangered Sandalwood trees, foster free clinics, run a first aid station at a Rainbow Gathering, sleep in the back of your herbal business to save money, prefer nature documentaries over action-movie superheroes, or discuss in public what plants seem to be communicating to you.

Sorry, but at most – if you are quiet and guarded about much of who you are and what you believe, and are careful with your appearance and language – you may be partially accepted by a mainstream that you can only partially relate to.

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Confluence & Divergence

“Just because I have success, doesn’t mean I’m part of the mainstream.”
–Matt Drudge

So what might be a healthy relationship, a healthful confluence with the predominantly unhealthy mainstream?  How can we interact with it that serves both our well- being and our purpose, draw from it what we need or desire, trade with and help its members, influence and help heal its culture?  Consider the following model/parallel.

In many parts of the world, for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years, the majority of the population lived outside of the few urban areas, gathering or producing food, living in rural villages with cultures that helped keep them aligned with the spirit and needs of the land.  Cities, with their closely packed buildings, constant commotion and mind numbing noise, were seen as rather unpleasant places one traveled to in order to trade their rural produce or crafts for things that couldn’t be obtained elsewhere, meet and hopefully mate with someone from a different town or tribe, and party hearty!  With any luck, one would wake up suffering no worse than a hangover, recover their wagon and newly scored goods, and then get the hell out of Dodge as quickly as their feet, horse, or jalopy would carry them.

Imagine now, if you will, mainstream society as an old-school urban center, with the herbalist as the ecocentric outlier, a feed-stream periodically entering the mainstream in order to exert a positive effect, teach or be taught, exchange products or services for what’s needed or enjoyed, dance with the most attractive elements until late at night… but always returning to the alternative of our true community, to the source and heart of herbal wisdom, identity and mission.

If we are to give our lives to this work, we perhaps need to become more comfortable with, and find more satisfaction in being different… and to be more fulfilled and satisfied, serving not the masses so much or so deeply as the exceptions – those exceptional folks courageously looking beyond current convention for the most natural, healthful alternatives.

I was once asked if I had ever treated “mono.”  Even if I were a clinical herbalist, I likely still would have had to say “Yes… monotony, monopolies, monotheism, monoculture, and monosyllabic cliches.”  And a good treatment for that is a protocol of divergence, diversity, multiculturalism, and intelligent investigation and communication.

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Go Against The Flow – by Jesse Wolf Hardin – Share Freely – www.PlantHealerMagazine.com

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Let us return our watercourse analogy again, in closing.

While the mainstream features the greatest volume, it is also in some ways the narrowest and straightest channel, herding, compacting, densifying and considerably accelerating everyone caught up in its flow.  As anyone who has ever been caught up the central current of a fast river knows, it can be exceedingly hard to paddle out of its hold and into a preferred path.  Even within the river itself, there are deep currents that do not run nearly so fast, and to either side can often be found shallower waters slowed by their more intimate contact with shoreline terrain, affording one time to consider both where one is? heading and what we are passing by.  There are even eddies, areas where the water catches and swirls, sometimes sending floating objects temporarily back in the direction of the headwaters, the source.  Each of these is an available alternative to mainstream:  The depths, where meaning is paramount but few reside.  The gladly uneven, explorative, meandering edges.  And the pivotal moments of eddy spin, when we’re helped to find our way back in the direction of the dream and connection, to where our herbal journey began.

Indeed, what we have been calling “alternative” is never a single option, but a multiplicity of directions, possibilities, methods, means, and personal styles.

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Rather than seeking a single unified body of herbalism, let us celebrate the many divergent streams.  And rather than obsessing about herbalism’s acceptance into the mainstream, let us celebrate our divergence.  Let us be happy with the healing effects we are able to have on any members of the dominant culture… and thrilled with those atypical and alternative thinking folks who will continue to comprise our main clients and favorite suppliers, our students and teachers, our allies and tribe.

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Excerpted from Wolf Hardin’s upcoming book “Plant Healers and Wisdom Keepers”, and it will also appear an  in the Summer 2013 Issue of “the Magazine Different”:

www.PlantHealerMagazine.com

And help yourself to the Free 154 Page Long Plant Healer Sample Download:

Plant Healer Sample Issue

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(Feel free to re-post or quote this – with a link please)

Plant Totems: Identifying Our Most Personal Herbal Ally

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

The following is excerpted from a much longer piece featured in the current issue of Plant Healer Magazine, and that will be included in Wolf’s next book, “Finding Our Medicine”.  As far as I know it is the most extensive and inspirational work ever done on the seldom explored subject of personal, practical plant totems.  Thank you for reposting and sharing this! -Kiva Rose

PLANT TOTEMS
Identifying & Learning From Our Most Personal Plant Ally

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

The Ojibway word “totem” originally refers to a plant or animal symbol for a specific family or clan, not unlike the creature emblems on ancient European Coat of Arms.  Thus we talk about “totem poles” when referring to trees carved into vertically stacked animals, each signifying a different clan of the Haida and other coastal Alaskan natives.

In the last century, however, “totem” has increasingly come to refer to an individual’s particular spirit helpers or signifiers.  This is more in keeping with the ancient shamanic sense of plant and animal spirits, teachers and guides, though the word itself wasn’t previously used in this context.  Most often, and in many different languages, the word used was “helper”… and help is something a personal totem can amply provide, thanks to its individual resonance, familiarity and similarity.

A totem is not “other-worldly,” no mater how mysterious or magical it might appear.  It is of, native to, and a component of this earth.

It is not just for Indians, for shamans, or for hippies.

Your totem is not your savior.  Not an authority that will tell you what to do.

It is not an English-speaker, and you will need to learn from it with more than your ears.

Your true totem is also not likely to be (as the website for one plant medium asserts) the “first plant that comes into your mind when you close your eyes and meditate.”

Your totem is not a visitation, nor a product of your imagination.  Not a foolishness or indulgence.  It’s probably not a broadly popular, charismatic or cliché species.  And it is not necessarily even your favorite!

It is real and measurable, and simply your single most revealing, single most helpful botanical ally and aide.

“…if we’re only listening for words – for language in human terms – then we’re barely listening at all!  The world speaks to us in the ancient tongue of touch and color, texture and fragrance, through taste and breath and every part of our senses.  Listening through our whole body teaches to be open to the world and each other in a whole new way and with a depth and subtlety that even the best words cannot begin to approach.”
–Kiva Rose

All of life speaks to us, though certainly not in a language most are used to hearing.  And no creatures or persons communicate more personally, bodily, relevantly or poignantly than one’s totems.

When practiced with intense awareness and uncompromised honesty, the plant totem quest and realization can be a functional method and means for increased self knowledge and self actualization, interspecies alliance, enablement and growth, a system or partnership which can result in a more effective herbal practice, improved learning and teaching, and a new or heightened commitment to a purpose beyond the narrow, predictable, conformist, mundane and unsatisfying.

We use a comparison chart of botanical designs and attributes to positively identify a new plant we discover.  A totem is a way to “key-out” our authentic personalities and personas, to help distinguish the pretend from the genuine, projection and spin from understanding and wisdom.  It can provide us with another way to see ourselves, and to honor our selves as we would honor the most powerful and significant of all the plant species to ever come into our lives.

Every plant, every creature, lives to serve itself and contribute to its ecosystem, with an intrinsic value and evolved roles irrespective of any service it ever provides to you or your kind, your culture or the herbal practice and field.  That said, a totem can serve to personify, inform, mirror, model, connect, inspire and initiate.

Seeking out one’s totem is a deliberate and sometimes lengthy process, not like giving job interviews to strangers, but more like rediscovering something that had all along been integral to their selves and lives.   I’ve heard people say they didn’t feel like they had vetted and selected their beloved spouse so much as fortuitously or even magically “reunited” with their “soul mate,” that after years of searching for a partner they’d finally “gotten out of the way” of whatever destiny or process that then brought them together.  They may feel they have found or been given the one person who could be their ideal partner in struggle and growth, bliss and purpose.  Similarly, we can methodically search from among our encyclopedia of plants, in yard and wilderness for years without luck, or – through a combination of our heightened awareness and kind synchronicity – feel we’ve been led to or visited by the one species that best serves as our totem.

For this quest to be successful, we first need to get past all assumptions, preconceptions, clichés, anthropomorphic diversions and narrow categorizations to gain a sense of the various possible totem plants’ core nature, attained through direct physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual interaction.  This is easiest done through a series of specific steps that Kiva Rose lists as “observation, sensory experience, emotional response, cognition, integration and application.”

We can then appraise and test any candidate species we feel profoundly connected to, whether seemingly revealed through method or magic, with a series of questions such as:
•Does it feel especially familiar, allied, relevant, related?
•Or significant, communicative, essential, momentous?
•Is there anything about its form, shape, color etc. that reminds you of yourself?
•Do you act on the world – or contribute to it – in any ways similar to how the observed plant does?
•Or do you respond similarly to stimuli, threat, reward, isolation, exposure, stress, nourishment or care?
•Has it been in your life for a long time, appearing again and again like someone seeking your attention?
•Or has it only fairly recently become significant in your life, but in a very dramatic, vital, extreme or timely way?
•Has it proven to be particularly potent medicine for a chronic ailment or imbalance of yours?
•Or has it been medicine for your emotional balance, helping you deal with especially difficult traumas or situations, to calm you enough to function or arouse you sufficiently to accomplish what needs to be accomplished?
•Do you find yourself thinking about it for no obvious or urgent reason?
•Or did it come to you in a vision, or appear to you in dreams?
•Does it feel like you have somehow dishonored or trivialized it, when you speak of it loosely, to those who may not care?
•When you have avoided it or ignored the thought of it for awhile, do you feel out of sorts, neglectful, unassisted or unmoored?
•Do you feel unreasonably relieved when reunited after a physical absence, or after a long period of not giving it any mind?

•Does it seem to ask anything of you, require response, point to a mission or calling, excite significant acts?

Plant Spirit Portrait of Wolf by Marloe

Please note that your totem is not always the plant you’d most like to resemble or emulate.  A giant redwood sounds like a strong and noble totem, many would like to think of themselves as being sweet as Honeysuckle, and I can’t tell you how many people I know that for good reason call themselves Rose!  It may even be a plant that’s not very popular with people, yet it may still be your totem, instructor, and significator… if a number of the following conditions are met.

Regional:
One’s totem plant will often be associated with a particular bioregion, so that when you say its name – Ginseng for example – people immediately think “Southern Appalachians.”  It is usually one that grows locally, native to or often associated with the region where you live.  But if not, it will likely inhabit the area you grew up in, or else where you entire being feels most at home.  Even if your totem proves to be a known world traveler, green gypsy, botanical opportunist or incessant vagabond – such as Russian Thistle (Sola tragus) – it will still be strongly associated with the place where you either are, used to be, or are drawn to and will probably end up one day.  It will thus be place-based, and inevitably recognizable, au fait, au courant.

Significant:
Your totem will seem imbued with significance, with the plant bearing, imparting or signifying meaning well beyond what any casual observer might glean.  For whatever personal reasons, you will experience it as personally and particularly notable, noteworthy, weighty and important.  You will find your plant to be signal, apparently calling for you attention, and expressive of a presence, quality, characteristic, form or way of being or doing that has uncommon relevance for you.

Familiar:
It will be a species that you feel highly familiar with, conversant with, specially informed by or about, no stranger to, at home with.  It could be a pervasive weed, a rare herb that you find special, or else a threatened or disappearing plant… but in any case, it will be one that when you see it, feels like “Aww, there you are!” as though an appearance by an old friend you can never predict the arrival of but who could always be counted on to drop by unexpectedly, at the most mysterious or fortuitous times.  No matter how rare the species might be, or how uncommon or bizarre its form or function, it can never be called exotic because it is too well known by you… and too close.

Intimate:
You will feel a very close connection, even when physically apart.  You will know details about it gleaned through personal interaction, facts and nuances that other people would not necessarily find interesting.  You may feel that the plant somehow recognizes you, resonates with you, knows you, that there is nothing you either can or need to hide from it.  If words passed between you, it would be as with folks who have been married for twenty years, with each of you finishing the sentences that the other starts.  It will also be like the newly in love, “in their own world” with an impassioned oneness that no few can see and none participate in, in the exact same way.

Discrete:
Being in its presence will seem in some ways like a shared secret.  You may automatically feel a need for discretion, to conceal or guard from the public that which your totem plant communicates or reveals, protecting it from misappropriation, trivialization and ridicule.  Even when there will seem to be no harm in telling people about the depth of your relationship, you will probably feel that it somehow dilutes, distracts or disrespects, to expose that relationship to the uninvited or unconcerned, uninitiated and uninvolved.  When you do share its story, you will wish it to be to people most attuned to hearing you.  And at those rare times when you lead others to your totem’s refuge – and into its presence – it will be those you most trust, who are most sensitive, respectful, and likely to learn from, benefit from such confidence.

Correspondent:
You and your totem plant will feature close, recognizable similarities in character (personality, style, energy, impression), form (aspects of actual appearance, shape, color, growth patterns) or function (you and your plant’s roles within the respective human and biological communities).  A redhead is more likely to have a red blossomed plant, an Oak woman likely to be broad shouldered and strong and a Willow man thin and flexible, a slow starting but perseverant and evocative person associated with Mandrake, an herbalist with a potent medicinal plant… though not necessarily so.  These may be analogous (performing a similar function but having a different evolutionary origin) characteristics, attributes, features, properties, essential qualities or peculiarities, and herbs actions and your own affects on people.  You might find patience exemplified by the ephemeral Desert Anemone (Anemone tuberosa) which can wait years for the right conditions to sprout from hidden tubers.  You may share insistence and movement with something like Wisteria or Bamboo, and share a preoccupation with the cracks between the worlds with the sacred night-flowering Datura.

Magical:
Your relationship with your totem plant could very well feel extrasensory, requiring and inspiring connection and communication at a level beyond the physical senses, unencumbered by conjecture and prejudice.  Your encounters with it may appear preternatural or ultra-natural, extraordinary or inexplicable, unaccountable, fantastic or even phenomenal, and the timing of its appearances or instrumental usage appearing incredibly significant and synchronistic.  If you come upon it with other people, it may seem an ordinary discovery to them and a momentous one to you.  You may have first become familiar with it at a time of bodily illness or emotional challenge and transition, or you may notice that it always seems to show up just when you need unburdening and cheering.  It may follow you from the field or garden into the house, as a picture or thought that won’t let us leave it behind, as the predominant inspiration for your art or recurrent feature of your poetry or story, or in dreams the come to you again and again.  It can serve as the flower that illuminates your quests or fuels your migrations, or as the heartful medicine leading you in the broadest and deepest sense to health and home.

Allied:
Perhaps not consciously, but certainly by its very nature, a totem is a plant in alliance with you and your greater intentions, mission or purpose.  It is your ally, confidante, guide, supportive reminder, co-traveler, and somehow even partner in your complimentary and overlapping roles.  More than reflecting or clarifying who you really are,  “resonating” with you or providing example and consort, it will seem to empower and motivate, instigate and percolate, to enable a connection, ability, vision, or your proactive efforts on behalf of some valued goal.  It can help you to not only treat ailments, but to also understand a condition or situation, find the resources you need, or recall your native talents and reservoir of strength and determination.  Your totem will serve, fuel and support not only your process of becoming ever more self aware, but also your most insistent calling and purposeful acts.

Initiatory:
A totem plant will never imply or tell you what to do, or what you should do.  “Should” is not even in the language of the natural and inspirited world.  What it will do is to help point you to or remind you of your own desires, needs, gifts and missions… and to help initiate your acting on them.  It can inspire you to realize your calling and actualize your dreams, to play your individual part in the conscious co-creation of a personal reality and larger world.  If your totem were a childhood friend instead of a plant, it would be the kid your parents don’t want you to play with because it has such a profound influence on you… worried in their motherly and fatherly way that it could be leading you to walk a wilder, unconventional path, inciting/exciting you to follow your heart rather than follow the rules.  Your totem brings to you not a sealed assignment or set of exacting instructions, but a mischievous dare to rally and risk, to move and progress.  If and when you identify your totem, look ever so closely.  Along with whatever other hints or gifts it may convey to you, is a most personal imperative.

“We need to treat plants, their spirits, our totems with more regard and reverence than we have. We need to stop only approaching them with the mindset of usefulness and consumption, and confront our biases and human chauvinism. We need fewer herbal[ist]s that treat plants and fungi as our personal medicine cabinet, and more thought toward dried herbs as sacred remains.”
–Lupa, Therioshamanism Website

You’ve noticed that when folks identify with an animal totem, they often create an altar-like space to honor it, gather historic and mythopoetic images of it, purchase an old ceremonial mask with its countenance, get a picture of it tattooed somewhere on their body, and carry or wear actual pieces of the animal such as a tooth necklace, bits of fur and bone in a medicine bag, or a fur vest rescued from a dusty secondhand store bin.  This is not macabre aesthetics, but a ritual honoring.  When they interface with any actual animal parts, they often treat them as not just representative of the animal but as spirited artifacts, venerable extensions of the once living creature that link us to them and the inspirited, informative natural world in powerful ways.  Yet when they collect dried plant parts, travel with an herbal sachet, or sleep with dream-stimulating Artemesia beneath their pillow, they may be thinking more often about what these plants can do to or for us, rather than feeling how they connect us back to the living plants themselves, to their species, communities and ecosystems.

With a real and awakened sense of what it means to find and ally with a plant totem, we become inspired to treat every bag of dried herbs as special and sacred, to arrange and appreciate old branches as much as fresh cut flowers, to heed the hints and proddings, to savor every blessing and utilize every lesson that totems or any other plant ever teach us… switching from asking what a plant can do for us, to what we can do together in partnership.

Our plant totems first contribute to our being and self knowing, and then – necessarily, essentially, wondrously – to our purpose and practice, to ever more effective ways of sharing our knowledge, contributing to the great healing, manifesting our love.

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(You can read more of Wolf’s writings in Plant Healer Magazine, in the archives of this Anima blog, and in the free Writings section of the Anima website.  Share freely)

Medicine from Disaster: Herbs of the Mountain Meadows by Kiva Rose

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Burned out mountain forests between Alpine, AZ and Hannagan's Meadow

Today I saw many miles of what’s pictured above. Black, dead trees and ground covered in a thick layer of ash. Exploded Pine limbs littering the periphery of the fire’s path and shattered trunks that collapsed into dust with a gentle exploratory touch on my part. While many sections of the burned forest were old growth Pine and burned so hot that they will be a long time indeed in regrowing, there are also many areas where lighter fires swept through and green patches that escaped entirely unscathed.

Fire itself is of course an age old occurrence that has a natural and beneficial place in the ecology of these mountains. What’s more recent is the decades of fire suppression combined with humans lighting accidental fires much earlier in the year than the more standard lightning triggered fires that usually occur just on the cusp of monsoon season and are often self-controlled by seasonal rains. These earlier fires burn longer and hotter with extremely low humidity and little can be done besides protecting human habitations until the rains come .

Unlike desert or scrublands, the resinous heart of these coniferous forests high in the Arizona and New Mexico mountains can burn incredibly hot and long.

Burned peaks in the White Mountains of the Apache National Forest

But the grieving is not what I want to address here. What I’m focusing on in this post is what’s survived and the new life that is already so insistently creeping back to the edge of where flames so recently resided.In spite of the severity of the fire, life persists. Where it burned quicker and lighter, the land will actually benefit from the removal of brush and the introduction of more fertile soil through the ash created by the bodies of burned trees and other plants. Where the fire burned slow and hot, the soil may be sterilized for years to come but all around it the green of life’s vitality.

Patches of hopeful green on the more lightly burned mountains

Much of the more lightly burned area that can be seen in the above picture is from the backfires created to combat the the main fire. The burned peaks above are from the actual Wallow Fire. The backfire burned areas should recover in fairly short order and with the monsoon rains, new green growth can already be seen. Not so with the primary fire damage, but even there life will eventually return even if in a different form and ecology than was originally found here.

And on the roadsides and riverbanks, green things still grow despite the drought.

Yerba del Lobo (Hymenoxys hoopesii)

Yerba del Lobo (Hymenoxys hoopesii)

One of the plants I was most relieved to see, albeit in much smaller numbers than usual, was the gorgeous Yerba del Lobo (Hymenoxys hoopesii), a medicine I first learned from Michael Moore. In our area, Hymenoxys is locally abundant in higher elevation mountain meadows, creek banks and similar wetland habitats. In good years, Yerba del Lobo can create a golden wash for miles across the sub-alpine meadows that make up some of my favorite places on earth.

This plant is a strong counter-irritant that Michael compared to Arnica and noted that in his experience it was feebler. I’m not sure if it’s our particular population or some other variable but I’ve actually found Yeba del Lobo to be stronger acting in many cases than Arnica, and the counter irritant effect is often strong enough to visibly redden and also cause feelings of heat where applied. Like Arnica, the liniment is frequently utilized in the treatment of musco-skeletal injuries, especially those aggravated by cold or dampness. Some people find that Yerba del Lobo is too heating on its own and I often formulate it in pain relieving salves/liniments with Artemisia spp., Alnus oblongifolia and Populus angustifolia.

©2011 Jesse Wolf Hardin

I was delighted to find a good sized meadow with an abundance of not only Hymenoxys, but also Cutleaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), Verbena macdougalii, my favorite local species of Geranium, G. richardsonii and a number of other remedios of the mountain Southwest. I even harvested a good amount of our higher elevation Mountain Alder, A. incana ssp. tenuifolia in order to compare it to the Canyon Alder I more commonly work with, A. oblongifolia.

Picnic lunch in the meadow

Loba set up a picnic lunch while Rhiannon and her best friend, Cassandra, danced in a patch of tall grass while a misting rain fell. We were at about 8500 feet and the forest surrounding the meadow is populated with Aspen, Douglas Fir, Spruce, White Fir and the occasional Southwestern White Pine. We ate goat cheese and freshly picked watercress on buckwheat sourdough while gazing up at the enormous trees behind us and then back at the blackened patches on the other side of the meadow.

Geranium richardsonii

This lovely light pink to white flowered Geranium is my favorite species for medicine in this area. While less colorful than its middle elevation relative, G. caespitosum, it has a much larger root system and is also considerably more astringent in nature, making it more effective in treatment of inflamed, boggy tissues both internally and externally. Since our oaks here in the SW tend be far less astringent than the average oak in the rest of the county, I tend to utilize a number of smaller plants for their astringency. Sumach (Rhus trilobata) and Geranium are two such plants commonly found in my materia medica.

An overflowing basket of Yerba del Lobo, Cutleaf Coneflower, Alder, Geranium, Iris and more

While Wolf took pictures of the activity, Loba gathered Watercress and Rhiannon and Cassandra exclaimed over wildflowers I of course was, as usual, on my hands and knees in the dirt examining plants. I spent a good part of my time using my hori-hori to dig up a bit of Coneflower and Iris to help refill my now depleted stores. In the process I also gathered some Wild Onions and Mint for the pantry.

Iris missouriensis

I was surprised to find a number of Iris still flowering in the meadow. While at the end of their prime, they’re still remarkably beautiful, especially in the way their faded tissue catches the sunlight filtering through low-lying clouds. Besides being lovely to look at, the bitter rhizomes of Iris have strong alterative, lymphatic, diuretic and anti-inflammatory actions. Please note that Iris should be used only once dried, and that it can be toxic (and thus, very unpleasant) in overlarge doses. In small doses, I find that it formulates extremely well and can add a great deal to many bitters and lymphatic blends.

Our I. mirrouriensis of the West seems somewhat less strong in action than the I. versicolor of the East, but still plenty strong for most purposes. Ellingwood described the specific indications of Iris:

This agent will prove serviceable when the stools are clay-colored, the urine scanty and the skin inactive and jaundiced. In small doses it is indicated in irritable conditions of the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, with altered secretion.

And indeed, Iris is most effective where the metabolic system seems to need a kickstart via stimulation (which physiologically often means some level of irritation) in order to effectively produce the secretions needed for proper immune and metabolic function. Again, dried plant, small doses and appropriate formulation keeping the specific indications in mind.

8,000 feet up in the mountains, a flowering Elder tree in the background and Frasera speciosa in the foreground

On the way home through the mountain passes I noticed several large patches of what the locals call “Indian Root”, botanically known as Frasera speciosa of the Gentianaceae. More widely known as Green Gentian, Elkweed or Cebadilla, this locally abundant herb is probably the single most revered plant by the folks of my village and surrounding areas.

Indian Root, Frasera speciosa


This bitter, rank-tasting plant with its yellow taproots has many of the expected properties of the Gentian family, primarily considered a digestive bitter by many. Locals have a litany of much more specific uses that I’ll discuss more fully in a later monograph on this plant. It certainly works great for that classic Gentian indication of epigastric fullness even after a very small amount of food is consumed, especially where the bloating is accompanied by copious loss of fluids via excess urination or diarrhea.


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More surprising was an Elder tree in full bloom standing atop the dry hillside above the Indian Root. While Wolf took the little girls to a local cafe, Loba and I set to work gathering up some of the creamy white blossoms.

This was such an incredibly wonderful surprise since I didn’t expect to be able to harvest any Elder at all this year! The odd yet sweet scent of the leaves and flowers made Loba and I somewhat giddy as we happily scrambled about reaching for the most accessible branches while being sure to leave plenty to become berries for the wildlife.

Mountain Vervain, Verbena macdougalii

Another delightful find was that nearly every unburned roadside and meadow contained an abundance of Mountain Vervain (Verbena macdougalii) in spite of the ongoing drought. One of my most turned to allies for treating tension and anxiety, I always gather a LOT of this plant every year. A specific and repeatedly successful used of this pretty wildflower is for tension and nerve pain in the shoulder and neck area in people who could generally be deemed “uptight” and who get irritable and short-tempered under stress. Overall, Verbena seems to have a remarkable ability to release the muscles around the base of the neck where it meets the shoulders. I’ve often seen this result in people getting the “shivers” not long after taking the tincture as the muscles relax. I’ve also seen it address tension headaches that even prescription painkillers hadn’t been able to touch.

Blue Flax, Linum lewisii

Despite the horror of the fire for humans and wildlife alike, it was a profound relief to see the green patches and roadsides. With so many of the forest service roads still closed, I haven’t made it back into the areas most seriously burned but I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to spend some time up in these beloved mountains, orienting myself to both the newly blackened landmarks as well as the vibrancy and vitality of life in flower.

All photos ©2011 Kiva Rose unless otherwise noted.

Plant Adventuring and Fall Wildcrafting – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Plant Adventuring and Fall Wildcrafting

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima Lifeways and Herbal School

I rouse early, as I almost always do, but this morning it was with designs on a trip outside this special canyon.  Opening my eyes to the sparkling river and clucking ravens, white barked cottonwoods and swaying pines, it requires a task or destination with mighty heavy draw to tempt my eyes and mind away from this place even for a short while.  Depending on the need, circumstance or season, it most likely means an inescapable shopping trip or dental visit, an invitation for me to speak at an event within a day’s driving distance of our sanctuary.  Or when it comes to a relaxing break from writing on the computers, it most likely means a plant gathering trip.

Here you see recent photos of our cabins, as taken from the river, looking through the arbor of cottonwood trees that I’ve grown and protected for the past 31 years.  Our new set of solar panels can be seen between the cabins, one of which is actually my old schoolbus-home covered over with untreated wood.

Our trips are are never just about plant gathering, of course, but about our family gathering together in order to take in the beauty and knowledge that experiences in new and wild places afford.

The flora of the arid Southwest are extraordinarily diverse yet easily impacted, and so as a personal conservation practice we never sell – and seldom trade – any of the gathered bounty… thus a relatively small amount of our time away is expended on the actually clipping or digging of needed medicines.  Far more of our hours apart from dear home and ongoing mission, are given to plant exploration, estimation, classification and deep appreciation, to energetic exchange and mutual recognition, communion and reunion, to what might in aggregate be more accurately referred to as plant encounters, excursions or adventures.

Due to the very nature of our purposeful work and ambitious mission, such adventures inevitably feel both a little mischievous and a mite truant, and therein undoubtedly lies a fair portion of the pleasure.  In spite of their often sudden and impromptu feel – dashing away between needy emails and essential deadlines – these are very much planned trips, talked about days or weeks in advance, with local medicinal plants researched, trail guides and maps poured over and promising areas circled, the days checked off with my partner Kiva cautioning me not to change my mind.  Before we go to bed the night before, she’s already filled the preferred green canvas daypack that I bought her, with the most relevant and trusted plant identification guides and botanical keys (research being an important adjunct to intuition, energetics and impressions), tools like her root-scooping hori-hori and small clippers, protective work gloves, a waterproofed map and compass or GPS.  Bags for plant storage, preferably porous burlap, are stacked by the door, with the camera on top so we can’t possibly forget it.   Youngsters are known for getting extra excited on the night before Christmas, but in our odd-otter daughter Rhiannon’s case it is anticipation of an upcoming plant trip that spurs her to spin and spin before going off to her treehouse to sleep.

Gathering the plants that Kiva needs for making medicine, is compelling enough.  But what excites us most is the exploring of new terrain and what feels like exotically different elevations, varied biota in places we’re visiting for the first time.  And for me especially – much more of an ally and aficionado of plants than an herbalist – a good part of the thrill is in coming across an interesting or unusual species that whether medicinal or not, I might never have laid eyes on before.  The overriding inspiration for this trip was the end of the growing season and the certain and soon emergence of Winter, a final chance this year for gathering most varieties of fresh plants, and an opportunity to gasp and giggle over the high country’s mad display of Fall color.

Everyone climbed into the jeep for the trip through the river crossings, a ten or fifteen minute bit of bouncing before being disgorged at the back gate of the Owl (Land) Rover for the remainder of the trip.  Our destination this time was alpine meadows and draw at 8 to 10,000 feet, the habitat of white skinned aspen and coal black bears, deep rooted osha and hearty lupine.  We had permission this time to do some gathering as well as exploring on a private inholding near what is called Hannagan’s Meadow, not very many miles over the New Mexico border and into the mountains of eastern Arizona.

It seemed as if a number of conditions had combined and concluded, such that the meadows area trails remained moist year round, with a soft and padded feel to the bare feet uncommon in this part of the country.

The brilliant crimson and gold colors of the oak and aspen leaf skylines, was found duplicated in miniature on the verdant forest bottom.

Loba and Rhiannon rested on the trail, after recently fending off colds with the help of Kiva’s elderberry elixir and herbal steams.

Carpeting long stretches of the trail were layers of bright Aspen leaves forming a mind spinning mosaic, their brilliant yellow hue not the result of new pigment but rather, the seasonal leaching out of green chlorophyll.  I take numerous photos of this arboreal art, always looking for more shots that can be used for feature illustrations and background layers for the Anima and Traditions In Western Herbalism websites, as well as for the new and full color Plant Healer Magazine.

Looking up, one sees a similar pattern of back-lit leaves, not waiting their turn to fall, but minute by minute sustained by their connection to the tree, delighting in their place in the sky.

…and this is how it must have looked to Kiva:

Stunning in their own way, were the predigous shelf mushrooms, nested in a matrix of lush moss.

These firm bodied mushrooms are a service to the ecosystem, as well as are incredibly beautiful to me.  Kiva is currently undergoing research to determine what uses this particular fungal species might have.

Their undersides are a wonderful, creamy, abalone white.

The greenest of the remaining annuals, was this species we have yet to have had tome to key out and identify.  Possibly a member of the wild pea family, it grew nearly 4′ high, with no leaf discoloration or die-back yet in spite of the frigid night time temperatures in November at 10,000 feet.

A few plants were actually still blooming, like this hearty wild strawberry…

…and this resilient yarrow, its flowers celebrating life and fecundity even as its leaves are rendered a dark honey brown by the turnover of the mountain Southwest’s distinct seasons.

It’s only at the end of the season, with the leaves of this plant starting to look a lot like the leaves on corn, that it becomes obvious why they named it Corn Lilly.

And here is what this Lilly’s seed pods look like, dry, opened, and having already discharged most of their contents for another generation on the mountain.

Winter’s can be heavy enough up here, that we saw many young trees either snapped in half or bent over by the weight of winds and snow.  This particular one especially caught my eye, having responded to being nearly broke in half by continuing its heroic skyward climb.

While I seldom feel accomplished enough to feel heroic, I share with this tree certain twists of character formed in response to wound and challenge, and continue a purposeful climb.  In our case, of course, the aim is not only to survive and taste the sun, but to consciously and effectively do all we can for this living earth, and help others to awaken and heal.

After Hannagan’s Meadow, we headed over to a favorite place for serious harvesting.

Developing a genuine relationship with landowners, and conserving or even helping to propagate resident species, is  great way to secure long term gathering rights.  Rural Western landowners are generally against federal environmental regulation, but are often enthusiastically supportive of private efforts to perpetuate the traditional healing herbs used by their pioneer forebears.

One exciting find on land we know about was the Sweet Root plant… and single sniff of the root makes clear why it’s called that!  It is known so far mostly for use with digestive upset, gut infections, and yeast infections.

Kiva and Loba always bring home some Whit Fir, rare at lower elevations, and a favorite of theirs for a flavorful and healthy tea.

And while it may sound silly to those of you living in forests of Blue and Engelman’s Spruce, it’s admittedly an extra big treat for me whenever I am high enough up the New Mexico/Arizona mountains to be able to bask among these luxurious and deliciously scented trees.

Note that these kinds of plant excursions earn the title of “adventures” for a reason — not just because of the excitement and surprises involved, but partly for the difficult dirt roads and challenging foot trails they afford, the sudden shifts in weather and vehicle breakdowns.  This fact led me to write an entire article of suggestions and guidelines for the upcoming first issue of our new Plant Healer Magazine… crucial for those just getting into herbal wildcrafting or other plant adventuring for the first time, and hopefully a helpful aid to longtime plant folks who could use an organized list of hints and tips to pass on to their herbal students.  While the Anima Blog and Medicine Woman’s Roots Blog will continue featuring announcements and stories, after December all of Kiva’s and my most in-depth, information filled articles will be appearing in the Plant Healer instead, with only excerpts appearing on these blogs.  For this reason alone, we strongly encourage anyone with an interest in herbalism and wildcrafting, plant conservation and activism, to subscribe to this art and photo filled journal of Western folk herbalism… with articles written by some of the leading voices in the herbal and healing community.

Plant Healer subscriptions will be available very soon.  To read the latest of Kiva’s always insightful pieces, my new wildcrafter’s hints and tips and a dozen other engaging articles by featured authors, please keep checking for subscription updates at the
Plant Healer Journal Website: www.PlantHealerMagazine.com

Grape Leaf Suppers – by Loba

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Grape Leaf Suppers

by Loba

To walk the canyon in early Summer is to saunter through waves of the most beguiling scent I’ve ever known– the grape vines are flowering! It comes at me from a distance, just a hint of sweetness, then it grows and grows until it I am completely drunk on grapeflower. I lean against the rocks under their vines, surrendering moment upon moment… forgetting all the things I have to do, and deciding that picking grape leaves for supper is at least as important as any of them. Now the grape flowers have become fruits– the little grapes are swelling with the wonderfully welcome monsoon rains! And the grape leaves are still perfect for picking.

There’s not many foods that don’t take kindly to being wrapped about in a grape leaf. It’s refreshing to realize that we don’t need bread products to have the fun experience of piling complementary foods together and eating them with our hands, as in a sandwich, or a burrito. The extra fun of stuffing your own grape leaves is that every single leaf can be filled differently! Their tartness perfectly complements rich meat dishes or simply grilled steak or chicken, baked yams, hummus and other bean dishes, creamy nettle dip, even simply steamed or sauteed vegetables, especially mixed with any of the above. They’re also wonderful wrapped around certain fresh vegetables, especially fresh red peppers, with a bit of cheese and/or an olive and a bit of pesto. One of my favorite ways to serve supper this time of year is to arrange a beautiful, large platter of different foods, sometimes all of them cold, if it is a very hot day. I go through the pantry and coolers and find whatever scrumptious little treats and leftovers might be hiding in there, and slice up some fresh things, and decorate the whole creation with little piles of fresh grape leaves. Their bright green is so beautiful with all the other colors, it’s enough to make me hungry even when it’s almost too hot to think about eating! It’s beyond fun to take each leaf and fill it with any assortment of mouth-watering yummies! Don’t forget to admire each one before you eat them! We also have a lot of fun informing each other of particularly good bites. Suppertime conversation often goes like this, “Oh, I just had the best thing! It was a bit of yam, with some goat cheese, preserved lemon and some olive paste, and a bit of that elk!” “Oh, I have to try it!” “Did you try the roasted garlic with the chard and some eggplant yet?” “Yeah, it’s even better if you put a little hummus in there.”

If you don’t have lots of lovely little treats hiding in your pantry this time of year, you can go to the natural foods deli and get some olives and smoked meats, and marinated things, and delicious cheeses. But here are also some very easy dishes or condiments for you to consider having around for a inspiring summertime grape leaf feast! Some of them do require using an oven, which I suggest either doing in the morning if you have cool mornings where you are, or using a solar oven, which I am most likely to do whenever it’s not cloudy. I also tend to cook any sauteed dishes in the morning, whenever I can make the time.

Roasted Garlic
Gingered Eggplant Relish
Wild herb (or basil) Pesto (see recipe in a previous blog)
Baked Tofu
Delphi Chicken
Elk with Grape leaves
Simple Sauteed Kale with Lemony Leeks
Fresh Corn and Nettle Saute

Roasted Garlic

What a delight it is, to squeeze tender roasted garlic cloves from their papery shells and add this magic substance to just about any meat or vegetable or bread-like treat. If you use a homemade chicken broth with plenty of fat to roast it in, you won’t need to add any olive oil to the pan. But it will come out delicious either way you choose to make it, as long as it has just enough time in the oven.

To Roast Garlic in an Oven:

Several heads of Garlic (4-6, depending on size)
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or rosemary oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch or two of thyme

Place the whole garlic heads in an 8 inch pan. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan, and swish the pan around a bit to mix things around. Place in about a 350 degree oven for about 60-90 minutes, or until the garlic cloves have darkened and shrunk a bit, and are quite soft when you squeeze or poke at them.

coming soon– how to roast garlic in an open fire!

Baked Tamari Tofu

You can buy good packaged baked tofu at any whole foods store, but it’s much more fun to make your own.  This home baked tofu is so irresistible that I have a hard time not devouring the entire batch as it first comes out of the oven.  If I hope to share any with Kiva and Rhiannon, I make sure to double the quantities.

(serves 2)

8 oz. package raw tofu, firm or extra firm
1/3 cup tamari
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger, minced
4 or more cloves garlic, minced

Slice the tofu into 1/2” pieces.  Put the tamari, ginger and garlic in a wide shallow bowl, or a loaf pan, letting it soak for at least a half an hour, turning once.  Preheat the oven to 375˚.  Remove the tofu from the marinade and arrange the slices on a greased pan.  Bake for about 20 minutes, watching carefully and rotating the pan if needed.  The slices will shrink and firm up considerably, but should still be moist inside.  Enjoy straight from the oven, as a garnish on soup, pasta, or rice, or as party to my Udon Noodles With Tofu and Peanut Sauce (see p. ?).

Gingered Eggplant Relish

This one’s great so many ways, with chicken or fish, in burritos, on polenta, in sandwiches, mixed into scrambled eggs and on and on!  I’ve made many variations on this theme, but the onion, ginger and garlic are always a constant.  I suggest that you try it without the dill and coriander before you try it with…. it’s so good both ways!  I love eggplant so much, it’s always on my list when someone offers to bring me treats from the city.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (or butter)
1 medium eggplant
1 large onion
6 medium-large cloves garlic
2-4 tablespoons minced grated fresh ginger (to taste)
1 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
1 tsp dried dill (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chop the onion into small pieces and cook with the grated minced ginger, in a skillet until halfway tender in the olive oil.  Chop the eggplant while the onion is cooking, in chunks a little bigger than the onion pieces.  Add the eggplant, and stir as often as you can while you are mincing the garlic.  Add the garlic, and the dill and coriander if you like, and stir frequently until everything is tender but not mushy.  Do you have any homemade sesame crackers around?  I hope so!  If not, you’d better try it immediately on some good bread!

Delphi Grilled Chicken

What evokes summertime more than lemony grilled chicken, redolent with fresh herbs?  With fresh corn-on-the-cob and a big Greek salad, this is the perfect meal for clan get-togethers on those sultry Summer evenings.  I like to put on some extra sticks of juniper on the campfire where we grilled, to delight the kids and light up the faces of our friends.
We prefer dark meat, as it’s more flavorful and juicy, so we often buy packages of nothing but thighs.  If not, we purchase a whole chicken that I cut up into quarters. The chicken soaks in the marinade overnight, which is also used to baste the bird during cooking.  Served as is and hot, or mixed with some plain yogurt or sour cream, it makes a scrumptious sauce!

1 whole chicken, or 6 thighs, rinsed in cold water

Lemon Rosemary-Thyme Marinade:

Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup canola or olive oil
2 tablespoons honey, warmed (optional)
2 teaspoons fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, (or 1 tsp. dried, ground in a mortar)
6-10 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix up the marinade in a nonmetal bowl large enough for the chicken to fit comfortably. Combine all ingredients with a whisk or a fork, put the washed chicken in the bowl and bathe it with your hands in the marinade. Cover the bowl with a plate and put in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours, turning at least once.  Remove chicken from marinade and grill 4-6 inches above medium coals, turning as needed, for 30-40 minutes or until the juices run clear when a knife is poked in close to the bone.  Careful not to overcook it!
Marinade Variations:

•Spicy Caribbean Marinade
Omit rosemary, increase honey to 4 tablespoons, add 2 jalepenos, seeded and minced finely, plus 1/4 teaspoon each of ground allspice and nutmeg.

•Mexican Marinade
Substitute the juice of half an orange and one lime for the lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro for the herbs.  Add 2 teaspoons ground chile powder and 1 teaspoon cumin.

•Sesame Ginger Marinade

Instead of the herbs, substitute 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger and add 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil.  Add up to a teaspoon of cayenne if you happen to like it spicy.

Elk and Grape Leaf Stew

Mediterranean flavors complement stewed elk meat in this earthy, hearty dish. I like to serve this with a salad or a simple dish of sauteed greens or green beans. It’s also lovely on corn tortillas or any flatbread, with scrambled eggs, or even as a simple snack, served cold with some fresh grape leaves or other greens suitable for stuffing. Try it with some Red Chile or Paprika Sauce and homemade piima cream for an extra special treat! And do be sure to try it with the fresh mint or pickled mint garnish– it’s sooo good! If you can’t get elk meat, both buffalo and lamb would be worthy substitutes.

1 lb. elk stew meat (or 2 pint jars Home Canned Elk)
1 onion, diced, sauteed in 1-2 tablespoons butter till golden
3 cloves garlic, minced, sauteed with the onion
1 1/2 cups chopped grape leaves, fresh or preserved
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons sweet paprika or Aleppo pepper
1/3 cup sesame seeds, toasted in a skillet
1/3 cup Homemade Olive Paste, or chopped kalamata olives
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, or 1/4 cup chopped pickled mint leaves

Pickled Mint:

Simply pour apple cider vinegar over whatever amount of fresh mint you can get into a jar. Be sure to cover the mint completely. Ready to serve after 1-2 days.

If starting out with fresh elk meat, cut into small pieces, heat a skillet to medium-high and brown in a tablespoon or two of butter. Place in a medium sized pot, barely cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender, usually about two hours.
If starting out with Home Canned Elk, simply empty the contents of 2 pint jars elk meat and broth into a medium sized pot. Add the rest of the ingredients except the mint, and simmer until the grape leaves are tender. Time will vary depending on the thickness of the grape leaves, usually somewhere between 20-45 minutes. Garnish with the chopped mint leaves before serving.

-Love, Loba

(Excerpted from Loba’s upcoming cookbook — Share freely so long as credited)