Medicine Woman Herbal Book Excerpt #3 – By Kiva Rose

by Kiva Rose on March 13th, 2008
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The Medicine Woman’s Herbal
By Kiva Rose Hardin
Excerpt #3

“Finding a space to belong in, an actual place that I could touch and feel and bring myself to, really made me a person, an entity. It gave me an identity. My surroundings became the path and the path became me.”
-Katie Hennessey

It was as a child that the plants first called to me, crawling through the grasses, stopping to sniff the smallest flowers, then sitting back on my heels in awe at the fragrant, white blossoms of the yarrow growing wild at the edges of our yard. Running through the woods, I learned how to weave through the weeds so as to avoid the sharp sting of the prolific nettles. I gathered wild mulberries from up the hill with my mother, delighting in the sweet burst of juice eaten from purple stained fingers. Even then, I knew that the plants’ language of both sweetness and sting was significant and important, telling of some secret healing power or painful call to pay attention. And though the grownups continually cautioned me to not put plants in my mouth for fear I’d poison myself, I couldn’t help but take a taste of the bitter leaves of the dandelion or the nectar rich sage blossoms. I plucked shepherd’s purse seeds, intrigued by their peculiar shape and peered at them from every angle, carefully breaking them apart and then tasting their peppery goodness, proclaiming them to be wild pepper hearts, and adding another defamed weed to my list of favorite wild nibbles.

I knew I was hooked on herbs, the day an old Mexican woman down the road taught me how to use those pepper hearts and yarrow to stop my knees from bleeding, following a particularly bad bike wreck. I’d already searched out and marked any reference to medicinal plants in my favorite fairy tales and stories, but now I poured through field guides and herbal encyclopedias from the local library, looking for familiar plants and their uses. In my small bedroom, I created strange elixirs with vinegar, kitchen spices and garden weeds, delighting just to open the bottles and smell the mysterious scents within. I drank peppermint tea with a new fascination, turning inwards to observe any noticeable effects upon my body. Pulled by the ancient memories of meaning and need the plants stirred in me, I couldn’t have known the profound part they would play in my life’s calling and work. Through my teen years on the streets and my subsequent journey into the wilderness, the plants remained my closest companions, providing nutriment for my spirit and body when nourishment of any kind was hard to come by, and companionship when I had no where else to go for understanding.

Though initially my focus was trained primarily on the plants, Wolf taught me that medicine is any article or agent that contributes to the greater whole. Medicine can the pungent, peppery roots of Osha, or it can be a caring hand on our shoulder, it can be the car wreck that wakes us up to the beauty and importance of life, or it can be the much needed rest that gives us back our energy and vibrance. I recognized medicine in the loneliness during the time I’d spent on the streets, and how it taught me to choose my friends carefully and to value my solitude, found deep healing in my early struggle to free myself of my family’s destructive cycles, and a cure for nearly every sadness in the embrace of our rushing river. Medicine will be different for each person, and will change for each of us in time. The fast-paced lifestyle that invigorates one person may not serve the slower, more deliberate nature of another. The Medicine Woman Tradition teaches that there is no set dogma, no single way of being… only the bedrock of the earth’s underlying principles, the twisting, flowing current of our deepest needs and the clarion call of our most meaningful purpose, all urging us deeper, further and fuller into our selves, and ever further along the winding path we walk.

As that wonder-filled little girl, I was afraid that the role of healer had been relegated by modern dictates to apply only to medical school graduates. It was with great excitement that I learned of contemporary practicing herbalists and healers, yet I knew even then that I would never be happy just dispensing medicines, knew that working from the illusion of separative body, spirit and mind would be less than satisfying. Back then, I imagined myself the fairy-tale witch at the edge of the woods, with a bubbling soup pot and a pantry filled with the scent of dried, twisty roots and green, fragrant leaves. In my mind, I would treat neighbor children from my woodland cottage and deliver medicinal brews and wise words to the townspeople. The Medicine Woman of my youthful daydreams was, as I sensed on some instinctual level, a vital archetype and role model for our species, providing insight, counsel, and both magical and common sense healing to those she cares for and her surrounding tribe. While she may sometimes seem lost or invisible in our culture’s adoration of ephemeral beauty and tragic tales, she is still very present in our stories and thoughts, helping us re-create our lives.

Leading my students into the wild forests of my southwestern homeland, I find myself still glowing with the sense of enchantment and mystery that the plants first spoke of so many years ago. In my teaching and writing, I strive to pass on my continual wonder and love of the green world and its healing power. When I work with local village people, I remember my healing roots and the wise ways of my ancestral mothers, and at the same time I am excited at the potential for new discoveries and understandings. Practicing my art as teacher, wife, mother, herbalist and writer – as Medicine Woman – my childhood dreams are superimposed over my day to day life, seamless as skin, and more fulfilled with each passing moment.

And now it is time to turn from this solar powered laptop, and to the gorgeous sun as it slips over the red and violet cliffs. As I close, Loba is lighting the oil lamp and candles while Rhiannon sets the table for a dinner of wild meat and greens, glowing acorn bread and mulled cider. A simple prayer speaks our gratitude for the medicine of our abundance and the hands that fashioned it. In the growing dark, we take in the profound healing of stillness and nourishment, of love and fulfillment… and the unique, powerful journey we are each called to as Medicine Women. We applaud your responding to your calling, welcome your embrace of the Tradition, and will do all we can to assist your unique individual expression of the purposeful Medicine Woman Herbal path.


For more information on our online Medicine Woman Herbal course, go to:

And you haven’t yet you can check out my Medicine Woman’s Roots blog, at:

Categories: Wild Plants & Traditional Healingways

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