“Trees were our first teachers,” Bruce Miller used to say. Bruce (Subiyay) was a Skokomish elder, teacher & leader behind the Salish cultural renaissance of the last few decades. Bruce continues to be a powerful inspiration. and many continue his work of revitalizing Salish culture and rekindling the connection between plants and people. (For more information, see links at the bottom of this post.)
A resonant aspect of his teachings is the consideration of tree as teacher. There’s something about trees that stirs something inside us. Humans have long felt a unique kinship with the trees, and their medicinal qualities represent a vast & untapped potential in the health & ecological field.. Read more
Tea is the perfect theme for this month’s Wild Things Roundup. I truly love tea—it’s an art and, sometimes, a form of therapy.
In the depth of Winter, we confront dark, hard, uncomfortable things. I doubt I’m the only one recovering from the turmoil of 2012, ducking from the seasonal bugs whizzing through our communities, and trying to find solace & a silver lining from the horrific events we’ve witnessed in the last few months. It’s been a rough few months, I won’t lie. But tea—well, that makes everything a bit better. Teas (infusions & decoctions) make available some very useful compounds to rebalance our physiologies. But they’re also satisfying, comforting & soulful. Read more
On one hand, health is a right and it should be available to us all. This is the basis from which most healers practice. It’s even recognized in the UN Declaration on Human Rights. The World Health Organization Constitution “enshrines the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.” Health is attainable and an inalienable right. We empower people to take charge of their own health.
But health privilege also exists. It lives in unexamined notions of health, disease, and shapes the meaning of these experiences. Much like racial, gender, or socioeconomic privilege, health privilege shames the individual for being ill, attributing illness to New Age judgements of spiritual impotency, or impure thoughts/actions. It rears its head when someone asks you if you’re “still taking those crazy medications?!” or tells you that daily consumption of bentonite clay would have prevented it. When you enjoy unexamined health privilege, you may think that someone is ill because they ate poorly, or haven’t learned a karmic lesson yet, possess stuck/suppressed emotions, lived dis-harmoniously with Nature, or lack chuztpah or spiritual willpower. And we pass judgement. In the clinic, this can disrupt the healing process. I think it can even cause harm.
Herbalists, specifically community-oriented ones, can better understand and serve our clients & communities if we examine the types of health privilege we enjoy. This way, we can be better allies and be more effective partners in the healing of people & planet by taking responsibility for our constructs of health & illness.
The more I learn, grow, develop new skills, reach out to new groups, try to engage creative social change, I’m consistently reminded that most of our thinking and decision making is driven by unconscious processes. (One of the articulations of this is Buddha’s metaphor of the Elephant and the Rider—where the rational, conscious mind is the rider, and the elephant, the subconscious. A crude metaphor, yes. But the take-away is valuable—where the elephant goes, so does the rider. It’s why marketers, politicians, and anyone else that tries to persuade does so through engaging your deeper emotional being, despite their methods appearing so artless to our neocortex.) And I think this is a source of a lot of resistance to creative change and evoluation in groups, communities, and societies.
I was at mycology seminar this past weekend, and spent a minute or two considering ecological innovation in leading the way for subconscious thought transformation. The developments in mycology today are jaw-dropping—medicinal mushrooms and their ability to support immune system adaptation, mycelium to filter agricultural waste and water-born contaminants, bioremediation of petrochemicals & nuclear waste, mycopesticides. And I’m thrilled to be working so closely with them.
I had the pleasure of having a conversation with the amazing, inspiring folks at Poppyswap, where I shared some information and background on the Olympia Free Herbal Clinic and the Dandelion Seed Conference: Herbal Medicine for Community and Social healing. Check out the post here. Here are some excerpts to tantalize you.
I think we’re going to be seeing the emergence of a new model of herbal practice and education, for a couple of reasons: An adaptation to changes in the healthcare industry and regulatory agencies, and to engage the larger social system and other social and environmental movements in large-scale change. Herbalists are uniquely positioned to be agents of change and transformation because they stand and work at the nexus of human and Nature, and are oriented to affirming and nurturing life in all its manifestations.
Herbalists innately understand life, complexity, diversity, and resilience. These ideas and topics are now becoming very in-vogue and seen as innovative with social change theorists, social entrepreneurs, activists, etc. But they’re the very foundation of herbal practice, and that’s been with us since the beginnings of mankind. This is our heritage; the torch we carry onto the next generations.
And when asked advice I’d give to new herbalists:
I think the most valuable piece of advice I could give is to encourage people to stay open, curious, and inquiring. It’s so often the case that we get extremely inspired or even overwhelmed by the work of others. It can either light up, expand and energize us, or fold and turn inward, closing us and inciting insecurity, envy, and smallness. Herbalism is a beautifully brilliant, dazzingly complex and dynamic field. People spend their whole lives developing mastery, and always feel like there’s more to learn. My best teachers have been ones that I’ve observed to be open, humble, inquisitive, and ever supportive of other herbalists. It’s being a stepping stone, and someone that empowers others, even if it doesn’t feed your ego. Just be open, be happy to learn, support the success of others, and welcome the hard and necessary lessons. Try not to take things personally. And also, try not to be a jerk. (It’s just a good life strategy in general.)
Ann Armbrecht, Ph.D. (author of Thin Places: A Pilgrimage Home and creator of the film Numen: The Nature of Plants) and I were able to talk last month about my recent work with a Salish ethnobotanical education program, as well as larger issues of traditional medicine and community healing. I had a great time doing this, and got to reflect on these important topics. Check it out here. Her blog is also chock-full of interesting, thoughtful & engaging conversations with some truly dynamic & creative people. Enjoy!
We at the Dandelion Seed Collective see community herbalism becoming an increasingly powerful social force. The Dandelion Seed Conference is intended to catalyze this work and contribute to the emerging conversation on social and ecological health by conducting workshops, sharing stories and experiences of community projects and programs, as well as offering a foundation of support to help move this work forward.
We see community herbal practice as something that empowers and inspires both social and ecological health. Community herbalists everywhere help people learn practical tools for self and family care, as well as help mobilize community health resources. In these times where many people are losing the social safety nets, this kind of community-based health care helps us take care of our own again. In this way, it strengthens the social fabric.
In addition to providing people with practical, accessible tools to maintain health and prevent disease, community herbal practice broadens our ecological awareness. When we learn about plants–be they in sidewalk cracks, our backyards, or an old growth forest–we learn to recognize diverse forms of life, their contributions to the planetary ecosystem, and the importance of biodiversity. Herbal education and practice reconnects us to our place, and calls us home.
This is what we intend to support with the conference: community-based action, social justice, and herbal education. But most of all, we empower herbalists to pursue positive, creative social change and bring herbal practice to the next level.
Originally featured at Poppyswap!