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Posts tagged ‘folk medicine’

Spearheading Culture Change with Plant Traditions

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2012 issue of Plant Healer Magazine. If you haven’t subscribed to this eclectic, thoughtful, extremely original publication, I highly recommend it. Subscriptions are affordable and support the Anima Lifeways & Herbal School, one which I proudly attend. Enjoy. 

I absolutely love writing outside in the Summer. In the Pacific Northwest, clear, open skies can be rare. When it’s sunny and pleasant, we are like solar panels, soaking up every available ray, letting our spirits be infused by the blooming Nootka roses, the ripening salmonberries, and the glaring, spectacular foxglove stalks. In this exalted light and heat of Summer, I have some special things I want to share with you. (And you can bet I’m writing it outside!)

In June, I completed my Master’s thesis—a culmination of a 10-month ethnography exploring the role of plant traditions in diabetes prevention and addiction treatment in Salish tribal communities. Additionally, over the last year and a half, I’ve been collaboratively running the Olympia Free Herbal Clinic (OFHC) as a member of a collective of 7 herbalists. We are presently forming a nonprofit called The Dandelion Seed Community Health Project, which will feature the free herbal clinic as one of its programs. This type of endeavor is a complex labor-of-love and juggling act, involving obtaining business licensure, organizing and recruiting a Board of Directors, managing volunteers, organizing a conference, teaching workshops, maintaining apothecary inventory, organizing a host of outreach and fundraising activities, and the list goes on. As a collective, each of us wears many hats. But we all definitely bear the title of Manager of Chaos. So I finished my thesis, graduated, and now have a bit of space to sit back, gaze at the flowers, and reflect. Specifically, I’m reflecting on the last few years of working with plant traditions to inspire social change in collaborative and community settings. It’s my desire to share these musings with you and the herbal community as a whole.  I’ve learned so much from those who have walked before me, as well as those who walk with me now on this path of plants and healing.

The world of plants has inspired me since childhood, being an endless source of fascination, enchantment, and wonder. In following this allure and heeding their call, my passions have broadened. Currently, I’ve been intrigued by how plants affect social and ecological identity, and have come to understand that plant traditions are indeed an inextricable aspect of it. The network of symbiotic relationships and connections between humans and other life forms orient us in our habitat and in the cosmos. I’ve also noticed that this connection is an overlooked one in mainstream American social change and innovation practices. And that’s unfortunate, because revitalizing and creating herbal traditions and ethnobotanical practices can spur authentic and systemic social change through a variety of ways, by:

  • Broadening perception of place,
  • Inspiring self, family, and community care,
  • Orienting our selves as humans in time and in habitat.

Working with plant traditions (in their revitalization as well as creation) are fascinatingly paradoxical. They are simultaneously old and new, ancient and innovative. These traditions carry knowledge so ancient, vast, and are the foundation of our species biological and cultural evolution. They are also new, innovative, and deeply pertinent to the challenges of a contemporary, global society.

Plants traditions are also simultaneously simplex and complex. They can be as simple as passing down a grandmother’s cold remedy or gathering dandelions in the backyard; And yet can be as complex as articulating cultural contexts of plant practices, assessing constitution, or learning phytochemistry and pharmacology. The relationships between plants and people are so profound, complex, and encompassing. And they’re fundamental in building culture. And if we can help or facilitate the emergence of a culture of health, diversity, and resilience, countless lives can be all the more nurtured. Read more

Thesis Published: Does the cultural use of local plants enable coping with diabetes and generational trauma in Salish tribal communities?

For everyone still subscribed & reading: I know it’s been quiet around here this past Winter & Spring. I’ve been focusing on health, TCOB & funneling all my creative energy and writing to the thesis that follows. This paper completes my graduate program and illuminates the connections between plants, culture, and healing; between social constructions of health, illness and narrative. It’s a case study of an innovative, culturally based ethnobotanical education program, where plants are an integral part of cultural healing, diabetes prevention, and addiction recovery. It’s available full text, so brew some tea, have a read, and let me know what you think. Now, more writing projects to follow. Stay tuned. 

Does the cultural use of local plants enable coping with diabetes and generational trauma in Salish tribal communities?And how might storytelling and narrative be employed to potentiate cultural revitalization and health education programs? A qualitative case study.


Type 2 diabetes disproportionately affects American Indian/Alaska Native populations and, despite clinical nutrition and lifestyle intervention programs, the disease continues to be a rapidly growing problem in tribal communities. Ethnobotanical education programs hold promise for diabetes prevention efforts as they not only provide valuable and applicable information pertaining to individual self-care, but serve to reconnect native people to traditions and cultural heritage. By healing generational trauma and reconnecting people to their communities and cultural heritage, ethnobotanical education programs have the capacity to potentially alleviate the burden of diabetes in tribal communities. A key feature of these programs is the utilization of stories and cultural narratives. Stories relay a worldview of the fundamental interconnectedness of nature and culture and allow individuals to structure new meanings of their experiences of health and illness. What follows is a qualitative case study of the Traditional Foods and Medicines Program at the Northwest Indian Treatment Center in Elma, WA, which utilizes culturally grounded traditional knowledge to educate about health and heal cultural identity.

Keywords: Ethnobotany, diabetes, generational trauma, traditional foods, traditional medicines, cultural traditions.

Full text, non-APA format | Full text, APA format

Introductory Excerpt

In the United States, Type 2 diabetes is rapidly emerging as one of the greatest challenges ever faced by the medical establishment. Its prevalence in the general population is growing, affecting over than 26 million Americans and costing over $200 billion per year. One out of every ten health care dollars is spent on diabetes treatment and it is the leading cause of heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and amputations in the United States today. And the disease is by no means confined to the United States or the first world. Increasingly being recognized as a disease of economic development, more countries are seeing rises in diabetes incidence rates. Research suggests that by 2050, one out of every two people globally will develop diabetes at some point in their life.

Diabetes is clearly a pertinent health issue and some populations—American Indians and Alaska Natives, in particular—have been and continue to be more affected than others. Diabetes is also a relatively new disease in Indian country and was virtually unseen in tribal communities until the 1960’s. Read more