My Herbal Roots
Lately I have been getting a lot of questions about where I am getting my herbal knowledge from. At the same time my ancestors have been asking me to tell my story, which is also our story (my ancestors and me). I am happy to share my experience of herbalism:
I first started communicating with herbs when I was in nursing school, back in 2003. The first two herbs that caught my attention were: garlic scapes and Uva ursi. I love them both! I saw the scapes glowing with light at the local farmer's market. For spiritual reasons, I typically do not eat garlic. However, the scapes had something to say to me and their energy/their glowing light got me to listen. I was doing a rotation on a gynecological oncology (cancer) unit. I was having such a difficult time with the energy of that cancer. It felt like I was walking into a cloud of dark gray death every time I walked into the unit. They scapes told me that they were really good with that energy! They said, you're good with other stuff (like psychiatric patients) and we're good at this. You don't have to be good at everything. I bought up all the scapes there and they were soooo yummy! I haven't any that good since leaving Iowa. Later, I researched about scapes and found that it was becoming fairly mainstream to use scapes to fight cancer. This planted the seed that developed into my belief that herbs (and other medicines!) are a community of friends that are happy to communicate about their medicine and be of help.
My experience with Uva ursi was a little different. I saw it in an apothecary with an ID tag that said it was good for UTI's. Something inside me said this plant is good for waaaay more than that. I researched this herb for a year or so, looking it up in each herb book I found. Eventually I discovered that it was used by some Native populations as a smoking herb. It became one of the first herbs I smoked, along with mullein to protect my lungs. I found that it brought a lot of energy to my third eye and I even felt like I had an Uva ursi in the woods experience of nature when I smoked it/we joined.
These two experiences typify my way of interacting with herbs. It usually starts with a hunch, a flash of insight, a dream, clairaudient communication, etc. Then, I do a little research to see if there is information out there that backs up my intuition (sometimes there is, sometimes not). Then I use it myself to better understand it and then try to share the information with as many people as I can. After all, what good is it to learn new information without spreading the wealth/healing?
A couple years after having these initial experiences, I moved to Portland, Oregon. At this point, I wanted to delve into herbalism more thoroughly and formally. I did not want to do this from a scientific or fact based perspective (I was very much in the nursing world and wanted to balance out the allopathic experience I was having)--I wanted to work intuitively. I was pointed in the direction of Scott Kloos (who now runs the School of Forest Medicine). Through him I learned about plant meditation techniques. I had already been a meditator for about ten years, so this fit in perfectly.
Scott led a group of students/herbalists, each week we would experiment with a different plant. Often we would not know ahead of time what the plant was. We would take some drops of tincture or some tea, then sit and meditate. We paid attention to the experiences happening in our body (were we feeling warmer, was our awareness drawn to a particular area of our body?), our emotions (did a wave of emotion come up to be released?), our mind (what thoughts arose) and spirit (how did our energy feel? expansive, grounding, uncomfortable?). We shared our experiences and began to understand the lessons and gifts of the plant. Afterwards we would learn a little about the plant's historical use. I loved this method for gaining information. In my current practice I find that the best plant for the job will work on several levels and address many issues at one time, far from the allopathic model of isolating stomach from heart and mind, etc.
These groups provided an excellent foundation and inspiration to begin exploring more on my own. I started with books by Matthew Wood. I loved his way of thinking of the plant medicine very holistically. He also seemed to work with dreams a lot and to work shamanically. Both of these are big parts of the way I interacted with the world. I connected with him over the phone and then began to study with him when he came to Portland to teach. Matthew's herbal knowledge comes from many sources: primarily European herbalism, aka "Old World", but also knowledge from Native American herbalists, black southern medicine (N American South), as well as some influence from Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (East Indian). I loved reading his books and taking his classes and recommend anyone with an interest in herbalism check his work out.
Aside from Matthew and Scott, who were my primary influences, I have also benefitted from the work of: Deborah Frances, ND (she very much informed my attitudes towards helping people quit smoking (as did Matthew, since he focused on addressing the underlying reasons behind the habit)), Susun Weed, Margi Flint, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, Rosemary Gladstar, & Dr. Vasant Lad (an Ayurvedic educator and practitioner )...I hope I'm not leaving anyone out.
These are my many herb teachers...but how is it that I am able to speak to/receive information from herbs, animals, crystals, etc? And, why herbal cigarettes?
In my own family this intuitive ability seems to come through my father's mother. She was a first generation US citizen decendant from Irish travellers.This population was highly discriminated against in Ireland and in the US where her family resettled. She married a French man, and her Irish status led him to be ostracized by his entire (large) family that was mostly just resettled to N. America. Along with downfalls of her heritage came gifts: she read tea leaves (which also comes easy to me) and was both earthy and intuitive, and often healed my father through "old ways". When I did root work (pelvic internal work) with Tami Kent, this grandmother came through and helped guide me. The use of grounding techniques from Tami and the guidance my grandmother gave me both continue to inform my work as a healer and intuitive.
My father's father was a four pack a day smoker. He was also a violent alcoholic. When my father was five he was sent away to a french convent to go to school. This isolating, premature separation from his mother may have saved his life. Both because of the risk of injury from his father's abuse but, also because he had severe asthma and many times came close to death because of this. I had asthma growing up and into my adulthood and am allergic to conventional cigarette smoke--I cannot imagine how horrible it would have been if I had been living with a four pack a day smoker. To this day my father has extremely poor lung health (advanced COPD) which seems due primarily to early exposure to his father's habit.
Tobacco injury is just one aspect of the wounds carried through on my father's side; the gift of intuition and healing also came through. As a child of my father I am the union of these two people and their lives. I continue to face some of their challenges and experience their desires.
I often see the sadness of my father's lungs (and heart chakra), and see this in other smokers. I also feel my grandmother's knowledge of her child's pain and desire to be heard and to save his body and heart. My grandmother had several stillborn children. Tobacco smokes is highly detrimental to fetal wellbeing. I have even heard it said that it is more damaging than meth use. Ten percent of pregnant women continue to smoke. How many people around pregnant women continue to smoke? As a person who has also had several miscarriages, I feel this pain and desire to offer some improvement for an addiction that hurts so many people.
To make improvements in this generation I offer medicine to help release smokers from an addiction that takes so much from themselves and the people in their immediate surroundings, and gives so little in return. I never thought I would be making herbal cigarettes or thinking about smoking, because I am very health motivated...that is what the universe seemed to hand me! I work to address the underlying reasons why people smoke. By offering them the herbs to smoke (formulated to be gentle on their lungs) I provide a remedy to the sorrow that led to this habit in a comfortable form (ie still a cigarette). I use my intuition to make formulas and to guide people to what might help them the most. In many ways I am still working through this relationship that started some 80 years ago.
On a personal level, I choose to meet people from all backgrounds and identities in a place of learning and openness. In spite of having seen the suffering that I am sure my grandfather experienced by being ostracized from his family for marrying an Irish woman, when my father announced that he had married a protestant (instead of a Catholic) his mother turned from him on her death bed and never spoke to him again. I see the pain of this rejection in my father over and over again. My father saw how discrimination affected his father and mother (Irish blood was considered very bad back then and there was very public discrimination). As a result my father raised us with a very progressive worldview. He looked to learn from all different types of people and to learn from different cultures (he was also a foreign language teacher so that fed right into an attitude of learning vs discriminating). Yet, he has repeated the pattern of turning his back on family with his own children many times, including with myself and my daughter.
In spite of struggles and challenges, I find myself with access to much joy. So, last but not least, I express my gratitude to my Guru. I owe so much to, Shri Anandi Ma. I have known her through most of my adult life. Through her work on me individually and the guidance and wisdom of the lineage, I have become more and more insightful and open to love. I have softened and I have healed. I do not feel alone, I feel connected. There is still much work to do. She has guided me to realize that the world is made of friends, healing, love and peace that can ease the pain that also fills our experience on Earth.
Thank you to all of my teachers and well wishes to all of you,