I love digging my hands into dirt. The simple act of breaking up rich, sticky clumps and pushing through the top layers to make room for a new plant makes me feel connected to earth, sun and seasons. How can you not feel the miracle whenever a teeny-tiny seed is planted and nurtured and becomes a plant that produces food?
Last fall, I attended the Minnesota Herbal Education Festival. Well, first let me back it up a bit, I only knew about such a festival because I attended a local farm tour last July. One of the farms I visited was Will Heal Farm. During my visit there to look at their herb gardens, bee hives and the yurt they built to house the classes they teach, I signed up for their mailing list. It was through that mailing list that I learned about the Minnesota Herbal Education Festival. I hemmed and hawed over the cost to attend and how I’m too busy but something kept tugging at my sleeve, so with my usual “this feels like something I should do” decision making process, I signed up to go.
The festival was like discovering Atlantas or some hidden dimension. Okay, maybe not quite that big, but for me, it was an eye opener. I expected the classes would be about the kind of herbs I grew in my garden (lemon balm, sage, lavender, basil, rosemary, thyme, etc) and possibly a bunch of flowers and other herbs that I knew about but had never grown myself (echinacea, St Johns wort, chamomile). But what I discovered was that there are plants that I walk by in the woods all the time, plants that I mainly saw as weeds (mullein, nettle, plantain, wild ginger), and other plants that I thought of as seasoning (garlic, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne) that all had medicinal properties.
I mean, sure, I’d heard garlic was good for the immune system but I kind of thought that was folklore until I heard there’s an actual property in the garlic, allin, which converts to allicin when crushed or chopped (you should wait 10 minutes before cooking with it to allow time for that conversion and to not destroy it with heat) that gives garlic it’s potent medicinal properties. There is science and the wisdom that comes from experience to the folklore that we hear and have, perhaps, passed off as old wives tales.
“Old wives tales,” that is such a condescending label in so many ways…
As a person who loves fairy tales and folklore and magic and plants and stories and wisdom passed down through the ages, learning about medicinal herbs was like hitting a goldmine! It was a whole bunch of my passions all wrapped under one ginkgo biloba tree! But I also discovered at the festival that I was a mere babe in the woods. There were women and men who had been studying and working with herbs for ages. Some of them had grown up with this knowledge, passed down from a grandmother, mother or neighbor.
Was I coming across this information too late?
As I have felt so often at my age, like with my discovery of bike touring and all the solo adventurous things women do nowadays, I felt as though I had arrived too late to the party. For many things I wish I could do, it’s my aging body that stands in the way, but for learning about and using medicinal herbs, it’s my aging brain and ebbing of time that made me think it’s too late.
It’s a good thing I decided to ignore that immediate defeatist reaction. So I won’t be a herbalist master, open up a clinic and have people coming for miles to seek my wisdom — is that my goal? No.
What I care about is how I feel when I’m growing things and then combining them into a restorative tea or a mind-focusing tincture or a pain relieving salve or just a fun little lip balm. Did you know you can use cinnamon or turmeric to add color to a home-made lip balm or lipstick? Then there is the Fire Cider I have brewing in my cupboard for a month. Can’t wait to try that one out. And the bone broth I made, which I’ve been putting into rice dishes, making into an awesome egg drop soup and just drinking as a warming broth on chilly days.
I’m not sure why, but making this stuff makes me happy. Perhaps you don’t even have to apply or drink the mixtures to get their benefits. I like the idea of being able to make my own medicines so I know exactly what’s in them and I don’t have a laundry list of side effects to deal with. I also like that basically, you are healing yourself with food rather than chemicals created in a lab. The effects aren’t felt as quickly or strongly but the cost of a quick fix is too high for me.
Anyway, since the festival, I have taken a Roots Medicine Class and a Medicinal Syrups class at Will Heal Farm. I bought a bigger teapot at Goodwill to make bigger batches of tea. I signed up for the North Country Herbalist Guild and have attended their monthly meetings. At one NCHG meeting, a woman brought extra scobies for people to take with them and I have started making Kombucha – what a COOL science experiment that is!
What I have learned from these opportunities to spend time with herbalists is that they are a very generous bunch of people. I’ve been given roots, tinctures, dried herbs, and teas. I’ve been given handouts and index cards filled out with Herbal Materica Medica information and recipes for the things I’ve sampled in classes. And I have seen herbalists bring jars of herbs to gatherings to donate to groups like Standing Rock Medic Healer Council and Tea for the People.
This kind of generosity, openness and sharing of information has been shocking in its sharp contrast to what I generally know and experience. Perhaps this spirit of giving and teaching and helping is actually rare, but what I’d rather believe is that it is more abundant than I know about. It’s certainly not what we hear or read about in the media or social networks. Either way, this generosity I see in the herbalists and gardeners I’ve recently encountered lifts me up and makes me want to be part of the givers rather than the takers.
What about you? What kind of evidence do you see in your life that generosity is alive and well out there? I’d love to hear more examples. Perhaps they will provide ideas of how to build more loving kindness into our lives. Not that I don’t see a need for warriors as well. So if you have those examples, please include them too.
I’d like to recommend a Ted Radio Hour podcast I heard recently that was originally recorded in 2013 called “Giving It Away.” It consists of a collection of four Ted Talk clips, one of which was by Ron Finley, also known as the Gangsta Gardener. After listening to the short clip in the podcast, I had to later go seek out his full Ted Talk. Finley’s story is a great example of all the positive things gardening can do for an individual, families, and entire communities. A little gardening can help solve big problems.
And on that note, I just can’t resist adding the music video “Gardening is Gangsta” by Master Mark and Sifu Paul Davis.