When I graduated from high school my cousin offered to take me to a women’s herbal symposium as a graduation gift.
I had never heard of such a thing and chose to bring my curiosity and an open mind.
It was way up in Mendocino County which was a fairly long drive up to the northern part of California. It was attended only by women and their daughters or children under 5. Everyone camped using their own tent and the same meal was served to all on a plate they brought from home with their own utensils. Vats of hot herbal teas were provided so they recommended bringing mugs. There were 350 women there.
I had never experienced anything like this before. It was a community all moving together, shuffling about, comfortable with themselves, thriving in a natural setting. Everyone brought their own lawn chairs and established spots to eat, gathered around the community fire or just hung out together chatting. Blankets were laid out for kids to play or nap on all around the grassy field surrounded by large tipis which fit several guests as another option to setting up a tent.
We all spent several days together like this. Workshops on herbalism, nutrition, women’s health, eastern medicine, indigenous practices, dance, Goddess wisdom, chakras, astrology and other new age ideas. There were workshops for kids as well on basket weaving, making dolls from natural materials, and survival skills like how to make fire using dried moss and a bow drill. Yoga classes were offered every morning. There was a childcare tipi where women could drop off their young ones while they went to attend workshops. A wellness tent was setup inside a large event tent. It consisted of treatment tables set up for people to receive massage, acupuncture, energy work, craniosacral therapy and chiropractic care from attendees who practiced professionally. There were tinctures administered, hot and cold packs, treatments for stings and bites from insects as well as for bumps, scrapes and tummy aches. Anyone could come to the wellness tent at any time as it was (wo)manned 24 hours a day for anyone in need. I continued to return to this retreat for many years.
That first year, I took one of the workshops on how to make salves, lotions and body powders from herbs. I learned about some of the herbs used to heal skin most effectively and that most of them grew wildly and were fairly common and referred to as weeds to most people. I became fascinated by the idea that plants growing in open fields, along hiking paths and in backyards could be picked, dried and used as medicine!
When I returned home I bought several books on herbalism and how to craft with herbs. In college, I experimented on anyone who was willing. One time I got my housemate to let me apply a comfrey leaf on his cracked rib. Later I learned that the root was most effective and it needed to be a concentrated amount applied consistently to heal bones. Later, when I became a mother, I found a recipe for pink eye. I was able to get rid of it several times when my kids caught it from rubbing their eyes with dirty hands and waking up with puffy crusty eyes which would traditionally be treated with antibiotics. I did the same when they had low fevers, bathing them in chamomile, lemon balm, catnip, and yarrow.
Right after the birth of each of my children and when I had bad menstrual cramps, I made a tea of valerian and cramp bark to ease the pain. Growing up, my kids referred to the healing salve I made and had on hand as the “green stuff” because when they got a scrape or cut themselves I’d say to them, “go get the green stuff!” So they learned they could address their own wounds. A powerful message for my small children.
My love of the natural world comes in many forms, and herbalism is one of my most favorite. I believe the earth wants us to thrive and offers plants and trees to heal and protect us. Trees providing oxygen is one of the simplest versions of this. I recently read that walking barefoot on the earth and hugging trees decreases inflammation in our bodies which is one of the main causes of illness and disease.
I found out from my mother that her grandmother was an herbalist. In Spanish she could perhaps have been called a Curandera. She remembers her storing dried herbs in a drawer in the kitchen, pulling them out when someone was sick. I like the idea that perhaps I inherited this interest from her.
You could call me a type of hippie. I call it being conscious. Being aware that we live in a symbiotic environment which requires mutual respect and honor to keep us balanced and strong. We have everything we need, really. The question is, do we love ourselves enough to care for it all in a way that the earth can continue to support our survival and ability to thrive.
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