Herbalists can often be compared to the Dandelion – or any other insistent and persistent plant – in finding ways to sprout in even the most sterile environs, furthering diversity, penetrating the assumed impenetrable, loosening the restraints, seeking and discovering the openings and opportunities that can allow both our true natures and nature’s healing ways to blossom again.
noun: a sudden powerful forward or upward movement, esp. by a crowd or by a natural force such as the waves or tide; a plant’s surge of growth.
• increase suddenly and powerfully, typically during an otherwise stable or quiescent period
Picture for a moment, if you will, a small crack in the carefully laid sidewalk of any city, wrested open by the heaving breathing, freeze and thaw of a living earth intolerant of stasis and control. Picture, too, the vibrant green expression of the vital life force as it sinuously wriggles and forces its way upwards towards the sun, resplendent with its disorderly leaves, it’s shameless yellow flower-head unbowed and un-saddened: the proverbial outlaw Dandelion!
Dissed as a “weed” by a majority of citizens, poisoned with herbicides or ignominiously yanked from the ground by even some lovers of gardens, it nonetheless continues to not only persist but flourish, breaching the restraints of any pernicious pavement or callous concrete that ever tries stop it. The Dandelion serves us as both a symbol and agent of insistent self determination in the face of oppression, conformity and control, of a natural resurgent vitality in resistance to the unhealthy ways and stultifying sameness of the dominant paradigm. It is medicine for the liver, for the ecosystem, and for our ways of perceiving ourselves and our role in this world and work. Dandelion resistance. Dandelion healing. Dandelion delight.
Like the Dandelion, the herbalist is by nature an agent of healing and enlivening, as well as a symbol of strong if gentle persistence in the the face of periodic eras of increased oppression, exclusion, distraction or neglect. Herbalists, have at times joined Dandelions in being demeaned, with folk herbalists in particular denigrated like weeds. Most importantly, the encroaching concrete that the Dandelion suffers, bedevils herbalists as well – in the form of not only oppressive regulation and restrictions, but also our own traditions and beliefs whenever they limit our evolution and innovation. It can be seen in the institutionalizing of our craft and sometimes rigidifying of its practitioners. It is manifest in those systems and standards that make folks at any level of knowledge feel unworthy, excluded or trivialized... and that crusting slurry of self doubt that can cement us the the floor.
Like the dandelion, herbalism prospers, gestates and spreads surreptitiously whenever suppressed, feeling right at home in the “underground.” Neither walls nor borders can restrain it. If there be a but single fissure anywhere in that which holds it down, it is through it that herbalism will surge forth into the light of day once more.
“...the nexus of a folk herbal resurgence – resurrecting the spirit of Western Herbalism.“
noun: An increase or revival after a period of less activity, popularity, or occurrence.
• to surge again
Don’t be fooled by claims of a need to “professionalize” this craft, to make it acceptable to the dominant corporatized paradigm through certification, rigidification, and self imposed hierarchy. Herbalism is intrinsically unacceptable to those who put money ahead of the health of people and ecosystems, and this makes it a rebel, Dandelion tough.
Like the Dandelion, the practice of herbalism is itself a living thing, as caring as the most sentient being, while plant-like in its powers of resilience, resumption and regeneration. Again and again it has quieted of its own accord or been systematically repressed, been alternately embraced and dissed. In its Autumns and Winters, it draws into itself. Its roots continue to grow, but its vines rest from their earlier wrangling, its leaves fall or hang snow-bent in contemplation. In its Springs and Summers, new growth is awakened, and new sprouts burst from hungering seed.
In its most recent manifestation, the herbal resurgence is a response to the placation, reduced enthusiasm, timidity and complacency that can effect any comfortably successful field... and an eruption of community, an alliance of folk herbalists who for too long had felt peripheral, excluded by the systems of membership and degrees, offended by hierarchy, and alienated by the increasing stress and pressure around professional status and mainstream acceptance. It includes home and small business makers of herbal preparations who felt threatened, sidelined or alienated by the slick commercialism and impersonal corporatism they saw as becoming herbalism’s public face. And those who have felt there is a further responsibility, that the conditions of our society and this planet required one work to heal the stressful lifestyles and relationships that beget much illness, the communities we live in and governments we allow to supervise us, the fundamental character of our society, the ways we grow our food and medicines, and the threatened wildlands from which both we and our herbs emerged.
Evolution is a call for renewal, every bit as important for us and our craft as is a return to our roots – a reclaiming of herbalism’s intrinsic spirit and essential organic nature, its informality and egalitarianism, social consciousness and courageous response. Ours is a remembering of the original feelings and motivations that have always inspired this work with medicinal plants. And ours is a surging forward to self empowerment and grass roots action, mated with the reawakening of the curiosity, excitement, and giddy pleasures of this healing work.
A Confluence of Purpose
A “Confluence” is an act or process of merging, the coming together of wildly diverse courses and tributaries into a single shared purpose as powerful and as needed as any river.
In what by all appearances is a particularly bizarre, dangerous, intolerant, xenophobic, and oppressive era, it is time – for a confluence of purpose, of like hearted, plant loving healers of self, society, and planet. And a time for herbal resurgence after resurgence, continuous eruptions of powerful passions and caring insistence, wild-heartedness and nonconformity, awareness and action, love and devotion that – like the health-full outlaw Dandelion – nothing can keep down, and none can hold back.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is cofounder and co-director of Plant Healer Magazine, along with his partner Kiva Rose, and he invites your participation this June in Plant Healer’s Good Medicine Confluence in Durango, Colorado. Wolf is an acclaimed ecosopher, eco and social activist, artist, and champion of nature’s medicine, living seven river crossings from the nearest road in a rewilded river canyon of S.W. New Mexico. He has been a leading voice of and for the natural world for over four decades, his work earning praise from a wide range of contemporaries from Gary Snyder to Starhawk and Rosemary Gladstar. Wolf has been a featured presenter at hundreds of conferences and universities, including cross cultural collaborations appropriately called Earth First! “Medicine Shows” that melded his spoken word with live music. He’s the author of over 600 published magazine articles and 20 books such as Gaia Eros, The Plant Healer’s Path, and The Healing Terrain, as well as co-editing the compilation book Radical Herbalism, all available from the Plant Healer bookstore. At this Summer’s Good Medicine Confluence, he will be teaching classes on both ReWilding (a term he coined) and ReEnchantment. Check out: www.PlantHealer.org
What is your chapter name and which region do you serve?
Mahonia Chapter – BC Lower Mainland (Greater Vancouver BC area)
How many members do you have in your group?
Membership has been a continued learning situation. Electronically on our fantastic face book community we have over 200 “members”, but getting individuals to meetings and events has been a challenge! We have access to a beautiful historic chapter house and garden in the New West area and we hope that future members will come and enjoy the special learning atmosphere we have to offer!
Who is your main coordinator?
Do you have any past projects that you wish to share? What you did or made, who you worked with, and how it benefit community?
Past projects for 2017 include an urban gardening workshop to teach about growing native plants and herbs in the greater Pacific Northwest. The benefit of this workshop was to educate community members about some of the fantastic local varieties that can be grown in an urban garden setting and to explore some of the native medicines that are available at our fingertips.
Does your region face any unique needs?
I think our unique need for the region is simply exposure. I have found that though many individuals are familiar with natural medicine as a whole, not many are aware of the presence of clinical herbalists in the community. I would very much like to change this and to offer ways for individuals to learn more about their options for botanical/natural healing.
Do you have any special plans or goals for 2017?
- Grow our group to 20 registered/enrolled members
- Have consistent monthly meetings
- Host a work shop every other month
What do you enjoy/like most about your HWB chapter or HWB international?
Our passion for supplying botanical/natural medicine and information to those in need!
Who to contact to join this chapter (Don't forget to join HWB first!):
Today we are sharing excerpts from an interview with the delegates from HWB who traveled to Cuba in December 2016. For the full interview, be sure to read the latest issue of our newsletter!
Women in Cuba December Delegation Interview: Health Care, Herbalism & Sustainable Agriculture
Interviewer: HWB Coordination Team
Cuba Delegation Co-host: Gigi Stafne, Executive Director, Herbalists Without Borders Intl
and Social Media Coordinator, Joanna Czubernat
HWB: What was your motivation to organize, host and conduct the health delegation to Cuba this past December?
Gigi: It was time to return to Cuba. Sixteen years ago I helped to organize a previous delegation of my school's Master Herbalism students and other health care workers to visit Cuba motivated by my strong interest in learning how affordable health care can be delivered to people in the face of adversity and crisis, specifically with few or limited resources to do so. I have attentively followed what Fidel Castro and other revolutionaries have accomplished within health care, literacy and education in Cuba. Also, I have a personal connection with the country of Cuba dating back to my childhood related to being amidst the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion.
HWB: When exactly did you go to Cuba?
Gigi: Just recently...December 2016. Our organization, Herbalists Without Borders International partnered with Witness for Peace and my school, Green Wisdom School of Natural & Botanical Medicine.
HWB: How did you manage to get into Cuba? Is travel to Cuba for general tourism activities permitted yet? I hear mixed things about this...
Gigi: It took some planning with our co-host, Witness for Peace, who had a 12-month license to travel in Cuba. And no, contrary to what many people currently believe, general tourism travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens is still off limits to a large degree. Travelers must be part of an organized group that has what is called a people-to-people travel license and are expected to have a full time schedule of activities related to their category of travel, such as health care, education or humanitarian projects. There are 12 such categories. Our December delegation and tour fell within several of those categories. So, our delegation was approved for this visit by the U.S. and by Cuba.
HWB: Who else joined you...I mean where were people from, their professions and interests?
Gigi: There were 16 delegates in total who were nationals from Canada, the Philippines, New Zealand and the United States, predominately from the U.S. Our delegates included community organizers and activists, healers, herbalists, health workers, organic farmers, educators, artists and business people. There were two of us participating from our core coordination team at Herbalists Without Borders...Joanna Czubernat, our Social Media Coordinator and I. Primary interests of those attending included: learning about Cuban culture, history, politics, food, herbs and especially the health care delivery system.
HWB: Tell me about a time in Cuba when your group had to adapt to a new situation while understanding the peoples perspectives there...
Gigi: I think one of the most unique aspects to this tour and time period was that the people of Cuba were amidst collective grief having just lost their revolution's leader, Fidel Castro, 8 or 9 days before we arrived there. It was important for our group to be highly sensitive to this huge transition in their country. We all wanted to honor their loss.
HWB: What did you learn about herbalism and the health care system in Cuba?
Gigi: First, an educational piece for our readers...the Cuban government operates a national health system and assumes fiscal and administrative responsibility for the health care of all their delivery systems. There are no private hospitals or clinics, all health services are government-run. There is a Minister for Public Health. Despite very limited resources and the dramatic impacts caused by historical economic sanctions imposed by the United States for more than half a century, and the Special Period when the Soviet Union pulled out huge economic supports of Cuba, the country had to manage to provide healthcare for all somehow. And Cuba did it. They've obtained similar results in health and longevity to many other developed nations. Even better than some. For example, the infant mortality rate in Cuba is lower than in the United States and is actually one of the lowest in the world (4.2 per thousand births). Life expectancy is age 78 in Cuba. Interestingly, Cubans live on average 30 years longer than their close Haitian neighbors. We learned during this delegation that health care delivery includes allopathic medicine as well as natural medicine. There is a definite focus on prevention with regimented screenings and more. I do wish we had gained more exposure to herbalism within this tour. That part was limited due to hardships some of our Cuban presenters were experiencing.
HWB: Anything else about the health care system?
Gigi: I have a great deal of praise for Cuba, even though I also see some of the flaws within their health system more closely after this trip. I ended up administering medical care often during this trip to others. During one emergency with a delegate I ended up with her in a Havana hospital for 7-8 hours. I certainly learned much first-hand that way, observing the ER room setting...including the strengths and vulnerabilities of such medical settings. I feel that this delegation helped many see that it is possible for economically struggling communities or countries with limited resources to implement some level of effective health and wellness for all people within their society. This aligns with our vision and mission at Herbalists Without Borders...accessible, affordable health and wellness for all.
HWB: Thank you for your time and especially for co-hosting this delegation, Gigi.
Gigi: You are welcome. I appreciate sharing our experiences!
Interview Part Two with Joanna Czubernat of Herbalists Without Borders about sustainable agriculture practices in Cuba...
HWB: I've been told that in addition to Herbalism, one of your special interests in Cuba was learning more about organic and sustainable agriculture practices there. What were some of the projects or farms that you visited? Will you tell our readers a bit about these?
Joanna: Definitely. There was the “House of God Co-op” which supplies hospitals, schools and the elderly with fresh produce and whose goal is to solve the food shortage problem in the community without affecting the land. We also visited “Artemisia” - a seven acre farm and human development project led by a Baptist Church. Their focus is on sustainable agriculture that supports the health of HIV patients and women who are victims of violence. There, the pork is coconut fed and the soil is deep red from the high iron content. They grow coffee, coconuts, bananas, plantains & veggies. Last we had too short of a visit at the Gardens of Bellamar – I could have stayed much longer! A restored garbage dump now “Nature Monument,” this permaculture site was built on rescued land and teaches middle school children and foreign exchange students about land stewardship. Bellamar makes use of human waste for compost, recycles old garbage from the dump as building materials; they have solar panels, a solar cooker and are installing a drop water irrigation system. They host workshops, community meetings and are a seed saving site. There is also a recently discovered crystal cave beneath the surface of these gardens. We were not able to go inside, but saw many pictures - definitely, worth looking up online! As magical as Bellamar was, the hosts said they were “enchanted” by us.
HWB: How would you compare sustainable agriculture in Cuba with the United States overall?
Joanna: Cuba’s sustainable agriculture came out of necessity. Where many U.S. farmers have followed sustainable practices because we became aware of the dangers of conventional farming; Cuba was cut off from the modern world and her farming practices. Due to the already U.S. imposed Embargo / Blockade and then the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba lost access to fuel, farming machinery and chemical pesticides. At that time, most of Cuba’s food came from Russia. With that relationship severed, Cuba had no choice but to return to growing their own food and do so using sustainable, organic practices & fertilizers.
HWB: Are there many community herb and food gardens? What do people commonly grow?
Joanna: Yes. There are many community gardens and co-ops like those mentioned above to assist where there are food shortages. The government encourages these farms to exist. Recently, the government has allowed private business as well. Many street side farm stands full of Yucca, Pineapple, Plantains, and my favorite, Sour Oranges have appeared in rural and urban areas of Cuba.
HWB: Joanna, is there anything else in conclusion that you'd like to share about your participation in this Cuba tour and delegation?
Joanna: I visited Cuba thinking I would learn so much regarding herbalism and agricultural, but I learned so much about the heart and soul of the Cuban people, about Witness for Peace and the work of the Martin Luther King Center in Cuba. Our Cuban hosts and their community reflect the community in which I work and volunteer in back home - ten miles west of Chicago. I would love to model my community activism after theirs; incorporating much of what they do within our own community garden and center.
HWB: Thank you for taking time to tell us about your experiences, Joanna.
Joanna: Thank you for the ability to share the experience and a small part of the Cuban reality.
To read the complete interview, visit our Newsletter page and view the latest issue, out this week!
Our Herbalists Without Borders East Africa Clinics Coordinator and Liason, Jeanne Hughes, shares with us that groups in Kenya have been especially active during the past month...
"During the final week of February and beginning of March, there were people from 13 diverse villages in training in Likuyani this phase. One of our activities was engaging in a forest hike and later handcrafting more than 100 litres of herbal medicines prepared for Kenyans in need. All of this was done in a sustainable manner.
The herbal clinical and education front remains strong and active, too. Dr. Sanga is an example of one of the fine clinicians located in Nyamira County in Southwest Kenya. He has a clinic at his home and travels to nearby villages. There is always comfortable bush lodging available for patients and for visiting herbalists.
Another group had nearly 25 men and women that attend health and herbal education meetings twice last month and this continues during 2017. They build and sew shoes for orphaned children, construct sanitary hygiene kits for girls and elderly. Another fundraiser engaged in is that of charcoal being packaged for medicinal purposes with instructions. Chili Salve is also prepared for sore muscles and jigger applications are made. Roselle tea is grown, packaged & sold to help reduce poverty within our circle and community.
The Shisaba Water and Resource Initiative is another group project that formed many years ago with the mission and specific purpose of providing safe, clean drinking water to villages in Western and Nyanza regions of Kenya. During 2015-2016 we partnered to present Botanical Medicine education and health care to many village members. Moses Omukunda Makachia, a friend and longtime member of Shwari, hosted us for two weeks of herbal trainings while there recently. His wife, Jenipher, is a talented tailor who has been instrumental in constructing Days for Girls projects for all those with a desire to learn specialized tailoring.
To learn more about our East Africa projects and clinics visit the Herbalists Without Borders International Borderless Medicine page and reach Jeanne Hughes.
Herbalists Without Borders features a global chapter on this blog regularly so you can get to know the wonderful groups and volunteers that make up HWB. All chapters are organized and managed by volunteers, and they fill unique but critical roles in their communities.
For our first featured chapter, we introduce you to Corfu, Greece. This is an active, vibrant chapter making a difference in their community!
Herbalists Without Borders, Corfu Chapter
What is your chapter name, and what region do you serve?
Our Chapter’s name is Herbalists Without Borders, Corfu Chapter. We are located on the island of Corfu in northwest Greece and we basically work on the island and the nearby mainland part of Greece, which is called Epirus.
How many members do you have in your group?
For the moment, we are 10 ladies since our Chapter has only a few months life. All of them are creative and active members of the local community with plenty of experience in different fields relative to herbalism, activism and voluntary work.
Who is your main coordinator?
The main coordinator is Eleni Christoforatou.
Do you have any projects you wish to share - what you made, who you worked with, and how it benefit your community?
We came together as a group just before Christmas.
Our first project was called “Make a tree for the birds” and it was a workshop for kids and parents at the 1st Primary School in Corfu Town. We spoke about the different needs we all have as seasons change and we made a tree with decoration that could be eaten by the wildlife living around the school while the school was closed for the Christmas holidays. The unexpected cold and snow we had this winter gave a special touch to this workshop.
This is not a typical herbal project, for sure! For us, it was an “honor our roots project” since many of our members first came together in bird conservation projects on the island and stepped into herbalism after many long hours in nature doing bird protection work. Nature conservation will always be part of our work, no matter what part of nature it concerns.
In February, we visited the High School at the village of Kastellani in Central Corfu. The students there have formed an Environmental Education Group which is studying traditional herbal medicine in Corfu. We spoke with the students about the way their grandparents were using herbs and we made calendula salves that they could take at home and get familiar with its use.
Once a week, we have an herbal medicine making workshop for our members. We come together and we make medicine for ourselves and for our herbal apothecary trying new recipes and researching new topics.
Does your region face any unique needs?
Corfu shares the everyday reality in Greece which under the present financial and political situation is unemployment, violation of all rights, poor health care services, poor educational opportunities and poverty for the most part of the population.
Do you have any special plans or goals for 2017?
We have scheduled a number of free workshops to different villages in Corfu in association with the local cultural societies in order to ensure everyone’s access in herbal knowledge for family and self-care.
We will participate at the 1st Experience Holistic Corfu Festival in June with plenty of free workshops and an informational desk.
We have a cooperation with the organization Terre des Hommes in Epirus to provide a one week long herbal training to one or two female refugees from Ioannina. The ladies will stay with us for a week and will attend an intensive herbal training that will be open to the locals as well, on Herb Identification, Foraging, Herbal First Aid, Herbal Remedies for Colds and Flu and other things that can help them relieve common ailments in their community. This training can be repeated again in autumn with the same persons or other persons, so that more and more
refugees will be able to use the herbs growing in their new place of living for self and family care.
What do you enjoy most about your HWB chapter or HWB International?
Current members of our Chapter have a long history of coming together and implementing projects to create the world we would love to live in. This world already exists for our small herbal community and is full of love, laughter and creativity. We hope that this small community will be able to embrace more and more people and spread this amazing energy all over the island.
We love to be part of a global herbal family and we are looking forward to welcome herbalists from other parts of the world in Corfu, as well as take part in international delegations and work hand in hand with the other Chapters to secure every one’s right in health care and wellbeing.