Name: Pam Montgomery
Hometown: Danby, Vermont
Education and training: Holistic health education at Empire State College in Ithaca, New York; live-in apprentice with Susun Weed; participated in Eliot Cowan’s practitioner training in plant spirit medicine.
Occupation: Author of Partner Earth: A Spiritual Ecology (Destiny, 1997). Educator and practicing herbalist, plant spirit medicine practitioner and organizer of herbal events, including the annual Green Nations Gathering held in the Catskill Mountains.
“Green Nations is herb-related, but also focuses on earth-centered teaching and earth stewardship,” she says. “Native teachers come to share, and I often look for some special guest who works with health and healing in a particular way.” Montgomery also organizes the Healing with Flowers conference, focusing on flower essences and aromatherapy, and operates the Partner Earth Education Center, an educational center where she teaches herb classes.
How did you become interested in herbal medicine?
It goes back a long time to my grandparents. They lived in the eastern hills of Kentucky on a farm where they lived off the land. My grandmother was a real plant person with lots of flowers/plants around everywhere. They instilled in me a love of the earth and growing things. I spent my summers there, being close to the earth and developing a big love of the earth. It was in my genes to totally love plants.
Having that as a background, and realizing the economy and social structure could change at any time, I knew I needed to learn how to take care of myself. A big part of that was learning how to take care of my own health and growing my own food. There were hardly any herb books back then, so a lot of it was my own experience, experimenting with the plants, and taking care of myself and my family. Working with plants became a passion. Eventually, I realized, “I really like this” and decided, “why not let my passion be my livelihood?”
Part of my interest over the years has been the energetic nature of herbs or the spirit aspect of the plants and how that affects us. I think we’re suffering from malnutrition of the spirit, so for years I’ve been mostly interested in how that part of healing with herbs really works, and how practical it is.
Tell us about your conservation efforts.
Here in the northeast, the woods used to be covered with many native plants like ginseng and bloodroot. But now, it’s very sparse, and that’s very disturbing. There are a few little plants here and there, but it’s not super-abundant like it used to be. There’s been overharvesting—especially of valuable herbs such as ginseng. Local folks harvested it to make money with no thought of what it was doing to diversity.
On the East Coast we’re doing replanting projects to actively bring these plants back into the wild so that we can maintain wild lands and wild plants. Part of the demise of our health has to do with the loss of wild lands and plants. We’re so interconnected that reintroducing these plants to where they used to be will return the health to the land, the earth, the air, the people who live there. It’s about being connected to the land where you live. When the wild plants are gone, what happens to that part of our indigenous nature?
I look at the whole conservation of plants and think we’re not looking at the big picture. There are aspects of the plants we can work with on a spiritual level that have a real effect. But we haven’t been trained or encouraged to explore that spiritual part of ourselves. We tend to use only the physical parts of the plants thus affecting only the physical parts of our bodies. We could instead be focusing on the spiritual aspect of plants.
What’s the East Coast herbal community like?
There are a lot of us here. I know people think herbalism is a West Coast thing, but there are quite a few of us. The thing that’s different here from the West Coast is there are lots of community herbalists. People who aren’t well-known, but are just here to serve their communities. A trait of New England is that there’s another little town every five miles. There’s this sense that there are very alive communities that aren’t looking to go outside their town for anything. They want their health care right there, with a person they can call any time. It’s a harsher environment here; we have to depend on each other and take care of each other.
What is your daily routine of herbal therapies?
I’m pretty healthy. I rarely get sick, so I don’t have to take herbs as medicine, but I incorporate them into my diet and that’s the best preventive medicine. I swish every morning with a mouth rinse. It’s echinacea, goldenseal, calendula, bloodroot and white oak bark. My routine is to eat wild greens as much as possible, almost daily—chickweed, watercress, dandelion greens, lamb’s-quarters, violet leaves, anything that’s out there. We can grow them in greenhouses and eat them most of the winter. Incorporating wild plants into your daily diet is the best thing you can do, that’s when the vitamins and minerals are most alive. Wild plants are the most vital and absorbable nutrients that we can take in. I do some tinctures and my rinse, but the big thing is wild greens and walking barefoot on the earth.