The Path to Herbalism

By Staff
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Erin is the Communications Manager at Mountain Rose Herbs and an apprenticing herbalist at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies, where she botanizes and wildcrafts medicinal plants in the magnificent Oregon

The art of healing our bodies with herbs is a new fascination in my life. Growing up in the hot and sticky urban jungles of Florida, my childhood was more southern sweet tea than wholesome nettle infusion. I spent countless summer days exploring twisted oak forests and gathering ferns for my hair, but I never sipped sweet chamomile to fall asleep at night or took echinacea to keep a cold at bay. Other than smearing gooey aloe tentacles on sunburns, using plants for medicine was merely magic and fairytale.

Top: My childhood backyard in Tampa, Florida; Bottom: My mom’s aloe, happy in the sun.
Photos by Erin McIntosh

The call to herbalism came for me several years ago, although I didn’t know it at the time. During college, I grew passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle and adopted an organic whole foods diet. The neighborhood teahouse, which served amazing vegetarian goodies and exotic teas from around the world, was my home away from home. Sipping floral oolong, sweet powdered matcha, and delicate silver needle tea became an important and much beloved morning ritual for me. Watching slender tea leaves unfurl gracefully in the rising sun’s reflection, as they released an enchanting perfume, was both grounding and stimulating. My body and mind felt nourished with every cup of amber goodness I poured. Drinking tea each day provided peaceful sanctuary.

When I journeyed west to Oregon in 2008, I brought along only the necessities: a box of vegetarian cookbooks, my favorite collection of Camellia sinensis, and a deeply treasured cast iron tea set from my folks. I celebrated the night I arrived in Eugene with a pot of Darjeeling. It felt powerful and momentous. Instantly, I became enraptured by the city, vibrant with plant people and herbalists, beautiful gardens and wildflowers abloom, and a community uniquely steeped in natural healing traditions. Wherever I wondered throughout town, I became consumed with inspiration and curiosity.

A cup of Darjeeling nestled in lush Oregon moss.
Photo by Erin McIntosh

My good fortune soon led to a job at Mountain Rose Herbs, where suddenly I had access to a bounty of organic herbs, medicinal tea blends, essential oils, and exceptionally knowledgeable friends. One particularly difficult day, a co-worker offered a bottle of skullcap tincture to me. I snickered at its funny name, but scrunched my face and swallowed down the strong tasting green liquid. Immediately, I felt tension leave my body and my mind became calm. I went outside and watched the white clouds stretch and dissolve into blue sky. The plant’s gentle calming effect was truly miraculous. As I sat in the moist grass, I realized that I was being offered an incredible opportunity to expand my knowledge of health and healing.

The following year, I decided to get serious about studying herbs and started a two-year apprenticeship program with the Columbines School of Botanical Studies. Each week, Howie and Steven lead students into the old growth forests, mountain meadows, lava flows and rushing river banks of the Cascades. We learned how to locate, identify, and collect native plants using stringent wildharvesting protocols to ensure the health of the diverse ecosystems we visit. We then made medicine together in the forest with the herbs we’d picked that day. Whether washing aromatic roots in an icy stream, examining plumose pappus, or nibbling on wild huckleberries, I have been blessed to create intimate relationships with the plants we studied and to learn about their extraordinary healing powers from such skilled teachers.

The Columbines School of Botanical Studies Field Apprenticeship 2009 harvest. 
By Erin McIntosh

Exploring the rich flora of this dramatic landscape has been almost dreamlike, quite challenging, and tremendously rewarding. Dedicating time to reconnect with wild places and prepare medicine for ourselves, our friends, and our families is a truly empowering endeavor with infinite value for the planet and for our spirits.

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