Weekend Getaway: Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

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 Cascades.www.mountainroseherbs.com

Henry wore a straw hat and a friendly smile. Holding a sign that read Traditions in Western Herbalism, his eyes scanned the Albuquerque airport for arriving passengers. One by one, the five of us gathered with bags in arms as we exchanged hugs and greetings. Sparkling with excitement, our small group of herbal adventurers climbed into Henry’s truck and followed the Rio Grande three hours north through rural desert towns and stunning landscapes to the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, where the herbalist’s revival would soon transpire. 

Beautiful striped mesa on the horizon.
Photo by Erin McIntosh

Fragrant sagebrush and junipers ornamented the majestic red and orange painted mesas that welcomed us on Friday morning. We settled into our adobe dwellings, which softened harmoniously
against the exquisite ochre terrain, and prepared for the weekend’s promise. An extraordinary medley of teachers, including Rosemary Gladstar, Paul Bergner, Matthew Wood, Phyllis Light and many others, had traveled from all corners of the country to share their wisdom with eager attendees. The days would surely be steeped in diverse tradition, innovation and revelry. 

Oregon herbalist Howie Brounstein’s hilarious skullcap lecture.

Photo by Erin McIntosh

Classes gathered under towering cottonwoods and beautiful wooden pavilions. Around the ceremonial fire pit, Kiva Rose and Jim McDonald led a fascinating discussion of plant energetics and intuitive herbalism through the exploration of aromatics, flavor and form. Howie Brounstein’s lecture on the benefits of skullcap, a nutritive and calming herb, had an unexpected effect on the crowd, instigating thunderous spells of uproarious laughter that could be heard echoing well down the trail! Through powerful anecdotes and cautious guidance, Charles Garcia taught techniques for safely distributing basic herbal formulas like teas, salves and medicinal syrups to help nourish and heal the homeless in our neighborhoods. All the sessions were thought-provoking and deeply stirring.

Discovering the high desert flora during 7Song’s plant walk.

Photos by Erin McIntosh

Touring the high desert flora during 7Song’s sunny plant walk was another highlight. Punctuated by lovely botanical language and cleverly crafted mnemonic jokes, 7Song helped us identify the fruiting cholla cacti, vibrant orange globe mallows, tumbleweeds and flame colored Castillejas. Mimi Hernandez’s class on Appalachia’s wild mountain roots boasted a mesmerizing assortment of freshly harvested specimens. During her talk, we examined mammoth poke roots, knobby black cohosh, spindly blue cohosh and fleshy bloodroot that oozed gorgeously when snapped open. We were also treated to sassafras, yellowroot, stoneroot and a trove of wild-crafted tinctures for sampling.

Studying freshly harvested bloodroot.

Photo by Erin McIntosh

After spending the hot southwestern days immersed in plant talk, a brilliant waxing moon lured us to the awaiting nighttime festivities. Rosemary Gladstar blessed the gathering with an impassioned call to steward our wild medicinal plants by spreading their seeds in our gardens. Her extraordinary work with the United Plant Savers was met with immense gratitude from all in attendance. Soon, storytelling by a spirited Jesse Wolf Hardin was in full swing as Rising Appalachia strummed their twinkling banjos and flamenco dancers swirled with grace around the stage. The colorful congregation of plant teachers, performers and attendees bounced and swayed as the poetry and rhythms inspired buoyancy.

Rising Appalachia singing a Bulgarian lullaby.

Photo by Erin McIntosh

Sunday afternoon of the conference was anchored by an impressive panel of speakers who possess over 200 years of combined experience in herbal studies. The honored teachers shared their unique voices to weave a collective image of what they envision grassroots herbalism will become. At the heart of their dream was hope that humanity will allow the plants around us to be our teachers and that we will fearlessly use the knowledge we gain to enrich and empower our communities. I cannot imagine a more proper finale to this potent, surprising and beautiful weekend amongst herb loving friends in the New Mexican wilds.

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