‘Rad’ in latin means root. This summer more than 200 people gathered at a community in Shropshire to explore the roots of health injustice in the UK at the second Radical Herbalism Gathering from the 7-8th June.
The gathering acted as a honey pot to community organisers, herbalists, healthcare practitioners, campaigners, radical midwives and more, who share an attraction to the political workshops and conversations calling for social change.
This year’s gathering was centred on four themes. The first strand was radical approaches to health. Exploring holistic approaches to mental health, Rufus May and Elisabeth Svanholmber encouraged us to look at different ways to understand emotional and thinking problems and ways to address them. Rather than seeking to suppress or get rid of depressive or psychotic states, they questioned how we can work with them in communities to learn and grow through them. Radical midwife Morag Forbes, and soul midwife Delphine MacMillian shared their experiences relating to supporting passages of birth and death, and how we can do this in more holistic ways than our western culture allows. Herbalists, Karen Lawton and Fiona Heckels took attendees on a journey through the use of psychotropic medicine and its historical repression, and Nathan Hughes explored bodywork and intuitive herbal medicine.
The second strand explored ecological justice and the sustainability of industrial medicine and herbal medicine. Melissa Ronaldson spoke about the implications of anti-biotic resistance, others talked about food politics and Dawn Ireland also reminded us about the importance of native herbs.
“There are political and social reasons why compromised and damaged health, as well as health inequalities, exist in the UK and globally,” says Becs Griffths, herbalist and gathering organiser.
The complexities of health and social justice were a core strand, giving a voice to Herbalists Against Fracking during a workshop exploring the health implications of unconventional gas. There were also spaces to talk about global corporate violence to indigenous land and medicine, as well as mutual aid within the herbal world.
“We believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege and should be accessible to all people regardless of their ethnicity, culture, nationality, economic class, sexual identity, gender or age. Radical herbalism commits to dismantling barriers that stand in the way of this access,” says herbalist and gathering organiser, Heather Ware. This is why organisers from Bristol Refugee Rights spoke so passionately about migrant solidarity and upcoming changes in the law that threatens access to healthcare.
Practical herbal medicine was the remaining strand, where people shared skills about medicine making and learnt plant identification through the multiple herb walks around the grounds of the Crabapple Community, where the gathering was held.
With travel and ticket bursaries, sliding scale donations and child activities, the gathering aimed to be as accessible as possible. The seeds were sown for a growing movement of people passionate about health, determined to challenge capitalism and the roots of social and ecological injustice, sharing an inner knowing that plants can play a role in collective liberation.
For more information about the gathering visit: www.radicalherbalism.org.uk
Today I made my first Echinacea Root Tincture – from plants I had sown from seed over three years ago. I can’t tell you what it meant to me. When I sowed those seeds I had no idea what would emerge. I didn’t know if I’d go back to prison, if Mum & Ian would want me at Brook End past my license, if I’d ever see these little seeds come to life at all.
But they have, and they have rooted in the medicine garden I built with all the love and intention I could muster. It was a very sacred day today!
Over the weekend of 15-16 June 2013, more than 150 people united for the UK’s first Radical Herbalism Gathering.
An amazing mix of medical and lay herbalists, people interested in herbal medicine and social politics, nurses, midwives, therapists, growers, community organisers, ethnobotanists, anarchists and more came together from all round the UK, and even as far as Belgium, to talk about plant medicine and health in the context of radical social change.
The gathering began with an opening meeting to frame the weekend. Organisers talked about why the weekend had been organised, and tried to begin defining as a collective what was meant by radical herbalism. The meeting, that gathered everyone at the start, looked at how connection to traditional plant medicines is part of wider change needed to support and sustain health and vitality, change that involves addressing the oppressions of profit driven capitalism, environmental destruction and pollution, racism, colonialism, class, gender inequalities and other oppressions. Dialogue was opened up about the way herbal medicine can be a vehicle for conversation about health in the broadest sense and can empower people through reclamation of knowledge back into people’s own hands. We talked about the role of community herbalism to freely share information at a grassroots level and strive to make deeper levels of knowledge gained by those with experience accessible to everyone in all ways, particularly financially.
We talked about plant medicine offering a powerful reconnection to knowing ourselves as intrinsically part of this earth, and about the need for integrated networks of community info sharing projects, community clinics, radical herbal practitioners and local, organic growing projects to supply community medicine.
We looked at the need for holistic medicine where all aspects of life are considered in relation to health (the physical, emotional, spiritual). Though, unlike much of the New Age movement which often stresses an idea of ‘individual health’ and ‘personal growth’, radical herbalism acknowledges wider issues that inform and affect health as part of a truly holistic approach and wants to be part of the work done to challenge inequality, poverty, injustice and oppression as part of reconfiguring how power operates and is experienced by us all so that everyone can be well.
The meeting also looked at the need for herbal medicine and other progressive medicine not to replicate the models, language or power dynamics that western bio-medicine is based on. There was dialogue about the reductionism in western medicine, where a huge breadth of experience relevant to a particular health condition can be disregarded and perspectives and treatments can be reduced down to single agents i.e ‘bacteria’ that are then treated with antibiotics when lots of broader health support and changes could be relevant to a situation. We talked about refusing the roles of ‘guarding expert’ and ‘passive patient’ that are a foundation in western medicine and we talked briefly about considering and reinventing the use of language around health to open up wider possibilities for healing. That, for example, the term ‘psycho-emotional’ health might be used instead of ‘mental health’ which locates a massive range of experiences of both expanse and distress in ‘the mind’ and perpetuates bio-medical narratives about ‘brain chemistry’ and personal sickness, shutting down critical understanding of the political and spiritual contexts for, and the multifaceted experiences and dimensions of consciousness.
After the opening meeting we broke into different workshops to explore some of these ideas. Charlotte Du Cann, author of 52 Flowers That Shook My World – a Radical Return to Earth, led a participatory workshop on plant communication, and the concept of ‘rewilding’, and community resilience in times of cultural shift.
Meanwhile others were talking about the privatisation of the NHS with Caroline Molloy, looking at the realities of what’s happening in the NHS with current cuts and changes and asking what this means for our healthcare and what the possibilities and complexities might be for a possible future for herbal medicine in the NHS. Click here for resources from this workshop.
After lunch cooked up by the Anarchist Teapot Collective (who made incredible food for the whole weekend), Karen Lawton and Fiona Heckels, two traditional herbalists who have formed Sensory Solutions, talked about their own experiences with plant medicine, sharing conversation around state regulation, autonomy and resistance and info sharing at community level, as well as expansive approaches to connecting deeply with the plant world.
To support skills-sharing, Amanda Rayment from the Holistic Birth Trust talked about the ancient connection between herbs and midwifery and the use of herbs in pregnancy and childbirth, while Glastonbury-based herbalist Chris Roe led a discussion session on advanced tincture making experimenting with different processes of medicine making.
Over the Saturday afternoon, an engaged discussion took place about Community Herbalism – what it is and what real accessibility to herbal medicine means in the UK. Participants shared their experiences of different UK and North American projects and their own projects. It was the beginning of creating a map of the UK marking a network of projects and people. Click here for resources from this workshop.
Others also gathered to talk about ecological impacts of Industrial and Herbal medicine, from pollution to antibiotic resistance, soil erosion and displacement of industrial agriculture and more, as well as the over-harvesting of wild plant populations and the challenges of growers in a capitalist system attempting to grow medicine for their communities. A small group has now formed to take this work forward in terms of raising awareness of at-risk plants and native alternatives while trying to support the creation and recognition of botanical sanctuaries. Click here for resources from this workshop.
Forager Robin Harford led a plant walk with a difference, looking at plant identification in a sensory world, using all our senses to identify medicinal and other plants in our environments and stimulating his walkers with resonant ideas about monoculture and scarcity foods in amongst the wildgathering activity.
On Saturday evening more magic happened with workshops ending and conversations beginning as we started to connect and converse about a real herbal future we imagine that addresses inequalities and reconnects us with herbal medicine as our birthright. An open mic was shared in the main tent and folk gathered round the heart of a strong fire outside.
On Sunday morning herbalist Dedj Liebbrandt led a workshop on Herbal First Aid for Everyone, skilling us up practically on how to use herbs in acute/ emergency situations.
Nathan Hughes brought to life the language of plant magic, introducing the approaches he has developed with the School of Intuitive Herbalism. He believes the strongest conceptual foundations in herbalism are fluid and born directly of our own locality, our bodies, the herbs around us and the needs of our community. In this way, herbalism is ultimately the people’s medicine.
After a break a workshop – Indigenous medicine, Indigenous land – shared information about colonial/ corporate violences to peoples around the globe. The workshop was initially scheduled to focus on the impact on land and medicine of Native American people living at the edge of the Tar sands in Canada. Sadly the speaker wasn’t able to make it. In its place several people stepped up last minute to speak about experiences of other situations around the world. Information was shared about solidarity work with women healers in Kenya who are experiencing the impact of land grabs (their forest fenced off denying them access to their plant medicine) and imported colonial schooling where children are being told their parents practises and medicines are ‘backward’. Speakers also spoke about solidarity work in Peru to support reclamation of local plant knowledge and use. Information was also shared about current over harvesting of ayahuasca in the Amazon to satisfy western/ northern consumption. An open discussion followed around related issues and other examples of violence and theft (including plant patenting etc) and about the necessity of guarding against cultural appropriation.
Herbalists Becs Griffiths and Heather Ware also created a space for discussion and sharing of experiences around the challenges and solutions for working herbalists in a capitalist culture, looking at tools such as sliding scales for accessibility, livelihoods and the effect of monetary values held in a capitalist society.
Rory Macphee gave a workshop on the medicinal uses of Seaweed, and how cultures across the planet depend on their coastlines for food and medicine, as well as how these sources of nutrition are at risk of pollution and over harvesting.
Chris Hope from Ipsophyto led a plant identification walk around the local area, bringing to life the huge diversity of form, function and spirit in the plant communities surrounding us.
Finally a closing meeting took place. Small groups formed around their regional areas. We explored the questions ‘What is our collective understanding now of radical herbalism?’, ‘What did you get out of the gathering?’ and any next steps – personal or collective. There was some honest and amazing feedback, with new regional projects and potential smaller gatherings emerging. Many felt they had new understandings of plant medicine and the intersection with politics, others that it had healed a dis-integration/ schism they had felt for years – namely that herbalism is political, that it is both a necessary part of and has a role in social change, and that there is a community out there that feels the same. A shout-out space followed for people to tell the whole gathering of projects they were organising, courses, events and more.
It was a moving and powerful weekend. People left feeling inspired and strengthened, with new skills, contacts and awareness about the injustices we’re trying to challenge. It was clear that the seeds have been sown for establishing networks and a movement that builds more conversation and action.
Subscribe to the mailing list for updates about the gathering in 2014.
The Radical Herbalism Gathering will be held on Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th June 2013 in Compton Dundon, near Glastonbury in Somerset, UK.
You are invited to join us for a weekend of discussions on community herbal medicine in a social justice and ecological context. The gathering will be an opportunity for informative workshops, rousing discussions, herbal skill sharing and to make new connections.
It is being hosted by a diverse collective of medical & lay herbalists, plant lovers, medicine growers, community organisers & other health workers.
We have been inspired by the collaboration of herbalists, growers, wildcrafters & other health workers in North America. These projects demonstrate that herbal medicine can play an important part in addressing health inequalities. We want the gathering to be a place where similar conversations on sustainable and integrated healthcare can evolve.
Amongst the range of topics for the weekend we are particularly interested in: the connection between herbal medicine, social justice and health inequalities, community herbal projects, increasing accessibility to herbal medicine, the impact of the current dismantling of the NHS, sustainable growing and sourcing of herbs, a radical approach to plant communication, different plant medicine traditions and cultural appropriation, defending plant medicine from ecological destruction (e.g. Tar Sands in Canada) and the role of big pharmaceuticals in healthcare.
There will also be a herbal first aid workshop, a range of medicine making workshops and plant walks in the afternoons.
A full programe for the gathering can be found here: https://radicalherbalism.wordpress.com/programme/
The gathering is limited in size so please book your place ASAP here: https://radicalherbalism.wordpress.com/booking-form/
The gathering is organised by a volunteer collective, all contributions will cover site costs and ensure access on a sliding scale, from £20 – £60.
- For learners to be inspired to grow their own medicinal plants
- For learners to understand the role of design in cultivating & using medicinal plants effectively
- For learners to understand the role of sustainable wildcrafting & habitat management
- For learners to take away new herbal knowledge
1. Intro circle – name, where from, what you want out of the
workshop, level of understanding/experience with herbs
2. Popcorn – why do we need to grow our own medicine?
Write group input on flipchart paper, then add the below:
Reasons to grow your own medicine
– build self-reliance & community resilience
– empowering to learn new skills & knowledge/DIY treatment – connect with nature
– conserve endangered species/wild plants
– negate industrial agricultural production
– keep herbal medicine alive e.g. EU legislation
– save money
– ecological medicine is not polluting
– support ecological restoration & community building
Also emphasise – Food as medicine. Everyone is a herbalist!
3. Herbal washing line
Have different plants on table, ask people to place them in order – nourishing herbs to potentially poisonous herbs. Emphasise nourishing & tonic herbs used frequently & safely.
– Contain few or no alkaloids, glycosides, resins or essential oils (poisons)
– foods, dried & infused, vinegars
– nutriente, vitamins & minerals, trace minerals, EFAs, phytoestrogens etc
– Water bases in quantity
– Examples: Burdock roots, chickweed, comfrey leaf, elder blossoms & berries, fenugreek seeds, garlic, mallow leaves & roots, mushrooms, nettle leaves & seeds, oatstraw, plantain leaves & seeds, red clover blossoms, seaweeds, rosehips, violet leaves & blossoms
– safe in moderation
– May contain glycosides, essential oils, alkaloids but rarely in harmful quantities
– water & alcohol bases e.g. tinctures, wines, vinegars
– tonifying & stimulating – unique to person
– beware of mixing with drugs/other herbs
– Examples: burdock seeds, chasteberry, dandelion leaf, root & flowers, echinacea roots, ginseng, hawthorn, lady’s mantle, yellow dock
– Contains certain chemicals
– rapid & pronounced effects
– Infrequent moderate/large doses over short periods
– Examples e.g. mints, skullcap, sage, licorice root, passion flower, valerian root, willow bark
Potential poisonous herbs
– very potent with poisonous/potentially harmful chemical constituents – extracted into alcohol or small doses
– shortest time possible during treatment
– practiced herbalists
e.g. belladona, cayenne, goldensal, wormwood, tansy leaves
4. Medicine Garden Tour & Herbal Habitats
Show round medicine garden. Emphasise ecological niches. Point out medicinal trees not just small herbs. Emphasise sustainable wildcrafting.
– Wetlands e.g. Elder, Nettles, Meadowsweet, Musk Mallow
– Arid regions e.g. Hyssop, Lavender, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
– Mountain regions e.g. Angelica, Juniper, Yarrow
– Temperate hardwood forests e.g. Ginseng, Goldenseal (endangered) – Temperate forests e.g. Hawthorn, Lime trees, Wild cherry
– Tropical e.g. Aloe, Ginger, Neem tree
– Attempt to cultivate first before using wild plants
– Only take what you need with enough remaining for healthy regeneration (5-25% max)
– Do not harvest endangered, threatened or sensitive species unless absolutely necessary
– Respect plants & ask permission
– Be active for plants in threat
– Elder, Sambucus nigra
– Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna
– Lime flowers, Tilia cordata
– Guelder Rose/Cramp Bark, Viburnum opulus
– Gingko – Gingko biloba leaf
– Witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana leaf & twig
– Willows, Salix esp Salix alba
– Horse Chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum – circulatory system, veins
5. Introduce Medicine Garden Design Process
When designing your herb garden:
– Who are these plants for? Who will use & benefit from them? – How & how often will they be harvested?
– How easily available & abundant are they in the wild?
– How expensive or accessible are they?
– What other functions do they serve e.g. bee forage?
Introduce different forms of plant medicine to aid in design process. Emphasise frequency of harvesting:
Fresh Root Tinctures, Fresh leaf & herb tinctures, Dried root tinctures, Dried roots, Dried herb
Regularly harvested fresh herbs: Nettles, peppermint, bay leaves, basil, rosemary, lady’s mantle leaf, fennel, sweet cicely leaves, safe, parsley, borage, lemon balm
6. Work in Small Groups
Explore Case Studies in small groups with flipchart paper. Then feedback to group.
Sarah lives in a shared house with 4 other women. They have a smallish back garden & are interested in growing herbs. As a household they often experience period pains & menstrual discomfort due to their high- stress jobs & sometimes poor nutrition.
Alan works in the city. He has a tiny patio garden which is south facing and he likes to sit outside after a long day & commute. He often has a congested chest due to the pollution & finds it very difficult to unwind in the evenings.
Beth lives with her partner in the country & has a front & back garden of reasonable size. She has recently developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome and struggles with both constipation & loose bowels on different occasions as well as feeling general discomfort after meal times. She is a keen gardener and loves wildlife gardening.
Pete & Sue have three kids, they love playing outside and as such the garden does not have much in the way of plants other than a lawn. They are worried about their toddler eating random plants but at the same time want to grow some herbs to use in cooking and to help their second child get to sleep at night.
7. Clarifying questions & close. Handouts.