Grassroots Herbalism: Bringing Herbal Medicine Home

Why a Grassroots Herbalist?

I see a Grassroots Herbalist as a village herbalist, as an herbalist who is mostly interested in the plants, interested in the gardens, interested in people, interested in animals. This is a path that takes a big heart.

To me a Grassroots Herbalist is someone whose main focus is more of a spiritual/emotional than a scientific/rational. This is not to say that there is not value in a scientific focus, but we lean more towards hands-on, direct contact with plants and people.

Traditionally, too, the village herbalist was also the shaman, which brings in the whole idea of somebody who is in tune not only with the plants and body, but also with the spirits or energies of the bodies, places and plants. Their healing may not just be the traditional allopathic “treat the symptom.” It might be much more: holding somebody while they cry, giving him or her Bach flower remedies for their emotions. “Treat the person, not the disease,” has always been my philosophy of healing.

I like the traditional idea of village and folk herbalists. A Grassroots Herbalist uses more of a folk approach, which means more of a heartfelt approach, and focuses more on the connection between the plants, the person and the environment.

Grassroot Herbalists will be trained to know the basic needs of the body and the more common things that go wrong with the human body – especially in the environment in which they live.

In the Pacific Northwest we have a lot of coughs and colds throughout the winter. A Local Herbalist would be aware of which plants to use for different common conditions. The herbalist would also study how to use them safely, and be aware of any contraindications – so that a pregnant woman, for example, wouldn’t take something that could hold risks for her pregnancy.

Plants are the foundation of any herbal training, so training starts with the plants. Connect students to the plants, help them understand the medicinal values and the strengths and weaknesses of each plant. Another section of training covers how to prepare the herbs and administer them, really trying to get back the whole idea that not everything is done by a pill. We’ve really turned into a pill culture. Whether they’re herbal or drugs, it’s like: “pop a pill.” That’s fine. but also have herbal baths; eat herbs from your garden; and make your own tinctures and teas. Teaching budding herbalists all the ways of preparing and using herbs is important.

We want people to get into doing baths and poultices, etc., because this is really great healing. If you look at a lot of the traditional systems like Ayurveda, there’s a lot of hands-on work. I think people’s bodies are hungry for that. It’s really nice to have your feet soaking in a bath of hot water with a bunch of herbs in it. It’s very different than swallowing a pill.

The idea of paradigms is also very important. A lot of the traditional methods – which I consider community herbalism, involving practitioners being trained to work in their villages and the areas in which they live, in how to gather the plants from that area and use them – work on an energetic model more than a chemical model of medicine.

Allopathic medicine attempts to copy nature, trying to figure out what herbs and chemicals are in what plant and how they work. That’s fine. It’s a body of knowledge, and it’s useful. But as Grassroots Herbalists we look more at the energetics of herbs, whether they’re heating you or cooling you down, whether they’re drying you out or moistening you. We teach that model of the energetic of herbs, which goes back in all western and eastern traditions.

My vision for Grassroots Herbalists is that we would have herbal specialists. As I’ve been saying, these specialists are very well trained in, and connected to, the plants that can be grown in their communities. I like the image of barefoot doctors. Instead of white-coat medical doctors, they’re barefoot doctors. They wander around the community, and they have the knowledge and skills to help people.

They can come to your home, or they can meet you at the coffee shop. They can talk to you in the park, and they can listen to you. They can listen to your suffering and offer you sound advice on some of the things you can do. It’s not expected that they can do everything for somebody, but lots of times, in my experience, you can help somebody along. Just listening to somebody is often a great help, but if you have some tools – Bach flower remedies or some simple herbal remedies for relaxing people – this can complement any other therapy that they’re doing, whether it’s medical or not. Everybody needs a healer. They need somebody who is going to support them.

My vision is that Grassroots Herbalists will be very supportive people. It is also that they will carry on from the tradition of the elders that I’ve studied with: Norma Meyers, a Mohawk medicine woman who has passed over to the other side; Dr. John Christopher, who was the herbalist who turned so many of us on to herbs in the ‘60s and early ‘70s – the whole American Herbalists Guild is full of herbalists who originally studied with Dr. John Christopher; and Ellen White, a Coast Salish native elder from the Nanaimo band.

The idea is to keep that knowledge alive. The native tradition was much more of a Grassroots Herbalist. They knew the plants intimately. They knew the spirits. They knew the energies. They knew the songs. They knew the ceremonies. My vision is to bring those aspects back into healing.

We no longer have ceremonies. Everyone goes through changes, and we have nothing to mark them, no rites of passage. My wife and I have done very powerful rites of passage work with young people.

I also worked with Royal Roads University and first nations elders from around the province of British Columbia on non-timber forest products. We’ve established protection for medicinal plants in logging contracts. Again, that’s the idea of a Grassroots Herbalist. It’s not just about the herbs in a clinical practice. It’s also about the herbs in your back yard and the herbs in the forests. It’s about the herbs in the community.

I also see education as a huge part of being a Grassroots Herbalist – taking people from the community on herb walks, going into people’s gardens and telling them what plants to grow for their health. Hopefully, we’ll be able to go in and set up herb gardens in schools so that the kids can learn from an early age. My first herb walk was with a four year old on a farm in California. He took my wife and me on a walk and showed us about 20 plants. He knew them intimately, because he lived with them. This is the way it was traditionally.

That’s my vision for Grassroots Herbalists: to give them a sense of power and place in our communities.

If you are interested in studying Grassroots Herbalism, checkout my 5 Month In-Person Herbal Program

Email: don@herbalhealingpathway.com