Podcast 109: Sustainability for Herbalists

There are many facets to sustainability for herbalists to consider, from maintaining your personal energy reserves to establishing sustainable working conditions for the workers who bring herbs to us. 
Today we’re focusing on direct sustainability of the plants themselves. How can we make sure that, as interest in herbalism and demand for herbs grows, we’re not exhausting our plants and soil?

We start with a cautionary tale from 200 BCE, in which poor soil quality, degrading growing conditions, overharvesting, and “trendiness” all came together to result in the first documented extinction of a medicinal plant. There are lessons to be learned here that apply directly to our world, and to considerations about sustainability for herbalists, today!

Have you ever heard the rubric that suggests you “take 1/3 for yourself, leave 1/3 for the animals, and 1/3 for the plants to grow back”? It’s been a mainstay in herbalism schools for several decades. Today we’re recognizing that some harvesting practices and wildcrafting guidelines that have been widely adopted in American herbalism are no longer sufficient. We need to change our habits, as our world is changing.

Herbs discussed include “giant fennel”, mugwort, evening primrose, Canadian fleabane, & pine.

Mentioned in this episode:

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja: 00:00:14 Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn: 00:00:14 And I’m Ryn.

Katja: 00:00:14 And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn: 00:00:22 And on the interenet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja: 00:00:27 I’m so excited for today’s episode.

Ryn: 00:00:28 Yeah. You’ve been planning this one for a couple of weeks now.

Katja: 00:00:30 Yeah, I actually, I dunno, I woke up, this happens sometimes with a pod. I wake up and I have an idea and I just write the whole, sometimes we don’t write anything, we just talk. But sometimes I like write every thing, I just have it in my mind. Something that I really want to talk about and this is one of those. Yeah. So I, I really want to spend some time talking about sustainability for the herbal community and like some new thoughts around, not new thoughts, but some of my thoughts around what that means.

Ryn: 00:01:04 Yeah, absolutely. So maybe not quite as necessary for this topic as with other ones, but just for consistency, we’re going to give you our reclaimer here.

Katja: 00:01:13 Yes.

Ryn: 00:01:14 Just to say that we are not doctors, we’re herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja: 00:01:18 The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and to research further.

Ryn: 00:01:40 And we wish to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision when considering any course of therapy, whether it’s been discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is actually yours.

Katja: 00:01:51 Yes.

Ryn: 00:01:52 Always.

Katja: 00:01:53 Yes.

Ryn: 00:01:53 All right, cool. So yeah, let’s talk about sustainability and let’s, where do you wanna start?

Katja: 00:02:00 Well, you know, when we say sustainability for herbalists, different thoughts come to mind.

Ryn: 00:02:11 Yeah. It’s not, it’s not one thing.

Katja: 00:02:13 Right.

Ryn: 00:02:13 It’s not one act, it’s not even one realm. There are different areas of practice it turns up in.

Katja: 00:02:20 Yeah. So we might think about like the oxygen mask analogy that as an herbalist you need to make sure that you’re not caring so much for others, that there is nothing left for you. That’s a really important factor in sustainable herbalism in terms of our own selves.

Ryn: 00:02:39 Yeah. Herbal practitioners are prone to burnout just like anybody else who’s, who’s in a service profession.

Katja: 00:02:46 Yeah. Or like a professional caring, you know? That’s not what I want to talk about today.

Ryn: 00:02:54 Maybe some other time though.

Katja: 00:02:55 Yeah. Also another place where we might be thinking about sustainability is from a social perspective. So even if the herbs that you’re working with are organically cultivated, are the people who are doing the labor to do that organic cultivation, are they being adequately compensated and..

Ryn: 00:03:15 Abundantly compensated.

Katja: 00:03:18 Abundantly compensated, yeah. Appropriately compensated. And in the places where this work is being done by migrant and immigrant workers, are these people safe? You know, It’s not even just like, do they make a lot of money but they’re not really safe? You know, so that is a really important issue around sustainability.

Ryn: 00:03:38 Right? Yeah. And that’s a discussion that’s really, really critical in all elements of sustainability. When people talk about any, the question is always like, well, did they put pesticides on it? And yeah, that’s relevant for sure. Right? You know, how did they fertilize and everything. It’s super important. But also like who are the people who are doing the actual manual work?

Katja: 00:04:01 Who literally have touched your food. And I know that that concept even grosses some people out, but I find it like beautiful that especially with strawberries or you know, all different kinds of sort of more fragile produce that can’t be machine harvested and that are actually harvested by hand. The idea that there is a living person who with their hands got this food for me. I find that to be an amazing connection and really beautiful.

Ryn: 00:04:33 Yeah. And so, you know, in that regard, probably the place to start is to think about the difference between, like we talk about farmers a lot, you know. We’re in an election year right now, so there’s lots of talk about supporting our farmers. And are the tariffs, good or bad for them and this and that. But one thing that was kind of illuminating for me was when probably Sarah Tabor on Twitter was commenting about how like farmer in this context is sort of equivalent to CEO. You know, it’s not to like the person on the ground doing the work. And it may have been in the family for a long time and there can be ties to the ground in that way, and to the land in that way. But it’s a really different proposition when you’re talking about workers’ rights than when you’re talking about support our farmers.

Katja: 00:05:17 Right. And I mean, here in new England we have a lot of really small scale family farms and that’s one thing. And when we are talking about that, then when we say farmer, the person who owns the property or who might be renting that property is more likely to be the person with the dirt under their fingernails.

Ryn: 00:05:34 In this part of the country, yeah.

Katja: 00:05:34 Yeah. But that is not universally true. And politically when we talk about farmers TM, then it is so much more common that what we are really referring to, whether we understand that as individuals or not is like CEO. Right?

Ryn: 00:05:51 Yeah, and it’s like the difference between supporting farm workers or supporting farm humans in general by making subsidies for ethanol as opposed to like actually providing the material needs and the living breathing thing. Very, very different.

Katja: 00:06:08 So that they can have a living wage and can be safe as individuals.

Ryn: 00:06:13 Yeah, so when we’re thinking about sustaining, in this case, the availability of herbs, or herbs as they show up in our modern world, those are things we need to think about too, right? Yeah.

Storytime: The Downfall of Giant Fennel

Katja: 00:06:30 But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Yeah. Today what I really want to talk about is more the direct sustainability of the plants themselves and all the ways that we can, the herbal community can, be getting more and more interested in herbalism without completely exhausting our plants and our soil. So I think that a little sorta preamble story time might be handy here. It’s worth noting that the first plant that we know of to have gone extinct was the giant fennel plant, which was harvested to extinction in the third or the second century BCE. And the reason that we usually hear for this is that it was considered a contraceptive plant at the time. So I think that this story is really important because it has not just parallels to today’s situation, but actual like exact replicas that are happening today.

Ryn: 00:07:35 History, man. Right. You know, you learn from it or you repeat the same mistakes.

Katja: 00:07:40 Yeah. So this was a plant that had lots of different reported medicinal actions. It was also a food and a fodder plant.

Ryn: 00:07:49 Fodder is like you feed it to your animals.

Katja: 00:07:52 Yeah. And so when you dig into what we can piece together of the story, which is a very interesting thing to do, it goes like this. The plant was depended on for food and fodder and also for medicine. And so it was actively cultivated. And in this case, when I say cultivated, I really mean more like encouraged or maybe as far as even stewarded as opposed to farmed. It was not, like there weren’t rows of this plant. So in areas where this was the case, there was a lot of soil depletion and ultimately poor soil conditions made it hard for the plant to survive.

Katja: 00:08:32 So additionally then on top of that, at some point rumors about contraceptive actions of the plant gave it it’s 15 minutes of trendiness. Like 15 minutes of fame, whatever. It turned it into like a phenomenon. Like everybody had to have it and at that point it was already in trouble. And at that point it was then harvested to extinction. So as a tangent, I do think that it’s worth noting here that I have never seen credible cases of any plant functioning in a contraceptive way. There is a lot of urban legend out there. And even people attempting to prove that some plants can do this. All of the stuff that I have looked at, all of the everything. I’ve spent a lot of time on this and for my money, none of it passes muster.

Katja: 00:09:25 It is a huge issue. I’ve published quite a bit about this in Plant Healer magazine and I will do a huge update on all that coming up in the reproductive health online course.

Ryn: 00:09:38 Right. Because there’s lost of nuances to this.

Katja: 00:09:39 There is a lot of nuance. But I just, especially in the context of this story, I just want to note that plants are not like, that’s not necessarily what they’re trying to do. So this is a super complex topic. But the ultimate bottom line here is that whether or not the plant actually performed this action is less relevant than the fact that people believed that it did and they wanted it, which is fair. Like contraception is, it changes lives.

Katja: 00:10:16 So I support that they wanted it.

Ryn: 00:10:19 This is worth really thinking about too because the central concept here is that things, plants, animals for that matter can become at risk. Whether they do a job, whether they perform a function for medicine or for whatever else or not, they can still become at risk because of that. I’m thinking here of like rhinoceros horn being ground to powder and then taken as a virility supplement.

Katja: 00:10:45 Yes, because it will make your manliness more manly.

Ryn: 00:10:45 You know, it breaks my heart but like literal powdered tiger penis and all this, Oh God. You know, and with plants too, the same kind of thing. Humans have never been exempt from, well, I guess marketing would be part of it and fads and trends and stuff like that. And that’s

Katja: 00:11:08 And also, urban legend. That’s been with us forever too. Like a marketing mythology. Like all of that stuff has always been here. Yeah.

Ryn: 00:11:18 I mean now we’re saturated in it 24/7 and from every, like all the different screens in the room are trying to blur them at you all the time. But it’s always been the case that people could hear about a mysterious thing from somewhere else and come to covet it very highly and go to extreme lengths to access it. And you know, none of that necessarily correlates with reality, but it does lead to real world consequences.

The Herbal Explosion

Katja: 00:11:42 Absolutely. Yeah. So again, what we’re seeing in the case of this particular plant is poor soil quality plus degrading growing conditions plus overharvesting and then on top of it, plus trendiness and all of those things together lead to extinction, right? An enormous sustainability problem. So as herbalism in the United States grows, and it’s really important to truly understand the actual literal explosion of herbal interest in this country over the past few decades. And I feel like, honestly, there is no word that I can really use to make clear how fast this field is growing just over the last 20 to 30 years. So, if you are new to herbalism and you haven’t been watching this happen over the past several decades, then just think about whatever is the fastest growing, most explosion-y thing that you can possibly think of and then maybe think about it even a little bit bigger. And that’s herbalism in this country right now. So even though where you are, you might be the only herbalist that you know. And so it might be hard to kind of imagine that this is literal explosive growth. It is literal explosive growth. Yeah.

Ryn: 00:13:07 Yeah. There’s a report put out every year by Herbalgram. I’ll put the link to the one for 2018 in the show notes here, because it was the last one that came out so far. But I’ve been following this for the past four or five years. And the one for 2018 reports overall herbal supplement sales increased by 9.4% over the previous year. And it’s been in the ones that I can recall and that I’ve seen, it’s been numbers like that. It’s been 10, 13% increase year over year. And that’s pretty much been going on as far as I can tell since at least the late nineties.

Katja: 00:13:47 Well, if over a decade, every year you have a 10% increase, you had a hundred percent increase at the end of the decade.

Ryn: 00:13:54 Probably more than that. But it’s enormous. Yeah. And the current market share overall is something around like $9 billion just in the U S here. So,

Katja: 00:14:11 And we’re not even a large market actually.

Ryn: 00:14:13 Comparatively. Yeah.

Katja: 00:14:15 Today I want to kind of focus on our own hands and so I am thinking about locally, but just to think about scale wise, we are not, we’re not even a large market. But if we say over the past 30 years, sales of herbal products have increased by 3 or 400%. That sounds like a lot. If we say over the past year it increased by 10%. It doesn’t sound like that much. But those numbers have the same numbers just on a different scale.

Ryn: 00:14:46 So it’s hard to wrap your mind around really. And it’s also kind of hard to wrap your mind around the difference in the market now versus 30 years ago. Right? And this is true even for our kind of herbalism right. It’s not like bottles and supplements on the shelf, but…

Katja: 00:15:01 But actual whole plants…

Ryn: 00:15:04 … people wanting to learn, and make their own teas and tinctures and do it at home. And so then there’s, there’s more market for raw herbal, you know, stuff we put in our jars, right. The kind of sifted plants and everything. And so I wonder if it would be interesting to talk to somebody from Mountain Rose who had been there since they got started.

Katja: 00:15:23 I mean, I’ve been buying herbs at Mountain Rose almost that long. And literally it was a couple of people. It’s not a ton of people now, but it was literally like three people. And watching that grow over the years has been…

Ryn: 00:15:40 And even in my career as an herbalist over the past like 10, 11 years, the number of local herb farms and suppliers and herbal product makers and everything is just [boom!] exploding. Yeah. We see that at Herbstalk every year.

Katja: 00:15:55 Oh my goodness. Yeah. Herbstalk is our local herb conference and it’s really exciting and it is explosive.

Ryn: 00:16:05 It’s packed to the gills, man!

Katja: 00:16:05 It’s packed. Yeah. So all this is really, really exciting. That’s the first thing is to say. It’s really exciting. But it’s also a problem for sustainability. And what that means is that it’s no longer enough for teachers to say you can pick one third for you and leave one third for the animals and leave one third for regeneration. That’s what was being taught 20 and 30 years ago. And honestly, I think a lot of today’s teachers are still saying that simply because that’s what they were taught. You know, if you come across a stand of nettles, you can take a third, leave a third for the animals, and leave a third to go to seed.

Ryn: 00:16:50 It’s appealing, right? It’s very simple. It’s very easy to hold that in your mind. It feels like a sort of undying, unchanging principle that has probably always been true.

Katja: 00:17:01 I don’t even know if it was always true.

Ryn: 00:17:02 I know, right? I’m just saying it like feels that way. It’s like, Oh yeah, a third, a third, a third. That’s great. That’s perfect.

Katja: 00:17:09 Yeah. Things in nature come in threes. Sure.

Ryn: 00:17:11 Totally. Yeah.

Katja: 00:17:12 No, I think that was something, it might be something literally that Rosemary made up as her own personal guideline for harvesting in her own area where she was. And now it’s fairly ubiquitous. And our elders in that time period, their ideas spread much further than we may think because they were like the vector. They were the ones who put out so much information and that’s great. We owe them a great debt for the revitalizing that they did. But also it’s important to sort of just update those things and to call them into question. And so right now that is something that I think we need to be calling into question whether you ever heard that one third, one third, one third. Or maybe whatever you were taught about sustainably wildcrafting. It doesn’t have to have been that particular guideline, but any of the guidelines that you were taught. I think right now is a really good time to just call those into question and reevaluate them and say, do these guidelines still apply to the, to the current state? And that doesn’t mean that the people who taught you that were wrong or bad, it just means that things are changing very quickly. The planet is changing and the popularity is changing. And those two things, like the planet is sort of having less sustainability and the popularity is growing more and more. So we’re in that giant place where like it’s harder and harder on the plant populations and we are demanding more and more. And so this and even every year is an important time to be reevaluating what is sustainable. What does that mean?

Ryn: 00:19:12 Yeah. Right. And also one thought here is that has been helpful for me is to recognize that being sustainable is in no way the same thing as being unchanging, right? So again, if we think about a particular stand of plants out there in the woods or in the fields or whatever. In order for that to be sustainable, a plant population might actually need a larger stand next year than the one it occupies this year in order to survive the next decade, the next century, whatever. However far forward we can project in time.

Katja: 00:19:46 Especially if you’re on land that’s reasonably new to you. Because you don’t know if you haven’t been there for 10 years, 20 years, honestly, a hundred years. Because the world is changing so fast right now, if you haven’t been there for some larger period of time, you don’t really know what this year’s stand is an example of. Was this a hard year? Is this meager in comparison to previous years. Until you’ve really watched it for a long time, you don’t actually know how healthy that patch of nettle actually is. So yeah, it might be that in order to sustain it, you not only can’t harvest any of it right now, but in fact you need to do something to make sure that that patch doubles, triples.

Ryn: 00:20:29 Help it grow and spread. Spread some seeds. Water it, you know, bring it help. Yeah. That might be part of it too. Sure. And then another thought here is that sustainability is an important goal and that’s true, but it’s not the only goal. Right. Um, we can consider the difference between sustainable agriculture and a more recent concept of regenerative agriculture. The question there is, would it really be acceptable if we altered our current production methods, like just enough to sustain the status quo? No. We can do a lot better than that.

Not Just Sustainable: Regenerative

Katja: 00:21:06 And you know, for me, when I think of the word sustainable, the actual definition of sustainable to me is regenerative. And that’s not true everywhere.

Ryn: 00:21:19 At the most basic level, it’s thinking past the next harvest, right? So sustainable is like can I accomplish next time what I’ve done this time and that’s good. But regenerative is like how can I make sure that that continues to be true as far forward as we can project and how can we feed into these nourishment cycles.

Katja: 00:21:38 Yeah, so that we are not just nourishing ourselves but we are also nourishing our soils. And we can also recognize not just, Oh we need to sustain what we’re doing, but Hey, what we’re doing is significantly diminished because soil has been depleted over decades. So every year I need to not just be sustaining where I’m at right now, but I actually need to be putting back. You invest in your business or you invest in your education or whatever. We need to be investing in the soil with our practices

Ryn: 00:22:10 And why this matters, one reason is to imagine you’ve got on one hand extractive practices that are going to draw down the reserves of nutrients and everything that’s necessary in the soil over time. Extractive, right? And then you have sustainable, which is we pull some stuff out, we put some stuff back in. It all balances out over time, right? Regenerative is like we do harvest some things, but we put more capacity, more life, more earth into the earth. Right? So that it can keep that going. And that’s important because if we stay in that middle place where we balance what we take out with what we put in, that’s good if everything else stays the same. And we know it’s not going to. We know the climate is changing, weather patterns are changing, water patterns are changing. So you need to build extra resilience into the system to account for what you know is coming and then also for what you don’t know. Because there’s always that.

Katja: 00:23:04 I feel like I want to go back and every, every time that I said sustainable. Just every time sustainable comes up, that’s regenerative. If we all just start thinking that the only thing that is sustainable is regenerative, then every time that we’re taught… because sustainable has become a buzz word too. And that’s okay. That’s good that we’re talking about it. But so as long as we all agree that the only thing that is, in fact, sustainable is regeneration.

Ryn: 00:23:39 Let’s just expand our definition there. That’ll do it.

Katja: 00:23:43 Well all right. Basically what I’m saying here, and I think this also feeds right into that regeneration idea, is that we need to be actively, and by that I mean really actively, like really, really actively thinking about our impact on the plant population and on soil health. And every time we purchase an herbal product, whether that is a pound of nettle, dried nettle leaves or a thing in capsules or anything in between, we need to be thinking was this sustainably made? ,Was it regeneratively produced? And every time that we purchase herbs, we need to be thinking, how was this grown and what is going on with the soil? In the actual field where this came from. And what is going on with the people and what is going on with like everything about how I got this plant. Yeah, okay. Maybe you don’t have time to grow your own plants. And that’s totally all right. But we need to be active in, you know, we spend a lot of time maybe searching for the best price. And we think that that is a good use of our time. And so let’s redirect that and say that a good use of our time is determining how was this plant grown.

Katja: 00:25:01 And a lot of times, because we’re gluten free and dairy free and whatever, a lot of times people will say, well, how do you really know that that was produced in a certain way? And I say, I call the manufacturer and I talk to them and it amazes me how many times people are just shocked. And they’re like, what, every time? Do you do that for every product? Yeah, I do. I do that so often. I mean, okay, once I’ve talked to one manufacturer, I don’t call them every time, I want to buy the same thing again. But yeah, you’ve got to know your farmer and you’ve got to know if you’re buying something from a larger manufacturer, then they’re not any different than knowing your local people. You have to know them too. And you have to know what they’re doing and whether or not they’re trustworthy and that is wicked inconvenient. But that’s what I’m saying I think that we need to be thinking about. And then for that matter, every time that we want to go out and wild harvest, honestly I am coming to believe that we shouldn’t, we just shouldn’t. I am seriously questioning right now whether or not plant populations, even plants who are not at risk can handle the influx of people interested in plant medicines and who are thinking, Oh, I can just go outside and get this for free.

Ryn: 00:26:20 Yeah, that’s a big part of the problem, really, is the idea that if you didn’t have to pay another human some money to get something, then that means it was free. Because that’s not actually what the definition of free should be if Ryn was running the world or at least the dictionary.

Katja: 00:26:37 But I get emails about this all the time, like, Oh well I can just go out and get that for free. Like literally that sentence. And that’s still not free. It’s not free. That soil paid for that. And by the way, that’s a life you’re taking. Like it’s okay. I’m not saying that, Oh, you’re taking…well you are taking life when you harvest nettles to make tea. But I’m not saying that that is necessarily bad. That is the relationship that we’re all in. But I think that coming to that conclusion and coming to a place where I spent a lot of time thinking about the life of a plant and the reality that every cup of tea is the life of a plant, that changed a lot about how I thought about working with plants. That is when I really started thinking about, Hey, I don’t want to be using plants. This is a life, and I want to be worth my plants. But I also want to be making sure that I’m only taking what I need. And that was kind of the beginning of the rabbit hole of all of the things that we’re talking about now.

Ryn: 00:27:53 Yeah. And I mean there’s a gradient to it. Of course.

Katja: 00:27:56 Yeah. I know this isn’t about guilt. It’s just about like, Oh, we live in a busy society and this kind of stuff is really inconvenient. And we do inconvenient things because our society places value on it. We shop for sales because our society places value on that. And so what I’m proposing is that shopping for sustainability and shopping for Regenerability…that’s not even a word. Let’s place value on that. Let’s place the same kind of value on that that we would for, Hey, I got a good deal. You know?

Ryn: 00:28:35 So this kind of thinking is inconvenient, right? We’re not used to it or taught to do it. And in particular I’m kind of taught, you work hard, you make money, you go buy whatever you want. You don’t have to think about it too much further than that. It’s been that way. It’s changing now. You see people thinking about this, talking about it. You see younger people who are kind of more attuned to these ideas, swimming in it already.


Katja: 00:29:04 The funny thing is that this idea of I can just get what I want. I can have strawberries in December, I can have a new car, I can whatever. And when I’m done with it, I’ll just throw it away. Or when it breaks, I’ll just get a new one. All that kind of stuff. That’s the culture that we live in right now. But it’s not real, you know, like this stuff. My grandparents didn’t live this way. My parents weren’t really raised that way. This happened in my parents’ lifetime, It used to be that everybody fixed the stuff they had and everybody patched their clothes and everybody repaired their stuff and then handed stuff down and things were reused 10 million times. And oh it’s time to get a new handle onto that. That is like almost all of human history. There’s just this one little interruption, this one little blink that started in the boomers’ timeframe. I’m not saying it’s all the boomers fault, but in that time frame, that’s when this idea of disposability happened. And, by the way, that happened intentionally. The planned obsolescence, that’s intentional. And this cultural habit of thinking, I can just get a new one, that was intentionally done by corporations who wanted you to buy another thing. They didn’t want your things to last forever because they wanted your money.

Ryn: 00:30:42 So, it’s good to recognize that the forces that, that has unleashed, did not remain inside consumer goods. They’ve affected our relationship to everything.

Katja: 00:30:58 Yes. That’s it exactly. Like those ideas permeated society. And so if you have those ideas that doesn’t make you bad, it just is. It’s like what else were you supposed to think. That’s what we were all swimming in. But then this is the opportunity to just question that and say, hold on a second. I can’t, I don’t think we can think that way anymore. We tried that for a minute and a lot of corporations got really rich, but I don’t think that’s working out. And I think we need to do something different. Yeah.

Ryn: 00:31:37 So it’s habit change. And of course we would frame it that way because that’s how we frame basically everything. And here, just like learning how to change your habits around food or around sleep or around movement or whatever else, it’s the same basic process, right? It’s uncomfortable for a little while. You do it, you recognize that it’s better for you, for your health or for other reasons. And now it becomes normal for you. It becomes something that you just do, right. It becomes your new habit. And then like this is important. You never really get to stop thinking about anything, whether it’s food or whether it’s sustainability. But once you start to introduce some new habits, they start to become second nature and they require less computational cycle per minutes. And then that allows you to expand to a new horizon or the next level or whatever else, however you want to frame it.

Katja: 00:32:33 You know, it’s like, if you have a daily tea habit. If there was a time that you didn’t have that and then you were like, Oh, I’d like to get interested in herbalism. And, Oh, I’d like to drink tea every day because I think that would be good for my body. That took effort. You had to make the time in your day to do that and you had to remember every morning to do it and whatever. And so this isn’t really any different than that. This idea of thinking differently about the criteria that we use to buy things really. And the criteria that we use to tell us is this okay in terms of going out and working with wild plants. We already have criteria. We already have them. In terms of wildcrafting the criteria might be, is this plant in bloom, or does it look healthy, or were the bugs eating it or whatever. So the criteria already exists. And that is kind of exciting because it means that we’re not like starting from complete scratch. It just means that we’re either adding to our criteria or modifying our criteria. So it’s not impossible. It’s just that it’s gotta be intentional. We have to think about it. And I think also that we have to be compassionate about it because it’s not just that we’ve been taught to seek convenience and it’s not just that we’ve been taught that planned obsolescence is important and buying more stuff is important. Those are all one side of things. But the other side of that is that we live in a culture that leaves us very little time for inconvenience. We buy pre-shredded carrots because frankly we don’t have time to shred carrots. And some people have the privilege to live a life that allows them that time.

Katja: 00:34:22 But a lot of people don’t, and I’m not judging anybody who buys a pre-shredded bag of carrots. Like do what you’ve gotta do to get vegetables into you. And so if we can recognize that we are not living in a world that values this kind of thinking and that this kind of thinking will take more time, then we can also sort of cut ourselves some slack. We can look for like, okay, well who can I trust and I’ll just do what they’re doing for now. And then slowly I will chip away at learning for myself or deciding for myself that they also made good choices. But in the meantime I will choose a person or a group or whatever who has really good regenerative practices and I’ll just accept their practices because I accept that I don’t have time to research every single thing right now and I need to be compassionate in doing this work. So I guess there are ways that we can cut ourselves Slack on this and not, I don’t want this to be a huge, awful burden. But it’s work that we have to do and not all, even if work is burdensome, sometimes it’s important and valid.

Ryn: 00:35:41 So all right. So here are some things to think about around these ideas about sustainability and herbalism, sustainability of the actual living plants in the ground. And the first one is maybe to think about when you’re buying herbs to first of all recalibrate a little bit around that. And we’re seeing this happening I think in the last few years especially. But I expect this to continue where there had been some herbal price shocks. You know, there’s been some times when I’ve been going to place an order at the herb supplier and I’m like, wow, that herb is three times as expensive as it was last time I got some. And what we’re advocating for here is to train yourself to not respond with, Ugh, I’m going somewhere else where I can get the cheaper one. But instead to say, huh, I wonder why that happened. And I wonder if this is actually more of an equitable price for all of the people involved and for the plants themselves.

Katja: 00:36:41 You know, sometimes it is as simple as, as we have more herb farmers here locally in the US, and as suppliers are trying to source things locally more frequently because that is what the herbal community wants, the prices have to change because the living wage in the US is different than a living wage in a place where they might’ve been sourcing that previously. So it could be something as simple as that. Obviously like if it’s just somebody saying, Oh, I can make a huge profit here, I’m just going to charge a ton more. But a reputable supplier, I’m thinking about Mountain Rose for example, that’s not what’s going on for them. And so if suddenly the price changes or if there’s an herb that’s expensive, like Linden for example, and then we think, Oh, well that’s terrible, why is it so expensive? And just sort of catch that thought and think, Oh, well hold on a second. Those flowers come from trees.

Ryn: 00:37:50 It’s sort of like, ask the question sincerely, why is it so expensive? Yeah, there could be really good reasons for it.

Katja: 00:37:57 The very first of all of them is that herb farming is really difficult. It’s not easy.

Ryn: 00:38:04 They’re called specialty crops for a reason.

Katja: 00:38:07 Yeah. Well any farming. It’s hard to grow things and these are skills and you have to gain them over time. And it’s long work. It is hard work. Most of our small farmers in the U S have to work two jobs. The farm is often their side gig. Often they can’t survive from the money off the farm.And given how much work it is, we need to be questioning as a society, do we want that? Like, hold on a second, you’re already working really hard. Why would I expect that you should then work a second job just to stay afloat? That doesn’t seem fair.

Ryn: 00:38:56 So this is sort of just resetting your internal, I dunno, wheels and dials a little bit. So you can look at something like that and not feel affronted or not feel like, all right, well my first instinct is to find the cheapest one available cause that is not a great way to find sustainable herbs. Right? You can go on Amazon. You can find super cheap plants from super sketchy places that you have no idea where they were grown and you probably aren’t even going to be guaranteed to get what you ordered. But this is not a great way to support regenerative, sustainable herbalism in the world. So kind of along with that is another experience you may have while you’re browsing your favorite herb supplier, or even your local herb farm, what they have available, is that herbs aren’t always available and that’s okay. So, definitely again I”ve had the experience of being like, all right, I’m going to fill up all my empty jars on the shelf. I’m going to go and order everything and I’m getting it all from one spot and it’s going to be, Oh, they don’t have that or they don’t have that either. Oh man, now what am I going to do? Right? Am I going to have to just wait? Am I going to order from several different places? Oh, I’m so stuck, grrrrrr, and to kind of grumble about it.

It’s Okay to be Out of Stock

Katja: 00:40:10 Oh man, like every fall we get the emails about elderberries. Everybody’s out of stock of elderberries. Well, yeah, it’s fall like there’s only so many of them. It’s okay if everybody’s out of stock. And also elder, as a plant, is not hard to grow. So, but if everybody’s out of stock, then everybody’s out of stock. That’s okay. It’s okay for you not to have the plant that you want right now. And boy, does that ever go against our ideas as Americans, you know, like, no, I should be able to have anything I want. But listen, that too is new. I’m 46. I’m almost 47 years old. And when I was a kid, we had three kinds of apples. You could have a red delicious, you could have a granny Smith or you could have a Macintosh. That was it. Those were your choices. Three apples. And we did not have strawberries in December. That was not an option. And I lived in Texas, like not an option. So this idea that we can have anything we want anytime we want, you guys this happened in my lifetime. And so it’s like this is a habit that we can break. This isn’t something that has always been true and now it’s very, very new. And if we put it in that perspective, then we can be like, all right. Yeah. Okay. I don’t get to have everything that I want. That’s totally fine. And also it’s great as herbalists when there’s an herb that you really want, that you can’t have because that gives you an opportunity to learn other herbs who can do the same types of things.

Ryn: 00:42:00 Oh yeah. Running out of things is a great driver for creativity in herbal formulation.

Katja: 00:42:06 Yeah. As we have been teaching over the years, what we find is that when we start to run out of things and the jars get empty, instead of rushing to make an herb order or instead of making our herb orders in such a way so that we never run out, we actually have found that there is great value in procrastinating in making the herb order because it teaches our students to work with herbs that they may be a little bit less comfortable with, maybe herbs that aren’t their 100% favorite. It pushes them to grow. And like, Oh yeah, but I can’t quite remember how to work with it, you know, and it really pushes them to learn more. It pushes us to learn more.

Ryn: 00:42:54 Yeah. We’ve started in our exams, giving questions where it’s like, okay, this is the kind of health problem you need to solve and this is the person who has it and so on. And here’s the list of herbs that you don’t have available to you, to try to take all of the first line responses and be like, Nope, not available. A lung problem? Sorry. There’s no thyme. There’s no Sage. There’s no garlic. What are you going to do?

Katja: 00:43:16 No Mullein either.

Ryn: 00:43:17 Yeah, that’s really good.

Katja: 00:43:19 And even if you’re just an herbalist somewhere out in the world and you’re not taking any of our classes. This is a game that you can play all of the time. Anytime that you’re making tea for a reason, you can go ahead and make the tea that you want to make, that’s totally fine. But in your head, you can be playing a game of, Hm, this is the reason I’m making this tea. What if I didn’t have all of the herbs that I’m putting into this tea? What would I work with instead? And if you just do that, every time that you make a pot of tea, you’re really pushing your learning in a fantastic, fantastic way. So this can be, this can be a way to make it fun and exciting also.

Ryn: 00:44:05 Yeah. Cool. Alright.

Katja: 00:44:06 Well another idea here is maybe you should grow some herbs. Wait, hold on. Let me take the maybe out of that. You should grow some herbs and it does not matter if it is one Basil plant, one Catnip plant, whatever, in a pot on your windowsill. Doesn’t matter. Whatever it is or if maybe you enough land and you can put in a whole big, you know… Frankly we had last year, last couple of years we had a raised bed that was four by eight, which was not super expensive to put in. And we, the first year we did mostly vegetables in it. But towards the end of that year, I noticed a lot of herbs seeding themselves, like Mugwort and evening Primrose and some Lady’s Thumb. And all kinds of different things were turning up in there. There was one more that we got a real lot of.

Ryn: 00:45:10 Oh, Fleabane

Katja: 00:45:10 Oh right, yes, yes, yes, Erigeron. And so the second year with that bed, I did not plant any vegetables. I had strawberries in there as perennials. But other than that, I didn’t plant any vegetables at all and I just let the volunteers go bananas and we harvested pounds of Mugwort and of Evening Primrose and Erigeron. And these are three herbs that are really important to us and it was just a four by eight raised bed. So you don’t need a lot of space.

Ryn: 00:45:46 Yeah. One point I would highlight on this is that at least at least two of those, so at least the Evening Primrose and the Erigeron, the Canadian fleabane, those are herbs that are not super…um, I don’t know if popular is the right word.

Katja: 00:46:05 They’re not easy to find in commerce.

Ryn: 00:46:07 They’re not like a part of the mainstay of herbal herbs of modern American herbalism. They’re not on the same level as like Nettles and Dandelion and Burdock and,

Katja: 00:46:17 and yet they’re so amazing. Oh my. I can’t even imagine. I can’t imagine not having them.

Ryn: 00:46:26 Oh no. Yeah. So, but, but for us, they’ve become really important as part of our personal herbal lives and part of our practice too. And we’ve really come to get to know them much better and there was really no other way to accomplish that than to grow them, to work with them consistently, to have them around. And I think that you should not take away from this discussion that you should go and get some Canadian Fleabane seeds and some Evening Primrose seeds to put into your raised bed.

Katja: 00:46:58 Although that would be fine.

Ryn: 00:46:59 I mean, yeah, that’d be awesome. I’m a big advocate for it, but maybe you also consider letting a spot grow. Go wild and see what turns up there. And even if it’s a thing that’s not everybody’s most favorite, best herb ever, it could become yours. You know, you’re not going to know for awhile. So there’s gotta be that patience here too.

Katja: 00:47:21 So, you know, gardening is not easy. It’s also not hard. The concept is easy. It’s the practice. Like knitting is easy too in concept, but it takes practice to be able to get like, why are you looking at me like that?

Ryn: 00:47:38 I’m giving you a skeptical face.

Katja: 00:47:38 You learned to knit for a minute.

Ryn: 00:47:41 Yeah. Well it’s true. Right? Because I only spent about a total of two hours attempting. And that’s not enough time.

Katja: 00:47:44 You held the two needles and you made the loops and they moved and you did the stuff. But like, Hey, I just finished this lovely scarf and I’m very excited about it.

Ryn: 00:47:56 It’s gorgeous.

Katja: 00:47:57 And you can’t do this. Okay. But you could. It’s not anything like everything that you learned in those two hours is literally the only thing you need to know to have done this. You just didn’t. And I really want people to think that way about gardening. Um, people ask us if we’re going to make a course about gardening. And typically the answer is basically no, like a little bit, I’m going to put some more stuff together, but also basically no. Because the stuff about gardening is not hard. You need good dirt, you need the right amount of sun, you need the right amount of water. What is the definition of those things? It depends entirely on the plants you’re growing and where you’re located and what kind of year you’re having and what kind of pot are you planting in and what kind of good dirt do you have. And you’re not going to know that stuff unless you just try it. And I think that our society is really wound up in I need to do it right. I need to know the right way. And then to do it the right way and the right way is to just do it. Just put some seeds in some dirt or you don’t have to start from seeds, get a plant and try it. And if you are a person who feels a lot of fear around keeping a plant alive, then start with pathos, which is not a plant that you can consume. It’s this plant that I have everywhere. I have a very large tattoo of it event. I think that Pathos is an amazing plant that really wants to remind us that we need to be in relationship with plants. And the reason I say that is Pathos will grow indoors. It will grow with very little light. It comes to us. And if you’re worried about what if I don’t water it or whatever else, Pathos can be thirsty for a really long time and it can be giving you the message that it’s thirsty for a really long time. So you have the opportunity to learn what a thirsty plant looks like because it’s going to give you a long window of opportunity.

Ryn: 00:50:21 Yeah. That’s a really good friend that way.

Ways to Steward

Katja: 00:50:25 So that is my suggestion. Just try something, just try it. And if it works out, great. If it doesn’t work out, great. Keep notes, and then you don’t even have to buy books. You can just Google, because there’s plenty of information on the internet about gardening and it’s sufficient really. And try different things. Try things that are not what’s written out there. Try not weeding your garden. Try all kinds of different stuff.

Ryn: 00:51:00 We’re thinking here, kind of, especially on like personal scale. If you were setting yourself up and you want to take 10 acres of land that you happen to steward and turn that into a big organic herb farm, you should probably get some training before you embark on that and just start tearing everything up. That would be more respectful to the land.

Katja: 00:51:21 Yeah. You know, if you did want to get a book, one that is pretty great is The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, which is by Jeff and Melanie Carpenter. They are a large scale herb farm. It’s Zach Woods farm.

Ryn: 00:51:43 Yeah. This book is not so much oriented towards I want to get one raised bed in my backyard. This is like if you’re going big.

Katja: 00:51:51 But really if you are learning to garden for yourself, the number one most important thing is spend time with it. Just look at it, look at it every day. Go outside and just look at it. And today you will see the plants looking one way. Tomorrow you’ll see them looking a different way. The day after that you’ll be like, hold on, you’re kind of wilty, are you thirsty? And look at what it looks like after a rainstorm and look at what it looks like all the different times. It is literally just like, how do you learn how to be a friend? You hang out with the person you want to be a friend with? Then you try stuff and you bake them a cupcake and you find out they don’t like chocolate, and whatever. It is the same thing with gardening.

Ryn: 00:52:39 And of course it’s very much like herbalism in that there’s infinite complexity if you choose to pursue it. Right. And the more you do that, the more you start to realize the things that you know you know, and you don’t know you don’t know. And all of that kind of thing, right? And one thing that emerges is that you start to recognize the skill involved in all the different aspects of this, including physical things. Like how do you twist it off and chuck the stem. And how do you get the most good stuff and have that all available to you. And that can give you some more connection to those people who are bringing all of the food from the field to your door. Right. Farm workers.

Katja: 00:53:23 Yeah. Recognizing that the skills that they have to create food, to grow food, and to get it to you. That’s not menial work. And we often refer to it that way in our culture. It is highly skilled labor. It is a different skillset, but it’s every bit as skilled as a computer engineer or a lawyer or whatever.

Ryn: 00:53:46 Yeah, you can see that if you…I think I must have seen a video like this where it’s a side by side comparison of somebody going into a pick your own blueberry farm and like, okay, I get a blueberry and it takes like three hours to fill a bucket. And then somebody who does that all day, every day and they’re just gone. It’s incredible. So, yeah, we’re very kind of attuned to thinking about physical skills and the little movements and training and how much time it takes to get graceful at something like that. So that strikes our eye really, really brightly. But we’re just going to share our appreciation there.

Katja: 00:54:26 Yeah. All right. So the last thing that I want to think about here is that maybe you shouldn’t wild harvest and that might sound like, what do you mean? Wildcrafting is a part of our herbal tradition.

Ryn: 00:54:43 I’m not a real herbalist if I don’t gather most of my own plants.

Katja: 00:54:48 I think that you should be in relationship with plants in the wild, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s okay anymore to go and harvest them. Or it might not be okay to do it in ways that we’ve done it in the past. So if you’re going to go wild harvest, maybe we should change our thinking around that. And instead of wild harvesting, to be stewarding . And not to harvest plants from a particular piece of land until we’ve spent, I would say at least five years getting to know that land so that you can understand, is what I’m seeing right now a healthy community of plants or do I not realize that this community of plants is actually struggling? You can’t know that unless you’re watching for a long time. And when we think about things in terms of stewardship, like wild stewardship, instead of wild harvesting or wildcrafting, then we’re also thinking about how do I serve these plants, right? How do I nurture these plants? Not just how do I take these plants with the emphasis on harvest, right? But how do I serve these plants? Right? Do I visit these plants all year round, even in the winter.

Ryn: 00:56:12 Right? You know, and again, some of this is about re-evaluating some traditions or some practices that have been handed down around this. One that is very common in the herbal world has to do with tobacco. And this is something that has been, I think in many cases it’s fair to say, appropriated as a practice. Adopted from Native American traditions. The native Americans who lived around tobacco most specifically, cause that’s certainly not everyone. But, yeah, it’s not at all uncommon in herb schools around America today for somebody to tell you that if you bring a pinch of tobacco and leave it at the plant after harvesting, then now you’re in right relation and you’ve done your job. And that’s the end of the story. So to no degree do I want to diminish the importance of that as an actual tradition for the people for whom it is their practice. But I am also not in any way convinced that that’s the whole story there.

Katja: 00:57:17 Certainly not for people for whom that is a traditional practice. That might be what they do on the actual day that they cut a leaf from that plant. But that is not the way that they were in relationship over the long term with that plant.

Ryn: 00:57:30 Right. And so like other cases of appropriation, a large part of the problem here is looking at one act or one object and saying that’s the story and I’ve got it. And now I can have that and I can give that or take that to other people or something else. And there’s so much privilege and problem bound up in that. But, so I think bringing an offering to a plant when you harvest is a good idea. But I think that some plants would appreciate some water more than they would appreciate some dried tobacco.

Katja: 00:58:02 Yeah. And I think that truly stewarding a population of plants means bringing them water regularly. And especially during a drought. Except this is wild land that we’re hypothetically talking about here, which means there’s no garden hose, which means you’re carrying water to this plant population on a regular basis in order to nurture it through a drought. And that’s what I’m getting at here. That’s what I want us to be thinking about. What are we doing to steward the population of plants that we are in relationship with, where one small part of that relationship is, is it okay for me to harvest some portion of this this year? And always asking that over and ove. That harvest action is such a small part of the relationship. And the larger relationship is I want to know you. I want to be in relationship with you. I want to see your needs and provide for you in the same way that you are providing for me. And I think that that is not what’s usually coming to mind for people when they wild harvest. And, and that has not always been the way that I have thought about wild harvesting. And there definitely have been times that I’ve been in a place that isn’t my own. And pulled over and saw a plant that was wonderful and then took some and then left and never came back again. And it was in a different state. And so I’m not talking about this from a place of purity or from a place of, Oh, well I always did it right and you suckers. I don’t know. But these are the things that I want to be thinking about. And then I mean even water is heavy. So I even want to think about this from an accessible point of view. There will be people who cannot actually perform that function.

Ryn: 01:00:10 Please don’t take that concept as like this is what Ryn and Katja think is necessary. Right?

Katja: 01:00:17 And yet, if you are a person because of disability or because of just strength amount, like the amount of strength that you have or don’t have or whatever, who cannot carry water over a distance to a particular plant or population that you would like to be in relationship with. It doesn’t mean that you can’t provide water for them. It just might mean that you can’t be the one to carry it. And so coordinating the stewardship of a particular piece of property and the protection of that property is just as important.

Ryn: 01:00:48 Yeah. And so, nobody wants to talk about politics, but honestly, that’s a place where you can make an impact, right? Uh, you can, you can call, you can write, you can contact people directly. You can hook up with advocacy groups that are doing this kind of work to preserve natural spaces, wild spaces to bring wild and green into places where it hasn’t been or where it’s been pushed away for a long time. To do work, to regreen the cities. And whether it’s green rooftops or whether it’s community gardens or all the different variations in between, there’s a lot that can be done. And it does not involve money. It does not involve physical labor. But if either of those is something you’ve got, then it totally can. And if that’s not what you’ve got, you’ve got something that you can offer to the plants. And it doesn’t all have to be happening in the same moment.

Katja: 01:01:40 I’m thinking even of the Herbstalk project around Boston where Steph Zabel has gone around the city and talked to individual business owners and property owners about would you host a small public garden? Maybe it’s just a little one foot by three foot planter in front of their shop. Can we put this here and we’ll provide, you know, because she got people who would donate the plants and donate dirt and donate the pots and whatever. And so we’ll provide the stuff and will you provide the awareness with your shop community and the watering and all that stuff. And even this is such a, like you don’t even have to be involved in politics. This is just community organizing. So like even if at the large scale is not the way that you work, even in a small way. This is a way that we are stewarding the plants and also rebuilding our relationship with plants, especially in places that are mostly concrete.

Ryn: 01:02:53 Yeah. Absolutely. One other thought I had here is to recognize that all of this is occurring on a kind of a gradient. And there are many plants that you do want to be super cautious about harvesting. The more rare a plant is, the more at risk a plant is of course, the more you should be going through these thoughts and these practices and considering, well maybe I shouldn’t actually harvest it all. But on the other side of the scale, you have things like weeds and invasive plants,

Katja: 01:03:24 Big quotey marks around invasives?

Ryn: 01:03:26 Yeah, you know as always. But there’s a lot to be gained for all of us, I think for the plant people, for the human people, to be looking at plants like this in places where they’re growing super abundantly, and to reframe that, not as like a threat or as a problem, but as an opportunity.

Katja: 01:03:55 Yeah, instead of pesticides, we can be looking at plant populations that have been designated as invasive, as abundant and, Oh, well that’s something that I can harvest. Right?

Ryn: 01:04:11 That doesn’t mean you’re going to be thoughtless, at all, right? You’re still going to be thinking about what are the impacts I’m having on this piece of ground. But there’s much more space there, to go in and to harvest and to work with those plants. And to feel more comfortable and more like you’re not hurting a plant population that really needs more protection. We also think about there are some herbs that you can harvest without any harm to that plant. Even the individual plant, let alone the population that it’s a part of. We harvest a lot of pine needles because we love fresh pine needle tea. And we’ve never done that by climbing up, well I’ve climbed a bunch of trees, but it’s never been like I’m going to climb to the top and take the freshest green, new grown, needles right off of the top. Beause clearly those are the best ones.

Katja: 01:05:07 I’ve never pulled, I don’t think I’ve ever pulled…

Ryn: 01:05:11 We get them off the ground.

Katja: 01:05:11 pine needles off of a tree. Yeah, you get them off the ground because white pine in a windstorm, branches will come down and it’s fine to pick them up off the ground. You guys, you’re putting it in boiling water. So if there might be like a little germ on it from the ground, you’re about to boil it, it’s okay.

Ryn: 01:05:33 Yeah and pine has enough antimicrobial power of its own to take care of that. So a good way to think about it too is like, okay, not all harvesting is equal. If I clip a few flowers off of some Chamomile during it’s growing, it’s going to grow more flowers, right. And I can harvest some and I can dry them and I can have Chamomile tea. And I can also leave the last round of flowers or a round of flowers to go to seed so that plant is able to regenerate itself next year. Right. And this is one of the major things to think about whenever you’re considering wildcrafting is like, well, what part of the plant is it that I’m gathering? And what does that mean for that plant, for that stand, for the world, you know?

Katja: 01:06:17 Yeah, is there a non-fatal way that I can harvest this plant? Like if it’s a plant that is an annual, I’m thinking about Goldenrod because this is a plant that we are in stewardship with on our land in Royalston, and have been for quite some time now. And so from any given plant, you know, there are many little stalks of flowers, from any given plant. I only take one or two. And that way every single plant still has the ability to reproduce.

Ryn: 01:06:48 So this would be in contrast to saying, Oh, what I want is the flowers. So I’m going to go to the point on the stem where above there it’s all flowers and just clip it right there.

Katja: 01:06:56 Right. And now the entire plant has lost all of its reproductive capacity.

Ryn: 01:07:02 Right. So those kinds of considerations can make a really big difference in the impact that you’re going to be having on those plants. And that has to be part of what you consider as you think about whether to wild craft at all.

Katja: 01:07:17 So really importantly, I think to just be clear that none of this is about guilting or shaming anyone for things that they’re doing now or for things that they’ve done in the past. It is just about recognizing that we’re at a time in history, I dunno, in current events. We’re at a time right now when we need to reevaluate. And this time comes all of the time. Like we always need to reevaluate. IIs what I was doing last week actually still working for me. Like, Hey, does it really work for me to skip breakfast? I don’t know, maybe I should try eating some breakfast. Like that’s a thing we reevaluate all the time. So, this is a time to reevaluate how we, we as the entire herbal community and also we as individual herbalists,, how as we grow, we might be or we are in fact having a detrimental impact on the plants that we love . And what do we need to do to make sure that that does not happen or rather that that does not continue. Right?

Indigenous Practices

Ryn: 01:08:25 Yeah. Okay. We should also take a moment here to acknowledge that indigenous practices and indigenous traditions were in large part already working this way. That when colonizers came over to this continent, they found a great bounty and they thought that it was wild. They thought that what they were seeing was just the way the forests grew over here. But that really wasn’t the case at all. That this whole hemisphere from top to bottom was pretty heavily cultivated and stewarded, but it wasn’t done in the way that was recognizable, right? It wasn’t cut everything down to the dirt and then start from there and grow up. It was what’s already here. How can we interact with it and shape it and, you know, a process taking place over long generations. But, still stewardship, cultivation, intentional.

Katja: 01:09:25 And done by a population who was willing to go to the plants instead of, I think about European agricultural practices as I am unwilling to move. And so all of the plants must be here with me. And indigenous growing practices that, Oh, this is where I can find this plant growing. And so I will encourage it and nurture it so that we can be in relationship. And then over here is where I can find this other plant that I want to be in relationship with. It’s where I can find that one. And so I will be in that relationship over there. And instead of saying, well, I am here and the things that I want must all also be here. So we didn’t recognize what indigenous people were doing as farming practice because, or as cultivation, because it didn’t look like what was happening in Europe. And yet, that’s absolutely what it was.

Katja: 01:10:30 Yeah. So we’ve given this reference before, but if this is a new concept to you then a great place to start is the book 1491 by Charles Mann. It really does give a much clearer picture of what the Western hemisphere looked like before white people showed up.

Katja: 01:10:50 And this is something that you can study now. And I think this is also a really good and important time to say that indigenous people are still here, right? They’re not all gone. They’re not in the past. And so this is something that we don’t have to like imagine, or try to somehow recreate. As a society that is trying to learn to think about these things. We can recognize that there are people in existence right now living with us right now who have experience with these kinds of practices. And also we don’t even have to go and ask them to teach us. They are already putting that information out into the world and they are already inviting us to be in conversation about this. We just have to accept that invitation. And so if you want to do that, some places that you can start, this is not an exhaustive list, it’s just a little bit to get you started. If you Google indigenous land stewardship, a lot of really great organizations will come up. A lot of great information will come up and that is a starting point for you to do research. In your own area, there is an app called native land. And if you check that out, it will tell you whose land you live on, whose land you’re on right now. Even if you’re just visiting someplace, it knows where you are and it will tell you whose land you’re on. And then it will link to information, like modern, current information about how to get in touch with those people. And so when you do that, I’m not saying that we should just go knocking on doors and say, Hey, teach me everything you know about indigenous land practices. That would be completely rude and inappropriate.

Katja: 01:12:38 But going to the websites of the indigenous peoples whose land you’re on right now can often get you to, Oh, look, this particular group is doing this thing. And there’s an open invitation to participate in that. And therefore I could go there and I could learn in the way that they want to be teaching it. This is also a really good time to educate yourself on the Australian Aboriginal fire management practices in light of the wildfires in…I don’t even want to call them wildfires exactly because that implies that there was no human whatever. And there was, but anyway, in Australia, I don’t mean by arson, I mean that colonizers abandoned the fire management practices from Aboriginal cultures.

Ryn: 01:13:31 Which is a recurrent story.

Katja: 01:13:34 Yeah, that’s true here too. Yeah, absolutely. It’s just that right now there’s a lot being written about it from the Australian perspective and you don’t have to be Australian to learn about it. It’s a good place to get started on indigenous fire management practices and then to sort of take that and then look at it from where you are and see if you can find more about it in your area. But there’s a really particularly good article about this on IndigenousX that we will link in the show notes, written by an Aboriginal man in Australia who is also a firefighter. So he is very well educated in Aboriginal fire management practices as well as Western environment management practices and it’s a phenomenal perspective.

Ryn: 01:14:24 There’s also a number of great folks if you happen to be on Twitter. There’s a number of people doing really great work there. So we’ll link to these in the show notes, but Indigenous Land is a really great account to follow.

Katja: 01:14:40 Jim Danis is one and DanDan Transient and IndigenousX is also there as well. This is a tiny start, but one way that you can make use of this, and even if you are a person who doesn’t Twitter much, or you’ve never used Twitter before, this is a really good reason to start. And you don’t have to follow any, like you only have to follow the people that you want to follow. So you could just use Twitter as a way to learn more about indigenous perspectives. Because this is a way that they want to be communicating and that they want to be sharing. And it is a way that you can be receiving what they have to say and receiving their perspectives without like getting in their faces and being inappropriate or whatever. You can just, you know, cause it’s not, it’s burdensome to carry the weight of like, well, I have to educate everyone about like my practices. And this is a way that makes it a public forum. So by starting with those groups and people, it can give you a start of like, Oh, okay, well what are they talking about? And who are they talking to. And let me see who they’re following. So it’s just a tiny start, but it will get you going.

Ryn: 01:15:59 And since you’re listening to podcasts at this very moment, you might also like to check out the podcast Medicine for the Resistance.

Katja: 01:16:07 Yeah. That’s pretty cool..

Ryn: 01:16:10 Okay. I think that’s maybe it for this episode.

Katja: 01:16:13 I think it is.

Ryn: 01:16:14 Cool. So we’d love to hear feedback from you, of course. If you have thoughts or comments or ways that you work to make your herbalism sustainable. Especially down there at the in the dirt level, then we can probably learn a lot from you too.

Katja: 01:16:29 Yeah. And that’s the thing. Just share lots of ideas, be open to ideas, be excited when there are new ideas. We’re so busy and there’s so much all of the time coming at us that sometimes new ideas feel invasive or feel hard to accept and we feel closed off to new ideas and new ways of thinking. But if we imagine them, even just imagine them like a vacation from our normal way of thinking, from our everyday way of thinking, and imagine them lightly. And just say, Oh huh. I wonder if that’s interesting. Let me think about that for a minute and just sort of go lightly into this, into our own thoughts. Not holding too tightly to the things that we think are right. And sort of always being willing to think huh, what if I thought differently? Would that be great? Would it not be great? If it’s not great, that’s fine. You tried it and it wasn’t great and now you can try something else. But it might be great, you know?

Ryn: 01:17:44 Okay then, so let’s close up with some shout outs. First to Jamie who wrote to say she loves the pod and to ask if we do web consultations. Yes. In fact we do. And if you’re interested in that also, then you can find more information about it at Commonwealthherbs.com/consultations. And we’d be happy to help you out.

Katja: 01:18:05 And also to… Oh man, these are two handles that I’m not sure how to pronounce. One is Kayleuhh maybe?

Ryn: 01:18:12 Kayleuhh.

Katja: 01:18:13 Yeah, with lots of H’s. And one is Chisettagirl? And both of them wrote reviews on Apple podcasts, so thank you. And also Kayleuhh, grandmother noted that, uh, no wait, in her review, Kayleuhh noted that her grandmother just gifted her a copy of our book Herbal Medicine for Beginners. And if you want to, if you’re listening, shoot us an email at info@commonwealthherbs.com and we will send you a fancy inscribed bookplate.

Ryn: 01:18:46 Nice. Okay. Too Jennifer and Monica who were listening to the pod and heard about the study buddy discounts and want to sign up for the community herbalist program together. Yeah. All right.

Katja: 01:18:58 That’s so cool. Yeah, if you want to study with your friends, we totally recommend that. There is now information about our study buddy discount on each of the program pages. And I will expand that, but there’s enough there to get you going and shows the different discounts for two people and three people and groups of larger than that. And you can always just email us directly also. So check that out. Get a buddy and study.

Ryn: 01:19:30 All right. New Shoots After The Rain wrote in to say they loved the bone broth episode and especially the resources in the show notes. Well, Hey, that’s great.

Katja: 01:19:39 You guys, Ryn works really hard on the show notes to make them really great and resourceful for you. So check them out.

Ryn: 01:19:50 And then finally, uh, Kerryn McVay, Wild Child Apothecary, the Locusts and Honey, all told their friends about the pod on Instagram. Thanks. Thank you so much for sharing. That really does help. Sharing is caring, right?

Katja: 01:20:05 Yes. So if you want to spread the herby goodness, you can share this podcast with folks who you know who would like it. Just send them a text, send them an email. Tell them the next time that you see them over coffee or tea or whatever. Some of the podcast apps, you can literally just click a little button and it will automatically send through your text message thing. It’ll send them an episode. So do it. Yeah. Spread the herby goodness.

Ryn: 01:20:37 Yeah. We really do appreciate it. Cool. Okay. So that’s it for this episode of the Holistic Herbalism podcast. We’ll be back next week with some more herby goodness.

Katja: 01:20:47 Yes. Until then…

Ryn: 01:20:48 Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja: 01:20:55 Drink some tea. We’ll see you then. Bye!


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