As many of you know, I’ve been un-cooking a little less, and coaching a little less, so that I can focus on finishing off my studies in Western Herbal Medicine. I should be able to graduate early next year if things all go well, and then I can add to my offering when working with you lovely beings. Herbs are beautiful, and used in the right way, can be a wonderfully effective and safe alternative (or even a compliment to) to pharmaceuticals and drugs. They’re the people’s medicine.
Hook me up with a mentor, Universe
Since I’ve been studying this course online, I’ve been looking for a mentor, or someone to teach me some hands-on with these plant friends of mine. Cue a spontaneous magazine thrown into my trolley at the health food store. The first page I turned to had a small ad for an interesting looking lady running a Shamanic Herbal Apprenticeship through her company, Plant Rhythms. This was exactly what I was looking for – thank you universe! Amy had that perfect mix of traditional training and expansive knowledge, with deep intuition and connection to the energy of the plant kingdom. Just as raw foods are alive and have vibrations and energies (demonstrated well in kirlian photography), herbs too have their own energies, personalities and signatures.
This apprenticeship runs over six months and is set in the bush out at Piha, New Zealand’s West Coast. We’ll be working with the spiritual properties and frequencies of New Zealand native trees (over 90% of our bush here is unique to us) and wild plants, we’ll learn plant identification and wildcrafting, materia medica (the chemical constituents and medicinal uses of plants), medicine making, herbal nutrition and cooking, how to prepare plant essences (which heal the emotional aspects of a person), and of course, nature awareness and earth connection.
Our first weekend
Our first weekend started in a sweet little cottage over grown with grape vines, and rosemary. We have an intimate group of nine awesome souls, and even after just two days I think we can all say we feel connected. Our teacher, Amy McComb, is the real deal, gentle, kind, and a wealth of knowledge. From now on, every day will begin with a smudging, which is the burning of a smoking plant such as sage to cleanse, protect and bless us before we get to work. After this, a short walk down a tunnel of ancient trees, walking barefoot on the earth, padded with moss and soft damp leaves. Our destination, the banks of a fresh water river (by the way, this forest air is a tonic to the soul!).
Here, we gather in a circle to practice the ‘Wolf Dance’ to the four directions, welcoming in the elements, honouring the masculine and feminine sides of ourselves, and acknowledging our ancestors. We learnt how to tune in and feel a plant's energy. I was connecting with a plant (whose name I still don’t know yet- at this point it is not about learning the names but rather the energies) that was growing at the base of a big old tree. He was a cool little dude with lots of red energy, he gave me a sense of warmth.
Lunch time learnings
Preparing lunch was a learning in itself, identifying all the local weeds growing wild amongst the vegetables, but not before offering a few sprinklings of pure tobacco (no chemicals!) to a bush before we harvested. This is in acknowledgment of the cycles – we take from the earth to nourish ourselves, and eventually the earth will feed off us. Tobacco is used as this is traditionally a sharing plant. We picked and learnt about chickweed, a delicate little plant with tiny white flowers, that reminds us to play and bring joy to our lives. It holds the image of our ovaries energetically in our bodies.
Things we made
We made nettle infusion, by steeping wild gathered dried nettle in boiling water. You can tell if you are working with a mineral rich plant when you steep it and the water turns dark green. The water is a solvent for minerals, and draws them out from the plant. Nettle nourishes the blood and the adrenals. By the way, nettle is covered with very fine hairs or needles, and one of her biggest lessons is to pay attention. If you handle her the wrong way, you’ll get stung. In nature, antidotes will always grow near a poison, so if you get stung by nettle, you can rub a piece of dock growing nearby onto the skin to soothe it.
We had a nourishing soup made from plantain, another common weed that grows all over the world, which I lapped up - it soothes mucous membranes - I need some of that right now for my digestive system! We made hawthorn berry infusion steeped with freshly picked hibiscus flowers. We chewed on the dried leaves of the Horopito tree (holy wow – not something I would go back for seconds to! Horopito is hot and spicy on the tongue, and is an age old remedy for skin conditions).
The close of each day was like having a very friendly and informal lecture on herbalism, and we have homework for the week as well – part of which will see me off to the park to collect some gingko to make into a wild pesto - de-licious! These are just a few of the many highlights. I will share more as I go, but so far, this rocks, and I felt so charged after a whole weekend in the bush. You know that saying, do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life? That.
Peace out my friends, off to make another oatstraw infusion now!