Jesse Wolf Hardin: I would agree with Asclepias if by “first the word” he meant we first address the condition with inquiry and intake, verbal comforting or re-envisioning, discussion, counsel and advice. The addition of medicinal plants and foods, massage, realignments, acupuncture, massage and other noninvasive treatments can follow as appropriate, supporting the changes in attitude, perspective, diet and lifestyle that words explored and inspired.
The English word “medicine” derives originally from the Latin “medicus”, “the physician,” and commonly refers to ingested or injected agents of healing. We also hear, of course, that “laughter is the best medicine,” that time is medicine for the grieving heart, and that love is medicine for the spirit or soul. In historic cultural terms, the word for “medicine” was usually synonymous with “power” – not as in power over somebody or something, but as in the power to act and affect. Ancient “hunting medicine” usually involved rituals of supplication and intent, but their purpose was to awaken the power to find and collect animals to eat. The medicine of the Seer was the power to see into the truth of things, to see the patterns in the movement of energies and progression of events. “Wolf medicine” might be the powers of discernment and courageous action.
To my reckoning, “medicine” is power, but more specifically the power to heal. This is certainly about more than the healing of illness and wounds, but also emotional, spiritual, social, cultural, and ecological healing, utilizing whatever medicine that each of us is born with, learns or develops, in order to contribute to health and wholeness. The word “heal” originally meant to “restore to soundness,” and I would say medicine is anything that contributes to the regaining of soundness, wholeness, and animate vitality.
Medicine is more than tinctures and teas, it includes such things as empathy and concern, tending and touch, ritual or prayer, visualization and positive attitude. There is the medicine of nature and place, which my upcoming book The Healing Terrain will explore. There can be medicine in art and music, medicine in beauty. In reconciliation or resolution. In giving, and receiving. Medicine in love, medicine in a hug. There is even medicine in disruption, whenever habit and structure have proven unhealthy. It is for us to find our personal medicine: our individual mix of born gifts, special abilities and learned skills, our original innate power to affect other people and the world in meaningful, helpful and healthful ways. And then to identify, mobilize and utilize the many medicines around us and available to us – including but not limited to medicinal herbs – for the essential purpose of healing.
A young Jesse Wolf Hardin drawn by his friend Oberon Zell Ravenheart
Melanie: I’ve often found that there’s a sense of elitism within herbal circles in regards to whether an herbalist has an active clinical practice or not, with the prevailing notion that being a clinician not only makes you more credible, but also more respectable and worthy of the title “herbalist”. Certainly clinical work is one way of generating and growing your knowledge, however it seems no less worthy for an herbalist to be in their apothecary or kitchen spending hours perfecting an herbal recipe – or in the field for days keying out plants and learning their growing patterns. I love how in The Plant Healer’s Path you emphasize the validity of “clinical” work that occurs outside a formal clinical setting. Can you elaborate on why this kind of work is not only valuable, but also important?
Jesse Wolf Hardin: First of all, no one can tell you if you are worthy of being called an herbalist, not a professional organization, or a federal agency, or even our peers with more experience than us. We are made worthy simply by the strength of our intent and focus, and the degree of our efforts. Levels of competency are another issue, but are only proven by our results and effects over time. We alone can make the determination whether our knowledge, commitment and daily practice makes us an herbalist or not. And whether others call us an herbalist or not, will hinge on the good we do in working with plants.
I have three things to say in regard to “clinical.” First, there are many different forms of – and means and venues for – clinical work. Second, not all important work with plant medicines is clinical. And third, even entirely non-clinical work with plants greatly benefits by a clinical-level commitment to increasing knowledge, maintaining accuracy, increasing efficacy, and adhering to ethical codes.
For our purposes here, “clinical” means directly working with people, personal interaction with the intent of helping them regain their health. This can certainly happen outside of a clinical setting, such as in client’s homes, or even on the sidewalk with “street herbalists” like Chuck Garcia handing out shotgun remedies to the homeless, and herbal medics volunteering at the sites of natural and human-made disasters. Making herbal tinctures in one’s kitchen can be done strictly by following a recipe, but the best formulas are created in response to observations and experiences, whether our own responses to herbs or the responses of the people we are trying to help. My partner plant-hearted Kiva Rose is primarily a creatrix, culture shifter, teacher and writer, with no time to take on new clients… but the power or “medicine” of her work comes in part from her solid up-to-date knowledge, and her clinical observations of and personal experiences helping people.
Melanie: Michael Moore has famously said that “a good herbalist is a generalist, and I train generalists.” While I appreciate and respect this sentiment, I’m also very motivated by the idea of herbalists following what inspires them, and creating a niche for themselves doing what they absolutely love to do. There’s certainly a reasonable amount of general knowledge that is required in order to understand herbal vernacular and communicate effectively with plants, people, and herbalists. However, I love the idea of “purpose-based herbalism” where people pursue an herbal vocation that responds to their innate strengths and life’s purpose. This feels so much more fulfilling than trying to conform to the common rhetoric of what an herbalist should be. I’d love to know your thoughts on this.
Michael Moore, Herbalist – by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Jesse Wolf Hardin: Michael was right in that a broadly effective community herbalist needs to be versed in treating all the bodily systems from compromised organs to damaged psyches, with experience in adapting protocols to each of the constitutional types, age groups and so on. And there is probably the widest spread need for generalist community herbalists supporting the people of every neighborhood including the most remote, impoverished or developed. That said, it is just as important that there be plant healers called to studying and recounting the history, storytellers passing on the folklore of plants and healing, plant artists describing and creatively evoking the shape and spirit of medicinal herbs, medicine makers focused on bitters or skin care or treatment of certain diseases. And not even the most deliberate generalist needs to follow a template for how to be or do. There are no two herbalists alike, anymore than there are two snowflakes or fingerprints the same, and we are most effective as well as most fulfilled when we maximize our personal interests and delve deep into the specifics of what we are most passionate about. This is the way of to excel, in this matter of healing where excellence truly matters. And it is the way to fulfillment, in an age and society where few ever know what it’s like to feel fulfilled.
Melanie: Rather than prioritizing the implementation of regulations and standards, as some within the field are doing, you emphasize the importance of sharing our own story – of collectively writing our own narrative. This portion of your book is a definite “call for action” where you present a very compelling case for why this is important, followed by clear guidelines for how we can each begin to effectively share our own story. In your opinion, what would be the ideal outcome from herbalists stepping forward and claiming their voice through story?
Jesse Wolf Hardin: All of life is a story, either composed by our selves as we create, form and direct our own lives, or largely written and directed by others – by controlling parents, critical teachers and peers, corporate driven media and advertising, fashion fascists, dogmatic religious leaders, political leaders and elected officials regulating every aspect of our existence. Our personal story, and our collective story as a community of healers, will only avoid being shaped by others if we take responsibility for shaping it ourselves. This is true in a very practical, not just metaphoric way. Herbalists, like any conscious group of well meaning people, can easily be misrepresented if we show ourselves, if we don’t tell them and demonstrate to them who we are and what we are about. We can be controlled and even crushed if do not assert ourselves and make sure the story turn out different. We can fall into traps of uninteresting conformity and unquestioning obedience into the system’s ready made script for us, with a prearranged progression, a shortage of dramatic depth, and a meaningless end.
Our personal fates, the fates of human kind and other life forms, all depend the reclamation of meaningful purpose, on a radical rewriting of our stories so real and empowering that fiction pales… the remaking and healing and manifesting of our lives, and the glad telling of our tales.
Jesse Wolf Hardin with Daughter Rhiannon
Melanie: I see herb schools teaching students as being analogous to fertile plants producing lots of seeds. However, if these seeds aren’t properly watered and nurtured, then they will never be capable of sprouting and maturing themselves. One of the reasons I love your book is that it provides nourishment to those parched seeds. Do you think herb schools have an ethical responsibility to teach this kind of information in order to ensure that their students are properly equipped for the current climate towards herbalism and challenges they’ll face along their paths?
Jesse Wolf Hardin: Teachers have a responsibility to equip students in as many crucial ways as possible, and an honest description of the field and clear delineation of choices would be a necessary part of that.
I feel strongly that every student of plant medicine or healing should be aware of the educational and role options, as well as of the nuanced variables and useful criteria for each person to make their own best choices. This hasn’t been widely presented in a cohesive way, and that is the reason I gave so much time to the creation of The Plant Healer’s Path.
Melanie: Do you feel like there’s a conflict of interest for herb schools to teach the information that you present in your book? Most herb students have paid quite a bit of amount money to attend herb school, yet teaching this kind of information essentially exposes the numerous pitfalls, challenges, and conundrums facing herbalists. Do you think there is pressure for herb schools to withhold this information and maintain the illusion that being an herbalist is an easy career choice with a clear revenue stream?
Jesse Wolf Hardin: I imagine a few highly commercialized herbal schools get more students when their advertising implies graduates can expect to fill paid positions. The schools I most respect, however, know they are appealing to men and women determined to further their understanding of plant medicine even with parents sometimes being unsupportive, even though neither job nor income are ensured. They are feeding people’s passions and sense of purpose as well as equipping them with usable information that can inform their self-care and family-care, connect to the natural world and connect them nature, strengthen their confidence and belief in themselves, trigger what you could call a spiritual awakening or connection, and spur them to go for their goal and live and enjoy their life’s dreams.
I can only hope that schools will make use of The Plant Healer’s Path to help inspire and bolster their students on what is truly an uncertain but wondrous path of learning, being and doing… the very definition, by the way, of an adventure.
Melanie: Simon Sinek wrote a great book where he makes a very compelling case that any business, vocation, or movement is only as powerful and successful as its ability to understand and communicate the “why” in what they’re doing. I really appreciate The Plant Healer’s Path for precisely this reason – it calls the reader to explore and evaluate the deeper reasons of why they are using medicinal herbs, and to formulate their own answers to the numerous non-tangible “why” questions in the field of plant medicine. How important is it for herbalists to address these difficult and nuanced questions?
Jesse Wolf Hardin: I’ve worked hard to develop not just books but our Plant Healer Magazine and the annual HerbFolk gatherings, to serve those who question and seek, to inspire critical thinking, self belief and fervent action… knowing how essential it is that we all explore and address the many questions of our field and our time, and that we then act on our discoveries, conclusions and choices.
There are so many people, groups and agencies trying to tell us what to do, that the most urgent questions for us become “if?” and “why?” It is these questions that help us select and recognize and cleave to our genuine personal path of being and healing. Once moving purposefully on our path, we can daily make decisions as to the “when” and the “how.”
And when it comes to important questions for you empowered plant healers on your own paths – listening with your hearts, listening to the land, resisting the naysayers, and daring to heed the call to meaning and mission – we must also loudly ask: “Why the hell not?”
—————————————Jesse Wolf Hardin is the author of 11 books and over 700 published articles, living on a botanical and wildlife sanctuary seven river crossings from the nearest pavement. You can read more by and about Hardin by subscribing to the Anima Blog ( www.AnimaCenter.org/blog ), purchase and read many of his books about nature, healing, earthen spirit and sense of place on the Bookstore & Gallery page of the Plant Healer website ( www.PlantHealer.org ), and learn more about the sanctuary and Anima teachings at the Anima Site ( www.AnimaCenter.org ). Also subscribe for free to the Plant Healer Newsletter at the top of the Plant Healer intro page ( www.AnimaCenter.org ). You can read Melanie Pulla’s other posts on her excellent HerbGeek blog ( www.HerbGeek.com ). To comment on this interview, post your remarks below, and/or write us at: PlantHealer (at) PlantHealer.org.. (Please take the time to RePost and Share this interview…. thank you!)
Kiva Rose with Jesse Wolf Hardin by dear Juliet Blankespoor