This interview was conducted as part of Everything Herbal’s ‘Herbal Elders’ series. This series seeks to honour and explore the unique contributions of longstanding members of the herbal medicine community in Canada, as well as abroad. 

This interview was originally conducted with Nick Faunus, Penelope Beaudrow and Victor Cirone, in 2021.

How and why did you first get involved with herbs?

Steven Martyn: To be perfectly honest I think it was marijuana – it was a “gateway” plant for me… to other plants! But actually, it was all part of a time in my life when I felt pretty lost and had actually moved away from nature in my orientation: sex, drugs, rock & roll was my basic orientation. I think that plants, among a few other special beings, helped bring me back into alignment with nature. And then I really specifically remember yarrow, up on these little ridges in Muskoka, just thinking this plant was something else, that it had clearly come from some other place and landed here. That was my first plant, I was 17. It’s been an ongoing engagement since then, but in a way that food or any of the other essentials of life are an ongoing engagement. I don’t even really think about herbs and working with plants as an activity separate from the rest of my existence. I just slowly learned more and more over the years. I was lucky enough to encounter this phrase by Susun Weed, which was that you could only really learn about 3 plants a year. That was a good phrase to learn. I have kept at it, and it’s been 40 years now, and I am probably around familiar with 100 plants.

Steven Martyn in Nature
The depth of it, too: when you yourself get sick, I find that really shifted everything for me. It’s one thing knowing about the plants and having intuition and treating other people, but then when I got really whacked with Lyme, my life was dependent on my knowledge and every little thing I did I could feel expansively. Plants like dandelion that I kind of knew about, had felt some of their effects, but overall thought they were kind of minor players, suddenly became these major players in my health, and actually still are. With pretty much everybody I treat, dandelion is one of those ubiquitous herbs; everyone should take it basically, everyone over the age of 40 for sure.

How did your practice with herbs develop?

Everything Herbal: Can you tell us about your trajectory in the herbal medicine world? How did your practice with herbs develop? Can you give us some history and background concerning how things grew from the time you started? I remember the teas you developed [The Algonquin Tea Company], you were involved with the food co-op to distribute them.

Steven Martyn: I struggled. Nick, you met me in the really early days. I was interested in harvesting for you, and then the tea company all circled around at the same time. That all had to do with trying to make a living. It was one thing giving people herbal advice, but I didn’t know how to charge. I hadn’t gone to college. I didn’t feel I had any right to charge for anything. In the early days it was just friends and family I was treating, anyone who was willing to try my remedies. And then you gain confidence, and you realize you have to make a living, and I wanted to do this for a living. If it means working with the plants to generate income, harvesting and selling the plants, then that’s what I’ll do. Pretty quickly you could see that the wholesale prices you’re able to get didn’t really result in a living. You are competing against the 3rd world and against industrially harvested and processed herbs. When you are doing things by hand, it’s a joke. I remember figuring it out in those days, almost 30 years ago. I think I was making $2 an hour if you included travel time, deducted your gas, your mailing expenses…The idea of value added processing, of holding onto the herbs for longer and making them into something then came to me.

Dandelion Infusion

“I had always been a huge herbal tea person.”

People would come up to visit me in the north here, and they’d be like: you can drink tea up here? Yeah, practically all of these plants are good for tea! It took lots and lots of years of experimenting. I partnered with Kim Elkington, who had more experience on the business end of things, and I thought: tea, let’s do tea. It was an incredibly naïve proposition, but then it’s pretty much like having a kid. Once we gave birth to this thing we couldn’t just abandon it and say this is a terrible idea. Basically for 20 years I tried to make a living at it, we scraped by but oh man, it absorbed so much of my energy. It all comes down to conviction, whether you can carry out something like this. The commercial viability of it was terrible. If I had really done the numbers and worked it all through I never would have done it. It was totally following your dream; and then it turned around and ate me. I finally got away from it, and only then I had time to do other things. This coincided with me being really ill with Lyme and after I got better I really felt like I had a debt of gratitude, I had to help other people, there were so few people around talking about herbal treatments for Lyme and everybody was beginning to feel really panicky about it back then. Having a grounded approach and a proven approach is crucial. When you’ve proven it with other people you know the herbs had an effect, but you don’t really know the inner medicine of the person’s shadow and how all of that turned and made it able for them to get better. But, going through the healing yourself, that’s when you really get to know all of the deep inner things that go on as part of the healing process. Those herbs became – even though I had already known them for 20 years – allies in a big way. We also stepped up the school [The Sacred Gardener School] and to a degree, mostly by word of mouth, I stepped up my healing work which I didn’t really have time for during the 20 years that I was involved with the tea company.


Everything Herbal: After the tea company, how did you move into what you’re doing now, your writing and teaching, for example?

Steven Martyn: I always found there was a pretty huge demand for herbal workshops where you can show people how, in a really integrated sense, to grow the plants in the best way possible. I naturalized the plants; I don’t really row crop here at all. I have a patch that is 30 feet by 40 feet of angelica and it just does its own thing. I have other patches of different plants like that. Every now and then with some of them you have to turn them over or plant something else or give them some help but generally they are living a pretty wild existence, they are not domesticated. When you can show people the plant in that state is when many of the teachings can come through. And I’m emphasizing that, because if the plants are not growing in their natural setting, if they are not growing in the way they like to grow, a lot of their medicinal teachings can’t be seen because you’ve removed them from their true context. The broader the ecological context, the more the teachings can extend out.

Field and Sky

I’ve been able to learn things in this way partly because I’m not trained, and to a degree it’s intentional. Initially it wasn’t intentional, it was just a form of rebellion. Throughout my life, anything where boxes were involved and I was going to get put in one wasn’t going to work out well. Mostly I followed the path that I did through instinct but in the last 15 or 20 years, it’s become more intentional that my medical allopathic understanding has remained undeveloped. Instead, what I develop is my deeper relationships with the plants, and my deeper knowledge of the practice, the actual practice of working with the plants. Because of my lack of training, ironically, I would say that I’m one of the few real traditional healers around. I’m not thinking about things allopathically. I sometimes explain things to my clients that way because they have to believe what’s going on. If I have one explanation, about how the plants are working with the land and with your body in an equivalent way, and I have a kind of allopathic, scientific gobbledygook explanation on the side, then some patients are that much more convinced. And let’s face it: half of healing involves ensuring that people are convinced of the process. You can’t just give them an herb and expect that it will work. At least 70% of healing is believing it’s going to work and if you can actually see it and believe it in an integrated way with nature, it resonates internally as well as externally. Unlike teaching abstractions about chemicals and how they are interacting in ways that we have never even seen, it’s all just on faith. The whole scientific project is pretty much on faith, you can’t see it.


Everything Herbal: Letting the plants develop in their natural environment: the importance of this is really only now being demonstrated by science. It can take a long time for science to catch up to what has been known intuitively for centuries, even millennia. Much current research in plant and soil ecology focuses on how plants need to have a compatible environment in order for optimal growth patterns to be expressed, and explores the intricate symbiosis of plants and the bacterial ecology of the soil. The biosphere as a whole is only now being given pride of place in scientific discourse. Science has caught up to these traditional ideas, and has now quantified them. Even 10 years ago, bringing up the idea that a huge percentage of our body is made of bacteria would have you laughed out of the room. But today this is cutting edge science.

You were ahead of the curve, your intuition brought you there, you weren’t able to express it with the magic words of the scientist but you still came to the same observations and conclusions that the academic community eventually came to, in their way. The academic community has trouble translating the intuitive, many academics have been trained to short-circuit the intuitive parts of their mind in an effort to develop a so-called rational, calculative mental capacity. Dissociated mentation that overtakes one’s intuitive, and imaginative, capacities and capabilities.

Steven Martyn: Definitely. And that is what I was saying about shying away from that kind of knowledge because I know the power of it. I always tell this story: I took a forestry course, a tree marking course – you do basal diameters to determine how many trees you’re going to be able to cut – and for 2 years I couldn’t walk through a forest without seeing basal diameters! It took that long to get rid of it, and it’s the same with herbal knowledge. I do these intuitive healing courses with herbs, I’ve done them now for probably 20 years, I’ve had literally hundreds of people come through, and almost consistently the professionally trained herbalists are the worst at the intuition-based exercises. The people who consistently do the best are the people who are totally fresh, who are new to working with herbs, who don’t know anything about herbs. It’s pretty clear to me that the left-brain overrides the right-brain, and you have to guard against that happening.

What message do you have for our young herbal enthusiasts?

Everything Herbal: Can you speak to some of the ways that social media is impacting people’s perception of what an herbalist is and does? There are many romanticized and even sexualized portrayals of herbal medicine on social media today – efforts to sell products by way of alluring and seductive imagery. What do you think of this trend?

Steven Martyn: I don’t really see any of that because I don’t spend any time online and I don’t go out, so I’ll take your word for it that this has been going on. Isn’t it kind of across the board that everyone thinks they know everything because they can access YouTube or whatever? Even if you have something memorized, putting it into action is a whole other story. In general, like with herbal products, I’m not for regulation. If you make good stuff, word gets out and you’ll sell more and more; if you make crap it doesn’t go anywhere. In a sense all of these things, in the economy of reality, self-regulate. It drives me crazy, all the hoops that people have to jump through in order to acquire a title. There is no category for lay herbalists, people that are just learning and trying stuff. I definitely see the odd thing that I would consider a mistake but very few that would actually be harmful. Let’s face it, herbalists, every herbalist I know, have different compounds, have their own individual approach. No two herbalists I know make up the same prescription of herbs for a given condition. You get good at it by doing it, by practicing, and if you are denying people their right to practice, then it’s going to be pretty hard for them to get good at it. Again many people who come to study with me already have an herbalist degree, but they can barely recognize the plants. Unless they worked with somebody like Michael Vertolli, who really takes you through a year of learning by way of the plants, then it’s all abstract and academic and they go ‘oh I can put this and this and this together in order to get this result.’ For me, right now we are making salves, I look at what is out there primarily to work with, what’s in season, what is calling to me when I walk outside. Nick was actually the first one to teach me how to make creams, to reveal the tricks of emulsification. Things get better and better, you get better at stuff with time and practice.


Everything Herbal: People ask me all of the time who I’d recommend as a good herbalist. My answer is always: look for the person who sees lots of people, not the guy who is famous or who has a big persona. You need to work with the people who are actually doing it all of the time, absorbing it, growing from it. That’s the key. There are a lot of popular people, but they aren’t actually doing the real work.

Steven Martyn: The culture of it here is weak, let’s face it. Primarily because of OHIP. I put a huge amount of it down to this: if we were on an equal playing field and people had to pay for a herbalist or for an allopathic doctor we’d all be pretty busy, I can tell you that. But it’s not a level playing field and there are all of the other restrictions that have come in through the drug identification numbers and this whole world… I want to call it the matrix…


Everything Herbal: The Codex Alimentarius?

Steven Martyn: Yes, the Codex. I knew I was in the ballpark. I understand all of these people say it’s to “protect the people” – it’s not at all, it’s an industry. People protect the people. If someone is a crappy herbalist and you hear bad things about them you’re going to tell others. I do. Or if they supply you with crappy plants, I’d spread the news. But if people have helped me then I hold them up, I give them praise. That is again what self-regulating is about. We don’t need all of these huge agencies to mediate between the public and us! It’s absolutely ridiculous. Like we haven’t all been herbalists for what, 300 thousand years probably? And now we need regulating?


“People protect the people”


Everything Herbal: They have taken the plants away from us, and it is our natural and inalienable right as living creatures to participate in earth based healing practices. When it comes to production, it’s been licensed and given over to those who can pay, it’s a crime against humanity. No one seems to grasp that – you can’t seem to get that point across.

Steven Martyn: It started centuries ago, when the monks took it away from the people and all of the knowledge was hidden in Latin, and the written word served to formalize and encode the knowledge of the oral culture and traditions. In a sense what’s going on now is the final nail in the coffin of a centuries long process.


Everything Herbal: In all of your involvement with herbal medicine, where do you think you’ve been able to make the biggest difference, the largest impact?

Steven Martyn: I have no idea. It really wouldn’t be for me to say, I suppose. But I’ll tell you in the last class I ran recently there was a herbalist who has been to a couple of my offerings over the years and I was grumbling about the tea company and kind of saying it was a waste of time. She piped up and said no man, that tea inspired so many people and connected so many people with the plants that actually grow here. That would be an example of how things come back around at you, and you don’t even know what it is that you’ve done. You’ve set a certain kind of thinking loose and then all of these other people emulate it in their own ways. I feel like because that just happened to me, that must be significant and I did pour my heart into the company for at least 20 years, so hopefully all of that energy goes somewhere.

And with the Lyme work, I also have had a lot of gratitude come back towards me, helping those who had no other person to go to. Lots of people just have to see me once or twice because they are lay herbalists themselves and with some good coaching and watching out for this or that, learning to adjust your dosage, with good education, they’ve managed to get better. I think it’s probably still among the most complex diseases that you can have – especially because you usually just don’t have the borrelia, you usually have the bartonella and the babesia and yeast problems, usually it is all very complicated. The goal is to tease that all apart and recognize the overriding issues and patterns, to learn to perceive the different interrelated layers. You don’t always hit the notes you are trying to hit until you get feedback from patients, and learn to take the information their body is giving you and adjust what it is you are doing accordingly. I’ve done the most work with Lyme in the last 5 years or so. It’s pretty gratifying because again I’ve been there so I know the desolation and desperation that you have in that state and when you find somebody who can help you, oh man. It’s such an emotional balm as well as a physical gift.


Everything Herbal: What you’ve described is the difference between being a healer and being a “doctor” in the current system. Our pharmaceutically based, conventional medical system actually teaches you to avoid emotional and spiritual connection with your patients, doesn’t it?

Steven Martyn: Oh for sure. I get it, too. I can only treat so many people with Lyme, for example. It is draining. If you’re open to folks, you have to be careful with your energy. I do lots of things, I do qi-going, and I eat the right food, and meditate to replenish my energy. If you don’t learn to safeguard your energy, I don’t know how you can even be a healer. Just seeing one person after the other, you are using up your energy, you are literally giving them your energy through the healing relationship. I know there is this idea with people who practice therapeutic touch that you are just channeling the energy. That may be true but it is not like an open channel, it is all tied in with your energy as well, with your light… and with your darkness. I love the traditional idea of healing, I suppose it’s from central America: you come to me to heal something and I’m the one who takes the drugs and then I take your illness into me and I wrestle with it and I work it all out for you and then ooof; you’re healed. And I’m kind of somewhere between that myself, because I definitely hear people’s physical ailments, I understand herbalism and the actions and dosages of different plants, but mostly what I’m listening for is what they are really trying to heal, so that other level of things takes our energy and it’s not just an allopathic equation that says this disease equals this herb. You’re going deeper with people and are trying to find what they are really working on.

“Our physical body, I’ve come to realize, is our spirit’s protector.”

All of the spiritual challenges we are faced with today, all of the personal and collective karma, all of the stuff that that is in the land and in our food, all of that is coming at us all of the time from different directions and our physical body is protecting our spirit from it. Your physical body absorbs all of that stuff and it morphs it into an illness so you can deal with it without it destroying your auric field. More and more I see that, that there are these very distinct layers that make us up as whole human beings. Our physical body is like a guard and protector for us as spiritual beings. We always think ‘oh I’m sick there is something wrong with me’; no, you’re sick, there is something right with you. That means your body is actually working, and it’s working on something, it’s not a bad thing. What is it working on? What are you trying to process that you can’t process spiritually or emotionally? And your physical body is doing it for you, it’s protecting you.


Everything Herbal: That’s the other contradiction with our new, modern medicine: the idea that suppressing all of these things that your body is doing is what leads to “cure.” When a disease is suppressed, it is driven deeper into the organism; the more it is suppressed the more damage it will do. Eczema of the skin that is suppressed with antibiotics or steroids, for example, can 5 years down the road turn into asthma. It’s not a different disease, but the same disease pushed to a deeper level of one’s physical being. Encouraging symptoms and working with them rather than against them is what is required for true healing. This is true on the physical as well as the mental and emotional levels, which are not always so easy to separate. That is what we do as herbalists; when we see someone’s symptoms, we actually encourage those symptoms in many ways. That is contrary to the establishment’s model. Do you ever have any issues with that, with threats from the establishment? I guess you’re not really connected so much with the conventional world, but do you have to deal with that at all,

do you have any issues with the mainstream, conventional society and their judgments?

Steven Martyn: I live a pretty marginal existence, and so that is one of the consequences of living the way I do, you can’t get right in the trough there with everyone else. That is a piece of it, but mostly I don’t deal with it directly, I deal with it through other people. Just in the last week I’ve had two people come to me wanting to get off their puffers with asthma. And with regularity I’m treating and helping people who are going through conventional cancer treatment, but they are doing all of the conventional stuff more and more. I feel like everything that has happened with COVID has driven the fear of anything labeled alternative even deeper into people. At the very least it’s a wedge, so people who were leaning that way are now really going that way, and vice versa. The level of fear is unbelievable and it is completely generated by the allopathic world.

Do you remember Essiac? If you Google that now, everything that comes up is negative. It’s a trip. I had recommended Essiac for someone who was going through conventional cancer treatment and told them you can make your own or you can buy it in the store. What I didn’t know is that the company has been bought out a couple of times and it’s all extracts now, it’s not even really made with herbs anymore. That’s a whole other big topic. And the hysterical claims that are made to slander natural healing: ‘This Essiac formula is not only a scam, it might even cause cancer!’ The people who make this claim cite some 30 or so studies, but if you actually look at how the studies were done, typically, it’s in this very narrow allopathic way. The idea that you could be brining toxins out of the body with the herbs, that you have initiated a cleansing process, never comes into the discussion. So if they test the blood at the wrong time and it appears to make things worse, then Essiac causes cancer now! Anyways, in my mind it was a perfect example because it was once so widely used: 30% of the women who had breast cancer in the 1970s and early 80s took Essiac. 30%! That’s a huge market share. And now they are taking it down, they are making sure it’s discredited. If you ever watch conventional TV like CBC or anything like that or listen to the radio they’ve been going after homeopathy for years now, they’ve completely “discredited” it. Homeopathy is one of the most widely used and successful forms of medicine, it is practiced throughout the world… but everyone is just imagining that it works, right? And anything herbal that starts to rise to the top will just have the legs cut out from right under it. Claims are made about contamination from heavy metals, or this or that danger or risk. Always with the fear mongering…


Everything Herbal: We have to deal with these kinds of things all of the time. Maybe 25 years ago we were sent samples from the original company making the Essiac tea, and we looked at their product and we wouldn’t have used those herbs to give to the dog, they were of such poor quality. This is another issue that happens all of the time: people judge the effectiveness of herbs based on poor quality products that are badly made, with no vitality, no life force. And yet another issue is that the vast majority of people come to see an herbalist when all the other approaches have been exhausted and have failed. We get everybody coming to us right at the very end of their health journey, when the chances of cure are greatly reduced, and that is never considered when judgments are passed about the efficacy of the practice.

Because we are talking about herbs and the quality of herbs, let’s bring this to a close and talk about how many herbalists and manufacturers take and take from the plant world without being trained or taught to give back.

What do you feel about how we should be giving back? What about endangered plants? What about conservation?

Steven Martyn: I suppose I do teach about this, but not necessarily using those words. Once you are tied in with the plants, with a family of plants, you become their protector. This is my experience. If I harvest from some place, my degree of care for that place goes up. And sustainability is of course the key. How do you know it is sustainable? Only if you really know the plants and how they grow, otherwise you can’t possibly know. You can make a rule, like say a quarter of the plants here I can harvest or something arbitrary that you’ve read somewhere, but you don’t know. You can only know if you’ve seen those particular plants growing for a few years, you’ve harvested them, you see whether they come back or not, and if you’ve done that many times in many places you start to develop a good instinct for what you can take and what has to be left behind.

I’ve learnt the hard way, I’ll admit it. There’s the odd thing I’ve overharvested in the past and then have come back and it’s not there anymore. Sometimes plants are more fickle in the wild, too. I taught this plant related college class for 14 years, and I’d bring them on the property and I’d tell them to not pick certain stuff and avoid walking on other stuff. One year, a big class came through and if you ever mention that anything could have psychoactive properties, or that you could smoke it, the little fuckers would circle back and take whatever it was that you were talking about. One time this happened with lobelia, I was talking about what happens when you smoke it, it’s part of a smoking mixture – I didn’t give all of the components I was just talking about lobelia – but someone came back and they took the grandmother and grandfather plants, they took the old ones. That whole patch just disappeared; the next year it was gone. The level of disrespect: lobelia is a powerful plant and so when it felt disrespected, poof! It vanished, it was gone.

Herb Walk in the Woods

The tea company used to have to harvest about 120 pounds of burdock a year and I didn’t grow it so that all had to come from the wild. I harvested it in such a way that the patches all got bigger. So after you’ve dug some up you get the seed, kick it into the ground, kick all of the burs open and work it into the soil. I’ve come back the next year and there’s twice as much to harvest, now some of those patches I don’t harvest from at all, and the people with dogs are cursing me! And now they are 30 feet by 30 feet and we can have 5 of us there harvesting all day and it is still sustainable. It is this practice of tending to the plants. I have quite a nice little video on elecampane and my work with that plant to perpetuate it and make the patches of it stronger.

This is what I call wild culturing: you’re looking at the way things grow naturally and you are helping them grow that way. A real simple example would be with something like chamomile. People might pretty quickly notice that you can’t mulch your chamomile or it won’t perpetuate, they need to seed so you need some open soil around them. Every plant has its requirements for self-perpetuating. This video demonstrates the ecological diagnosis, the relationship between the environment and the plant, where it is and why it is there and how that works in relation to your body, and about this way of harvesting that is actually creative as opposed to destructive.

You are perpetuating something.


Steven Martyn has more than thirty years experience living co-creatively with the Earth, practicing traditional living skills of growing food, building and healing. An M.A. (traditional plant use), B.F.A. honours, artist, farmer, wildcrafter, builder, teacher, writer, visionary.

Steven created Livingstone & Greenbloom in 1986, Toronto’s first green landscaping company. In 1996, he created the Algonquin Tea Company, North America’s premiere bioregional tea company. He has given talks and run workshops internationally for more than twenty years. Steven taught plant identification and use as well as wilderness skills at Algonquin college for 11 years, and at the Orphan Wisdom School for eight years. In 2014, Megan and Steven started the Sacred Gardener Earth Wisdom School. Steven released his first book The Story of the Madawaska Forest Garden in 2016, and his second, Sacred Gardening, in June 2017. And now, “The Roundhouse” A meditation and guide to building a hand-made house with local materials” March 2022. You can find Steven online at and on his Patreon.

Fresh Herbs for Tea

The Illusion of Facts and the Truth They Cover

A further discussion By Steven Martyn

These are very hard times for herbalists in Canada. Not because of the pandemic, but because of many unseen external factors. One factor that is noticeable for those who care to look is the extreme tilt of the healthcare field toward allopathic medicine and Medicare. There is a long history of how allopathic medicine came to be the most popular form of medicine in North America. I’m not getting into that here, yet it is worth noting that this monopoly on health care does not exist everywhere. World wide allopathic medicine is not even the most popular. For many countries, where the playing field is level and where the people are given a free choice, Homeopathy is the most popular, such as in India. In other countries traditional forms of Herbalism are the most common, such as China making them number one and two with allopathic medicine bringing up the rear.

Right now, herbalists have preventative medicine as well as treatments for mild and severe cases of covid, but the general public will never know about them because they aren’t covered by the Media, and are even taken down if posted publicly on the internet. Naturopaths, the most common practitioners next to allopathic doctors in this country have been forbidden to say anything about herbs for building immunity. They can only indorse what the allopaths approve of for prevention. Which I think is only vitamin D, a product made by or in conjunction with or by the pharmaceutical industry.

Why, you ask? Well, the government and the governing boards for medical and naturopathic medicine as well as Google would say it’s in the interest of public health”. I say it’s the good old boys club.

Just to be clear, I do not believe in all the illuminati conspiracy stuff, where these mysterious players and the elite are all in agreement and working together to enslave us. In reality this conspiracy mania has to do with our psychological need for male authorities in our life (who often have been absent or abused their power) to be transparent, accountable and protective of our interests. In mythical and psychological terms conspiracy paranoia is about the dark father”. As Joseph Campbell and his study George Lucas understood well, implanting the joke in star wars, Darth Vader (dark father).

The fact is for anyone who can see, we’re already enslaved, and have been for roughly four thousand years. We escape the pharaohs of one dynasty only to be enslaved by the ruling class of another. So part of the conspiracy accusations are right. But these parts are not hidden or big news, so they are not conspiracies. Admittedly, it’s true and always has been that the most wealthy families rule. They are the players and it’s their game. To hold on to power, they don’t even need to kill you anymore, they can easily tilt you off the field. They can control every aspect of public life now more than ever, including what you think. But no, they are not working together. Even the Gandhians in India have a very hard time working together and agreeing on what to do. You think egomaniacal, greedy, power hungry men are all working together seamlessly behind the lines? That is just not happening. But sometimes in plain sight there are alliances made between controlling agencies.

Alright, that’s the background. Now to focus specifically on what we are up against in Canada as herbalists. There’s a lot to cover here so forgive me for painting a picture in broad strokes. I’m sorry to say this, but a good piece of this has to do with Medicare. Now I know, our so called ‘health care’ system is enshrined as part of the Canadian identity, and I hate to be the one to burst your bubble but Medicare does not represent the will of the people so much as the will of good old multinational corporations. Simple proof that Medicare is not about our health is that while we rank in the top three for spending per capita on allopathic medicine, we ranked 17th in the world on the public health index. Something doesn’t add up. Should these numbers not correlate?

Medicare cost the taxpayers in Canada over $265,000,000,000 in 2019, before the pandemic. That’s 265 billion dollars a year, in a country of 38 million people! The majority of that 265 trillion goes to the pharmaceutical industry. Billions more go to insurance companies through the doctors and hospitals. Then there the doctors, who on average make over $300,000 a year, with many making over $2000 a day. And a good part of the rest goes to high tech equipment manufactures, many of which are subsidiaries of or related to multinational corporations that also happen to supply the military and nuclear power industry. Not surprisingly the nurses, probably the most valuable asset of the healthcare system, are the lowest paid.

Of this unbelievable abundance of funds, herbalists and homeopaths, the most popular healing modalities in the world, receive $0.00. And we the taxpayer pay for it all. On average we shell out $7,000 per person for ‘health’ services, 95% of which we do not need. Now that’s a racket!

With that kind of money you can create a self-feeding loop that just grows and grows like a virus infecting everyone in its path, even if you’re wearing a mask. Medicare and the government are far more interested in the corporate GNP than your health. By providing free allopathic doctor visits for everyone and free pharmaceuticals for over one million (mostly elderly) people (who take tons of pharmaceuticals) and partial pharmaceutical coverage for everyone else, the trillions of healthcare dollars generated through taxes are all used up.

Medicare claims to offer coverage for a wide range of therapies”. Look into it and you’ll see behind their doublespeak. They only offer therapies under the allopathic umbrella. No herbalism, no homeopathy, no Traditional Chinese Medicine, no body work, not even massage, which they briefly allowed in the 1980’s and 90’s and then said was too costly.

So, to return to my first point, why would anyone look for an alternative like herbalism when you would have to pay for the consultation and the remedy out of your pocket? And this is why the only clients most of us herbalists get in Canada are people for whom allopathic medicine has repeatedly failed.

The second agent that’s painted herbalism out of the picture in Canada is the media. The huge rise in herbalism and other alternative healing modalities from the 1970’s-90’s was covered to some degree. But now the media has clearly stepped in line. For the last twenty years there has been virtually no mainstream media information supporting the use of herbs. Positive stories about herbalism or other alternative therapies have become strictly taboo. The CBC for one, seems completely invested in the big Pharma show, or maybe it’s the other way around. The only herbal stories I’ve seen covered in the past decade are about the ‘scam of homeopathy’ and contaminated herbs from China.

The third agent limiting the rise of herbalism is the enforcement of a world wide Codex that makes the herbal industry conform to regulations which are completely based on allopathic testing of medically recognized herbs”. I was part of an herbal tea company for many years and watched the enforcement of the Codex come in. It took them about twenty years to figure out how to enforce it because there were so many small herbal companies. How would they police such a thing? But they eventually figured out if they went after the distributors they could shut down any big players that might cause some economic losses to the pharmaceutical companies. Eventually, through the distributor of the teas they found us. The government agencies working to enforce regulation demanded we change our ingredients. They said to me, a herbalist of twenty years at the time, that if we used the word ‘tonic’ on our box, then the product had to have Nettle in it. This was ludicrous. This tea had Sweetfern, Red Clover, Raspberry leaf, and roots of Burdock, Yellow Dock, Dandelion and Echinacea. These are mostly traditional tonic herbs!

The Codex and a half a dozen other restrictions about testing and production made it so the only herbal producers left on the board had to be big enough to join the corporate agenda. And again, all in the name of public safety”. Most small producers of herbal products gave up. And many were funded (bought out) by the pharmaceutical industry. Suddenly these herbal products looked different and appeared in abundance, being shelved with the rest of the pills in pharmacies and grocery stores; bought out by the very agent that lobbied for the restrictions in the first place.

It’s only gotten worse in the years since I left the company. More and more I find myself, as a small time folk herbalist, up against a growing wall of ignorance and restrictions. And all I’m trying to do is heal people and make a humble living. Not $2,000 a day. I’d be overjoyed to make that in a week.

Looking at it all from a distance I see the trickiest part for regular folk to gain an understanding of what’s happening, let alone accept, is that the new level of ignorance is clothed in facts. We’ve been duped by the emperor’s new clothes. So splendid and convincing are these facts, that our faith sews them up into a garment that doesn’t actually exist, but is still able to hide the naked truth.

My body knowledge and faith move me in a different direction, and from this perspective, I see behind the camouflage of facts. Scientific and statistical facts can be incredibly deceptive. You might be wondering what I’m talking about, and think that a fact is a fact from which we conclude the truth”. But if we look at history in retrospect, this isn’t how most of our scientific truths have been found. Any major new truth scientists have found in the last few centuries they’ve stumbled on accidentally, or a hypothesis comes into their heads out of the blue”. This is the deeper meaning of the story of Newton’s apple or Einstein’s realization of quantum theory.

These days, because it’s such big business, I don’t know of any ‘pure’ science that’s being done. To make it clear, it’s not because scientists don’t want to explore unknown avenues for the sake of knowledge, it’s because there’s no funding for something that isn’t going to make money. In herbal research no one studies common herbs, which intentionally or not have come down to us as healers, through our ancestors. How can you create a demand for something that already grows in the backyard? Sometimes rare herbs are studied with big pharma money, with the aim of later synthesisation. The only serious herbal studies carried out these days are related to mass commercial use. These studies seldom use the herb as it is, they use an extraction. Apparently, for empirical reasons of consistency. But I’d say it’s the same old thing, they don’t want to do all this expensive testing on something from the backyard that you could just cook up at home.

In scientific methodology one does not just observe or just be and wait for information to come. Only artists are allowed to do that, right? This is where these two split apart but are in fact from the same origin. In science one first has to postulate a hypothesis, a theory or idea that can be proven through experimentation, and the collection of data. When you look at it that way, you can see how the whole thing starts to slide away from the naked truth, right from the start. And why art can easily capture truths empiricism is unable to even grasp.

We must realize in the process of scientific investigation it’s not just the question that frames the answer, but also the way in which this question is phrased. Then, even when our presumptions have sent us in the wrong direction right off, we continue on blindly collecting ‘legitimate’ facts until we can prove our theory. At this point we’ve backed ourselves into a closet of perception, only accepting garments fitted to our likening. So our conclusions are incredibly biased by what parts of the information we are able, and willing, to receive.

Scientific facts are just like a photo. Significantly the idea of using ‘facts’ as a means of defining reality came into vogue around the same time as photography did, about a hundred and fifty years ago. When we look at a photo we don’t really question its reality (or we never used to). And still don’t if it’s what we already expect to see. We think the photo, like a fact, is a reality. But it is not. At best it’s a mini two dimensional static reflection of a particular time and space in reality. The first inherent bias in a so-called ‘objective fact’ or a photo lies in where we point the camera, where we point our inquiry. Even given that this framing is just a reflection of a small slice of reality, there’s also the possibility of distortion or outright manipulation within that biased ‘framing’. And this is exactly what we do with our scientific facts.

I’ve spent the time questioning what ‘facts’ are here because as I see it, they’re an integral part of the illusion that keeps us locked in the exploitive allopathic industry with no place to turn. We’re mesmerized by the corporate magicians. Our eyes follow the ark of facts while the other hand has covered over the prize.

Another essential part of turning people away from traditional herbalism, that works hand and hand with ‘facts’, is to completely diminish, deny, or disprove all the herbal traditions and healing wisdom of the past. Unless it conforms to our ‘scientific standards’ – our frame. If it does then it’s usually diminished by being considered ‘primitive’ and ‘superstitious’. The truth is that truth won’t be captured so easily in our little gilded frame of reason. The truth is more obvious and more elusive, hiding behind the ‘magic’ spell of facts conjured by modern medicine.

The hidden truth is that disease is not the enemy but comes to us as a healer. They are an important part of the web of life in the natural world, including how we have become what we are. These beings have a purpose of their own. And while it might seem like a random collision when we get ill, they are a synchronized part of reality that has come to help us evolve and better ‘fit’ our environment. Two other truths that are not well known are, the body is perfectly designed to protect and heal itself by getting sick. And that, the body gets sick to protect our larger body, our soul. Even if it has to die in the process.

Significantly, we should keep in mind that people throughout the ages have understood disease is caused by isolation and imbalances with our living relations, which include our ancestors, the Earth and all her children. None of whom science even recognizes as sentient.

My understanding from working as a healer for thirty years or so is that an external form of disease comes to meet the dis-ease within us. The one trapped inside calls to the other to be released. Disease comes to touch our inner corruption so it can be released physically and spiritually; comes to create flow and connection again, to correct our imbalances.

Maybe we were born with the darkness in us or it was shot into us as a hateful dart by another in this life, but this dark seed always touches and takes root in our shame and our most corrupt feelings. And so, we harbour the disease by keeping it isolated and to ourselves. Negative feelings host the ‘seed’ of the disease within us. Then, as the seed grows, it manifests its outer physical form. When our neglected or abused relations have come to us and made us sick, they often come with a heavy hand because they’ve been kept at bay so long. From such a visit our spirits may get damaged, so our bodies step in and act as the intermediary, as our spirit’s bodyguard. Our bodies assimilate and process the disease or imbalance so that our essence will remain unharmed. The truth is our bodies in sickness are already doing the miraculous healing we need, all by themselves. Mostly, all they need is some time and rest to let them do their thing. But sometimes it goes too far, or goes on too long, or there are too many things to work on at once, and the body needs help. This is when the right food, healing herbs and body work are needed. Not pharmaceuticals, that just increases our distance from the Earth, our relations and ourselves, greatly complicating matters.

The herbs themselves are experts at alchemizing the darkness. They can turn it into flowers. The very way in which the plants balance and heal the dark Earth, they balance and heal the darkness in us to make it productive. Also, keep in mind both the herbs and ourselves come from the star people. We are not just of the Earth. So these old plant relations reach all the way up to the stars and so through their connections they heal not just our body but our cosmic soul.

Allopathic medicines, on the other hand, tests for and treats the symptoms, not the whole person. Exactly like pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in agriculture, modern medicine tries to kill the disease in our body. Not surprisingly, the biggest pharmaceutical companies like Bayer, are the very same companies that manufacture the agricultural chemicals that are poisoning the Earth.

In scientific testing, if the herb or medicine being tested doesn’t kill the cells directly it is deemed ineffective. While this model of testing is great for allopathic medicines, it is completely inappropriate for judging the effectiveness of herbs. Herbs are not just meant to treat the symptoms, they are meant to work systemically to help our body heal itself. From a scientific perspective this would be almost impossible to ‘prove’, because herbs have an extremely complex range of compounds. Sometimes there are more than two hundred naturally present chemicals in just one herb. And, these chemicals work synergistically to effect and enable the unbelievably complex systems in the body, which are still largely a scientific mystery, to heal itself.

Here is an example of the way these different approaches clash with potentially grave consequences, not the least of which is killing traditional herbalism. Recently, in working with a client, who was being treated for cancer by conventional means, I recommended, among other foods and herbs, to use Essiac (for her convenience). Not for the tumor itself, for that I use other medicines like Chaga. I gave it to support her. To help her organs cleanse the radiation and chemo and to deal with the potential release of cancer cells into her bloodstream and lymph during the operation. This client is a well educated well rounded person and like many folks these days she went right to google to find out what she could about my prescription. Yikes, on the internet the first couple of pages of sites that come up are all about the ineffectiveness and even potentially carcinogenic qualities of Essiac!

You should know that for thirty years I’ve made my own version of Essiac for family and clients and have advised many others with cancer to take the store bought concoction. Most of these people used the herbal concoction alongside conventional treatments, and they all healed. So from my own experience I could not be more convinced of this herbal concoction’s effectiveness. And yet, as I read, even I started to think twice about Essiac.

Because of my own doubts and my client’s understandable lack of faith in Essiac, I recommended she not take it. It’s been proven in many ways that half of healing is faith. For her that well had been too polluted to drink from. Instead we worked directly with single herbs, some of which were in Essiac, which grew and were made into medicine here at the Sacred Gardener farm.

In the 1970’s when Essiac came out, over 20% of women with breast cancer took this medicine. Since that time interest in herbal medicine has increased somewhere in the range of 500% and the frequency of breast cancer has almost doubled. So we are talking big big money. The kind of money that might get pharmaceutical companies to create bogus tests results to discredit the product.

Please don’t imagine that this isn’t going on all the time with factual and statistical information. It even happened with studies discrediting the link between cigarettes and cancer for over fifty years until the 1980s when someone from the inside blew the whistle. How do these mega corporations do this? Basically, they can frame or lean the trials and statistics in any direction they want. Like a magician they divert our attention, and unless you pay very close attention to the language they use, you’ll miss the trick. And, if they can’t get the scientists to comply they just shred the results, fire them and hire a new bunch until they find some that will comply to the corporate agenda. Recently, I was told just such a story by a friend. Her father was one of many scientists that were fired when they deemed a new appliance unsafe. He was fired during the safety testing for microwaves in the early 70’s, here in Canada.

One last note about how trials and stats can be used to ‘prove’ falsehoods are the many studies that say a sample of the results indicate…”. This is apparently to save us from having to read through all the results, but clearly ‘a sample group‘ can and is often selected with a corporate bias. All these tricks are standard practice for industrial and medicinal testing.

In the example of Essiac, most of the internet information I looked at said it was based on 17 studies. Undeniable right? You would think so, but if we look a little closer we find these studies were mostly on the effectiveness of Essiac directly on cancer cells. But this isn’t how the mixture of herbs helps heal cancer. This concoction works systemically. These herbs don’t kill, or even claim to kill, cancer cells directly.

Typically, the origins of Essiac are swept aside and trampled on by the internet. Now I grant you the story of Essiac’s origins has its weak points and isn’t documented in any undeniable way, but that doesn’t mean there’s no truth to it. Before the pharmaceutical age, much of North American herbalism (which was mainstream medicine) was known as Eclectic Herbalism. It used medicine and practices from Homeopathy as well as herbs and herbal treatments from both European and Indigenous North American traditions. Essiac is what I would call an Eclectic concoction.

In Bancroft, back in the 1920’s, it is said an Ojibwa woman passed on the information of the cancer healing herbal combination to her nurse Rene Casey, for a patient with advanced breast Cancer. The chance of an Ojibwa woman ending up in a small town clinic is fairly good. These clinics often held both doctors and midwives. Back then allopathic medicine did not have a monopoly and was more open to working with other traditional healing modalities. The fact that the Ojibwa woman told another woman nurse, and not the doctor, also seems consistent with First Nations protocol. Which, at the time, would have seriously frowned on a woman speaking directly with an unrelated man about anything (let alone a healing cure). So the basics of the story sounds plausible.

The herbs in the combination (that we know of historically from the commercial blend) are a mixture of European and North American herbs. Sheep sorrel, Burdock, Indian or Turkish Rhubarb and Slippery Elm. These are mostly European and field herbs, which is suspicious, because most historically documented First Nations medicine in this area was derived primarily from forest plants and trees. But this doesn’t mean the story was ‘made up.’ There is much documentation indicating the quick adoption of European herbs by First Nations People. By the 1920s this area of the country had been colonized for about fifty years, which is two generations. That’s a good deal of time to adopt the new herbs. Colonial herbs were often absorbed into the First Nations peoples traditional practice and used in the people’s own way, sometimes for ailments even Europeans didn’t use them for. And, at least some of the herbs in Essiac, like the inner bark of Elm, were used for the same thing in both Europe and North American traditions.

I heard Susan Weed mention once that she thought the Turkish Rhubarb in Essiac was probably substituted for Yellow Dock, for commercial reasons in order to make the product more replicable. Turkish Rhubarb being very rare, and all the other herbs in the blend are very common (that anyone could just find in their backyard). I think this makes a lot of sense both commercially and because in thirty years of foraging all over this area I’ve never seen Turkish Rhubarb growing where it wasn’t planted, and never in the area of Bancroft.

Now whether you believe the story or not, as a herbalist the herbal combo does make a lot of sense. There are blood cleansing herbs like Burdock. There are sour herbs for bile flow such as Sheep Sorrel. And the Slippery Elm is soothing and a deeply nutritive herb. The whole combo has anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties. And, in defense of the product Essiac, it’s also worth mentioning that commercially if a product didn’t work at all, if it was snake oil”, it would not sell more and more, decade after decade and become the world’s most popular herbal cancer cure. Before the internet, that kind of popularity only happened by word of mouth.

Another thing to consider about the negative test results of Essiac is the origin or source of the herbs, as well as the way they have been processed and used. None of this ‘backstory’ information was included in the studies I looked at. This is particularly important to consider in this case because many of these herbs like Burdock, Turkish Rhubarb and Sheep Sorrel actually absorb heavy metals and toxins where they grow. It’s part of how they alchemize and heal that spot. Because of this, a clean source for the plants is very important. This could be why the herbs might actually cause cancer, as one internet headline suggested. The other possibility of why Essiac generated some negative test results from the patient’s blood might be that in the herbs process of clearing toxins from the body, the toxins drawn from the cells are released into the test subjects blood and lymphatic system, which if tested at the right time, might cause negative test results. This is part of why sometimes herbs aggravate ailments before making them better, unlike allopathic medicine which is geared to quick suppression of unpleasant symptoms.

One last thought about Essiac is how it might have changed since its first commercial production. The company’s been bought out a couple times since the 1970s when they first came out in a big way. At some point in the last decade or so the product was taken from the raw herbs, which you used to decoct yourself, and made into liquid form. Presumably they did this to make it easier to take. But with the rising knowledge of herbalism, I can’t help but think this was just another Turkish Rhubarb” to make the product into something you can’t reproduce at home.

I also have concerns about what the industrial processing might take from the herb’s medicine. Many herbal medicines need to be used fresh or within hours or days of their making because of oxidation. Simply stated, in my experience when stuff is processed enough that it’s become ‘stable’ then it’s also kinda dead. Industrial processing, from the way herbs are harvested and dried to how they are ground and processed into a product, notoriously takes the life out of herbs and food. I can’t help but wonder how much of the old herbal concoction (that you had to prepare by hand and simmer for a couple hours) has been lost to this new ‘pill’ form.

My larger point here isn’t about Essiac as a product and whether or not it works. To be clear, in part, I’m playing the devil’s advocate. I’m not defending Essiac and have no vested interest in doing so, I’m just giving voice to the old understandings that haunt me when they go unheard.

My question is: how could anyone without extensive knowledge of herbs, history, the herbal industry and the pharmaceutical spin, possibly analyze the overwhelming wall of repetitious internet information about Essiac, or herbal cures for other things like the flu? And even if you could see past the veil and analyze it and come to some conclusion different than the norm, who would risk their reputation and be willing to shrug off the insurance companies. Who would take legal responsibility by going against this great electronic edifice of science and industry? Who wants to be that person, a nail with their head sticking up? No one in their right mind, and that’s exactly what they’re counting on. Game, set and match, herbalism 0, corporate medicine 265,000,000,000. But we all pay the price of this loss in many ways.

Good thing I’m not worried about being in my right mind.

Let’s play another game, but this time not in a lab or on paper. Let’s do it here in reality on the Earth, where the paying field is level.


Photos provided by both Steven Martyn and Serena Mor