Comfrey and Bee

A Herbal Apprentice's Journey: Summer

July, 2021.

No matter your background, education, or practice, as a herbalist you are walking a path that was once walked by your ancestors. Our ancestral lineage includes our human ancestors, but also includes the community of plants, rocks, wind, water and soil that all took part in the creation of you. To be an herbalist - or simply, someone who connects with plants - you are participating in a spectacular woven tapestry that has been in creation since time immemorial.

Our deep relationship with Earth and the universe is our first and our last. Our relationship with the universe is the only relationship we ever truly participate in... Each interaction we have is simply a reflection of our own inner becoming; with our friends and relatives, as well as the plants and sky are all communicating as one. To be in relationship with the Earth and with plants, we are discovering again and again new layers of our own selves. In the journey of herbalism, there is a choice to venture deeply into one’s own mystery.

It is for this reason, and of course many others, that I pursued an apprenticeship. I wrote in my previous blog post that I split my time between two placements, and one of which is a plant sanctuary for at-risk plants called Kina Gegoo. For decades, Penelope Beaudrow has been stewardess to many acres of rewilding land, including a plant sanctuary for endangered plants. Penelope is one of my mentors and friends. The work that she has selflessly dedicated herself to is sacred.

To build a relationship, first we must listen. This first step is essential, especially in non-verbal conversation. The language of plants. The language of the universe. Most times, a conversation begins with an introduction, a check in, and a sharing of intention. Seems familiar, yes? Most at-risk plants become at risk due to habitat loss and overharvesting. Humans are most certainly a fault, with agendas that often hold space only to exploit land. If we take some time to listen, it won’t take long for the plant to tell you that. It is our responsibility to do whatever we can to maintain the life of these plants. We have a lot of power, and a lot of hope for regaining plant communities that are at risk of being lost.

“I didn’t participate in those atrocities” (devastating land for extraction of “natural “resources”, unsustainable agriculture practices, slavery, indigenous genocide... the list goes on and on.) Aha. This is a refrain used by many to weakly deflect their responsibility. I want to make this next thought very clear: there is a mirrored relationship of at-risk plants and racism, and how there is a clear and parallel path to addressing them. This comparison is by no means an equivalency - I am using endangered plants as a metaphor, and in doing so I hope to encourage you to explore the relationships that herbalism has with politics... but that’s for another blog post, perhaps. I’ll simply plant this seed of thought for now.

Let these plants be our teachers. Let them teach us what it takes to show up for our communities. Whether those communities are human or otherwise. We are creating safe spaces for one another to flourish, based on individual needs. We are listening, trying, failing, continually humbled, and continuing to show up at the table for one another. That is what community care looks like - and that’s exactly what it looks like when you are trying to care for at-risk plants. We are taking responsibility while holding ourselves accountable.

And what is our responsibility, then, when considering endangered plants? Knowing which ones are endangered, knowing how to identify them, choosing not to use them, growing a colony of your own, informing others who may not know. This is the very least we can do as herbalists and plant lovers, and it truly does a lot! On a large scale, you may wish to cultivate your own plant sanctuary. Some people have made it their life work to do so. I’ve been fortunate enough to see and participate in the stewardship of a plant sanctuary, at Kina Gegoo.

dayna with spruce

Toting buckets of water to ensure everyone has had a good drink. Hauling bales of straw for mulching. Checking in with each newly planted tree. Pruning. Collaborating. Breaking in the heat. Sitting in the grass and connecting about anything and everything that feels relevant... Or not. Planting and transplanting. Kneeling down to say hello. Keeping invasive plants at bay just enough so they don’t completely swallow the land. An exercise in boundaries. “You can stay, buckthorn, but you mustn't take all of this land for yourself. You can stay, but you may not harm these other plants we are trying to cultivate. You can stay, because it’s clear that you wish to, but you will not have total control of this sacred mission.”

There is extensive and inspiring work being done by the United Plant Savers. If you are a plant person, which I am assuming you may be if you’ve found your way to this page, I greatly encourage visiting their website and taking a look at their resources at https://unitedplantsavers.org

 

I’d like to take this next moment to ask you… What are you doing for your community this month?

Sometimes community work doesn’t look like direct action. Sometimes taking care of yourself is necessary, so you can show up in a better way for your community. Perhaps you are journaling, opening your heart, learning something new, easing your resistance to new things, or putting your hands in the dirt and enjoying the beauty of July sunshine.

Whatever it is that you are doing... thank you. May it benefit all beings.


(Blog photo provided by Penelope!)


Dayna Planting Sweetgrass

A Herbal Apprentice's Journey: End of Spring

May, 2021.

The paper-like sunshine of morning cradles me these days. I rise early. I sip a coffee. I blink into each day as they grow longer, warmer, with dew and pollen shooting upward like tiny sprites into the air. I put on a pair of boots to step into the barn. It is here where I greet the chickens, goats, barn cats and the reverent elder donkey named Bob. They tell me what they have dreamt of sometimes and the baby goats eagerly demonstrate their skills in climbing and hopping off of things. We laugh into the stillness of the countryside. I like it when the trees join us in the riotous chorus of the morning too. Swaying and chuckling in joy that the sun has returned yet again. Here we are once more... Beginning together. What a blessing.

I walk along the driveway and into the garden beds. A trellis waits patiently for the scarlet runners to reach their arms up and to twist their bodies into its support. Brussel sprouts wave back and forth. Motherwort is quick to reply from her perch alongside catmint in the shade of a cedar bush. The apple tree has just burst into fragrant blossoms. It’s surreal to look at this tree. The breath of it is almost overwhelming. She is so alive! The maiden that is Spring is at her deepest dance of seduction and fertility. Every time I walk outside there is the crescendo of the spring symphony; birds, insects, flowers, even the soil and the waters that have thawed of ice now rejoice. Once stretching into the world slowly waking, and now an unruly ecstasy of movement. The joys of spring.

Dayna with Mullien

I pack my car with my fiddle and a jar of tea to drive to spend the day with my mentors. During my week, I shift between two gears. One of which is farm work, and the other is in a production lab. I greatly revel in each of these opportunities, which only begin to outline the amount of options while following the plant path. There is no one way of practicing herbalism.

We shovel. We carry. We drive out on 4 wheelers into the forest to identify and rescue at-risk plants. We ask the plants how they would like to live and set out to the fields once the dew dries. We carry baskets to gather dandelion flowers to infuse in oil. I eat dandelion greens, cleavers, chickweed, catmint, nettles with nearly every meal. Spring salts and minerals. Deep nourishment. Dug up roots dry in the sun. We pour tinctures and smile at them with our hands on our hips, remarking their magnificent chlorophyll shine. We rescued Valerian in a spot where it would have otherwise been thrown out. We dug the roots and held them up to each other's faces to inhale the aroma. Deep, dark, somehow like honey. We all sighed at the plants in their transplanted spot of the plant sanctuary. Home at last!

Dayna walking in Field

Penny spoke of splitting the seasons into smaller segments; early spring for harvesting roots, late spring for harvesting blossoms and flowers and, of course, everything in between. I’m seeing it now as I recognize that the time for wildcrafting certain plants has come and gone, or that I am anticipating the harvest for another plant weeks away. My interest in plants has become an immersed life of study for me since taking on this apprenticeship. I am encouraged to play with recipes and ask questions! I love walking and putting leaves in my mouth, and talking about plants while working with them. I’m using herbs now more than ever and it truly feels wonderful.

I have learned so much from Penny and Nick in a short amount of time. I came from a foundation of books, home experiments, a good amount of internet research and a community of people that were also into herbalism as a hobby. I had a novice level of knowledge, and I still do. I’m learning. I had said that I believed I was moving beyond the level of, “curious plant enthusiast” and in order to truly know more, it was time to take courses and find mentors. This manifestation has come to me with overflowing gifts. The time to work one-on-one and ask questions from two experienced and devoted herbalists is absolutely priceless! For me, it is the best way to learn. I’m humbled and honoured and endlessly curious.

(Blog photos provided by Penelope!)


apple blossoms

A Herbal Apprentice's Journey: Arrival

April, 2021.

Sprinkled across the hood of my car were a cup of tea, a handful of bolts, and a borrowed socket set. I was hanging off of the roof rack with one hand and eating a sandwich with the other. I told my roommates that I would catch up with them. I needed to finish installing this bike rack. I smiled to watch them glide down the road on their bicycles. A few minutes later, I had tidied up and I was pedaling to meet them at the ocean to catch the sunset. It was already beginning. The sun rays fanning low through the streets, dancing on rooftops, cartwheeling through branches. The city of Victoria has many neighborhoods lined with cherry trees that had erupted into clouds of blossoms. Riding down to the water in a world swaddled in roses, perfumed with the springtime sweetness of cherry blossom air. This is how I remember leaving the west coast. The following morning, we walked along the beach once more to splash saltwater on our faces and say farewell to The Pacific. I got into my car with two of my roommates carpooling east with me.

Food with Friends

The railway follows alongside your car on the Trans-Canada, similar to the way the moon chases you through the highways in the night. She is unwavering no matter the direction you take. It’s as if the world is made for you at that very moment. A drive through The Rockies or along Lake Superior. They are friends that choose to stay with you for a while just to keep you company. Road trips have this sort of romantic longing that I’m beginning to discover has less to do with gas station coffee and more to do with the time you spend making eye contact with the spirits of the country.

I was in the back seat looking down the side of the mountain to the running river below, listening to a lesson by Evolutionary Herbalism about herbal astrology. As a hands-on, big-picture learner, I love learning to link planets, bodies, and plants. I’m able to embody what I am learning if I can reflect on the connections of all things. In our initial zoom conversation, Nick had mentioned using astrology for planting and harvesting herbs. I’ve been interested in biodynamic farming for that very reason. I spent the afternoon daydreaming through the Rockies about how much there is to explore in an extensive apprenticeship like this one. It’s exciting and overwhelming to think of how much I don’t know yet. Though it is comforting to know I have gentle and wise mentors welcoming me, and I feel excited about how they will take to my questions very soon.

A Desk at Home

I arrived in Ontario one day into Aries season, the energetic new year. As I type this, my eyes linger over my journal still half-filled with reflections from the full moon that has recently passed. I’ve taken some time to read over the first lesson on the course that accompanies my apprenticeship; The Science and Art of Herbalism, by Rosemary Gladstar. The homework assigned in the first lesson requires the student to produce two different infusions and two different decoctions. On the full moon, I knew that I would soon menstruate. I thought it to be a perfect time for a lunar infusion. I used a blend of raspberry leaf, nettles, pineapple mint, motherwort, mugwort, and calendula in a glass jar, filled with fresh room temperature water. The jar sat on my windowsill in the moonlight, for me to drink when I woke the next morning.

I have used herbs, and specifically, cold water infusions, to support my menstrual cycle for many years. I bleed heavily and I have intense cramps. Both of which I find easy to use herbs for. Only in the last year have I noticed my emotions fluctuating with my cycle. I have been experimenting to find what is best for me to support clarity of mind and regulate hormones. The lunar infusion that I tried for my homework felt great. My body feels nourished with vitamins and minerals. The soft encouragement of the moon draws out such a sweetness in the herbs that brings a gentle energy to my body when I drink this type of infusion. It is by far one of my favourites!

I have gathered notebooks that will soon become a broad reference library of notes and wonders. Thank you for joining me on this journey! These spring days stretch out before us, welcoming the annual great-reveal of life! Happy spring to you, I’m looking forward to writing to you again.

Things on the Beach

Blog photos provided by Dayna


BC mountains

A Herbal Apprentice's Journey: The Beginning

February, 2021

Hi! I am Dayna, and I'm going to apprentice under herbalists Penelope Beaudrow and Nick Faunus beginning this year.

I've spent most of my life as an artist and performer. A life wrapped in musical connection and exploring meaning in shapes, words, and colours. I have cultivated so much joy in playing early jazz & blues and old-time fiddle music. For years, I have sung through worlds. Always touring, exploring and moving. For nearly 8 months, I have been nested on Vancouver Island. An attempt described best by what I have called, "The COVID Mess-around". Though I wade through many fleeting feelings, there is immense comfort in my surroundings here. The west coast has thighs of dense soil. She reaches up with mountains, whose every contour is caressed by sunlight. It's most humbling to be in her presence. I recognize that my human existence is a wink in the eyes of the great beings that coexist with us. Plants, minerals, and elemental forces that turn giant, galactic pages for us. I am reminded that I am quite humbly temporary, and that I may never learn all the secrets of the wind or mosses.

 

 

Spring arrives earlier here than I expect it to, having been raised in Ontario. Sunlight poured in the windows one morning when I emailed Penelope Beaudrow to inquire about the herbal apprenticeship she offers. I'd been walking a lot. The buds of trees, swelling in the wet air had prompted me, telling me that soon waves of sun would wash over us. That soon, the days would stretch out and the nights would curl in at the edges. That soon, yes, we would dig in soil and begin another year of tending to tender lives.

 

I'd first met Penelope Beaudrow and Nick Faunus through my mother's own affinity for herbal medicine. I took to it, and skipped along to herb walks, and volunteered at the Back To Your Roots herbal retreat at Penny's farm. I am looking forward following them as my mentors. This apprenticeship has been something I have dreamt of for years. Within herbal medicine lies the opportunity to gather community resilience and autonomy over our own wellness. There is magic, and oh so much empowerment in allowing each other to understand our own bodies better through self-healing. The service of herbal medicine is akin to the soul-nourishing enjoyment of poetry, music, and potlucks. It is part of a connected web of what it means to be alive and supporting one another's growth! I sometimes have a hard time integrating institutionalized medicine into my understanding of human wellness. I have a goal within my apprenticeship to keep in mind that health is liberating, and to continually find ways to share my knowledge and resources. I see both Penny and Nick prioritize these same values, for which I am so grateful.

 

We had an interview on Zoom, which I have suddenly become much more comfortable with in the last year. Greeting one another in a digital space to ask questions and confirm that we all felt we were on the same page. I felt eager to share my commitment. It was a delightful morning, after which my roommates celebrated with me, and I spent time on the phone with my mother and partner to share in jubilant conversation.

 

Soon I will leave Vancouver Island to head east. Into the snow and away from the clouds of chlorophyll forests quenched with walls of rain. Cherished memories of this life here that I will return to again. Into the expanding walls of my comfort zone, and the lakes and rolling hills of Ontario that I unwaveringly long for when I am away. My car will be packed with my few belongings, which feel to me like to many things for a traveler that lives out of her suitcase most of the time. A car filled with books, paintings, my banjo and fiddle. Until that moment,, enjoying a slow community house life in Victoria. Afternoons of piano concerts and big pots of soup, poetry readings and sharing tea. I look forward to coming back to this blog space in the months to come to continue reflecting on the unravelling of my apprentice journey.