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Your Access to Herbal Healthcare in Canada is About to be Permanently Restricted!

Your Access to Herbal Healthcare in Canada is About to be Permanently Restricted

At Everything Herbal, we believe that access to natural healing is an inalienable right of all people. Herbal medicine has been used since time immemorial by all cultures, across every continent of the earth. Even today, countless numbers of people from across the world rely on herbalism and allied systems of traditional healing as their primary form of medicine. We believe that the use of herbs, and of all natural products, should not be made a criminal offence, or something that only the rich and powerful have a say over.

And yet, efforts are underway by Health Canada to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many practitioners and manufacturers of quality natural health products (NHPs) to provide their services to the Canadian public.

The upcoming proposed changes to the regulation of NHPs in Canada will impose massive undue costs on consumers, costs that have no precedent or justification whatever. These changes will force many of the local and small scale suppliers of herbs and supplements that you rely upon, to permanently close, as well as completely barring access to the industry by up-and-coming, hardworking, dedicated and creative innovators. If passed, these changes will ensure that the future of herbal medicine in Canada will not be grassroots and local, but corporate and industrial.

The long and short of it is that we are on the precipice of a takeover of the natural health products industry by global corporate interests

– by those who have little to no regard for anything other than monopoly and profit. The range of available health products will be significantly decreased, and the care that many healthcare practitioners will be able to provide to their patients will consequently suffer. Your freedom of choice will be restricted, and your rights to seek out natural healing options pushed further out of reach.

We encourage our readers to become involved in the ongoing to campaign to stop these changes before it is too late. What Health Canada is proposing will change the face of natural healing practices in Canada, and is an affront to traditional systems of healing and those who rely upon them for their health and well-being. If passed, these proposed regulatory changes will undermine our fundamental human rights to freely seek out the bounteous medicines of the earth.

It is important that as many of us as possible become involved. By far the best thing that you can do personally is to speak directly with your Federal MP. Ask for a meeting and/or write to them directly – particularly if you depend on these remedies to maintain your good health. Send a letter – it’s hundreds of times more effective than an email!

For more information concerning this issue, and further suggestions as to how you can get involved, can be found through the following campaigns:

David Winston Lecturing at Back to Your Roots

An Interview with David Winston

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 July, 2022.

Reciprocity in herbal medicine

Everything Herbal: I’d like to begin our discussion by considering the place of reciprocity in herbal medicine. What can you tell us about this?

David Winston: Let me start off with a story and introduction. This year I’ll have been studying herbal medicine for 53 years. I started studying herbal medicine in 1969 and at the time all of my friends were interested in one herb, and I was interested in all of the others. Fascinating how today the interest in that one herb has grown tremendously, but I’m still primarily interested in all of the other ones. In 1969 there were no real herb schools, it was hard to learn about herbal medicine. People would say to me what do you do? I would say I’m an herbalist and people would look at me like I was an alien from another planet coming to abduct them. Why would you waste your time with something people did 100 years ago? I fell in love with plants and herbs, with being able to walk out in the woods and the fields and find medicinal and edible plants. My early learning came from a number of sources. Some of it came from books, I would read any book I could find on the topic, and at the time there weren’t that many. One of my first books was ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’ and then ‘Stalking the Healthful Herbs’ [both titles by Euell Gibbons] and ‘Back to Eden’ by Jethro Kloss. In reading these books, I was being handed knowledge of the generations, knowledge of our ancestors. And then I started looking for people that I could learn from. And it was difficult. I took a couple of classes from Dr. Christoper probably in the early to mid 70s. One of my friend’s fathers came to America from Germany and was really into organic gardening and farming, which he taught me. I had another friend in high school whose mother had studied Chinese cooking. I knew how to bake and we taught each other. This is one of the things that initially peaked my interest in Chinese herbs, learning to use them in a culinary way.

david winston photo

Reciprocity was built in – the fact that much of what I learned early on was not necessarily from a school where I was paying for the information. I remember one time we went to the World’s Fair in Montreal when I was a kid. My parents decided we were going to go for a little vacation up into Northern Quebec. It was a memorable trip. This was at a time when there was a fair amount of anti-English sentiment, which we didn’t know about until we arrived there. My mother did speak a little bit of high school French, but not Quebecois. Most of the time we would go into places and they wouldn’t talk to us. It wasn’t a question of whether they understood English or not, because as soon as they recognized we were English speakers they ignored us entirely, like we weren’t even there. We went into this one store, a general store, and they had horehound candies. I had never had horehound before, but I had read about it. So I had to get them. I put one in my mouth and within 10 seconds I spit it out, it was the most disgusting thing I had ever tasted in my life, or so I had thought at that moment. Interestingly enough, an hour later I wanted to try another, which I was able to keep in my mouth for 30 seconds. And by the end of the day I liked them. It was a gradual process of getting acclimated to the flavour. The guy at the counter noticed I bought these and was trying them, and he said to me in English, ‘are you interested in plants?’ I told him that yes, I was deeply fascinated. He started telling me about his favourite herb, a plant he called black snakeroot. I had no idea what it was he was talking about, he didn’t know any Latin binomials. He had a little bit of this herb, let me smell it and gave me some to taste. Many years later I realized that what he called black snakeroot I would call wild ginger, Asarum canadense. It was one of those experiences of recognition and generosity, facilitated by the plants. This happened even though I spoke English and he primarily spoke French. What made the breakthrough was plants.

I feel so fortunate to have been studying herbs for 53 years, and to have been in clinical practice for 45 years. I’ve got to spend almost my entire life in this community of people who love plants. For a very long time I thought I was the only herbalist in the entire Eastern US. It turns out I was wrong, but the majority of the other herbalists who I later found out about were often folk herbalists in rural communities, well known in their own communities but not beyond that. People like Evelyn Snook in central Pennsylvania, or Catfish Gray in Virginia, or Tommy Bass in Alabama. There were other herbalists too, they just weren’t particularly well known. I grew up in Maryland but we had moved to New Jersey, and there was a woman in Rahway, NJ, Henrietta Diers Rau, who I never got to meet but I found her wonderful but somewhat obscure book, ‘Nature’s Aid’ in the library. Henrietta trained at the British School of Phytotherapy in the UK, she was a practicing herbalist, not very far from where I lived. Some years later, in 1981, the first major US herb conference took place in Breitenbush Oregon, organized by Rosemary Gladstar and California School of Herbal Studies. At that time I was the only herbalist there from east of the Mississippi river. I remember sitting in this large room, in a semi-circle with 69 other people, sitting on the floor, looking at all these faces and realizing: these are my people. It was such an incredible experience to feel a part of something.

“…So many herbalists live truly inspired lives”

If we go back 40 or 50 years, being a herbalist was not something that was widely known, appreciated, or in any way accepted. If you told your high school guidance counsellor that you wanted to become a herbalist, they would have looked at you like you had lost your mind. The reality is that people who took up this work were very isolated, but eventually as we got to know each other, we found out there was an amazing community of creative, curious and interesting people working with plant medicine. So many people in the herbal community were multifaceted and amazingly talented. Our herbal elders, some of whom are no longer with us. Michal Moore, for instance – he was a classically trained musician, and performed on wind instruments in the LA symphony orchestra. Michael Tierra is a concert pianist. Jillian Stansbury is a polymath, she is brilliant in so many ways; she is a musician with an incredible voice, and for fun in her spare time she studies things like quantum physics. It is such an interesting group of people: poets, artists, musicians, as well as herbalists, and I think that speaks to the heart of many herbalists, to the fact that so many herbalists live truly inspired lives. Nobody gets into herbal medicine because they think they are going to become rich and famous. That’s not the motivation. There are people who become well known and make a good living, but that is not the underlying motivation. To a great degree, people fall in love with plants and with the idea of helping others, and that is the real motivation.

mortar and pestle

Even though I’m not in full time practice anymore I still see patients. I haven’t charged people for helping them since sometime in the 1980s. I just help people. It seemed it was not right to charge people to make money off of their suffering. I’m not trying to suggest that it is wrong for others to charge for their services. My income comes from teaching, writing books, consulting with physicians and industry. When somebody comes to me and they say ‘I need help’, I just help them. For me that is a big part of reciprocity. So much of what I have learned over half a century was shared with me freely and I love sharing it with other people. Whenever I can, and whenever people are interested I’m always happy to share what I have learned. You know the old expression: we stand on the shoulders of giants. It’s true. So much of what I know comes from traditional Chinese medicine, from Southeastern traditions in America, the Eclectics, the Physiomedicalists, from the practices of Ayurveda and Unani-tibb. These traditions are 100s or even thousands of years old. They all inform what I do and what every other herbalist does. Nobody discovered all of the things that St. John’s wort can do by themselves. It has been a gradual process of disclosure taking place over millennia. As we use herbs in clinical practice, we gain unique insights and share them and our collective knowledge just continues to grow. This too is reciprocity. I see so much of this in the herbal community: reciprocity, generosity, creativity. And those are wonderful things to have as a foundation for a community of people who are in most cases trying to make a difference in the world by making people’s lives better.

Accomplishments in the world of herbal medicine

Everything Herbal: What would you identify as some of your major accomplishments in the world of herbal medicine?

David Winston: The greatest thing that I personally have done as a herbalist is in the area of education. As a practitioner, there are a lot of people I have worked with and helped. Sometimes people say: ‘you’re a healer.’ I’m not, the herbs are the healers, the Creator is the healer, I’m not a healer. At best, I’m an educator. Whether I’m educating on a one to one basis in my role as a clinician or educating students about the wonders of herbal medicine, it’s a deeply fulfilling role. I may be giving an herb walk and sharing with people who may have never been exposed to herbal medicine before, or lecturing to my two year herb studies program, where thousands of people have studied. The program is designed to teach people to become clinical herbalists. Half of the students who come into this program are already medical professionals, MDs, NDs, DOs, nurse practitioners, acupuncturists, veterinarians, and other health care professionals. The other half of my students are people who have been self studying herbal medicine for years or even decades and they really want to improve their skill level so that they can help people in more profound ways. Adding herbs to your toolbox, so to speak, makes a huge difference. It’s not that herbs can do everything – they can’t. But where herbal medicine is strong tends to be where orthodox medicine is weak and vice versa. When I say herbal medicine, understand that in my view herbs are not foundational. What do I mean by that? The foundations of health are a healthy diet, adequate good quality sleep, exercise, healthy lifestyle choices, and stress reduction. Those are the foundations of health. Any herbalist or any practitioner of any sort that is not working with all of those things is missing the boat. Nobody ever became sick because of St. John’s wort deficiency. The idea is that we want to do everything we can to help people. We start with the foundations of health, and when we get to therapeutic modalities herbal medicine is incredibly useful. Most herbs are relatively nontoxic, there is a fairly low rate of clinically significant adverse effects especially if you know how to use herbs appropriately.

“It is more important to know the person who has the disease, than the disease the person has” – Hippocrates

In my first two year herb studies program I had two students. That was in 1981. I was thrilled that anybody else wanted to learn about medicinal plants. Today we have students from all over the world. My goal in teaching people is not to teach them to be good herbalists; my goal is to teach them to be great herbalists. When I say great I don’t mean as a comparison to someone else, I mean each person in their own unique way. Each of us is capable of greatness based on our unique knowledge, intelligence, skillset, passion, creativity; each of us has the ability to take this information and do unique and wonderful things with it. But I also believe that if you really want to be a great herbalist, then there are a few things you have to understand and the first thing is to stop focusing on treating disease. Hippocrates is believed to have said more than 2000 years ago: “it is more important to know the person who has the disease, than the disease the person has”. He was right then and he’s right now. What he means by that is if you have 5 people, all diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the treatment for each will be based upon their unique requirements as individuals. From an orthodox medical perspective the treatment for a given disease seen in different individuals is often the same. As an herbalist, I look at 5 unique people. Yes they all have rheumatoid arthritis, some are female, some are male (hormonally speaking), some are old and some are young, some have underlying GI issues, some have circulatory issues, some have cardiovascular issues, and the more you can treat the person who has the disease, the more effective your protocols are by far. If you have somebody with bacterial meningitis, don’t call the herbalist, reiki healer or chiropractor. You want them in the hospital with iv antibiotics. It is not about creating a dichotomy between orthodox and complementary medicine. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. The key is helping students to understand how they can most effectively help people.

Calendula Buds
46 years ago I was introduced to the concept of energetics by one of my early teachers who in my opinion is one of the great herbalists of the 20th century: William LeSassier. William is the person who introduced me to herbal and human energetics, which allows the practitioner to match specific herbs to the person. When you focus on the disease, you are missing out on the energetics and the constitution of the patient, which is required if you are to treat the person. William also introduced me to Chinese medicine and Chinese herbs, as well as a lot of obscure western herbs like evening primrose. Everybody who is reading this is probably is saying ‘evening primrose seed oil, I know about that.’ But I’m not talking about that, which I don’t think is even all that useful. I’m talking about the herb Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), the leaf, flower or root bark. It is a common native weedy plant, it is an incredible medicine used for things like GI-based depression and inflammatory bowel disease, it’s a wonderful medicine that almost nobody knows about. I credit William again with changing my mind and my entire direction in herbal medicine. Before what I had encountered was along the lines of: this herb is good for headaches, this herb is good for depression, etc. You see this all of the time with these little soundbites of information about herbal medicine that get circulated in books, classes and the internet. For example, St. John’s wort is the depression herb, Saw Palmetto is the prostate herb, or Black Cohosh is the menopause herb. There is one problem with each of those statements: they are wrong, wrong and wrong.

Take St. John’s wort: when I teach on the differential treatment of depression and anxiety, we differentiate more than 14 types of depression based on the underlying pathophysiology. When you treat a person who is depressed, you need to understand what is actually causing the depression. Is it GI-based depression, inflammation-induced depression, old age- induced depression, blood sugar dysregulation-induced depression? The studies show that most pharmaceutical medications like SSRIs and SNRIs work about 40% of the time. St John’s wort also works about 40% of the time if you just give it for the disease entity depression. But if you actually treat the person who is depressed, I can say from my own clinical practice (there are no studies on this) 60 – 65% of my patients with mild to moderate depression have very significant improvements, even to the point where they don’t feel they are depressed at all anymore. This is huge when compared to 40%. Is it perfect? No, but the point is that we have a significant improvement when we are treating the person rather than the disease.

“…That we have helped to teach people how to be great herbalists, is something I’m very proud of.”

For me I think the accomplishment I am most proud of is to be able to look around and see a much bigger herbal community than existed when I first started. People who have been part of my programs are a piece of that, and to know that we have spread that information, that we have spread that knowledge, that we have helped to teach people how to be great herbalists, is something I’m very proud of. Today I look around the world and there are people who have graduated from my program who have their own schools, who are well known herbalists that have written many books, who have these incredible practices. Of course it is not just because of my program that they accomplished these things, it was just a piece of their development. But the fact that I can help people with that one piece to me is a blessing. It makes me very proud to be a part of this community and to continue to pass on what I have learned, to share it and have our traditions continue.

“In the US we spend more money per capita on healthcare than any other country in the world”

Some years ago I was the keynote speaker for a conference called the Florida Herb Conference, organized by Emily Ruff, a wonderful herbalist. I called my speech ‘I Have a Dream.’ I started off by saying ‘you’ve heard these words before by someone far more eloquent than I, but I have a dream too, and my dream is that within my lifetime I hope to see a time where almost every mom, dad, grandmother and grandfather knows basic kitchen herbalism for their family, where there are community herbalists in every community and clinical herbalists available in any clinical setting.’ Why? I believe without a shadow of a doubt, and I’m talking now about the US, (in Canada things are a bit different) in the US we spend more money per capita on healthcare than any other country in the world yet we have worse health outcomes. We are behind every developed country when it comes to infant mortality and life expectancy. We are close to the top when it comes to obesity and cancer, but in all of the health measures that you want to be good at, there are many underdeveloped countries that have much better numbers and outcomes than we do. I believe that really well done herbal medicine can help us create a sustainable practice of medicine not only in the US but around the world. There are countries like India, China, Japan, even Germany where herbal medicine is part of mainstream medicine and it allows them to have a more effective medical system with fewer adverse effects and a greater number of options. That’s my dream. That’s my goal. To make this not alternative, but a part of the mainstream, not just mainstream medicine but mainstream understanding and knowledge. I hope that at some point everybody knows basic herbs to use for common ailments. Most people already know that if you are constipated you can take prune juice or that you can use aloe for a burn. There are lots of things like that that people could learn and use at home, thereby preventing for example the unnecessary use of antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem today. How many times could we give somebody antibacterial herbs for a UTI and thereby avoid having to use antibiotics altogether. How many times do we see people being given antibiotics when they have a viral infection and they don’t work at all? Yet we have herbs that would be perfectly appropriate in that situation. Are herbs the answer to everything? Absolutely not. Are they an answer that can help us to create a better practice of medicine, one that is better for the planet and better for the people and animals on the planet? Without a doubt.

“As a clinician one of the greatest gifts that you can give yourself is to keep an open mind.”

Everything Herbal: I’ve been fortunate to go to many herbal conferences over the years and have heard so many speakers. Out of all the speakers I have listened to, I can still see you on our stage at the Restorative Medicine Conference. I was in the front row doing the introductions and you opened for us. You sang a song, and even though I had no idea what you were singing, it penetrated my soul and made me cry instantly. To me in that moment, and even now reflecting back after all of these years, it was a profound healing experience. I still even get emotional about it because I have no idea what happened in that moment, but I know that something happened. You were the portal for something awe inspiring to come through, and it was a great gift.

David Winston: As I said earlier, I think that the plants are the true healers but many people in the herbal world have gifts that go beyond herbal knowledge. Many are inspiring, wise, and stewards of the green world. In addition to being an herbalist, I write poetry, I sing, I garden and love photography. These things bring me pleasure and help me to see the world in a different way and express myself creatively. I always wished I was better at visual arts. Unfortunately I’m not a very good artist, although both of my parents were very good artists. I have some significant visual, hand/eye coordination issues. I was born severely visually impaired and I didn’t actually see until I was about 18 months old. I had 3 surgeries on my eyes by the time I was 5. There are certain things that I just don’t do as well as most people do. When I was a child there was no diagnosis of dyslexia, or ADHD, although I would have been diagnosed with both if I was born 15 years later. People think of them as disabilities, and they are challenges for sure. But they also bring unusual strengths and skills if you are fortunate enough to have the necessary help navigating the differences. I was talking about this before when I talked about being great in our own unique ways. I don’t consider myself great in any particular way but I am striving to be the best that I possibly can be in every single thing that I do. Now obviously I fail more than I succeed but you keep trying, you keep trying to grow and become a better person, clinician, parent, friend or partner.

As a clinician one of the greatest gifts that you can give yourself is to keep an open mind. I always tell my students the worst disease a practitioner can get is what I call “hardening of the mind”, where you start to believe that everything you know and think is true. I am partially kidding when I say this, but I always tell people after 53 years of studying herbal medicine I now feel comfortable calling myself an advanced beginner. Why? It doesn’t matter how much you know, it is still a fraction of what there is to know. You always want to stay open to the process of continuing to learn. This is true for anybody, whether an auto mechanic, a scientist, a farmer, a physician, an herbalist or an artist. It is openness to creativity, to new ways of seeing, thinking or being that allows us to grow professionally and as human beings. How many examples do we have of musicians who become famous for a certain style and their next album comes out and its totally different and their fans don’t like it. But as an artist, there is something that pushes you to grow and experiment. To stay stagnant and just keep doing the same thing over and over and over again doesn’t serve that purpose and ultimately doesn’t serve the art. As an herbalist or as a clinician you have to stay open minded to the fact that everything you believe is true is subject to change. That doesn’t mean it will change, but it could. When we get dogmatic and when we start allowing ourselves to be put up on a pedestal, we are in dangerous territory. If you are up on a pedestal and everybody is looking up at you, invariably you are looking down, its an uncomfortable place to be. Something about human nature is that while people love putting others up on pedestals, they also love tearing them down.

“… Recognize that the plants are the healers.”

It is important to stay humble, to recognize that the plants are the healers. Art, music and creativity are also great healing forces. So is vulnerability. Recently in class a student asked a question and it was about somebody going through a really hard time. I didn’t say to them ‘oh you should do this and that’; instead, I allowed the experience that was shared to touch me, just like that song touched you. The experience of suffering that was related in class touched me deeply and reminded me of an experience in my own life. It was a very humbling experience; being able to share vulnerability and fragility with others allows people to recognize and connect in to their own pain, their own suffering, their own fears, their own doubts. When we can do this, we begin to recognize that we are not alone in our sufferings, and not alone in the world. In any traditional form of medicine, there is no separation of body, mind and spirit. Of course, there are times when you have a simple wart and I don’t need to know what’s going on with you emotionally. I can simply say, ‘here try some celandine, put it on twice a day’ and more often than not the wart will disappear. But if we are talking about more serious health issues like depression, anxiety, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, all of these conditions don’t just affect the body, they also affect the mind, the soul and spirit too. All of these levels are deeply interconnected, they are all part of the same organism.

Butterfly on a hand

This is also where complementary medicine can fall short. There was a diagram created by Kenneth Pelletier in the 70s of three interconnected circles labeled body, mind, and spirit. That is supposed to represent holism. There is only one problem with that: it is not big enough. If you put a big circle around those three interconnected circles, that circle is family. Then there is another even bigger circle around that, and that’s community. And then there is yet another circle around that, and depending on what name you want to give it, that’s God, the Creator, Nature, Gaia, whatever concept you want to put in there. What the body/mind/spirit level of the diagram recognizes is that we are interconnected within ourselves, but what it fails to recognize is that we are also connected to everything else, to everything outside of ourselves. When I teach my class on depression, one of the things I always tell people about depression is that it can be a learned behaviour. If you grew up in a household where one of your parents was chronically depressed you stand a 50% chance of being chronically depressed yourself. If you grew up in a household where both of your parents were chronically depressed you have about a 100% chance of being chronically depressed. As an infant and young child you don’t know what is healthy behaviour and how things in the world can or should work. Whatever behaviour that is modelled for you becomes your norm. If the people around you are always depressed, always anxious then that is what you come to believe is normal and desirable.

“To feel that you have a place in the world, to feel connected is essential to health and wellbeing.”

There is also a part of the brain known as the mirror neuron network. If, for example, your significant other is chronically depressed or anxious, the chances of you becoming chronically depressed or anxious skyrockets. Why? Because this part of the brain which allows us to feel empathy, sympathy and connection to others, triggers deep feelings and emotions in us that are indistinguishable from our actual emotions. For most of us when we see somebody who is suffering and we feel it, not just ‘oh that’s too bad’, but when you really feel it ‘oh my god thats terrible’, you want to help and do something. That is the part of the brain that mirrors the behaviours of others, and if you are in a relationship or even living in a place where other people are experiencing those things on a regular basis, it is very hard for you not to respond and get pulled into that mindset, whether it is anxiety or depression or hopelessness. We are deeply affected by others, and in many indigenous traditions if somebody is ill you don’t just treat that person, you treat their entire family. The next circle after family is community, and so many of us no longer live in functional communities. We are isolated and separated, and this causes major issues for human beings, who are innately tribal. By using the word ‘tribal’ I do not necessarily mean a native nation, although that is certainly tribal. I certainly don’t mean the terrible tribalism that we have in the US: red vs blue, liberal vs conservative, etc. That is tribalism at its worst. What I mean is that we feel the need to belong. Unfortunately that seems to be one of the appeals of so many of these hate groups that are out there now. You have people who don’t feel like they belong anyplace, who feel like outcasts and feel scorned and belittled by society. Often, they find acceptance and comradery in such movements and they get caught up in a group that is bounded by hatred. To feel that you have a place in the world, to feel connected is essential to health and wellbeing. I talked about it earlier when I was describing sitting in a room with 69 other herbalists at a young age and feeling that I had finally found my people. Being able to find others who accept us for who we are, and participating in a functional, healthy community; this is unfortunately so rare in today’s world.

“You are part of something bigger than yourself”

The last circle, relating to one’s relationship to a higher power (again, whatever name and concept you have of this is fine), helps us to recognize that we are a small part of something much greater than ourselves, something that pulls us out of our ego, pulls us out of our fear, doubt, isolation, separation and out of our belief that the world begins when we are born and ends when we die. This perspective reminds us that yes, each and every one of us is sacred and blessed and yet each one of us is a speck of dust. We are both magnificent and insignificant at the same time.

This is the importance of having a spiritual practice, whether you have a religion or not. The connection to a higher power is the essential piece. If you don’t believe in an entity, you can achieve the same thing through Nature, Gaia, it doesn’t matter, as long as you believe you are part of something bigger than yourself. That is a really useful and helpful orientation for human beings to have; it is arguably what allows us to become human beings in the first place. If you ever go some place where there is almost zero light pollution, and I’ve been to places like this in the mountains of North Carolina or in parts of Canada, New Mexico, Maine Ireland and Costa Rica, and you look at the night sky it can be breathtaking. Instead of seeing a few bright stars or planets, you see the entire milky way. Sadly many people have not had this experience today. When you look up at such a sky it is magnificent, you enter into a state of awe. It makes you feel so small but at the same time connected to something so vast. To me that is the power of healing, those moments that literally take your breath away where you’re just in awe that the world is so magnificent, so beautiful. For many of us that experience is so far away from our daily lives, and we lose sight of it, we lose sight of the joy and the newness and the discovery and the wonder of the world that we were born with as children. For many people today, the world is not a place of wonder. It is a place of fear, hurt, prejudice, or inhumanity. I think that herbs, nature, meaningful ritual, forgiveness, compassion and love can contribute to the healing this core wound of disconnection that many of us suffer from today.

hand and sunset

“Originally I was going to be a farmer…”

When I was in high school I used to have an organic farm. It started off as a 20 or 30 by 80 foot plot and eventually I got more land down the road. I had two acres and a roadside stand where I sold organic vegetables in the summer, in the late 60s and early 70s. Originally I was going to be a farmer, I was growing herbs and vegetables, and the one thing I didn’t grow was flowers. I thought who cares about flowers. Today I realize I was mistaken. While I still grow many herbs and vegetables, today I love flowers. And three of my favourites are fragrant roses, irises, and peonies. The irises I grow are old fashioned fragrant irises. The modern ones often have no odour, but the old varieties are really fragrant and they almost smell like a combination of cinnamon and bubble gum, a very unusual combination. Every year, when the irises start blooming I go out every single day and stick my nose in those flowers and just inhale deeply. Think of it as primitive aromatherapy. When the peonies are in flower, I go out there and I smell them too. The roses start blooming before any of the others and continue blooming in through the autumn. When I go out and smell these flowers I am so uplifted by their odours. Yes the night sky in a place where there is no light pollution is spectacular, but smelling a fragrant rose is also magnificent. Smelling one of those fragrant irises is magnificent. Magnificent things, healing things can be huge things that literally stop you in your tracks, as well as little things that for a moment bring you back to a place before you were weighed down with all of your worries, to a simpler, better place of healing.

peony flowers

Let’s talk a bit more about the integration of herbal medicine with the conventional medical system…

Everything Herbal: …It’s an important issue that many people don’t think about in a lot of detail. It seems like such a distant possibility. What are some ways that this might come about? What are some steps that practicing herbalists can take to do what is necessary to get to a point where the practice of herbal medicine is widely accepted, integrated, and thereby helping a greater number of people?

David Winston: Often in the herbal/alternative/complementary medicine community there is an attitude of us vs them. Tribalism, not the good kind. The mentality is that the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industrial complex are out to get us. Granted, pharmaceutical companies are not big fans of herbal medicine because it certainly cuts into their profits. Between 1995 – 1998, many of the big pharmaceutical companies jumped into the herb market and came out with their own lines of herbal products. Within a few years they all dropped it, they realized there was simply not enough money to be made no matter how good their products were. It wasn’t close the level of profit that they got from their pharmaceutical medicines. It is true that orthodox medicine is not necessarily open to herbal medicine, but my belief is that mostly what we are dealing with is a lack of knowledge. Doctors go through this incredibly rigorous training over so many years, and when they graduate they have limitations depending on what state in the US they are practicing in. There are regulations, as well as insurance and liability issues, that keep people in their own little silos. Firstly, if we are to think about this issue, education about herbal medicine is vital. During the period between 1995-1998 herbs were hot and they were in the media all of the time. I was getting 4 or 5 phone calls a week from physicians saying ‘you know I’m interested in these herbs, I want to learn more about them.’ The media has this tendency where if something is wonderful then eventually the pendulum turns and it becomes something of suspicion. And sure enough, around 1998 we started seeing all of these articles both in the medical literature and in the popular press about herbs being dangerous.

“…One of the things that happened was that more people who were taking pharmaceutical medications were taking herbs simultaneously.”

With the increase in the use of herbs during this period one of the things that happened was that more people who were taking pharmaceutical medications were taking herbs simultaneously. There were legitimate reports of problems like herb-drug interactions and adverse effects. For example, St. John’s wort, which is a very useful plant for many different health issues, but is also the “poster child for herb-drug interactions”. That is because St. John’s wort not only affects phase 1 liver detoxification via the CYP1A2 and CYP3A4 and CYP2D9 pathways, which are enzyme isoforms that the liver uses to metabolize and break down pharmaceuticals as well as environmental toxins. It is also because St. John’s wort affects phase 3 detoxification, which takes place in the kidneys and the bowel, via the p-glycoprotein (P-gp) drug transport system. The fact that St. John’s wort up-regulates and/or down-regulates both of these systems means that it can have a significant potential for interactions with some pharmaceuticals. The good news is that, with the exception of St. John’s wort and a handful of other herbs, herb-drug interactions turn out to be fairly rare and clinically significant events, meaning they can cause a dangerous interaction, are actually even rarer still.

This is not to say herb-drug interactions can’t happen, because they can, but the danger in most cases is overstated. When looking at herbal safety if we look at statistics, taken from American studies, the number of deaths from properly prescribed pharmaceuticals (not including overdoses) is between 95 to 120 thousand people per year. The number of Americans who die from over the counter, supposedly safe NSAIDs, is 17 to 18 thousand per year. The number of Americans who die every year from food, everything from food poisoning to choking to anaphylactic allergic reactions, is about 9 thousand. These are somewhat older statistics, they could have gone up or down a little bit within the last decade. The number of Americans who die from herbs, in the last year that we have any information about this, was 37. That was before Ephedra was banned, and almost all of these deaths were from Ephedra. Is this to say that herbs are entirely safe? They are absolutely not. But this statement needs to be put into perspective.

“We can divide herbs into three categories: food, medicine, and poison.”

Your food herbs are generally safe, unlikely to have significant adverse effects and they can generally be used in significant quantities. These are things like blueberries, cinnamon, ginger and garlic, but also mild gentle herbs like lemon balm, chamomile, hawthorn berry, etc. We are not talking about allergies, because with German Chamomile there is a report in the literature of a person who had very severe ragweed allergies having a cross-reactivity reaction to chamomile, developing anaphylaxis and dying. There is one case in the entire literature out of millions of cups of Chamomile being drunk every single day. For that one person Chamomile was not safe, but anyone can have an allergic reaction to any food, any drug, any herb, any cosmetic so that is a separate issue. Your medicines on the other hand are stronger acting, they are to be used with more knowledge and usually for a limited period of time. These are herbs like Goldenseal or Ephedra back before it was banned. You don’t just take these everyday because they are good for you. You take them because you have a specific medical issue usually under the guidance of a trained clinician. And then finally your poisonous herbs should be left alone and only used by clinicians who are trained to use them, they have the potential for overt toxicity. We can think of digitalis, for instance.

Understand that what we need to do is to really educate people, not just mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, but the medical profession as well. Medical doctors don’t get much if any training in herbal medicine. I do teach at a couple of medical schools, where they get a one class introduction to herbal medicine but even that is the exception. Most physicians have no information, and what they are reading in the literature often contains a lot of incorrect information. The literature is often based on fear, many of the purported herb-drug interactions are based on in vitro studies meaning it is done in a test tube or petri dish and those rarely pan out when we start doing in vivo studies (in a living organism). Then there are many things in the literature that are a single case reports, meaning one person took something and had a bad reaction to it. If that was a pharmaceutical that would never get into a journal. That happens all of the time and you cannot ascribe causality to someone taking something and having a reaction. The reaction could have occurred for many reasons, or it could be an idiosyncratic reaction. If it is an herb that someone has a reaction to however, that will get put into a journal. Then it becomes part of the literature, and it reinforces the view: ‘oh, see herbs are dangerous.’

“Where herbs are strong tends to be where orthodox medicine is weak and vice versa.”

As I said earlier, where herbs are strong tends to be where orthodox medicine is weak and vice versa. If you have someone with chronic skin problems who has been to 20 dermatologists and nothing helps, that is one of the places where herbs shine. If you have somebody with treatment resistant mild to moderate depression (severe depression is very treatment resistant no matter the approach), who has been given various SSRIs and they didn’t work or caused significant adverse effects, herbs can work beautifully there. Herbs are not only effective in many cases for prevention, they can be used in treating many issues where orthodox medicine offers few options. There are some major issues in medicine today, one of them I mentioned earlier is drug resistant bacteria. Most people have no idea that there are studies showing dozens and dozens of herbs that can be given with an antibiotic and it shuts down the multiple drug resistant (MDR) pumps in the bacteria allowing the antibiotics to become effective again. Herbs can work incredibly well in conjunction with orthodox medicine. The more we can get out there and educate people and share this information the better.

I would like to point out though that there are many issues holding us back in the herbal community. One is that most of us don’t know how to do research. As herbalists we need to learn how to do simple, basic but good research and start publishing the results. What happens in your office is interesting but that is empirical, it is not proof. In addition to herbalists learning how to do research, herbalists need to stop thinking in a silo and start reaching out to other practitioners. Throughout my entire career, I’ve always worked with other practitioners. I act as a consultant to over 100 medical doctors and naturopathic physicians throughout the US, Canada, and Europe, and I love that relationship. I learn new things all of the time in this role. I don’t have the answers to everything and they don’t have the answers to everything, so that kind of cooperation creates movement, it helps get the knowledge out of the silo into the mainstream.

“We need to start having a better dialogue within our own community.”

One last thing I’d point out about the herbal community, there is often a significant lack of consensus about what things mean. I remember Rosemary Gladstar saying ‘the only thing herbalists agree on is not to use aluminum cookware.’ She was basically right. One of my books is called ‘Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief’, the second edition came out in 2019 the first in 2007. There were several reasons I wrote the book. One is that I got tired of people calling herbs adaptogens that aren’t. I also thought it was really inappropriate that people were using this term adaptogen to mean whatever they wanted it to mean. I had someone ask me ‘why do scientists get to decide what an adaptogen is?’ It’s because they created the whole idea and concept! The word and concept of adaptogens didn’t come from TCM, or Ayurveda, or from the herbal community – the concept of adaptogens came from Soviet research starting in 1947. They get to define the concept because they came up with it. Adaptogens are not the same as a rasayana in Ayurveda, they are not the same as qi tonic or kidney yang tonic in TCM. There is some overlap, but an adaptogen is its own thing. There is a lot of sloppiness in my opinion especially when it comes to nomenclature and terminology in the herbal community. 10 herbalists will give you 10 different definitions of an adaptogen or even worse, an alterative. If we can’t even communicate amongst ourselves, if we can’t create a consensus about what our terminology means, it becomes very difficult to communicate to someone outside of the herbal medicine world. We need to start having a better dialogue within our own community. I’m not suggesting that we become homogenized in our thinking, I don’t mean that we all have to use the same herbs in the same ways. I’m not talking about standardization. But we do at least need a consensus on terminology, I believe this would be a very useful thing.

The funny thing is that with adaptogens, there are only 8 or 9 herbs that are actually well researched and fit the definition. There are another 5 that I’d call probable adaptogens, the evidence is weaker but suggests they may well be adaptogens. And then there are another 12 or more that I’d call possible adaptogens, where the evidence is actually very weak. As herbalists we need to up our game and come out and say ‘we have something worth knowing about’ instead of just sitting there saying ‘I’m just going to do my own thing.’ Anybody who is an herbalist knows they have something of value to share, so let’s make the work we do stronger, let’s continue to educate ourselves, let’s grow our knowledge, our community, and then bring it out into the world and say: ‘here is this incredible gift that we’d like to share with you.’

David Winston Talking

To conclude…

Everything Herbal: What is something heartfelt that you could share with new students or people who are just getting into herbal medicine? You speak of your love of herbs, but tell us about how this love shows itself.

David Winston: I don’t know if this is a direct response to your question, but I mentioned earlier that if I was born later I would have been diagnosed with both dyslexia and ADHD. I tend to get bored or distracted easily, unless a topic is deeply interesting to me and I can continue to learn about it. To me one of the blessings of herbal medicine, and this is true of medicine in general, is that as I said earlier I still only know a little bit of what there is to know. And I am just as enthusiastic and excited about herbs and herbal medicine today as when I first fell in love with plant medicines. The passion has not left me. When I am walking on a trail in the woods and I come across a plant that I’ve never actually seen before except in a photograph, it is just enthralling, it is like meeting my new best friend. It doesn’t have to be a showy plant. In the UK there is this plant called Pellitory of the wall or Pellitory on the wall. I have tried growing it here in the US and I’ve had limited success getting it to grow well and spread. It is used as a kidney trophorestorative, basically a food for the kidneys. I moved to my present home with my wife in 2014, and there is this plant I did not know growing on my property. I saw it multiple times and it wasn’t very showy, it’s green, you almost can’t see the flowers, and last year there was a great deal of it. I was going to go pull it up but then I thought to myself, I should look it up first. I discovered that it is called Pennsylvania Pellitory. It is in the same genus as the plant from the UK, but a different species. Immediately my reaction was ‘oh my goodness, it is growing right under my nose, and it really likes growing on rock walls just like the Pellitory of the wall in the UK!’ My questions then lead me to investigate, but I don’t have the answers yet. I found no ethnobotanical history of using this plant. Here is a relatively obscure plant with no history of use in the US, related to this English plant that I’ve wanted to use for years but haven’t had easy access to. So now I’m very excited and trying to find out any of the chemistry of the plant so I can compare it. I’ve tried tasting it (I do know it is not toxic!) to see if there is an organoleptic similarity, but unfortunately the English Pellitory is not very strong tasting or smelling. Now I am wondering if this can be used in a similar way to the other plant, and the answer at this point is that I have absolutely no idea. I don’t have access to phytochemical testing, so I have to see if there is any data or literature I can find, but the possibility of discovering an analog to an affective medicine makes me want to learn more.

People say if you learn something new it is a good day, and that is really true for me.

What can I learn today that I didn’t know yesterday, what new plant might I come across, what new use can I find for this herb or that herb, all of that to me is thrilling and I will continue with this work as long as I’m alive and mentally able. I have one of the largest private herbal research libraries in North America and I am constantly going back and looking at old books. I have books from the 1580s through to the present. I will take an old book off the shelf and be surprised by something I didn’t know, just as I can be surprised by some new research that comes out. The same can happen in class, when we are going over a case history and somebody says something that I didn’t know or think about before. It is just marvelous for me to be able to continue to learn. By continuing to learn, I am better able to share, better able to help others and hopefully in the process I contribute to making the world a better place for us all.


David Winston, RH (AHG) is an Herbalist and Ethnobotanist with 53 years of training in Chinese, Western/Eclectic and Southeastern herbal traditions. He has been in clinical practice for 46 years and is an herbal consultant to physicians, herbalists and researchers throughout the USA, Europe and Canada. David is the founder/director of the Herbal Therapeutics Research Library and the dean of David Winston’s Center for Herbal Studies, a two-year training program in clinical herbal medicine. He is an internationally known lecturer and frequently teaches at medical schools, professional symposia and herb conferences. He is the president of Herbalist & Alchemist, Inc. a manufacturer that produces herbal products that blend the art and science of the world’s great herbal traditions.

In addition, David is a founding/professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, and he is on the American Botanical Council and the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia Advisory Boards. He was a contributing author to American Herbalism, published in 1992 by Crossings Press, and the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) , 2000-2018, the author of Saw Palmetto for Men & Women, Storey, 1999 and Herbal Therapeutics, Specific Indications For Herbs & Herbal Formulas, HTRL, 2014 (10th edition) and the co-author of Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, Healing Arts Press, 2007 & 2019 2nd Ed, and Winston and Kuhn’s Herbal Therapy and Supplements; A Scientific and Traditional Approach, Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott, 2008. David has also published hundreds of articles in medical and botanical medicine journals and conference proceedings. He is also a member of the AHPA Expert Advisory Council that created the second edition of the Botanical Safety Handbook, CRC Press, published in 2013 (3rd edition in press).

In 2011 David was a recipient of the AHPA Herbal Insights award. In 2013 he received the Natural Products Association Clinicians award and was awarded a fellowship by the Irish Register of Herbalists. In 2018 he was the Mitchell visiting scholar at Bastyr University and in 2019 he was awarded an honorary DSc degree from the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR.

You can find David online at and his herbal training program available at 

Photos provided by Serena Mor (excluding David’s first photograph)

Fresh Herbs for Tea

An Interview with Steven Martyn

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

Top 10 Best Practices for Herbalists

Giving back and acting in a way that is regenerative, benefits us all”

– Penelope Beaudrow

1. Know your Endangered & At-Risk Species

Whether you’re foraging yourself or purchasing herbs at your local natural health food store, it is very important to know the circumstances around the plants you are working with. When it comes to species at risk, it is always recommended that you purchase herbs that are sustainably grown and cultivated and to avoid foraging or wildcrafting (as much as this part of herbalism is often a favourite!). This helps maintain the wild population and helps promote the livelihood of these endangered species. As well, there are often many substitutes for those that are at-risk, and this can be a great approach to avoid harming the population altogether. Alternatively, if no substitute can be found, then it is always recommended that actions are taken to give back what you’ve taken, and then some. For example, if you’re purchasing Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), which again should be purchased and not foraged, it would be recommended that you plant some of your own. Whether that means planting in your own garden, or sprinkling seeds on your favourite trail – regardless of how, there are a ton of ways you can give back to help encourage the repopulation. For more information and resources, contact your local conservation group or management area or get connected with groups such as the United Plant Savers, or visit a local sanctuary – like Penelope’s sanctuary; Kina Kegoo, in Cannington, Ontario (sanctuaries can also be found listed at UPS!)⁷. More information can also be found on your government’s website. 

2. Choose Your Resources Well

It is important to remember that the magic and medicine of plants are only as good as the quality of the plants themselves. These days, where herbs are being cultivated and sold in abundance, it can be easy to overlook the quality of the plants, especially underneath the often appealing packaging. It’s safe to say that growing your own is always recommended, as it gives Herbalists the opportunity to get to know the plants they’re working with and helps foster a tangible and therapeutic relationship that comes along with it. Whenever possible, if not growing your own, herbs should be purchased and grown locally. Not only just to support our farmers, but so you can gain a better understanding of the growing methods and so the plant material doesn’t have to travel as far (often along the way, herbs are sprayed through inspections in order to meet guidelines and regulations, which can be avoided purchasing directly from the grower). However, if that’s out of the question, it is wise to always look for herbs that are organic, forest-grown or wildcrafted. As many great healers would say, wildcrafted and/or organic signify that the herb was collected or grown with conscious awareness of the plant’s life cycle, and was picked according to the seasons, at the right time of day, and dried in the best drying conditions. It implies a certain conscious responsibility of the environment and the non use of chemical fertilizers or sprays¹. 

3. Honouring your Harvest

An easy rule of thumb: always leave an area as beautiful as you found it; keeping in mind the animals, pollinators, germinated seedlings, and seeds left behind. It is also recommended and highly encouraged that you ask permission of the plant, which can be done by sitting with intention to take it and noticing how it feels, or directly through holding the plant in your hands. Like a grazing animal, it’s mindful never to take everything you’ve found, but rather take a little bit here and there along the way, leaving as much of what you can behind. 

In addition, most of the land that we take ownership of was first tended to by the Indiginous Peoples of Canada, who understood that we are impermanent stewards of this earth, and we must take care of it with what little time we have. Many similar ceremonies and rituals can still be practiced today, or by creating those of your own, doing what feels authentic for you. At the end of the day, it’s important to pay respects to the plants that came before us, and for those that long outlive us – however that might look for you. You can even speak or say to yourself a land acknowledgement, such as, “every community owes its existence and vitality to generations from around the world who contributed their hopes, dreams, and energy to making the history that led to this moment. Some were brought here against their will, some were drawn to leave their distant homes in hope of a better life, and some have lived on this land for more generations than can be counted. Truth and acknowledgment are critical to building mutual respect and connection across all barriers of heritage and difference. We begin this effort to acknowledge what has been buried by honoring the truth.”

Penny in Queen Annes Lace

4. Learn your Alternatives & Substitutes

Though it can be difficult to find a single plant medicine with the same mechanism of action as our endangered native plants, herbs are diverse and there are many options on plants that have a few similar medicinal properties that can be used instead. For example, one can use Berberine from Amur Cork Trees or Barberry instead of using the aforementioned Goldenseal. With that being said, whenever foraging, make sure you know the plant you are about to harvest, to avoid accidentally wildcrafting species at risk. There is a great Analog List created by Jane Bothwell to help navigate through choosing a less threatened species, and a great quote from her publication on United Plant Savers:

“When cultivated species are not available, then it is best to find a plant analog. An analog is an herb having a parallel action, function or end result to other medicinal herbs. In most instances, it is important and necessary to use a variety of analogs for the at-risk herb because an analog generally satisfies only some of the therapeutic actions of a particular plant species and does not demonstrate all medicinal actions of that plant. It is sometimes difficult to find replacements for our tried and true herb friends, but it also can be very satisfying and will expand your expertise, while helping to replant our future. Choose alien (non-native) plants for food and medicine, leaving the more fragile native plant species to flourish. Many alien plants are extremely powerful medicinals and will be a welcomed addition to your medicine chest.”² 

5. Find Ways to Give Back

Of course there are many ways in which Herbalists and natural healers alike can do their part, and it doesn’t always have to create work. In some cases, doing nothing is doing something. Take for example rewilding – it is estimated that 20% of the earth is covered in grass, much of this being maintained lawns that are wasteful and void of diversity. Instead, If let be, these areas can slowly become diverse ecosystems, holding space for native species to come back, or even utilizing these newfound areas to plant native and endangered species. This also helps insects and animals find new homes and allows more plants to flower for our vulnerable pollinators! Needless to say, rewilding can help heal the wounds we’ve long since inflicted⁹. 

For more information on rewilding, what it is and how to do it, there’s a great short film with Penelope Beaudrow, where she shares how her family’s land has evolved into what has become a thriving place for threatened and at risk medicinal and native plants, as well as how the work on their farm and sanctuary gives back to the land and animals that live here and benefits us all, and some of the things you can do to help make a difference.³

Another preservation action you can take, is to save plants that are soon to be destroyed by developments and transplant them somewhere safe, be it your lawn or someone else’s. This one may take getting your hands dirty and a little bit of heavy work, but the payoff is rewarding and the opportunities to do so are endless.

As Tao Orion beautifully puts it, “Native plants are not just native to a place, they are essential elements of a culture that stewards them. Native species like milkweed, echinacea, trillium, bloodroot, dwarf trout lily, elderberry, huckleberry, hickory and countless others are not just wildflowers but food, medicine, fiber, shelter, tools.”¹⁰ Once we can change the way we see the the world around us, the world around us begins to change.

6. Give Thanks

Some Indigenous peoples have a tradition of leaving tobacco after gathering, as a way to show their gratitude for that which was taken. In the same way, every Herbalist can offer thanks in some way that feels authentic to them, whether by saying a few words or leaving something behind. You can also do some research on what rituals (if any) your ancestors may have practiced regarding reciprocity that may have been lost, and that you can rekindle and bring back into your own practice. 

When it comes down to it, there are so many meaningful ways to insert ourselves into nature in a way that shows gratitude through action – causing a ripple of change through everything we do. Through stewardship of the land we can mediate disturbances to create high density areas, refashion long standing relationships with landscapes that provide for our needs, and work to prioritize habitat connectivity by envisioning a continuous corridor of wild spaces that butterflies, birds, lizards, frogs, skunks, bobcats, and bears move through,¹⁰ to name a few examples. 

Whatever your way, always be mindful of the concept of exchanging rather than taking and bringing awareness of the symbiotic relationship between humankind and the plant kingdom. 


7. Know your Symbols

When it comes to ethical purchasing, being able to understand the symbols and indications on packaging can be very important to help you purchase the most sustainable option possible. Oftentimes when we go into our local natural health food stores it can be hard to get a clear idea of where what you’re buying came from, but understanding your symbols can help bring some transparency to this supply chain process.

When it comes to Certified Organic labels, these standards vary by province and state, so look into your government’s website to learn more about what entails of this certification. Though, it’s safe to say, seeing an organics label is better than not seeing one at all. You may also see things like wildcrafted; meaning plants are collected directly from their natural wild habitat such as forests, fields and undeveloped areas of land, and they should be unadulterated by chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides. This of course is something that should be avoided when in search of at-risk or endangered species, but for all other herbs, it’s almost always a good indicator of quality. Forest-Grown is another great attribute to look out for; whereby each verified forest farmer has a dynamic story of land stewardship, often taking decades of dedication to grow the forest botanicals in their care⁵.

So whatever your label, make sure you understand what you’re buying before you spend your hard earned dollars. 

8. Empower Yourself

Considering everything is made up of energy, growing your own herbs can be wonderfully therapeutic for yourself, loved ones, and community. From the very beginning your devout care and attention goes into watching your seeds sprout into seedlings, all the way up until they’re ready to harvest – allowing the plants to become a vessel of your attentive nurturing, embodies the reciprocate and synergistic relationship between us and the plants.

One of our favourite local places to get all of our essentials is Richters Herbs. They offers plants, seeds, books, dried herbs and so much more⁶.

9. Get Educated

In Canada, most endangered species live in the south, which is also where most of us humans live. It’s no coincidence: there are more species in the south where the climate is warmer, and people have transformed southern landscapes to make way for agriculture and cities. We live in close proximity to many endangered species, yet many of them fly under our radar – especially the plants⁸.

However, there are so many ways to continue your education and to earn credits each year on endangered and at risk plants in your area. The awareness that comes along with staying current and aware of these plants can be of huge benefit to your practice, and to the world around you. It is to be noted that each province and state has their own list of endangered plants, which you can refer to and begin to pay homage to. This can also be a fun activity to do by yourself or with family: anytime you travel to new towns or cities, keep a lookout for any you can find or purchase seeds to bring with you ahead of time to sprinkle along your journey!

There are many organizations and conferences that are now offering lectures on at-risk and endangered species, such as the Ontario Herbalists Association, Back to Your Roots Herbal Retreat, Heartwood, Canadian Herb Conference, American Herbalist’s Guild, and National Institute of Medical Herbalists.

10. Be the Educator

Share as much information as you can within your own social circles, family, and community. The more widespread the information, the more that can be done about it! Plus, this is a great way to bring communities together and enjoy activities together like planting in local parks, going on identification walks, and through speaking and sharing with local garden groups and clubs, and even schools.

Change starts with you, and the ripple never stops once it starts!

Wild Flower Patch

Post Contributors:

Penelope Beaudrow, RH

Penelope Beaudrow is a Registered Herbalist and educator who has devoted the past 25 years to helping others foster deep and resilient connections with the living intelligence of the natural world and the regenerative, healing forces of plants and the medicine they carry.

Chelsea Vieira, Community Herbalist 

Chelsea is a community herbalist and an all-around plant enthusiast. From a young age being fond of the wonders of the natural world, she’s since gone on to help others reconnect and rekindle this relationship, and the magic it encompasses. 


¹ Rosemary Gladstar. The Science and Art of Herbalism. Lesson One, page 6.

² Jane Bothwell. UPS List of Herbs & Analogues

³ Penelope Beaudrow. For the Love of Medicinal and Native Plants. Everything Herbal, 2021. 

Penelope Beaudrow, Lauri Hoeg. Sacred Plants – Spiritual and Medicinal Uses. Everything Herbal, 2021.

United Plant Savers. Forest Grown Verified Program, 2019.

Richters Herbs, 1969.

The Ginkgo Tree. Kina Gegoo Botanical Sanctuary. UPS Member, 2015.

Jenny McCune. The Endangered Species Hiding in Plain Sight. Canadian Geographic, 2019.

David Suzuki. Rewilding can help heal wounds we’ve inflicted. David Suzuki Foundation, 2021.

¹⁰ Tao Orion. Beyond the War on Invasive Species. 2015.

United Plant Savers, Become a Herbal Business Member

Government of Ontario. Species At-Risk in Ontario, 2020.

United Plant Savers. Medicinal Plant Conservation Certificate Program.

The Canadian Encyclopedia. Endangered Plants in Canada, 2021.

United Plant Savers. Species At-Risk Assessment Tool. Downloads and resources.

Canadian Wildlife Federation. Canada’s Plants in Peril.

Photos provided by Serena Mor

Echinacea Flower

An Interview with Rosemary Gladstar

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 May of 2021.

“Tell us about your experience as an American herbalist?”

Everything Herbal: The American perspective on herbal medicine is presumably quite different than in other parts of the world because of all of the repression that the practice has faced in the United States. Can you speak to this history, in broad terms, and tell us about your experience as an American herbalist? Talk to us about the herbal Renaissance in the 60’s and beyond…

Rosemary: I’d like to start by saying that I’m just giving my one perspective, my own first hand experience. Everybody has a perspective, of course. After WWII, and even before that in the United States, herbalism had gone deeply underground. It was still very much alive in ethnic communities, in cities, and country areas where there were ethnic communities. These communities often still had their own medicine that they may have brought with them from other countries, for instance. Definitely our Native populations were still using some herbal medicine, though by this time modern medicine had really made headway on the reservations and there wasn’t a lot traditional medical information that was being passed along. In part, this is because there weren’t very many people who were interested in learning it anymore. In the Southern part of the United States, the Appalachian region, there were very poor rural communities still using herbal remedies – mostly because it was all that they had. They simply didn’t have access to modern medicine. And as modern medicine was being introduced as “the only legitimate system of healing” more and more of these rural communities did come to adopt it. Herbalism had gone deeply underground. Many of the traditional earth sciences and nature based traditions were changing during this time. Food production, for example: our whole food chain was changed dramatically during this same period towards the chemical-industrial model that we have in place today. Even the way that the American families were living – that idea of the “intact” family was beginning to change. After WWII when there was this influx of an amazing amount of chemicals that were being adopted by our food and medical systems, herbalism just became antiquated in this country. There were very few practicing herbalists. The ones that were still living were usually older and they were very vocal about what they were doing, but they were very few and far between. And there were very few herb books – those that were written were mostly about culinary uses of herbs, how to make crafts, and things like that. But they were not addressing the medical side of herbalism.

Rsemary Gladstar Smelling Roses

“Around the 60’s there was a kind of a cultural revolution…”

… And out of that rose a philosophy of getting back to nature. The term ‘organic’ was actually coined in the 60s. Before that people weren’t even talking about ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ food. And so it was out of this fertile soil that the desire to start to use natural medicines emerged anew. I would say that primarily it was coming from a young, disconnected, discontented population – much like what we are seeing happen right now. It is an entirely different issue with today’s generation: they don’t have to resurrect herbalism, but there are a lot of things within themselves that they resurrecting. I was on the cutting edge of herbal renaissance of the 60’s, I was of that age, just graduating from high-school, I was restless and discontented, and I wanted to get back to the Earth. I grew up on a farm, very close to the earth. I had very early training in herbalism because of my grandmother; that is one of the things that really helped me and gave me a head start. I grew up in a very poor farming family, with 5 children. Families like my own were using natural remedies not because they were cool or because they thought they were any better – it was because that’s what they could afford and what they were familiar with. I always proudly say that in my family, with 5 children, there were only two episodes where we had to visit the doctors. Once when my older sister broke her hip, and then again when my younger sister swallowed rat poison. In those cases, the medical society was exactly what was called for.

The other thing that was helpful for me was having a grandmother who was very well versed in herbalism, I like to always clarify this was in the old sense of the word. She used herbs because that is what she was trained in and knew well. She was genetically programmed to work with the plants. We see this in many different humans beings, that there is a deep calling to become involved with the plant world. We see this in different families and communities. My grandmother was certainly one of those people, and probably if I had known my lineage going further back in time I would have seen it there too, stretching back through the generations. That’s how it usually is. My grandmother was a survivor of the Armenian genocide and she use to tell us that it was her faith in God and her knowledge of the plants that saved her life. She really felt it was almost a religious duty to teach us about plants, as food primarily, but also as medicine. How that all ties in to your question is simply that going back to the Earth for me meant going way up into the mountains, learning with a lot of the elders, a lot of Native people who are very into sharing their knowledge with non-Native people because most of the younger generation were not interested at that time in learning. What we found a lot with older people in different cultures around the world was that they were eager to share this knowledge and information with anybody who was called to hear it. Those were my earliest teachers: my grandmother and the elders that I met. They weren’t all elders; there were certainly younger people who were sharing knowledge and information freely with each other, too.

“I was spending a lot of time backpacking, spending time with the plants.”

In 1972 I opened my first herb store in Northern California. There was one other herb store in San Francisco owned by a wonderful elderly couple, it was a landmark. Eventually a third store opened in Southern California. These little herb stores became focal points for large communities to get their plants. There were other herbalists doing this by the way, pocketed in different areas throughout the country. The herb stores were one of the early ways of spreading knowledge, people in the stores weren’t just selling herbs, but also teaching and educating, helping and healing. At that time we were doing all of that very freely – the stores were more like clinics of a sort. Then what happened was around 1974, right after I opened my herb store I started hosting classes. I didn’t know very much, I was in my early 20’s, how much could I really have known? But what I did know was more than anybody else, so I just shared more than I taught in a formal sense.

Shortly after that, I started hosting herb conferences and this was very pivotal. They were actually quite large even from the beginning. The very first one was at Rainbow Ranch in Sedona County, 1974. 50 people came to that weekend, admission was $25, there was food and lodging and dancing and music, much like the events we see today, which are patterned after that first one. We started holding those seasonally, 4 times a year during the solstices and equinoxes. Those events just catalyzed herbalism in the United States. Many people were learning and became teachers; the conferences helped to create seed balls of herbalists that you just tossed out into the wind. We didn’t have really well known teachers at that time, but one of the things that we did do that I thought was always very progressive was that we invited whatever elders we could find that would come and share with us. We had people like Rolling Thunder, Sun Bear, Wallace Black Elk, Norma Myers, Juliette De Bairacli Levy, Dr. Christopher… Our desire was to host these elders who were the treasure keepers of herbal knowledge, carrying it forward at a time when it wasn’t popular, there wasn’t money to be made or anything like that. Somehow or other we knew how to recognize these people, who seeded us, inspired us. We were the children of that time, learning at the feet of these great masters. It was really so grassroots, all underground, that was the beauty of it because what was coming up was from the plants themselves. It wasn’t the white coats teaching us anything, and by that I don’t mean the medical profession – it wasn’t coming from the colleges and universities. It was very grassroots, coming from the Earth, and people absorbing this through the souls of their feet into the souls of their being.

“By the 1980’s herbalism was still pretty underground.”

There was a generosity that to me was so inspiring, there was never any “this is my knowledge, this belongs to me” – it was just what I would call a very eclectic sharing; people feeling humbled by this knowledge and proud to be able to pass it on. By the 1980’s herbalism was still pretty underground. After the conferences it was in 1984 or so that I founded the California School of Herbal Studies, which became the longest running and one of the most successful schools in the United States. It is still going on. It has always been successful from the day we’ve opened it because people were hungry for the knowledge. It was a combination of research and scientific information but definitely based on the heart and soul of plants. At that time almost all of the students and participants who would come to these events were younger people, they all had lots of hair and not much clothing! That was always my joke. Wonderful radical earth based people.

In the mid and late 1980’s we began to see herbalism spreading like a mycelial network – right around that time immune disorders became a major issue, we had the AIDS epidemic and that just skyrocketed the awareness and information about the immune system and immune damage. Echinacea – who I always call the great herbal diplomat – rose up. Even though part of American herbalism, Echinacea hadn’t been used very much apart from within the Native traditions. It was being shipped in massive amounts to European markets, but was not being used in the United States. Here is the beautiful purple coneflower that people were growing in their backyard and recognized; all of a sudden it was being used for the immune system – people used it and saw that it works. It was the first herb that made the headlines. It was beautiful and familiar; people could find it at their garden centers. Then the industry began to grow – we started seeing the herbal industry, which went from pretty much nothing to an enormous global marketplace. This brought with it wonderful success for many herbalists, but it also came with its own set of issues and problems.

United Plant Savers

Around the early 1990’s we first began to address these issues around industry, with herbalism becoming very popular and acceptable again. In 1994 we formed a small organization that has become national and is now spreading internationally, called The United Plant Savers. It was formed completely as an organization that could serve as a voice for the plants; instead of asking what the plants could do for us, we sought to ask what we could do to give back to the plants. That organization marked a real shift in American herbalism; we felt like we had really matured. We had been using plants, teaching about them, spreading the news about them, ‘we’ meaning hundreds and thousands of people at this point, all doing our assigned work here on the Earth. We had matured enough to realize that the plants were sacred medicine, very special medicine, and that we had a responsibility as plant lovers to give back. For myself, during the next 10 or 15 years that became my major work, I focused less on community herbalism, which I’ve always done, less on my work as a teacher spreading information on how we can use herbs, and spent a great deal of my effort, energy and resources on really trying to turn our focus to what we could do to give back to the plants and the earth.

rosemary gladstar overlooking owl's head

Fire Cider

Everything Herbal: The traditional herbal tonic Fire Cider has been a big issue in American herbalism in recent years, can you tell us about that story?

Rosemary: Fire Cider became another enormous issue amongst herbalists because up until this time, about 6 or 7 years ago when this all happened, herbalists had been very freely sharing recipes, oftentimes not claiming them as their own. Of course if you had a company or a business you often had to trademark your products because you were investing a lot of money in them, but within the larger community there were these traditional remedies that had been exchanged and traded, sometimes for centuries – like Four Thieves vinegar, for instance. Some recipes had been freely shared for decades, like Fire Cider. I had created the Fire Cider formula in the herb school with a bunch of students; it was a very creative process. I was teaching my students, we were making a product that had a very clear intention and we put together this formula that would be low cost, something that anybody could make, whether you are an herbalist or not. Fire Cider is something that you could go to the grocery store and collect the ingredients for and simply make in your kitchen. It is thought up as an easy and accessible tonic for the immune system, something to help ward off flus and colds. This formula I taught the first time in 1979 or 1980 at the California School of Herbal Studies. I printed it because I thought it was a great and useful recipe, it wasn’t any greater than a lot of the other recipes that I made, but it was one of those that became very well known. And it has just travelled out on its own the way that recipes should. My students taught other people, people started adapting it and making it their own, which is exactly what was supposed to happen. In truth most herbalists know that we don’t create anything, we are just vehicles, things come through us, we are building on our ancestors. I might have read that recipe in some ancient book and forgot about it. That is how long this information has been here. But nonetheless, everything was pretty happy, Fire Cider was part of this traditional collection of recipes that were considered to be collectively owned by the herbal community until a company – Shire City – came along. Now this was a young startup company who admitted that they were not herbalists and didn’t know anything about herbs. They had come across this recipe and they made it, thought it was great and shared it with friends, just like everybody had been doing for a little over 3 decades at this point. They started selling it at little craft fairs and started making money from it and they thought ‘aha! we are going to trademark this!’ And that is what they did, without telling a soul. The way that trademarks are set up in the United States is that you have a 6 month period to contest any new trademarks, but this company did not let anybody know that they had trademarked Fire Cider until after that window had closed. Then they started sending letters, very nicely written letters, to all the small companies who had been making Fire Cider and selling it saying ‘oh so sorry we have trademarked Fire Cider, it’s our recipe now and you are going to have to stop selling it.’

Fire Cider Picture

They were dealing with herbalists and they didn’t realize that herbalists are, by our nature, on the outside, on the fringes. We have had to learn to fight for what we believe in. There were times many years ago when herbalists were burnt alive for practicing. During the European inquisition, millions people were classified and persecuted as witches and part of what they did was practice the healing arts. Herbalists have stood up for what they believed in for centuries and we have been practicing a medicine that is illegal in the United States, so we were not just going to roll over. The herbalists Nicole Telkes, Mary Blue, and Kathy Langelier (now known as the Fire Cider Three) along with a group of others, decided that we were not just going to allow this to happen. If Fire Cider was allowed to be trademarked, any of the other traditional products that had been around for 10, 15, 200, 500, 5000 years could also be trademarked. What that would mean is that they would no longer be available for herbalists to make or sell. That just seemed totally wrong to us. It wasn’t a fight against trademark, it was a fight against trademarking traditional collectively owned recipes.

“We were forced to take a big stand”

The company turned around and sued these 3 women. We are not really sure why they didn’t include me in the lawsuit. For one thing, I hadn’t sold fire cider for 35 years, though I used to sell it in my herb store. I stood up for those women, and so did the entire herbal community. We all joined forces and insisted that this is not going to happen, you can’t take our traditional recipes away from us. You can make your own recipes, add something different or come up with your own product names, we wish you all the success in the world, but you can’t try to disrupt our traditions. This case ended up going to federal court, we spent 9 days in court fighting for traditions not trademarks and we won, thanks to our really good lawyers who donated their time to our cause. We are talking 5 full years that this lawsuit went on for. It was difficult and really challenging. There were lots of times when we were just worn out from it, it required lots of money, we all pitched in and helped to pay for it, and so did the whole herbal community.

“The community really rallied to support us.”

We felt that even if we didn’t win the case we won anyways because we stood up, that to me is the thing we always had to keep in mind: just by standing up we had taken a stand for what we believed in. When we did win it was an enormous accomplishment for the entire herbal community. This case was called a landmark case, a precedent setting case. Our victor not only meant that herbalists were protected but also that if you are an artist or some other craftsperson and within your craft there is a well-known product, somebody can’t just come along and trademark it. It doesn’t have to be something that is broadly known and recognized by the general public, as in our case herbalists are considered a subgroup of the population. Shire City argued in their defense that Fire Cider was only popular amongst a small group of people, and so it was fair game. The case was won based on the fact that even though we were a small subgroup of people, Fire Cider was well known in our community and so was to be kept free from trademark restrictions. In other words, this case not only meant that herbalists are now afforded better protection – it doesn’t mean that companies won’t come along and try to do this kind of thing again – but now we always have a case that we can refer to if such a thing does happen in the future. We are proud of ourselves for that, and also really glad that it is over!

Rosemary Gladstar Smiling

“What are your feelings about the way the herbal industry has shifted?”

Everything Herbal: Your actual battle was against the misuse of the trademark laws by a company that saw a profit making opportunity, which leads to another question: we have watched the herbal industry develop in the same way. I started my business [Faunus Herbs] growing Echinacea. The thing we see today is the institutionalization of herbalism, herbalism becoming part of mainstream culture. In Canada we see it being taken away from us and being given over to a group of people with no grass roots skills, no nothing: bureaucrats who are keen on monitoring and controlling things. And in the United States things are going the same way, things are being institutionalized and monetized. In Canada for instance you can’t even make a claim about a plant without being threatened with jail time. This is something you’ve been able to do for thousands of years, and it has now been taken away from us. What are your feelings about the way the herbal industry has shifted? It is great that herbs are now available everywhere, but there have been so many restrictions placed upon us. Our herbal formulas are works of art, analogous to blues tunes. One you record a blues tune, it becomes stuck forever, with the same notes, the same everything. But that is not what it is in essence. How do we guard against this rigidity coming into the sphere of our herbal knowledge?

Rosemary: We have been fighting this battle for a long time. In the 1980s we had a wonderful herbal organization called the American Herbalists Guild come into being. It is a professional organization and they were founded on the basis that they wanted to create standards for herbalists. They had really good reasoning: we need to set the standards before the government does. The larger herbal community said no, we don’t even want a group of herbalists to create those standards for us, because so long as we stay united in this fight we will eventually win. If we have a small group of herbalists who feel that their vision is the one to go on, then we stat to create divisions and hierarchies in our community. The intentions of these people who wanted to set standards for herbalism were incredible and some of the people who were behind this movement were brilliant practitioners and close friends of mine, but there was another group of us who just argued that we don’t want to do that, we don’t want another group of herbalists who say this is our recognized and acceptable course material, etc. We can see what happens with that: when you look at any institution that has allowed those officially sanctioned standards to dominate, they don’t end up serving the people. In our case, such standards would not serve the plants or the herbalists in the long run. Eventually after many years of dissension the AHG became more supportive of this other way, partly because there were a lot of young herbalists that became involved in the organization.

We have a small organization in America called The National Health Freedom Movement. I have been really educating people about this group and inviting their members to be keynote speakers at our conferences. This organization is comprised of lawyers who go state-by-state changing the laws, advocating for greater health freedom rights. You and I as citizens of a free country should have the right to chose the type of medicine we take and the practitioners that we consult with. Within these laws, called safe harbor exemption laws, are clauses that protect practitioners of non-licensed healing arts. So far in the United States we have 18 states that have passed these laws. I was on the board of directors of this organization for a time, but had to step down because of events in my personal life. Now my main way of spreading this news amongst herbalists is by inviting Diane Miller, a very powerful speaker, to be a keynote at our conferences. It is so important that this information about health freedoms and personal health choices gets out there. We as herbalists don’t need to get legalized by the government, we need laws put in place to provide us with freedoms and protections. These laws demand that we have integrity in our practice by, for example, always clearly stating where we have studied and for how long. This is important. Me, who has never had any formal training, I would just say I studied with my grandmother, founded my own school, and have been practicing for so many years, but don’t have any official credentials. And anybody who felt safe coming to see me would have the right to do so.

The other thing that these laws demand is that you don’t practice outside of the realm or scope of your profession. As an herbalist with very little medical training I won’t use medical terminology or medical diagnostic skills. These laws protect unlicensed practitioners. I am an enormous advocate of these laws, which have become very active right now because of COVID. The National Health Freedom Movement is a more radical group who feels that you should not have anything forced on you with regards to your personal health. Their big stand is health freedom rights for individuals. It is important that we have some form of protection just being herbalists, with or without certificates. It is dangerous when a government body starts telling us: this is how you have to be in order to be a practicing herbalist. I do think that medical standards can be good. There are some people for whom they are necessary, they just feel more comfortable with an herbalist who has medical training or who is accredited. I just think that as free citizens we need to maintain our freedom of choice.

When it comes to your own healthcare and that of your family, it is your right and not the government’s to step in and decide these things for you. People are today forgetting that, they are willing to let the government decide what you are going to eat, what you are going to put into your body, the kind of medicine you are going to use. Benjamin Rush, a doctor who signed the Declaration of Independence, said if we allow the government to decide what medicine we use, we will become a despotic nation. Thomas Jefferson made a very similar statement: the people have a right to choose what food and medicine they use. We have to be mindful; these kinds of regulations often come with good intentions. When the doctors got together in the mid 1800s with the aim of forming a medical association and setting certain standards, they ended up shutting down the Eclectic schools of medicine [a branch of American medicine which made extensive use of botanical remedies], which were some of the best medical schools we ever had in this country. By the 1940s, the last Eclectic school had been closed. These state licensed doctors went on to become the one and only medical system in America – and look at what has happened to medicine in this county, and beyond. Of course it is incredible and wonderful in some ways, but the way that it is set up doesn’t serve everybody, and is not well suited to all health conditions. It has become despotic in many respects.

We have spread this grassroots movement so strongly in the United States and I believe in Canada as well. In the United States I know that there are many thousands of us, community herbalists practicing out of our own homes and there is no way anyone is going to squelch that movement. Grassroots are very strong, they may go underground for a while, but herbs grow really well underground, the roots grow and spread well. You keep preaching and teaching and spreading that information and there is no way that it will ever be squelched again.

It is important to reiterate that this is just my view of American herbalism, we are a strong and very eclectic group and every person you ask will have a different story. I was there when it started mushrooming, and it was a very lively and exciting time. I’m grateful.

To learn more about Rosemary and her work, visit her online at:

Photos provided by both Rosemary Gladstar and Serena Mor

Pat Making a Wild Crafted Salad

An Interview with Pat Crocker

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 conducted with Nick Faunus, Penelope Beaudrow and Victor Cirone.

Everything Herbal: Tell us about yourself, and how you first became interested in working with healing foods and herbs.

Pat: I have been fascinated with food since I was young. We didn’t have Cola or candy of any kind in our house, so I learned at a very early age that if I wanted to feed my sweet tooth I had to learn to bake. So I baked everything! That is where my fascination with food started. I got focused on food when I went to university and knew that I was going to teach food and nutrition. After graduating, I taught high school students how to cook and then I segued into business, taking a leave of absence from teaching, to which I never went back. I freelanced for a variety of food companies, tested new products, wrote their copy, provided recipes. I then became interested in the area of food photography, and studied styling for food photography. Eventually I met up with another home economist who was freelancing and we realized that there was a better way than what the existing advertising agencies had going on, so we formed a public relations agency that focused specifically on food. We launched new products for companies like Heinz and Campbell’s soup; the conglomeration of Kraft foods didn’t exist at the time. Now there are only really one or two major food companies, but this is when they were all rather small.

When I met my husband and had a child, we moved to the country and I got focused and even more passionate about herbs and how herbs and food can affect healing. I took herbal medicine courses with a lot of great Canadian herbalists and started a little herb garden. We were living in a log cabin at the time, where I planted a herbal teaching garden, to which I invited many teachers. For 5 years we ran herb walks, going into the wild, down to the river. I was just down there the other day and I can’t believe all of the wild herbs that are thriving. Food and healing was always woven into whatever I was doing. Now I am introducing spirituality into my teachings and my writing because it is all coming together in a whole as mind/body/spirit.


Pat Crocker with Sweetgrass

Pictured: Pat Crocker harvesting Sweet Grass

“It was and is so important for me to give back and be part of that herb and food community in whatever ways I can.”

Everything Herbal: Can you tell us about your involvement with the Ontario Herbalists Association?

Pat: When we moved to the country I still had a lot of strong bonds and ties to Toronto. I had been a member of the OHA for a long time, when Keith Stelling was putting out ‘The Canadian Journal of Herbalism’. I would provide material pertaining to herbs and food, practical application recipes for the journal. I also worked with John Redden when we were doing the Herb Fair. They were very heady days; when we were down at Ontario Place we would get what would seem like tens of thousands of people coming in. It was huge. Eventually I became the president of the OHA for a couple of years. When I was living in Toronto I was also president of the Ontario Home Economics Association. It was and is so important for me to give back and be part of that herb and food community in whatever ways I can.


Everything Herbal: Those of us who were working in the herbal industry shifted away from the herbal associations because they didn’t really focus on our needs. And today we don’t have a lot of power; we don’t have a lobby of any kind. We have dealings with the government all of the time but there isn’t really a voice to speak for us. Many of the associations relating to industry are there for seemingly cosmetic reasons. There were attempts to develop the professional side of the herbal associations but it never really took off. It all feels like a missed opportunity. How do you feel about these issues?

Pat: Greed got in the way; many people are oriented around the thought: ‘what’s in it for me’ rather than: ‘how can I meaningfully contribute to the industry?’ It is a missed opportunity, but the time might be coming back. We need younger people with energy. It is really a full time job to run an active association of any kind, and it requires money and resources, and a dedicated network of people.


Everything Herbal: What was the long term vision that you and others had when you were involved with the OHA? Are we there now?

Pat: It was so long ago and we weren’t really politicized at that time, except for Conrad Richter who was actively going to Ottawa. When things started to become political, I was in the process of pulling back and moving to the country, coming out of my term in office. When I was president we were focused on the herb fair, which helped to raise the profile of herbal medicine in Ontario. We had vendors coming from all over. I think it is time for herbalists to start thinking about launching similar public outreach efforts, to help raise the awareness of herbal medicine amongst the general population.


“That’s the advice I can give to anybody: dedicated, quality time for your work. Use your evenings for dreaming and scheming.”

Everything Herbal: You are the author of some 24 books. How have you been able to maintain your productive/creative life over all of these years? What sort of boundaries do you set for yourself so that you don’t become burnt out? Can you talk to us about the importance of self care practices?

Pat: You have to start with clarifying your intentions. What is it that I need? And how can I help others? These are the two intentions I always start with. Self-care has to include a spiritual component. I started out with a meditation practice but didn’t hit my stride with it. For the last 6 months, every single day, I do two hours of spiritual work with Caroline Myss. She started out as a medical intuitive, and her offerings have been deeply transformative for me. You need to find what works for you. Routine and dedication are important: I have a structure when I am writing, I get up at 6AM and work for two hours, then have breakfast and come back to work at 9. There are no interruptions; my email and phone are off, and I work for 4 more hours, and then I’m done. If you can get 4 hours of dedicated quality time that is all the time you really need to work, to get some good writing done. My energy is high in the mornings and it wanes throughout the day, so I work with it rather than against it. I can leave all of the shopping and cooking and the telephone calls for the afternoon. That’s the advice I can give to anybody: dedicated, quality time for your work. Use your evenings for dreaming and scheming.


Everything Herbal: Tell us about the content of your books for those who are unfamiliar with them. What are you working on now, and how has your writing evolved over the years?

Pat: ‘Riversong’ is the book that came out of my time in the cabin, where all of the herb walks took place. That was the first book, which was a product of serendipity. My husband is an illustrator and he was called down to a meeting in Toronto. There was a new publisher who was just starting out and who had asked my husband to illustrate a children’s book. As chance had it, this publisher was also looking for cookbook authors, and so the door was opened for me. This first book was called ‘Riversong’ because the Saugeen River runs through the 18 acres where our cabin was situated. ‘The Healing Herbs Cookbook’ was my second title, which presented the recipes that I had developed from the herb walks. The concept I had was to actually talk about each herb at the beginning of the book in some detail. That quickly became the format for most of my books: I talk about the herb or the food, give a useful description, talk about the taste and flavour profile, the parts used, and the healing properties. ‘The Herbalist’s Kitchen’ came out in 2020, and it has even more of a focus on herbs than any of my previous books do. There I go into a lot of information on each herb. By the time I wrote ‘The Herbalist’s Kitchen’ I had been travelling and visiting many gardens, photographing herbs and herb gardens, and these photos made their way into the book. Now what I would like to do is focus in on the spiritual aspect of eating, and how discipline in eating can help you with discipline in your spiritual practice, or vice versa. The two go together. This is the area that I would like to serve now.


The waterfall by Pat's House

Pictured: Riversong Suites’ Waterfall


Let your food be your medicine…

Everything Herbal: We always come back to Hippocrates: let your food be your medicine. Life, food and spirit are inextricably connected, and there are so many traditions globally which emphasize the importance that our dietary choices have to our spiritual development, both individually and collectively. Fasting also has major spiritual significance for many. Fasting is a cleansing process, physical and emotions toxins can come to the surface during a fast, and having to face what has been buried is, in a way, a kind of shamanic practice.

Pat: The book that I am working on now starts by describing a 42 day way of eating that acts as a fast that serves to break old habits. My husband and I did it last year and it took me off thyroid drugs and high blood pressure drugs. My husband had a kind of itchy rash that looked like rosacea, it was starting to cover his whole body, and that is now gone too. I’ve also seen this fast help greatly with arthritis. This book will describe this fasting process in detail, which is basically no meat, dairy, no added oils in cooking, basically just fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. When it is done properly it is amazing. The discipline you get from doing that strengthens the discipline you need for spiritual practice, whether it is meditation or whatever form your practice takes. The two strengthen each other.


Everything Herbal: Food and lifestyle considerations have always been a part of spirituality. We can look to the intersection of Yoga and Ayurveda as a very clear example. Many people who are involved in yoga today have forgotten about this, as yoga has become a glorified fitness system. But the fact that Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences is starting to come into focus, as many people who have been engaged in yoga as an athletic practice are starting to realize that something is missing from what they are doing. Many ancient traditions respect and embody what you are describing, but the intricacies have been lost because of how things have been marketed and sold to people.

Pat: There is a lot of discussion about epigenetics in today’s food and nutrition world, concerning how our genes are affected by our thoughts, and how this controls our form. The connection between bad food and our negative thought forms is becoming clear to many. Sugars and additives, artificial chemicals and fillers in particular, actually block us from being able to discern truth, from being able to discern right from wrong. The toxins in our foods lock us into a viscous circle, and generate strong desires, cravings, and even a need for more and more bad food. When we are trapped in this way, it becomes difficult if not impossible for us to realize and become clear with our intentions, to learn to think for ourselves and step into our own power. What and how we eat has so much to do with this.


“Science is now catching up to what many of our spiritual traditions have been saying for thousands of years now.”

Everything Herbal: As we now know, the human body has an enteric nervous system, a network of nerves, neurons and neurotransmitters which extends along the entire digestive tract; basically, a second brain housed in the gut.

Pat: This is why people have always said ‘I just feel it in my gut.’ Intuitively, we’ve known this for countless generations. Science is now catching up to what many of our spiritual traditions have been saying for thousands of years now.


Everything Herbal: What are some important lessons that you think herbal elders should convey to the current generation of herbalists that are doing their training and just starting to practice?

Pat: We know where we have been, we need to look forward to where we are going. We are moving towards community, towards global cooperation. We are just now as a species understanding that what we do to one we do to the whole. We all breathe together. My advice to younger herbalists is to think about how they fit in to the emerging pattern of the global community, and what their role is when it comes to serving that larger sense of a cooperative and sustainable future. Herbalists are uniquely poised to understand this concept, it is inherent in the work that we do. We get this message of interdependence because we are so connected to nature. The herbalists who are coming up into the world now need to carry this torch a little further.


Pat Making a Wild Crafted Salad

Pictured: Pat putting together a wildcrafted salad with assorted flowers and herbs.


“Much of the work that I do involves stepping into the Wise Woman archetype…”

Everything Herbal: Can you tell us more about your vision of how herbal medicine fits into planetary ecology?

Pat: If we look at the world today from an archetypal perspective, one thing that clearly stands out is that we are experiencing global pandemic. It is not a coincidence that this pandemic affects our respiratory system. What are we doing as human beings? We are cutting down the lungs of the planet. We are slashing and burning the lungs of the Earth. To me, it is as blatant as the noses on our faces that we are now having to face our collective karma. What we do now is going to affect us and our collective future in so many profound ways. We really don’t have a lot of time to get things sorted. My vision is that we are moving from Homo sapiens to Homo luminous. To get there we’ve got to raise our consciousness from the physical, nuclear weaponry level to the level of regenerative archetypes, which we must learn how to step into and embody. Much of the work that I do involves stepping into the Wise Woman archetype, in an effort to help raise the consciousness of those around me. Herbalists can lead the charge in this direction, towards really making the connection between what we do in our own households, in our neighbourhoods, in our towns and cities – and how this affects the whole.


Everything Herbal: We need to address longstanding patterns of human behaviour, and this pandemic is a vital turning point. There are no coincidences. The pandemic is a portal.

Pat: The pandemic gave many of us in the Western world the time and space to reflect, we were forced to stop what we were doing. We were given time to devote to our spiritual practices, to reflect on what we were doing personally, it was time to disrupt and call into question our old and outdated habits and modes of thinking.


Everything Herbal: There are so many young people today who are plagued with crippling anxiety, and the pandemic has served to shine a light on this too.

Pat: Many people have been anxious their whole lives and they didn’t know it. Anxiety can manifest as weird behaviour and unusual decision making patterns. I am starting to realize that millennials, people born 20 – 40 years ago, were born with an open, intuitive energy system. They absorbed all of the energy that their parents were carrying. I never did that, I was in my own little world. What my parents were doing didn’t so greatly affect me. But every little nuance in my life affected my daughter, for example. We need to recalibrate and figure out how to move from being 5 sensory to multi sensory human beings. That is where we are going, and it is an uphill learning curve. Younger generations have come into the world with their energy systems open, and this is one of the main reasons behind the epidemic of anxiety that many young people are living out from today. The younger generation need more tools to recognize this situation, and have to learn to navigate it in such a way that leads to a regenerative future.


“We have to find a way to live in harmony”

Everything Herbal: Anxiety is often rooted in uncertainty and fear. And we live in an environment where everything is uncertain. The toxic environment poisoned food that we were discussing earlier is the prefect breeding ground for an epidemic of anxiety.

Pat: When we entered the nuclear age, that changed absolutely everything. Civilization has now come to a point where we can destroy ourselves. We can’t run away from that. We can’t get away. There is nothing we can create that will change this fact. We have to find a way to live in harmony and restore the planet before we blow ourselves up.


Everything Herbal: We need to be better people, don’t we.

Pat: Yes we do.


Everything Herbal: Coming back to the Wise Woman archetype, one of the things that we are seeing a lot of today in the herbal medicine world is the hyper-sexualization of women’s bodies as a means of generating attention and selling products and services. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

Pat: There is a deep incongruence that comes through in the situation you’ve just described. Culturally we are still teaching that women are sexual objects, advertising and cultural production is still stuck in that paradigm. There are many generations of accumulated religious and cultural guilt that we have been brought up in and that we are still holding on to. We exist in a legacy of the oppression of women and women’s sexuality, and this legacy goes back thousands of years. Until those images, until this whole cultural messaging system changes, it is likely that we are still going to have young women growing up thinking that the only way that they can hold any kind of power is to sexualize themselves.


Everything Herbal: It is important to emphasize the notion of the image; images have deep unconscious resonance patterns that they inflict upon us when we are exposed to them. The digital imaginary has only deepened our collective repressed fantasy life; collective repression is now being orchestrated on a massive scale through a regime of unwholesome, unlawful images. People are searching for meaning in a seemingly nihilistic world, and outwardly projected, programmed images are what is immediately available to them. But true meaning comes from inner pictures, from images that have their source in the soul.

Pat: That is one of our primary tasks going forward, learning to understand and harness our true power, which comes from within.


To learn more about Pat and her work, visit her online at:

Photos provided by Serena Mor

Grassy Path at Sunset

An Interview With John Redden

This interview was conducted in April of 2021 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, the first instalment of the series, is being published to commemorate the life and work of John Redden – a vital member of the Ontario herbal medicine community. John was a teacher to many herbalists and naturopaths, a scholar, and expert clinician. He has contributed in innumerable ways to the profession. John passed away peacefully in his sleep on Monday the 25th of October, 2021.

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

Everything Herbal: How did you become interested in herbs, what was your journey like? Can you take us through your timeline and share your personal evolution as an herbalist?

John: I went to university for pre-med with the intentions of becoming a doctor, a medical doctor. I worked in hospitals in the evenings, on the weekends, in the summers when I was finishing high school and into university. When it came time to pick my med school, my father being a doctor and professor at Northwestern University, I had options, but I was completely disheartened by medicine because I couldnt see the allopathic establishment really helping people. My whole life was geared towards becoming a doctor, and this was a hard truth to swallow. So I took a year off to travel and figure out what I was going to do with my life and I ended up travelling in England and Scotland and made my way towards this community called Findhorn. This was in 1977.

John Redden

While I was farming and working at Findhorn, I had experiences with nature spirits and I went from being a non-believing scientist, a good little scientist, to now being a recovering scientist. I turned my back on hard science and became a little bit woo-woo” because now nature is talking to me. While at Findhorn, I met members of the National Institute (NIMH) who were medical herbalists; these people put on lab coats and saw patients. And here I was thinking that herbalists were naked savages taking hallucinogenic drugs. I studied ethnobotany and thats what I was shown.

So I decided to study herbal medicine and ended up going back to North America in 1980, and there was a guy by the name of William LeSassier who was in town – he was a teacher of a lot of American herbalists. I also met Ed Smith of Herb Pharm, as he was just leaving Boston, at the Hippocrates Health Institute. I was taking courses there on wheatgrass juice, fasting and all that. Ed directed me to Richard Evans Schultes at Harvard. So I went and visited Schultes while studying with LeSassier. Schultes let me take a semester of his ethnobotany course and I had this hard science/ethnobotany at Harvard and then LeSassier teaching his tradition of medical herbalism. I met Native Americans, took the Hoffmann course, Terry Willards course, and then I either just apprenticed to the few herbalists that I could find while taking all these different courses. Occasionally I would meet natives in Ontario – such as Ron Wakahatig – who would take me into the bush. Ron could also talk to the nature spirits – the little people – and was very much into the history of Native healing. Ultimately I had my experience in chemistry, biology and the hard sciences balanced with heart knowledge of the direct communication with nature. The plants were – I hate to use the word speaking” to me but you have to say something… plants are alive and have a message that they give. Over the years, inspired by my time with Ed Smith, I started my own manufacturing business and made herbal products mostly for naturopaths, because most herbalists want to make their own products.

By 1983 I arrived in Ontario and discovered the fledgling Ontario Herbalists Association, and attended their meetings. They had a newsletter that was basically 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper that were stapled together, folded over and mailed to you – a little booklet. I was just a lurker in the OHA and I just received the newsletters and the journals, and in 1990 I volunteered to help produce a Herb Fair. At the time, the OHA was putting on these really rather hapless public presentations and they wanted to beef it up and get a slot at the Harbourfront Centre in downtown Toronto. Anne Bridgeman – an early member of the OHA – and I, created the Herb Fair which ran from 1990 to about 2005. For the first 10 years it was mostly Anne and I and a mass of volunteers. This was the largest herbal event in Ontario. We got more than 5000 participants, and the Harbourfront Centre guaranteed us a slot every year, it was the first Sunday in June. At first Richters Herbs supplied us with plants, followed by many others. It became a very successful and popular event.

But as the years passed Harbourfront and the City of Toronto became increasingly concerned with “regulations”. All these people who made herbal remedies didnt have any “licensure” – but nobody cared, it was a folksy event. Every year the city took away more and more rights from our vendors, and I backed out of it by the 10th year. The Harbourfront people even brought in a hot dog truck vendor! I made him go to the farthest corner of the Fair, and pestered him like a seagull until he left, it was just disgusting to smell this food with the scent of the herbs all around you. We had our own food vendors and I was the main cook for many years, and we produced 600 meals from noon to 5PM. But the city just kept trying to take it all away from us, and all of the permissions we were granted in our original contract were little by little taken from us.

I was really into serving the professional community as a manufacturer. I have my own clinic, and oversee two naturopathic doctors and my own practice and am a clinic supervisor to naturopaths from coast to coast, who email me daily with questions about their cases, and of course the answer is one of my herbal products. Ive got a professional wing and a grassroots wing. I always thought that it was the grassroots that was going to make the politicians change, not people sitting in an office wearing suits and carrying briefcases wagging their fingers at the government, trying to make them realize that they are the bad slaves of big pharma. The bureaucrats dont want to hear that; theyll just wait until the herbalists stop talking and simply go back to what they were doing. Ive always thought that the thing that would allow herbal medicine to really flourish is the grassroots movement; speaking directly to the people. In my efforts, I took over the OHA Journal and brought up its standards to the point that our journal was reaching universities across Canada and Europe. I thought we needed to have something to give to the public – courses, fairs, events.

“The grassroots movement needs to swell up …”

I remember a day, around the year 2000, that the Federal Health Minister got ambushed in Toronto, and was forced to face a crowd gathered in Nathan Phillips Square, a wave of people demanding that the NHPA (Natural Health Products Association) be formed. The biggest impression I got from that was that the people are going to make the politicians move because they can vote. Professional herbalists can put on a suit and tie and look as uncomfortable as they are and wag their fingers and not make as much of an impression as a grassroots action like that. Ive always believed that the folk movement has the power; herbalists are more like weeds, you mow us down and we come right back. Big government are never going to ever get rid of us but they are going to keep us as the poor cousins to the naturopaths and medical doctors, and because of that we have to make our appeal to the general public.

The oddity Ive discovered is that it is easier to get clientele in Toronto than it is “up north” in a village or small town, because many people in these remote locales prefer OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) to paying out of pocket. In Toronto there is sophistication and education and people are paying naturopaths big dollars to be treated. The naturopaths that I appeal to are not the little white powder pill naturopaths but the herbalist naturopaths. I did teach courses at CCNM (Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine), what they called Botanical Medicine, between 1995 and 2000, and then I kind of fell out of favour with the staff because I criticized naturopathic medicine a little too much. They are my “bread and butter” so Im careful but at the same time I do remind them that they are losing their roots by trying to become Doctors and impress everybody with their education. In my view, especially the first few years out of school, herbalists and naturopaths should keep a low profile until they have sufficient experience. If you are going to sit in an office with a patient sitting across from you, youd better be prepared. If you are just going to make products and take care of your friends and family, thats one thing; but if you think you can make enough money in a clinic, then get everything together before you start telling the world that you can do these things.

“I was able to shut down during the month of August and load my van up with bags and buckets and travel between Sudbury and Timmins, picking blueberries, mushrooms, and herbs to dry and process into medicine.”

Ive engaged in the world of online education, held courses in my shop, travelled, going to naturopathic conferences – I put on the suit and tie and comb my hair for them – and the rest of the time Im flannels and blue jeans. Ive covered the whole spectrum of herbal medicine as it’s available today, except that when I started I didnt have enough business to open my doors every day and sit in my office. So I was able to shut down during the month of August and load my van up with bags and buckets and travel between Sudbury and Timmins, picking blueberries, mushrooms, and herbs to dry and process into medicine. The blueberries I actually dropped off at roadhouse taverns, I would give them a tray of berries in exchange for a meal and storage space, and then on my way back from the North Id get my blueberries and mushrooms that I had stored. On my way back my van was full, front to back top to bottom full of wild crafted plants that Id then work to get into tinctures in the fall. In the winter Id be seeing patients and making custom formulas. Now I buy my herbs from herb suppliers that I like to support.

Another thing – in the 80s and 90s farmers were getting together to create an Organic Farmers Association and there were few standardized rules across the country that were backed by government regulation. The Canadian General Standards Board, the CGSB, has a standard for everything – from hammers to you name it. All of that is standardized, theres a government program for the manufacturing of just about everything, but for organic farming there wasnt. So I joined 50 to 100 other people and we helped create the first federal regulations in Canada that helped establish just “what is” organic farming, processing and sales. This document has been rewritten or updated many times and I only participated in the first two versions of it, and I realized Im not an admin guy, so I helped generate that and went to all of these conferences. I do still go to the Guelph organic conferences and places like that but I no longer want to work with the government, its too oppressive. So that is kind of my arc in a way.

The Canadian Journal of Herbal Medicine…

In the early years of the Canadian Journal of Herbal Medicine people were more interested in big American names and people who had published books, than the local Canadians. So the journal was always half and half. Our good herbalists like Christine Dennis, Walter Kacera, Anthony Godfrey, they were all publishing their work but we also needed contributions from people like David Hoffmann, Aviva Romm and other big names to help sell the journal. I took a leave of absence from my role as journal editor and went to Scotland to do a graduate program in medical herbalism. This was at a branch of the National Institute called the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine, associated with the University of Wales. You have to be more than 10 years a herbalist graduate etc. to get in and I was already 20 years in at the time. I took that course and while I was doing that I handed over the journal duties to others and the Board just kind of lost interest. Often, when people find out how much work it is to be the editor of a journal, they sometimes just let it die. When I came back I did one online journal which the OHA published for about a year or two, and when they updated their website that disappeared as well. I dont know why the journal, which I think was majorly important and a great outreach program for herbal medicine in Canada, has been ignored. Maybe a future board of directors would consider reviving it. The Canadian Journal of Herbalism – we were printing maybe 1000 copies, 500 circulated across Ontario, 200 across Canada, and the rest across Europe going to university libraries and to a few national institutes of medical herbalism, mostly British. Paper journals are going to die, but an online journal would be great. Im not interested in the job of being a journal editor anymore but there was a time when I had a lot of work, extracurricular work, for herbalism as a journal editor and I felt that was a good outreach.

Nowadays, with so much on Facebook and whatever else, people can easily broadcast around the world. Ive got little phone recordings that people took of me when I was giving herb walks at the annual Heartwood Herbal Gathering. Heartwood is now (was) the replacement for the Herb Fair as the largest herbal gathering in Ontario. It is a wonderful venue for herbalists to come together, spend time in the bush and with each other and share ideas, products, etc. This kind of thing is so important. Ive gone to Boston and the Great Lakes and Michigan for different herbal events. I dont like crossing the American border anymore, and besides, now these events are all online, we cant even have people face to face anymore. I dont know what to say about that…the last thing is, I believe that the herbal community of Ontario is suffering from isolation. We are not allowed to come together, and we need something. If this discussion were to be rebroadcast or shared in some way, thatd be really nice. Ive been in the OHA since 83and Ive been an herbalist since the 70s and went from heavy science to modicum science. To make tinctures youve got to use science, the correct solvents and times, and the proper staging; all of that is scientific. But when it comes to the way the herbs work, we can argue all day long about what actually is in the herb that is bringing about health. Or how do you best pick an herb. We all have our own point of view, and mine is just one.

Fenced Gate

Everything Herbal: Can you talk to us about your boundaries when it comes to being an herbalist?

John: The naturopathic doctor whose office is next to mine, was a doula attending births, and a woman of course. So if I got a gynecological case I often gave it to her because I preferred not to do gynecological exams, and that was partially out of fear of litigation and partially because I always thought that it was not a mans place. Just the fact that we call it gynecology’ – thats what men do. Women have been attending births through all history; women have always taken care of women. In medicine, men didnt attend births until they saw that it was another form of income, it was in the 17th century when they thought that they could take that over too. I will treat women but I wont do physical exams. That is one boundary Im clear on. I have very few cases that I turn away because Im not capable – the cases I turn away are people who are not cooperative. Its not my way or the highway, but for example, there are hepatitis C patients who had really terrible lifestyles that generated their condition, and they just wouldnt give up drinking, just wouldnt have protective sex. They would come to me with terrible lesions on their skin and they would get better but then they would start lapsing again, drinking and partying to excess, and Id give them one warning – this is the last time Im going to clean you up, and if you come back to me in a wretched state Im sending you along. That was a boundary. If a patient cant do the work its not an holistic and appropriate approach to just treat their disease by covering it over. You have to treat their lifestyle, their spirit. The people who would come to me and didnt want to change, who just wanted to be able to do their thing and take the herbs to maintain a baseline of health; thats a boundary line.

“I do use narcotic and toxic herbs because I know how to.”

By that I mean I can use Belladonna, Datura, Kratom, Ephedra, Strophanthus; these are herbs I would not give to a beginning herbalist to use. But half of them you can find or buy and they have to be used in the correct context. My boundary on that is I have to make the product in such a way that the patient cant poison themselves. So if Im using belladonna Ill add it to a compound where theyve got to drink a bottle to get even close to a toxic dose. You cant give someone a big bottle of Ephedra, theyll have a heart attack, but you can give them 10ml if there is a fear of them going anaphylactic. Precautions like that can save someones life. People carry those epipens, but those are notoriously unreliable, they expire and break down. So I give some of my allergic patients little emergency bottles with Ephedra and then a compound containing Ephedra. Those are the main boundaries. There are also boundaries of propriety, what is the best way to treat somebody? If a person has a condition that is beyond my skill set I just open the rolodex – a quaint concept, and send them to other people. I ask my patients: do you want me to give you counselling or do you want to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist? And I have a list based on the kind of lifestyle psychotherapy that they want. And thats about it when it comes to boundaries.

Cobwebs in the Sun

Everything Herbal: Speaking of hepatitis C, the herbal industry had a large role to play in the AIDS epidemic…

John: HIV was not a death sentence if you did certain things and avoided doing certain other things. You can live with HIV. HIV and hepatitis C often came together. It was mostly the guys from the “gay village” in Toronto that were coming to me and it was very difficult to make lifestyle changes with many of them, there is no judgment, its just that you cant have hepatitis and spend the weekend drinking. You just cant drink hard liquor all night long and expect your hepatitis to be treated with herbs.

Everything Herbal: Right at the beginning, between about 84-88, most in the established medical profession wouldnt even allow someone with AIDS to come into their surgery, they wouldnt even touch them. There are people today who are still alive with HIV because of herbs.

John: The same is true of many cancer patients, too. I have patients who chose between surgery, chemo and herbs and it was a tough call, they had no herbal knowledge but were so desperate, and some of them of course did surgery and chemo and then the cancer comes back and they couldnt do it a second time. Dante only went to hell once. These people just couldnt go through with it a second time so they show up in my office and they didnt know anything about natural medicine but were desperate. In those early days medical doctors were such failures. Now theyve learned how to copy our success and call it their own because theyve got the ticket, the office, theyve got OHIP, or they are paying Big Pharma to copy our products. A lot of the pharmaceutical products are not nearly as vital as a crude tincture, as plants from the ground. The medical doctors have step by step, copied naturopaths and taken them into their office and a few of them are copying herbalists.

Of course the Hoxsey formula has been treating cancer patients for over 100 years. But yes, I remember those days when desperate people sat looking at me with a death sentence, and the first thing I had to assure them of is: no, hepatitis C is not a death sentence, HIV is not a death sentence, cancer is a word not a death sentence. Doctors are given such authority in our society…

I think knowledge is for sharing, I dont believe I own knowledge, I discover things and I publish it. Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus, yet they were not in communication and across the channel from each other, so calculus existed before either of them discovered it. The same thing is true with herbal knowledge: you read enough ancient books and you realize that they knew things that we are still discovering, they just used a different language. Whatever I know, I dont take credit for except that Ive aggregated pieces of information that maybe someone else didnt associate and then re-present it so that things make sense. A good comedian only talks about daily life but makes it funny because being shown reality in a different light. A good author is just talking about daily life but makes it so that you can see it and get it.

Silhouettes of People

Everything Herbal: with regards to women in herbal medicine, why do you think it is that our herbal industry seems to be more led by men than women?

John: I think it is older men who have dominated herbal medicine because women took care of family and children and that division of labour was more common to the generation that Im from. But if you go to the naturopathic school today, they have 400 students there, 100 new students a year, and today about 95 of them are women. Similarly with medical school. I think that women are taking over medicine altogether. Now the professors and old timers are men, and I dont think that is right. Women, I believe, are better suited to practicing medicine than men; until men develop an understanding of their inner female. Everybody has a male and female inside of themselves. And medicine is a feminine practice, care-taking is what women do. The mother wrapped her skirts around her children; the men pushed them out the door. I think it only appears that men are dominating herbal medicine, but I see more women everywhere coming up and it wont be but a generation before men are the smallest element in herbal medicine and in orthodox medicine, while women bring about the heart element. I dont agree that men dominate herbal medicine, the women have already outnumbered the men.

Everything Herbal: Yes but it is the more famous herbalists who tend to be men, the public figures that people have heard of…

John: Christine Dennis is an amazing herbalist but she has never written a book. And so when I look at my bookshelf, and yes I have Jill Stansburys text… I cant find a Canadian book on my bookcase. The closest books to me right now are the ones that I reach for most often, just above my desk, and there is not one Canadian woman there. And I agree with you about this element of male dominance, but again it comes back to us still living in the shadow of the previous generation. People whose books are on my shelf tend to be people who are mature in their careers when they wrote them, and they were mostly men. One very good exception I can think of is Clinical Naturopathic Medicine by Leah Hechtman – it is the #1 clinical textbook. And Aviva Romms textbook that she wrote while she was in med school. And there is a great handbook by Marisa Marciano, a pocket hand book that is a very good for students. Other than that I dont have any womans books up here, certainly no Canadian womens books, and I lament that. I keep saying to people: step forward. Women need to introduce a kind of quality that men do not, into medicine.

“The thing that you might find in my essays, or if you sit in my clinic, is the spiritual element of herbal medicine, which is deeply important to me.”.

Grassy Path at Sunset

The name of my business, Viriditas, comes from Hildegard of Bingen. Viriditas is a word that Hildegard gave for the life force, but she is a Medieval author and the inquisition would have killed her if she said anything that was not accepted. She had to couch all her language to be accepted by the Church, she was in the Church as a nun. She had a birthing centre, a clinic, a garden where she grew the herbs, and a lab where she made her medicine. So Viriditas was not just a life force but the life force that had directive. This directive came from the divine part of creation, it was the will of God. In Hildegard you have a very clear hierarchy from the Earth to Heaven, a conception that all things are guided by some divine will. It took a visionary like her to perceive that will in nature – but you still can use her herbs and formulas. She also uses gemstones and prayer. Most of medicine, until the advent of Anglo-Saxon medicine and Renaissance medicine, every tradition of herbalism involved prayer or incantation. You had to invoke some being besides just taking a cup of something. Everything had to be linked, songs, rituals, medicine. Lots of people still have rituals to reorient a person socially and back into nature. When we think that herbs are just herbs, just bottles of liquid or pills, without any other element… well, then we are lost at that point, and our medicine is lost too. I really like to speak to that because it is a part of my practice to reorient people back into society and nature. For North American Natives, drumming is how they do that. Everybody has to make a drum, play the drum, know the traditional songs, and when they sing them there is a lesson that goes with it. That is a spiritual medicine. But if you are in the city of Toronto, I cant ask my patient to build a drum, or have a stack of drums in my closet and sell them drums – that is not part of my tradition, so I have to find other means. I have a lot of strong opinions and I dont mind giving them…

John Redden

Photos of John provided by Taylor, with additional photos provided by Serena Mor

Book page Native American Herbal 1996

Everything Herbal Book Club: July 2021

Herb Nerd Alert! Who wants to join us in a new bi-monthly Herbal Book Club? We have the perfect book to start us off:

The Weaving: Plants, Planets and People: Explorations through Time

The Weaving: Plants, Planets and People: An Exploration Through Time

Author: Abrah Arneson

"Between the covers of this book, we will discover a blend of plant wisdom and a love of astrology blended in a cauldron of storytelling and poetry. Not merely an herbal compendium, not only historic storytelling and a weaving of ancestor history, The Weaving: Plants, Planets and People follows the path of herbal medicine from roots in the Earth to planets in the Sky. Abrah Arneson brews up magic on each page."

For more information and and links on where to purchase this book, check out this book's Goodreads page: here

Feel free to discuss and comment your thoughts under our upcoming book club posts on our Instagram and Facebook pages! Within the next couple of months we will also offer a zoom chat with the author for a more in depth experience. Abrah will read her favourite passage and we all can discuss and share the wisdom found between these pages.

We're super excited to start this new section in our blog to help share interesting resources and support our fellow herbalists! If you have any book club recommendations that you would like to suggest for a future feature, send us a message!

Stinging Nettles in Bowl

Cooking with Herbs: Stinging Nettle Soup


  • 1 lb/450 g or more of Stinging Nettles (young tender shoots preferably harvested in early spring)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 cup uncooked basmati rice
  • 8 cups vegetable broth stock (or use 2 organic vegetable bouillon cubes)
  • More salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnish: cashew nut cream or regular cream (optional)


1) Wearing latex/rubber gloves sort out the harvested stinging nettles and remove any thick stems.

Stinging Nettle Sorting

2) Wash the stinging nettles and drain.

Stinging Nettles Drying

3) Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 1 tsp of salt added. Blanch the stinging nettles in the boiling water for about 2 minutes. This will remove the sting so you can chop it.

Stinging Nettles Cooking

Use a large spoon strainer to remove nettles from the pot. Put them in a colander and run cold water over it to cool it down.

Do not drain the nettle water, reserve it to make your vegetable stock broth.

Stinging Nettles Blanched

4) Fry a chopped onion in the pot. Add the reserved nettle water along with two stock cubes.

Bring to a boil and add the rinsed basmati rice. Always rinse your basmati rice a few times with water until the water is clear.

Add rice to the pot and simmer for 8-10 minutes.

5) Now add the chopped stinging nettles. Simmer for about 5 minutes, do not overcook this nutritious pot herb. Add ground black pepper to taste. You may not need to add more salt.

Soup Before Blending

6) Turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender puree the soup. You can enjoy this soup with or without cream served in the bowl.

Soup Being Blended


– Recipe contributed by Karin M

Did You Know?

  • The botanical name for Stinging Nettle is Urtica Diocia
  • Nettles are a Nutritive (a class of plants that are rich in vitamins and minerals; a source of easily assimilated nutrients. Ideal for those suffering with anemia.)
  • Cooked nettles are both salty and sweet. The stronger, salty flavor indicates the high level of minerals and the sweet flavor encompasses elements that build up tissues and strengthen the body.

Stinging Nettle Soup in Bowl

Cup of tea with some books

Conversations with Nick and Penny: Why "Everything Herbal" and Why Now?

Question: Why "Everything Herbal" And Why Now?

A Conversation with Nick and Penny

Nick and penny with a book


Our Primary Objective

Our primary objective is to give back to the herbal community for all that it has given to us. We aim to support and help uplift herbalists in Canada and abroad, and promote the vital work that plant people have tirelessly dedicated their lives to.

It is really important to us that we help and support herbal enthusiasts and practitioners of herbal medicine and their patients. We want to help students and those with a general interest in plant medicine to find premium quality, sustainably and ethically produced medicines and supplies. Those who are looking to learn about herbal medicine need to be able to find accurate and reliable educational resources. How best to grow herbs. How to source plants and seeds. How to spread awareness of endangered plants and help restore and bring vitality back to our increasingly threatened ecosystems.

A Reliable Source for Information

Sadly, there are too many places online where disinformation runs riot, and this only serves to demean the work of the herbal community at large. We are here to uplift and support our community, not just to be critical and point fingers. Now is the time for us to join together and help spread the news of herbal medicine to everyone. Herbal medicine is, and always will be, the medicine by and for the people.

The Everything Herbal team has decades of combined experience in all aspects of herbal medicine, from the field to the consulting room. Some of the members of our team are getting older, and would like to pass on the experience that they have acquired. Herbal medicine has always been a generational practice. Both teachers and students benefit when knowledge is transmitted in this way. In a field so vast and complex, it is easy to make mistakes, but when the younger generation works with its elders the integrity of the work that is carried out can be maintained at a higher level. Learn from those that came before you and avoid repeating their mistakes. Then create something even better!

Having spent a lifetime working in the herbal medicine world and dealing with the forces of industry, we have seen more than our fair share of deceit, manipulation, lies and untruths. It is unethical and cruel to sell products based on lies, hype, and inflated marketing claims. Rather, we believe in working from a rooted foundation, with solid science, detailed study and rigorous experience backing what it is that we do. With the over regulation of herbal products in Canada and the EU, for example, much of the skill, science and art of herbalism has been taken away from many herbalists and ensconced in the bureaucratic establishment, doled out and monetized, to those willing to play the game.

Back to Herbal roots

Yes, we want Everything Herbal to be subversive - but in a positive way. Just because you are told not to do things by those who don’t know any better, does not mean you cannot or should not. Many important herbs have been restricted by the medical establishment, and become out of the reach of real herbal practitioners. Much herbal tradition has been forgotten, including a great deal of insight from the folkloric, mystical and magical traditions of the past, which have been victimized and denigrated through prejudice and fear.

We care deeply about bringing herbal medicine back into everyday use. In the industrialized world, much of the common household knowledge that was held by our ancestors and used to help maintain the health of the community, has been forgotten, and even disparaged. Reviving this forgotten knowledge will help sustain our society, and play a major role in creating a healthier, happier and more equitable and compassionate world.

It is not our intention to cast ourselves as the authority on anything. Quite the contrary. Our aim is to bring us all together and to help create a brighter future under the banner of humility, mutual cooperation and respect. When we work together as a community our shared knowledge and experience will be taken more seriously and will be shown the respect that it deserves. Genuineness and truthfulness are at the core of this endeavor.

Many of us in the herbal community have been isolated from each other for far too long. We are looking forward to creating a brighter, greener future, together.  


Nick and Penny Talking

If you have any questions or topics you would like us to talk about and discuss, please send us a message or email!