By: Molly Meehan of Centro Ashé Community Herbal Center
Farmers markets, CSA's, and local foods restaurants have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Consciousness around food justice, seasonal eating, and supporting our local farmers have become more and more commonplace. Yet herbalism, another a land-based life path that is also central to our health, culture, and traditions, has remained on the fringe and is often stigmatized or poorly understood. The reasons are layered, but includes the dominance of big-pharma which relies on having a dependent population that does not question, the availability of both accurate and inaccurate herbal information online, as well as the systematic dismantling of traditional knowledge using divisive tactics over time.
Here are some ways you can support your own vitality and wellness, learn more about medicinal plants, and join in supporting the creation of a thriving local herbal movement in the DMV and beyond!
1) Buy Local - support your community herbalists and herb farmers at the local food and farmers markets. When you see an herbalist at your local farmers market with a table full of teas, herbal salves, elderberry syrups and more, go say hello! Ask them questions if you don't know what something is. This way you create a relationship with those growing your food and herbs and you can be sure they are chemical free, sustainably grown, and that the people growing them are earning a living wage. Check out the beautiful works of Community Farm Alliance farmers and herbalists at Petworth Farmers Market stand. We love to see our friends at Chesapeake's Bounty have local herbal products on the shelf side by side with local foods, and how chef Terrance Murphy incorporates healing herbs in his We'll Juice Mobile Shares.
2) Join an Herbal CSA - Community Support Agriculture is an awesome way to incorporate local and seasonal foods into your diet, while support your local farmers. But did you know there are several Herbal CSAs in the DC/MD/VA area? They herbal offerings range from weekly shares, to add-ons in traditional CSA's, to quarterly seasonal boxes that have herbs formulated towards common ailments during that season. We love the cooperative work of the Community Farm Alliance bridging local foods and herbs. We also do a four season Herbal CSA at Centro Ashé, one beautiful box of herbs formulated with herbs harvested from each season.
3) Attend Local Plant Walk or Herb Class - The best way to begin to understand the world of medicinal plants is to get our there and explore, learning more from your local experts! Learn to connect with plants on many levels . . .Join in on a local class taught in our area . . . go out on a plant walk with Yuma "Docta Yew" Bellomee in the DC area to sharpen your knowledge of the medicinal plants growing around you, if you're in the Baltimore area, we love OHerbals, Ecohermanas has an array of gardening and earth based workshops, Caryl Henry Alexander offers beautiful programming bridging, community, art and plants, or come down and take an herbal class or even our herbal apprenticeship program at Centro Ashé.
4) Invest in an Herbal Wellness Consultation - Modern allopathic medicine can be life-saving, no doubt about it. But incorporating healthy lifestyle strategies including the use of medicinal herbs is unparalleled at preventing as well as supporting our healing from chronic disease. The DC area is full of incredible holistic wellness practitioners, you can check out Maribel Rodriguez from Marble Arch Gardens, Nazirahk Amen, ND, L.Ac. from Wisdom Path Healing Center, Geoff Edwards of Nu Healing Arts, Mae Wright from 7 Generations Botanical Medicine and Clinical Nutrition, Karen Culpepper a gifted herbalist and massage therapist, and we do herbal consultations at Centro Ashé as well.
5) Support Accessible Affordable Holistic Healthcare - Support organizations providing holistic care at affordable/free costs to those who need this access. And don't forget, its not just non-profits that deserve your support, I know plenty of independent herbalists and educators that are just as (if not more) productive in what they're putting out into the community. Yet without access to grant funds that non-profits have which allows them to lower their prices, they are able not to make a living. Check out the important work of Sign of Jonah Partnerships in Healing in DC providing holistic services to all with a particular focus on serving people who are transitioning from homelessness; people living with HIV; people in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse; and people with chronic mental health challenges. Mamatoto Village is doing incredible work providing low cost holistic healthcare to mamas and new families and training community-based birth workers.
6) Direct your resources towards those dismantling inequitable, racist, and unjust healthcare and food systems . . . The herbal movement has a long way to go in developing meaningful dialogue and collective action regarding health justice. It is encouraging to see the increase in projects providing low and no cost herbal and holistic clinics around the United States. However there is a virtual absence of people of color in the dominant herbal movement's dialogue, cultural appropriation is pervasive, and there is a wide-spread lack of acknowledgement or meaningful exploration of the true contributions various non-European communities have made in shaping our herbal practices here in the US. This has lead to the perpetuation of a story of herbal medicine past and present that is void of depth and ignores entire communities. It is imperative as a movement that we cultivate safe space for new voices to be heard in order to change the story being told. There is lots of incredible work being done out there . . In her important work on "A People's History of Herbal Medicine," herbalist Ayo Ngozi engages in ongoing dialogue on US Herbal History through the lense of women and people of color. Check out the intersectional work Queering Herbalism is doing exploring brown and queer contributions in herbalism. The Usisi Circle works with young women of color empowerment including holistic wellness is based in Baltimore.
We have much to learn from the Food Sovereignty Movement and those doing this important work right here in the DMV including Black Dirt Farm working in Baltimore and based on the ancestral lands of Harriet Tubman as well as the Green Scheme based in DC. Tune in To Heal DC with Joni Eisenberg to join the community based conversation on health and wellness on WPFW! And please come support the abundance of locally based herbalists we have on our teaching staff at Centro Ashé by attending our programs, together we are collectively working to share a wholistic and evolving perspective of herbalism in the DMV!
7) Engage the Youth & Honor Our Elders! The more we expose our young people to herbs, plants, etc the more natural this knowledge and healthy practices will be integrated into their lives long term. Engage our elders in sharing their experiences and knowledge of herbs, they are incredible wisdom keepers! We love Eco City Farms in Hyattsville, and particularly the incredible youth programming they have around food and herbs. We love the new mobile Living the American Indian Experience program from our friends Cedarville Band of the Piscataway Indians engaging youth and elders alike on native culture including connections to food, land, and plants. Our friends at Charm City Farms in Baltimore have incredible and engaging programming for youth. Plus we have an Herb Camp for Kids each summer at Centro Ashé plus an entire youth track at the Chesapeake Herb Gathering!
8) Patron Your Local Apothecary & Herb Shops - Check out Blue Nile Botanicals in DC, if you are an herbalist or practitor source from Mortar and Pestle Apothecary in Takoma Park, and give some love to Smile Herb Shop in College Park.
9) Avoid Using Over-Harvested Medicinal Plants - Instead use local ones! When you are going to use herbs to support your wellness, make sure you are using abundant and better yet bio-regional herbs! Using local herbs help cut down on the carbon footprint on shipping herbs around the world. Learn how to responsibly and sustainably harvest the herbs you use. Did you know there is growing research on the medicinal uses of "invasive" species we have here in the mid-Atlantic such as kudzu and Japanese knotweed? We must be stewards as we heal. Also, make sure to stay away herbs that are at risk of being over harvested in their natural habitat, check out the United Plant Savers "At-Risk" and "To-Watch" lists to know which herbs we need to work to protect, and become educated about herbs you can use instead
10) Support Herbal Farming in the DMV - Look folks - farming is not easy. (Understatement of the century!) On a daily basis I watch my friends who farm sustainably and agro-ecologically. I am in awe of the perseverance, technical knowledge, physical endurance, and energetic connection to the earth embodied by each of them. If people really and truly knew and honored what our farmers do to get food and herbs in our bellies then we as farmers and herbalists would never have to feel deflated when people complain about our prices. Additionaly, regulations and policy has a long way to go to support herbal farming in our area, the state of Maryland only has one farm that has successfully navigated the complex legal permitting process in order to grow and process their herbs, Habanera Farm. Lets give them some love and become educated advocates for policy that can change this and support farmers with new income opportunities through growing herbs while our providing our area with locally sourced herbal products. Join the conversation on the upcoming Chesapeake Herb Gathering as Henriette and Chris from Habanera Farm share with us their experiences going through the process for legal processing of medicinal herbs in Maryland. We'll have the amazing Becky Cecere Seward and Mark Spires of Prickly Pear Produce sharing strategies on growing medicinal plants as well. And speaking of . . .
11) Come to the Chesapeake Herb Gathering this September 26-27, 2015! We cordially invite and highly encourage you to come to this year's Chesapeake Herb Gathering, an annual inter-generational event bringing together DC/MD/VA area herbalists, ethnobotanists, farmers, homesteaders and more to exchange and build upon this knowledge here locally. We have 25 DMV based speakers this year, an entire track just for youth, and are truly honored to highlight the abundant knowledge we have here in our area. This year is we are raising funds for Sign of Jonah Partnerships in Healing! Since our first Gathering in 2013 we have continued to grow in community and expand our workshops - please check out the full event info, speakers, schedule and more at www.centroashe.org