Good Medicine Classes: Materia Medica + Constituents
This year’s Good Medicine Confluence, our 10th Anniversary (!!!), has some of the most unique and interesting (subjective, but I’m allowed) classes of any we’ve hosted or that I’ve seen listed other places. Every year classes seem to come in and almost arrange themselves in discernible patterns that we can neither predict or entirely control. We try to be adaptable to what’s coming for applicants and attendees and schedule classes accordingly. Our focus on practical skills, ecology, the plants themselves, sensory delight, and story are a constant through all the other changes, but I’m always excited to see what new topics will arise!
Herbalism is such a vast and diverse field that there seems to be endless opportunities for new ways of looking at and practicing herbal medicine. While many of us primarily think of herbalism as a clinical healthcare field, there’s plenty of room for more indulgent ways of working with plants, as with brewing and aromatics. Likewise, medicine making can be, by turn, either simple and common sense, or intricate and delicate work, and we try to present a broad spectrum of possible complexity and difficulty.
I know that many of the folks interested in the Confluence would like more information and insight into what they’re getting when they sign up for a ticket, so I’ve planned out a series of posts highlighting the classes scheduled for this year, and the teachers presenting them. Even for those of you unable to attend, I hope you’ll find some inspiration in these topics and their descriptions. I know that I’ve often found myself pondering a whole new way of approaching a subject after reading about someone else’s class.
I’m going to start where I always do, with the plants! I would venture to say that all of our classes delve deeply into the wisdom and ways of the plants, but these classes are focused around a single plant, a group of plants such as a plant family, or specific constituents. And in one very interesting class, we’ll learn how the fungal and bacterial critters that grow along and within the herbs and seem to, in many cases, either critically impact or actually BE the medicine of the plant. Dr. Marija Helt’s class on endophytes is a fascinating jumping off point for materia medica, constituents, and how we view and experience plants as medicine.
I don’t even know how to arrange all this amazing stuff. A whole class on Thistles?! Misfit weeds? Archetypal plant medicines of Oz? I mean... wait, what? I think our teachers are brilliant and incredibly creative, and while some of the credit certainly belongs to the plants, I’m proud to have each of these folks teaching! I hope you enjoy perusing the classes, and I’ll be back soon with more classes in the different categories. Brewing + Mixology next, or Ancestral Herbalism? I can’t decide....
Also, if you ARE interested in attending our 10th anniversary Good Medicine Confluence, then be aware that the ticket price goes up at the end of the month, so get your tickets now! Also, this is the last year the Confluence will be available in this format. What comes after is still a surprise... but if you love the huge number of herbal classes, labs, and intensives concentrated into these five days and have always wanted to come, be sure to do it this year! Find out more at http://planthealer.org - there’s even a tentative schedule available, as well as all the class descriptions and logistical information!
The Gift of Rhizome Medicine
Solomon's Seal is one of our most underused and underappreciated North American herbs. It is a sweet nutritive herb, considered a "structural panacea", having a strong affinity for the musculo-skeletal system. Solomon's Seal works to deeply nourish our connective tissue, restore essential fluids to the body and to soothe and cool irritations. In my practice it is my go-to herb for anyone experiencing fractures, sprains, injured ligaments or tendons, arthritis, tension myositis syndrome or other trauma related tension/injury. It is also a superb herbal ally for hot, tense digestive issues and for hormone health. Solomon's Seal is safe, easy to cultivate and holds a wide range of application. Surely it deserves a spot in every American herbalist's apothecary! During this workshop I will present to you a monograph on Solomon's Seal, formed from research of traditional uses, folklore and through my own personal clinical experiences. With this workshop I seek to inspire you to deepen your relationship with Solomon's Seal, and I seek to explore with you the gift of rhizome medicine.
Everything Good About Thistles
This class by Durango area herbalist and noted wildcrafter Katrina Blair will highlight the brilliance of thistle as food, medicine and as stewards of the earth. We will learn how to use all parts of the thistle for culinary delights and medicinal health support including the roots, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds. Thistles are often seen as a weed and this class will offer examples of how they regenerate and fertilize disturbed lands while offering a haven for pollinators. We will also learn the basics of organic weed mitigation for thistles when this path is required by current regulations. This class includes delicious edible samples and experiential learning.
A Motley Crew of Misfit Herbs:
The Medicine of Plants People Love to Hate
Phoenecia Monet Chaidez
You have heard of them. You may have even seen them. Called them a few nasty names; given them the stink eye upon finding them in the organized chaos of your wild garden. Oh no, Knotweed! Ragweed... achoo! We are all probably guilty of throwing out a few expletives upon meeting these plants, no matter how profound our love for herbalism may be. The suffocating ways of Kudzu, blistering Trumpet-Vine, Albizia and her countless offspring, the messy Sweet Gum and more. One of them sneaks in to conduct reconnaissance, then after determining the path of least resistance, they invade en masse. But are they truly invaders come to conquer an ecosystem and manipulate a biome, or are they possibly refugees in a mass exodus from an otherwise unsuitable habitat? Maybe they are groups of healers tasked with repairing an ecosystem that was on the verge of destruction or that has suffered damage at the hands of our human species. These misfit botanicals have, at times, been blamed, vilified, and sentenced to the death penalty simply for existing. Or are they guilty of aggressively coexisting and domination? Could it be that in their abundance, they are asking to be of service? In this class, we will discuss all sides of the issue, while discovering the medicinal and ecological value these plants possess. From fighting the flu to purifying the atmosphere; cleaning up skin afflictions to likewise cleaning up heavy metal toxicity in the earth, these cursed plants have stood the test of time, therefore deserving of their place in our hearts, our apothecaries and the earth.
Hands-On Demonstration Lab:
First Aid From The Trees:
Create Your Own Kit With Poplar, Fir & Siberian Elm
Balm of Gilead, soothing throat lozenges and traditional European coniferous resin salve are 3 of the exciting, ancient and well proven effective first aid medicines that we will be making in this workshop. Bringing in stories of traditional and non-traditional uses as we toil and trouble over the boil and bubble of the pots of sticky goodness, we will be talking in depth on the many applications of tree medicine, including how in many bioregions it is the most sustainable and accessible medicine in a survival situation. Medicine, preserver of foods, fire starter, light giver are to name just a few of the uses. We will be talking about proper Identification, sustainable harvesting, tricks and tips for an easier and cleaner harvest, preservation techniques as well as a detailed materia medica of each tree covering the medicine we make and the various uses in first aid situations. First aid is not only medicine but also an attitude. As we prepare the medicine to take home for our own First Aid Kits we will discuss pros and cons to packaging, best types of bandages, what is often available in the wild to be used and what essential tools are best to have with as well as wound care guidelines.
The Many Medicines of The Rose
"Look at the thorn and see the rose" –Rumi
An oft quoted flower, well-worn myth maker, worn in water, oils and lotions, celebrations complete with the rain of petals, thorns piercing, bushes tended or run feral, world travelled in location and time, the rose has been in our hearts and of our hearts for as long as humans remember. In this class we will move through the many medicines of the rose, celebrating all that she has to offer from top to toe, collectively creating, while tasting, an in-depth material media of the extensive uses and applications of rose medicine. Sampling exquisite distillations and essences, leaf tea's and poultice, rose hip electuarys, thorn wisdom and root bark syrups and powder's, we will cover all the facets of this ancient and loving companion while wondering, in amongst all the incredible herbal heart tonics, what is it in the rose that captures us so timelessly? We will story into the traditional and new, discussing how now more than ever rose is a medicine of our times.
Mint Family Magic:
From Monarda to Skullcap, Peppermint, & Beyond
This amazing family's deep and generous support of our bodies is crucial to our well-being, and even to our evolution as human beings. I think our nervous systems would be very different animals indeed had we not been raised up by the mints for as long as we've been people. This become especially evident when we look at our ability to connect, to calm down and tune in, to support the metabolization of our food (and of our experiences), and to harmonize the centers of consciousness living in our brain, heart, and gut. We'll look at materia medicas for a diverse range of lamiaceae plants, case studies, cutting edge research on the three big centers of consciousness in the body, and histories of mints as medicine from around the world.
Think You’re Making Herbal medicine? Think again!
“Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em.
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so, ad infinitum.
And the great fleas, themselves, have greater fleas to go on,
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on…”
- Jonathan Swift
Many of us think of ourselves and other beings as an “individuals”…Jane, Joe, Rex the dog, Tiger the cat. In reality, life is more similar to a fractal, or perhaps a set of Russian nesting dolls. We’re each a hodgepodge of many smaller individuals; a collection of our cells as well as fungi and bacteria that do more than just tag along…they influence how we are. Don’t even get me started on the the viruses that infect our resident bacteria and fungi and influence how they are. Even “our own” cells contain viral genetic sequences integral to our DNA. So microbial tag alongs may even influence who we are. Not to forget the other end of the spectrum, in which we’re but one component of the larger organism of the planet. “Individuals”, indeed.
Plants are no exception to this nesting doll reality. When we make plant extracts, we are in fact making plant, fungal and bacterial extracts. Medicinals such as Chamomile, Mints, Saint John’s Wort, Skullcap, Rosemary, Geranium, Fennel, Artemisia and many others have been studied for their fungal and bacterial tag-alongs, called “endophytes”, meaning “inside plants”. In fact, all plant species tested to date contain endophytes, critters who hang around inside living tissue without causing disease. Wash the plant all you want before extracting and you don’t get rid of them. Endophytes exist either inside of or squeezed in between the plant cells. And, really, you may not want to get rid of them.
“So what?”, you may ask. Well, endophytes may be a key determinant of the quality of our plant medicine. Come geek out on endophytes and learn why our medicine isn’t from our favorite plants alone.
Phytochemistry Through Plant Families
Learn about some of the most notable phytochemical classes in the context of botanical families. This will include a categorization of many of the main phytochemical classes, as well as some challenges and thrills for more advanced participants. Phytochemical classes we will focus on include: Terpenes, iridoids, alkaloids, flavonoids, resins (including a look at what is a resin anyway? – and the various definitions of resins), saponins, coumarins and more. We will focus on some of the common actions of phytochemical groups parallel to common actions of plant families which possess a considerable number of constituents of those groups.
Medicine On The Side
"Glycosides" - Sound fancy, convincing, important, medicinally active, dangerous? Has a ring of... cardiac glycosides, Foxglove, digitalis, the Black Cherry bark minor controversy, and wait, Rose family glycosides!? Let us clear up some confusion about how a plant can have these strong medicinal compounds and still play well with critters. This will cover many of the glycosides in medicinal plants, even some commonly used plants which you may not have realized contain glycosides, and how this mechanism of putting a nutritional component and a strong medicinal plant secondary metabolite make sense as a potent delivery from the flora to the fauna.
Hands-On Demonstration Lab:
Cooking with trees! Nuts, resin, immature cones, needles, twigs, branches, bark. We'll talk about identification and seasonal ethical harvest of small amounts of different conifers for use in cooking and the medicinal properties of these trees. I live with the Ponderosas, limber Pines, Douglas Fir, bristlecones, Colorado Blue Spruce, White Fir, and Engleman Spruce, and will talk primarily about them, because they're whom I'm the most familiar with. We'll have a brainstorm of the ways people cook with the Pinaceae to share all of our knowledge. I'll bring examples and samples, and we'll prepare some seasonal evergreen dishes and do some eating and drinking!
Oats as Food & Medicine:
Porridge, Panacea, & Scottish Culture
Jenny Solidago Mansell
From hearty Scottish “parritch” to milky oats tincture, the oat plant has a humble but long history both as a food and herbal remedy. Although the culture at large often limits oats to a quick breakfast of instant oats at best, there is a vast scope of delight and healing to be found when using this plant. For those of us with Scottish ancestry, it is a food which literally kept our ancestors alive and for that alone we should sing its praises. Although no herb is a panacea in the strictest sense of the word, all of the aboveground parts of the plant have been used in one way or another to support healing and it has a surprisingly wide variety of applications. It is also a gentle, food-type herb which often makes it a good choice for children, elders, and others with more delicate systems. In this class, we will delve into various medicinal preparations of oats, how to make them, and when and why you might use them. Learn how to plant your own oat patch, how to harvest and tincture milky oats at just the right point for maximum benefit, and how to make oatstraw nourishing infusion. This class will also cover traditional food practices surrounding oats. Find out the benefits of a spurtle, how to make decent oat porridge, the process to make sowans, and what goes into a good bannock. We will explore the role oats played in Scottish culture, the folklore and customs surrounding it, and how you can bring this folk wisdom into your own life.
Hands-On Demonstration Lab:
Nourishing & Restorative Herbs
Come learn about some of our most beloved healing plants! For many herbalists, the foundation of our practice rests on nourishing restorative herbs. These nutrient rich wild and cultivated plants are taken daily as tea, food, or diluted juice to help restore our health and vitality. As so many people are feeling exhausted, depleted, and over stressed, nourishment and rebuilding is deeply needed right now. These nutrient rich plants help to build up our vital energy and strengthen our exhausted over-taxed systems. Nourishing herbs give our cells, tissues, and organs the vital nutrients and life force needed to thrive. Their constituents help restore function, balance, and repair damaged tissue due to chronic inflammation, exposure to toxins, infections, poor circulation, adrenal depletion, injury/trauma, chronic stress, poor nutrition and digestion. We will explore nourishing herbs through tea meditations, fresh juice, medicine preparation and tasting, lecture, and discussion. Come receive their healing energy, and explore how these plants can be incorporated more deeply into your daily life and practice! Plants we will work with and talk about in class include Nettles, Chickweed, Oatstraw, Red clover, Violet, Burdock, Dandelion, Yellow dock, Linden, and other nourishing herbs used by many cultures all over the world. Come get deeply nourished and spend time connecting to these beloved green allies.
One Plant, Many Preparations:
Exploring Lemon Balm
Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is an herb with a long, beautiful history of use and a plethora of preparations that are beloved by many people. This plant, belonging to the mint family, is a plant that grows easily and abundantly, though, in my experience, it seems that often people to not make full use of all the medicine it has to offer us. So in this hands-on, exploratory class we will dive into a deeper understanding of lemon balm and get creative with how to use this lush, lemony mint plant. We will make, use and/or taste fresh and dry plant preparations of lemon balm, from poultices and infused waters to tinctures, syrups and more. With each preparation we will examine our own reactions as well as historical to modern interpretations of each preparation. We will also go over detailed explanations for the various preparations. Not only will this class celebrate lemon balm, but it will also help deepen your understanding of this lovely plant. And we may all come away calm and uplifted.
Hearts, Brains, & Courage:
Archetypal Medicines of Oz
This class will explore in depth various archetypes of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We will discuss flower essences and materia medica for various herbs that align with these archetypes.
The word “archetype” derives from Greek and Latin, and means “the original form from which copies are made.” Archetypes are recurring symbols and characters that arise across culture – often in literature and art, from the Hero to the Trickster and beyond. Archetypes can also be used to represent different experiences and demeanors that we encounter and embody as we navigate through life.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of American literature’s best known stories. It has been translated in over 50 languages, and continues to be adapted in film, television, and literature. The Library of Congress has acknowledged it as "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale.” Conceivably, one of the reasons this story is so well loved is that the characters within embody highly relatable archetypes. One of the story’s most compelling elements is the idea that the protagonists already possess that which they each seek; each character holds his/ her/their own medicine.
This offering aims to demonstrate the medicine of a range of archetypes – both from an herbal perspective and from a perspective of appreciation and non-judgement. Connections and creative thinking developed here can be applied with compassion in our everyday lives as herbalists and humans.
The Healing Wisdom of Asclepias
Milkweed plants are grouped into the genus Asclepias – named for the Greek god of medicine. Many plants in this genus contain toxic components, and yet several milkweeds hold potent medicines. These medicines apply not only in the physical and spiritual realms, but also in the wider ecology of the planet. Milkweeds have garnered attention recently, as they have key bonds with many pollinators – perhaps most famously with monarch butterflies. Milkweeds are complex beings – elaborate flowers with sophisticated relationships.
This offering explores the myth, medicine, and ecological importance of plants in the genus Asclepias – the milkweeds. Class will include materia medica on a selection of medicinal milkweeds, history and lore related to Asclepias plants, and a guided meditation featuring milkweed flower essence. This class aims to inspire herb folk to stay open to personal allies in the green world, to plant milkweeds for pollinators, and to walk away with a beautiful understanding of a transformative plant.
The Wisdom of Plants
There are many ways of knowing plants. We can discuss plants as purveyors of healing herbal actions, sensory pleasures, nourishing foods, as biological entities, or ecological players. We can also get to know them as sentient beings with their own life experience and stories to tell. Another level of wellbeing can be achieved by deepening our relationships with plants and opening ourselves up to their offerings that cannot be put into a bottle or jar. The wisdom of plants is indeed a gift that the seeker may receive in an infinite variety of ways. This class is an opportunity to hear herbal tales of relationship, bonding, and growth founded in reciprocity and love. Join me for an exploration of the wisdom of Yarrow, Mullein, Pedicularis, Cottonwood, Juniper, Salt Bush, and Baccharis and find out how plants can teach us to be better people, living our lives with their inspiration as a guide. Bring your own stories to share.