Reflections on the year
Being a herbalist is a multi-faceted job. We grow and harvest the plants we use, we process and make them into medicines, we see patients, we run workshops and talks and provide healthcare to our friends and families. As a result a year in the life of a herbalist is a rollercoaster of excitement, nearly flying off the rails at times and finding deep relaxation and contemplation at others, usually whilst out connecting with the plants and time spent in nature. Like few other professions our work blends immersion in nature with the heady processing of information as we see patients and write articles raising the profile of plant medicine.
A year in the life
Spring brings a burst of energy and marks the start of outdoor workshops, herbal spring vinegar making and lots of leafy harvests for home made garden pestos and green juice detoxing.
Summer for me means taking to the road to fairs and festivals to set up a workshop to demonstrate herbal practice in and provide a study area with a herb and midwifery library and a consultation room. I work with another herbalist, Karen Lawton and summers are fun. With costumes and props, we create an accessible herbal experience through performance as well as providing education. We have always made a point of staying out in the main body of the festivals and not in the Healing area so that folk find us that might not have otherwise. Summer is a thrilling and tiring time. We have to be mindful to rest well, eat good food and we often try to park up at festival sites next to the sauna for added luxury. The whole family come on board for the summer tour so we get to work alongside our children who see the herbs at work.
Autumn is a frantic time of harvesting, it feels like every surface in the home becomes covered in drying herbs, macerating herb oils and tinctures being prepared. It’s the berry season so all the colour-rich berries are converted to syrups and preserves for the winter months.
After the Christmas period is a time to take stock, seed new projects and plan workshops, in preparation for spring again.
Spreading the word
Having worked with herbs for twenty years now, it has become apparent that even with current trends on foraging and making your own jams and chutneys, the term herbal medicine is only just becoming known about. We had a brief spurt of raised interest in the subject with James Wong of Kew Gardens but I still often meet folk who have no clue as to what it is to be a herbalist. More people have heard of homeopathy (which has only been used for just over a century) than herbalism (the main source of medicine for millennia).
It is because of this that as herbalists, our job, or our calling maybe, is to teach folk who come to recognise the bounty of the plants we have available to us, often growing in their own gardens. Knowledge is definitely power when it come to our health. A sense of taking responsibility for our own wellbeing can spread out into other areas of our lives and if we are using and learning about plants, there is an automatic deepening connection with nature and the natural world around us. The hedgerows take on a new significance, the so called ‘weeds’ pushing through the cracks in the pavement become the pioneers of a new frontier. The world looks brighter.
We teach an apprenticeship programme for herbalism and this year marked the first swathe of year 3 graduates. We set up the Sensory Herbalism course as a 3-year programme initially, knowing that once we got to the end of that we would need to assess the success of the style of teaching and be able to identify what further study needs to be done. It has been an honour and a privilege to see The Sensory Herb students grow in confidence and connection with the herbs over their years of study with us. We are in an exciting place at the moment with herbal medicine training, where more apprenticeship programmes are popping up as the university courses to herbalism are dwindling in number. With more apprenticeship-based study, apart from the more hands on approach, it gives students a chance to choose who they feel attracted to, to learn from. Our third years know they are the pioneers of our course and that they have further areas to improve but most have started to look to herbalists in their area to work or study with and formed support groups in their areas with other herbalists.
Reflections and activism
So when I reflect on the last year I remember the harvest, the exponential growth in interest in plants and the difference its making in peoples lives. I also remember the herbalists pushing forward with frontline support for those that need it; herbal clinics at the anti-fracking camps, organisation for herbal support in the refugee camps, but also those that run workshops for kids in schools, or families and foraging days, paving the way for a healthier more aware future.
Sensory Solutions is our Community Interest Company and we are actively involved in supporting our locality. We have been involved in an amazing project which provides nature-based workshops for women in shelters that have left difficult often violent situations. The project provides weekly sessions where they can download whilst making beautiful things or delicious tasting herbal balms, syrups and vinegars for use with themselves and their children.
A herbalists Moto
It is our job to support ourselves and our families health, to live by example and to keep exploring innovative ways of spreading our passion into every corner of society. In the words of John Rogers, this world needs secret heros, be brave, speak the truth… I am filled with gratitude when I think about the year gone by but also a gentle buzzing undercurrent at what will happen next in this beautiful, evolving world of plant medicine.
By Fiona Heckles
The next Sensory Herb Apprenticeship will start in March 2017.
December Workshops, DORSET