Nov 292015

Plant Healer Interviews

Plant Healer Interview:


Culture-Shifter & Herbal Ally

interviewed by 

Melanie Pulla, Phyllis Light, Paul Bergner, Sarah Baca, & Mason Hutchinson

Jesse Wolf has done a lot for the herbal community as well as the plants we love, including interviewing both the respected elders and the new voices of the herbal resurgence for Plant Healer Magazine and our book series 21st Century Herbalists.  Now to mark Plant Healer Magazine’s exciting 5th Anniversary, the extra large Winter issue will feature an interview with rather than by Wolf.  This conversation between Wolf, a journalist and four herbalists, provides insights not only into the nature of my partner, but also the nature of the herbs and practice that we all so love.  An interesting excerpt follows here, with the entire much longer conversation available to member subscribers in the Winter issue releasing Dec. 7th.  You can subscribe by going to    –Kiva Rose

Jesse Wolf Hardin interview title page

Sarah: Jesse Wolf, as we talk you are coming up to your 5th Anniversary of publishing Plant Healer Magazine, and you just put on the 6th annual Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.  How does it feel?

Wolf: Nothing else I have ever done has felt more effective than serving the well being of the all life by helping to inform, equip, encourage, and support a resurgence of empowered healing.  And nothing yet has been as satisfying as helping weave that culture of healing back together with the quest for meaningful lives and lifestyle changes, deepened purpose and individual roles, to social change and ecological restoration, to ancient mythic lore and contemporary mythic dimensions, and to the sensory and aesthetic rewards of our beauteous arts. 

Sarah: Over the last decade much of what you’ve been writing has been for an audience interested in herbalism, wildcrafting, and natural healing.  Obviously there were already tons of available books about herbs and how to use them, I guess what was missing from the literature were the actual considerations involved with an herbal practice?

Wolf: I need to know I am meeting important needs for people by spending so many hours in front of a computer, instead of wordlessly making art or blissfully wandering along the wild river that flows in sight of my cabin window.  I write to shine a light on the natural world and our true selves, to make the allies of wild and diverse life laugh, feel informed and affirmed, and I write to discomfort the  destroyers of nature and truth and wildness.  I write in defense of other species, and to awaken our own.  And most of all, I write whenever I feel I can contribute new information and new perspectives, alternate or additional ways of looking at things that increase and inform our choices.  This has meant a deep exploration of the motivations, intentions, definitions, ethics, practice, and culture of herbalism, including but not limited to: Its purpose and forms, options and roles.  The reasons for getting into the field and the difficulties faced.  Different ways of practicing, different areas to specialize in.  Making satisfactory income without feeling guilty about it, while providing service to those least able to pay.  The aesthetics and the art of herbalism.  The joys and satisfactions of working with plants.  The history of herbalism, as well as the latest health and plant research.  Elucidating the sources of inspiration, excitement, and beauty, as much as the means and methods.  Exploring the whys as well as the hows of a self-identified “herbalist” or “healer” role.

Polish herbalistMelanie: I’ve often found that there’s a sense of elitism within herbal circles in regards to whether someone has an active clinical practice or not, with the prevailing notion that being a clinician not only makes you more credible but also more respectable and worthy of the title “herbalist”. Certainly clinical work is one way of generating and growing your knowledge, however it seems no less worthy for an herbalist to be in their apothecary or kitchen spending hours perfecting an herbal recipe – or in the field for days keying out plants and learning their growing patterns. I love how in The Plant Healer’s Path you emphasize the validity of “clinical” work that occurs outside a formal clinical setting. Can you elaborate on why this kind of work is not only valuable, but also important?

Wolf: First of all, no one can tell you if you are worthy of being called an herbalist, not  a professional organization, or a federal agency, or even our peers with more experience than us.  We are made worthy simply by the strength of our intent and focus, and the degree of our efforts.  Levels of competency are another issue, but are only proven by our results and effects over time.   We alone can make the determination whether our knowledge, commitment and daily practice makes us an herbalist or not.  And whether others call us an herbalist or not, will hinge on the good we do in working with plants.

I have three things to say in regard to “clinical.”  First, there are many different forms of – and means and venues for – clinical work.  Second, not all important work with plant medicines is clinical.  And third, even entirely non-clinical work with plants greatly benefits by a clinical-level commitment to increasing knowledge, maintaining accuracy, increasing efficacy, and adhering to ethical codes.

For our purposes here, “clinical” means directly working with people, personal interaction with the intent of helping them regain their health.  This can certainly happen outside of a clinical setting, such as in client’s homes, or even on the sidewalk with “street herbalists” handing out shotgun remedies to the homeless, and herbal medics volunteering at the sites of natural and human-made disasters.  Making herbal tinctures in one’s kitchen can be done strictly by following a recipe, but the best formulas are created in response to observations and experiences, whether our own responses to herbs or the responses of the people we are trying to help.

Traditional Herbalist Hoodie-ashMelanie: Thank-you.  I love your vision of future medicine people proudly and boldly claiming their title, and integrating themselves in all aspects of community and place. I also appreciate that medicine is so often equated with an ingestible substance as opposed to a broader scope of practice that includes other modalities such as story, counsel, empathy, and healing touch to name a few.  As Asclepias of Thessaly wrote, “first the word, then the herb, then the knife.” Since you are so apt with semantics and etymology, would you mind sharing the way you personally define medicine?

Wolf:  I would agree with Asclepias if by “first the word” he meant we first address the condition with inquiry and intake, verbal comforting or re-envisioning, discussion, counsel and advice.  The addition of medicinal plants and foods, massage, realignments, acupuncture, massage and other noninvasive treatments can follow as appropriate, supporting the changes in attitude, perspective, diet and lifestyle that words explored and inspired.

The English word “medicine” derives originally from the Latin “medicus”, “the physician,” and commonly refers to ingested or injected agents of healing.  We also hear, of course, that “laughter is the best medicine,” that time is medicine for the grieving heart, and that love is medicine for the spirit or soul.  In historic cultural terms, the word for “medicine” was usually synonymous with “power” – not as in power over somebody or something, but as in the power to act and affect.  Ancient “hunting medicine” usually involved rituals of supplication and intent, but their purpose was to awaken the power to find and collect animals to eat.  The medicine of the Seer was the power to see into the truth of things, to see the patterns in the movement of energies and progression of events.  “Wolf medicine” might be the powers of discernment and courageous action.

To my reckoning, “medicine” is power, but more specifically, the power to help and heal.  This is certainly about more than the healing of illness and wounds, but also emotional, spiritual, social, cultural, and ecological healing, utilizing whatever medicine that each of us is born with, learns or develops, in order to contribute to health and wholeness.  The word “heal” originally meant to “restore to soundness,” and I would say medicine is anything that contributes to the regaining of soundness, wholeness, and animate vitality.

Medicine is more than tinctures and teas, it includes such things as empathy and concern, tending and touch, ritual or prayer, visualization and positive attitude.  There is the medicine of nature and place, which The Healing Terrain explores.  There can be medicine in art and music, medicine in beauty.  In reconciliation or resolution.  In giving, and receiving.  Medicine in love, medicine in a hug.  

There is even medicine in disruption, whenever habit and structure have proven unhealthy.  

It is for us to find our personal medicine: our individual mix of born gifts, special abilities and learned skills, our original innate power to affect other people and the world in meaningful, helpful and healthful ways.  And then to identify, mobilize and utilize the many medicines around us and available to us – including but not limited to medicinal herbs – for the essential purpose of healing.

Sarah: Could you speak about your personal journey and healing work, and the roots of your intimacy with plants and plant medicine?

Wolf: I grew up in the suburbs, nothing like the wilderness river canyon that has been my home for the over three decades.  That said, from earliest memory I was drawn to the natural world, its authenticity compared to the artifice of many people’s lives, its diversity and oddness, enchantedness and eloquence.  This led me to wildlife that was either pervasive enough or small and slow enough for my inspection… and to plants, easier to find, or fun to climb.  I spent much of my childhood exploring and finding refuge high in the branches of trees, as people walked busily below without noticing.  There may have been few coyotes in the neighborhood, but there were exotic green beings from around the word used to landscape the nearby yards, and my friends the weeds that I respected for their brilliance and tenacity long before I was aware of their medicinal value.  Even my mother’s house plants served as conduits to the natural world, as agents of a radical vision of intensity and liberty, seductively subverting the barefoot boy who studied their examples and helped tend their needs.

Wolf in Military SchoolSarah: You weren’t always an agent of alternatives, were you?  Weren’t you an accomplished student in church and military schools at one point?

Wolf: Church and military schools were just of few of the many varieties of private schools we tried, with my mother and I mutually searching for the more challenging curricula I hungered for.  I was kicked out of the church schools for insisting on asking all the wrong questions, and answering out of turn.  The military schools were more satisfying academically, if only I didn’t hate giving orders as much I hated getting them.  I was adept at repeatedly winning Sergeant stripes with fancy drill team work and high class grades, but proved just as good at losing those stripes for defending some shy boy from an upperclass bully, refusing a direct order that I found demeaning or stupid or both, and once when they discovered I’d been stuffing my bed at night to make it look like I was asleep, while sneaking out like a prisoner in a jailbreak movie, skulking through the alleys and backyards in the moonlight.  

I’ve often told the story on stage, of the day I realized I couldn’t stomach the regimentation a minute more, when even the sameness of the suburbs and a comfortable life with supportive parents would be too much tameness and sameness to bear.  Every afternoon after classes we were ushered out into a large grass field surrounded by a 10 feet high concrete wall, where we would line up into platoons and practice marching to orders.  You know, right face, left face, right oblique, like in war movies except we ranged from 6 years old to 17.  It seemed obvious early on that waiting for orders resulted in reduced independent thinking and acting, and that every “soldier” was pretty oblivious outside of their part in the script as “commanders” and “troops.”  I decided to capitalize on this fact by taking up a position at the rear of my platoon, and as we tromped past a particularly large old avocado tree at the edge of the field I tried dropping out of line to see if anyone noticed.  They didn’t, true to form, and I shinnied up the tree and into its branches.  From there, I could see  on both sides of the wall, and contrast the two.  On one side, were my all-male classmates marching in line like ants, kids taught to keep clean and hide their emotions and “act like a man” absurdly shouting out in unison chants like “G.I. Beans, G.I. Gravy, Gee I wish I joined the Navy,” with hardly a single one of them regardless of rank getting the least bit of enjoyment out of their role and activity.  On the other side, children of mixed gender who were probably supposed to be in school somewhere, were instead happily crawling around the as yet vacant lot, hiding behind the unleveled hillocks and in a rusty drainpipe, before leaping out and making the most undignified but happy sounds.  At the right moment, I leapt onto the wall and over, walking home to my always supportive if often perplexed parents.  I explained that they’d be saving money on my schooling thereafter, that I’d “jumped the wall”… and while I spent some more loving time with them the first few years after, in the deeper sense I never went back.  

I slept under bridges and in crash pads, traded for a Harley motorcycle that had been stolen from the California Highway Patrol lot, tripped with the hippies at Twin Poles, Topanga Canyon.  Visited Rolling Thunder, hung out on merry prankster Ken Kesey’s Springfield Dairy farm in Oregon, got in and back out of trouble, and then journeyed to this place I would call home for the remainder of my life.  Beyond the wall, as my difficult author friend Ed Abbey liked to put it.

Phyllis: You’ve ended up simultaneously serving as a teacher, example, and leader of an herbal movement dedicated to preserving and celebrating folk traditions.

Wolf & KivaWolf: Partnering with Kiva Rose, her passion for herbs and herbalism resulted in our infusing ourselves deeper into this community, and in our helping to inspire some deep ecological sensibilities – a sense of vitality and purpose meant to sustain folk medicine through the many challenges ahead.  We have dedicated ourselves to championing an herbalism that is accessible and empowering, individualized and personalized, diverse and wondrous, to encourage the organic growth of its aesthetic culture and earthen healing values.  I brought to Plant Healer Magazine and gatherings my perspective as a child of nature, runaway street kid, community volunteer, wilderness dweller and ecological activist.  In turn, folk herbalism has given me another important means for the healing of my self… and a language and tools for me to help heal bodies, psyches, communities and bioregions in need.

Phyllis: How did you come to incorporate herbal folk traditions into your environmental philosophy?

Wolf: Kiva and my approach to everything is “folk,” in the sense of things being created by and for the folk, the people, as opposed to systems used by an ascended fraternity of medical practitioners, benefitting only those who can afford it.  Folk music, even when it uses electronic loops and beats.  Folk art, regardless of when or how it is made.  Folklore, the mythic tales that infuse the plants and work with added meaning.  Folk means drawing from millennia of experience and discovery, and learning from a lineage of artisans… but it also means each artist and each generation putting their own mark on the field, holding true to the heart and root of traditions while adding a little something of themselves, their experiences, and their vision.  Folk arts are not slavish adherence to tradition, but respectful embellishment and adaptation according to sensibilities, needs, and new information.

Folk herbalism is often defined in opposition to conventional modern medicine, or in contrast to professional clinical practice, similar to how folk art is contrasted to so-called fine art.  Fine art is touted as evolved, refined, complex, and sometimes subtle, while folk art is referred to as primitive, innocent, simplistic, and maybe quaint.  MDs and some lettered clinicians use related terms to describe folk practices, while holding up their systems or approaches as superior.  Even some herbalists that adamantly eschew official status, such as Susun Weed, still associate the term “folk herbalism” with superstitious and uninformed practice. 

To the contrary, Folk herbalism – as you, Phyllis, have said – is at its core simply herbalism for regular folks, medicine for the people.  As such, it’s best defined neither by adherence to custom nor by its rejection.  Folk is ever-evolving, therefore it doesn’t require we follow any herbal dogma or stick strictly to any time tested protocol, any more than it requires that we diss the latest medical research or the methodologies of professional and academic herbalists.  After all, herbalism only stops being “folk” at the point that we support stratification, organizational hierarchy or a vested elite, or act as if income or status are even close to being as important as the act of providing care.  And all herbalism is folk that seeks to empower individuals to help with their own and others’ healing, regardless of approbation, certification, registration, or legislation.  It is thus a broad perennial tent that a wide range of herbalists can intertwine, grow and bind under.  Folk does not divide body from mind, or the healing of the body from the mending of our society and the land.  And because of all this, folk is the herbalism we want most to encourage and promote. 

Helping others is how we achieve our humanity.  Those who denigrate or regulate folk herbalism, or assert that the work of healing is meant for a privileged, vetted few, are harming not only art and tradition but our humanness at its very best.

Paul Bergner and Jesse Wolf HardinPaul: I don’t see you engaging in this, but what can you say about the tendency to cultural appropriate that is common in some herbalists in North America?

Wolf: After hundreds of years of being systematically exploited by colonial empires, it is easy to see a similar exploitive pattern in someone copying a culture’s ideas or ceremonies and possibly making money off of them. It can understandably be offensive for someone who grew up in a tradition to witness a seemingly generic honky dressed up for the part, performing ancient healing rituals out of context and probably doing them wrong, or handing out the wrong herbs or advice.  To appropriate, however, is most understood as to take something away, to take for oneself, and what is most criticized as appropriation might be more accurately called emulation instead. 

This emulation can be intrusive and dishonorable if it involves publicizing secreted or sacred knowledge, exploitive if done for commercial gain, fraudulent if we claim a culture that is not our own, and tacky and offensive if we are mimicking… regardless of our best of intentions.   On the other hand, emulation is one of the ways that knowledge, values, ways of perceiving and doing are spread.  All aspects of culture are influenced and informed by “outside” groups.  Especially when it comes to healing knowledge, it is not something we can ethically restrict to any one group, nor in most cases is it possible to keep the information from getting out in spite of any efforts to ensure its exclusivity. Arabic art techniques motifs were replicated through much of Africa and Europe, even influencing far away Viking jewelry design, but how much was unattributed copycatting of a profitable craft, and how much was actually the advancing and furthering of Arabic sensibilities and cultural reach?  Western medicine owes much to the Greeks, who learned most of their healing craft from Arabic sources.  Westerners  wisely avail themselves of Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine constitutional models and formulas, and health practitioners in India have understandably incorporated Western medical research into their knowledge base.  When it comes to herbs in particular, they are a boon to all but are born for themselves, thus no one can claim them as their own, neither a corporate researcher wanting to patent the elements of life itself, nor any indigenous group.  

The line between exploitation and dissemination lies in the how as well as why we do what we do.  Respect your human sources.  Respect all honorable existing cultures and respectable traditions.  Ask to learn or share, don’t assume or take.  Don’t pretend to be anything but what you really are, which is most often a multi racial, multi cultural, eclectic mutt.  Ultimately defer to neither modern civilized authorities, traditional conventions or taboos, so much as to the plants themselves – and to our common, ancient, global mission of healing.

Rhiannon hugging Anima Sanctuary AlderMason: What wild, native Gila plant nourished you the most this year?

Wolf: The Alder with its twisting exposed roots gripping fast to rock and bank even during the most violent floods, drinking from the same river as me and the rest of the living canyon, setting into motion fantastical quests and instigating yet more tales and books with its enchanted-forest visage. 

Phyllis: Your love of the earth is apparent in your teachings, writings, and other works. Was there an event or events in your life that brought you to the awareness of the necessity of taking better care of Mother Earth?

Wolf: For me, it was a growing awareness of the de-naturing and destruction that started before I could barely speak, concurrent with my engagement with and love for the natural world.  Since I was a child I have been blessed with noticing and intensely experiencing nature in all its forms, even in the various cities and suburbs where I grew up.  I concealed myself in ornamental hedges and then laid my head at ground level to observe life from the perspective of a bug, observed the growth of baby birds no one else seemed to see or care about nesting in hollow street signs, was enraptured with the wondrous dandelions growing at the edges of the concrete.  It seemed impossible for me to pass a single butterfly or as yet unidentified plant without pausing to take it in, but this same ability or compulsion to notice everything also meant being unable to ignore the suffocating asphalt and screaming sirens.  The young eyes that followed the bridge swallows first flights, could not miss the remains of  birds and dogs and cats and raccoons killed by our species’ speeding vehicles.  Watching the clouds to see what whimsical shapes they might take, meant painful awareness of the valley smog those cars and our factories produce.  I would go to the very edges of the housing developments to seek out the still wild, but that made it even more painful when the bulldozers continued scraping ever farther in service to sprawl.  

Pained as this awareness made me, it too proved a blessing.  Witnessing hurting life forms required I be their champion if not hero, injustices clearly demanded resistance and redress, and every tragic imbalance seemed to call for a remedy.  The more I saw people pulling and spraying those Dandelions, the more effort I put into gathering their seeds, sneaking into gated yards, and pressing them into the ground with my little fingers.  As a teen, knowing what our government was doing to our draftees as well as to the Vietnamese people and ecosystems meant I must join in the demonstrations to halt the war, even in the face of charging riot police, and so it was inevitable that I help lead campaigns to save ancient Redwoods and Firs from clearcutting once I had walked beneath their towering branches, and that I would stand in front of a land-clearing DC8 Caterpillar after having held the leaves of the coastal White Sage like the holding the hand of a lover. 

That is perhaps the key lesson here.  Not just that there are things worth defending, restoring and propagating… but that it is what we come to love most, that we’re likely to care for best.  And falling in love is something that requires our intimate observation, adoration, involvement, participation, and relationship.

For over a dozen years I was a core organizer for the radical wilderness activist group Earth First!, melding music and entertainment with civil disobedience and media campaigns.  In the 1980s I gave hundreds of public speeches and musical performances under the nome de activist “Lone Wolf Circles,” at rallies we called “The Deep Ecology Medicine Shows,” and I worked to bring together conservationists and herbalists including by inviting Michael Moore to give an herb walk at an Earth First! Rendezvous in the Jemez Mountains.  I launched workshops and courses on spiritual ecology, that addressed the healing of our psyches along with the wounded natural world.

Wolf & Dana Howling Gonzo Poster 1991It had by then become clear that everything I have ever done has been in one way or another been in the name of healing: addressing the wounds of unnecessary wars and the injustices to indigenous peoples; the dissolution of natural ecocentric cultures and destruction of the Redwood and Fir forests; the extirpation of New Mexico Wolves and California White Sage; the unwholeness and stress of good people unsure of their rights, worth and abilities.  That it evolved into my working for the plants, and working with plants, feels only natural and right, as does the interweaving of bodily healing and the healing of our world.

Wolf New Settler Interview cover 1986Protest Against Clearcuts USFS HQWhatever else I have been or become, I’m dedicated and determined, grateful and appreciative of this mission… and fully excited about the possibilities of each purposeful healing day.

Melanie: Wow, that’s beautiful. I got chills hearing this. It’s so true that we all come to this work on our own path, and that we all bring a diverse and unique background to the work. It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to follow the thread of healing from addressing social injustices to restoring ecological health to championing a new paradigm for herbalism. It’s quite a powerful trajectory!

Phyllis: Tell us about Earthen Spirituality. 

Wolf: The winding river canyon where we live is host to many dozens of now primarily indiscernible subterranean pit houses, homes once inhabited by the peoples that archaeologists call the Mogollon, but who knew themselves as the Sweet Medicine People.  And near this exact bend where we built the pine board hobbit houses of our teaching center, can be found the remains of the largest kiva in the area.  Kivas are the underground chambers dedicated to religious ceremony, and at least one such structure marks those places selected to be the center for group ritual for an entire region.  At certain significant times the black tressed natives would have walked from many miles both further up and down the river, gathering to exchange stories, to trade and to flirt, but foremost to attend or actively participate in the ceremonies and prayers that they believed would ensure their peoples’ well being.  Many is the retreat guest or student who has come to us with a tale of having heard the muffled sound of drums or flutes emanating from the cave-pocked cliffs, or heard laughter intermingled with the glug, chortle, and bell like ring of the river as it rolls over rocks and plunge pools.

For them as us, all the world would have felt alive.  For people living so intimately with the land, everything would have felt personable and energized, endowed by a creator or creative force with a spark of spirit deserving of acknowledgment and respect.  The myriad plants springing forth from the unlikely alchemy of seed and soil, the complex creatures that provided humankind with vital lessons and valuable examples as much as they did clothing and food.  An energy or spirit vibrating in the volcanic rocks, glowing in the light of a setting sun.  Spirit in taste and scent, struggle and fun.  Given voice through the river, recorded in the patterns of tree bark, danced in the Fall spiraling of cottonwood leaves.  Spirit tracing its own movements, in graceful designs in weed lashed sand, and spirit empowering every giving person’s helpful hand.  Spirit in the hopeful child’s face, in the hearts and deeds of they who served love, truth and place.  Spirit taking flight in songs, echoing off the kiva’s earthen walls, and emboldening young alders to do the “impossible” by planting determined roots in what is an always unpredictable, shifting shore.  

Anima Sanctuary cliffs in mist

These immanent aspects and qualities of the canyon are no less discernible to the residents and guests arriving today, whenever we quiet the persistent commentary of the mind long enough, and they become too intense to ignore as we begin to reawaken our physical senses, our intuition and ancient dormant instincts.  They are, in fact, so vitally present that even the rare distracted visitor who is nearly unconscious of their surroundings, will still sometimes stop in mid sentence to try and gauge what they are feeling, wondering why they are responding emotionally when they intended to keep the conversation constant and superficial, or why they are now beset by repressed memories of unfulfilled needs or unlived hopes, missions or dreams.  At the least, nearly everyone experiences the canyon’s sometimes unsettling intensity, usually leading to a sense of all things’ interconnectedness and the ultimate connivance of their purpose and design.

This earthen spirituality I’ve called “Anima” is a unifying and animating force of creation and proliferation, of adaptation and manifestation, of life begetting life.  What I put forward was an evolving study and practice for living awakened, ultra-aware, purpose driven, choice filled lives… informed by the Anima and all elements of the natural world.  Discussion and disagreements about religion can be helpful, but can be set aside in this case.  For the agnostic or atheist, Anima can be readily described in the language of new science, and for the religious it can be explained in terms of a God-given force that animates and fuels as well as connects all things to one another, as choice/divergence, transformation/evolution, set into motion by divine intention.  

An Anima practice begins with awareness we can’t suppress, insights we can’t ignore, the noticing of distraction and dishonor we can no longer tolerate, and a calling that won’t let us be.  It involves self exploration, growth and actualization.  Conscious interdependence, interpenetration and interaction.  Expanding understanding and heightened sensation.  Compassionate contact and reciprocal contracts with the inspirited land.  Such a life could be called “spiritual” by those so inclined, but a spirituality that neither denigrates nor denies desirous existence.  Life’s hungers, disappointments and pleasures are as catalysts accelerating our manifestation, transformation and growth.  It is an assignment that we of necessity sign up for again and again, each and every moment anew, promises kept and the dance each of us do. 

There is something awesome, mysterious, “spiritual” or “magical” about all of life.  This is true even of that which has been scientifically analyzed and explained, being no less amazing and incredible once comprehended, and inevitably leading to other directions and questions, patterns and possibilities beyond our ken.  It is as unhelpful to dismiss or ridicule all things “spiritual” as it is to claim that everything important that can be known has already been both proven and written.  

Awakening to the experience of hyper alertness, being and belonging, can be both transformative and blissful, a state of self-realization and intense mindfulness sometimes referred to as a “shamanic state,” “rapture,” “satori,” “samadhi,” or “enlightenment.”  Such states are not so much about transcending matter or flesh, however, as about re-immersion in the depth and breadth of embodied reality: deep seeing, deep tasting and smelling, deeply dreaming…. touching and praising the universe through the world that is not “ours” but “us.”  Contrary to what we may have heard, enlightenment is neither “forgetting the question” nor figuring out all the answers.  It is casting a light, not only on outward form but on the inner recesses of truth and being.  It is the intense experience of conscious interpenetration, the wordless, timeless thrill of being propelled into realization, relationship and responsibility, challenge and delight. 

Jews, Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Pagans, Agnostics, Eclectics and all others… we have the option of growing past both spiritual and anti-spiritual dogma, and working together to co-create the world, not as the pawns of fate but as beings born with inherent responsibility, and some potential for critical thinking and decision making – and at our best, the ecstatic organs and effective agents of a larger whole.

Phyllis: Your life seems to have helped shape your concept of “rewilding.”  Could you define it for us?

Wolf: I coined the term “ReWilding” in writings in 1978, and introduced it widely to audiences during my 1985 Deep Ecology Medicine Show tour.  Others have adopted it since, some who apply it only to the act of restoring human-impacted lands to something similar to their previous wild and natural state, and some for whom it is means anarchic liberation.  In my original essay on the topic, I call for a re-wilding (return to empowered real/original nature) of land, social relations, the human mind and body.

Wild Herbalist by Jesse Wolf HardinRewilding is a coming into self, neither a retreat to the past nor a transformation into something new.  Instead, it is a re-formation, a reflowering, a reinhabitation of natural form.  It is the uncomplicated if difficult cessation of pretense, artifice, conditioning, labeling, distraction, manipulation, domination, preoccupation with the future, suppression and repression.  For the land, this can mean the replanting of logged or mined property, the clean up of toxic wastes, minimizing the over-competition of invasive exotics, the reintroduction of extirpated native species, and basing future human interaction and residency on its effects good and bad.  For society, it surely means an evolution in what we value most, in how we relate and interact, and our relationship to money.  It may mean a reduction and redistribution of governing power so that the worst that can be done is committed by individuals or small groups rather than by a corporate/governmental complex and its elite, the fostering of truly democratic regional governance.  It would surely mean treating a healthy environment as invaluable to the well being of people as well as other life forms.  For us, it means being our real selves, the best most vital selves we can be, taking responsibility for who we are and we do or don’t do.  Wild mind means tuning into our instincts and insights, stirring our awareness, seeing the world in fresh new ways, daring to imagine what is possible, daring to envision what could be but may have never been before. Wild body is present, sensory, communicative body, giving us constant feedback about what we eat, how we do what we do, and how much sleep we get.  It houses our hungers for food, touch, sex, and it acts as an agent for our awareness and the choices that will come of that.   

Naturally sensitive and compassionate healers sometimes seem uncomfortable with their innate, irrepressible wildness, associating it with childishness, disruption, a lack of discipline and the disruption of peace.  As I write in The Healing Terrain, rewilding can be a discipline, an intentional practice of re-becoming that maximizes and unleashes our natural propensities, abilities and gifts.  The most enlivened, conscious, effective and joyous healer is the rewilded healer, and as Stephan Buhner puts it,“We herbalists are nearly the last bastion of the wild.”  If you want to picture an image of rewilding person, just picture a kid at an age before succumbing to insidious self-doubt, fearful obedience and stultifying conformity… embodying, trusting, expressing, and acting on her or his feelings and knowings, crying when sad and laughing uproariously when happy, valuing adventure over comfort and safety, willing to risk adult disapproval by running barefoot through grass and mud, picturing whatever they want to become, and not seeing any reason why they can’t accomplish their grandest goals.

Paul: The concept of a Calling is central to most of your teaching, its importance in connection to Nature.

Wolf:  Yes indeed.  As you so well know, a calling isn’t simply doing what we think is most needed, nor what gets the most approval or benefits us the most financially.  Neither is it simply doing something we enjoy instead of feel indifferent about or oppressed by, though one indication we have found our calling is how incredibly compelling, gratifying and satisfying we find even the most arduous or challenging aspects of our work.  Our calling is the optimum role that we – our natures, constitutions, characteristics, abilities, predilections, and interests – can fulfill.  It is one of the greatest gifts to us, at the same time as our most significant gift and service to the world.  

I have a sense that we – as integral elements, agents and organs of the planetary whole – are informed by that whole at a deeper level than we understand, that we are connected to a biotic grid not unlike the way trees are hooked up to and can communicate through a vast fungal mat just beneath the ground to an energetic network that connects all things, and through which the whole exerts influences on the direction of its parts.  If so, a calling could be the ways in which we are purposed.  And if so, it would remain something we need to recognize, choose, assume, and fulfill… similar to destiny which we must seize or walk through like a door, as opposed to fate which we have no say in.

In no sense is it a summons from an outside authority, a call from something apart from ourselves.  Even if it is the prodding of nature rather than just our own desire and compulsion, we are integral to and an extension of nature, so it is more akin to one bodily system calling on another system to fill a crucial function.

It seems terrible to spend a lifetime working at things that we’ve resigned ourselves to, that we’ve justified as being practical, doable and profitable, with little consideration of the effects on our spirits, the sidelining or even suspension of our dreams, the losing of our focus on what moves us most, the de-prioritizing of our creative urges and deeper missions, the failure to utilize our greatest potentials.  Enlivened and fulfilled are those who ride their passions like dragons in a purposeful direction, who respond to a particular imploring song that only they can hear, and fill a role that contributes in their own special way to the healing and wholeness of the world.

Melanie: You have written about herbalists having been “marginalized” as a result of their interests and practices, and “a minority today among all the health approaches and professions.” This comes across as an astute but surprising observation since plant medicine is an important and valued component of countless cultural traditions. Can you elaborate?

Stellaria 72dpiWolf: Regional systems of plant medicine were not only traditional but crucial for most if not all human societies from the very beginning.  Yet, by the 18th and 19th centuries this had all begun to change, with anti-herbal propaganda and legislation becoming the new norm.  Today, interest in herbal “supplements” has continued to increase, and yet the vast majority of the population continue to associate the use of herbs with either ignorant country hicks or what they consider “New Age nonsense.”  There is a subset of licensed nurses struggling to recommend herbal alternatives without violating their professional codes and corporate regulations, but there are only a relatively very few mainstream health professionals who give herbal therapy a thought.  This is the reality today, and we face further estrangement, regulation and possibly even official prohibition in the future.

This should tell us two things at least.  First, that we need to consider the degree to which we hope to market to or influence the values of the dominant culture, and take into consideration how our attitude, image, language, education, level of competency, accreditation or non-professionalized folk approach effect our goals.  Secondly, it should tell us that no amount of accreditation or professionalization will earn herbalism the support of the corporatized, pharmaceutical-centric  medical system, that we need not feel inadequate or freakish for practicing “archaic” plant medicine.  There is no work more important than the healing of bodies, psyches, spirits, and the land… and no greater role we could play today than embodying a holistic alternative to the separative mainstream paradigm of distraction and destruction, corporate greed and drug dependency.

Herbalism does not need mainstream acceptance to be valid or viable.  Folk herbalism is an alternative stream, divergent, un-dammed, serpentine, free flowing continuously throughout the times of acceptance or nonacceptance, popularity or obscurity.  It is incredibly empowering to look to one’s own intuition, studies, research, and especially personal experience and results… for reassurance of the value of healing plants and the importance of this work.  When we understand and accept the relative rarity and alternative nature of herbalism, we come to see how embodying the role of herbalist today is an act of liberation from a system and its lies, and recognize the natural world as place of reconnection as we take on the responsibility for our own health and the health of the people and even ecosystems around us.

Trends and even cultures will come and go, but there will always be a need for self care, community health care, and plant medicines… and at least an impassioned and dedicated minority giving their lifetimes to the day to day furtherance of herbalism.  I’m excited that this living thread – this story – is ours to live and tell.

Phyllis: Are you concerned about the regulation of natural health approaches to personal care in this country? 

Wolf: I worry greatly about the hurtful effects it will have on practitioners, and the clients of healers and community clinics that may have trouble getting help once presented with the likely scenario of onerous or prohibitive regulation.  I do not worry about the survival of herbalism one bit, however, even in the face of the most oppressive imaginable laws and the most invasive possible enforcement.  It is impossible to stop people from using the plants that grow in their yards, fields and lots, and impossible to prevent them from advising and administering to each other when in need.  They can make it dangerous to run a public business, sell medicine out in the open, or advertise, but knowing folk herbalists as I do, most will continue making medicine with one hand, while flipping off the regulators with the other!

Wolf portrait Nov2014Phyllis: What about it being our responsibility to determine the direction of the practice of herbalism?

Wolf: Absolutely.  But we can only ethically and sustainably do that through education, influence and example, not by voting for a platform, making official proclamations, and then trying to make everyone tow the line. Plus, as in the natural world, it is far more effective to lead through example than to try to herd cats. 

Herbalism is and will be known by the identity we collectively impart.  Each of us contributes elements of personality – from punky antiauthoritarianism to dignified professionalism, and from nature loving sensibilities to a passion for ensuring justice – that together constitutes, defines, and expresses its complex character.  My hope is that its character will always include the greatest love for plants and healing, and the greatest determination to serve both.

Mason: How do you see the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference evolving? 

Wolf: Every year we try to balance reuniting the loyal core teachers that have helped define the event, with new teachers, new and unusual topics, and in that way new voices, new ideas, new perspectives and ways of thinking… and always with the characteristic TWHC/Plant Healer feel and flavor.  In this way we retain the cohesiveness and continuity of tribe, while letting the event continue to develop and morph.  We’ve considered growing it and involving some non-herbal, food and community related classes… and imagined the benefits of shrinking it to a smaller and longer event with a limit on the number of people.  In practice we have had no such options –  each Autumn we find that the next year’s event has been decided and defined by the teachers we selected, and by the passions and directions they each bring to this cauldron of possibilities.

One thing for certain, is that it will always be “different,” with the amazing folks who attend being the ones defining, manifesting, and celebrating that difference.

Sarah: When I hear people talking about Plant Healer, there are three things that get repeated again and again: how effectively you inspire a deeper relationship with the natural world, how you and Kiva have have become a champion for neurodiversity including autistic people, and how you have made so many people of all different kinds feel like they have a voice and a group where they feel recognized and accepted.  Is there some thread that connects all three of these?

Wolf: The diverse natural world, neural diversity, and diverse healing ways and roles are all threatened by the mechanisms of the dominant sociopolitical paradigm and the pressures to normal and same.  And likewise, all three can provide treatment, option or solution.

In the case of nature?  For thousands of years there have been great efforts made to transform the natural world to a commodity consisting of profitable “resources” and manageable monocultures, an incredible diversity of food species and seeds reduced to a relatively few crop varieties, single-species tree farms spaced perfectly for mechanical harvesting, mountains leveled for coal mining or development, winding rivers forced into straight canals, expressions of uncontrolled wildness suppressed with the aim of making things more acceptable, profitable, comfortable, and theoretically secure, with the engineers of these projects and campaigns seeking prestige from a professional and political elite.  The remedies we hope to help inspire involve: Support for genetic diversity through the protection of habitats, the conservation, propagation, and banking of viable, natural and heirloom seeds, along with fervent resistance to development that threatens plant and animal species, and opposition to Monsanto patenting seeds and big Pharma patenting organisms.  Teaching people to recognize the intrinsic value, and value to the ecosystems, of all species regardless of their perceived monetary or resource value.  Engaging in and encouraging personal immersion in the natural world in ways and at times that heighten our senses and increase awareness, stir compassion, bolster a palpable sense of interrelation and incontrovertible responsibility, alert us to our instincts, and awaken us to our feelings, and needs, and visions, and most meaningful dreams. NEURODIVERSITY-Message-72dpi

Neurological diversity?  For at least the 50,000+ years that humans have been considered “civilized,” divergent ways of thinking, believing, appearing and acting have been increasingly and methodically suppressed.  It is natural for creatures to fear the unfamiliar, but the more civilized, urbanized, organized, stratified, and “normalized” humans have become, the more there has been systematic ostracizing, marginalizing, institutionalizing, and even demonizing of any members of our own species deemed to be different.  This increase is evidenced from the Catholic Inquisition’s torture and execution of heretics (those who think differently) to Adolph Hitler’s eugenics and massacre of not only Jews but gays, gypsies, the “mentally handicapped,” intellectuals and free thinkers.  Today we see it peaking in religious intolerance with extremest Christians, Islamists verbally or physically attacking anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs, anyone who doesn’t look or act as they do, and in social and political intolerance with right-wingers hateful of progressives, and with some politically correct liberals distrusting and dissing anyone who takes exception to one of their strong opinions, tenets or assumptions.  Original thinkers who were in some times and in some contexts treasured for their abilities to perceive “outside the box.” adapt and innovate, are now mainly valued in manufacturing and commerce while being shunned or attacked for suggesting alternative ways of perceiving and living.  Current campaigns to “stamp out” Autism are scarily reminiscent of the eugenic campaigns of the 1930s and 40s, labeling neural diversity a disorder, and positing a standard for normalcy that everyone either measures up to or fails.  The fact is that everyone is in some ways unique, with a personal mix of weaknesses and strengths, difficulties and abilities, personality traits and ways of seeing things, and there may be no true normal condition or behavior beyond people’s efforts to conform or pretend!  The remedies we encourage for this involve: Educating people about the value of all diversity including neural.  The vociferous defense and support of the neurally diverse including but not limited to the much maligned Autistic community.  The celebration of neural, perceptual, and psychological differences, knowing that neural diversity can lead to experimentation and deviation, and therefore can be a driver of biological as well as cultural evolution.

And helping people feel especially at home in the Plant Healer community? There are relevant parallels as well as connective threads.  It was the strangely impassioned and partially crazed folks that human kind once looked to for divination and direction, to launch movements and to lead wild expeditions, to act as communicants and mediators between the human and natural or spiritual dimensions.  But then came the thousands of years of fear-based pressure towards uniformity during which the different were increasingly seen as disruptive or threatening.  In some places the handing out of herbs was no longer considered the realm of precious community wise women and medicine men, but was instead said to be the work of the devil.  Beginning in the mid 1800s and cresting in the 1950s, infatuation with modernity and technology combined with anti-herbal pharmaceutical industry propaganda to destroy most Americans’ trust in plants’ ability to heal as well as in the purveyors of plant medicine.  Herbs were portrayed as dirty and impure, either marginally effective and greatly bested by the latest drugs or else dangerous to use.  People were led to believe they should set aside their opinions and experiences, mistrust their instincts, put their lives in the hands of certified professionals, and thus turn away from the mothers and midwifes and herbwyfes, the traveling medicine show sellers, and the plants themselves that humans had relied upon since taking our first steps on the surface of this planet.  The same day that I read about the latest Orwellian FDA restrictions on making medicine, 

I also recently read a certain Arizona herbalist’s rant against “hippie” herbalists, and followed that to online discussions about how we should all dress more conservatively in order not to give herbalism a bad name with normal people, and to announcements for conference workshops on how to comply with unjust stipulations.  Clearly the social and regulatory pressure to conform, abide and obey is as great as ever, with herbalism in danger of being ever more formalized and burdened until the likely day when it is essentially made illegal.  The pressure that so many herbalists today feel to fit into a uniform, acceptable mold, necessarily makes me think about how neurally diverse folks must feel as a result of campaigns to “cure” autism and push people into becoming more “normal.”  And it might remind us of allied campaigns to tame wild nature, or to elevate certain species of plants while denigrating and attempting to eradicate unqualified and apparently unacceptable weeds.

Providing for the folk-minded herbalist in all her and his many varieties and forms has meant also creating a valued place for the delightfully divergent, for the outliers, independents and mavericks, for both the quiet unseen introverts and “unseemly” extroverts.  Creativity is itself deviation from the norm, and I have so loved joining in helping to create a “home” and a venue for human diversity of all kinds including neurodiversity, a nexus for the valuing of and defense of biological diversity, a context wherein cultural diversity is celebrated and furthered by the naturally and the gladly anomalous!  The truth is that variation and individuality are inherent and universal, nobody is exactly the same as the next person, and therefore nobody can fully be considered normal no matter how hard they are coaxed to try, or how much pressure and manipulation they suffer.  Let them be free of the need for the approval of the destroyers and the normalizers – because what justice or beauty is there in the supposedly normal, in the normal politics that oppress us and the planet, in the normal ways of treating women and people of color in this society, in buying normal if not necessarily tasteful fashions made by exploited workers, in the normal business of exploiting and bankrupting the living earth, or in what is now thought of as normal medical care?  I am glad to affirm and join in their happiness with their weedy selves and atypical ways… and to be a participant in an ever more conscious evolving of our diverse expressions.

Sarah: What do you see as problems in the herbal community, apart from matters of registration and regulation?

Wolf: I don’t see a lot of problems – in need of processing and solving – so much as as pitfalls and traps to be wisely avoided.  I detail many of these in The Plant Healer’s Path, including:  Imagining we will never be good enough at this work, or don’t know enough yet to be of any help to others… or on the other hand, imagining that anyone can be equally good at the healing arts regardless of studies or experience.  Projecting our feelings, motivations, and thoughts onto the plants.  Thinking that herbs exist for us, rather than for themselves first and then the entirety of the interdependent ecosystem.  Political correctness and guilt, at the expense of nuance and discussion.  Being afraid to express opinions that could discomfort others, or raise issues that likely need dealing with.  Looking to authorities and organizations for permission and approval.  Worrying we’d be better off if we and our craft “fit in” better with prevailing system and ways.  And taking ourselves too seriously.

I don’t mean to suggest our work and goals, or illness and suffering, are not serious matters.  It is precisely because they are so important and sobering that we need to balance that with laughter and frivolity – what I call the “Four Humors”: Dark humor (also known as “operating room humor, an effective pressure valve underutilized by many among our gentle and sensitive herbalists.  Silliness and light hearted play, including with our pained clients.  Teasing, fooling, and playful irreverence.  And especially, knowing how to laugh at ourselves, our ailments, our contradictions, and especially the beliefs we’re most attached to.  Each of these four can contribute to helping make both our clients and ourselves feel better – and isn’t that a big part of our missions?

Melanie: Rather than prioritizing the implementation of regulations and standards, as some within the field are doing, you emphasize the importance of sharing our own story – of collectively writing our own narrative. This portion of your book is a definite “call for action” where you present a very compelling case for why this is important, followed by clear guidelines for how we can each begin to effectively share our own story. In your opinion, what would be the ideal outcome from herbalists stepping forward and claiming their voice through story?

Wolf: All of life is a story, either composed by our selves as we create, form and direct our own lives, or largely written and directed by others – by controlling parents, critical teachers and peers, corporate driven media and advertising, fashion fascists, dogmatic religious leaders, political leaders and elected officials regulating every aspect of our existence.  Our personal story, and our collective story as a community of healers, will only avoid being shaped by others if we take responsibility for shaping it ourselves.  This is true in a very practical, not just metaphoric way.  Herbalists, like any conscious group of well meaning people,  can easily be misrepresented if we don’t show ourselves, if we don’t tell them and demonstrate to them who we are and what we are about.  We can be controlled and even crushed if we do not assert ourselves and make sure the story turns out different.  We can fall into traps of uninteresting conformity and unquestioning obedience into the system’s ready made script for us, with a prearranged progression, a shortage of dramatic depth, and a meaningless end.

Storyteller Poster

Melanie: So essentially, our sense of power comes through owning and sharing our own personal stories; through being the primary writers of this script. If we want herbalism continue to evolve as a powerful vocation, then we need to own and share our personal stories as healers, artists, activists, scientists, and generalists. We need to define the story for ourselves rather than allow external forces to define it for us.

Consider the analogy of herb schools teaching students as being similar to fertile plants producing lots of seeds. In order for these seeds to be capable of sprouting and maturing themselves, then they have to be equipped for the elements through proper nourishment and hydration. One of the reasons I love your book The Plant Healer’s Path is that it provides nourishment to those parched seeds – the herb students who graduated without a clear understanding for what to expect in the real world.

Wolf: Our personal destinies, and the destinies of human kind and other life forms, all depend on the reclamation of meaningful purpose, on a radical rewriting of our stories so real and empowering that even the best fiction pales… the remaking and healing and manifesting of our lives, and the glad telling of our tales.

Phyllis: Jesse, you are a man of deep passion and fire. What fuels that fire? 

Wolf: I believe that as an internally impelled choleric/wood I was born with fuel a-plenty, and challenges motivate me more than discourage.  And I am conscious and sensitive enough that there are always needs and causes to respond to, address, and hope to heal.  

What I require is direction for this energy and drive, signs of the most effective routes and means, triage, and prioritization… and I need inspiration.  I need inspiration the way I need each vital breath of air.  Motivation is provided by the wrongs that I can try to address, the injustices I am called to resist, the suffering of people and other life forms that I long to ease, but it is inspiration that suggests to me remedies, cures, alternatives, and solutions, that has me look up and forward instead of only down at the difficulties and details.  It’s inspiration providing me with reasons for hope.

Wolf with Guido MaseI am inspired by the responses of the plant healer community, their love for the natural world, their courage in doing this healing work even when they get little support and make little money, and their gratitude for an herbal movement that includes rather then excludes them.  I’m inspired by Kiva’s work on healing her damaged self, body and psyche, even more than by what she knows and is able to do.  I am inspired by the teachers and writers we attract and support, by watering the seeds of their potential in whatever ways we can and then watching as they blossom and flourish – such as the inspiring Jim McDonald, Sean Donahue, Asia Suler, Shana Lipner Grover, all the wonderful gifted people writing for Plant Healer Magazine or teaching at TWHC… and so very many more.  I’m inspired by the caring community of employees in the dozens of special eco-hearted companies we work with like Mountain Rose Herbs, and the hundreds of small herb shop proprietors like Julie Caldwell’s Humboldt Herbs serving not just as sources of medicinal herbs but of advice and concern, as centers for community arts, education, and the resolving of issues.  Inspired by kickass people like Wendy Hounsel melding herbalism and nursing, and by those balancing science with folk tradition and alternative sensibility such as Larken Bunce, Phyllis Light, Juliet Blankespoor, and the rather amazing Guido Masé… but also by Paul Bergner’s incisive critical thinking.  Inspired by those providing free herbal care on the streets of Oakland, in Guatemalan clinics, in the underserved villages of Tanzania, and by all those working on herbal justice, access, and herbs for mental health, such as Janet Kent and Dave Meesters.  By Thomas and Terrie Easley’s devotion to what matters most.  And it sometimes creates loops of ever greater excitement and vision, such as how inspired I am to hear when attendees at our events were themselves inspired enough by us to launch their own herbal businesses, activism, clinics, regional events and radical conferences.

And most of all, I am inspired by the plants, inspired by their familiarity and strangeness, known properties and utter mysteries.  Inspired that they affect everyone a little differently, depending on one’s condition and constitution.  Inspired by the fact that Wild Yam stops my gall bladder attacks every single time, even though there is almost nothing we can find in the literature to explain it yet.

Sarah: You call your community a “tribe,” but I thought the word was reserved either for existing indigenous peoples, or else used as as put-down.  We mostly use the expression the Hopi “people” now rather than Hopi “tribe,” for example. What is that makes this group of folks you gather tribal?

Wolf: We’re not an organization in the sense of set institutions, bylaws, or approved membership.  We are too populous and diverse to be a family, as close as we may feel to each other.  We are a tribe, in keeping with its dictionary definition as a recognizable society united by specific traditions, with social loyalties and alliances, a shared nature-inspired and nature-informed culture including associated literature and arts.  Sure, the word has been applied by colonists and conquerors to peoples considered primitive and uncivilized, but that just makes us all the prouder.  Membership is self defined, not determined by superiors.  Those who feel similarly about the earth, plants and healing, who speak a common language of thinking and caring, and who feel drawn to and intimate with our people and purpose, become by their nature and choice an integral part of and contribution to the wilding Plant Healer tribe.

We are a truly diverse tribe of oddkins, individualists as well as communalists, misfits when it comes to the status quo, visionaries and doers, allied in our quests to learn and to assist, bound by our love and our commitments.  And we are part of a larger coalition as well, one rooted in our ancient history of healers, if expressed in greatly different ways.  Plant Healers are allied with numerous forms of natural healing practice, not just with folk herbalism.  

No matter what herbal community any one of us identifies with, we are thrust together by the very fact of our love for plants, appreciation for nature, service to something beyond mere survival, income and comfort… and our compulsion and dedication to our chosen healing processes.

Sarah: Not everyone has access to herbal knowledge, or for one reason or another will ever even try using herbs.  It’s not easy today to stay out of the often harmful medical system, let alone to have an impact on human culture or the environment.  And I can only imagine the challenges to becoming a practicing herbalist considering all there is to deal with.

Jesse Wolf Hardin 2015Wolf: Sure, we need to face the reality of living in trying times of corporate hegemony and social conformity, environmental destruction and citizen resignation or complacency.  We’re in a time when we will have to act to ensure herbal access and justice, and need to do a lot more to protect the plants that heal and protect us.  But we are also living in a place and time of possibilities, of more choices than ever before, and with potentially more information, synthesis, comprehension, and motivations to act on our determinations and follow our paths.  

In spite of all the challenges, obstacles and handicaps, it remains possible to better orient ourselves in the physical world, and to explore our personal gifts, needs, feelings, purpose and direction.  Possible to deepen our awareness and understanding of natural authentic self.  To awaken our bodily senses, learning to better sense the world we are an integral part of.  To recognize more patterns and notice more beauty, to hear more exquisitely, to taste every nuance of our food, to savor even the mundane details of our mortal lives.  To tap our bodily knowing and creature instincts, and sometimes to increase intuition.  To deepen our sense of place… of family, home, land, ecosystem and bioregion.  Further our awareness of and active relationship to the natural, revelatory world.  Recognize the intrinsic nature of and animating force in everything, and every thing’s intrinsic value apart from human use.  Increase our sense of self worth and confidence, based on our true abilities rather than imposed or imagined characteristics and gifts.  Come to better understand our fears, and how to use them as markers for what needs our attention, as fuel to act, to change what needs changing.  Realize that we are a co-creators of not only our reality but our world, and commit to acting accordingly.  Discover how to give back to the earth that provides and inspires.  Learn how to grow from every mistake or misdirection.  Get beyond victimhood.  Detach from unhealthy habits, expectations, judgments, and ways of thinking.  Develop healthy attachments to life, spirit, values and missions.  Make every moment a decisive moment, and take responsibility for what we both do and don’t do.  Reawaken a childlike sense of wonder and connection.  Learn how to best utilize our gifts and skills for the good of ourselves and the world.  Discover how to actively fulfill our individual most meaningful purpose.  Learn to better celebrate and deeper savor….

Sarah: Wow!  Anything else you’d like to add?

Wolf: The need and calling for self-care and community care skills like herbalism has never been greater.  As the price of pharmaceuticals continually goes up and their dangers become ever more evident, and whenever the general economy is shaky, herbal knowledge is again accepted as it was in the days before the advent of “modern” medicine – as essential.  There is a new and rising wave of herbalists of all ages, insistent on learning the old ways and the new twists, treating their families or serving their communities.  It’s that which has us giving nearly all of our time to these projects, the necessity for a “Medicine of The People, By The People, For The People”… and the satisfaction that comes with helping to feed and further this aroused herbal resurgence.

Informed Folk Herbalism is only one piece – albeit a very important one – in what is a larger interweaving of social action, earth stewardship and crucial cultural change. With increased attention to the self-empowering field of herbal healing, we will again and again be making the connection to the necessary, active healing of our wounded hearts and psyches, healing the schism between us and the rest of nature, healing our communities and the damaged earth that we and our herbs together grow from.

This – and so much else – is cause for wild celebration!


You can read the complete interview in the Winter 2015 issue of Plant Healer Magazine, releasing Dec. 7th.  You can subscribe to by going to:

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  2 Responses to “Jesse Wolf Hardin Interviewed by Pulla, Bergner & Light”

  1. Thank you Wolf so much for this, these words and the living behind them – just what is needed right here, right now, for me, for all of us, for the plants, the planet…. It helps to fuel my fire knowing I am not alone in these things. <3

  2. This was oh-so-inspiring. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom! I’m so grateful to be a part of this tribe and to feel the power and support amongst it. Many thanks!!!

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