A Chat with Susun Weed
The following is a written transcript from John Gallagher’s interview with Susun Weed on November 30, 2006. The interview was part of The Herbal Teleconference Series, which was an event celebrating the release of Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game
Susun: All the wonderful, different, energetic ways. Of course, you know one of the energetic ways that we're talking about here is people getting their hands on the herb.
Susun: Not that they necessarily have to go out and harvest it, but that they should squeeze it when they're straining their infusion. And then too, nourish and tonify and to be very clear about what it is that nourishes us. In that Gorchev way, I'm sure you've read some Gorchev, and what a horrible misogynist he was. He really didn't like women at all, but he had some good ideas nonetheless, and one of them was his idea that we are nourished by all of our senses.
Susun: Yeah that everything we've taken in is a vibration.
Susun: And that our cells are vibrating and therefore much is food that nourishes us. And I often say this when I'm outside teaching. I say, "Look at the nourishment that you're taking in." While we're doing this it's very different than if we were in a classroom. All right, so to really recognize all of those different aspects of nourishment and to clearly distinguish between tonification and stimulus.
Susun: and I find that that's something that is not very clearly distinguished in most of our...
John: And nursing and tonification can be some pretty tricky for some people to understand.
Susun: Well, here's something...
John: The difference, that is.
Susun: that I talk about when I'm teaching about this. I ask the people in my class to give the person next to them a hug. And then there's a small pause while hugging is going on. And then I have them sit down and I ask them if they got something from the hug. And of course everybody says, "Well yes I got something from the hug."
And then I ask them if it can be taken away from them. And no one has ever said, "Oh yes it can be taken away." And generally people say, "No. What do you mean? It's my hug and it can't be taken away from me." And I said, "Right. That's nourishment."
When you get it, you got it and it can't be taken away from you after that. I said, "Now if you never got another hug in the rest of your life, would this hug still count?" Well yes it would. Wouldn't it? So hugs don't have to be repeated.
Nourishment doesn't have to be repeated in order to be effective. Of course if it is repeated, it is more effective. But nourishment itself carries what it carries and we get it from any one single instance of it.
Now suppose that you decided tomorrow morning to go out, and having never run before, to run 10 miles. Would that improve your cardiovascular fitness?
John: Not at all. I'd probably drop out dead.
Susun: Drop out dead, me too. Right? Suppose instead that you ran a quarter of a mile twice a week for the next 20 weeks.
John: Then I'd get in shape.
Susun: That's only 10 miles.
John: Right, but hey but I was doing it every day.
Susun: You were repeating it.
John: Repeating it, right.
Susun: Also with tonification is that it must be repeated.
John: And my run could be a nourishing experience too which the 10‑mile thing wouldn't have been. The little short run I'm taking it easy. I'm looking at the birds and smelling the fresh air.
Susun: Exactly, exactly. And so this leads us interestingly enough to one of those herbal myths that just stays around and stays around, and that is the myth of the broken dose. It's a myth of homeostasis. And I'm sure you have heard this from people say, "Oh well. You have to stop taking this or any herb. You have to stop taking the herb after a while because it doesn't have any effect any more."
John: Yeah, what about that? And I've heard...
Susun: You've heard that right?
John: Yeah definitely.
Susun: Well that would be like saying, "Well you have to stop drinking coffee after a month or it won't have any effect." Obviously the coffee is still having effect. People drink it every single day. So what we're talking about here is actually what I call "buried with them."
When we're working with tonifying herbs like burdock root or dandelion root, like sassafras leaves or passionflower leaves, or ginseng root, we want to break the dose. We don't want to take a tonic herb in the same way we would take a nourishing herb. We want there to be a rhythm. That's what tonification is about. Right?
John: That's exactly it.
Susun: It's rhythm. And so we want to take the herb in a rhythmical way. Now that rhythm can be every day, and if so it should be at the same time every day to keep it rhythmical. And I'm reminded of the old‑timers around the Catskills who taught me about ginseng and what they said was that you chew a little piece of ginseng every day for six weeks in the fall, and then you don't do it at all until the next year.
Susun: Now that's a rhythm too isn't it?
John: Right. It is. It is. Even year‑to‑year that's a rhythm.
Susun: Exactly! So this is something that they were planning on doing, and most of them have done, every single year of their lives. And so it was a yearly, a long yearly rhythm that they were engaging in. So it's not that we want to stop taking herbs because they don't work. Of course when we think of it, that is patently absurd.
But if we're using tonifying herbs, then we want to pay attention to the rhythm. And whether that's take it five days a week and then not for two days, or is it take it three weeks out of the month and then not for a month, or six weeks out of the year and then not for the rest of the year.
John: And then I need to know then, OK, so when I'm taking my daily herbal infusion and for me it's usually the same, but you know what seasonally sometimes I feel like different things. In the winter I like to put a little more kelp in it or things like that. You know I just feel like that for some reason. I just kind of trust my intuition in it.
Susun: So let me say that I am very pointed about using one herb in your infusion.
John: Ha. Thank you.
Susun: One, just one.
John: Yeah. Just one.
Susun: Just one. And you will rotate that so today I'm drinking linden. Yesterday I drank oat straw. The day before that I had nettle. The day before that I had red clover. The day before that I had comfrey leaf.
John: I'm getting it now. All right, OK, so...
Susun: You do not mix them together.
John: Do not mix them together.
Susun: And you don't mix them together for the same reason that you don't usually go to bed with six people at once.
Susun: It's just not intimate, right?
Susun: And we're talking about intimacy.
Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game
A cooperative board game that teaches edible & medicinal plants.
Wildcraft! includes a 20x20 inch game board, instructions, 4 player pieces, 52 plant cards, 52 trouble cards, 25 cooperative cards, and a spinner. It also comes with a downloadable story to enhance the story of the game.
Botany and Wildcrafting for Herbalists DVD
Botany for Herbalists DVD
Susun Weed takes you on a walk with her apprentices and her goats across her land at the Wise Woman Center. In this DVD she explains the Latin naming system devised by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 1700's. Each herb has a family and a genus that it belongs to and a species that is its name. She explains the Tree of Life, flowering and non-flowering plants, and the reproductive cycle of flowering plants and herbs. She also teaches you about indentifying and harvesting herbs; and differentiates between annuals, biennials and perennials. As Susun says: “Weave yourself into the Wise Woman web. Join me in reclaiming herbal medicine as people’s medicine. Loving green blessings from me to you.”
Time: 1 hr, 12 min, 43 sec.
Produced in 2009 by HerbTV Studio
Order Botany for Herbalists DVD in our Bookshop