Learning Herbs Interview 1.3
with Susun Weed & John Gallagher
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: YES! Yes, absolutely! That is one of the most beautiful that we can do as teachers is to really take a backseat and let the plants speak for themselves because they certainly have plenty to say.
Now I do have blatant advertising pitch here. I do have a correspondence course for working with a Green Ally. And there are 26 projects that you do over the course of a year to connect with your Green Ally ‑ a huge variety of things, from interviewing people who know about your Green Ally, to actually hands‑on projects with it. With the apprentices who are living with me, however, there is an interesting kind of restriction, and that is, it kind of goes along with what you're saying, and that is, at the culmination of their apprenticeship, they have to give a report on their Green Ally and show us different things that they've done with their Green Ally and how to use it, and so on, but they're not ever allowed to look in a book.
Susun: Right. Now that's because of course they're here, and they're doing lots of other book stuff, and of course if you're doing the Green Ally correspondence course, you're looking in lots of books, and you're making a book yourself about your plant. So it's a little bit different than being here, but I say to the apprentices, I say, "Part of what we intend to do here is to stretch you in two directions." So every day they have to know the botanical name, species, genus, and family of a plant that we can see in flower that day.
John: Wow. That is... I'm laughing because I use to teach a computer course, and I would walk in every day, and I would go, "OK, extra credit: Name five flowering trees that are in flower right now."
Susun: Right now.
John: Every day. And it had nothing to do with the computer course, but I would have a plant question for them every time. And nobody ever got it. The people could have passed the course without even doing any of the work.
Susun; Right, if you just looked and seen what was flowering.
John: "Get your heads out of the computers, people."
Susun: Right. "Look up, look up."
John: You told me the other day that, hey, if you're a teacher, you've got to want to like repeating yourself, and I know there's a lot of new ears out here tonight. And being that I know that, when you're speaking and answered the anti‑inflammatory question for me, there's a whole paradigm in a way of thinking about your approach that you teach people, and so if I'm just going to say, Susun, it's about keeping it simple, standard brews, vitamins and minerals, what comes to mind there for you? What other kind of thing do you want to tell people?
Susun: Well, I'll tell you one of the things that I like to say, John, is that being 60 now I can look back, and I can kind of look at the landscape of the things that I've taught and thought, and I can see that I have indeed had three good ideas. And those three good ideas are: the traditions of healing, the steps of healing, and nourishing herbal infusions.
So I have identified three traditions of healing: the linear scientific, which measures, the circular heroic, which cleanses, and the spiralic wise woman, which nourishes. And I think that has been incredibly beneficial for many people to be able to see that there are many different ways to approach something.
We can't assume that because someone is an MD that they're strictly scientific, or that because someone is a chiropractor that they're not scientific, indeed, in that tradition.
And of course people can be mixes of that. Nourishing herbal infusions, which are called standard brews ‑ that wasn't sexy enough for me, so I changed it.
John: Oh, right. OK. Yeah.
Susun: And standard brew's absolutely fine because I learned it from Juliette Levy, and that's what she calls them, is standard brews. And as I said, it just didn't seem sexy enough.
John: Yeah, you're right.
Susun: People like things that are sexy, that have a little juice in them. So nourishing herbal infusion.
John: I like that.
Susun: Yeah. I took that word "infusion" because it's got a lot of oomph to it there, a lot of energy, like you get when you drink the nourishing herbal infusions. And they're kind of my Aquarius way of finding the one thing that works for everybody. Right. I don't divide people up into casa or zata or any of those things. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. I'm just saying it's not a way that I've found useful to work.
I really want to see, in what way are we all really alike. And one of the bases of the wise woman tradition is nourishment. And so looking at nourishment, it was pretty clear to me that there were a lot of minerals, especially trace minerals and micro‑nutrients, that are missing from the modern diet, and missing for a huge variety of reasons.
And I found that by encouraging people to make strong brews ‑ not teas but infusions, very strong infusions ‑ of herbs that don't contain poisons; in other words, herbs that don't have volatile oils, so we wouldn't use peppermint for nourishing herbal infusion; herbs that don't contain resins, so we wouldn't want to use yarrow for nourishing herbal infusion; herbs that don't contain alkaloids, right. Generally we would want to avoid making a nourishing herbal infusion of something like goldenseal or bloodroot, right. And we don't want to use herbs that contain glycosides, like pokeroot.
Susun: Right. Because those are all poisons. So we're looking at nourishing herbs. And of course the funny thing about that is that there are actually many herbalists, and probably many healers, who feel that any plant that doesn't contain a poison isn't medicinal.
Susun: Right. And that the ones I'm talking about ‑ oat straw, nettle, red clover,linden blossom, comfrey leaf, chickweed, raspberry lace, these safe, nutritive herbs can make a real difference in people's health. And of course what's required is a little personal activity, because you actually need to make the infusions yourself.
You can't just take a tincture, or go out and buy the already‑made thing ‑ you have to buy the dried herb and make it yourself. And so, going along with what I know that you do, is that we know that our own health doesn't come from somebody else or from some substance ‑ it comes from us.
Susun: Somebody called up, and she was apprenticing with one of my apprentices, and she said she had this great idea, that she was going to make tea bags of the nourishing infusion herbs because she had friends who kind of maybe would do it but they didn't want to touch the herb.
John: They didn't want to get messy, or get their sink all full of...
Susun: Exactly. And I was not kind to her. I said, "No, no, no. Don't do this." We want people to have to touch it. Right. And she said, "Oh, well, but if they didn't have to, they'd do it." And I said, "And maybe scientifically we could say they were getting the same nourishment, but nourishment is not just about things that we can measure. It's not just about vitamins and minerals."
Susun: So the third good idea ‑ lest I spend all my time talking about nourishing herbal infusions, which I can easily do ‑ is an idea that I use in my book, especially in "Breast Cancer? Breast Health: The Wise Woman Way" and in "New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way: Alternative Approaches for Woman 30‑90", so that when there's a problem, that problem in those books is approached through the six steps of healing, which are, first of all, do nothing. Step zero, do nothing, which is to be distinguished from, don't do anything.
Susun: Right. Don't do anything is to be in denial. Do nothing is to be present and to really understand that something is going on but to take more time. And then of course the next step is to collect information, and to collect that information both from what I call "interior" and "exterior sources." Or what some people would call "intuitive" as well as "rational sources." Right. I don't tend to draw the line between rational and intuitive in that way, but I understand that some people do and it's an easier way for them to think of it. And then we want to engage the energy.
A cooperative board game that teaches edible & medicinal plants. $29.95 plus S/H
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