Deeply Rooted: Interview with Herbalist Bonnie Rose Weaver

Hi all. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I wanted to put you onto to a jewel of an e-book I came across this winter. The season can be especially hard on my body due to lack of sun, exercise, and fresh fruits and vegetables. In an effort to take better care of myself I looked into herbal teas and remedies and came across the work of Bonnie Rose Weaver. She is a young herbalist who started a community herb garden in the San Francisco mission district. She recently did an interview with herbalist Sarah Holmes on KQED’s The Herbal Highway, a radio show / podcast that I highly recommend! Lucky for me, she was also willing to share some knowledge here. Check out her insights regarding herbal medicine and healing below.

deeply-rooted

1) The book starts with an allegory about your asthma and how your research to find an herbal / natural cure led you to herbal gardening. I have mild asthma too and could totally relate to that feeling of having your legs shake and feeling out of control of your own body when the attacks hit. I’m curious, has anything spiked an asthma attack since you started taking your Strong Lungs Tea? Are there any other ailments you have suffered from that have since been cured by your herbs?

After I took Strong Lungs Tea for three months I noticed a significant increase to the strength and capacity of my lungs which I had never felt before. I was able to do things that had previously triggered my asthma, like riding my bike, running, and swimming. It was rather remarkable, and I decided to take the tea for a year. I don’t take it anymore, but I know how to support my lungs if I get a cold and might be susceptible. Since taking the tea, about 6 years ago I’ve never felt like my breathing was out of my control.

Other herbal successes have been my work with allergies. Last year I was so desperate for an affordable room in SF I decided to move into a closet in an apartment with cats. I’m allergic to cats, I get congestion and it triggers my asthma. I started taking freeze-dried nettle capsules everyday and going to acupuncture once a week. Both of these practices helped me greatly and within a few months I stopped having allergic reactions to the cats in my house.

As an avid hiker and lover of plants, I’m also really allergic to poison oak. I’ve had many out-of-control bouts with poison oak and now know a good herbal protocol. The herbal successes I’ve had are varied, and many, things I’ve personally experienced and witnessed in others that I’ve worked with. Eczema? UTI’s? Low energy? Cramps? Herbs work!

 

2) You use the term ‘healer’ in the book. I am familiar with the Mexican / North American indigenous healer traditions but you specialize in the European tradition. Can you talk a bit about that? Does that specification refer to the herbal plants you source, your own heritage, or the cultivation processes?

I practice Western herbal medicine, which is comprised of traditions from Europe. As far as I know, my people are Slavic, Calabrian, Norse and Celtic. I find that using European herbs and traditions is a powerful way to connect to my ancestors as I relearn ways of healing that have been used by my people for centuries, possibly millennia. On an energetic and cellular level, the plants and I already know each other intimately.

All of our ancestors used plants as medicine. There are traditions of plant medicine in every culture, some more intact and accessible than others. Modern Western herbalism has been influenced by modern times and different places; some of the plants I use and grow in my materia medica are native to California. This feels like an appropriate bridge across time and place, and ultimately is what is available to us in San Francisco in 2016. The city where I was born and raised is very different context from that of my ancestors who lived on farms in Europe 200 years ago. We cannot separate ourselves from this contemporary context. As a modern-day healer it is critical to use the tools available to us in the digital age alongside ancient wisdom, and it’s crucial to do so with consciousness and care.

I use the word healer as a bit of a catch-all. Curanderos, shaman, acupuncturists, massage therapists, craniosacral practitioners, energy healers, nutritionists, ayurvedic practitioners, flower essence practitioners, yoga teachers, wellness coaches and western herbalists are all bridges to healing, and to helping people seek balance in life. The list goes on, I’m sure there are practitioners I’m forgetting! The point is that is, a many-numbered of traditions and practitioners who may or may not be certified as a licensed medical professional, serve their communities as healers.

I’ve struggled to find health and healing with the western medical system, and there was a time I was skeptical of using herbs because I had no exposure to them. We live in a fear-based culture, and we’re taught that herbs don’t work, or can hurt us, but this is true for all things taken out of context. Dosage is really important and if you’re a beginner it’s helpful to study with a teacher or work with a practitioner.

 

3) It seems like, in some ways, your ‘European healer’ tradition has evolved to be more California Bay Area specific. I couldn’t help but feel that the story of the 1849 Medicine Garden is also a story of gentrification and people’s detachment from the natural elements that exist around us. Can you talk to me a little bit about the people, movements, and forces trying to work in opposition to this gentrification and commodification of the city’s natural resources? Where do herbal medicine gardens fit into this equation?

Yes. You hit the nail on the head. We choose the name 1849 as a critical reframing of the year gold was “discovered” in California. We’re asking, gold rush for who? At 1849 we use herbal medicine and individual healing as a way of talking about our cultural context and community health. How does the cultural cleansing and ecological destruction of our city’s past continue to feed into the issues we face today?

San Francisco is in the middle of a crisis. We are losing so much of what makes this city beautiful, quite literally, our victorians are being burned down (with rumors of arson) and evictions or buy outs are a rampant tactic for landlords to push out long-standing tenants who don’t and can’t pay as much as the new-wave of tech savvy transplants. Communities are pushed and priced out and it’s very clearly along racial and economic lines. I’m angry and appalled at the breeding of money-driven monoculture in my hometown.

I come to herbal medicine and urban farming as an activist. When I realized that all-night protests in the streets weren’t going to dismantle oppressive systems, I turned to the earth for answers. From my work with Little City Gardens, San Francisco’s only commercial farm (which is now having to close), I found that farming is itself a healing act, especially farming the place we call home.

Tapping into the cycles of nature is much easier with plants; the garden is my greatest teacher. As city folk, by tending plants, we can gain an understanding of our time and place. As a healer in a European tradition, I consider it my responsibility to take my white privilege into the equation and start looking at healing the deep cultural wounds in my city and on the soil that I work.

Despite the ongoing cultural and political turmoil, plants can help us to find peace and beauty in our lives. Perhaps this will give us the strength to keep loving, and keep fighting la lucha.

 

4) I loved the affirmation in your book that “the primary tenet for growing medicine is to reproduce a wild quality.” I have been reading a book – Women Who Run With Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype – about women’s ‘wild’ spirituality and how this relates to emotions and natural seasons. Do you feel that the seasonality of herbal medicine makes it even more relevant to women’s health and bodies?

A large majority of the people I meet through my work as an herbal farmer are cis-women. I can only begin to imagine why. Cis-women are often sensitive, if not emotionally, but physically too. Female bodies have complicated reproductive systems that are easily thrown off by stress, endocrine-disruptors, artificial hormones, pollution and poor diet. Cis-women who are tired, hungry, aching or in pain want answers. The solutions that the western medical system offers often overlooks, doesn’t understand or compartmentalize issues. Yes, there are things that Medical Doctors don’t understand. The body must be looked at as a whole being: emotional, physical, energetic, spiritual. I think culturally cis-women are better prepared to accept this. That said, I envision a future where all city folks, cis-women, femmes, and people from an entire spectrum of identities have access to plants and plant medicine.

 

5) What is your favorite herb and why? Does it vary?

Picking a favorite herb is like picking a favorite child, it cannot be done. There are herbs I use more often, like Nettles because his effect can be wholistic, boosting my overall vitality. I keep Yarrow on my person because her taste is bitter and can support digestion, also she acts as energetic protection for me. I keep Mugwort in my bedroom to encourage dreaming.

 

6) Since starting the Medicine Garden, writing your book, and building a community, what are some of the things you think are most important for people to take away from the work you do? How do you hope people will use the information you provide?

Our intention with Deeply Rooted and 1849 is to create more bridges to healing. It is my hope that through sharing my story of using plants as medicine, I may encourage others to seek similar relief. As a culture we are in desperate need of healing. To heal our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our communities and the earth will take all kinds of healing. I believe we will start the work when we are ready to connect to ourselves, to each other and the earth. I hope Deeply Rooted will inspire us to start flexing the muscle, we’ve got a lot of work to do!

 

7) How can people (myself included!) get more involved in Medicinal Plant Cultivation? (In the SF Bay Area).

Deeply Rooted is intended to be a starter guide for folks eager to five into herbal medicine and urban cultivation but don’t know where to start. My suggestion would be to pick one plant that “speaks” to you. Perhaps you like the way it looks, or you think it might be good medicine for you. Whatever your reason, seek it out to grow in a pot or in your yard. By nurturing the plant I’m confident you will learn a lot about the plant and yourself! This can be a great starting point. Proceed gently.

Thank you so much Bonnie!

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