The Winding Path: Growing as an Herbalist

I am building a life that is tied to the earth, farming, food and healing I am committed to developing a body of knowledge around herbal medicine. There is a patchwork of experiences that led to my interest in herbal medicine:

  • Having my mom drag me to the health food store to help her find tiny bottles of ginseng.
  • When I was sick to my stomach my dad would give me a bowl of chicken soup and a can of ginger ale.
  • Witnessing my grandfather extol the healing properties of shea butter and mixing perfume oils in his shop.

As a teenager I would learn about healing with crystals, burning sage to purify and mix herbal teas for my upset stomachs. Through my own need to heal — both emotionally and physically — as an adult I taught myself ways to grow and prepare fresh food. Now, I want to learn deeper, targeted ways of working with the earth to heal.

I believe that full health begins with how we care for and feed our mental, spiritual and physical bodies. As someone who is a natural and empathetic listener I often take on the energy of others. I have had to learn patience and personal healing from that to discover what they may need to heal. I want to harness that. I see my belief in working for justice and community lend themselves to helping communities heal. I will start this in my own backyard or the 28 acres that is known as Gilliard Farms.

I am committed to fully developing a practice that is grounded in the earth from seed and blossom to drying racks and kitchen. This spring I started by building raised beds from scratch and an ambitious herbal crop plan. I learned that borage and flax flowers do not like too much mulch; chamomile cannot tolerate the high heat of July and sometimes less plants is more. I was able to successfully grow garden sage, holy basil, betony and many others that defied the tiny markers left for them. I am still trying to identify the beautiful plant with yellow bell flowers that outgrew everything else in the right bed.

The greatest lesson is that one must live in the same city and breathe the same air as the herbs you wish to cultivate for more than a couple of trips. My permanent move to Coastal Georgia has me going deep into what I want to bring into the world. I am setting out renewed and armed with a more tenable crop plan that works with native plants and testing some non-native species (including my patrons plants, lavender and sage).

Herbs that are native to the Coastal Georgia and the Golden Isles are pokeweed, saw palmetto, chickweed, raspberry, nettles, elderberry, witch hazel, sassafras, milkwort and skullcap. Developing an herbal practice that is about working with the seeds, the environment and the weather is key to herbal sustainability. Finding herbal allies that already exist and learning to responsibly harvest and cultivate creates a more thoughtful practice and hopefully practitioner.