Meet the Herbalist:
In this new column of our Newsletter, we will feature an herbalist who has had an impact upon herbal education or the herbal industry today.† For our first Meet the Herbalist interview, we will focus on Julie Bailey.† Before becoming the owner of Mountain Rose Herbs, Julie taught herbal classes, worked in healthcare, owned her own nursery, led hiking trips, and she has always had a deep love for nature and the outdoors. Read this article to learn more about Julie, why she became interested in herbalism, some of her favorite herbs, and about her inspirations!
1.† Can you recall the one moment when you were convinced that herbalism would be a path for you?
While not clearly understanding where it would lead at the time, there were two incidences in my early childhood that stimulated a lifelong love of herbs. One of my earliest memories is staying with my cousins in the High Peak district of Derbyshire. It was early spring, and I had only recently learned to walk well enough to propel myself without tottering, and the all the different shapes and colours of the green world of my cousinsí wild garden were beckoning. Like most little ones when I needed to pee, immediacy was called for. I squatted in an inviting patch of sun-warmed dark green, made up of small, intricately carved leaves covered with tiny, fine silvery hairs. The intense stinging and shock caused a flood of tears and a large enough wail to produce a young girl cousin within seconds. I was led by the hand to some long-eared yellowish-green leaves that grew straight from the soil and had red-brown veins up their centers.† My cousin broke a leaf off, crushed and rolled it in her hands, then applied to the red burning source of screams. Continuing the process, until I was sitting in a juicy mass of plant material, she told me that Stinging Nettles and Dock leaves always grow close to each other and that young animals eat them both in the spring to grow strong but they always eat the nettles first. Intensity of pain reduced, I became more interested in hearing stories about plants than sobbing and fear.
Years later when I was almost 8, one of my sisters and myself got boils. This was an altogether unpleasant experience, three or four hot red pustules the size of nail heads. While my mother used other remedies (including clay poultices, and iodine), the one Iíll never forget is the Burdock leaves. Besides placing warm leaves on the boils, (and this required creative application to get a wad of leaves to stay put) we made huge hand-held face masks with the largest leaves. I used round-ended scissors and my sister had pinking shears and we both cut out holes from the leaves for our eyes, noses and mouths. We continued the face mask routine, even as teenagers indulging in long hot baths with a warm, wet burdock leaf draped across the face to reduce acne.
2.† What was the most influential book you have ever had the opportunity to read and for what reasons?
No way can I pick out just one. Favourite authors range from Elizabeth Goudge and Frances Hodgson Burnet, principally because of their descriptive passages of plants, to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Mary Wollstonecraft for their courage, Ivan Illich and Rachel Carson for questioning established institutions to Aldous Huxley, Ernest Callenbach and Starhawk for offering different futures. Barbara Kingsolver and Diane Ackerman Ö (for their passionate and often sensual descriptions of nature).
Influential herbal books - Identification books. Iím an avid record-keeper, I love Latin names, botany is fascinating and I have to know what is growing near me. And, for making the science of herbs accessible, to the non-scientific; books by David Hoffman, particularly Medical Herbalism.
3.† With all the tumult surrounding herbs and herbalism in the world today, where would you like for the future of herbalism to be headed?
This is a huge question really, because especially as herbalists itís not just about single issue within a legislative or political environment, weíre part of a global community of people connected to the plant world. I do not want to see herbalism taken over by either medical or pharmaceutical institutions or giant corporations. I do not want to see herbs banned, and I donít want to see them over-harvested to endangerment or extinction. To me ensuring availability of herbs and herbal information and education to all regardless of status or income is vitally important. †Educating the public is also very important to me, encouraging self empowerment, self education, questioning rather than accepting, self responsibility, cultivating intelligence rather than dumbing-down, sharing knowledge and information, discussing possible root causes rather than just dispensing treatments.† In addition, supporting organic cultivation and caring for our earth, educating farmers and producers, promoting good working conditions, decent pay for those who are farming and growing are all vital issues which need to be addressed.
4.† When not involved with herbs, what invokes your passion and interests?
My home. I am very lucky to live on a steep ten acres of well established 2nd growth forest; primarily Douglas fir, Madrone, Ponderosa pine, Cedar, Maples, Oaks and even Yew with lots of poison oak and wild blackberries!† So, whether pulling out berry vines, maintaining trails or watching birds, there is always plenty to do. And, gardening of course. The deer and their ancestors have evidently lived here a long time and everything Iíve ever learned about deer-resistant plants has been challenged. I have a small fenced area to protect my roses and other tender beauties but outside of that enclosure, only the Rue, Foxgloves and Rosemary receive just a nibble. Lavenders, Sages, Thyme, Artemisias all get grazed severely by the deer. If the plant is still healthy after the late summer deer attacks, then it will usually thrive. I believe that these deer have learned on some level that the varied nutrition offered by my gardens and the nibbles of medicinal and often bitter herbs are useful to them. And when Iím indoors Ė what stirs my passions and interests, (besides my partner), I would say botanical themes in history, literature and art, such as William Morris or the Art Nouveau movement, and supporting groups that protect our earth.
5.† What herbs do you take regularly and why?
Nettles (Urtica dioica) Ė because I believe they keep me energetic, grounded and help reduce Spring sniffles. They taste wonderful; whether I make them as tea or I saute or steam them in food. (To me good nettle tea tastes like rich forest velvet, then pure green nourishment, with a dash of tea tannin and unsweetened chocolate), besides I have an abundance of them growing close to my home, their tenacity, vigour and almost invasive character, not to mention their sting is a source of wryly amusing frustration especially when I weed them from the places I really donít want them growing.
Vitex berries (Vitex agnus-castus, aka Chaste Tree) Beautiful, vigorous yet delicate in appearance, a small tree that flowers in late summer with lavender flowers and a smooth subtle sage and mild pepper fragrance. The berries taste like the aroma and I find their action to be a smooth, cool, leveling balm on my hormonal dance. I have several in my garden, planted in an informal row with lavender and sage plants interspersed between them and they bring so much joy later in the summer. Although I will nibble on the ripe berries in Autumn, I gently pull the berries off the old flowering branch ends and then tincture them in alcohol for later year-round use.
6.† Who are some of your favorite herbalists?
No single person.
Rosemary Gladstar for the joy, the juice and the passion she has infused in the people she touches and the projects she has initiated.
David Hoffmann for helping to demystify the science of herbs, for reminding us to always question Ė the source, the authority, the tradition, and for his delightfully dry and quirky familiar British humour.
Richo Cech. A truly authentic plant person and an invaluablely serious and dedicated teacher.
Sharol Tilgner for walking her talk. I can think of no one who more passionately lives and practices their principles. Her energy and dedication at Wise Acres and her extensive educational opportunities are an inspiration.
Michael Moore for making available such wealth of information in his books and on the internet, teaching so many of todayís herbalists, and for his irreverent and direct way of communicating.
Susun Weed for putting what she believes out there. Including a brilliant demystification of menopause and the creation of a widely used online forum.
Ryan Drum for forever making me associate the thyroid gland with rubber boots, seaweed slime and laughter.
7.† Do you have any brief tips to share with budding new herbalists?
Donít just listen to one teacher, follow the instructions in one book, or subscribe to just one tradition. Youíll find herbalists a bit like plants, some of what you learn is confusing and each may tell you something different from the other. Stay the course, use common sense and learn the plants yourself. Because once you know even a few plants, youíll find that like a meal created from ingredients picked from your own garden and made with love is better or equal to the finest restaurant, a salve, tea or extract made in the same way is superior to anything you can buy ready-made from a store. The love, immediacy, intent, knowledge and satisfaction of making your own herbal remedies and body care, creates health and well-being in itself.
Keep excellent records.
Donít take yourself too seriously, have fun and laugh often.