Ohio Intensive Reflection:
Spending 5 days in Appalachia ‘off the grid’ sounded a little daunting at first but turned out to be one of the most powerful experiences of my training at MUIH. While planning this journey, I focused more preparations on my comfort and personal needs – being that we were planning to camp. Little did I know, I was going to be perfectly cared for in more ways than one. I embarked on this trip as a solo journey, driving 6.5 hours from Maryland to the United Plant Saver’s (UPS) sanctuary. When I arrived, I was open to connecting with people and nature, and surrendering to what showed up. I slowly let go of the connections I came with and started to shift that connection to plants and people who were there.
Day one was spent on the medicine walk at UPS. Paul Straus led our learning walk. I instantly connected with his energy, wisdom and love for nature. He IS Superman: he single-handedly turned this barren and stripped land into a vibrant terrain with vital energy, native plants and ponds; and provided the love that it needed to rejuvenate. He is my hero. His life experiences and knowledge are rich. I tried to stay as close to him as possible so as not to miss a word of his valuable sharing. During our 6-hour walk, we saw medicinal plants, endangered plants, and trees. We got to see key identification markers and learned about the medicinal properties of the plants viewed on the walk.
Day two was spent on Paul’s land and included a lecture on medicine making at Equinox Botanicals. Walking on Paul’s land was so powerful and grounding. He knows every square inch! The highlight of this day was the decent down to and visits to the cave. This was an absolutely magical place. The beauty, sound, protection and sacredness of the space was felt immediately. Once everyone was in the cave, more magic happened. Paul began to tell remembrances of his experiences on this land and learning about farming. I was in awe of the things he shared and grateful to be entrusted with his reflections. When things couldn’t get any better…they did! A powerful storm moved in. The lightening, thunder, rain and wind were ominous. The timing was perfect, as we were safely nestled in and protected by the cave. My eyes were wide open and taking, what to me was, this sacred moment. I felt like I need to be silent, still and absorb as much as I could. This moment couldn’t have been planned if we tried. The forest and plants did this dance with the wind and rain. The sounds and sights were beautiful from our protected seat in the cave. Paul continued telling us about his amazing accounts of life events. I only wished I could have seen this same landscape as it was over one hundred years about before it was stripped of it natural resources.
The time spent in the Equinox Apothecary was equally enjoyable. We learned all about their extraction methods, oil infusion, tincturing, GMP compliance, production outline, business process, and so much more. Although I am quite familiar with these processes due to my work in the MUIH Dispensary, I still got great confirmation of the MUIH practices we adopt. We are right in line with acceptable, current standards. This was comforting. I have my own herbal apothecary/dispensary in my home that I built about 6 months ago. My creativity was sparked on how I can improve and adopt affordable materials to upgrade my space. The first thing I am going to do is upgrade my work surface. Paul suggested going to a junkyard and getting sheet metal. This is perfect! I currently have particleboard, which I know isn’t compliant. I was looking at resin or soapstone, but the cost is high. Paul’s suggestion is a great solution.
Day three we were back out on Paul’s property looking for medicinal plants we will harvest. My curiosity was struck and I was listening for the answer to my question: what plants do I want to harvest for plant medicine? The answer finally came: nettle seed and agrimony. Unfortunately, the nettle was not in seed, so I switched to spice bush. On the walk, roads and trails were loaded with spicebush. I knew that harvest would be easy. I harvested quite a bit of spicebush and agrimony. The plan is to tincture the agrimony and make a cordial out of the spicebush. The tincturing process is not new to me; but I did notice it is new to some of the other students in the class. I was able to assist some of my classmates.
The final day was the ginseng walk. I learned so much about the properties, growing conditions, threats to its survival, poachers, harvesting and value of ginseng. I feel a sense of worry knowing that wild ginseng is pretty much gone. Everything is cultivated at this point. I grow quite sad that the natural growing and harvesting practice of early Appalachian settlers is gone. There is a new way to cultivate, grow and harvest. And, the ginseng is highly sought after and even thieved. The larger roots are quite valuable. The learning gave me a whole new appreciation for this amazing healing plant.
To wrap it all up, I walked away in a whole different headspace. I deeply connected with the plants and people. I was not surprised with the way I connected with the plants, but what did surprise me was the way the plants brought all of us together: the stories Paul shared, the support of classmates, the kindness and love everyone shared and the shear beauty of how this place brought it all together. One thing I did not touch on was my experience with some of my classmates Saturday evening in the yurt. I shared a personal story of challenge I went through this past year. The classmates in the yurt at that time gathered around me and laid hands on me. It was a deeply moving experience. I felt their essence, the space, the love and the great healing power that this land (and these women) provided in that moment. I have not felt this FULL in a long time. I walked away a changed being. I have a great reverence for the land and the way the people of that area live. I choose to be connected to the plant world and have made a commitment to make small, progressive changes that connect me with the earth, help plants thrive, maintain a native plant environment where I live, disengage with electronics periodically, and schedule ‘off the grid’ travel to places like this, every year. I will show respect for the plants (and people) around me, ask for the healing properties of the plant medicine, and give thanks for the harvest. I will give back to the earth and not take more than I need from it.