What was your first inspiration to become an herbalist?
I have loved plants for as long as I can remember. I learned to read at a very young age and have always been enamored of myth and folklore. I think that my first inspiration in becoming an herbalist happened, somewhere between the pages of fairy tales about the European witch women with their potions and the harvesting of Kingsfoil in the Lord of the Rings. I grew my first herb garden when I was around ten, and spent a good part of that Summer asking local nurseries if they had or could find Comfrey. I grew Borage and Sage, Yarrow, and Oregano in my small plot and savored their particular tastes on my tongue and their texture under my fingers. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I began to understand that all of the lore and information I’d been collecting about plants might actually be useful. The day I realized that herbal medicine was still a viable vocation was the day I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Learning their botanical names and taxonomy of plants, their constituent makeup and physiological effects on the human body has only added to that magical nature I have always found in them. From the breathtaking beauty of a Datura blossom opening at dusk to the amazing power of Silk Tassel bark relieving agonizing bile duct spasms to the emotional impact of falling in love with an Alder tree, I experience it all as a part of the profound relationship between plants and people. The fact that I can help people with the help of the plants is, every day, a miracle and a delight to me, and yet also the most obvious thing on earth.
How do you learn about herbs?
I learn about herbs through daily experience working with clients, by paying attention to the plants themselves, through books and research and from listening to and watching a multitude of herbalists. Everyone with direct experience with the plants has something to teach. I am grateful to have ongoing mentorship relationships with Jim McDonald and 7Song, both of whom have taught me enormous amounts of every aspect of herbalism.
Something that I find very important for all of us to keep in mind is that we remain perpetual students as herbalists. There is no set end point where we become finished with our education. We are ALL students. Students of the plants, students of the people we help and students of our own bodies.
What kind of products do you make?
I mostly create herbal products designed for the folks I’m working with who are in need. My medicines are primarily made from local wild plants, including many weeds and common garden escapees. I do lots of tincturing, especially with fresh plants but also have a penchant for decoctions and infusions, as I dearly love the tactile pleasure of working with raw plants. I’m also a huge fan of elixirs (herbs macerated with honey and alcohol) and find that honey is a remarkably effective solvent and powerful synergist for many herbs.
Where do you like to harvest? What’s your process?
I have a special place in my heart for high elevation mountain meadows and riparian canyons. I live in and work from an 80 acre botanical sanctuary in a riparian canyon within the Gila National Forest. The floristic diversity here is incredible and the power of the land palpable which is clearly evident in the plants that grow here.
I wildcraft throughout New Mexico and Arizona, in urban, rural and wild areas. I tend to mostly work with common, abundant plants that most people see as weedy or invasive. I feel strongly that my presence among the plants should contribute to their well-being, not take away from it. Thus, I am a strong proponent of sustainable practices and keeping a close eye on the plant communities I harvest from. If I assess that my gathering will either cause little impact or even improve the health of the area, then I move ahead. I prefer to always wildcraft slowly, mindfully and to be fully present. This is sometimes less possible in urban environments but wherever I am, I try to practice an awareness of the plant as a living, intelligent creature and be cognizant of my impact on it.
What’s you favorite herb to work with? What has it taught you?
Oh, the hardest question comes last, eh?
It’s so hard to pick only one, but the first herb to come to mind is the one I call Blisswort. This small, resinous plant with vivid blue-purple flowers is Scutellaria potosina, also known as Mexican Skullcap. It has been one of the primary allies in my own healing journey and is also a very important herb in my work with others.
Blisswort is a relaxant nervine, with the ability to calm the mind, unclench tense muscles and soothe irritability and anxiety. Equally important, it is a deeply nourishing plant for the nervous system, and can help to restore sense of overall calm, lessen nervous hypersensitivity (especially when it feels like every touch or sound is causing your brittle nerves to shatter further) and promote a greater adaptability to stress-inducing situations. It also has the tendency to trigger vivid, often beautiful dreams in some people.
This plant has certainly given me the gift of a quiet mind and allayed countless anxiety attacks, but it has also shifted my overall perception of the world and of the plants themselves. The more I work with this plant, the better I’m able to hear and see the deeper patterns that exist in the body and the plants. Some of my first and most startling understanding of energetics were triggered by Blisswort and I continue to learn with its help.
Kiva offers magazine subscriptions to Plant Healer Magazine on Poppy Swap. The spring issue was a stunning 187 pages that was loaded with incredible content and superb writing. I learned something new and was reminded of the simple joys of and the breath of plants on every page.
You can meet Kiva and an inspiring list of herbal teachers at the Traditions of Western Herbalism Conference coming up in September! We hope to see you there!