Meet Darcy from the Forest. Darcy currently resides in Central Idaho, where she produces her line of healing herbal concoctions from the forest of the Rocky Mountains. Darcy has been a Rocky Mountain herbalist and instructor for over 30 years, and all of her herbal products offered are hand-crafted at the From The Forest Studio in small batches and identified with homemade labels. Her mission at From the Forest is to provide education on identifying, sustainable harvesting, formulating and using medicinal plants found throughout the Rocky Mountains. Visit her Poppy Swap store to see her list of herbal products!
What was your first inspiration to become an herbalist?
I began working with herbs and sick or wounded animals when I was around 5 years old. Having been raised in a rural mountain community with few neighbors, and very busy parents, I was allowed to freely roam the nearby forests and river banks. I believe that I drew upon the instinctive knowledge that we are all born with to select the appropriate herb for the conditions encountered. As I entered adulthood, I began to read about the research associated with the plants I used and gained an understanding as to how they had worked for the various applications. The herbs that I commonly used as a child were Yarrow, Hawthorn, Willow and River Mint. Since plants were a passion during my early years, they naturally remained so in adulthood.
How have you learned about herbal medicine?
I have gained intimate knowledge of the plants through the use of them, gaining additional information through reading and research. My apprentices and clients have also added to my plant knowledge base. The learning is on going. I have no formal education in herbalism.
What wild medicines are you currently working with?
I work with over 300 different plant species found within the Rocky Mountains. Approximately 35 percent are naturalized plants, the remaining are native. Some of the regional natives are Brown’s Peony, Lomatium, Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Valerian, Arnica, Pipsissewa, Huckleberry, Elderberry, Yarrow and Gumweed. The naturalized species include Ox-Eye Daisy, St. John’s Wort, Burdock, Mullein and Teasel.
What is it like growing and harvesting herbs high up in the wild rocky mountains?
I cultivate no medicinal plants on my land, all are wild harvested. For years (I have been doing this for 40+) I harvested from the vast public lands that surround my home. However, during the past 10 years the forest service has become very territorial and has put into place policies with which I do not agree. Currently, harvesting is mostly done within a 60 mile radius on private and state land. The apprentices and I do establish “wild gardens” of native plants on state land and some medicinal mushroom gardens on public (forest service) land. Central Idaho is a four season area with long winters and short springs, summers and autumns. The apprentices and I must closely follow the rhythm of the seasons in order to get all the harvest in for product production. Winter harvesting includes gathering bark, buds and lichens on snowshoes, as well as harvesting in the Salmon River drainage 50 miles north, where there is bare ground and green things available year around.
You mentioned that you harvest some of your medicine from heavily logged or excavated land. What is that like for you?
It is heartbreaking to see the devastation that occurs when sections of old growth forests are logged. Plants that thrive beneath the protective canopies are left defenseless to wither and die as invasive species come to occupy the space they once graced. Idaho is also a “free-range” state where sheep and cattle range at will throughout our watersheds and meadows of our public forests. There is also a lot of private land development, since my hometown of McCall is at the edge of Payette Lake, a popular tourist and second home area. It is less heartbreaking in many ways to work with contractors and new home owners, “recycling” the plants that are to be destroyed during development. I make a booklet of the native plants found in on the property for the new homeowner in the hope that they will gain some new insights pertaining the flora that share their space.
What advice would you give to readers who are interested in harvesting medicine from these types of disturbed landscapes?
First contact backhoe and construction companies and ask them to contact you when they are excavating areas with dense stands of plant life. Next, get permission from private landowners to remove plants that would be otherwise destroyed during excavation. Take the time to teach the new owners (and construction workers) about the flora of their area if they show an interest. If making salve from some of the salvaged plants, take a jar or two to the new home-owners. Most will use the salve, whereas tinctures and teas are more apt to be stuck away and forgotten.
You sell everything from seeds to books on Poppy Swap. Tell us the inspiration being your products on the swap.
I first learned of Poppy Swap on Facebook. Shortly thereafter, I met Kiki at the Northwest Herbal Fair in Mt. Vernon, Washington (2011). Her mission is very exciting and I want to become a part of her vision.
What is one juicy secret about yourself that you’d like to reveal today to our readers?
Even though I have worked with over 200 apprentices during my “teaching” career, I am a plant person, not a people person. I know far more plants than I do people. I began teaching individuals and apprentices in the 1970s when the FDA first began making plans to regulate medicinal plants. Herbs have always been the common person’s medicine, and in my opinion, the healthiest choice (I haven’t been to a doctor since 1970). The FDA may be able to take the herbal preparations off the shelf, but they can’t take away knowledge. So I set out to teach what knowledge I had of the plants that grow in our own backyards and how to turn them into healing medicines. Each apprentice that I work with is obligated to teach what they have learned. The apprentices are trained through hands-on experiences working in my Studio on Wednesdays. Their labor is their tuition. There is no accreditation for their learning ~ the knowledge that they gain to use themselves and to teach others is their end result.
To anyone new to herbs whether aspiring to work with herbs personally or become an herbalist, what is one thing you’d like to share with them?
When considering a career in healing modalities, herbalism is not the best choice if one wishes to be a healer. In herbalism, the healing happens between the medicinal plant and the individual personally using that plant. The herbalist is the “advocate” between the plant and the client. No healing can take place unless these two components are brought together. If an herbalist adds massage, acupuncture or other skills that facilitates the healing of a client, then they can effectively claim themselves as a healer. Herbalism is all about learning and respecting the healing power of the plants and the empowerment of the client.