Makenzie Ray Peterson talks about roots herbalism at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine near Asheville.
In partnership with Warren Wilson College’s Environmental Leadership Center, Xpress presents The Swannanoa Journal, short audio essays on regional environmental sustainability issues, written and recorded by WWC students.
Growing up, I didn’t know a lot about plants, but I did know they’re magic. We had vines spilling out of hanging pots in the corners of every room. The plants were a safe place, as if I knew they could take care of me. Once there appeared a small pot beside the window. It cradled one fat green spike reminding me of a dinosaur’s back. Soon it sprouted more spikes until it looked like a thick green flower. I thought it seemed crowded in the small pot, but my mom said those little green spikes were happy that way. I imagined each tendril was spooning the next and whispering to its friends at night when I couldn’t hear.
One afternoon I reached for something on the counter and slid my finger against a still-hot pan on the stove. I cried out and saw my skin turn pink on the spot. My mother went to our little green plant and snapped off a tip. She said it didn’t mind, and pressed its cool jelly center to the burn. Instantly it was soothed, and I knew that the plant was my friend.
This is shared knowledge at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine near Asheville, North Carolina. They offer classes in the tradition of Roots Herbalism—in a hands-on, personal, down-in-the-dirt kind of way. They believe it is important to remember and respect the knowledge of our ancestors while also recognizing that which we have gained through scientific exploration. They teach almost all classes outdoors, creating what they hope will be life-long relationships with the fauna. The school director and primary instructor, Juliet Blankespoor, has been sharing her passion for plants by teaching herbal medicine and botany for over 18 years. She notes, “One of my favorite aspects of the school is watching people become more comfortable in nature and more tuned in to their surroundings, including the plants.”
The school strives to be guided by the wisdom that all life is sacred, teaching ethical gathering techniques and sustainable wild-crafting. Students will learn medicinal uses for the plants they study; gain skills in concocting teas, tinctures, and oils; and leave the program with a full natural medicine chest created by their own hands from fresh bioregional and organically grown herbs.
The school is located in a fields-and-forest area where they grow more than 75 species of medicinal herbs. Blankespoor believes that growing and gathering food and medicine is empowering, revolutionary, and highly entertaining. She remarks, “When we can step outside of the human realm and focus on the elements, and other life forms, we sense ourselves as part of something grand.”
The Chestnut School offers experience in plant ecology and identification, wild foods, organic gardening, and permaculture. Their programs include days spent in the diverse gardens and fields that surround the school along with camping field trips in the beautiful forests and many ecosystems of Southern Appalachia. By creating better relationships between humans and plants, they strive to support people in getting to know and care for the Earth once more. As Blankespoor put it, “It is quite simple. People will protect what they love.”
For more information on the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, visit their website at www.ChestnutHerbs.com