So, what does “community herbalist” mean?
Well, it means something different to everyone and is hardly a defined thing. I’m constantly reevaluating what my practice of herbalism is and isn’t and what it needs to be, and “community herbalist” is for now shorthand for at least some of the ways I try to bring this work into the world and some of the things I strive toward.
Put simply, for me it’s trying to understand how I can apply my part as an herbalist and care provider to the needs of people in places I inhabit and communities of which I am a part, share affinities, or am allied with.
And where it feels most right is in supporting individuals and communities working for a world of self-determination and autonomy, and for those bearing the brunt of, as Bell Hooks succinctly calls it, the “imperialist capitalist white supremacist patriarchy”. Often we’re both.
It’s providing information and care that is considerate and relevant to the experiences and needs of people, and integrating those into the planning, unfolding and defining of what it means to be healthy.
It means being accessible to people, happy to share information rather than hoard it, to be a resource for folks; sharing seeds and plants, teaching and showing, and encouraging relationships to herbs that deepen people’s connection to them.
Community herbalism and community health work are inherently political. This isn’t about who you vote for or what you believe in, but rather that the practice is guided by many questions about power, control, and individual and group autonomy, such as;
- Who gets access to what kinds (if any) health care and why?
- How does health care quality vary across different populations (eg. race, class, education status, gender identity, ability), and how do differing qualities of care reinscribe social positions and power, or lack thereof?
- How can herbalists help to build new (or revive older) paradigms of care that break from the hierarchical model of modern western medicine? How can the client participate in their own process of change and become more capable and confident, and perhaps become a teacher in their own right?
- How can the practice of herbal medicine contribute to the degradation of the interpersonal, cultural, and institutional modes of control and oppression, if at all?