So, what does “community herbalist” mean?
Its about much more than plants, its about a whole framework. In practice, it means being accessible, happy to share information rather than hoard it, to be a resource as much as possible, sharing seeds and plants, teaching and showing, and encouraging relationships to herbs and deepening people’s connection to them.
It means knowing and providing resources relevant to place, such as a neighborhood, but goes beyond geography. It also means recognizing the shared experiences and affinities people have with each other (or don’t) that make up other types of relationships,; common interests, identities, struggles, needs and desires. It means providing information and care that is understanding of this and relevant to the experiences and needs of a community of people, and integrating those into the planning, unfolding and defining of what it means to be healthy.
To me, 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?