What better way to connect with a plant, see how it grows, learn how to cultivate it, and discover its cultural history than to experience it as nature intended? Studying herbalism gives one the opportunity to get out of the classroom and examine plants in their natural form. This herb walk to the Sandy River on our third week of class was a perfect example!
Having recently completed the first year of school, the sense of accomplishment that I feel is nothing short of amazing. Just beginning this new journey last year was marvelous but reaching the end has been extremely gratifying. I cannot express how much I enjoyed the course I took, and how grateful I am for the experience. And during this “downtime” between sessions I finally have a chance to share some of this experience with you.
HANDS ON LEARNING
Our first outing was in the early spring, when the weather was still somewhat dark, chilly, and damp. The guest teacher was local herbalist Nome McBride, whose in depth knowledge and quirky sense of humor brought such a lightheartedness to the day! Our large class of 20-25 students split in half and I was with Nome’s group the first half of the walk. We took our time slowly making our way down the trail, stopping for lessons along the way.
HERBALISM IS BEING ONE WITH THE EARTH
Part of why I love being in nature is because it makes me feel connected to the entire planet. Breathing in the fresh air, watching the trees above sway in the wind and listening to it push its way through their branches, hearing the rustling of animals and the birds high above your head… simply put it can be magical. And while I am guilty of significantly lengthening my hikes due to the time I spend photographing plants and insects, I don’t ever sit and allow myself to just be, focusing my attention on a single plant.
Herbalism is such a spiritual practice, even if approached scientifically. You may know the facts of a plant, or its medicinal value based on chemical compounds and human anatomy. But there is also a level of intuition that I feel awakens once you begin to learn the cultural value, history, and energetics of the plant. You feel completely different aspects of it when you sit with it while it is still in the ground, rather than dried, processed or already made into medicine.
This is what I felt on this stroll through the forest that day as we examined plants, touching and even tasting them as we learned of their attributes.
WHAT WE SAW ALONG THE WAY
I greatly enjoyed this trek through the forest, not stressing myself out about reaching the end of the hike but actually stopping to smell the metaphorical roses (or nibble on trees). It was a beautiful experience to share with my classmates as well, our excitement was palpable and we all began opening up for the first time since course began.
Some of the plants we found along the way were lemon balm, cleavers, coltsfoot, plantain, self-heal, sweet cicely, Oregon grape, Western Red Cedar, elder, thimble berry, salmon berry, huckleberry, various mushrooms, and so many more. We didn’t have time to explore each and every flower, leaf, or tree along the way but I found plenty that caught my eye.
At the halfway point we stopped for lunch beneath this alcove, where the river was being fed by a nearby waterfall.
It made for a peaceful break, listening to the river running beside us and sitting near this waterfall which somewhat resembled a portal to a fairy realm.
We eventually set out on the second half of the walk, having switched teachers. My group was now being led by our school’s teacher for the rest of the journey.
We stopped to examine and discuss some of the trees in the area, such as elder, cedar, and big leaf maple. We also focused on the local berries and the medicinal properties they can offer (beyond being yummy)!
END OF THE JOURNEY
Finally we made our way down to the Sandy River where we relaxed and contemplated our experience. We sat on its rocky shore, waded into its powerful waters and even spread its beautiful, mineral rich clay on our skin. You could almost feel a vibration in the air from the powerful energy of the river.
At this point I fell into typical ways, separating from the group and secluding myself on the other side of the shore. I stood with my feet in the chilling water, watching it rush by and letting the sound wash over me. I didn’t know what to say or do around the others now that our “class” was technically over for the day. After hours of walking I didn’t have the energy to try to socialize, and so I remained quiet. Eventually we all started trickling out back up the path.
Being a bit more out of shape than the others I allowed myself the space between groups to walk alone, as to not allow myself to feel the pressure of being last or trying to keep up. I enjoyed the solitude, the feeling of being alone in the forest but with the comfort of knowing that there was company not too far behind.
At this point I finally reached my car and headed back down the winding roads that had led me to this trail. As I drove I felt a sense of contentment, one that I would experience more and more over the coming months. It was the feeling of being on the right path, something I couldn’t even remember the last time I felt to this extent. Though I had already known I made the right choice, my fear and anxiety are always there to stir up my doubts. I consistently second guess my decisions. My experience here, on this herb walk on the third weekend of class, helped to wash those doubts away. I headed home feeling more confident than ever.
If you want to learn more about this wonderful course that I took, check out Vital Ways in Portland.