Naren Udgan was born and raised in the Ordos region of Inner Mongolia, and spent her early years living with her grandmother, a highly respected midwife, healer, and herbalist in the region. Naren founded the Tolin Center for Healing & Tengrism Studies to introduce people to Mongolian shamanism, or Tengrism, and to encourage shared knowledge and dialogue between shamans from all over the world, as well as to connect myriad healing traditions and practices. Naren does shamanic healing, reiki energy healing, and chakra healing, and is a certified ayurvedic nutritionist and detox specialist.Read More
After receiving several requests to share my opening remarks at the Allies for Plants and People in June...here they are...I hope you find some inspiration to connect with others, including the plants themselves.
Opening Remarks at Allies for Plants and People, June 9, 2018:
Some of my closer friends, who know that I have been more than a little short on time lately, have questioned me as to why I am hosting another conference in addition to my annual event, the MAWHC. Even I asked myself that more than a few times in the past several weeks, as organizing an event such as this, the same time as the planting season on my family farm is building to a frenzy…well…that WAS I thinking?! Am I crazy??
My good friend Andrea Reisen recently sent me a little note: 'It can be hard to do what the plants ask us to do,” she wrote, "and then try and make it all work for us too.' This statement startled me. Do plants actually ASK us to do stuff? Do they ask us to step out of our daily rat race to tend to their needs? I can’t really answer that question, but I can tell you what led me here today and you can put the pieces together as you see fit.
Over the past several years I have observed with a great measure of sorrow how keenly words can cut. Divisive lines between people are brutally struck with words, whether spoken aloud, written with style or sent in a single tweet. At times, the air seems laden with impending doom and I lie sleepless, worrying for my children’s future.
I’m not the bravest person I have ever met, and so I might not make the boldest activist, or the most outspoken champion for change. Instead I tend to hold my angst inside and then feel hopeless, or helpless to make a difference when faced with injustices.
It was on one of these dark, restless nights when I realized that my best healing work happens when I bring a group of like-minded, plant-loving people together. With the help of everyone here we have created a green haven. A home of sorts. A place where we can breathe more freely and where the plants can have their say. Here we are creating a community that supports each other and turns to the plants with a humble ear to listen and learn. Rather than clamoring for attention we seek to understand the workings of these plants and by attempting to do so,we are taking medicine of the purest potency.
We cannot possibly fathom how far these tendrils will stretch, and how bleakness and hate can be transformed into love.
Guido Masé, one of our speakers today, said once,
He intimates that plants actually take care of us by inserting themselves into a complex and beautiful biological dance that happens within us. One, he states poetically, "that rivals misty sunrises, egrets and fish, live oaks and palm trees” and that is taking place every day in our every cell as DNA is methodically turned into proteins that become our physical shape on a moment-to-moment basis.
This microcosmic relationship of photo nutrient and human DNA is a poetic expression of the potential healing in the macrocosm, relationships of human to human, community with community, culture with culture and possibly beyond.
They teach us that interaction with each other is essential to survival and interacting with love is essential to life.
Inspired by the work of my mentors David Winston and Rosemary Gladstar, as well as United Plant Savers, and inspired by the many dedicated teachers, mentors, gardeners, medicine makers and organizations in the herbal renaissance, this event today strives to create space for mentorship, land and plant stewardship, with an inner mission to cultivate alliances between plants and people, and between people and people. We are grateful for all who are participating in this expanding green movement which invites perspective on the transformation of modern health and health care in this country.
Registration for our next event, the MidAtlantic Women's Herbal Conference, September 28-30 is open. Featuring Rocio Alarcon, Maia Toll, Kathi Keville, Kathleen Maier, Tammi Sweet and more.
Two and a half decades ago I found a family. The first time I stepped into my first herbal conference, Medicines from the Earth, in Black Mountain, NC, I had a new sense of belonging. To be surrounded by so many people who cared about the planet, who listened to each other, who honored elders and who sought the wisdom of the plants was a new experience for me. I discovered that an age-old tradition was alive and well in the herbal community: the relationship of mentorship and apprentice.
It was at that gathering that I met one of my most formative mentors over the next two decades: David Winston, AHG. For anyone in the herbal world David Winston hardly needs an introduction. He has made a tremendous impact in the herbal renaissance in the mid atlantic region, as well as national and international herbal movements. I am quite sure I have not met a single practicing herbalist in this area who has not been a student of Winston's at some point.
When applying for his internship many years ago, I remember only one question on the application: "How do you plan to use your herbal training to teach others." David expected us to take what he handed to us and pass it on. Imagine how thousands of graduates from the David Winston Center for Herbal Studies have taken his teachings about Cherokee, Chinese and Western herbal traditions and impacted their own communities. For me, and for many others, he laid a deep and solid foundation in herbal therapeutics.
Beyond the classroom, David has a greater vision of the need for sustainable practices in our relationships with plants and with each other. As one of the founding members of the American Herbalists Guild, he helped create an organization that re-established the art and science of herbal medicine in this country.
He was the first teacher I contacted when I considered hosting a new conference in the MidAtlantic region, Allies for Plants and People. As a mentor to so many people, and a true ally to the plant world, this man is the reason this event is happening. Without his work over four decades I wonder how different things might be, for herbalists, for those seeking alternative and adjunctive health care and for many plant species the world around. Thanks to David’s tireless work dedicated to the green world and the beings that exist within it, I see him as one of the most significant forces for healing and change on this planet, something much needed.
Meet David Winston at the Allies for Plants and People, June 8-10, Upper Black Eddy, PA. He will host a plant walk with Christopher Hobbs, teach a class on adaptogens and also honor us as our keynote speaker.
Natural healing comes in many forms. I am partial to the healing power of plants, but am also quite fond of minerals, essences and body work. The “village herbalist” might carry many tools in her medicine bag, but the one she turns to most often are plants: roots, shoots, berries, bark and blossoms. Today’s herbalist has a wealth of knowledge to draw on, from traditional folk medicine, to Eastern traditions, to modern science-based research.
The aspiring herbalist is wise to form a relationship with a mentor, who in turn has a lengthy, intimate relationship with the plants. Phyllis Light is just that sort of mentor.
As a fourth generation herbalist and natural healer, the way of medicinal plants is deeply etched in the fabric of her being. Her deepest roots lie in the woods of northern Alabama where she has studied and worked with plant medicines for over 30 years. Her grandmother’s Creek and Cherokee heritage gifted Phyllis with the herbal and healing wisdom of these indigenous traditions. Over the years, Phyllis has broadened her knowledge through studies of western herbal traditions and through a master’s degree in health science from University of Alabama.
She has deftly combined folk medicine traditions with modern science-backed research, and so acts as a bridge between the past and present, shining light on why and how plants work as medicine.
I have waited to meet her for a long time and now she is coming to my own back yard in Pennsylvania. At Allies for Plants and People she will be the opening keynote speaker, where she will stories of southern Appalachia and the rich tradition of turning to plants for wellness and healing. I, for one, can’t wait!
To learn more about the classes she will be teaching at this event, and the other classes to be present, go here.
There is no doubt in my mind that the plant world holds a magical spell for us. Plants are medicine, just by being what they are: plants. Accessing this medicine does not necessarily require ingesting it in capsules, tincture or even tea. Simply the act of connecting with plants can ignite the healing process. I know this intuitively from my own experience with plants, but I’ve never been able to explain why.
Guido Masé at the 2017 Florida Herbal Conference spoke on this very topic. The world of medicinal plants, he says, "holds a secret that can change lives, change communities, and change culture.” In his studies on bioflavonoids, ubiquitous in berries, but also found in most medicinal plants, he has found evidence for this powerful connection between plants and humans.
Plants and humans, he points out are, "locked in a co-evolutionary dance that is very difficult to disentangle and understand by looking at...isolated components. We have to watch the living system at work to really get what's going on…. Bioflavonoids set the stage in the heart, and in the endothelial lining of our blood vessels, for a physiologic expression that (reduces) high blood pressure.
"Modern science is just beginning to discover this level of medicine - and as of today, there are no approved drugs that work this way. Modern science also just discovered, in the last decade, that we have bitter taste receptors on our heart that help coordinate the smooth shifting of blood flow necessary after a meal. Imagine that! Another mechanism for addressing blood pressure hiding in plain sight.”
Imagine that indeed! Guido’s extraordinary perception of the interface between plant and human fills my science-loving mind with the thrill of catching a glimpse at the inner workings of what seems to be mystery and magic.
Guido takes his enlightened perspective as well as his scientific mind into all facets of his life. When he travels to Tanzania he trains Wassa hospital staff to use usnea and honey for wound care and ginger compresses for swelling and pain. He has worked on a catalogue of local medicinal plants there in three languages. And he shares wisdom with Sangau, a local traditional Maasai healer and herbalist. I wonder at his energy and tireless inquisitiveness, and yet know that he draws this from the plants themselves, the ultimate teachers of medicine, of service, life and yes, even of love.
Meet Guido Masé in person at Allies for Plants and People, June 9-10, Upper Black Eddy, PA.
It was such a natural pleasure to interview Christopher Hobbs this week and pick his brain on some much-debated issues surrounding the chaga mushroom. Author of Medicinal Mushrooms ( an updated edition is in process) Christopher draws on a wealth of knowledge about foraging for and using medicinal mushrooms as a medicinal.
Here are some highlights of our conversation:
When asked about whether the chaga fungus has a parasitic or a symbiotic relationship with it's host birch, Christopher replied:
He went further to explain that all plants have microbiomes, just like people. These microbes are called "endophytes." Culture a leaf of echinacea and you will find live bacteria within the leaf structure. How cool is that?!
We talked about the difference between cultured mycelia versus wild-crafted conks. Hobbs emphasized that "substrate and environment matters." Chaga that grows in it's natural climate on it's favorite trees (birch) will have qualities that differ from chaga that is cultured on rice in a controlled environment. He points out that betulin and betulinic acid are two components of a chaga conk that grows on a birch tree - these chemicals are assimilated from the birch itself and impart potent medicinal benefits otherwise missing from cultivated chaga.
He further claims that antioxidant qualities of this mushroom are over-rated. While it is true that wild chaga boasts melanin, the pigment that makes the outer portion black as lava, and that melanin is indeed an antioxidant, he points out that quercitin, one of the most potent plant-based antioxidants on the planet is ubiquitous, cheap and easily consumed by eating apples and onions. Why would we go to the tremendous expense and possible forestry disruption to consume chaga merely for antioxidants? He also mentions that melanin is neither water nor alcohol soluble and must be consumed whole (rather than taken as tea or tincture) to impart it's value to us.
Photo taken by the author, along River Road, Upper Black Eddy, PA
On Friday I took a ride to Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania to tour River Valley Waldorf School. The winding road that took me there was lined with magnificent sycamores and oaks which hovered over historic farm houses and barns.
Even in the driving rain, or maybe because of it, the scene was breathtaking. Waterfalls of melting snow and rain cascaded from vertical black stone cliffs onto River Road which follows the Delaware River.
This is it, I thought to myself, the perfect place to hold a gathering honoring the alliance between plants and people.
The school itself is surrounded by fields and tall trees, trees that have witnessed decades of American history, and might know secrets no text book could ever reveal. Neighboring the school, sprawls Ringing Rocks County Park, so named for “lithophonic” boulders in it’s meadows that literally ring like a bell when struck. An easy trail heads past the boulders to a waterfall, a lovely spot for herb walks and wildlife identification. Nearby Tohickon State Park provides campground and cabins for attendees looking for affordable accommodations surrounded by nature.
The school itself has officially agreed to host our new event: Allies for Plants and People, June 9-10, featuring internationally renowned teachers David Winston, Christopher Hobbs, Phyllis Light, Guido Masé and Tammi Sweet. I left the school my heart alight, with the burner fully lit on the this new venture. Creating an event such as this relies on a weaver who can take many threads and bring them together to create a fabric rich in color, warmth and comfort. Here is where I step into my purpose, and feel the great joy of hosting people who love plants, steward the earth and want to share in the wisdom held in nature. Stay tuned while we develop our program and publish the new page on our website. Subscribe to this blog to get the first news that registration is open.
Serious about plant medicine? Tammi Sweet’s Anatomy and Physiology course is geared towards the herbal practitioner, or anyone wanting to understand the workings of the body from a natural perspective. Sign up using this link and Tammi will donate a portion of your tuition to the MidAtlantic Women’s Scholarship Program. The catch? Registration closes at midnight tonight!
I cannot remember the first time I met Rosemary Gladstar, or heard her speak. For certain it happened when I attended the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, some August long ago. At that time, the world of herbs felt like a haven to my young heart and fed my love of natural medicine. I remember camping in the central meadow of the conference. A garden of tents sheltered plant-loving women, some snoring loudly, others giggling and drinking herbal cordials, some with babies cooing or little ones chasing fireflies in the dark. I quickly learned that herbal conferences have little to do with sleep and more to do with breaking down my barriers, opening the heart and tempting life purpose to manifest.
On one of those sleepless nights, I had a dream about Rosemary, obviously after I had finally succumbed to exhaustion. The dream was potent, and remains a sweet reminder of the magnanimous nature of this amazing woman. In the dream, all was finally quiet in the meadow. The women slept. The children slept. Everyone had entered a hypnotic restorative rest, much needed after three days of learning and revelry. Like a moonlit goddess, or a maybe a firefly fairy, Rosemary came gliding amongst the tents, sprinkling good dreams, blessings and golden dust over every sleeper. The love emanating from her filled my heart with joy; I felt lucky to be awake, even though I wasn’t. Or was I?
Now, many years later, she is preparing to celebrate the 30th Annual New England WHC, and I am preparing to host the 7th MidAtlantic Women’s Herbal Conference. Rosemary will be the keynote speaker at my conference, and my daughter and I will be one of 800 attendees at hers.
Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting her on the online forum for women, GingerJuice, where she shared her age-old wisdom about women’s health. Focusing on the nervous system and the state of angst which so many women wrestle with, she offered gentle advice, not to be found in any books, except maybe her own. I have been an herbalist for over two decades, and in one hour she taught me things I had never heard before.
Here is a glimpse of what she shared, edited by me:
The nature of plants, in their very essence, is to restore one's nervous system. Simply sitting and communing with a plant for five minutes can start the grounding and healing process for someone who is struggling with nervous stress or exhaustion. Always try a cup of chamomile tea to help calm a worried, over-active mind. Chamomile is often overlooked and forgotten, but is an ally for high anxiety with a nervous stomach. As a gentle slow tonic, it will not make you sleepy, but instead helps you feel graced.
If you are overwhelmed and over-tired, the worst thing you can do is turn to stimulants like caffeine, or sugar.
These things deplete the adrenals, when what is truly needed are restorative plants, especially those high in calcium, protein and B vitamins. Chamomile, skullcap, valerian, milky green oats, and mucilaginous herbs can all be soothing and strengthening to the frayed nervous system. Mucilaginous plants are usually used by herbalists to calm a fiery digestive tract, or inflamed skin condition. Rosemary states that the same properties that soothe epithelial tissues, also soothe an inflamed nervous system. Is that rooted in science? Maybe, maybe not. It is rooted however, in an ancient plant wisdom that wise healers draw on intuitively.
Herbs have a way of embracing us, especially when we open our hearts to them.
Simply spending time with plants, live, growing them, tending to them, or being near them, can melt away feelings of irritability and overwhelm, and begin healing, a little at a time.
A magic lies within nature and can be found easily when out of doors, away from concrete and things man-made.
Here, a fresh perspective helps us remember how small we are, and that many of our worries and fears are simply temporary, often more a habit than a helpful way of being.
If plants could speak, and some say they can, they might share with us the secrets of being true allies for one another. They might sing to us about open hearts and generous spirits. They might comfort us the way a gentle grandmother soothes a worried child.
And perhaps we might then know that we are both very grand and incredibly small and that everything is just as it should be.
Listen to Rosemary's entire one hour class, Herbs for Women, plus have access to herbal teachings from other renowned teachers on GingerJuice. $18 for a one month subscription.
I remember the first time I went on an “herb walk.” This event coincided with my first herbal conference, one of the most healing and transformative events in my life. The herb walk held a kind of magic too. For one, we progressed through the wooded lane at an infinitesimally slow pace. While I was a fiend for exercise that made me sweat, something about moving slowly through nature captivated me. My eyes opened to the details of the plants and I greedily absorbed all I could about identification and how these plants were traditionally used for medicine. The idea of making my own medicine from plants, or even buying some that an herbalist had made, was new to me. And intriguing.
A new sort of world opened to me. And it felt like coming home. I never looked back or stopped to wonder why. Something about the herbal world felt so deeply familiar to me, as if these plants were long-lost relatives. And the people who studied them felt just the same.
Two decades later, I am pausing to look back and wonder what exactly happened in that moment. In my work as a natural health practitioner, I have observed over and over two distinct human longings: 1. for a sense of belonging and 2. for a sense of life purpose. I marvel how my early plant crush grew into a passion and then settled into a life-long love affair. Whenever I feel I am losing my sense of self, perhaps from too much time on the internet or too much stress in my work, it is the plants that bring me back. The plants and prayer. And yoga. And laughter.
I can see the trail clearly, now that it is behind me. I went on an herb walk and fell in love with plant medicine. I voraciously learned all I could on my own. Then, when that didn’t satiate me, I studied at David Winston's and Center for Herbal Studies. After two years and two giant notebooks full of notes, I developed an herbal dispensary in my clinic and worked many long hours helping others find their healing path. Some years later, at the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, hanging out with Rosemary Gladstar I had the epiphany to start a “granddaughter” conference in the MidAtlantic region. At first my incentive was purely selfish. I had a new baby daughter and the ten hour drive to the nearest conference just wasn't feasible anymore. Why not just bring the entire conference to my backyard, literally? Then I could just waltz out my back door and, viola! It would be so simple!
I hadn’t really counted on the amount of work and stress it takes to host a conference, especially when you have no clue how to go about it. But it seemed as if the plants a plan. So many women have described similar experiences to the one I had on that first herb walk. Each year as I hold space for these women to grow, learn and connect, I am filled with a stronger and stronger feeling of home, as if the plants and I are working together to create a beautiful cup to hold the amazing spirits of the women who attend.
And now I get it. Truly the plant world teaches us, or maybe I should say reminds us, about community. About staying connected. About how community is essential to healing. That was what I bumped into on that first fateful herb walk: healing. And the miracle of that healing is how it stretched far and wide to touch those in my community who needed it. I am truly grateful to be a conduit for that magic.
Does your heart long for something deep inside that you can’t quite hear? Take a walk. A slow walk. Be quiet. Listen to the stillness and the sounds of nature. Leave your cell phone behind. Go barefoot if you can. And if you are walking with someone you love, hold hands.
Want to deepen your relationship with plants? Click here to learn more about GingerJuice! Our online community is actively working to create support and inspiration for women who love to use plants as medicine.
The moment I began watching Amikaeyla Gaston speak on the TEDx Gramercy 2014 video, I knew she would be the next keynote speaker for the 2016 MidAtlantic Women’s Conference. Her magical voice enraptures the imagination and pulls the listener into her stories. Her stories touch the core of pain, healing, redemption and love.Read More