On a recent trip to Asheville North Carolina, Urban Moonshine herbalist, Aisling Badger attended the Medicines from the Earth Symposium. See some of the travelogue highlights of her journey, and why these herbal conferences have played a significant role in Urban Moonshine’s history.
Herbal conferences have traditionally been a time for herbalists and plant lovers to come together to learn, celebrate and connect over the wisdom of the plants—with our community and with widely-respected herbalists and to substantiate our work through conversations, new ideas, and research, not just about how to heal ourselves, but also the planet. I was happy to see that there was a lot of discussion on how to reduce waste, change habits, and make a positive effect on the pressing environmental issues we are facing and how this is at the very core of how we should be practicing herbalism. Most of all, these conferences offer a chance for us to re-ignite our passion in the fast-growing world of wellness. The herbal community is a constant source of inspiration and healing wisdom, providing a safe and welcoming space, and most importantly these people are our family.
For newcomers, and those looking to learn more about herbalism, these conferences are your golden ticket—you won't find a more knowledgeable, bright, and welcoming group of people.
For me, the most significant takeaway is to see people’s passion for the plants, and why they love them. I always leave feeling full, re-inspired and ready to get back to work.
The Medicines from the Earth Symposium is a favorite of ours, as it is heavy on the clinical use of herbal medicine, but also contains traditional medicine, herb walks and panel discussions.
Highlight of the conference:
I took an herb walk with Marc Williams, an ethnobotanist from the Ashville, North Carolina area, and his topic of invasive plants was deeply inspiring to me. His class covered plant family patterns and learning how to employ and effectively make use of a problem by turning it into a resource, by asking ourselves why these plants are creeping in and taking over, and what they have to teach us. We took an in-depth look at some of the species of medicinal plants occurring on the Blue Ridge Assembly property and then discussed a more general list of invasive plants in the eastern United States.
A few ideas he shared:
Bitter plants, like dandelion, are considered to be invasive—but they are one of our best bitter plants, and show up regularly, perhaps with the message that bitterness is essential and challenges our system in a way that is healthy—a message that we try to make common knowledge at Urban Moonshine, and I was happy to see other folks talking about it.
One suggestion he shared was to use the hollow dandelion stem like a straw! Such an interesting way to combat the environmental issue we are currently facing with plastic but also a great way to get some of that essential prebiotic inulin into our bodies.
Another topic he covered was learning how to use these invasive plants as a natural dye. Much of what is out there is toxic, so utilizing something natural would be safer for both humans and the planet. Take barberry for example—it is rich in the constituent berberine, the same thing we would find in goldenseal, or gold thread. Its color is a bright golden yellow and could be used widely as a dye as barberry is considered an invasive species across the country. Walking away with these thoughts, got me thinking about what other types of large-scale use these invasive plants could have?
Marc Williams is carrying on the work of the late Frank Cook, who founded Plants and Healers International.
Plant that I met:
Wild Yam—Dioscorea villosa, a tuberous vine that is native to much of North America. You see this plant wrapped around trees, or growing like a vine on the forest floor, and something about it calls out to you with its unique and very prominent heart shaped leaves. While we don’t use this plant in any of our formulas, it's an important one to know. Wild Yam is one of our great anti-spasmodic plants used to support women’s reproductive health and occasional discomforts.
Part used: The dried tuber for teas, infusions, capsules, and added to topical creams and ointments, and occasionally found in liquid extract form.
Wild yam has gradually become a rare plant in the wild because of overexploitation, and today most of the wild yam roots available are commercially cultivated. This plant is currently on the “At-Risk” list from United Plant Savers.
Favorite Asheville, NC spots:
One of our favorite herb shops! Staffed by fellow plant lovers, and knowledgeable herbalists, you will feel welcome and at home as soon as you step in the door.
Herb shops are our medicines cabinets away from home, and we never miss one in a new city. Whether or not you are headed in for a specific reason, you will leave feeling inspired, healthy and like you've visited with an old friend.
If you are ever in Ashville, NC, this is not a place to miss. Pop in after a meal for some digestive comfort, as they have a whole shelf dedicated to Urban Moonshine!
Whenever we explore a new city, we always check out the botanical gardens, as it gives us a sense of place as well as an introduction to the local plant species. One of the things I loved about this particular botanical garden is that it was very wild and somewhat untamed, you won't find a lot of landscaping, but you will be able to learn new plant species and local ecology to the area by being fully emerged into what a piece of land might look like if the plants were left to themselves.
The Asheville botanical gardens are a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the study and promotion of the native plants and habitats of the Southern Appalachians.