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April and May are prime time to gather and create as an herbalist. Spring plants that have just received the blessed April rain have a strong vibrancy that is felt. The green growth encouraged from these rains is more waxy and alive than I see later in the spring or summer. It is bursting with medicinal constituents. That speaks to powerful medicine. This is what I look for.

I’m often thinking about how I am a source, and how I use other sources to be a worthy source for you. For me, making folk medicine is much more involved than just going to the store and picking something off the shelf, ordering on Amazon at a click, or sticking plant starts in the ground. As a consumer I like to know how something has been made or grown so I’m sharing some of my process of gardening and wildcrafting with you as you may be curious too.

In my garden
In my garden

As a suburban organic gardener I try to create as pure a space for my medicine plants as possible. There are so many things to consider. Practicing organic and sustainable gardening takes time, many years, and patience to build the soil mostly from within a garden space, utilizing what is there to benefit the whole.

I want the birds, bees and the other insects to come often, live here with my family in my garden in harmony, health, and happiness, as chemical-free as we can create it.

What has made the biggest difference in the health of my soil, therefore, the plants, is composting. I used to truck in “organic compost” to only add very little benefit. Now I create a layered compost with kitchen scraps, fall leaves, spring weeds, pruning, nettle tea, manure, homemade potash, and some dirt. Then, the biodynamic preps are added before the maturing and finishing of it to readiness for the garden. All of our kitchen scraps are organic as we made the commitment to chemical free food at home several years ago. This started us down the rabbit hole of sourcing; contacting food companies, local farmers, and natural foods markets about our questions concerning their products. To my surprise, I actually enjoy this. Everything has a time, and ours came for this effort. I find that this ironically has created more time in our lives for what we love, not less, as I had feared. We’ve become involved in our local biodynamic farm, we garden as a family more, and reaching out to vendors I trust has created community and new friends too. As a result of this effort our family basically just buys ingredients to make our own food. The toxicity of prepared and processed food is very high, mostly due to the oils and preservatives used, not to mention GMO's, pesticides and a lot of sugar. See, rabbit hole. Soooo, back to compost…it may not be ready exactly when I need it because it takes its sweet time, but it’s always well worth the wait. My plants are stronger, and the reseeding and spreading plants do so with much more ease and speed. I used to get aphids on my roses every spring for the first bloom, I haven’t seen them in 3 years now. I also have way less snails. Building the garden from within is strengthening. Reminds me of building our own soul forces, from source within and connected to without.

Gathering at the American River in April. A day for wild roses.
Gathering at the American River in April. A day for wild roses.

In wildcrafting, there is much to consider too. When I walk to my gathering places I have a responsibility to the earth and the people around me to take great care of the plants. I need to source places that are as abundant with vitality as I can find. To stay awake in this is so important to me. I can see a plant that I’d like to make medicine with but if it’s next to a fire road, or a residential drainage, for example, I stop. That is where the park rangers spray herbicide to prevent fires in the summer, or chemicals drain from people’s home gardens. It looks beautiful in the spring but I have to consider the whole picture of a yearly cycle there. These areas look surprisingly beautiful considering what is in the soil. Just yesterday I saw my first red clover of the season and had to stop and observe the signs. I passed. It was on a slope with houses far above. If we really stop and tune in, pay attention to the wildlife, the bees, birds, the vibrancy of the plants, there are signs that tell us wether or not to ask to pick there. We cannot totally purify our lives at this time in our world, but I think we can reduce and I find that is a worthy effort.

For a love of chamomile, I began to grow my own after the dissatisfaction of purchasing organic chamomile from a land far far away. I felt that distance and began to have questions. What was the land like, the farmer who picked it, was it machine-picked? This lack of connection inspired me to plant some in my garden. I have found in tending to this lovely plant a meditative practice in the harvesting of each little fruity flower. My plants aren't huge, but they do produce what I need from late March to May. I go out every few days in their season and pick. I also find with this plant in particular that the more I pick, the more it gives and grows. My gratitude seems to be recognized by the plant, and it responds. Each flower is patiently picked separately so as not to pull off a whole stem, or the whole plant. It’s slow going. A close relationship has developed here. The love of this labor is translated through the plant, to you.

German Chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla.
German Chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla.

There is an energy exchange when an herb is picked, whether at home, the farm, or the wild.

This energy exchange is the difference between chemistry and alchemy. Alchemy is sometimes loosely defined as taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary. How can this be explained? The experience of the extraordinary can happen with anything from cooking to gardening, composting, music, art, and folk medicine too. We can have the sense of turning lead into gold (as can actually be done!) when we are awakened to the presence of a higher being in relation to the medicine, the plant, the music, dance….what have you. Those “chills”! It is extraordinary. Alchemist Dennis Klocek, teaches that

“Substancia is an analog that stands behind the being of a substance, an organizational pattern that resulted in a thing, the consciousness of a being.”

He says,

“In alchemy, consciousness matches the substance. In chemistry, it’s just about the ‘stuff’. The consciousness of the operator (medicine-maker) is part of the substance, our consciousness is changing the substance. The ‘stuff’ is a being, not just stuff.”

A substance is a being! Yes. My thoughts are in my products! For sure. That’s a huge responsibility. And, honestly, it makes my work worth doing. Medieval alchemists sought to create an elixir of life. The extraordinary (and the ordinary which I often find extraordinary BTW) in itself is an elixir for my life. My evolution in waking up to higher consciousness makes me feel more alive. Maybe it’s not the elixir for everlasting life, but certainly the elixir for hope and engagement in life. To wonder...

Always striving to be a great source to you, this is my commitment to everyone here, our natural world, and my own evolution. 

With love and gratitude, Deb Bustamante

P.S. I’d LOVE to hear about your favorite sources for oils, honey, cocoa butter, essential oils, organic herb starts, non toxic containers, etc…

Wild Rose, Rosa californica.
Wild Rose, Rosa californica.

*** Photos thanks to my son, Kamilo Bustamante Photography ***

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