At the end of May, a few of us had the chance to attend the Traditional Roots Conference hosted by the Traditional Roots Institute at the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM). For naturopathic doctors with so many therapeutic options at their disposal, the Traditional Roots Institute is ensuring that the botanical underpinnings of natural medicine are highlighted at the college. We at the Cascadia Botanical Institute strongly agree with the Traditional Roots’ mission of “bringing the people’s medicine back to the people, by direct community education…(for) healthcare providers of all types to deepen their understanding of herbal medicine and advance its clinical practice,” so we were honored that one of our members was asked to teach the foundational topics of “Botanical Identification for the Herbalist” and an “Introduction to Herbal Actions through the Senses.” Both of these classes were held outside in the beautiful setting of the Min Zidell Healing Garden.
We were able to spend an enjoyable and educational three days seeing old friends, making new connections, and being inspired by the high level of herbal discourse. Besides teaching, some of the highlights included hearing about the difficult work around mental health that our old friend and colleague Lydia Bartholow is doing with intensely underserved populations in downtown Portland. Her presentation “Down in the Dumps: depression, inflammation and botanical intervention” was all-around inspiring including wide-ranging discussions of neurophysiology, pharmacology, class, race, injustice, and herbalism.
Bevin Clare gave a great presentation on “Accessible Herbalism with Only Three Herbs: Approaching Diabetes, Cancer, and Arthritis Epidemics with Affordable Medicines.” Her premise of evidenced-based remedies that are readily available and accessibly priced was a great lens through which to view healthcare. The three herbs she spoke about were Reishi, Tumeric, and Garlic. This was great inspiration for enhancing our “Growing and Using Great Garlic” class this fall! She also opened the presentation up to group discussion, highlighting the fact that there are many different plants that could fit the criteria for “only three herbs.”
The last evening we were treated to a range of herbal brews and concoctions from Dr. Glen Nagel, who has been doing an Herbal Mixology series at Traditional Roots. It was great fun to glimpse at his combination of herbal and cocktail genius, with highlights including Ribes sanguineum bitters (which was a gorgeous pink color, as one can imagine!) and the charred Thuja plicata bitters that lent a smoky depth to whatever they were added to. This gave us some ideas not only for our own “Botany of Booze” workshop this summer but also some anecdotes to share on Mckenzie River Trust’s ‘Beers made by walking’ event that we were part of the first weekend in June.
Our workshop offerings at this event included starting Saturday morning with our “Introduction to Herbal Actions Through the Senses.” This was a very hands-on workshop where we basically tasted our way through the herbal actions of astringents, demulcents, bitters, aromatics, and nutritives. With plants gathered from the garden, as well as samples donated by Herb Pharm and Oregon’s Wild Harvest, we dried out our mouths with Rubus leaf, and experienced the slime of a cold water Althea infusion. We compared the bitter qualities of Cynara, Taraxicum, Arctium and others, and enjoyed the aromatics of Melissa, Angelica, Mentha and more. A good introduction to the concept of organoleptic testing - being, affecting, or relating to qualities (as taste, color, odor, and feel) of a substance (as a food or drug) that stimulate the sense organs – Merriam Webster.
Saturday afternoon involved a little bit of preparation for Sunday, including collecting extra specimens for the botany workshop and putting high-visibility lanyards on our new hand-lenses.
Sunday morning was mostly straight forward botany, but we illustrated all of the concepts with specimens that were either medicinal themselves or had medicinal relatives. We covered floral anatomy including inflorescences, leaf anatomy, and made it through a couple of plant family characteristics. A great time was had by all, and it encouraged us to add a Botanical Identification workshop to our summer schedule.