He stands tall, a gentle giant. There is a sway about him, as if the winds move him here and there, playfully, excitedly, reverently recognizing this or that plant, leaf, flower, seed, tree, grass, soil, bird, insect, present discovery, future project, or past occurrence.
He is barefoot, always. Moving through the forest with stealth and impunity, even as we walk across patches of fallen thistles. Nothing seems to bother him, the swarms of mosquitoes leave him well alone. He is part of the Land, deeply, and for those mosquitoes it would be just as absurd to bite a spruce tree, as it would be to bite Shantree.
Walter “Shantree” Kacera; Permaculture Teacher, Ayurvedic Live-Food Nutritionist, Therapeutic & Shamanic Herbalist, and Constitutional Iridology Educator with 35 years experience in the Natural Healing Arts. Shantree, alongside his wife Lorenna, are the founders and directors of The Living Centre, a 50-acre botanical sanctuary near London, Ontario.
And what a sanctuary. This Land, this place, my goodness!
I had just returned from Peru, from a short trip into deep jungle. Laura and I left the same evening on two journeys; she to The Living Centre to study Forest Gardening, and me to Peru, along with my father, for a little Amazonian adventure. Being in the Amazon, surrounded by its astounding capacity for life and diversity – trees, rivers, plants, animals, people – is always amazing, always enriching; all-ways profound. I felt a similar astonishment when I first set foot onto – into – The Living Centre.
Visiting my Grandmother in rural Southern Ontario – something of a tradition, or necessity, for me after visiting Peru – I borrowed a car and drove a few hours West to connect with Laura, and to engage in a workshop on Ecological Herbalism with Shantree. When I arrived late afternoon for the evening’s Herb Walk there was maybe half a dozen people moving around, like bees, attending to this or that garden, plant or duty. I noticed immediately; everyone was barefoot.
With first a little hesitation – I had just come from the jungle, a barefoot gringo is a stung gringo – then, with a little chuckle and a shiver, I kicked off my flimsy flip-flops, felt the Earth fire up, and walked around quite wide-eyed, looking for Laura.
In the process; the aforementioned astonishment.
Plants everywhere! And of a calibre of health that was so delightful to witness. Everything seemed so organized, and yet so rowdy! In the jungle it’s like a mosh-pit; plants snaking all over the place, fighting (and cooperating) in their various ways, for light and survival. But here, everything appeared to have its own place, very wild yet very clean. Something like a symphony, every note where it should be – or where it needs or wants to be – bouncing and feeding off one another, very well written.
But then, written by whom?
Here it seemed each plant had the upper hand; provided the opportunity to exercise their own specialities, gifted the chance to stretch out and be themselves. In fact, not only were the plants provided such encouragement, but, it seemed, so was every other life form; the cats, the little dog, the butterflies, the insects and all the people floating around, purposefully.
Step into The Living Centre, and you cross something. It’s not really a barrier, not a door – its boundaries too permeable, too expansive to give it that connotation. You simply cross a subtle line – an archway of trees – into a garden . Fruit, vegetables, medicines, musical instruments, an Earthship greenhouse, a sun room, an outdoor shower, an outdoor kitchen, piles of compost, a Tee Pee, a deep pond, wilderness, a fire circle, many sounds, smiling faces, someone singing, fields, meadow, pathways, in the distance; a tall forest.
And there, in the midst of all this, is Shantree.
Like fresh air.
A small group gathered, we greeted each other, exchanged energizing introductions, and set out towards the forest on the Herb Walk. We didn’t get very far though. A plant quickly caught Shantree’s eyes. We stopped in the field beyond the main gardens, the sky churning thunder, the air glowing, Shantree introduced Queen Anne’s Lace – wild carrots. Then, Yellow Dock. Then, more thunder and the rain introduced itself. We sought shelter in the Teaching Lodge, a warm room just beyond the Earthship.
In the lodge, as in the field, Shantree spoke of plants as though they were old, old friends –friends with incredible capabilities. Captivating, informing, challenging, and as is usually the case learning plants – humbling, and wonderful. It was a short evening Herb Walk (that was met by the rain) so there was little time for every detail – yet there was the rippling sense of “Oh! the stories I could tell about all these plants, the things we’ve been through! The things they can do!”
But those stories unfurl over time, plant time.
Some months later – the summer fallen well away, winter emerging – Shantree and I met, looked to the past, observed the present, envisioned future, discussed plants and place, Forest Gardening, Ecological Herbalism, Permaculture, Transition Towns, and planetary possibilities.
Morgan: What are some of your earliest memories of plants?
Shantree: My earliest recollection is when I came to Canada, when I was four and a half years old. I don’t remember much of my past in Yugoslavia or back in Europe, but once I was here, somewhere between four and a half and five years old, I have memories. One of the things I remember, and it drove my mom nuts, is that I would collect maple leaves, put a clothes pin on them, and her whole clothes line would be full of maple leaves, or different leaves, and she said “don’t do this anymore!” but I kept doing it, and it was like hmm…. I was drying herbs back then. Another strong memory, well not just one, but quite a few, was that I’ve always had a garden, ever since I was five or six years old – all the way through, and always wanting to grow watermelons. I’ve always had a garden except for maybe a couple years when I started getting into my teens. Even then, my bedroom was always full of plants – there’s always been this connection with gardening.
When and how did you decide to become a herbalist?
To me it seems like it was a continuum. I was still in high school, it was probably the mid 70’s; it was either Grade 9 or Grade 10. I came home from school and I said to my parents “I want to become a herbalist” and my mom looked at me and she goes “…well isn’t that interesting, because your Great Grandmother was a herbalist in the old country.” During the war years both my mom and my Grandmother sort of apprenticed with her, or they helped her and worked with her because my Great Grandmother lived in the woods on the edge of little village, so they would go there and gather herbs to make things. My Great Grandmother was also a healer, and it sounds like, from the best I can make it out from my mom, was that she worked more like massage and did some hands-on work with people.
So that’s when I decided to become a herbalist, around that time period, the mid-70’s, even though I didn’t know what it was going to look like, that’s how that idea came to me.
In 1983, when you first found the land that became the Living Centre, what was it like, what was growing? Could you describe what you felt and what has happening?
Well, in 1983 when I moved here, first thing is the place was called Balance Life Gardens, and then it changed about 12 years ago, it then came to be called Spirit of the Earth, I still call it Spirit of the Earth. People would always say “what is Spirit of the Earth?” I would say; it’s a learning centre, it’s an educational centre. People would say “What kind of things do you teach there?” I realized the word I was using a lot was Living. So that’s why it became Spirit of the Earth, The Living Centre. The reason we changed it now to The Living Centre, is that’s it’s more mainstream, more people can connect with that – even though to me Spirit of the Earth is actually what it’s really all about.
What was it like here? It was bare. I’m going to say… neglected, that’s the best word. What had happened was the family that lived here from 1950 to 1983 were from Holland – they had done everything organically, that’s one of the reasons we fell in love with the land, just knowing it was organic – they had six kids and their youngest son wanted to have a tree nursery on the property, but he had a car accident three years before they sold, I guess he had the accident in 1980, so for three years nobody had done any upkeep on the land. For three years it was totally abandoned – nobody cut the grass, nobody pruned the trees – the few trees that were here, like a 2 ½ acre pear orchard and a few evergreens around the house that were like a meter, meter and a half tall. It was very abandoned.
What was growing? It was a field, a grassy field. No shrubs, no trees. Just abandoned. Air.
How has the land changed over the years, since you’ve been there?
Well, it’s approaching 30 years now. There’s a lot more diversity. I’m proud to say that we’ve planted well over 1000 trees on the property; edible trees, medicinal trees, wind-break trees. More and more native trees have come in to the property since I’ve become interested in native vegetation and restoring natural areas. There’s a lot more micro-climates because there is so much more different shapes and trees and vegetation growing that create little pockets. The land just got richer and richer in fertility. Diverse, lush, abundant. Just more abundant in everything, be it insects, be it birds, be it wild life, be it vegetation.
So that’s one of the main things that’s really changed; everywhere you turn it’s like “well I don’t remember that caterpillar, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that caterpillar before…” It’s either due to climate shifting and climate change, or because the land is like a little pocket here. Because all around us is farmland and farmland is monoculture, they don’t have as much diversity, so I think all the insects and all the life comes to this 50 acre property to live here.
What does this land feel like for you, now?
Peaceful. Tranquil. It feels like a sanctuary, actually more a sacred sanctuary. I’m not sure if that’s because the land has grown and regenerated and has come to life, or because of the kind of ceremonies, the kind of rituals that have happened here, either for the Full Moons, or the Equinoxes, the Solstices, or for healing retreats. We used to do fasting retreats, we’ve had vision quests here, we’ve done so many different things on this land and I think the land has that memory, it holds what has occurred here.
So what does it feel like? I think it is an accumulation of all the activities, of the thousands of events that have happened here and the thousands and thousands of people that have walked this land either as a herb walk, or a healing journey, a retreat, or educational experience, and the intention of each of those events was to provide more wholeness – either for the individual or wholeness to restore the damage that happened on this land, before.
It’s hard to describe feeling, but it feels very peaceful, there’s a tranquillity here now, whereas before it felt like a working farm. Now it doesn’t feel like a farm, there is a different purpose, even though there’s still production here – there’s still harvesting of garlic, pears, things like that – the intention has changed.
Do you feel as though that kind of energy, that kind of transition, can extend beyond the boundaries of specific locations and spread across the planet?
Absolutely. That’s one of the things we do. For the Equinox we did a visioning of 2030 and a lot of people came here from different towns and regions, I think there was 30, 35 people here in our Tee Pee. When we did the visioning, everyone then spoke in their own region and I think these pockets – if you want to call it pockets – are like a centre. Be it someone’s home, be it someone’s grove of trees or a woodlot or a beautiful park which is held sacred. I think what’s happening on the planet is that these little bubbles, these little pockets are connecting, like mycelia, like a web that’s connecting all these different places, and the network I believe now is getting stronger and stronger – there’s more cross pollination, exchanging of ideas, visions, skills – wisdom going back and forth to all these different pockets now and there’s many more pockets than there was back in the late 1970s and 1980s when I was getting into this stuff.
There was always centres then, but not as many, there wasn’t as many people bringing this forward. And I think this web is stronger, and as the web is stronger there’s that direct link that we can feel from this centre to that centre – what you’re doing in Alberta to what were doing in Ontario, to what’s happening in Costa Rica or Peru, or whatever part of the world. Its like the internet, only this is the original internet, where the web is real, not just imaginary or just visualizing, or thinking about it – we actually feel it from each other. So yes it does go beyond the boundaries of this land, this 50 acres.
Lorenna and I do weekly visioning and we start from the ground up, from the basement and work our way up over the house, over the teaching lodge, over the teaching space, over the whole 50 acre property and we keep going bigger and bigger, and we do that weekly. That is very important for us, we do it with our students when they’re here, but when they’re not its just Lorenna and myself, sending this light that we feel in our hearts to others.
So you’re optimistic — about this kind of connection, about the future, about how things can change and grow?
I believe in miracles. I’m very optimistic, but feel like it’s going to be a growing pain. I really feel there’s going to be pain as well, there’s going to be discomfort. Its just like a woman giving birth. There’s the pains of the child coming into the world – it’s blissful, but at the same time there’s this… ugnh.
I believe as the shift on the Planet is happening there’s going to be the challenge of; how to embrace the new; how to embrace the new paradigm.
So yes, I’m optimistic.
I wouldn’t have said this ten, fifteen years ago, I would have said, “Oh yeah, we’ll just transition into this new way of life, people are awakening and it’s going to happen…” And I still feel that, but now I feel there’s going to be discomfort as well.
What concerns you most with regards to this transition, and the climate crisis? What might be one of the most central discomforts or challenges that you see?
I’ve thought of this question, from various people who’ve asked me. I’m not sure. I think one of the main things is that people just don’t know what to do, the confusion, the chaos. Rob Hopkins, from Transition Towns says; “We are the main generation on this planet that has hardly any skills.” In the past people had a lot of skills. Talking about our ancestors, they just knew how to build a house, how to collect food, they just knew identification, they knew animals, they knew their region really well, they knew it really intimately … and we don’t. We know how to run software programs, or type on a keypad to send an email, but when it comes to the real survival skills; how do you build a fire? how do you clothe yourself? where does your food come from? where does your medicine come from …
To me that’s a hardship, because those skills are still there but the majority of people do not have them. I’m not sure the percentage that would be, maybe 1 – 5 % of the population might know some of those skills, but 95% of the population does not. They know how to go to the mall, how to drive a car, those kind of things, but when it comes to skills of really living with nature, living in harmony with nature, that’s the part. So the question of discomfort, of hardships, it’s the not knowing; “What do I do? How do this? How do I create a shelter?” It’s really about the mind and panic.
So hopefully more people who do know those skills come forward and expand that.
How do you feel Forest Gardening, Permaculture and Transition Towns address this sense of panic?
The reason I’m excited and so passionate about Transition Towns, and bringing this forward to our community here, even though I’m not in a town, I’m in the country – London’s about half an hour from here – is because it’s a model that emerged out of nature. So when you think of organic gardening, then your interested in plants, then from there you look at plants that are a little bit more perennial, they’re not here for just one cycle, so it becomes more about the shrub or the tree and then, forest gardening, which is really about; what is the forest doing? How is the forest thriving? It doesn’t just survive it thrives, it actually becomes more and more resilient, becomes more dynamic, more diverse, the soil becomes richer and micro organisms become more abundant, there’s more fertility in a forest. So we know that a forest works very, very well. 97% of a forest recycles itself. That’s a very high percentage, compared to when you look at our model of a human culture or human civilization, I think I’ve heard numerous numbers, from 5% – 20% of a city might recycle resources, most of it ends up being waste.
Our model’s not working very well, and I think that’s why there is this crisis and depletion occurring on the planet. When you look at a forest, it’s like wow that’s doing very well and it keeps doing it for millennia after millennia, and it keeps getting richer like I mentioned.
So from there you look at the culture of that forest, of who lives in that forest, its not just the vegetation the plants and trees, it’s also the animals, it’s also the rocks, all the other parts that are there – so they have a whole living culture called an ecosystem that’s all interconnected, doing very well.
The word Permaculture comes in because it means permanent agriculture, that’s where it originally came from, and now we’re realizing it means perma-culture; the culture of how to live in permanency with our region, with our ecosystems; our bio-regions, how to live with that in an intimate way. We don’t live in an intimate way, because most people who go into the grocery store do not know the vegetation outside that grocery store, the weeds or the plants native to that area.
Permaculture goes beyond where forest gardening is because it becomes our social structure, our economical structure, it becomes how humanity is interacting with ecology. Forest gardening focuses mainly on vegetation, but Permaculture goes beyond the vegetation and goes into the elements and all the other structures of what it means to stay alive, not just the humans, but all the other beings that are here, that are also alive.
Transition Towns emerged from Permaculture, emerged from one person; Rob Hopkins, along with 15 or 20 students of his in Ireland, and they said; can we take this – how do we grow our food?, how do we make our own homestead? – beyond the classroom, beyond one individual, or one family who’s doing Permaculture, so that a whole village or whole community becomes permaculturally active, or permaculturally alive.
The biggest challenge we now have is how to do Transition Cities. How does a whole city transition, so that there is self sufficiency, there is regeneration, there is an abundance that starts to happen. Because there’s thousands and thousands of people (in cities) not just a few hundred or a few neighbours.
The model of a Transition Town, becomes; 97% of it, is recycling everything. The food is in the cities, the medicine is in the city, where your clothing is going to come from is going to be very close or within the town. That’s where transition Town is, it goes beyond Permaculture, it becomes a larger sphere of looking at that model. The reason I’m excited about it is because it’s the model that we know works, it’s not a human-made model, it’s a natural model. The more we bring in mimicry of a natural ecosystem or a forest, and apply that to our human everyday-to-day life, it works.
Forest Gardening, Permaculture, and Transition Town; it just becomes larger and larger and larger. You start at the small scale and work your way out to the bigger picture
One thing you’ve brought forth that I find very interesting and wonderful is Ecological Herbalism. How does that tie into Forest Gardening, Permaculture, Transition Towns and so forth?
The reason I love the term Ecological Herbalism, and the reason I’m using that term – and the reason at our centre I’m focusing more on training people to become herbal educators, not herbal practitioners, but people who educate about the plant world – is, not how do we take from nature, but how do we help to restore nature. How do we restore the wounds that have happened in our backyard or in our neighbourhood or in our bio-region. It’s teaching people to become ecologically active, as activists. Maybe I’ll call it Herbal Activism.
A lot of time people think of herbalists, they think; “I’ll go out into my backyard, I’ll go out into nature and I’ll take. I’ll take this plant, I’ll take this echinacea root, I’ll dig this horseradish up, and I’ll use it for human good.” And there’s obviously nothing wrong with that, we need that.
But we also need to be restorative, so I’m actually giving back and being co-creator with my backyard or with my neighbourhood so that I’m helping to bring back a system that was whole and pure before we came along and depleted it. So to me Ecological Herbalism is how to listen and how to be a restorative steward to make sure those herbs continue for the next generation.
Back 30, 35 years ago when I was getting into herbalism, there wasn’t that many herbalists in North America, now there are thousands of herbalists. Thousands of us. And now there’s millions of people who are using herbs; a capsule or a tincture, herbal shampoos, whatever form. Where are those herbs coming from?
We’re taking them, from nature. We need them because it’s “big business” now, we need those ingredients, those plants, to make our shampoos, our creams, our salves, our cough syrups etc, etc. So now there’s thousands of people who are taking from those places that are wild. Another thing is 30 years ago there was a lot more wild areas than there is now, and there’s more people on the planet now – we need that much more stuff to make our medicines, to make our organic clothing, or hemp clothing, or whatever. We just need those place in nature to take it from. So, it’s saying how can we learn what the forest is doing, to live in harmony with that. To me Forest Gardening and Ecological herbalism, they just dovetail together
Forest Gardening, Ecological Herbalism, Permaculture and Transition Towns, perhaps that’s like four directions. Is there a fifth, is there anything else you recognize as a practice or way of life that works with all this?
There’s probably more than one more, but the first one I thought of when you asked just now is nutrition. Nutrition for our own area, nutrition for our bio-region, because you have to nourish. A lot of these things we’re talking about is how to grow the food, how to garden, how to get your medicine if you look at herbalism – we’re looking at the things that will sustain us, and the most important thing that will sustain us is choices. We have hundreds of food choices to choose from, doesn’t mater where you live, I don’t care how far North you go …up to a point; there’s hundreds of different things to choose from throughout the year, from leaves to berries, fruit, nuts, all these things.
We have all these things to choose from, so if your going to grow something you have to know; “what do I want to consume, what do I want to take in to my body that will nourish me, that will sustain me so I will we feel strong, radiant and vital, so that I can do what I’m meant to do in the course of my lifetime.”
Local nutrition, local foods, local things, and then bring in Forest Gardening or even Permaculture, you’re looking at things that might take a while to become established, compared to planting a carrot – within a few months you can harvest a carrot, or plant a tomato and within three, four, five months you’ve got tomatoes to harvest.
But some of these things you don’t get a crop from them within a few months – might take years, some might take over a decade. The reason I call my herbalism this, the approach we teach here; Visionary Herbalism – is about being able to vision what will be needed in five, ten, twenty years from now. What kind of foods and medicines are going to be needed. There’s more and more monoculture, less and less diversity, we know that to be healthy we need diversity of nutrients, we need diversity of tastes and smells that satisfy us, because the same thing over and over – eventually you’ll become extremely bored, but the other thing that would happen is you’ll become extremely depleted.
Each plant gives us different gifts, gives us different messages, gives different nutrients, gives us different qualities and vibrations that shift us and help us to be whole. So nutrition is an important part of that, the word I like to use is nourish, to be nourished. And it goes beyond nutrition, to be nourished by having a bath or by smelling something, or touching a certain leaf, or by putting my back against the trunk of a tree, there’s something I feel from that, there’s something that happens because of that, even though I did not eat it – I was nourished, I was satisfied
I’m not sure how to capture that in one word, but when I said “nutrition”, I realized I made it sound very physical, but it’s not just physical, I’m talking about; nourished … through all your senses.
What are your dreams?
For me, my dream; to be creative. Actually, Lorenna and I had a conversation about this a couple days ago, we’ve actually had this conversation more than once where this came up. Before, I would always come from herbalism, nutrition, the most important thing to be healthy you’ve got to be well nourished and her thing was “to really be healthy, you’ve got to be emotionally alive, emotionally clear, so you can tap into your emotions, express them.”
You know, what comes first? The emotion or the physical disease. If you eat crummy, then your emotions are crummy. If your emotions are crummy, then you’ll probably eat crummy. But what we came to, and we both agree on this, the most important thing is to be creative, because if you’re creating something it means your expressing. So for me personally, my dream is to maintain and continue to be creative – be it creating a garden, be it creating a formula…
We’re dreaming of another building on the property that would actually become our home, we could be off the grid, be living out by the pond and having a little cabin back there. A little small, small, one room with a little loft upstairs where we would live most the time, and then come to the main part here, our office, to work.. And to design that – cord wood, straw bale, passive solar, whatever it is – to me that’s exciting, it’s like ahhh, the creativity!, to landscape around it! Creativity is very important.
The other one I have is to see humanity learn to live in harmony with the natural forces. That’s what my dream is to see happen during the course of my lifetime. To see a thriving culture of peace and regenerative living. To live in peace, and also regeneratively.
Everyone keeps using the word “sustainability”, and to me that sounds a little boring because if your just sustaining, you’re sustaining on a flat line. But regenerative means there’s an active recharge occurring there, so I think of regenerative living and my dream is to be living in that state, to be an example of that state and for the (Living) Centre to be an example of that and for different towns and different communities to be living in that place so that each community becomes its own signature, has its own unique songs and stories, and I think different subdivisions, different neighbourhoods, could become where people are really proud of where we live and the neighbours could trade amongst themselves, exchange, barter and live in that kind of way so you could actually know everybody by their first names, you’re working there, living there.
But you could still go and travel and visit another village, another town, and see: how are they living? What have they learned via their ecosystem? By living intimately with your own region I think you’re informed, because your going to a deep place of listening. That deep listening of “what do I need to do, now?”
One of the questions Lorenna and I ask ourselves each year, this time of year – November, December, January, February – is; “What does Shantree now want to offer for 2011? What does Lorenna want to offer for 2011? What does this Land want to offer for 2011?” and; “What does our community, of people who will come here, what does the community need now?”
So that’s my dream, learning and going to that place of deep listening; of “Now what?” And if you go into a deep place of listening I think the natural world informs us. The plants, the animals, the Elemental beings; Air, Fire, Water, Earth – that’s coming into us, we’re being inspired, we’re being guided and it’s coming from a place of knowing from the Heart, so the answer or the message is not coming from the brain, like “Oh yeah the bird told me this…” It came because you felt it in your Heart region, compared to the head.
One person came out this summer, all he wanted me to do was teach him how to learn the language of what the trees are saying. Well the trees don’t speak in this language where you can say “Hello.” Hello.” How are you?” “Good.” Fine.” It’s more of a sensation, where I feel something inside of me and there’s a sort of mmmmm, OK, Yeah, there’s a lean in this direction, there’s more of a yesss.
That’s what I’m still learning – how to listen, to re-landscape this property here so it’s sustaining me and all the people who live here and also the Land and what it wants. Not just “Shantree wants 100 apple trees…” It’s saying what conditions, what environment, what would be beneficial for, not just the humans, but all the other beings that would like an apple, or the leaves of an apple, or the other vegetation that needs to be around that apple tree.
So it’s looking at beyond the human. I think a lot of people who do organic agriculture think “I want to grow organically because I want to feed humanity” but when it comes to Forest Gardening it’s becoming more like ecologists – it’s not just how do I feed humans, but how do I feed all the other beings there.
So that’s my dream. To go to that deep place of listening so we can learn how to create a win-win for the humans and also the other beings who want to live here with us.
Who are your heroes, your teachers?
Air. Fire. Water. Earth. Ether.
They have always been here.
Many years ago we were going to do a workshop called “Come learn from the five greatest masters of all time.” To me, it’s the Elements. To me the Elements are true. It’s learning their language, learning from them. I have a lot of human people who’ve inspired me, who’ve educated me and the list is extremely long.
But when it comes to that question of who are my greatest teachers? The other one I used to say, and I can still say it, is that my greatest teacher has been my garden. For almost 30 years that garden has shaped me, has molded me, created the kind of muscles I have, the kind of body I have, the kind of heart I have. You can say the garden has actually grown me, instead of me creating that garden. And to me that garden is about creativity, I’ve enjoyed creating that garden, I’ve enjoyed being in there. If I was stressed out I would just go into that garden and that would be my therapist, it would be my healer.
I would be at the office from 8 in the morning until 6 o’clock at night, come home for a few hours in the evening and just work in there for an hour or two or three, and boy did my states changes. After… well, hearing peoples concerns, problems, illnesses they were dealing with – I’d just go into the garden and I’d be recharged for the next morning and ready to go.
Each plant in that garden taught me different lessons, compared to who I was. I thought I was so intelligent, so smart back in 1983, ’84 when I had begun the land, I thought “I’m great, I’m a herbalist, a nutritionist I’ve got my PhD! … I can change the world, I’m gonna heal the world…” and I realized that it was the garden and nature that really helped – humbled me of how much I don’t know. Every passing year I feel like that’s happening, I feel like I know less and less.
Because, there’s more and more questions – I don’t understand; why is that that tree growing beside that plant? why is this happening here, whats going on over there? and what other levels and dimensions are there to what a plant does? Compared to the things we know, like OK echinacea does this, provides these kinds of benefits – but what about its personality, what about its other characteristics? I’m realizing, as all these years have gone by, I’ve learned through the head. But to really know a plant through the heart is…
And that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about teachers. Who are my greatest teachers? It’s; which ones have really affected my heart – have opened my heart, to a deep place of listening.
Here’s a question I like to ask, and you’re a great person to ask this; You’re in the forest with a few friends, it’s a New Moon, and you want to celebrate with a forest feast. What would you prepare?
Hmmm… that’s a very tricky question, it depends. You’re talking about me in my forest?
Yes, in your forest.
OK, well another question I’d like to throw back to you is; what season is it?
Ah good point! Let’s say it’s summer.
OK, in the summer, when everything’s very abundant and there’s so many nuts and fruit and berries…
Well, two of my favorite plants which I would bring in as a dessert and would be ripe right around that time – and you could either call it a dessert or call it a snack – but it would be hazelnuts and the pawpaw fruit. I love those two plants because of their flavors, their tastes, and how abundantly they grow in a forest, in the shade – they need the edge of a forest, a certain amount of shade to really do well. The other thing I would want to have as part of that feast is purple, or red, wild grape juice. Grape juice is just the ultimate in antioxidants, they just grow so abundantly on these vines. And, if I had a pot, and I could make soup there, it would be stinging nettle with marshmallow root. I love the flavor of it and the marshmallow roots to me give a texture that’s so …mmmm.
I’m actually going in reversed order, instead of doing the appetizer, then dessert, I’m doing dessert first! [Laughter]
The other one is; a stir not-fry. That’s with wild leeks, burdock roots, wild carrot. So a lot of wild things that grow in the earth at that time of year – late summer, early fall. Then of course the number one thing would be the salad. The beautiful thing I love about creating salads is that they’re so different from month to month, you can’t really re-create them, it’s always going to be different, different kinds of things that are going to be there, and 50% of the salad would be flowers. Violets, linden flowers – actually linden flowers might be over by then, might be linden berries by the fall. But there’s so many different kinds of greens and flowers.
That would be my feast.