10.08.2007

2007 Herbal Convergence report

The Northeast Radical Healthcare Network hosted its second annual Herbal Convergence at Seven Arrows farm this past weekend. This gathering has been amazing so far - low cost, community organized, non-hierarchical, inclusive, conscious, accessible. I can't say enough about the organizers and the people there.
Lots was going on. It is a tumultuous time in the herbal world, and I think the discussions reflected that.

Wendy gave us an update from the herbal care unit of the Common Ground Free Clinic in New Orleans. A non-profit, the Clinic's board of directors felt that unlicensed herbalists should not be practicing in the clinic the way they'd been doing since Katrina left most of the city's healthcare network crippled. While this might have seemed the end of an experiment in truly integrative free healthcare, the herbalists in New Orleans turned things around. They enlisted Phyllis Light, a professional AHG member, to supervise their work, and created defined protocols for herbal treatment in specific situations. Integrative practice continues!

Chris Monteiro of Providence, RI spoke about her acupuncture practice where low-cost and sliding-scale treatments are given to many people at once, reducing overhead and engendering a sense of 'peaceful community' for those relaxing in the treatment room.

I talked a little about the free clinics we run up here in Montpelier, now through the VCIH, and how coupling educational opportunities and community-grown medicines with the free clinic can help make it sustainable.

Rebecca Hartman talked live about her herbal philosophy, with a special focus on seeing the human physiology as an ecological system. She described insights for practice from a relational, ecological, and network-based vantage point (definitely good stuff, summarized here on her blog).

We heard reports from Just Food, where folks are organizing communities and local farmers in and around New York City to encourage community food production, fresh food availability, urban chicken and bee keeping, and networks of distribution and barter.

The Rhizome Collective in Austin, TX has been continuing with its urban sustainability work, organizing efforts, and ecological preservation. We heard about how they got a $200,000 grant to clean up and preserve a ten acre brownfield they now own. I was especially impressed by the construction of a floating island of plastic in a stormwater collection pond: anchored to this structure are wetland plants that help purify and control the water.

Mischa Schuler talked about her practice and work as a community herbalist in Cambridge, MA. I missed her class on herbal support for eating disorders, because my workshop on herbs and psych med use was at the same time, and was very disappointed about that. Mischa is a thoughtful herbalist who shared with us many of the practicalities of an herbal practice: making a comfortable space, finding the right place to work in and the right people to share space with, creating methods of recordkeeping, accessibility, and more. Living in Boston has strengths and weaknesses - but this place called the Fells sounds pretty awesome...

During and after my talk on the history of medicine in the US over the last 200 years, a lot of crucial issues were brought up. I feel that we are at a similar juncture in the history of herbal medicine to the one the Eclectics (and everyone else) faced in the mid-1800s: unregulated, diverse healthcare practices with a central government threatening (an imposing ) regulation. Onerous regs might create a two-tiered system: licensed and lay herbalists, 'professional' and 'kitchen' healers. How to avoid this split, avoid assimilation, and avoid 'banishment'? Some ideas, such as 'community-shared herbalism' where a collective group makes tinctures for itself, came out of the mix. This is something we want to try to build in Montpelier; I know others are working on it as well. But licensure will continue to be a hot debate!

I spoke with Kale (I believe that was the name) about research on the role of neuronal myelination in disorders such as bipolar depression and schizophrenia. This research seems to point at low mylelination levels for the former and higher levels for the latter, both in the brain's while matter and in the corpus callosum. Kale, if you can keep in touch about your research, I'd love to hear more!

Mary Blue, who is one of the organizers and a hostess for the gathering, also talked about her community living and farming project, called Farmacy, that involves urban sustainability, a farm and herb garden, composting toilets and graywater processing, and a kid's camp -- all from a small lot in Providence, RI. She makes tinctures and other medicines for local distribution. I commented to her how interesting, from a semantic and philosophical point of view, her choice of the name 'Farmacy' is: in the 70s, herbalists were moving out of the underground, and the tincture company was called 'Herb Pharm' (and still is - great company!). This name puts the 'Ph' into an earthy, farmlike concept: it injects science into nature's grounding force. Now, in the 21st century, herbalists create an organization like 'Farmacy'. This name puts the 'F' into a scientific concept: it injects nature's grounding force into science. I guess we've had a few years to think about it, but I do like the latter way of doing things quite a lot. And the Convergence is doing a good job of distilling this new, radical herbal instinct and bringing it into the light.

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