I recently attended Healing with Nature: a workshop about healing with wild medicinal plants of Florida. The workshop was held at Northwood Retreat Center, a permaculture center in Dade City, Florida. Herbalist Emily Ruff, director of the Florida School for Holistic Living, led the workshop for about 15 students. I had already studied with Emily and love her teaching style so I was looking forward to an entire workshop devoted to indigenous plants of Florida and their medicinal uses.
Northwood is lovely, set in the hills of the Florida ridge and located near a horse ranch. The grounds are filled with native and domesticated trees as well as a wonderful organic garden. Rebecca Blanco, the retreat center host, created a lovely table of healthy snacks and Emily brought soothing lavender and lemon balm tea.
We began the class with smudging and a talking circle. Each participant was able to share their experience with herbs and their intentions for the class. Emily led a brief, relaxing guided meditation. We then spent some time discussing safe, ethical harvesting of wil plants. Then we began the plant walk. Emily told us that you only need about twenty feet of plant life for a good plant walk. We were not disappointed. Northwood is full of wild medicine.
Our first plant was camphor. We smelled the leaves and Emily explained that, like eucalyptus leaves, the leaves can be placed into steam and inhaled for 10 minutes to ease congestion.
We then explored Kidney Weed or Dichondria Carolensis, a favorite green cover for lawn xeriscaping. The leaves look like kidneys and support the nervous system.
Finally we met Chanca Piedra or Gripeweed , a plant that looks a bit like Partridge Pea or Bahama Cassia. Tiny seeds hang from it that look like stones. Emily explained that according to the doctrine of signatures, the stone is a symbol for this plant’s healing effect on the liver and gall bladder. It has a bitter taste and helps break down fats.
After a delicious lunch, we met in circle to discuss new ways to relate to the plants. This was one of the most beautiful parts of the class. We discussed Stephen Buhner’s work and did a very simple exercise to connect with the spirit of a wild plant. I chose Beautyberry and Bidens Alba.
We then reviewed basic herbal preparations for native plants like: infusions, decoctions, and tinctures- as well as instructions for harvesting and drying these native herbs.
At a time of year when we focus on the harvest of domesticated plants, it’s fun to recognize the abundance that we can all receive directly from nature.