We started off the next day with a class about Adaptogens. I often feel the most common disease of our fast paced twenty-first century lifestyle is stress. Adaptogens are the perfect support for our over exhausted and depleted adrenal glands. Its no wonder herbs like ginseng are over harvested. I fell head over heels in love with Ashwaganda and Reishi. Rosemary shared a great idea with us about using Reishi and other mushroom powders. They can be used in sauces and gravies as a nutritious and tasty substitute for flour. Heat helps to extract certain medicinal qualities of the mushrooms, so it makes cooking with them the perfect choice. Throughout the week I was constantly learning practical ideas on how to incorporate herbs into my life on a daily basis.
The next topic was the respiratory system. We talked about how the air we breathe comes from the plants and thus a beautiful reason for why we love to garden, play in the dirt, and yearn to have a close relationship with these wonderful beings. I was excited to learn about Lobelia tincture which can be used for asthma, potentially in place of an inhaler. As an asthmatic, I came home and whipped up some lobelia tincture right away. (Note: Use in small amounts with caution, lobelia can be a powerful emetic.)
The next day we had one of my favorite classes of the week, Medicinal Mushrooms with Nancy Scarzello. This is a topic I didn’t know much about and one that isn’t really covered in detail in any of the books I have. We learned how to identify different mushrooms and dispelled the myth I had that most medicinal mushrooms come from China. In fact, we have lots of nutritious, medicinal mushrooms right here in the United States. Nancy talked about where to look for mushrooms and how and when to harvest them. She also brought along different mushrooms so that we could actually see them in real life, and we got to sample a delicious chaga chai drink. We learned the best ways to make mushroom extracts and what they can be used for. I now make mushroom tincture by the gallon.
In the afternoon not only did we learn about herbs for the urinary system, but we also talked about how the kidneys are the organ that is associated with fear, anxiety, worry, and “weepiness”. When there is an imbalance with the kidneys, along with herbal therapy, Rosemary recommends wrapping a piece of wool cloth around the waist and kidney area (like a scarf) to keep the area warm and to apply a hot water bottle. She tells a story of how her mentor, Juliette De Barclay Levy, came to visit her years ago and scolded her for not having a hot water bottle in the house. Every good herbalist must own one she says. I have personally found this idea of keeping the kidneys “warm” to be very helpful and comforting and I now own two water bottles!
My husband has high cholesterol so I was very interested in the “herbs for cardiovascular support” class and was not disappointed. What I often found even more interesting than the specific herbs used to treat a particular body system was the different ways and theories that we talked about for looking at the illnesses. If the kidneys are the organs of fear and worry, the heart is associated with emotional stress. I was fascinated to learn that the heart is rich in neurotransmitters. No wonder we “feel” heart broken when we lose a loved one.
Guido Mase came to speak about herbs for men’s health (and caused a few hearts to flutter I might add!) It was a great idea to have a man teaching the class and it was also interesting to get a chance to learn from some different teachers and see their different styles and opinions on things.
The following day we went on a field trip to New Hampshire to Heartsong Herb Farm, owned by Mike and Nancy Phillips. Mike taught us some great tips on growing organic heirloom apples and garlic. We also toured their herb gardens and solar herb drying shed and sampled delicious treats such as Nancy’s elderberry syrup and Mike’s home made apple cider vinegar. Nancy served a scrumptious lunch by the brook which was so beautiful that it seemed like something right out of a story book. One of my favorite memories of Heartsong Herb Farm was wassailing with Mike around the “mother apple tree” which produces 11 different types of apples on one tree!
Thursday we buckled down and spent most of the day creating personal wellness programs. It really gave us a chance to hone our listening skills and work on developing protocols. In the evening we were treated to a syrup making class taught by Rosemary’s charming sixteen year old grandson and then a poultice demonstration class taught by Rosemary. Throughout the week we also had many other classes such as plant identification walks, earth centered herbalism, show and tell with products we had made over the last year, a tea party and beverage blend contest (of which I won third place!), and we even managed to squeeze in ceremonial mask making one night.
I had been looking forward to the women’s health class all year. Again, what I thought I was looking forward to and what I ended up experiencing were actually two different things. I had come down with a migraine headache that day but refused to miss the class I had been waiting on all year. Since it was rainy, class was held in the yurt and I found a spot out of the way where I could lay down but still listen. Anne, one of my classmates, came over and began to do some energy work on me. As Rosemary talked a thunderstorm came through and the rain poured down harder and harder until she could barely speak over the sound. Instead of insisting on teaching over it, she taught us to be quiet and listen to the earth. I laid in the yurt, Anne’s hands full of energy, moving over me, with the sound of the rain pouring down as if the floodgates had opened up. Eventually the noise of the rain subsided into a hush and spontaneously the circle of women began to sing, softly at first in an almost muted whisper, then slowly the singing got louder and louder until it erupted into a joyful celebration of singing and drumming. I have never experienced such powerful energy in all of my life, simply by listening and being present. If only we could slow down and be that present all the time.
The week and my apprenticeship came to a close with a graduation ceremony on Saturday. In the beautiful fashion typical of Rosemary, we were presented with lovely certificates and a crescent moon necklace which she gives to all of her apprentices. Again, words cannot describe the experience. It was hard to say goodbye and head off to the airport, knowing it might the last time I would ever be at Sage Mountain, together with everyone. The apprenticeship has given me a ton of herbal information to use and continue to process, lots of great resources, wonderful friends, and a lifetime of memories.
But above and beyond all of the herbal knowledge I gained, without a doubt, the most important lessons I learned were from Rosemary’s life itself. She is quick with a smile and laughs easily. She possesses the curiosity and spontaneity of a child. She treads gently across the earth, with a light heart, yet there is no doubt that like each of us, she has experienced times of great sorrow and loss in her life.
I will always remember how she took a hold of my hands and drew me into a dance on the spur of moment simply because there was music playing and how she would just laugh when things got hectic. (Squeezing thirty five women, who have been sleeping, eating, and sharing only two showers together for a week, into one classroom, can get a little chaotic at times!) But she loved it and relished in what she calls this “green madness.” Rosemary is truly light and greenness, the closest thing to a living plant and a fairy that you will ever meet. Watching her convinced me of the power of the plants. Whether it is their chemical constituents or something deeper, it doesn’t matter. What is clear is that these green beings have great lessons and healing abilities for us all. I am grateful to Rosemary for so generously sharing her life’s work with us.
Betsy May is a certified Holistic Health Practitioner and Registered Yoga Teacher with a love of all things herbal.
She can be reached at email@example.com.