Category Archives: Iowa City Chapter Herbalists Without Borders

ICHWB’s Affordable Apothecary Project

This is kind of a weird post.  I set out to announce a local project but I realized quickly that I am speaking to an issue that a lot of practitioners in my field have been struggling with for awhile now.

When I was in college they asked me to teach a workshop on working in low-income populations, because of my work in those populations.  I work in those populations because I have lived in that population for most of my life and learned from a very early age how to be poor.  Although I will be the first to admit that country poor is different than city poor and it took me awhile to adjust my thinking to that.

When I taught that class I think I was still advocating for a sliding fee model and  I don’t recommend that these days.

First of all  people working on a sliding fee scale always run out of resources.  There are just too many people who aren’t doing well and when you try to take care of them, suddenly you aren’t doing very well either and you can’t help anyone.  That’s due to the gross income inequity that is a systemic problem in our society.  There’s no way around it.  When you have 30 clients come in during a week who legitimately can’t afford to pay according to your scale,  the two who can don’t balance that out.

There’s also the unfortunate fact that people will take advantage of you.  I found out just the other day that I’ve been giving preparations out to someone who makes more money than I do every year.

The biggest problem I see though,  is that when you give a person a handout, you are still creating a captive consumer.  That person must always get their product from you or from someone else.  I am absolutely not into that, because if I am not around or out of something people will end up paying through the nose for it from someone else.   

The first step for me to move away  from these problems was teaching classes, and giving out scholarships,  instead of doing traditional consults on a sliding-fee scale. No matter how trite it seems teaching someone to do something is better than giving  handouts.   Oddly enough people seem more into supporting something like that.  I’ve had a couple people buy spots for me to give to other people.

I try very hard to structure my classes in such a way that you don’t need to be  well-off to buy the ingredients to make preparations.  I  stick to base ingredients that can be purchased with SNAP funds.  If you follow my facebook page you will see posts where I show people how to make supplements  from food scraps you would normally throw away.

Still, one of the biggest problems I have in doing my work is that the herbal preparations are expensive and not everyone has room for a garden.  I want to work to fix this problem for our community. I am hoping that through brainstorming with other people, we have come up with a good idea that maybe some of you in other places might try, too.

The most pressing project ICHWB is going to be focusing on this year is our coop project. Members sat down at a meeting last month and hashed out the membership rules.   

The basic structure of of the project that everyone will make some sort of contribution towards materials we need to make preparations.  That could be:

  1. Growing herbal ingredients.
  2. Contributing raw materials for preparations.
  3. Contributing packaging materials.

Realistically until we really get off the ground, it might involve picking a couple ways to contribute. We have no idea what our needs will be until after we get firm numbers on the sign-ups.

Every member will be expected to attend scheduled harvesting and workdays and help according to their ability level.  We will end each of these with a potluck dinner because community building is cool, too.

At the end of the season, everyone will get a share of the products we produce and one share will be donated to the Herbalist’s Without Borders supplies.

We will be taking answering questions, taking, signups,  and distributing seeds to members at the Spring Open House, our March ICHWB meeting,and when we go help  establish an edible forest at Creekside park on April 4th.

I will keep records though and update you all on the success of the project at the end of the season.  Wish us luck!


Spring Open House.

If you are here for the next installment in the flu posts, that will be next week.  I have to take care of some local business first. 

We had so much fun at the Winter open house that we decided to set a date for a Spring open house.   I haven’t done much to circulate that event,  because I’ve been preoccupied getting ready for the second set of street medic trainings which start on Saturday.

I thought about changing the name of this gathering because the modern definition of “open house” meaning has shifted away from its historical meaning , but I am pretty stuck on this term and I am going to tell you why.
One of my favorite Irish healers  was  Biddy Early  who was known for keeping an “open house” and often hosting the community cuaird.  The cuaird was basically a house party for commoners who didn’t have their days off for socializing during fancy afternoon tea parties.

The host literally left their kitchen door open and set chairs by the fire. Neighbors would walk in, take a spot by the fire, and they would spend the evening  making music, dancing, sharing stories in their native Gaelic, drinking a bit, and engaging in revolutionary political rhetoric. These open house parties contributed to the preservation of the  Irish culture and language, during a time when English colonizers were trying really fucking hard to stomp it out.

Biddy Early was a special kind of healer  called a ritual healing specialist,  but she was also a bit of an activist.  She never took a bit of money for her cures, but traded for poteen and food which she then shared with others through good old-fashioned hospitality.

It was said that she never turned away a tired traveller and many a passer-by was offered a jug, some food, and a seat in front of her warm fire.  It was a fairly nifty way of avoiding taxation and redistributing the wealth. She was also known for taking on landlords and law officials during a time when the wealthy colonizers were bearing down on the poor.

So  anyway a 17th century Irish activist is my  inspiration for my open houses and kind of my life, really.  But don’t call me biddy.  That’s got turned into a slur used against Irish immigrants.  I don’t love it.

I have taken the concept a  bit further by setting it up as a bartering event.

To participate as a “vendor” the only rule is that you must be primarily prepared for bartering.  I sent someone home one year who came with a “cash only” sign.  That’s just not how this one works. I also make sure that everyone who performs walks away with something from me and think I am going to make it a rule that  every vendor has to do that.

We had a lot of fun in December.  I don’t think that much cash was exchanged but we all walked out with nice piles for holiday gift-giving.  Plant babies were very popular trade items.  I got two coleus. It’s open to anyone who has a good or service to negotiate with.  In the past we have had:

Professional Artists
Hobby Crafters
Jelly Makers

If you are one of those people blessed with more money than time, you can absolutely come buy things and stick a little cash in the performer’s tip jar.   My daughters know a lot of really talented people and there was some beautiful art at the last open house.  They surprised me by buying  me one of the paintings I really liked.

If you aren’t in to any of this.  I set up the bar with mixers and my bitters blends for a BYOB cocktail party. Bring a bottle if you can afford it, throw some darts,  and maybe engage in a little revolutionary political rhetoric.  

And who are we kidding, Steve will feed us because that’s what Steve does.

Iowa City Herbalists Without Borders

I sat down to write an article about the Community Seed Bank project. I am quickly realizing that it might be better to start with a post about what Iowa City Herbalists Without Borders is all about, and why I am personally invested in coordinating our local group.

As I have written, my great-grandmother was a midwife in a poverty-stricken rural community. Lay practitioners like her were once the backbone of communities. I have mad respect for them and the apprenticeship model of learning.

When my person and I got together, we didn’t have any kind of insurance for a good many years. I didn’t even have it when I was pregnant with my youngest. I used what I learned from my family lore and historical herbals to keep us healthy despite our lack of access to conventional healthcare

Then his full-time temp job became permanent and we finally had insurance. I quickly realized though, that it’s not super useful if you can’t afford the copays. So I kept doing what I was doing.

My midwife’s apprentice was a rogue nurse practitioner. We talked a lot when I was pregnant with my youngest and because of her influence, I decided I wanted to know the science behind my herbal practice.

So I jumped into debt and went to college, thinking I was going to go the nurse practitioner route. After I finished my A&P final, my professor talked to me about integrative medicine and its future, telling me he thought it would be a shame for me to abandon my roots.

I finished an AS in Biology/Nutrition at the community college. When my classmates transferred to their nursing programs, I transferred to a progressive college out East where I could study clinical herbalism and ethnomedicine.

I wrote my thesis on how domestic medicine once contributed to the resiliency of poor communities and supported the modern relevance with current scientific research into herbal remedies.

These days I am considered to be one of the most annoying “I am going to need to see your citations for that” practitioners in my field. (I said this on my Facebook the other day and several of my colleagues kindly confirmed that.)

Not only am I one of those irritating science people, I have all sorts of attitude about the explosion of pseudoscientific marketing on the Internet that passes as “herbalism.”

Most of it is written by marketers and social influencers who quite frankly don’t know what they are talking about half the time. These people have turned what used to be a vital part of the community’s subsistence into cost prohibitive boutique medicine.

I can’t work in that paradigm.

I can’t even begin to tell you how irritated I get when I talk to a parent who is spending hundreds of dollars a month on essential oils or CBD oil. Especially when they really can’t afford it and don’t need those things. I am starting to feel that way about elderberry syrup.

I know that some people have more money than time. But for the love of all that is green, learn whether you are spending your dollars wisely or throwing it away on nonsense.

I would also ask those people to support local herbal shops rather than purchasing from online stores and overpriced Etsy shops. There are two great herb shops in the Corridor, run by really amazing women.

I am not writing this to talk to those people.

I am here to talk to the people who can’t afford that. I am here to talk to the people who have to choose between keeping the lights on and healthy food. I am here to talk to the people who can’t afford pay $20 for an 8-ounce bottle of elderberry syrup. I am here to help the parents who look at all the people buying into a $400 Herbal CSA thinking “I wish I could afford to take care of myself and my kids like that.”

You can. If my great-grandmother who lived in a two room shack with 12 children and her husband could do it, so can you. I did it with my kids when we were barely making enough money to cover the rent every month and didn’t get SNAP.

The biggest barrier to me doing this work is that I don’t have the financial resources to help as many people as I would like. That’s why I am so excited about Herbalists with Borders. It is an international organization focused on health justice. This 501c supports professionals like myself who know that these are serious times and require serious action.

The group is entirely driven by volunteers. There’s no office, or overhead. The membership dues fund the projects the group supports. As far as non-profits go, it’s not really a non-profit like you know them.

My hope is that a local network of people who share these goals can accomplish great things. That’s how they did it in the old days, but back then they called it a community.

The Street Medic training is only part of the local chapter will be doing in this community. I already have a teaching garden established but we need to expand our gardens project. We are also going to be working on project that HWB calls an Accessible Apothecary.

We aren’t sure what that will look like but we plan on taking back means of production from corporate nutraceutical companies and back into the hands of the people who need it.

If any of that sounds interesting to you, come get to know us.