Love of Nature
with Rosemary Gladstar
We are honored to introduce THE GAARDENER with a conversation featuring one of the most important living wisdom keepers of Nature, Rosemary Gladstar.
Known as the “Godmother of American Herbalism”, legendary Nature lover Gladstar teaches us that plants are portals to an encounter with our innate wholeness.
As the founder of the Traditional Medicinals, Sage Mountain Herbs, The International Herb Symposium and The New England Women's Herbal Conference, Gladstar has connected us with the green wisdom of Nature through her brilliant writings, teachings, symposia, study courses and herbal formulations.
Alongside leading the herbal renaissance, Gladstar has been a revolutionary figure in shifting the culture’s awareness toward the preciousness of plants. She has pioneered ecological sustainability in the herb trade through the establishment of the non-profit organization and Hildegaard’s 1% for the Planet partner organization, United Plant Savers.
Rosemary, you exemplify a person who has translated their reverence for Nature into a brilliant life’s work. Can you please tell us about your Love of Nature and how this has shaped your journey?
I’m not sure there’s any way to separate my love of Nature from myself, or who I am, or what I do in the world. It is everything I am, that we all are, really. But sadly, so many people are disconnected from themselves ‘as Nature’ and that has caused an enormous disconnect with our relationship to the Earth and the universe we are one with. When I walk out my door and engage all my senses in the Natural world around me, I am at peace and at home. I feel my aliveness and so so deeply reverently in love with this world of Nature. When we love something with all our hearts, when we are impassioned by it, we will do everything we can to preserve it. That love has been what has inspired me all my life and driven me to accomplish the things I have.
When I am feeling hopeless and helpless, which I suspect we all do now and again, all I have to do is turn to Mother Earth/Nature and she reminds me of how powerful and strong, ancient and wise she is. She also directs me and reminds me there is always work to be done, and to get busy! If I stay busy and do the work she’s assigned me to do, then I trust I am doing my part. And, really that’s all we can do.
Can you please describe an aspect of the natural world that has had a significant impact on your thinking?
I feel very fortunate, because I grew up on a small farm in Northern California. Surrounded by hills, fields of wild plants, the tantalizing scent of the Oak Madrone forests and magnificent temple like Redwoods, I grew rather weed like and free. I would lay in the fields as a child naked in the sunlight, surrounded by wild oats and tall grasses, and looking up at the sky I would pray that when people looked in my eyes, they would see a reflection of mountains, and meadows and wild places. I wanted to be more mountain than human…. or perhaps a tree or a plant. For me, like so many other ‘nature children’, the process of learning to be in human form this time around was the challenge.
What is your earliest memory in the natural world?
I have two very distinct early memories of experiences of the Natural world and its impact on me. The first was a dream I had when I was around 4 years old. Its odd because I so seldom remember my dreams these days, but I remember this dream from nearly 70 years ago as if it was dreamt but yesterday. I am running, running joyfully through a large field resplendent with violets; violets everywhere, those deep purple violets that are so common and so beautiful. The air round me is filled with a thick mist, almost a light rain, but more misty than rain. And I am just running through, over, and in these violets, through the misty world. I’m not sure where I was going, except I had this distinct feeling that I was running homeward ~ coming home.
My other early memory is of being on our farm, Wildwood Dairy in Kenwood, California. I was maybe 5 or 6. My brothers and I had gone into the woods in the late afternoon and we were heading back home through the fields where the cows were kept. Cows, as you may know, are innately curious beings and out of nothing more than curiosity that entire herd of cattle came stampeding towards us. I’m quite sure that neither of my brothers was frightened as they helped my father milk the cows and knew them quite well. Perhaps they were just trying to frighten me the way big brothers might do to their little sister! In any case, they hollered at me to start running, and run we did for our lives clamoring upwards to the nearest tree, which just happened to be an enormous willow tree, an enormous Mother Willow that swept us up into her arms and held us, protected us. I remember that feeling so vividly, of being supported and held and rocked, and loved by that beautiful Mother Willow. And never wanting to come down…. So Willow, of course, became a special friend of mine, a life time teacher and ally tree for me.
Please tell us about a meaningful or even transformative experience you've had in Nature. Where were you? Did something exciting or unusual happen?
What comes to mind at this instance is a very simple experience, but simple as it was, it was transformative for me. I was in my early 20’s at the time, so this experience rather informed my work with plants and had a direct impact on my relationship with them. I was backpacking alone for a few weeks in the Olympic Rainforest in Washington State. I generally didn’t take much food with me, but instead would wildcraft and forage from the land. I loved the feeling of having everything I needed in a small pack that I could carry on my back and being out in the wilds alone with just the trees and the wild animals around me. I’ve always called this period of my life my ‘higher education’. It’s where I really learned to communicate with the plants.
So one day, after I’d already been hiking and camping for a few weeks, and I was very very attuned to the wildness around me, I felt a big fir tree calling out to me. Of course, the words weren’t in English, but perhaps because I hadn’t talked to another human for quite a number of days, it was a very clear message. This big old granddaddy tree was clearly saying to me to kneel down. And I did, right under one of those lush fir branches. It had been raining that morning in the forest ~ I was in the rainforest, after all, so it rained there almost every day ~ and at the tip of each fir needle was a big thick drop of tree infused rainwater. The sun had come out and it had transformed each of the thousands of tiny droplets of rainwater into rainbows. I knew what I was supposed to do the minute I kneeled down and looked up. I stuck out my tongue and let that thick opulent drop of rainbow water plop into my mouth, and it was like the natural world exploded inside me. It was as vivid an experience as if I was having a psychedelic experience! I was ~ on fir tip water infused with rainbows. I learned right then and there what plant spirit communication was all about without having to read a book or take a course.
What is the most significant wisdom or secret you have learned from the plant world?
I’m sure it’s not a secret, but it is pretty neat to realize that all plants are our elders; they have been here far longer than humans have existed on this planet. We humans have evolved, in fact, in relation to plants and our very lives depend on them for food, medicine, shelter, clothing, and even many of our arts and crafts are dependent on plants. They even provide the air we breathe; plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breath out the oxygen that allows us to live. Plants also teach us how to be in relationship, they teach us about beauty, and diversity, and survival. Most of all, plants heal us and love us through the beauty they create everywhere around us. Often times people point out that plants can live quite well without us two leggeds, and its quite possibly true. However, plants delight in being in relationship with us and they too can thrive in a co creative and co dependent relationship with us. We all do better living in harmony together on this beautiful planet Earth once we learn respect, reverence, and love.
In your option, what is the relationship between philosophy and beauty? Does Nature play a role in this?
The beauty industry is now tuned into the important role that plants play in renewing the natural radiance. But there is a disconnect between the promotion of plants’ benefits and how the plants are actually treated. This new enthusiasm is leading to the overharvesting of many of our precious medicinal plants and their endangerment. What in your view would be the most loving practice to apply to incorporating medicinal plants into beauty products?
Overharvesting happens not just in the beauty industry, but in the medicinal and pharmaceutical arena as well. Until very recently, there was little concern or thought about where the all these plants were coming from and what the environmental impact was in harvesting such huge amounts of plant material. The aromatherapy industry has probably been the worse offender, because it takes so much poundage of plant material to produce just a small amount of essential oil. Along with the pharmaceutical industry, the aromatherapy industry as a whole has paid little attention to the conservation status of aromatic plants, which, of course, heavily overlap with medicinal plants and plants used in cosmetic products.
Slowly, however, the herbal community and the aromatherapy industry are awakening to the situation. In 1994 a group of herbalists founded a non-profit organization called United Plant Savers, (which I joyfully see that you support! Thank you). Its sole mission is the conservation, preservation and cultivation of medicinal plants, specifically at risk and endangered medicinal plants of North America. At the time that United Plant Savers was founded, there was very little discussion of medicinal plant conservation. However, small United Plant Savers was, it was founded by a impassioned group of plant lovers who were dedicated and committed to bringing awareness of the importance of medicinal plant conservation and awareness to the general public about.
We’ve done good work!!! UpS has evolved to be a national organization with an ever growing membership. We’ve conserved and steward a 370-acre Botanical Sanctuary in Oho that serves as an educational center for medicinal plant conservation. We also have a membership Sanctuary Program that includes hundreds of acres of botanical sanctuaries spread out across the US and Canada. And most importantly, Ups has helped create a worldwide awareness and model for the need to protect our precious plant resources.
So, to answer your question, what would be the most loving practice to incorporate plants into beauty products? Use organically cultivated herbs primarily in our products. By using organically grown herbs we are not only preserving our wild plant resources, but also preserving another endangered species, the farmers and herb growers. We are also ensured of quality, knowing who is growing the plants and where they are being grown. Organic cultivation also, when done correctly, restores the health of the soil and ensures future fertility.
If using wild plants in our products, we need to ensure they are those wild weedy species that thrive and grow readily and easily, are adaptable and spread themselves readily. They are the plants that grow out our backdoors, close to us, and say use us! Use us. We are here for you. And even when using these weedy species, we need to do so in a manner of respect and honor for the plants that give their lives so that we can use them.
We’ve been discussing a love for Nature throughout this conversation, can you share your thoughts on how Nature expresses its love for humanity? Or even how Nature is an expression of love for humanity?
I believe love is the foundation of all life; not survival, not greed, not power or survival of the fittest, but love. And that love comes from Nature, or what some may call God or Goddess, Allah, Mohammed, or Great Spirit or any of the other numerous names for that infinite energy that surrounds us. One of my beloved elder teachers, Tasha Tudor, use to say, “I believe in God; I just spell her name different: N-A-T-U-R-E”.
Nature is love! How she expresses this love is by providing everything we need to thrive through her infinite creations ~ stars and Moon, a dazzling sun; innumerable plants in every size, shape, and form that feed, nourish, and heal us; green matter that expands our consciousness; great roaring oceans, and gentle streams and rivers flowing; animals in every shape and form, sound and size; vibrant colorful winged creatures that sing: tiny insects that we can hardly see with our naked eyes, but seen through a microscope are diverse worlds unto themselves. Nature expresses her love to us by offering us to experience this ever-changing kaleidoscope of life. Everything we need is here; it truly would be heaven on Earth if we just learned that we also are love and our greatest task is to learn to love life and all of creation in the same way she loves us.