Sarah Cowell’s Herbal Rewilding Mission
| August 1, 2016
Sarah Cowell is a woman on a mission. She’s about to jet off to the USA to rewild herself, so she can help others do the same. What is this wild business, you ask? Essentially, it’s all about reconnecting with the natural world, in all its glorious goodness. I had a chat with Sarah before her trip about the importance of rewilding, why its sinful not to be healing ourselves with the plants around us, and more.
Please tell us a little about your life with plants.My earliest memories are of the magical places in my childhood garden, under the mandarin tree where the soft grass grew, amongst the tangle of plants and fruit trees. I’ve always tended a garden – or at least a few pots on a balcony – ever since. In recent years, the yearning to be amongst the plants has become incredibly strong.
Connection with the green world around me is as essential as food and air for me to feel nourished. I find ways to weave plants into each day; some rose petals in my honey, chickweed scattered over lunch or a few sprigs of lavender on my pillow at night. You’ll frequently find me walking around my neighbourhood, seeing how the plants are growing and foraging leaves and flowers to nibble on add to my lunch or teapot later. As I don’t have a garden of my own, I plant veggies in the local laneway planter boxes, volunteer growing seedlings at CERES Environmental Park and am helping the Carlton North community garden establish a herb garden for tea and medicine.
Can you please tell us some more about herbal rewilding. What is it, why is it important, and why are you drawn to it?
Herbal rewilding is about bringing us back into wellness and wholeness through deepening our relationship with nature through herbs. It reconnects us to the old wisdom our ancestors held about plant medicines, and empowers us know how to forage or grow these plants and make our own remedies.
Rewilding is about re-learning lost skills in reading and relating to the natural world and understanding our place within it.
Our modern lives separate us from nature and we are becoming less well as a result. It even has a name – Nature Deficit Disorder. The antidote? Vitamin N (N for nature). Spending more time connecting with nature has been shown to enhance our wellbeing and boost creativity. There are many paths to rewilding but I am particularly enthralled with herbs because they bring so much joy and healing and are already growing all around us. And they are so diverse, fragrant, tasty and beautiful!
You’re also into tea – can you please explain your tea philosophy and how it ties into the concept of re-wilding?
Tea has traditionally been approached with reverence – particularly in the tea ceremonies. It is honoured as a gift you receive from the plant, tea growers and tea makers. For me, tea can be a practice to cultivate more meaningful connections with ourselves, with each other and with nature. In that quietness of the ceremony we can begin to hear our inner world, be present with those we share tea with and feel the preciousness of receiving this infusion of nature.
Both in tea and rewilding we are invited into a respectful relationship with the nature. It’s about realising we need to approach the plants with humility rather than ego; that we need to be caretakers’ instead of ‘takers’.
Why is it sinful not to be using the plants around us to heal and nourish ourselves?
We have an abundance of plants growing around us, available to nourish and heal us – on many levels. To ignore these is a sinful waste of the green gifts around us!
We step over the plants in our garden that could help us, drive to a chemist, to buy some chemicals in a plastic bottle when a greener healthier option is available.
What draws you to plants?
Everything! How different they are, their leaves and flowers, fragrance, taste and medicine, the way they grow, the sound of their leaves rustling as the wind blows, the colours of autumn leaves and tree trunks after rain, the taste of dew drops in orange blossoms… Plants delight all my senses!
What are you passionate about?
Lots of things! Primarily, empowering people to know the plants around them and how to use them; where and what to forage, and how to make their own remedies with plants.
I’m also passionate about inviting people to develop a ‘right relationship’ with the plants; taking care to harvest sustainably, requesting before taking from the plant and offering appreciation for having received its gifts. This practice of honouring is intrinsic to all traditional cultures and would go a long way towards repairing our relationship with the environment in the West!
Sharing ways to connect and communicate with plants at a deeper level is also something I care about deeply – shifting perspectives to recognise that plants aren’t inanimate but are intelligent and sentient, they just speak a different language and use a different time scale to us.
Who/what inspires you?
People who are so connected to the earth they can hear her whispers and know her deeply. Who deeply respect, honour, love and protect her.
What is your dream project?
A huge community herb garden full of plants for medicine, food, basket-weaving, dyeing, fire-stick making, and beehives. Were people can come and harvest, learn how to make their own remedies, weave baskets and so on. I would have a wild foraging area, with a tumble of amaranth and nettle, chickweed and cleavers, so people can learn to identify what wild ‘weeds’ they can forage and how to harvest them.
I’ve seen land become rich and vibrant from the nourishment of community honouring it through song and ceremony – so there would be many joyful gatherings with music, singing and ritual to celebrate the harvests and seasons!
What are you looking forward to?
Going to America for my Herbal Rewilding journey – the nature connection courses, plant walks, herbal conference and staying with different herbalists. It is going to deepen my relationship with nature and herbs and I am looking forward to being steeped in all of the experiences and learning. Just being on that beautiful land amongst her mountains and forests and rivers will no doubt move and inspire me deeply.
If you were a plant, what would you be?
A Japanese plum tree. Her blossom is so fragrant and is one of the first to bloom in early spring. Her flowers are delicate and vulnerable to wind gusts, but she still courageously opens herself up fully, saying ‘here I am world’. When she needs to let go, she does so with grace; there is such beauty in her surrender.
Can you please share with us an easy herbal remedy you love?
Sage Sore Throat Gargle (from Rosemary Gladstar)
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup strong (triple strength) sage tea – use a few sprigs per cup
- 2-3 teapoons of salt
- Pinch of cayenne (if you are brave! I omit this myself)
Gargle frequently throughout the day. I warm it a little before using as it’s nicer on the throat.
Sarah is running a Pozible campaign to help fund her trip to the USA, where she’ll be attending conferences and workshops to learn as much as she can so she can share her knowledge on her return. The campaign ends on the 4th of August – do check it out, the rewards are great. I, for one would LOVE the herbal apprenticeship! Check out the video below for more info on Sarah’s journey.