Rosemary Gladstar – Guardian Angel of Medicinal Plants

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

When we call people “angels” we usually mean somebody who goes out of their way to do good, individuals who are not only kind but driven to fulfill a mission of giving back to the world that has given so much to them.  Not merely casual benefactors or support systems, in their special case the processes of helping and healing are fortified by rare intrinsic qualities such as ability to focus and an innate need to followthrough, adept at not only the seemingly magical manipulation of reality but also commendable creature perseverance.  They do not act as aides, agents and catalysts, as maestros of orchestrated service and fairy godmothers to the forlorn or forsaken for the credit or remuneration, but out of love or something akin to it.  Indeed, they may do their work out of sight, or by the use of sleight of hand, in order to carry out their aims in preferred anonymity.  And the more they tend to assist the mute or muffled, dispossessed or disenfranchised, overlooked or forgotten, abused or suppressed, the more angel-like they seem.

When we were signing up presenters and teachers for our Sept., 2010 conference near Santa Fe, “Traditions in Western Herbalism”, the first name that came to mind was Rosemary Gladstar.  I have personally heard Rosemary called an angel by numerous students of hers as well as by her herbalist and conservationist peers, and even by folks who had simply found themselves blessed to be in her company for a time.  Truly, she emanates an almost unbelievable sweetness, deepened but in no way embittered by the struggles in her life or her her profound knowledge of the earth’s dire straits.  It is her lifetime of intense giving, however, that has earned her the angel sobriquet, to her students starting with the California School of Herbal Studies she founded in 1978, and for the past 20 years at her beautiful Sage Mountain Retreat Center in rural Vermont.  It is in the way she gives back to the plants and soil in a dance and prayer of conscious reciprocity, simply but sacredly, always giving thanks.  And it is in her great gift to the plant world that heals, informs and feeds her, giving voice to the too often unheard green beings, giving homes to species more dispossessed than the many displaced people, not only abused but threatened with extinction as a result of habitat destruction, development and to some degree over-harvesting.

In 1994 Rosemary called into a circle an informal group of concerned herbalists who were attending one of her gatherings, to discuss what could be done to protect and help reinvigorate endangered medicinal plants.  The result was an influential nonprofit organization, United Plant Savers, whose mission is to preserve and conserve these important plants and the habitats they naturally grow in.  “As ‘Stewards of Healing Herbs’,”  Rosemary explains, “members of UpS work to ensure an abundant renewable supply of native medicinal plants for generations to come… and more importantly, for the Earth herself.”  This UpS accomplishes through conferences and events, land care consultations and help with creating botanical sanctuaries, plant rescues and giveaways, the production of books and educational material on both the reasons for plant conservation and the ways for accomplishing it.

“These are exciting times for herbalists,” she writes for the United Plant Savers website.  “We are witnessing the art of herbalism rapidly regaining its rightful place in the American tradition of health and healing.”  Not, however, an upsurge without concerns.  “Where once only a small handful of people wildcrafted plants in the wild, ever increasing numbers are now heading to the hills.  This increased usage along with habitat destruction is causing an ever-increasing shortage of plant resources, including some of our most treasured medicinal species.”  It is their mission, now under the able and committed leadership of Lynda LeMole and Betzy Bancroft.  to encourage a growing number of herbalists and the general public to serve as the guardian angels of the plants that can heal us, especially in times when industrial medicine and insurance systems make home care even more appealing, and when a slowed economy necessitates greater self sufficiency and concerted community action.

The steps that she and UpS recommend are simple but perhaps essential: “1) Be plant-conscious when buying herbs and herbal products and don’t buy wildcrafted herbs that are considered ‘at risk’ and/or endangered (see the UpS “At Risk” list) unless you know the person who is wildcrafting them is sustainably harvesting from their own back yards.  2) Purchase herbs and herbal products that are organically cultivated, thus helping to preserve not only plants but another endangered species, the American farmer.  3) Create a ‘Botanical Sanctuary’ in your yard and plant native medicinal species in your garden landscape, helping restore the wild spirit of the land and attracting more native butterflies, frogs and birds.  3) Participate in plant rescues, and when roads and subdivisions are being built do what you can to relocate the native species.  And 4) Join UpS, becoming a Steward of Healing Herbs.”

Rosemary’s approach to healing is in complete alignment with our Animá Tradition of Herbalism, taking into account the latest clinical findings and scientific conjecture, but checking everything against what the plants seem to be communicating, what body and circumstances indicate, and especially what intuition as well as observation and experience tells us.  Most important, she believes, is to be herbalists “who know the plants inside and out, who study them in the field and woodlands as much as in the lab.  To know the science of plants, what comprised them chemically, is interesting and important, but not nearly as important as knowing how the whole plant works together and/or synergizes its energy with other plants in the formulas. It’s understanding the energetic of the plants, illness and imbalance, and the human being.”

It is passion that fuels this angel, and we can see it in the force of love she puts in her books and conference presentations, in her insistent gifted gifting, in the way she intimately touches and sings to the glad herbs in her dear home’s garden of delight.