Share Guide Interview with Rosemary Gladstar on Herbalism, Education and Women’s Health

By Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publisher

Rosemary Gladstar is a world renowed herbalist and the founder of The California School of Herbal Studies (based in Forestville, California), United Plant Savers, and co-founder of Sage Mountain Herbs. She is also the original owner of Rosemary’s Garden in Sebastopol, CA. The author of several books including the popular Herbal Healing For Women, she has taught herbology extensively throught the U.S. and led travel adventureys to study Third World medicine in many parts of the globe. Her experience includes over 20 years in the herbal community as a healer, teacher, visionary and organizer of large herbal events. She currently resides in Vermont.

Dennis Hughes: I know you used to live in my area, in Sonoma County, California. How long has it been since you moved?

Rosemary Gladstar: You know, it’s a funny thing, when I tour and lecture around the country people still think I live in California, even though I’ve been in Vermont for many years now. People still say “Do you still have your shop in California?” I was actually born in Sonoma County which is the same county where my father was born and my mother was raised in Kenwood, on a dairy called Wildwood Dairy, which later became an herb nursery. I think it’s fun when I see these full circles happening. I lived in Sonoma County for nearly 40 years. I love Sonoma County! That’s one of the reasons I’m delighted to do this interview with a Northern California publication.

Dennis: When did Rosemary’s Garden, your store, first open?

Rosemary: It grew out of my herbal work and was started in 1972.

Dennis: As I recall, you come from a family of herbalists.

Rosemary: My grandmother had a profound influence on me when I was growing up. She never formally called herself an herbalist, but she was very aware of the plants. Like many people of her generation, she used plants as part of her lifestyle. My grandparents came here during the Turkish invasion of Armenia. They had been on the Death March and they had escaped. My grandmother always credited their survival to their belief in God and to her knowledge of the plants. So I think she had a greater reason for wanting us to know the plants. She didn’t do formal training, she didn’t say, “Now we’re doing an herb class.” But she would go out and pick the plants. My parents were farmers and they knew the plants. It was part of their lifestyle. I always like to go back to those roots because that’s how I want people to use plants&endash;not as a system of medicine but as a system of life. Part of our heritage as humans.

Dennis: Using plants is traditional–it goes back before formal education.

Rosemary: Absolutely! One of the things I see happening is we’ve pigeon-holed herbs into a medical system and they’re really far more about life, than they are about a system of healing. They’re about vitality and joy and daily living. So that’s been one of my missions in my whole career as an herbalist–trying to bring plants back into a living modality, as part of a lifestyle and not limited to the medical system.

Dennis: I see. Not waiting to use them until you need them for medicinal reasons, but using them as part of your preventive lifestyle along with healthy foods.

Rosemary: Yes, and they can teach us how to live better here on this planet. Watching how plants live and how they give of themselves, how they give back to the rest of the community that we live in, the plant and animal kingdoms. The herb store came about mostly as a dream of mine, giving the earth back to the people. It was at a time when herbs weren’t readily available. There was no herb store in Northern California. There was one old one in San Francisco that was a tremendous model, but there were no other herb stores.

Dennis: Except for the apothecaries in Chinatown.

Rosemary: And at that time Chinese herbalism wasn’t what it is now, when it’s readily available to people. Actually, oftentimes when you went to Chinatown they wouldn’t even speak English to you, so you didn’t have the same type of accessibility to Chinese herbalists that you have now.
I didn’t even really envision a store, more like a home dispensatory that people could come to, you know, they could just come up to my house. It was in Monte Rio at that time, but I ended up not opening a store in my house because I lived up on the end of this very windy road. There was a little store in Guerneville called the Guerneville Natural Foods Store. They had a little closet there, and I asked if I could rent it. That was the first Rosemary’s Garden, a little corner of the store. Eventually it took over half of the store, and then moved over to its own location

Dennis: Rosemary’s Garden in Sebastopol is still flourishing.

Rosemary: Lena does a wonderful job with the store, and so did Shondeya when she ran it.

Dennis: What drew you to move to Vermont?

Rosemary: I think the underlying thing was, I was really needing a big change. I was moving into my middle years, often a period of revolution for people. I was in a major stage of transformation in my life. And I had a relationship that was sprouting at that time. My friend lived out here. I had never been to Vermont. He was a catalyst for change, and I moved cross country and set up a center out here. The freezing winter weather and new location was a powerful teaching for me. It grew my wildness–that wild spirit that I have in myself. The weather embraced that wildness. It takes you deep into the heart of nature. You’re forced to live cyclically here.

Dennis: Do you live in a rural area?

Rosemary: I do. I live on a mountain, surrounded by thousands and thousands of acres of wilderness.

Dennis: And that’s where Sage Mountain Retreat Center & Botanical Sanctuary is located?

Rosemary: Yes. We’ve created a nature center here, for growing and preserving the heirloom plants.

Dennis: How did Sage Mountain develop?

Rosemary: When I moved to Vermont, I was very remote; there wasn’t a lot of community around here. And living in the wilderness I became critically aware of the status of the plants themselves. I began to recognize that though herbalism was experiencing a tremendous renaissance and becoming very popular, none of us were really focusing on the status of the plants. We weren’t really addressing the facts about how the plants were doing in populations and what the impact of our harvesting was. There really weren’t any long term studies of growing and harvesting plants, and what it would be like 50 or 100 years from now.
So I came to this piece of property, that was wilderness, where so many of our valuable plants originate from. A lot of the plants that are used in our North American medicine are from the Southeast and Northeast. This is their native habitat. And we weren’t seeing them in large amounts at all. I said, “Why don’t we form an organization, where we can really bring awareness to the issue?” We started this very small grass roots organization called United Plant Savers (UpS), six years ago. And 70 or 80% of my time goes into this organization. It’s all non-profit work, but it’s been so gratifying and it’s made a big difference. Organic cultivation is being looked at on a much higher level, as an alternative to wildcrafting herbs from their dwindling native habitats. UpS creates a lot of controversy, because we don’t have absolute answers. We don’t want to create hysteria, but we want to be cautious until we get the actual figures from scientific studies.

Dennis: Exactly. I got the UpS newsletter and membership info you sent me. It’s very comprehensive and inspiring.

Rosemary: Just this year we bought a 370 acre botanical preserve in Ohio that is incredibly rich. The native species were never harvested or logged. There are acres and acres of indigenous goldenseal, for example. We’re turning it into a permanent Botanical Sanctuary for future generations of herbalists. It’s the first of it’s kind in the country.

Dennis: That sounds wonderful! I look forward to visiting it someday. You’re bringing awareness to a potential problem, namely, the extinction of the plants, which isn’t necessarily a hysterical cry. Awareness has to begin somewhere. Just like with global warming and other large scale problems we have to work on them even as we’re defining the questions.

Rosemary: We’re trying to provide a forum for the questions. We have a Board of Directors comprised of big and small businesses, practitioners, folklore and herbalists, wildcrafters, so that all aspects are represented. We need to recognize that this is a problem, and that if we don’t address it, we are going to be in a dangerous situation as far as these plants go. Our goal is to safeguard the herbs. They’re not just here for our use. They’re here for their own integrity as part of the environment.

Dennis: Together we all need to take part in creating solutions. We were lucky to be in Northern California, which even in the 70’s was fertile soil for the rising holistic counterculture. Now it’s a national movement, which embraces several generations. Talk about validating our vision.

Rosemary: One of the things that is important is to create work for yourself that is meaningful, that involves you in the positive. That makes all the difference in the world. You know, you see all these children around feeling hopeless. It’s a problem in our society in general. Whether you work for yourself or someone else doesn’t matter. Making a difference does.

For more information on United Plant Savers and what you can do to help preserve native plants, please call (802) 479-9825, email info@plantsavers.org or visit their web site at www.unitedplantsavers.com.

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