I learned to garden on vacant lots on the Lower East Side in NYC in the early 90’s. Starting with a small plot in a community garden, I was able to soak in the knowledge of the other gardeners, many of whom were refugees and immigrants and had relied on herbs for healing in their country of origin and were continuing the tradition on their tiny piece of land in their new home country. One of them gifted me a sage plant and a horehound plant and thus began my journey of studying and learning what plants have to offer for health and wellness.
Simultaneous to this introduction to gardening and herbs, I was going through a process of awakening to a deeper understanding of systems of oppression and getting involved in social justice movements. This was a pivotal time in my life and has shaped the trajectory of all that I have done since then.
Over the years I have been active in struggles around prison abolition, LGBTQ rights, and harm reduction. Starting in the early 90's with direct action organizations like ACT-UP, WAC, and WHAM and in more recent years working in membership based community organizations in Philly and Providence. Much of this work centered in one way or another around a fight for “access.”
While these groups and organizations were fighting for and demanding recognition and access from city, state, and federal agencies, a struggle that is undeniably necessary, vital, and continues to this day, I became increasingly interested in ways that we could build parallel and alternative systems to take care of ourselves and provide for our communities. I was interested in exploring ways in which we could tap into the strengths, knowledge, resources, and skills of our communities to provide stability, wellness, and healing in the here and now.
Herbal medicine became one way of doing that for me.
Over the years herbal medicine has been a way for me to engage with the wisdom of elders and immigrants in my community, a catalyst for connection and relationship building, a way that I can materially provide support to people, and a vehicle for helping people take control of their healing and build autonomy.