Healers & Stewards

North Country Herbalist Guild creates community, teaches art of herbalism

By Patricia Cumbie
Co-op Consumer News, May-June 1999, Vol. V, No. 6

The poetic murmur of herbal terms greets the newcomer at recent North Country Herbalist Guild meeting in Minneapolis. Words like “lobelia,” “scullcap,” and remedies like “cayenne salve, bee tincture…” lose their mystery as people study texts and discuss them. One group gathers in the kitchen to give each other honey, clay and seaweed facials. Conversation in the assorted small groups is punctuated by laughter and sips of herbal tea.

The atmosphere cultivated by the Guild is informal, relaxed and fun, although the Guild itself has a serious educational mission. Guild membership has been growing steadily due to an increasing interest in herbalism and the group’s educational programs. That night more than 40 People gathered to meet and hear the featured speaker of the evening, Zhouling Ren, a local practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Filling a local need

Like a lot of great ideas, the genesis for starting an organization dedicated to herbal education was pulled out of thin air. Literally. The North Country Herbalist Guild’s founders, Peggy Brown and Janda Grove, discussed forming the group while on an airplane heading home from a natural foods expo in California. They’d been talking about how all the educational herbal seminars were always on the two coasts and about how the opportunities for people to learn in the Midwest were limited. They believed it was time herbalists in the Twin Cities got together to learn form each other.

“We put up a few posters and thought maybe three or four people would show up,” says Brown, who now lives in Duluth. “But 25 people came. We brainstormed ideas. I was amazed at how much energy and excitement that first meeting generated. I remember having to look for a bigger room for the next meeting.”

That was four years ago.

Now the group is incorporated as a nonprofit and has an active membership of more than 80 individuals. Guild members span a cross-section of people interested in learning more about cooking, growing, crafting and healing themselves and others with herbs. You do not have to be a member of the group to attend monthly meetings and lectures. And thanks to the efforts of the North Country Herbalist Guild, based here in the Twin Cities, the opportunities to learn more about herbalism are expanding exponentially.

For novice and expert

On the first Wednesday of every month, the Guild meets and hears a guest speaker, then breaks up into smaller groups to discuss or demonstrate special topics. The group also has been able to attract nationally-known speakers, including David Hoffman, Ryan Drum, and David Winston, and has put the Midwest on the map as a vibrant place to present seminars.

Judith Sims, an independent television producer and president of the Guild’s board of directors, stresses the accessible nature of the North Country Herbalist Guild as a place for everyone, novice to expert, to get more information. She got involved three years ago when she quit smoking and drinking coffee and thus began an herbal inquiry. “So I mad a chicory-burdock drink. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was practicing herbalism. This group has been a big reward for having quit smoking.”