Finding Joy in Community Herbalism in Walthamstow

Submitted by: Rasheeqa Ahmed

I’ve been practising as a herbalist in E17 over the last couple of years.

I have led workshops with other local herbalists introducing herbal medicine and making remedies with plant materials, wandered with many folk over the marshes looking at plant allies through the seasons, and talked with a lot of people about how we deal with health and healthcare in our society today.

The best thing about it has been all the people that I’ve shared a tentative joy with in discovering the world of plants and how they can help us.

Through all the workshops with families, Asian women’s groups, the Hornbeam’s Low Cost Living Project, on foraging walks with Waltham Forest LETS and other groups – always with a broad assortment of ages, cultural backgrounds and interests – we have discovered a common desire to reconnect with the earth power that sustains us and yields its secrets when we go carefully and lovingly to discover it.

DSC_0520(2)People told us how they had found a particular herb and it turned around their lives; turned to food and plants as resources after finding conventional treatment for chronic conditions unsatisfying; and found simple remedies, like Hawthorn tea, and garlic syrup.

People from all parts of the world told us about using turmeric for a range of illnesses, about plants in the Caribbean that would work great cures, about the regular gathering and drinking of herbal teas in eastern Europe – we heard wonderful stories and learnt more about our plant heritage.

This is what community herbalism is about: sharing knowledge and learning together how we can grow, gather and use plants as medicine.

This means we need to have access to wild spaces where plants grow in their wild flourishing (offering a hardier medicine to us) and unpolluted by the toxins of traffic or pesticides.

The land connects us with knowing which plants to grow in our kitchens and gardens that can offer simple healing infusions for coughs, colds, tummy upsets.

It leads us further into the complex powerful support that the holistic approach of plant medicine offers.

It’s a great journey. We have a great wealth in the national health service and important provision in the mainstream biomedical model. But it isn’t the whole thing.

unnamedPeople have the power to support their own healthcare at home and in our communities. We can give each other a repertoire of healing modalities – one alone is not the way – so combining real nutrition, herbs, bodywork like massage, laughter and most importantly supporting each other with care and compassion, we can promote individual and communal health.

We learnt about the ideas of perennial self-sustaining gardens that can provide an abundance of food, medicine, wildlife habitats.

Connecting resources we have in our borough – peoples’ gardens, allotments, herbalists, the amazing food growing network and politics around food sovereignty and land rights that Organiclea represent, and our shared people connections, we can really start to vision a community where the medicine-making and provision of care is a collective endeavour.

I dream of making a community apothecary in Walthamstow where all of us who enjoy going wild-gathering plants and learning about herbal medicine can come together to learn and share these skills, make simple medicines available for everyone and offer a hub of social gathering where we can develop our ideas further.

If you feel a similar passion and are interested in offering skills to such a project, get in touch!

We will be offering a wild food and medicine walk followed by workshop preparing our foragings into edible and tonic goodness, as part of Waltham Forest’s annual Cultivate Festival of food growing (20–29 March) on Saturday 28th March – Urban Herbal at the Hornbeam Café.

Check http://cultivatewf.org/ for details. www.hedgeherbs.org.uk; rasheeqa@hedgeherbs.org.uk.