1. How did you first come to working with plants?
Ooof, through burnout. That was when I first started using and learning about medicinal herbs in a committed way because I had to. Because I was so deeply immune depleted for so long, my spirit grew so weary of the cycle, and I just knew it wasn't something to go to the doctor for. Long story short, in my burnout, my first true medicine was saying no and the stopping of doing a whole damn lot. I returned to and committed to building myself back up with nourishing home-cooked meals, something I learned from my maternal grandmother in her kitchen on 62nd street in Manhattan via Parma, Italy. After about a year of saying no to a whole damn lot, I felt a big shift in my body and spirit and had a lot more energy and vitality. I still had a ways to go. I met and joined the Rock Dove Collective, a radical community health exchange initially pairing folx within social justice movement seeking care, with practitioners who felt politically aligned, safe and accessible. I had interviewed an herbalist wanting to join our practitioner network and it was in that interview that something clicked for me. Herbs felt like the next step beyond food towards building myself back up and I was hot for it. I started researching and hanging out in the tincture aisle of any health food type store and started buying a few herbs I felt drawn to. Later I went to herb school and in my personal work of building up from burnout and then at that point, my first case of HPV caused cervical dysplasia, I blended my first personal formula and created a care protocol I stuck with for many months. That formula later modified into my first ever product in my line of remedies, Hard Workin’ NY’er Immune Blend, which I still make and take to this day. Rock Dove, you changed my life so deeply, truly and significantly. I love you and am eternally grateful for you. You are with me each step of my days, informing my work and blessing my medicine.
2. There has been a lot of harm and abuse of power coming to light in the herbal community (and all over). How and why do you continue to do the work that you do?
I grieve the fact that these abuse stories are real, and I’m glad they’re coming to light so that we can support the survivors and hold the abusers accountable. We need more trauma-informed care and social justice values rooted in western herbalism. I continue to do the work as I do it to bring these values to the forefront to undo the harmful and unnecessary power dynamics, the rock star herbalist top down hierarchical white supremacist bullshit, the cultural appropriation, the lack of competency in queer and trans care, and the re-centering of BIPOC herbalists, healers, educators and practitioners. We have so much work to do together. I’m here for it.
3. What are ways that you take care of yourself doing this work?
In no particular order :
~ Baths on baths on baths. while the hot water is filling the tub, I love taking intentional time to check in with myself and think about what herbs and essences and shells and salts and seaweeds and spells I want to add into the bath. Sometimes I’ll prep for a bath the day before or morning of and make an infusion of an herbal blend to add to the bath water. I did this with Chapparral and Irish Moss for a while in treating HPV and vaginal wall dysplasia, and will for sure do it if I feel a cold coming on, and any time I’m getting to know a new or reconnecting with an old plant pal. I really love adding flower, gem and/or environmental essences in, to hold me just how I desire in that moment, and I sometimes add shells and seaweeds to live that merperson life. I light candles. Sometimes I set intentions, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I smoke in the tub. Sometimes I’ll play a record I like, or line up a podcast I was psyched about, and sometimes I’ll straight up watch an episode of something on Netflix. And other times I just enter in quiet and breathe. It’s always worth it.
~ Maintaining close friendships and being checked in on by my chosen fam is everything. In this work, a big part of what I do is exchange, offer, hold space and give my care and energy to people seeking my support. While this is something I truly cherish, it’s nearly impossible for me to keep my own well refilled without the medicine of the love and check ins of my beloveds, of whom I am eternally grateful for. I’ve also at different times worked with incredible and gifted babes, friends and comrades who are tarot readers, intuitive healers working with plant and stone medicine, and psychotherapists. Their listening, support, space holding and reflections have helped grow me in ways I could never imagine. Thank you dear support system(s), I bow to yous.
~ Making dates with nature!, and powering down my brain chatter and opening my heart to the winds and sounds of the woods, meadows, waters, and my herb garden. Flirting with plants, smelling trees, watching animals and seeing where my mind and heart wander off to is a type of medicine I don’t know to describe except as essential, and something I’m always needing, wanting, desiring more...
~ Morning tarot pull and journaling. Honestly, I don’t know how I’d function on the daily without taking this moment to myself before I head out to work in the garden or herb shop, or go anywhere in public to be honest. And some days, or tbh weeks in the height of the growing season!, I don’t make the space for it and before not too long, I remember why I need to - my shit starts to feel messy, unsettled, like I’m not hearing or seeing myself. This daily practice tunes me in, grounds and connects me into my self in such an honest and sweet way. Thank you to Caroline, my dear pal from herb school, who gave me my first tarot reading with the Collective Tarot deck about 10 years ago now. It forever changed me.
4. Wanna tell us about some of your favorite plants and why?
My love affairs in no particular order :
~ Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). I live in the Hudson Valley which has a huge and steadily growing tick population, and where the likes of Lyme disease and tick borne illnesses are at epidemic proportions. This plant is an anti-spirochetal, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory (among many things!) and I use it daily internally during the growing season as a preventive immune support tonic, and more often internally and topically every time I get a tick bite, or contract an acute case of Lyme or tick borne illness. And ooof, can I take a little space to say, for real, I hate this aspect of living here, I hate this job hazard. I hate how deeply severe these illnesses are, and how so often they’re untreated or mistreated or access to proper treatment is physically and financially inaccessible. And yet it’s just so real. It’s here. Ticks and their illnesses are sooo here. And they’re here for so many reasons, one including human clear cutting of forests and development. People give this plant such a bad rap for being an “invasive” and “non-native,” and yet this plant is straight coming for us. It’s growing so rapidly perhaps because we need its medicine here so badly. And while it gets injected with chemicals along the roadsides and on properties, it refuses to be destroyed. I always ask people to let me know if they have Japanese Knotweed growing on their property without contaminants or chemicals used to destroy it, as it can be hard to find clean stands to harvest from. Dear Japanese Knotweed, thank you for your wisdom in counteracting very specific pathogens like the boss that you are. You give me the gifts of safety, trust and assurance. I see you, respect you and need you.
+ Milky Oat Tops (Avena sativa). Swoon. Swoon so hard! I am so in love with and committed to this gorgeous blue green grass in it’s milky oat stage swollen with thick, white nervous system restorative juice food. Holy shit this plant. One of its many gifts is how deeply nourishing and nutritive it is to our nerves, and many a time it has supported me in building back up from deep exhaustion and depletion. When I take in this medicine, I can feel it coat my nerve cells with extra myelin sheath fatty lining deliciousness, insulating me with deep protective juicy nourishment, allowing me to take on my days a little less fried and withered. I love watching it grow and sway in the farm fields, or the smaller patch I grow in my garden. It flows side to side so gorgeously in the wind, with such true flexibility, and I swear it rattles a little or sings to me as I slide my hands upward along its stalks to strip the flowering tops off to then macerate in glycerin, alcohol and dry for tea and broths. I love you, Milky Oats boo. Thank you for you always. You show up so hard and so generously. I’ll def come see you later. XO.
+ Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae). This species of mushroom grows on Hemlock trees here where I live in the Northeast. This medicine feels so ancient, so huge and profound, so delicate but hearty and woven and cradled in bark, moss, dew, web. An immunomodulator, Reishi helps support our immunity to keep it balanced, in check, vital and aligned. I’ve taken this as a daily tonic so often over the last 10 years often coupled with Milky Oats and it’s supported me in both depleted and healthy states, and in treating HPV and cervical and vaginal wall dysplasia. Damn Reishi, you really meet me where I’m at time and time again, and help build me back up just how I need it. Love you, truly.
+ Anemone (A. tuberosa, A. pulsatilla). Every now and again I reach a state of anxiety that nears panic in a way that only a 5 drop dose of anemone tincture supports. It’s fucking brilliant and complete magic. Immediately, that drop dose of medicine pulls the panic right out of me, wipes my internal energetic slate clean, gives me pause and allows me to start over with groundedness. I am profoundly grateful for this beautiful plant, and in pure awe of its gifts. My deepest gratitude to you, dear Anemone. Thank you for always taking me down off the higher ledges of my anxiety. I trust you and love you.
+ Usnea (Usnea spp.). While I’ve seen this gorgeous pale but bright sea green lichen growing off of everything in the forests of the northeast and northwest, I’ve only gotten to just know it better on a recent trip to Northern California. Walking in the woods Usnea really spoke to me, sharing such incredible wisdom that my state of being needed to hear in that moment of time. Usnea showed me how I was binarying myself particularly in my emotional states. Usnea showed me that I could absolutely move beyond those binaries to discover the places in between the either/ors I had been unconsciously creating for myself; that I could transform from identities I had claimed that no longer support me, and that there were others yet to know and stretch into. I’ve been taking a few drops of Usnea essence i made in those woods regularly to make the shifts in my life I am desiring. Dear Usnea, thank you so much for hollering at me in California, boo! You show me so much that thrills me that I couldn’t see without you. Here for it!
Lauren Giambrone is a Community Herbalist and founder of Good Fight Herb Co., a Hudson Valley based herbal business growing, gathering and locally sourcing bioregional plants for making and offering plant medicines and magic. She is also the co-founder and co-facilitator of Wild Gather : Hudson Valley School of Herbal Studies, and is committed to teaching and offering Herbalism to her communities from a source of passion, experience, commitment to social and environmental justice, and ever growing exploration into her ancestral background.