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Interview: Bonnie Rose on Urban Herbalism

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Bonnie Rose has been a dear friend ever since our Herb Pharm days, picking sticky calendula flowers and hoe-ing rows of echinacea. Her passion and commitment to the plants is always inspiring and the work she’s doing in her hometown of San Francisco is deeply needed. We talked to Bonnie about farming in the city, meeting people where they are and her new book, Deeply Rooted: Medicinal Plant Cultivation in Techtropolis.

1. You’ve been farming herbs in SF proper, tell us more about how this work started and the impact its had on you personally and the community?

My work as an urban farmer and community herbalist started about 6 years ago when I united my most meaningful work. I had been getting my hands dirty as a volunteer at Little City Gardens, San Francisco’s only commercial farm and was hooked on the feeling of being able to grow my own food. I was born and raised in San Francisco, so as a city kid I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to plants. I grew up with asthma and around the same time I started farming, I also began to pursue herbal medicine and decided to blend a tea to strengthen my lungs. After about three months of taking the tea every day, I noticed I was able to breathe deeper and my lungs were stronger than ever before. I was empowered by the feeling of using plants to heal, and wanted to learn how to grow my medicine.

I have learned a lot through this process. I’ve developed my agricultural skills, developed my path as a healer, and unlocked my plant-based spirituality. This work has been transformative to my entire being. In this way, I have also been able to bring this personal work to my community, serving as an educator to children and adults. My advocacy of plant medicine allowed me to write a book where I could share stories about my healing path.

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Photo by Eileen Adamian

2. What does it mean to be an herbalist in the city’ and what benefits do you see for folks growing herbs in the city vs being in a rural area?

Today, over fifty percent of people live in cities, so urban herbalism is about meeting people where they are at. Though my work I’ve come to understand that not everyone has access to herbal medicine. For many years, I certainly did not have any exposure to it. Now that I’ve had the ability to use and learn about plants as medicine, I see there can be many barriers including but not limited to race, age, class, and education. I also meet a lot of people who have a skepticism to traditional methods of healing. I think this come from our socialization with mainstream western medicine, the modern health care system and the lack of fluidity between these structures and traditional ways of healing. So ultimately I’d like to shift the way us city folks think about medicine. We need to remember that morning tea and daily walks are medicine for the mind, body and spirit.

3. Can you fill us in on your new book, Deeply Rooted? How can folks support your campaign, get themselves a copy or see you on tour?

Deeply Rooted started out as a way to tell the story of my medicine garden, the personal healing and beautiful community that came out of it. It is part story and part reference book. The second half of the book is made up of herbal monographs, an overview of the history, botanical description, traditional and modern use, folklore, and dosage of twenty plants that thrive, and can help us thrive, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The book is currently on sale in our web shop. We have a few special perks for sale too, including Fat and the Moon’s Dream Weaver Spray, The Great Kosmic Kitchen’s Be Radical, Eat Traditional! Healing Foods for the Modern Meal, our limited edition tote bag and enamel pin!

We are in the process of planning our fall West Coast Tour from BC to Tijuana! If you are on the west coast, stay in touch by following us on IG @eighteenfortynine or join our mailing list here.

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Photo by Emily Mitchell

4. How do you define wellness and healing?

The healing path can look and start in as many ways as there are people. I think in the digital age, healing is anything that can help us slow down. This can look like deep, slow breaths. This can be any rhythmic practice like playing music, singing, writing, doing your favorite exercise, tending a plant or arranging a bouquet. Wellness is balance. I have personally found a lot of healing by using plants as teas and tinctures. I also find a lot of healing in touching the earth.

5. Do you find there’s one fall self-care ritual you come back to each year?

The garden is my biggest teacher when it comes to self care. In fall I like to take some time to reflect on what I’m harvesting from my year. In spring we tend to have a lot of energy for starting new projects, new ideas and a lot of potential, similar to a plant’s abundant green growth. During summer’s long, warm days we have the chance to live big and bold, putting spring’s ideas into action, a lot like flowers. By fall, it’s time to wrap up and wind down to prepare for winter, these are the fruits of our labor, a lot like the apples and pumpkins we reap from the garden. Winter is about facing our fear and letting go of what we no longer need, also known as root work. Soon enough, the cycle begins again.

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Photo by Bonnie Rose Weaver

6. Is there an herb you’ve been learning from lately? What message has it brought to your life?

I have been having a love affair with Mugwort for the past few years. There is a patch that grows wild in an old creek bed near me that I’ve been getting to know. She is very mysterious, so it’s taken a long time, however I’ve deepened my dream practice and gotten a lot of information about myself and my path from that work. I have healed a lot of emotional wounds from sitting quietly on the wet earth with her.

7. Anything else you’d like to share with folks about what’s next for you and how they can connect further with your work?

I’ve got a lot of ideas up my sleeves! I’m interested in working more on the non-physical sense of health, developing remedies for the energetic and spiritual body. I’m also interested in working on the health of the soil. There is a lot of pollution, like lead from paint, that we will need to clean up before we can grow more urban medicine gardens. I’m excited about what my friends at Radical Mycology are doing, finding accessible ways to teach and expand the use of mushroom cultivation for bioremediation, also known as mycoremediation. It think I’ll roll up my sleeves and get to work!
To connect, follow me at IG: @eighteenfortynine and T: @1849medicine. There is lots more info about my work at 1849medicinegarden.com. Thanks for reading!

*All photos by Bonnie Rose Weaver unless otherwise noted.

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2 Comments

  1. Beautiful post by a beautiful person! Living in Chicago, in the city with no land of my own, sometimes it can feel like, where do I go and what can I do to connect people to nature in this dirty concrete jungle? (of course, not all the time, just some of the time I lament over this 😉 I find this post so inspiring and need to read Bonnie’s book and soak up all of her moon goddess plant wisdom! Thanks for writing this.

    • Summer Ashley
      Summer Ashley says

      Of course, Fran! We’re so glad you liked it. Bonnie is a beautiful soul, and her creativity is inspiring. We hope you find a green sanctuary there in Chicago–it’s a great city.

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