Q: What drew you to herbalism?
Ann: I first learned about herbalism from Deb Soule, who then suggested I attend the NE Women’s Herb Conference, which led me to enroll in an apprenticeship with Rosemary Gladstar at Sage Mountain. I was in a highly competitive graduate program at the time and had just returned from 18 months in Nepal, where I’d gone to do research for a doctorate in Anthropology.
I’d gone to Nepal with a lot of romantic ideas about the villagers’ relationship to the land and the wisdom of indigenous knowledge—ideas that were quickly dispelled as I observed the reality of their lives. But beneath those romantic ideas, I also found a wisdom that I discovered in the herbal medicine I learned from Rosemary: a sense of the sacredness of the earth, a quality of respect and restraint in interactions with the environment, a focus on relationship rather than ownership, and an understanding of the spiritual and cultural dimensions of healing. To me these values seem like a key part of the cultural shift needed to develop more sustainable ways of living, and not only did herbal medicine embody these values, it did so in a tradition rooted in my own physical and cultural landscape.
Q: Many herbalists know and love your 2013 film Numen. Could you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind this compelling, plant-based film?
Ann: Learning which plants to grow, when to harvest them, and how to prepare remedies to care for others was incredibly empowering. It allowed me to connect with the source of the medicine I prepared for myself and my 18 month daughter, a way to balance out all the other products I depended on whose source was too distant and whose production I couldn’t control. Making my own medicine was even more deeply satisfying than growing my own food.
For most people, herbal medicine is a brown glass bottle of tincture or a white plastic container filled with capsules, not a philosophy for changing the world. And so we produced Numen to celebrate these values and to bring them to a wider audience. To reach that larger audience I had to address concerns about quality and sustainability in these supplements. Herbalists know that all herbal products aren’t equal, but because these issues aren’t discussed in wider circles, especially the media, many people aren’t aware of the vast range in quality. But we could only touch on these issues in Numen, which led me to my current interest in following herbs though the supply chain.