One plant at a time

| 29 Aug 2014 | 12:15

“I’ve often said that your body loves you enough to get sick for you, to draw your attention to where it’s needed. But, how much do you love and listen to your body?” asks herbalist Robin Rose Bennett.

Perhaps this is what happened to Bennett when she was 28 years old and too tired to get out of bed. Standard blood tests and exams indicated that she was in perfect health, so she began to take some herbs to feel better. After meeting with an Amma therapist, Bennett learned she was borderline anemic—something that her blood tests had not shown. So began a journey of healing and studying herbal medicine.

Decades later, Bennett, a renowned “green witch,” has synthesized what she’s learned over a career healing herself and others into The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life (North Atlantic Books, 2014). She views knowledge of herbal remedies as a treasure chest filled with valuable gifts, and she has designed her book to be as user-friendly as possible.

To begin the process of soulful healing, it’s important, she explains, to love and accept yourself. “In terms of self care, it’s helpful if people think about caring for themselves because they actually care about themselves, rather than because they should. The practice of learning that changes things for us; it increases joy as well as health,” Bennett said.

Bennett describes the herbs she has come to know, from harvest to the preparation of teas, syrups and tinctures. She details the far-reaching effects that these humble plants can have on our cardiovascular, nervous and reproductive systems.

While she is attuned to the vegetable kingdom — leaving gifts for the plants that she harvests — Bennett also vibrates on a very human frequency. She is sympathetic to real-world human ailments and foibles, and her remedies for various conditions of body and soul are extremely particular, and unlike anything at CVS. There’s the “I was flying high and now I’ve crashed tincture blend,” mullein smoke for an asthma attack, and a “bumps-be-gone skin infusion.” She offers suggestions for wound and bruise healing, and remedies for the oh-so-common poison ivy, wasp and bee stings, and tick bites

Success stories include a man whose hand was swollen and sore after a carpentry accident, who used a fresh chickweed tincture to draw out an inch-long piece of wood. A woman suffered painful menstrual cramps her entire life until she began using mugwort tincture and tea and finally felt relief.

With so much information packed gently within its pages, The Gift of Healing Herbs might leave the reader baffled about where to begin. But the truth is that the recipes are very simple, and Bennett points out that there is no wrong way to prepare a remedy. If a tea is steeped for longer than indicated, it’s okay. If a greater or lesser quantity of herbs is used than was called for, that’s okay, too.

Bennett offers several suggestions for the beginner. “Take one thing at a time,” she said. “Start with a stubbed toe, or a mosquito bite, or a headache. Start with an herb that is nourishing, calming, or strengthening. Learn one plant at a time. That way it’s not overwhelming. Just try it and see what happens. Try a cup of lavender. Try a cup of oat tea. You can feel for yourself if it’s helping you,” she said. The beginner may also turn to the section, “Everything is Medicine,” to learn how to use the common foods and herbs already in one’s spice rack: everything from apples to cinnamon to garlic to mustard.

Finally, Bennett offers the simple advice, “Herbs work really well. You do have to actually take them, however.”

Bennett has a consultation practice in NJ.