Bioregional herbalism has been practiced since ancient times. In fact, it was this tradition that my Nipmuck ancestors depended on. They sourced their herbs locally and had an intimate relationship with the plants that they relied on for their health and wellbeing. They collected local herbs with a spirit of gratitude toward life-giving Mother Earth. They treasured what they had and knew its value, and this awareness and appreciation became an integral part of their lives. What a beautiful way to live!
The resurgence of a bioregional approach to herbalism today is a response to the ethical implications of herbal practice in a world that is rapidly losing its connection with nature, and for me is a way to reclaim the ancestral plant knowledge that has been lost to my people. I seek to reconnect with that sense of rootedness in the local plant populations I work with and to be a better steward of our environment.
What is bioregional herbalism?
Bioregional herbalism focuses on the concept of place by emphasizing the connection to locality: to the land, species, and landscape of the local ecosystem. By sourcing herbs regionally you know where your herbs come from, gain an understanding of how they interact with each other and with their environment, and create balance in the relationship between the herbalist and the environment.
It’s important for us to understand where our herbs are coming from, and how they relate to the land and climate around us. By focusing on local plants, we can not only get more familiar with our own region’s plants but also make sure that we’re using resources in ways that are sustainable for our area. This approach allows us to deepen our connection to the land and be more rooted in where we live.
Considerations when choosing non-native ingredients & herbs
I will be the first to admit that I do use some ingredients in my products that are not locally grown. For example, I prefer to use coconut oil and olive oil for my infused oils and for soap making. But for the herbs, I have rarely found a reason to look too far from home.
Following this rule of staying local and bioregional encourages us as herbalists to know each plant thoroughly and to work with them in new and different ways. Ultimately this heightened interaction encourages us to go beyond our comfort zone and to expand our knowledge, skills, and practices.
So although we may use some ingredients and herbs that are not native to our regions on occasion, we should consider the environmental and human impacts of those choices. We should consider the following before making the decision to purchase from afar:
- How far that plant or supplement has traveled to get to them.
- Whether it has been transported in an environmentally-friendly way.
- Where the materials come from.
- Who harvested those materials.
Ways to practice bioregional herbalism.
Bioregional herbalism is a practice that’s more than just a set of beliefs—it’s an experience. It’s about forming relationships with the plants around you and taking responsibility for yourself and your actions and making sure you’re doing your part to help heal the world around you. And it’s about remembering that everything you do has consequences—and those consequences can ripple far beyond what anyone could predict.
When we engage with plants and our environment with this understanding, we come to share a sense of oneness with the plants around us. They bring us into harmony with the habitat we share. Medicines made from them become more than healing remedies; they become ritual and prayer and a way of honoring our deepest connections to all life.
For me, this means tuning in deeply to the health of local plant populations and favoring the abundant “weedy” medicinals and wild edibles when wildcrafting (this is especially true of invasive species!).
Below are 8 ways to practice bioregional herbalism:
- Whenever possible, source herbs that are grown locally on small organic farms or that grow wild in abundance.
- When harvesting wild plants, choose cultivated herbs or non-native opportunistic medicinals if the desired local plant is threatened, endangered, or at risk of becoming so.
- Learn to harvest wild plants ethically and sustainably. Here is an article to learn more about this important subject: 9 Basic Principles of Ethical Wildcrafting for Beginners
- Recognize that affordability can be a problem for those who would like to use herbs regularly.
- Think about the long-range effects of any decision before you act.
- Practice being grateful for the benefits you receive from plants and the elements that sustain them.
- Help protect the plant world by growing native medicinal plants in your garden and working to protect vital natural ecosystems from development.
- If you buy medicine made with herbs and plants, buy from makers who use local growers and wildcrafters.
What are the benefits of bioregional herbalism?
Practicing a bioregional approach to herbalism benefits people, plants, and the planet.
- Benefits for the people: For humans, this approach helps us to form deeper connections to the plants, the land, and our environment. Things I am passionate about.
- Benefits for the plants: By focussing on herbs that are native to where we practice, we help relieve pressure on over-harvested populations of medicinal plants around the world. As you grow close to the plants in your own area, you will be able to see how their populations change from year to year. If a plant species is threatened, you will be able to notice it more easily.
- Benefits for the planet: Herbalism has been growing in popularity around the world, as people seek natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals. There is a lot of energy and resources required to produce herbal products that are packaged and shipped worldwide. Bioregional herbalism seeks to reduce the impact of this industry on the earth by keeping the whole process local.
The bioregional approach is just one way that herbalists can bring balance and build resilience into their practice. Its rich pedigree as an ancient tradition helps guide modern herbalists in rediscovering the art and science of living in harmony with their local environment. It beckons us to feed our roots with its sacred herbs, tend to the wisdom of our foremothers and fathers, and treat each other and the land around us with compassion. This is the future of herbalism, I am certain of it!
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