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Community Herbalism

We met Rasheeqa a few years back through the Radical Herbalism movement, she is a wonderful passion herbalist who is involved at the heart of community herbalism, within this article she mentions several people and organisations that are integral to this work like

Nicole Rose @ The Solidarity Apothecary

The mission of the Solidarity Apothecary is to materially support revolutionary struggles and communities with plant medicines to strengthen collective autonomy, self-defence and resilience to climate change, capitalism and state violence.

Herbalists without Boarders – Herbalists in the UK and Ireland are working together and with others moved by the current refugee crisis to find ways in which we may be able to help where possible.

We want to shine a spotlight on all Community Herbalism, here we hear a little about Rasheeqa and her missions

Hello! I’m Rasheeqa.

I’m practicing herbalism in London, I started studying herbal medicine in my late twenties when it rose to my surface that I wanted to learn the knowledge of the earth and plants and trees, eternal stuff that creatures had always known, linking us with the mystery of ancient existence.

Also being a child of two doctors I’d always had this feeling that current mainstream medicine seemed in some ways madly unfitting to the full spectrum of human existence. I’d not had much experience with plant medicine before starting the course at the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine in Glasgow in 2008, apart from a friend bringing me a jar of Yarrow herb some years before, what a signifier!

And as a child visiting the entrancing Dawakhana (​Unani​ medicine house) set up by my dad’s grandfather in northern India where this centuries-old herbal treatment was (and still is) offered to the community as an accessible and affordable form of healthcare. So this new direction opened up a whole great new world to me that deepens each year. The plants become lovely familiars that you greet every day, and wherever you go the green earth holds fascination. People are exploring it in ​so many different ways​ and working in this realm you connect with all these other kinds of plant-based knowledges as well, that are being refreshed and revisioned from the ancients for wiser earth care.

I qualified as a medical herbalist in 2012 and there was a chance quite soon after that to run a course at a community space in Walthamstow where I live, so fellow herbalist C​harm Elakil​ and I started offering 6 week introductory courses. I am still connected with people from those early groups and it was the beginning of this journey in seeing what intuitive importance plant medicine has for people, also that while it is a very personal journey, it is not only to be practiced alone, it’s a crucial connector and a revolutionary way to bring us together because it’s somehow part of all our histories.

Revolutionary, when time ago it was a regular normal part of daily life – but now it holds so many layers especially in this part of the world – linking with the politics of power oppression, gender violence, the earliest devastations of capitalism, the thefts of land and ​erasure​ of knowledge and life that continue today worldwide in the ongoing cycles of colonial violation and injustice.

So it’s an exciting time to be doing this work as we all face and tangle with these histories… and as I started to draw out the threads of community herbalism in my work in London I also became part of the Radical Herbalism collective, through conversations with friend Heather who I studied with in Glasgow, around accessibility or otherwise of herbal medicine in connection with class inequality, and how the university herbal medicine courses (not the Scottish School which was independent, and for herbalists with fire in their bellies) would teach us how to
brand ourselves – interesting word – and segment our market demographics and how this seemed to me like the absolute opposite of what we should be doing as herbalists. ​

The Radical Herbal Gathering​ was a learning pot for me! Making friendship and organising this amazing gathering with L​isa​ in London, Becs & Annwen of R​hizome Clinic​ in Bristol, with Heather in Leeds, with Nicole who’s now doing the incredible S​olidarity Apothecary​, then with Bec and Kate, and Z​oe​ in Manchester, as well as a wider crew of visionaries – all powerful souls continuing to spread the practice of herbal medicine and connected work in an active political framing.

Acknowledging that plant medicine is of and for the people, especially those with fewer resources, rather than just for those that have the money for it; that doing healthcare has to see what makes us unhealthy and has to care, not separating everything out and treating the heart as an isolated mechanical organ and the liver as a different one but seeing the connections between everything. Especially in a system where institutional healthcare is often administered on foundations of racism, misogyny, classism and other inequalities.

Which are not difficult to see when you sit doing the free herbal drop-in clinic at ​Baldwins (London’s oldest apothecary and a great community resource) and hear every week women of African and Caribbean heritage from the local area and embedded in their communities, sharing stories of horrifying medical neglect as well as of self-care skill and resistance, and people with minimal economic resources facing housing and work stress with minimal support and access to nourishment, developing major chronic illness through these experiences. So the Gathering talks about the systemic imbalances that make human communities unwell and how we can seek to address it in diverse ways – with the support of plant communities.

The Gathering over the last 7 years has generated such inspiring networks and movement in community and solidarity herbalism, really re-shifting the practices back to the people, and others I’ve gotta give big respect to are G​ rassroots Remedies,​our friends in the north who are part of the S​cottish Radical Herbal network,​ and ​Herbalista network​ – Lorna’s fire energy is an effective builder of street clinics and director of plant medicine sustenance to people who are really under-served. It’s also been part of the development of H​erbalists Without Borders UK​, which was formed in response to the acute situation of mass displacement and trauma of people directly linked with euro/western-centric economic exploitation and war-making.

Groups in ​Bristol,​ Brighton, London & Glasgow with practical support from around the country have been offering herbal healthcare support to migrants and refugees to the UK in a range of ways with the aim of solidarity not charity and ​Melissa Ronaldson​ and allies have since 2017 been making regular journeys (currently monthly) to Calais and Dunkirk with medicines and care for people including children living in hardcore conditions there, brutalised by state forces. If you’re able to ​support​ this work which is done on a voluntary basis it is very welcome! In London we have for the last year with ​Phytology​ garden been developing the ​Mobile Apothecary,​ a project linking land connection, local herb harvesting and medicine making with healthcare support amongst street homeless communities in east London, again centering the role of herbal medicine as the medicine of the folk and the people. All are welcome to get involved.

In the last few years I’ve been working in the direction of a Community Apothecary network around where I live – because of the realisation that herbalism is best practiced collectively when it comes to sharing knowledge, harvesting and making medicines, exchanging skills and resisting/unscrewing capitalist distortions of life. Also giving back to the land and enabling ​its​ health balance – doing herbal medicine you can’t help but be bodily connected to the wild land around you and you get so fond of it that you want it to be able to grow good herbs well… and to support the mad clamour of diverse life that it naturally does. So it’s been a blessing to live where

I do in that I’m close to people like ​Organic Lea​, brilliant political and practical food project, and am able to collaborate with all sorts of different folks to slowly build this vision of herb gardens all around us that supply healing plants for communally-crafted medicines – that will one day be offered in a medicine-house where everyone can come and learn, make and share the plants for health. Sharing the knowledge feels like the best way to build strength and resilience because everyone can find their own connection to their bodies and to the herbs through this practice.

As 2020 begins, we’re planning to cultivate 3 sites around Waltham Forest in north-east London with the herbs we commonly use. The gardens will be created and cared for by a crew of volunteers who want to learn about plant
medicine and take part in the project – as we go we’ll harvest the herbs and make medicines with them, in response to healthcare needs we identify in our communities.

The most exciting part now is feeling part of this living interconnected web of people and groups and lands supporting each other – like ​Hackney Herbal​ who do great work sharing herbalism in London and are offering plants and seeds for the new sites. The Community Apothecary is so far a loose little collective with me and two herb growers Ximena and Izzy – the plan is to firm it up as an entity, ideally a cooperative and seek more funding support as we go. Meanwhile we have the gardens and the people energy and the vision so it’s an exciting moment!

If you’re in Walthamstow or surrounds and would like to get involved, just get in touch – [email protected]​ / 07784 506494

Here’s to joining up the world with gardens!

Some links below if you’re interested to know more about the community herbalism activity that is going on – and get in touch if you’re doing anything similar where you are so we can connect our networks and share resources and tools through things like the R​ adical Herbalism network.​ I also send a monthly newsletter with upcoming herbal happenings round London with me and other folks.

Look forward to seeing you out in the land!

Community Apothecary

Mobile Apothecary page

How to set up a mobile mutual aid herbal apothecary by Shumaisa Khan Herbalists Without Borders UK podcast
The Community Healing Garden​

land justice and black people​ – healing practices for and amongst Black, Brown, working class and LGBTQI communities

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