Every third week of September, my partner Kiva Rose and have the responsibility and pleasure of organizing the HerbFolk Gathering (www.PlantHealer.org) in the forests of northern Arizona. It is an event that draws people from all over the country to learn about natural healing with plants, but it is only one of dozens that you can choose from among during each year’s conference season.
Whether you are studying medicinal herbs in order to take responsibility for the well being of yourself and your family, or if it is your hope to become a practicing herbalist that helps others, one of the very best ways to accelerate your learning is by attending one of the many herbal events in your area or beyond. Esteemed teachers cover the topics that you most need to understand how to be a safe and effective user of medicinal plants, and the gatherings of like-hearted plant lovers provide the support and camaraderie of a true healing community... an inviting resource and great way to enjoy a season of personal growth and blooming.
There are basically 4 different kinds of herbal conferences:
1. International, Broad Spectrum:
Inclusive, geared towards the widest range of participants, with the broadest possible scope (for example, the International Herbal Symposium). Almost everyone wants to attend one of these extra large events sometime, and feel the energy of it.
2. International, Professional:
Designed for professionals, academics (in the case of university conferences), and/or primarily for existing or applying members (as in the case of the American Herbalist Guild conferences). Nothing else can take the place of such an event, if yours is a particularly professional, official, or academic career path.
3. International, Niche:
Events that still invite global participation, but that are characterized by a particular tradition or approach (such as Traditional Chinese Medicine conferences, and the Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine that’s known for a naturopathic emphasis), a certain constituency or subset (the various new radical or “revolutionary” herbalism events, for example), or a community or cause (such as HerbFolk Gathering, devoted specifically to the folk herbalism revival... and the seeding of other groups and events).
Created special for the herbal community in a certain bioregion, intimate, evoking a strong regional/cultural flavor, and often emphasizing the medicinal plants common to the area. Close-by regional events are less expensive to attend, and one can therefore often afford to attend one even if planning on going to an international conference the same year. Every bioregion (defined by natural landscape and biota, not political boundaries) needs its own herbal gathering, and all of us need to support local involvement.
Which of these 4 types might serve us best, hinges on how we answer some basic questions, such as:
Am I seeking a path to accreditation, professional credibility and career?
Or am I desirous of an empowering but informal education?
Would I do best with entry level classes, advanced, or something between?
Am I looking for classes within a certain tradition, or diverse perspectives?
Am I searching for a particular skill set, for a specific intended use?
What do I most need to know, and what would I most enjoy learning?
What do I plan to do with what I learn?
The 1970s saw a revival of herbalism in America, with the famed herbalist Rosemary Gladstar being instrumental in the creation of the first new herbal gathering in a long time. She still helps put on the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, which she calls “a place where we come to ignite and spark one another, and to create healing not only on a personal level, but planetary as well.” Other treasured herbal events designed especially for women include the the Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference, every October in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Herbal Conference held on a very pretty 100 acre Pennsylvania farm also in October.
Smaller bioregional events, such as the Montana Herb Gathering tend to have a particular local flavor, both serving and evoking the feel of a particular region. Specialty conferences such as United Plant Saver’s Planting The Future focus on the conservation and cultivation of native medicinal plants.
The HerbFolk Gathering emphasizes a folk herbalism that empowers the individual, inspiring and enabling action and healing in all other aspects of our lives, in our communities and the natural world that sustain us. This year’s theme is “The Enchanted Forest,” providing “the information you need, the enchantments you desire,” held Sept. 18th-21st at gorgeous Mormon Lake, in the high forests just south of Arizona’s awesome Grand Canyon.
From the intimate Breitenbush Gathering in Oregon to the mighty International Herbal Symposium, dozens of large, medium and small events provide a magical confluence of education and delight. There are few parts of the country where there is not a conference or weekend workshops within a day’s driving distance, and it can be well worth it to drive or fly across the continent to attend a particularly awesome gathering. From their opening ceremonies to the final bittersweet parting, the experience is one of affirmation, stimulation, and celebration!
Besides tickets, you may need to figure-in your gas costs or plane tickets, the price of a cab or shuttle from an airport to the site if you are flying, meals and lodging in route, meals and lodging at the event, and a little extra for fun purchases at each conference’s Healer’s Market.
Decide if you are driving or flying, plus a shuttle or rental car from the airport when necessary.
Conferences may include the price of meals in the registration costs, provide and charge separately for prepared meals, invite food vendors to take care of the participants’ needs, or simply suggest you bring enough food to both eat and share in a potluck atmosphere. No matter what the meals arrangement, I recommend you bring a supply of easy to prepare meals or snack foods to supplement.
Arrange far in advance for childcare at home while you are gone, if needed. Children are usually very welcome at events, if you plan to bring them be sure to pack accordingly.
Conferences usually last from 2 to 4 days, and you will want to arrive on site the evening before.
Plan to Bring:
A blank journal or note taking supplies. A time piece to avoid being late to. Supplementary food, snacks, special dietary needs. Clothes for any weather, due to nature’s many surprises. Basic first aid, skin care, and any herbal preparations you use, and any extra herbs or preparations you have around that you might want to trade to others. If any of the classes are held outdoors, you may want to bring a sun hat and sunglasses, and even consider bringing your own comfortable seating pads or chairs if you are driving to the event. A tent, bags, sleeping pad, pillows and ground cloth if camping out. And remember your camera, to capture those precious memories of your time at the gathering.
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