A Interview With The Founders of Herbalismo!
Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds?
Neely: With a degree in Economics from UT Austin, 23 years in graphic design, 21 of those as owner of BAH! Design in Austin, Texas, I'm definitely the newbie to herbalism. Last year, I took a six month intensive course with Nicole Telkes and was immediately captured by Nicole, her spirit and her knowledge, which I sucked up like a sponge in the Sahara soaking up the morning dew. Immediately, I felt that the knowledge of herbal medicine was a like a lost lover that was rediscovered and with whom I must spend every spare minute.
Nita: BA in Manual Arts Therapy from Northern Arizona University, led me to a lifelong career in the Securities Industry, specifically as the Operations Manager of a Broker/Dealer in downtown Dallas, Texas. I was raised in Arizona and the shift to the high financial concrete jungle of Dallas brought a deep desire to remember the whole and the self. I began my first outing into the wholistic and healing world at a lecture given by Janine Pravatti. My eyes were opened to the control I could take for my own health and well-being. Becoming a mother of two daughters years later led me down the path of alternatives to western medicine. I worked my way through studying essential oils, Reiki, reflexology, and most recently plant medicine. I continue to follow the Bohemian path set by my ancestors.
Niki: Nicole Telkes is a Practicing Herbalist from Austin, Texas. She has a background in botanical studies, plant conservation work, community activism, and herbal first-aid clinics. Nicole began her herbal journey as a child, using wild remedies and hunting mushrooms and plants with her grandmother and family friends from Eastern Europe. After receiving a BA from the University of Texas, she began traveling and studying medicinal plants around the wild and weedy corners of North America with herbalists like Michael Moore, Howie Brounstein, Margi Flint, Matthew Wood, Will Morris, and Many Magical Others. She believes strongly in herbal medicine being "the people's medicine" and enlists her students and any interested parties in fulfilling her goal of putting "an herbalist on every neighborhood corner." As a deep ecologist, she focuses on "weedcrafting" bio-regional native and naturalized medicinal plants in herb practice. She has a great passion for the green path and education. Nicole is the Director of the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine in Austin, offering six month to year-long programs in community and clinical herbalism. Nicole's excitement is not just for studying and using plants, it's about laughing, having fun, and sharing plant medicine with her community. Currently, she is finishing a field guide for her bioregion and sees clients for integrative natural health consultations and bodywork from a Vitalist perspective. Nicole was the first of her family born on U.S. soil, so she draws from many different traditions in her practice, embracing the diversity of tradition in North American Herbal Medicine.
How and why did you conceive of Herbalismo! A Medicinal Festival?
Neely: Attending another herb conference in Arizona last year with Nicole and Nita was expensive and far away—we wondered, why can't we have an opportunity like this closer to home, so that the young, financially challenged herbal students could share in the wonderfulness of an event like Traditions? And being a fifth-generation Texan, I have a hard time admitting that another state has something cool that we don't, so I guess there was an element of Texas pride involved.
Nita: I was fortunate to work with Wolf and Kiva on their Traditions of Western Herbalism conference last year and felt just empowered enough to agree with my friends that we could make a special gathering possible in central Texas. We pooled all of our ideas together and realized we wanted ceremony, tradition, and information to be central along with community. The concept of Herbalismo! satisfies all of our visions and proves that after the first step, momentum will carry you through.
Niki: The initial idea behind the conference came from the three co-creators of the conference attending another one in another bioregion, and wondering if we could bring the same sort of energy and excitement to our own area. At that conference, I happened to be a presenter and many fellow Texans kept asking me if and why we didn't do it in our own area. Personally, I do not go to many conferences due to cost and thought it would be nice to try to offer something to our own community. One of the main inspirations for me comes from attending the Festival de las Plantas Medicinales in Michoacan in 2003. I thought the way traditional and modern approaches were blended together was important.
What can attendees expect to find at this year's festival?
A schedule full of world class teachers, some of whom have never taught in Texas before, coming from the mountains of Mexico, New Mexico, the Ozarks and the swamps of Louisiana and plains of Oklahoma. Class subjects are as diverse as our regional plants to clinical skills and hands on classes like the one with Rosemary Gladstar: Medicine Can Be a Ball! where students will make palatable herb balls to administer their prescriptions. As Rosemary says, herbs don't work if the patient won't take them. Some are classes that can be taught and learned anywhere but the material that they won't find anywhere else, the real spirit of this plant festival is the passing on of traditions and ceremonies, elements that have been forgotten and neglected but that have sustained civilizations for thousands of years. These are the ways that tend not only to the physical body but to the Spirit, something that Western medicine has been unable to address but is nevertheless an important, if not the most important ingredient in healing.
It looks like you have some of the leading lights in the herbal world teaching classes. Who all is coming?
We had over 60 people apply to teach at Herbalismo from all over the country. In the spirit of bioregionalism, and supporting our local community, we made it a focus of the conference to include a majority of the teachers from the Deep South and Texas. Some of the teachers may be well known, and others not. Who is coming? Too many to list, with well-known favorites like Rosemary Gladstar and Paul Bergner and lesser known treasures like Marika Alvarado, Eshe Faizah, and Darrell Martin.
When is the festival, where is it at, and how much does it cost to attend? October 24th through the 27th. We are hosting Herbalismo! at Flat Creek Crossing Ranch, near Pedernales Falls State Park.40 miles west of Austin Texas. This four day event filled with classes, ceremony, games, storytelling, and entertainment is $325.
Lastly, do you have a favorite herb?
Neely: My favorite medicinal plant is Opuntia, because it's like me, kinda thorny—my nickname is Needles—and because once you get past the thorns, it is medicine—even for its own thorns—and food and can even provide enough moisture to save your life if you are lost in the dessert without water. A very giving plant that is also protective of itself. I like that and aspire to be more like a beautiful flowering cactus.
Nita: I have many favorite herbs, but I would have to say the herbs and plants that are my favorite are the ones that grow within reach. My goal has always been to know enough about the plants in my bio-region or backyard, so I may tend to my family and their needs and to educate those in my immediate community that are willing to listen.
Niki: Always such a hard question. How about my favorite herb today? Today, my favorite medicinal plant is Elm. Our native elm, Ulmus crassifolia can be used as a substitute for Slippery Elm, which is on the United Plant Savers At Risk List. Right now, as the wind blows it is dropping its flowers and seeds and they are gracefully falling slowly to the ground in large proliferations. It's beautiful. The twigs and leaves are slimy and can help to soothe dry throats and bellies. Any plant that helps to moisten as the drier Fall weather comes upon us is greatly appreciated.
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