Amplifying Connection with Indigenous Herbalism
Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have stewarded the land and waters with enduring traditional wisdom, knowledge, and practices. In many Indigenous communities, this traditional knowledge has been passed down through oral tradition, embodying a holistic worldview that celebrates the connection of land, people, and spirit.
We recently had the honour of interviewing Leigh Joseph of Sḵwálwen Botanicals. It was enriching to learn about the relationship between her traditional knowledge and how she embodies the guiding philosophy of her business. Read more on that rich connection below.
As we seek out ways to live in alignment with the Earth, we can foster this connection with 3 pillars: Education, Sustainability, and Community.
Build Connection with 3 Key Pillars
First and foremost, lead with patience, compassion, and understanding. Consider the following when moving towards fostering connection in your herbal medicine practice.
Explore where there are opportunities to connect with Indigenous herbal wisdom. There are courses and workshops available on how to practice herbal medicine through deepened connection to the earth. For an online option, we highly recommend looking at Xálish Medicines’ courses offered by Dr. Jacqui Wilkins.
Healthline did an excellent article series on Decolonizing Alternative Medicine that is well worth the read. The Gaia School of Healing and Earth Education also has a comprehensive list of things to consider when embodying Social Justice and Activism in Herbalism.
For folks who want to learn in a safe and BIPOC-only environment, Hood Herbalism offers courses that can deepen your relationship with your own ancestral traditions related to herbal medicine.
Consider looking back into your own lineage to find out what your ancestors used for healing. This could be an opportunity to connect deeper with yourself and your roots.
Sustainable Action is a core value of ours, and this aspect of amplifying connection in Herbalism is one that we practice regularly.
When harvesting, only take what you need and leave no trace. Other plants and animals rely on the herbs that we forage, and we need to leave enough for them. Respect the land you’re on and practice gratitude when you take from it. Bring a separate bag for any garbage that you might find during your harvest. If the plant you’re seeking isn’t quite ready to be harvested, leave it be.
While the planet can survive without people, we can't survive without the planet. Indigenous people have been calling attention to the impacts of our actions on climate change for years. Their knowledge is invaluable, and we would do well to uplift their voices.
Amplifying connection on a local level is a great way to support and learn from Indigenous healers in your community. Plant walks and herb gatherings provide opportunities to meet others who are interested in Herbalism in a safe and supportive space.
When foraging, put community first by sharing your harvest or the remedies that you make from it. Increasing access to herbal medicine allows us to build stronger connections with each other and with the planet.
We've included some incredible Indigenous businesses that you can support below.
Meet Leigh of Sḵwálwen Botanicals
Sḵwálwen Botanicals is a luxury Indigenous brand that creates botanical skincare products. We are thrilled to learn about the connection between Leigh’s traditional knowledge of plant medicine and the inspiration behind her business.
HA: Could you share more about the essence of being that you mention within your Guiding Philosophy? How does running Sḵwálwen Botanicals feed your spirit?
Leigh: Skwálwen is a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) word that doesn't translate directly into English, it roughly means spiritual heart or essence of being. This meaning spoke to me when I was considering business names that captured the greater 'why' for me in all of the work that I do with culturally important plants. This 'why' refers to the very personal process of cultural reconnection I have been engaging in while learning more about plants and spending time on the land. It is so important to me to give back to my community, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Nation, and to other Indigenous communities I work with and to be a part of supporting the healing from colonial traumas and impacts through contributing to knowledge renewal in connection to plants. Skwálwen is grounded in my personal reconnection to culture through working with plants, so growing Skwálwen and sharing it with a wider community feeds my spirit. Sharing Indigenous perspectives on beauty and self-care and spending time on the land inspires me to continue to be creative and the opportunity to give back to Indigenous communities, plants and the land through Skwálwen is so meaningful to me.
HA: Is there a connection between the teachings you learned from family and community growing up and the way you draw inspiration to create your products?
Leigh: Absolutely, one of the first teachings I learned was how to sit and listen in the presence of elders. My parents would bring me to visit many elders' homes when I was young and I recall sitting on couches and listening to stories for hours. I loved it! What I remember from those times was learning about being humble and remembering that we humans are all a part of the environment, we rely on it and on our non-human kin. We are not above nature. And if we don't care for the environment and life around us then we will also not be caring for ourselves. Another teaching was to give back and also to respect knowledge and understand that some knowledge can be shared but some is meant to stay within a particular Indigenous community. When I formulate products it starts from a place of love and caring and wanting to spread that out through providing products based in respect and care for the land and in relationship with the plants. I am careful to choose botanical ingredients that are effective and that embody the teachings I carry, but that still respect the sacred and that cultural information that is not appropriate to share widely. When I formulate I love to close my eyes and imagine the plants I'm working with growing out on the land, blowing in a gentle breeze, connecting people to place through scent, beauty and flavour.
HA: How do you foster your connection to the places you harvest? Is it always a mindful experience?
Leigh: Fostering my connection to the places that I harvest is an ongoing process and practice. I have learned that I feel the most grounded in a place when I know where I can go on the land to see plant relatives and I feel the most at peace when I'm walking along a trail, hillside or riverside and spending time with plants. I have been taught to introduce myself to the land and to the plants and I do this in a quiet way, I make offerings to the plants and these small ceremonies bring me back to a mindful place when I harvest plants. One of my elders taught me that when we work with our hands, we are present in that moment, the work brings us into ourselves in a meditative way. I think about that when I harvest and process plants and reflect on the mindfulness associated with all aspects of being in relationship with plants from the time spent on the land, to the harvest to the processing and finally to the creation of a product with a plant.
HA: Do you have a favourite product you’ve created or herb that you love to work with? Why is it your favourite?
Leigh: Oh, that is a tough question! I would have to say that one of my favorite products is still our Kálkay Rose Facial Oil. I absolutely love how delicate it is in scent and feel and how every time I apply it to my face I am transported to a summer day when the wild roses are in bloom. Wild rose is one of my favorite flowers. When it is in bloom, I love to take a single petal and place it on my tongue and let the flavor and scent infuse my senses.
HA: Is there anything you wish you could yell from the rooftops about connecting to the natural world?
Leigh: We are all in relationship with the natural world! And with relationships comes responsibility and respect. How can we dig deeper into these aspects of being in relationship with the natural world and work together to create the kind of world we wish to leave for our great grandchildren?
Uplift Indigenous Businesses
We can amplify connection by advocating for people and businesses whose voices often go unheard. By supporting these businesses, we are investing in community, sustainability, preservation, and celebration of Indigenous culture.
Shop First Nations has an archive of Indigenous businesses in Canada. You can shop by location and category.
Okanagan Valley Vagabonds shares a list of Indigenous-owned businesses in British Columbia.
Sisters Sage crafts wellness and self-care products that are inspired by their culture and traditions.
Great Bear Rainforest® Essential Oils creates essential oils with herbs and other elements from the Great Bear Rainforest. Your purchase goes towards the cultural health, growth and prosperity of the communities within the region.
Why is Amplifying Connection with Indigenous Herbalism Important?
There is an immense value in fostering connection and community. When we are open to all the wisdom, knowledge, and ideas that others bring to the table, we create the foundation for support and healing. Plant medicine is people’s medicine, and there is so much to be learned from understanding and respecting traditional knowledge. Amplifying connection with Indigenous herbalism benefits people and planet. Continuing to learn, keeping sustainability top of mind, and prioritizing inclusivity in our community allows everyone to thrive.
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