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Plants and I: A History

Journal

Plants and I: A History

Khrys Viaches

Many years ago as a young girl in the South my sister and I would play outdoors in the shade of our backyard. My Mom had many gardens on the acre we called home. My sister and I would play for hours with the wild onions and wild strawberries and coo over the violets that spread about the backyard early in spring. We nibbled on those wild onions while attempting to make our own strawberry lip balm. We would delight in the fresh spearmint my Mom would add to our pitchers of sweet tea (to this day I prefer no sweet tea better) and marvel at how garden sage smelled like sausage.  We would help my Mom pick cherry tomatoes and summer squash, and inspect her new experiments in the garden. One year it was growing watermelons another year habaneros. So much goodness came out of those gardens.

When in high school, as a disenchanted Catholic and newbie Wiccan, I began my studies on the magical properties of plants. My Mom let me have a small garden to grow some of the herbs I was working with – namely rue, yarrow, and rosemary from what I remember. But I didn’t give them the attention they needed, being an unruly teenager, and so their care fell back to my Mom. I often envied my Mom’s way with plants. There didn’t seem to be anything she couldn’t grow. Sure the spearmint and sage got out of hand and the watermelon had issues, but she was never afraid to pick up something new and give it a try. Just before I headed to college she embarked on registering our yard and gardens in the Backyard Habitat program from the Audubon Society. I was so proud of her when she received the certificate!

When I moved out to the Pacific Northwest in the late 90’s I was amazed by all the green surrounding me. So many tall trees, rhododendrons taller than I’d ever seen and everyone seemed to have yards brimming over with colors and textures I didn’t know existed. I was inspired! In my studio apartment I grew my first culinary herbs from seed in small terra cotta pots near my window. I was amazed that they grew! I then moved into a large house with roommates to save money and those poor plants withered on my sunny front porch for lack of water. It was so sad, but I couldn’t give up. My love of plants grew and grew. I used fresh herbs in my cooking and in the food service jobs I held. I again tried to grow plants in pots while I awaited a yard of my own (I’ve since learned it’s much easier to grow plants in the ground).

In my late teens and early twenties I aspired to become a chef and to focus my energies on preparing fresh food with an eye for good nutrition and great flavor. After many years working in various food service jobs my back just couldn’t take it anymore. With the pain and discomfort I looked to natural remedies to help. I’d had previous health issues with anxiety and digestive problems and herbal remedies had helped significantly. Not only do herbs have magical attributes and taste good in your cooking, but they can help you feel better too. Again I was inspired. This is what began more research on herbal medicine, collecting herbals to look through and my day dream about growing my own medicine. After years of self-study I wanted to know more. I took the plunge in 2002 and enrolled at The Australasian College of Herbal Studies (now American College of Healthcare Sciences) in the distance learning Master Herbalist program. It was a 2 year program with in-depth information on anatomy and physiology, how plants and other therapies could be used for a variety of conditions, active constituents present in plants, current studies on efficacy, growing, harvesting and medicine making were covered too. While this program taught me much I wanted more. Luckily at the time my husband and I were living in a house with a yard and so I could experiment with growing a variety of plants in order to spend time with the plants and see their preferences and learn how they grow.

I too decided to enroll at Portland State University to finish my Bachelor’s degree. With much back and forth I decided to double major in Community Health Education and School Health Education. I was surprised and excited by the amount of integrative medicine topics offered or at least discussed within the core classes. I sought these classes out and relished the opportunity to discuss the nuances with my Professors and classmates. While completing my degree I searched for a job that would help me utilize these skills I had learned. I applied all over town at every place I thought would fit – nurseries, grocery stores, natural health clinics and it was a no go until I applied for an on-call position at the National College of Natural Medicine (now NUNM) in their Medicinary. I’ve worked their now for over 12 years and love the opportunities I have to work with bulk herbs, tinctures, essential oils, flower essences and homeopathics.

This too wasn’t enough. While embarking on self-study and completing the Master Herbalist program I made as many things as I could. I experimented with making infusions, decoctions, tinctures, syrups, poultices, fomentations, liniments, powders, encapsulation and so much more. I made soaps, mud masks, seed scrubs, candles and about anything else you could use for self-care. I would spend my time reading herbals, working with dried and fresh herbs, raising plants from seed to harvest, investigating all the methods of use and still more. I would sit for hours and brainstorm combinations of plants for various purposes. I would make test batches and try them out. I would make larger batches and give them away as gifts. With many compliments and enjoyment from those I gave my goodies too I decided I could make my offerings and share them on a larger scale. Don’t get me wrong. It is still just me – working on recipes, determining batch sizes, working in the garden to plant and harvest what to use in my herbal formulas, procuring packaging, making labels, and selling my wares online and at street fairs and other arts and crafts events. Now I just make things more often and in a little larger quantity. This is how Silver Willow Herb & Stone was born.  

I do absolutely love research and still continue to study as much as I can. Lately I’ve come full circle back to the magical attributes I studied when I was 15. I’ve been working on the Botanical Constellations program and Elemental Herbalism program through the School of Evolutionary Herbalism and attending local plant medicine conferences that focus on the energetics of plants and plant communication. So many wonderful teachers and great information to be found – including the plants themselves of course!

All along the way I think about my Mom’s gardens when I was a kid. We talk often about what we’re planting. She now has more of an affinity for growing flowers and shade gardening while I focus mostly on medicinal, culinary and aromatic herbs. Still so much love in the garden!

Stay tuned for more journal entries on my gardens, what I’m planting, harvesting, and making along with various topics including using herbs with children and pets, immune health and so much more!