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Herbalist brings ancient art to life

Tidings Correspondent

— — Artist Sketch

— — — — Name: Jon Carlson Hails from: Prescott, Arizona — Age: 39 — Training: numerous apprenticeships, South West School Botanical Medical — Nitch: being a generalist — a match-maker between people and plants — Claim to Fame: having a greater diversity of herbs than anyone else he knows Inspiration: to bring western herbalism to the community and to help America come the rest of the way out of the herbal dark ages — Been in Ashland: three years

In all of human history, people have gathered plants both for food and for medicine.

However, in the 1930s, society seemed to move into an herbal dark age. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that we rediscovered herbs. In the last 40 years, herbal remedies and supplements have become increasingly prevalent — but a link that seems to have been largely forgotten is the herbalist. Jon Carlson carries on in that tradition.

“Herbs are popular now but most people still don’t know what an herbalist does,” said Carlson. “An herbalist is a community resource, a matchmaker between plants and people, somebody who fuses together the plant world and the world of people.”

To be an herbalist, according to Carlson, one must “wear many different hats as an alchemist and medicine maker, a diagnostician and an educator, an instigator of change while carrying on a very old tradition.”

Carlson pairs plants and people through both educational programs and seeing clients.

“I acquaint people with herbs not just intellectually but experimentally,” said Carlson of his teachings, which range from one day to many months in length. “Through that people develop a rapport or an affinity with certain plants.”

When seeing clients, Carlson spends time with the person to get an understanding of their nature.

“I reflecting upon the plant kingdom and find a plant that has a complimentary energy, something that will support their underlying energy and support their constitution,” in something called constitutional herbology which strengthen areas of weakness in an individual, to encourage a person to be more grounded in his or her nature, according to Carlson.

“I tell my students that plants are like people,” said Carlson, who says his art lies in understanding an essence of a plant. “They have all these different facets to their nature and different personality qualities. Just as if you were a matchmaker for people, you have to examine many different facets of both the person’s and the plant’s personality and bring them together in a good way.”

When all of the aspects of this profession are combined, it necessitates a person who has a wide range of knowledge and skills.

“Herbalists are generalists,” said Carlson. “They have to be somewhat learned in a verity of subjects.”

These include natural history, field botany, organic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, disease pathology, counseling skills, and a working knowledge of healing modality. Also, a fair amount of history in needed to understand the origin of plants.

“Every plant has a really rich history in some culture,” said Carlson. “ learning its traditional uses, history and the folklore that goes along with it, it helps you understand the personality of the herb.”

Carlson also believes that when a group of people gathers to learn about herbs, as when a group of people gathers for a common reason, a community is built.

“One of my visions as an herbalist is being a community resource,” said Carlson. “Bringing people together around herbs, cultivating and harvesting, along with the practice of medicine making.”

Carlson’s interest in plants and herbs is a result of a culmination of life experiences. Growing up, Carlson’s family moved often, allowing him to experience and develop a respect for biodiversity in a region along with diversity in people. Also, as a competitive biker in his teens, Carlson became interested in healing arts such as massage along with how he could fuel his body for optimal performance. This all came to a head when he got a job in a health food store and became fascinated with the supplements department.

“After a year or so after beginning a process of inquire a strange thing donned on me,” said Carlson. “I thought ‘wait a minuet, these are all plants and they’re all in little bottles. They’ve been refined and they’ve been made into medicine but they all start off as plants growing in dirt.’ It’s such a simple connection but sometimes these things elude people.”

Since that time, Carlson has intensely studied the plant kingdom through school and apprenticeships. He has curated hundreds of herbs, about 85% of which he gathered himself.

Though Carlson has always had a relationship with the wilderness, it is herbalism that has really “opened the world” to him.

“I am a steward of wild places, a maker of medicine, a teacher and a wonderer of the woods,” said Carlson. “I gather plants and re-sow seeds. I look after all the places I gather plants from — I consider them my garden.”

Carlson is planning on holding two plant walks this month, July 9 and 16, along with a variety of shorter programs throughout the summer including medicine-making course at the end of the July. Starting in mid-September, Carlson will also have two extended programs, three and nine months in length, six days a month. He is available for herb consultation as well. If you are interested in getting in contact with Carlson, you can reach him at 541-890-6588.