We are thrilled to introduce to you today one of Dynamic Roots’ Partners and Front Range Plant Witch: Kate Miller! Heather, our Front Range Sales Representative and Brand Ambassador, recently sat down with Kate in our Boulder market garden for a special interview and some one-on-one time with the herbs. Kate is a strong wisdom keeper for Dynamic Roots and shares with us her knowledge and insights from the beginning of her herbal journey to what potions she is using now.
Heather: So what inspired you to first get involved with Herbalism as a craft and part of your life path?
Kate: I got involved with Herbalism really really young...around 14 years old. I was dealing with some health issues around that time. Things like ear infections that kids will typically stop dealing with after a certain age, but I kept dealing with them through adolescence. So I realized that I needed to explore other options, which started with Garlic, Mullein oil, and just exploring different ways to cleanse the body using less chemicals and more botanical solutions. So this became an interest from really early on! Then when I was in college and I started growing a lot of my own food, I also started growing a lot of culinary herbs which inspired me to grow things like Calendula by thinking ‘Oh! This is an edible flower.’ And then I would look more into it’s uses and I would realize ‘Oh wait this is exactly what I need for gut healing, skin healing, and all that stuff!’
So then I started drying my own herbs for teas, infusing herbs in oils and vinegars, and making gifts for family members with herbs. All of this really started getting me excited about working with Herbalism on a deeper level. At the same time I started dealing with even more health issues that had become chronic and were getting worse and worse… I was working with different practitioners around the Boulder area that taught me even more about herbs and different ways of healing the body. This was all when I was 21 or 22. When I was 19 though, I started working with a Naturopath who prescribed herbal suppositories for the first time and I remember thinking: ‘Wow! What is this technique I’ve never heard of?!’ At such a young age this was a really foreign idea to me, but I was always really open-minded and excited about those sorts of things.
When I was 23, I went out and took my first Permaculture Design Course (Kate is now a Permaculture Design Teacher with Boulder Permaculture). I met an Herbalist on a farm at this intentional community who was a Gardener Herbalist, not a Clinical Herbalist, but she knew more than any Herbalist I had ever met because of her experience in the garden with the plants themselves. Having this sort of relationship with herbs was really inspiring for me. I told myself: ‘I know I need to specialize in something...and I think this is gonna be it. And it might as well be this, because it has helped me so much already.’ This intention really inspired me to go beyond self-study of Herbalism and return to school for it to make it more of my life path. At that point I wanted to do everything! Everything there is to do about Ecological Regeneration, Farming, and this and that… but I didn’t really have a lot of focus because I was feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities. So this intention to work with Herbalism really helped me narrow it down and say: ‘Ok. This opportunity is not only going to help me feel better on my healing path, but also help other people.’
H: Would you say that there is a favorite outlet or application of Herbalism that is calling to you most right now? Be it farming, medicine making, teaching, etc.
K: I would say it varies day-to-day! Once it’s midsummer and you’ve been working in the heat of the sun, the gardening piece can feel really tedious and exhausting… but it’s all I look forward to for 6 months in the winter! After I put the garden to bed in November, I always feel ready to hibernate, focus on self-study, formulate new products, and start experimenting with things in the kitchen and apothecary. Then after a few months of that I always feel like: ‘Ahh I can’t wait to get back in the garden!!’ And I can’t wait to visit my friends. It really feels like bouncing around, visiting all of my plant friends between my cultivated herb garden and the various wild gardens I tend.
So it’s totally seasonal for me! I think there is a time where medicine making is just more natural. In the late Summer I always recognize the abundance of all the herbs I have harvested and I know it’s time for them to go into certain products. There is a directionality to the medicine. Especially that time of year because we know that cold and flu season is coming on and people are going to be looking for ways to strengthen their Immune System. But then there is also a time in Winter when I don’t necessarily want to always be participating with herbs via medicine making and I want to be reading or going back to my studies of herbs. I go through this period of reassessing and erasing my preconceived notions from previous years or experiences and just start over. For instance, I’ll decide to approach one plant in ways I have never used it or worked with it before, read what is written about in 15 different books, and then learn so much more. I do this practice a lot in Winter and sometimes on days with down-time in the Summer too (like when it’s too hot to work in the garden!). What’s so amazing about working with herbs is that you are always learning more.
H: So true. It’s so important to remember and recognize that there are always new perspectives out there for working with plants. That there is always more information to be learned from them and a new types of medicine to be offered
K: Exactly. Even last night for instance, I was going through my plant ID books and I’m cross-referencing them with Michael Moore’s book and books that are more focused the medicinal properties, versus just “where this plant grows”. And I learn so much more this way because I am not attached to knowing everything and that’s really exciting! I feel giddy as I’m reading it...which is really fun!
Heather (pictured above harvesting milky oat tops in a sea of peas): Connecting with your shifting desires in working with herbs season-to-season: when did you first start adapting and applying the biodynamic principles to your work and garden?
K: I first started using biodynamic principles when I was working at Growing Gardens (a non profit organization in Boulder), but I was more focused on growing food then. A lot of my introduction to herbs that are used in the biodynamic practice (things like Valerian, Comfrey, Yarrow, Chamomile, and Nettles), I started growing and working with biodynamically in the garden before I even knew all of their medicinal & herbal uses. So I was using them in a different way at first, which was cool because it introduced me to their roles in the garden so that when I did start to learn more about their medicinal properties, I was not just an herbalist growing these things for the first time, but instead had new eyes to appreciate them with. This was back in 2010 when I started really learning and delving into the biodynamic system.
H: Do you have a greatest piece of wisdom to offer budding herbalists or those just getting involved in working with herbs?
K: I feel like it’s twofold. One would be to start slow. It’s great to read as much as you can, talk to as many herbalists as you can, experiment on yourself before you bring something to the broader marketplace. There are a lot people coming to the market feeling hurried because it’s such a trending industry and they tend to just dive into business before even observing and working with the plants. I think that is really important.
I think one of the best things you can do to really learn the medicine and true qualities of the herb is to grow it. Anybody can order herbs from a big company. But to grow the herbs and have a relationship with them will completely change the medicine you’re bringing to the market and the medicine you’re putting in your own body. I can feel the difference between the herbs I grow in my garden, whether it be Calendula, California Poppy, or Violet, I can feel the difference in my body when I use them...there is a kind of vitality to them. Also the herbs that are grown in friend’s gardens too. We imbue our own personal energy into growing them and there is a big difference between that and people that we don’t know. It can all be made into beautiful medicine, but intention plays a big part. I have so much more appreciation for herbalists, farmers, and the end product when I know what has gone into it and that process. I think people feel the same way about their food. To know your farmer is a totally different experience than just buying a bag of apples or greens off the shelf. There is a difference in the personality of what you’re taking in. So a big piece of advice is to start working with plants more directly.
H: Is there a Dynamic Roots product that you’re most excited about right now? Or one that is your current “go-to” formula?
K: In the Summertime, I use a lot of our sun products because in the wintertime I am a lot more covered up. I use the Sunbutter all the time and the Bug Off Balm a lot too. I have been mixing a lot of our teas lately too! Like the Tulsi Maté with our Nourishing tea. Especially for people who are dealing with an adrenal fatigue-type picture, even though our Tulsi Maté is not that stimulating, you still need some extra nourishment if you are going to do any sort of caffeine. When you’re outside and losing electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals, it’s really nice to be constantly replenishing, so our Nourishing tea has been a close ally of mine. I have been making an herbal infusion of the Nourishing tea everyday for the past 6 months or so. (This is a brand new formula this year and we will be adding to the website in the next couple of weeks.)
Tulsi Mate Tea is one of Kate's current favorite products
Ultimately, my favorite products change seasonally! This is the basis of our company. I’m not using our products in the same way now as I am in the Wintertime. You can adapt the products seasonally. For instance, the Red Rooibos is really delicious iced. And I am not drawn to drinking hot teas in the Summer. Which is another reason why I love the Nourishing tea so much! My digestive fire is naturally weakened during this time, and drinking Nourishing infusions is a natural way to get an extra boost of nutrition without having to so much food when it’s hot out (and we’re less called to eat in general).
Stay tuned for interviews with Dynamic Roots partners Stephanie & Dawne later this summer!
Learn more about the herbal projects that Kate is involved with, including her Artisan Apothecary & Center for Resilience, Alpine Botanicals, set to open sometime this winter in Nederland, Colorado!