Practicing Herbalism in the City

*Photos by  Eli Utune  of  Top Leaf Farms , a business that designs, implements, and maintains highly productive Ecological Agriculture Systems in the Urban Environment .  These photos are from their rooftop farm in Berkeley, which provides foods to local restaurants. 

*Photos by Eli Utune of Top Leaf Farms, a business that designs, implements, and maintains highly productive Ecological Agriculture Systems in the Urban EnvironmentThese photos are from their rooftop farm in Berkeley, which provides foods to local restaurants. 

For a long time, I propagated a lie. It was a lie I only told to myself, but it was harmful all the same. I thought I (personally) could only truly connect with the plants if I lived in the wilderness. Having grown up in cities, it was something I craved to experience. A big part of my exodus from Orlando, a place I adore, was to explore a unfamiliar and wild territory. I packed up my silver four door Honda Accord with my favorite trinkets, audio tapes, and people, and headed west to California.

For a few years I lived in Northern California, in adorable towns like quirky Sebastopol and seaside Jenner, and I would be lying if I didn't tell you that experience didn't change me for the better. The lack cell reception, wifi, along with the blaring noise of my own thoughts taught me a lot about myself. As did the plants, whom I was surrounded by. I learned how to make medicine and food from the local bio region, connect with plants on a spiritual level, and what it means to truly listen. 

In pursuit of love, I returned to city life, this time in Oakland. And, while it's a rather wild place, with fantastic street parties and a bustling herbal scene, it doesn't provide the same kind of solitude that the forest has. But, this vibrant city brings me so much joy and makes up for its differences in many ways.

There are obstacles to practicing herbalism here, but I find that some of these barriers make my practice stronger and more accessible to others. Here are some of my favorite ways to connect with plants and practice herbalism while living in a city.

1.  Dedicate one day a week to a local park. I spend a lot of time at Sausal Creek, where I've identified dozens of wild medicinals, like mugwort, chickweed, and nettle. Sundays are often reserved for longer hikes at Redwood Regional, where I've spotted many wild edible mushrooms during the rainy season. But, I don't wild harvest much anymore, as I believe that is best done in areas where you can assure regeneration is happening year-to-year. I just enjoy seeing these plant friends in person!

2. Sign-up for a local plant walk. HerbRally has herbal events listed from across the country. Not only will you discover local plants, you might even meet a fellow herb nerd.  

3. Join a Community Garden. While it's a seemingly simple recommendation, this is actually how I got started with herbalism. The connection between plants and gardeners is beyond words. I feel strongly that every herbalist should experience growing an herb from seed to flower--at least once! Who knows, maybe it will even turn into a urban gardening businesses, like our friends at Top Leaf Farms.

4. Plant a Windowsill Garden. If you're lucky enough to have a sunny home, you can probably grow year round. Medicinals like oregano, parsley, basil, and rosemary are fairly easy to maintain, and they're delicious. Fresh cut herbs makes food more exciting, and better for you.

5. Practice Plant Meditations. If you have access to a park, choose your favorite medicinal plant or tree to sit with. Then, sit with the plant for 5-15 minutes. Notice what comes up for you, what energy you feel coming in, and take notes. This meditation can also be done with herbal tinctures, teas, etc. Just take a drop of tincture, or slowly sip your tea as you meditate. Over time, you will feel more centered and connected, and you may even begin to intuitively connect with your plant allies.

7. Create a Kitchen an Apothecary. While gardening might be hard in the city, making medicines doesn't have to be. Try to create relationships with farmers at local markets, they may be interested in growing certain herbs if they know there is a high enough demand. Between market bought herbs and bulk dried herbs, you can create an abundance of medicine, anywhere.

8. Make Flower Essences. It might be hard to find medicinals growing in the cities, but growing or finding fresh flowers is usually possible. Flower essences take very little plant material, and create incredible energetic based medicines that aid in everything from trauma to connecting to your higher purpose. Learn how-to, here.

9. Build a Plant Loving Community. It's been beautiful to watch friends, like Florida School of Holistic Living in Orlando, develop central hubs for city-based plant lovers. You can also start an herbal moon circle, a time to connect, offer skill sharing, and enjoy plant medicines with friends. Gatherings like this create space for plant spirit medicine to work its magic, all within the heart of the concrete jungle.