Thursday, March 5, 2009
Herbalist Interview-Jim McDonald
jim mcdonald is a 36 year old married father of 2 boys ages 5 and 1 years old.
And a cat named chicken
little, and one named ceilidh (kay-lee).
I purposely typed jim's name lower case, because this is his style everywhere I have ran into him online.
No fancy nor formal spelling or capitalizing, yet his plant wisdom is really phenomenal and he is a really cool guy. Not only that, I have a thing for long hair!
I love bringing male herbalist's experiences to my students and readers because we seem to know more of the female herbalist. But beleive me, the men in our plant work are serious and dedicated and so knowledgeable. I am delighted to share jim's work today and his website is really awesome. You will find a link on down in the interview.
Do you remember what was going on in your life that lead you to herbs?
I was already quite a hiker, canoer, and park goer, but didn't really
know much about plants. Stephen Buhner summed up my state nicely when
he said he figured "small ones were plants, medium sized ones were
bushes, and big ones were trees".
In college, though, I happened to live on an overgrown 30 acre farm,
and my roommate left out Jeanne Rose's Herbs and Things. I picked it
up and that was that. I started trying some things, the whole
situation escalated into overflowing mason jars. There really wasn't
a point where I consciously thought "Hey, I want to get into this
more"... it just happened, then I realized it after the fact.
I pretty much taught myself, or, more honestly, learnt from the
plants. I figured out a lot of what I could use calamus root for just
by chewing on it a lot, and getting to know it. That helped me learn
how to figure other plants out directly. I didnt take any clases for
quite a few years, since there wasn't much of an herb community around
here and the internet wasn't really happening yet. I spent lots of
time outside, and would sit for hours in the big bookstores IDing
stuff I'd found and cross referencing in books they had there. I
would write stuff down real tiny on samll bits of paper.
How old were you at that time?
Can you share some of the work that has most influenced you? Such as books,
blogs, video and lectures.
Foundationally, being with the plants, and learning that, yes, you can
learn directly from them. This was then reinforced when I found
Stephen Buhner's Sacred Plant Medicine. It "validated" everything I
was heading towards. I got David Hoffman's Holistic Herbal some time
afterwards, which got me more interested in understanding herbal
properties. And then Matthew Wood's Book of Herbal Wisdom. After
getting that, I tracked him down (hard to do, pre-internet) and then
went to a class he was teaching in ohio with Rosemary, whose down to
earth coolness I was inspired by. I kept in touch with both of
them, who've been super wonderful kind to me. Sometime later I
figured out about the internet, and through that studied ecletic and
physiomedical herbalism, and met oodles of folks. Among them Paul
Bergner has been incredible in the generosity with which he shares. I
also really dig on the nurmeous folks blogging and posting to forums
and mailing lists. Its an incredible resource for people who don't
live surrounded by other herbfolk to get exposed to new ideas and
When making plant medicine, are you drawn to any particular method?
By hand, if at all I can help it. I collect most of what I use, and
get almost everything else from the person who picked or grew it. Its
like prayer, meditation... its a practice of connection with the plant
to make medicine of them. You try and stay present so you can learn
from them as you're chopping, grinding, decanting...
I do everything by eyeball & feel except tinctures, which I weigh and
measure to keep consistant as I make them year after year.
Do you have a most memorable event, conference, or one on one experience with
any of our herbal foremothers and forefathers or any other key person used in
your path of herbalism? And how has that influenced you today?
I met Rosemary the weekend that she found out that Terrance McKenna
had brain cancer. He was really into psychedelics. Someone asked if
she thought that had anything to do with it and she just said that
she'd seen so many people do everything "right" - eat good organic
food, drink teas, do ceremony, exercise, laugh - and still sometimes
someone would get this or that illness. That it just happened
sometimes, and wasn't because they "did something wrong". It was so
humble and so true, and she said it without in any way condescending
to the guy who asked the question. I really admired that. If you
ever meet rosemary, she's amazing. Totally down to earth and
approachable. She glows. She's not an encyclopedeia, she's not an
amazing writer, she's not some idealized flawless person, but she's
real and you look at her and you see that she's doing something very
beautiful for herself and the world around her.
So, she and a some other folks (I'll certainly leave people out so
I'll pass on a long list) are so kind and available for people, so
willing to help out others in whatever way they can. That's what I
really deeply admire and strive towards. Doing that is more important
to me than "making a living".
The other thing is when I get kind follow up from students or people
who visited my site or who are on herb lists... It creates this cycle
of I'm helped out, I help out, that person helps someone out... I
like that. I couldn't say that I valued a compliment from a very
knowledgeable herbalist any more than I value a compliment from a
Where are you located?
southeast Michigan. fields, meadows, mixed eastern hardwood forest habitat.
Do you work with the public and could you descirbe your work?
I consider myself a village/community herbalist. I teach, write,
speak, consult and share throughout my community.
Do you teach classes?
yes, often. Usually afternoon long classes with a lot of time for
discussion, storytelling and elaboration. I simply love finding ways
to present ideas that make them easy for people to understand and
connect with. Though I have long, detailed handouts, I pretty much
wing all the classes when i do them. I'm not goot at looking at
notes. Sometimes I'll use the handouts to look and make sure I'm on
track, but I figure when I go into a class, I already know most of
what I'm going to present. So the questions and discussions are what
make it more dynamic, and what i learn from.
Short classes are hard for me. I talk to much.
Do you offer consultatons?
yes, as time allows. I still have a day job to help pay the bills &
two little ones (one REALLY little one) and "formal" consults are fit
in as I'm able. They're not infrequent, but not daily occurances.
But I also do a lot of less formal consults with students and a few
other folks I cross paths with, who call or write. I'll occasionally
Do you travel for herbal work?
Yep, throughout michigan, but also other places if there's enough
interest to cover my expenses and make it feasable for me. I've been
down to Ohio, and taught at the last and will teach at this years
International Herb Symposium. I've also taught at the mid america
symposium in minnesota, and in mississippi. It's something I really
like and want to do more of, though I don't want to travel too much,
cuz I don't really care for airports and miss my little ones (and the
other big one.)
How can people contact you to find out more about what you offer, calender of
events, blogs, weed walks, etc?
Do you have a vision for your work in the future or are you seeing how it
I'm reworking my long term class to make it easier for people who live
farther away, and I expect to teach "out" more at some of the
conferences. I'm working on a book, though that's been at a slothful
pace since parenthood. But it'll eventually get done. I'm sure I
could be more efficient at getting things done, though I'm far better
at showing up and teaching than planning, promoting, advertising and
Most of the readers are new to herbs and if there is one word of wisdom or
sage advice you could leave them, what would that be?
Spend time with the plants, and strive to make relationships with em.
If you're going to use stuff, know why. If you're suggesting things,
know what they all taste and smell like. Make your herbcraft visceral
life is short. we must move very slowly.