Embracing Women's Wisdom: An Herbal Journey Through History

As we enter Women's History Month, our hearts are bursting with appreciation for all of the women who, from ancient times to the present, have played a vital role in nurturing health and wellness for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Today's contemporary herbalism is built upon generations of practical and anecdotal wisdom combined with modern-day studies, global access to plants in many forms, and shared cultural and traditional wisdom. Throughout history, women have largely acted as stewards of this ancestral knowledge. 

Modern American Herbalism is a diverse tapestry, intricately woven together by the histories and traditions of all those who have come to live on this land. As women cared for their families and communities, they exchanged plants, culture, and knowledge. While these ancestral keepers of herbal wisdom engaged in sharing seeds and stories of their use, a new lineage of budding herbalists emerged, one generation at a time.

Indigenous Healers

Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian healers all have a centuries-long history of using native plants for a wide variety of medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Besides their medicinal benefits, native plants were also a staple of indigenous diets long before Western colonization.

The 'Witches' of Colonial America

Long before the emergence of Western Medicine, most people relied on their local folk healers to care for the health of their families and communities. It was during these times that the beautiful tradition of midwifery began to blossom—a heartfelt effort by women to tend to the well-being of their families and neighbors, passing down the treasured wisdom of herbs through the generations. Being a healer came with significant risk, as women’s roles were heavily regulated by churches that condemned pagan herbal practices. Colonial (usually women) healers who embraced nature's medicinal properties or interacted in the community as midwives were often people whom the community respected but also feared for their power over life and death. Suspicion and fear of these healers and "the Devil's Magic." grew into a frenzy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, leading to the unlawful prosecutions and deaths of many village healers and midwives.

By 1708, Nicholas Culpepper's book, "English Physician" was published in America, largely validating plant medicine, dispelling suspicion and fear of community healers, and saving countless more lives from unjustified persecution. 

The Great Melting Pot

The Americas quickly became a place of cultural commingling: Mediterranean, Celtic, African, Chinese, Indian, Arabic, and native elements from around the globe came together and began blending, adapting, and creating multicultural communities filled with plants, traditions, remedies, and stories from around the world. 

In the early 20th century, when the practice of traditional herbalism was in danger of being lost, the bohemian "back-to-the-earth" counterculture (hippie) interest in folk remedies and kitchen medicine helped create a renewed interest in medicinal plants and botanical identification. Herbalism and midwifery began to rise in popularity again, thanks to herbalists like Ina May Gaskin, Rosemary Gladstar, Susun Weed, Jeannine Parvati, and more.

Passing the Torch

Advances in technology and globalization have only increased our ability to access and learn about plant medicine from around the world. Even Western medicine is advancing the practice of herbalism, regularly publishing research and studies on the safety and efficacy of herbal medicine, homeopathy, and aromatherapy. American women of all colors and beliefs are now unabashedly practicing herbalism and sharing their knowledge with their online audiences. 

Our grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and the women who came before them understood the importance of passing down traditional knowledge and skills. Here at Nature Works, we proudly carry the torch of women's wisdom in herbalism. We embrace the spirit of those who came before us, recognizing the unique role women play in nurturing the well-being of their families.

As we celebrate Women's History Month, let's also celebrate the herbal legacy passed down through generations of mothers, community healers, and midwives. We hope you will join us in exploring the wonderful world of herbal remedies and continue in your journey of discovering your best health!

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