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A Tour of the California School of Herbal Studies

apple tree at California School of Herbalism StudiesThis past weekend I went with some friends to tour the California School of Herbal Studies school and garden. I expected to enjoy myself because a) time with good friends is always enjoyable and b) I mean, herb gardens are my idea of heaven. I think I may have almost short circuited my own system from the high volume spazzing out I did. The only regret I have is that I didn’t ask if I was allowed to take pictures before we left the incredible school lab.

There was a locked cabinet full of finished tinctures, trays filled with students’ tincture projects in progress. There were herb presses (I must figure out how to make one myself!), blenders, scales, beakers, measuring tools, baskets of dried herbs, stacks of cleaned muslin bags for pressing out tinctures and other herbal concoctions, and two big tables in the middle of it all for working on.

California School of Herbal Studies garden in the woodsEverywhere on the grounds and in the garden itself were old plant friends; comfrey, elderberries, mint in flower, feathery beds of yarrow, tall datura plants (“weeds” our tour guide, Rebecca, called them) draped with beautiful pale pink floral trumpets, thistles buzzing with pollinating wasps, tall spikes of mullein, and wormwood. There were also plants I’ve never seen in person before that filled me with the excitement of a kid who’s just been told faeries exist for realz.

rattlesnake master seed podsI only ever heard about Rattlesnake Master this past winter because I found seeds for it on the Strictly Medicinal Seeds website, and here it is in person! I’m tempted to grow it just for its looks. This medicinal herb was used by many different Native American tribes for things like snake bites (hence the name), tooth aches, and nose bleeds.

ashwaganda blossom in a cluster of leavesHello Ashwagandha! I had no idea we could grow this Indian medicinal plant here in Sonoma County.

small straw bale house painted light ochreThis is student housing on the property – a straw bale single room house. We got to peek inside the window and see the beautiful thick rounded smooth walls and I could totally live in that space. It’s also the kind of cabin I gave Cricket’s family in the woods in Winter; Cricket and Grey

pink roses blooming in the California School of Herbal Studies herb gardenI can never resist roses in a garden. I have to stop and breath them in.

bedstraw seed heads, bedstraw going to seedThis is bedstraw. It’s had many traditional uses (mattress stuffing, particularly used because the smell of it repels fleas, milk coagulant, dye) but it’s rarely mentioned in herb books any more.

medicinal valerian in bloom, valerian blossomsValerian in bloom. If you mention valerian to my mom she’ll always mention how terrible it tastes, as though other bitter herbs used in tinctures taste great. Seriously, so many natural medicinals taste rank I’m always surprised she takes a special dislike to this one.

milkweed pods up closeI’ve seen milkweed in bloom before but I’ve never seen their pods. I’m convinced now that terrible little aliens pop out of these pods instead of seeds when no one’s looking. Or maybe this is where faeries are gestated? YOU DON’T KNOW.

Standing in the herb garden at CSHS filled me with such happiness. The kind I only feel in gardens. Some people feel this hiking in the wilderness. I get it, it’s all nature, right? Wrong. There are no ticks in this garden. There are no bear traps or fugitive serial killers or other weird unsavory humans that can hide out of site. I love nature, but I don’t want to get literally lost in it. Or fall off an unexpected cliff-face. Or into a big-ass natural hole in the ground. I like my nature in a garden setting. But not an overly controlled garden. Super manicured gardens are okay, but they don’t delight me the way a slightly over-run garden spilling with surprises does. This garden has weeds because many weeds aren’t weeds at all but useful and good plants to have around, so they only tidy enough that the paths are still visible paths.

If I could afford the time and money to take classes at CSHS, I’d love to do that. It’s a possibility to dream of and work towards. In the meantime I’ve got my own lab and small garden full of natural medicinal treasures to work with. In fact, I transplanted my struggling arnica plant yesterday and forgot to water it, so I’m off to do that. I hope you enjoyed the vicarious tour!

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