I'm so happy to share this 5 Questions interview with Erin. She is an old friend from Eugene and fellow Columbines School of Botanical Studies graduate. I'm always excited to see what she is up to with her many projects- from the powerful wildharvested medicine she makes for Pipe Tea Herbals to her wonderful wild foods recipes, what an inspiration!
1. What motivates you to do the work that you do?
As a little girl in swampy Florida, I would sneak eggs into my pockets and tiptoe outside to feed the old spindly oaks keeping guard. During thunderstorms, I became the Queen of the Wind, dancing around the backyard, conducting gusts and lightning strikes in the black sky, wearing a crown of Spanish moss. Sunning lizards, baby alligators, and singing frogs were my friends. Time spent in this wild place was like a waking dream open for adventure, allowing me the exhilaration of independence.
As a grown up, I found myself inside a lot and my time constrained more than I liked. I craved that connection to the earth and the state of fantasy that was once such a major part of my psyche. Studying botany, wildharvesting, and herbal medicine-making gave me a path back to the woods. This work is incredibly healing for me. I get to hang out in beautiful places with green beings, provide natural remedies to folks in need, learn and carry on the old ways, and make art from these experiences.
2. Do you use plants in your work and if so, how?
I do work with plants in so many different ways!
After studying for several years with Howie Brounstein and Steven Yeager at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies in Eugene, I became fascinated with herbal medicine - especially smoke medicine and plant aromatics. Howie is a wizard when it comes to the traditional and contemporary uses of smoking herbs, especially those in the Pacific Northwest and Southwest. Their apprenticeship was life changing.
Smoking herbs has been an important part of the human experience across cultures for many millennia. The act of igniting plants with fire is a tradition used to enhance ritual, encourage social bonding, celebrate rites of passage, take medicine into the body, and just for the pure enjoyment of it. Sadly, there are many questionable herbal smoking blends and incenses on the market, some of which are outright dangerous. This is a threat to traditional herbalism. My hope is to honor these plants and the special relationship people have formed with them throughout time.
I recently opened a little online shop called Pipe Tea Herbals to fulfill this dream. I love harvesting plants to formulate smoking mixtures (for medicine, ritual, and pleasure), ceremonial incense, aroma blends, and natural bodycare products. Other plant passions include making botanical illustrations, doing nature photography, writing, and design projects to help illuminate the many gifts I discover while working with plant magic.
Quite the muse!
3. What are the tools of your trade that you couldn't live without?
Along with my clippers, vasculums, rain gear, boots, and botany kit, the most important tool is my botanical key, The Flora of the Pacific Northwest by Hitchcock and Cronquist. Proper identification (and understanding the ecosystem you're picking from) is crucial when harvesting plants from the wild - especially when you're giving them to other people who trust your medicine. One mistake can have serious consequences. The plants deserve careful attention.
4. What do you turn towards for inspiration? If you include books, artists, other makers, music, etc can you include some links?
Perched in the dewy spring forest, watching new blooms poke through furry moss. Journeying from bubbling meadows to alpine craters. Untangling freshy harvested roots in an icy river.
Meditating and dreaming about these experiences. This seasonal cycle.
Inspiration comes, almost in whispers and flutters of light.
5. Please include 1 instructional for a quick project someone reading this could incorporate into their own lives. This can be a creative exercise, visualization, recipe, or a literal how to)
Sketching Meditation for Plant Lovers
This is inspired by an exercise I learned years ago from herbalist Paul Berger at the Breitenbush Herbal Conference.
1. Next time you encounter a new plant (or maybe an old friend) that you really want to study, take out a pencil and notebook. Observe the plant for 5 minutes, noticing its leaf shape, flower form, and size. Is it hairy or spined? Do the leaves look different when you peek underneath? Do you see nectar guides on the petals?
2. After this time, turn away from the plant and draw its features as best you can without looking. (If you don't enjoy sketching, try writing out every detail you remember). What questions appear in your mind? Write those down.
3. When you finish, turn the page. Go back to your plant and without looking at the paper or lifting your pencil, draw the plant again. Notice how all of the parts are connected.
4. Compare both drawings to the plant and notice the similarities and differences.
5. Finally, closely observe the plant again and make a new sketch with as much detail as possible.
Keep a special notebook just for this exercise with plant name, date, and location recorded for each drawing. This makes keying out the genus and species, as well as remembering the details of this plant in the future, much easier.
Erin McIntosh is the owner, creator, and herbalist at Pipe Tea Herbals. She has been studying botany, herbalism, and ethical wildcrafting in the Pacific Northwest since 2008, when she apprenticed with Howie Brounstein and Steven Yeager at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies in the Oregon Cascades.
Each year, she has the privilage of attending herbal conferences around the country to learn from the world's preeminent plant healers, and she's an organizer of the Free Herbalism Project. Erin also works at Mountain Rose Herbs as the Marketing Director, lectures about herbal medicine making at the Mother Earth News Fairs each year, and writes articles for publications including MaryJane's Farm, Eugene Magazine, Mother Earth Living, and Earth First Journal.
You can find her blog featuring botanical cocktail recipes, foraging tips, travel stories, and wild foods at Salt+Fat+Whiskey.