I just returned from the Florida Herbal Conference held in DeLeon Springs this past weekend. I had met Emily Ruff of the Florida School of Holistic living (who hosted the conference) at the NE Women’s Herbal Conference last summer and she talked about the Florida Conference and what’s better for someone from New England than to go to an herbal conference in February? This is a fairly new conference - it was just their 4th year and they did a great job and it was a wonderful gathering. I went with my daughter Jeanine and it was her first herbal conference so that made it even more special.
The conference was at Camp Winona, a Y camp on Lake Winona. We pitched our tent next to the lake, and were treated by gotu kola growing wild right outside our tent door. We ate a few leaves every morning to help with all the new things we were learning!
I really enjoyed the weed walks as the plants in central Florida are very different than what we see in New England. I went on a Medicinal and Edible walk with Juliet Blankespoor, who also gave an inspiring talk about bio-regional herbalism on Friday evening. I had never seen usnea growing wild, or a long needle pine, or Spanish Needle (Bidens alba) to name a few.
On Sunday I went on an Eat the Weeds walk with Deane Jordan (Green Deane) and learned more about the differences in the plants in Florida from those in the Northeast. Deane talked about the strength of stinging nettle in the south versus the northeast (MUCH stronger in the south) and that only the black (Sambucus nigra) elder grows naturally in Florida so no worries about toxic seeds. Here's Deane holding up a stinging nettle with one of the thickest stems I have ever seen.
See more about the plants in Part II of the blog, Herbs at the Conference.
On Saturday evening Stephen Foster was the keynote speaker and wove a wonderful story of the recent history of herbalism through his life experiences, from working at Sabathday Lake in Maine with the Shakers to his work with the Peterson Field Guides, all the books he has written and his work with the American Botanical Council. It was interesting to reflect on how herbalism has grown and changed in the last 50 years and what our current challenges and opportunities are.
And what is an herbal conference without Mz Imani drumming? Even with pouring rain, the party with Mz Imani Saturday night had everyone dancing! And she joined with Beautiful Chorus to make some amazing music during the entire weekend.
We enjoyed great food, wonderful teachers and workshops, friendly herbalists from all over Florida and the community that only a group of herb lovers can create over a few days.
And you know you've been to an herbal conference when the top of cars are used to hold plants.
Next year’s conference is February 26-28 with special guests Paul Stamets and Kathleen Maier. Jeanine and I plan to attend, take a winter break and join us.