Walking with Wise Women
by Kate O’Connor
First published in Bold Life Magazine, July 2005
Updated & reprinted in Natural Awakenings Asheville August 2009
When it comes to our health, we crave clarity and understanding. But it’s awfully hard to find a sense of deeper wisdom in the florescent glare of a drug store. It’s all rather cool and impersonal; separate from our everyday lives. The bright packages of over-the-counter medications promise quick fixes—new and improved—while minimizing their more questionable attributes in the small print of the ingredient list.
But it’s not the only alternative. Reaching back through cultural memory is the Wise Woman way, the oldest tradition of healing on the planet. It embraces local plants and wholesome foods to restore and maintain balance and wellbeing. And for centuries its practitioners—midwives, healers, herbalists and mothers—have cared for their families and communities in their kitchens and at their hearths. They have passed their skills along from hand to hand and heart to heart. Quietly. In the woman’s way.
Today Corinna Wood lives and breathes this wisdom. And in a tranquil corner of the Blue Ridge she nurtures and shares this knowledge.
Corinna seems the quintessential earth-mother. Tall and strong with a strawberry-blonde mane, her smile is warm and genuine. There is something luminous about her, a soft glow that makes your shoulders relax, that makes you feel, well, safe. She engages one completely, listens carefully to questions and responds with a teacher's gentle rhythms.
“The Wise Woman tradition is somewhat invisible,” she explains. “It tends to be preventative rather than heroic.” As such, the teaching encourages nourishing the body by consuming plants, herbal teas and infusions with beneficial properties. By supporting and tonifying the digestive, immune and hormonal systems, the body is better able to heal itself when presented with health challenges such as infection, injury or stress. It is built on a trust in the body’s innate wisdom.
In 1994, Wood and fellow herbalist Jessica Godino founded Red Moon Herbs, an apothecary dedicated to creating high quality tinctures, salves and herbal blends which utilize local and wildcrafted (foraged) plant materials. Despite the current focus on rare, exotic and endangered herbs imported from the rain forests or the Orient, Red Moon, located at Earthaven Ecovillage in Black Mountain, mainly harvests the common, abundant plants that have formed the basis of folk medicine for generations.
There are tremendous benefits to working with plants that grow where we live. “They experience the same climate, physiologically and energetically – the same water, air and toxins,” Wood says. “The plants that are thriving where you live are living in truth and beauty. They offer our bodies the ability to thrive in this bioregion as well.”
The fields and woodlands of Western North Carolina are a virtual pharmacy for the astute forager, although most folks would consider many of the most powerful “herbal allies” to be weeds. Among the all-stars: plantain, chickweed, dandelion, lamb’s quarter and nettles.
Yes, nettles – the stinging kind that bring up welts on the shins of those unfortunates who wander into their midst. “Nettles are probably my all-time favorite,” Wood notes. “They’ll heal what ails ya. They’re great for adrenals and kidneys, high in iron, support the hormonal and immune systems and help with hay fever.”
Once the plant material is determined to be at peak potency and has been reverently harvested it is immediately drenched with Greek olive oil or a combination of 50% organic alcohol and 50% spring water and set to steep for a full six weeks. Working with fresh herbs and allowing a long brewing period ensures that the extracts will be high potency when they are decanted with an herb press.
These extracts are crafted into remedies in many forms to address issues ranging from sore muscles to rashes, insomnia to sore throats and fever. Corinna is particularly dedicated to nurturing women’s health, creating blends designed to support robust health as well as the special concerns of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause.
This focus is integral to the Wise Woman tradition, and has a natural offshoot in Wood’s role as a teacher of natural healing and fertility awareness. “Our mission,” Wood says, “is to empower people to trust the wisdom and the cycles of the plants, the earth and their own bodies.” She currently teaches the Wise Woman Immersion, offered August 9-14, 2009 through the Appalachian School of Holistic Herbalism, which is a weeklong journey into the world of edible and medicinal plants. Through a program of creating a personal relationship with the plants, Mother Earth, their intuition, and their own bodies, the participants are able not only to build a knowledge base, but also a lifestyle: one of self-love, nourishment, compassion, and caring for the Earth.
In this atmosphere of mindful living, Red Moon Herbs and Wood’s educational programs are thriving. In 2005, Wood founded the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference as a way to spread the Wise Woman Tradition to a broader group of women. This fall, herbal luminaries (more than 30 teachers, including special guest speaker Susun Weed) will gather in Black Mountain for the fifth annual Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference. “This weekend offers an opportunity for women to deepen into the Wise Woman Tradition,” Wood notes, “through herbal education, nourishing foods, empowerment, and community.”
Scheduled to run from Friday, October 2nd through Sunday, October 4th, the conference program will focus on all phases of a woman’s life and include topics of interest to both the experienced herbalist and the neophyte. “The conference has built such momentum and there is an amazing amount of support from our broader community,” says Wood. “Over the years it’s grown to 400-500 women; it has become a way of weaving women together and bringing a focus to simple living, earth-based healing, and local plants.”
A perfect time and place for searching out and embracing the Wise Woman within—and a lot more inspiring than a visit to the drug store.