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How I Got Started With Herbs, The Hicks Family of Beech Creek, NC

 
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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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Growing up, I was exposed to folk medicine, or home remedies.  There were various cures for childhood illnesses that my mother, grandmother and great grandmother would recommend... local honey for allergies, sassafras tea for a cold... even a "root woman" spoken of in whispers.  But, I was a fairly healthy kid, except for seasonal asthma.  The asthma was a hereditary condition - most everyone in my family had it.  My interest in wild plants began with edibles.  As an early teen, I began collecting the Foxfire Books,  field guides and books by Bradford Angier and Euell Gibbons.  I'd find any excuse and take every opportunity to go hiking, fishing and foraging in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC.  I had spent most of my childhood in the coastal swamps region of NC and SC, the "low country", so my teens exploring the mountains became an almost daily adventure.  

I suppose my real interest in medicinal plants began around the age of 15, when I made a terrible mistake.... I became a vegetarian.  The books I was reading said this diet would lead to immaculate health and enlightenment. Unfortunately, it was not the right diet for a 6'4", lean at 190 lbs teenager.  It ruined my health.  The asthma grew worse, often leading to bronchial infections.  I became weak, lethargic and often depressed.  Now, I am in absolutely robust health, eating a diet that is based mainly on natural meats and fresh vegetables - more on that in a future post.  But, suffice, to say, the vegetarian diet made me weak and sickly, culminating in a severe back injury.  This began a search for herbs that might restore my health.  I studied yoga and tai chi... that led to Chi Kung and Traditional Chinese Medicine... acupuncture and herbs. That didn't seem tot be the right path for me. I ended up with teachers and friends who were as diverse as Tom Lightwater, who taught me a great deal about adaptogens, herbs to prevent infections and herbs to support immunity as he was dying of AIDS.... to a scruffy little character who called himself Joshua and claimed to be "the last Watauga Indian".... this was Boone, NC in the late 1990s.  As far as I understand, Josh was not Native American at all.  He was a homeless guy who sold "poems" on King Street.  But, he was a friend and he did know a bit about herbs.  One winter, when I was coughing blood due to bronchitis, Josh scurried up to me and said, "You need to smoke the furry thing!", then hurried away.  A bit later, he brought me dried mullein and told me how to use it.  Josh may have saved my life that winter.  Both men are gone now, and missed.

What really set me on the path of learning herbal medicine though, was the Hicks Family of Beech Mountain/Beech Creek.  My mother's friendship with storyteller, Arville Hicks eventually led us up the long dirt road to Ray and Rosie's.  There, we would spend many wonderful times.  Ray and Rosie (Rosa) were up in years then; they became like grandparent's to me and often said, "you 'uns is just like family."  We certainly felt the same, as we often spent holidays with them, especially Christmas Eve.. telling stories and singing songs by the wood stove.  Ray was a famous storyteller of "Jack Tales" and "Grandfather Tales" by then.  But, most of his life, he had supported his family in large part through "wildcrafting" - gathering herbs from the mountains and taking them to town to sell.  Ginseng, goldenseal, angelica, blood root and galax were among the many wild plants they harvested.

Rosie was quite an herbalist.  She was very pleased to teach us about herbs.  Her herbal tradition came from her Scots-Irish and Cherokee heritage, and she was proud of it.  She used to write the names and uses for herbs on the backs of paper plates and then put the fresh or dried herbs on each matching plate to instruct us.  Often times, she would give my mother hours of instruction while I was out with Ted, their son, learning to identify the plants.  Ted became one of the best friends I ever had... the kind you'd see at the grocery store and end up just chatting with for an hour about anything and everything.  Ray was a character!  He would weave tales and jokes, songs and riddles into most anything.  They too, are all gone now and very missed.

Well, life takes one places and things never quite work out the way we expect.  My health returned when I began to eat good, natural meat and fats again.  I was much healthier at the age of 30 than I was at 20.  I continued to learn about medicinal herbs, reading voraciously... spending time in the woods.. learning about plants.  Now, I am back in the mountains of NC, with the Pisgah National Forest serving as my back yard.. paradise... surrounded by more herbs and mushrooms and beauty than I could ever quantify or record.  Just out my door, I see bergamot/bee balm, dandelions, burdock, solomon's seal, false solomon's seal, jack in the pulpit, touch me nots, trilliums, blood root, angelica, seasonal mayapple and ramps, wintergreen, yarrow, ghost pipe, rishi, turkey tail and oyster mushrooms etc, etc,  

Only after completing a Permaculture Design Course, an online Botany course and several Horticulture courses offered online through a state Agricultural Extension Service did I even think about taking any herbal instruction online.  Since then, I have done several short courses from various teachers.  That led me to decide that I would like to devote the rest of my professional life to using my knowledge of wildcrafting and herbs, horticulture and permaculture... I want to spend the rest of my working years growing, harvesting and processing herbs the right way - responsibly, ethically, ensuring potency and healthfulness - and sharing my knowledge with others.  I also want to save rare plants from destruction and propagate them for the future.

A few months ago, I began the late Michael Moore's Southwest School of Botanical Medicine course.  It is huge and comprehensive - well over 100 hours total.  So, along with sharing my personal journey on the blog, my knowledge of plants and my formulas, I thought I might share my notes for the SWBM course.  My hope is that it will encourage others and help them learn.  That seems like a good starting place for a blog.

So, this is my first post.  Please contact me at southernappalachianherbs@gmail.com if you have any questions, or just to chat.    

My Blog: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/
 
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Judson, thanks for sharing your story.  It sounds like wonderful teachers have come into your life and that you were open to receiving their wisdom. Which are not always things that coincide! And that you have found your way to a place of abundance.

I look forward to following your future posts.
 
Judson Carroll
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Thanks!
 
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