The Following is a question and answer style article written by Gail Edwards, an herbalist and member of our Intentional Creativity Community about her experience with painting, herbalism, and the connections she finds between the two.
What is your Origin Story with Intentional Creativity?
I’m a complete newby! An offering posted last fall by my dear friend, Mary Ann Matthys, with whom I’m associated through our work with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, caught my eye. I’d been wanting to devote some serious time to painting and the year-long class, entitled Forest of Grandmothers, seemed a perfect fit. Little did I know just how perfect it truly would be! Since that introduction, I was inspired to register for Vivid 2021, the Critic and the Muse and Apothecary 2022. I’m enjoying the year-long Maverick class and also doing Temple. Oracle is next on my list! I’m loving my time here! Our community feels important, meaningful, deeply soul nourishing and I am grateful to have found it. I feel I’ve been gifted a second wind and new inspiration, and tools for expressing the wisdom of my elder years.
- When did you first begin your journey of Community Herbalism? What were your inspirations and who were your teachers?
I discovered plants very early in life. I was born in the Tucson, Arizona desert and my first plant loves were the spiny cactus that loomed tall all around me. As a young child, many happy hours were spent in my grandparents’ garden in Hoboken, New Jersey. And, after being introduced to wild red raspberries lushly hanging like jewels on bushes in the woods by a childhood friend, it’s been an on-going love affair with the natural world ever since. I remember the plants on my mother’s windowsill offering me comfort during my teenage years. In my very early twenties I wandered the Catskill Mountains learning about plants with a copy of Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons under my arm.
When I moved to Maine shortly after in the early 70’s, I found myself surrounded by the green growing plants and wanted to learn them all. Like painting, plant love becomes an ever unfurling and evolving dedication. I began making herbal medicines in the early eighties and continue serving my rural Maine community to the present day. I started my herbal business in 1989, just after the birth of my fourth child, as a way of establishing right livelihood for myself and my family. Our online apothecary was established in 2001 and my herbal community expanded exponentially. I returned to my ancestral village in Southern Italy in 2004 and began serving the community there with herbal medicines as well, dividing my time between Maine and Italia.
My inspiration has always been the wild earth and Holy Mother, one and the same in my eyes. I’ve had many wonderful teachers over the years, my students among them, and have deep respect for quite a few practicing herbalists, teachers and authors. But, I can honestly say that the most outstanding, long lasting and unfailing mentors I’ve had throughout the years have been the plants themselves. From rose I learned to bloom with wild abandon, to protect myself when necessary and to be patient for the fruits of my labor. Lavender taught me to hold my head high, to relax and always bring an offering. From St. John’s wort I learned true compassion, that pain and sorrow are a natural part of life, and to trust that healing will eventually come. Dandelion showed me how important it is to be rooted in one place and the benefits of delving deep into the soil right around me for the sustenance I need. And from oats, I learned the magic of rhythm, the essence of nourishment, the profound beauty of our Mother’s milk. My herbal work is also informed and inspired by my ancestral lineage, my family of origin, and the spirits of the lands that I inhabit in both Maine and Southern Italy.
What inspired you to choose to develop a line of botanical watercolor paints? How did you go about the development process and what did you learn along the way?
Our Terra di Colori Watercolor Paints are our newest offering. We’ve been in development with these paints for a couple of years and we now feel we have a product we can stand behind 100%. Our development process has been a gloriously creative and fun journey of discovery based on trial and error experimentation combined with devouring all we could find to read on the subject of color, pigment, dye, print and paint making and talking to artists about what they wanted and enjoyed using.
Most paints commercially available on the market today contain harsh, toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans, birds, animals, plants and our beloved home, planet earth. As herbalists, artists and earth lovers, we are determined to bring a remedy to what we perceive as a big problem. Hence, after an inspired and exciting Labor, we’ve given birth to Terra di Colori – Land of Colors!
Our botanical pigments are entirely plant based. Most were grown in our gardens or widgathered on and around our central Maine farm. We’ve started the seeds of many more colorful flowers this spring to expand our Maine palette. When I can travel back to my mountain village, I plan to gather select botanicals from there. We’re excited and inspired to continue expanding our line with a palette of matchless and distinctive Mediterranean hues. Maine colors are woodland and field. Italy is mountain and sea.
Our mineral pigments come directly from the earth. They are soils/minerals that have been sustainably sourced from around the world. The mineral pigments create the most archival, UV resistant, durable and radiant paints available anywhere in the market today! They are entirely free of fillers and contain no additives, absolutely zero petroleum based synthetics or heavy metals.
Thus far we have 14 botanical watercolor choices and 14 mineral based choices. In addition to the watercolors, we’re also developing a line of pastels, encaustics and inks that we anticipate offering over the next few months.
How do you think using eco-friendly art materials fits in with the Intentional Creativity Framework and Lifestyle? How do you see your work with herbalism and eco-friendly art supplies as an extension of IC and/or your personal values?
What a wonderful question! It’s an exquisite match! Everything we do in Intentional Creativity is done with love at the center, attention, intention and great meaning. Everything we do here at Blessed Maine Herb Farm is also done with great love, attention, intention and great meaning. Enhancing the health of individuals, families and communities, as well as the planet as a whole has been a guiding focus since our inception. At its most basic and fundamental level, our herbal work depends on our ability to cross a threshold into another world, to step through a portal into the plant realms, to listen to and respond to the prompts of the medicine plants and act as bridges between them and the people/animals who need them. In Intentional Creativity we are also crossing a threshold, stepping through a portal…listening deeply to our inner selves, to our muse, to spirit/soul messages. As herbalists, our relationship with plants continues to evolve and deepen in the same way that, as artists, our relationship to our inner core, our spirit, our muse, the cosmos, continues to evolve and deepen. The two are totally compatible and mutually nourishing and inspiring in every way. It’s thrilling!
As a way to honor the earth, Holy Mother, and ourselves, as well as our artistic processes and the resulting paintings we create – the artworks that express our deepest selves – we want to employ the cleanest possible materials…materials that by their very nature, beautifully reflect our love, care and respect. Their use then creates a beautiful ritual of integration, of honoring self, earth, and spirit.
What do you want the world to know about your work with community herbalism?
I refer to my work as The Way of the Wild Heart. I support people walking a path to reconnect with the living earth in an intimate, healing and reciprocal way. The Way of the Wild Heart speaks of the need for a conscious rewilding of the human spirit and intentional cultivation of what I refer to as our ‘wild hearts’. This wild heart resides within each and every one of us. It is critical in today’s world that we learn to connect with it, because it resonates with the wild heart of the earth and all that is alive upon her. Our hearts give off a stronger, more dynamic and more complex signal than the brain by a factor of roughly 5,000. The heart’s signal is so vastly dominant that its rhythmic field envelops every cell of the body and extends out in all directions into the space around us. Our hearts have been found to contain the same neural cells as our brains. It is our hearts that possess emotional intelligence, that both think and feel. This thinking/feeling heart can actually be the core of all our perceptions. If we allow it to be. My experience of what Shiloh teaches as the Infinity Coherence Meditation is that it brings us to a space where this becomes entirely natural. In order to skillfully address the profound challenges that are emerging throughout the world, fresh skills and expanded vision are increasingly crucial. Shifting the source of our primary perceptions can empower us to bring our full, open, loving and compassionate hearts and spirits, that which has been informed by our deep and timeless connectedness to the earth, front and center and into our everyday lives. The awareness of this process and the intentionality of working with it, within the Intentional Creativity Community, was, in large part, what drew me here.
Extended bio – Gail Faith Edwards is the author of a number of books on herbal medicine: Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, Traversing the Wild Terrain of Menopause, Through the Wild Heart of Mary, Herbal Pharmacy; The Art of Herbal Medicine Making, the most recently released, Student Handbook edition of Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs; A Florilegia for the Wild Heart Tribe, and a collaborative book of prayers, Prayers for the Wild Heart Tribe. Benedicaria; The Blessing Way of Southern Italian Folk Medicine is forthcoming.
One of my great joys is leading the 10-day Earth & Spirit Journeys to Southern Italy, intended as a secure space where participants can come into meaningful contact with our common, ancient spiritual history, culture and inheritance.
Some of the places I’ve taught include the Sambhavna Clinic, Bhopal, India; Monte San Giacomo, and the Garden of Minerva, Salerno, Italy; Naples Botanical Garden, Naples, Italy; Private home, Gdansk, Poland; Yale School of Nursing; University of Maine and College of the Atlantic, numerous conferences and other venues. I’m the mother of four home born, fully grown children and the grandmother of four grandsons.
My work has been profiled in newspapers and magazines over the years and I am one of ten women profiled in Maine Women Living on the Land, a photographic and documentary film exhibition by Lauren Shaw that opened at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine and subsequently traveled around the country. The exhibit celebrates the relationship between land and home. It is about what happens over time to the land we live on that creates the spirit and soul of a place. This is a link to the film:
Inspiring quote or wisdom teaching that guides your work.
All is in Divine Order is a favorite saying of mine. I sometimes have to remind myself of this truth several times a day! I also keep close the following teaching by Dr. Estes: “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely…One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.”
Do you have any advice for other people getting started with natural watercolors in terms of tips and tricks for how to use and how to preserve them?
Start slow, go easy, have fun, experiment freely…pay attention to the differences each pigment presents – each plant or mineral requires individual treatment. Keep notes. To connect with the paints in the deepest possible way, grow or gather the living plants, dig the minerals and process yourself. We use essential oil of clove as a preservative and distilled water instead of tap. Caution – highly addictive! Once you start playing with natural colors you will not want to stop!
Do you have any current special offerings, WIP, or other projects that you would like to make readers aware of? (be sure to get info and or links around this. Doesn’t have to just be painting. Can include music, books, poetry, etc.)
Our farm is located on a beautiful ridge-top in rural Maine and we grow approximately 4 acres of medicinal herbs, fruit trees and wildflowers using natural, reciprocal and regenerative farming methods. We offer herbal products of exceptional quality made with herbs we grow and wildgather by hand. We process and create our herbal medicines and eco paints in a state-of-the- art, FDA compliant herb production facility on the farm. This year we are celebrating our 33rd consecutive year of serving our community.
We practice a simple, sustainable lifestyle and our work with the herbs is accomplished with respect for the earth and the entire web of life. We create Herb Tea Blends, Tinctures and Formulas, Gemmotherapy Elixirs, Syrups, Vinegars, Infused oils, Body Care, distilled Hydrosols, Smudge Sticks and hand rolled Incense, in addition to our Terra di Colori line of eco-art supplies. You’ll find all our offerings at www.blessedmaineherbs.com