During this time, it’s easy to look around and see how much work we have to do and skills we must relearn in order to become more sustainable inhabitants of this planet. There are some individuals who are really making strides and examples of living in accordance & harmony with nature. Vicky Salcido-Cobbe is one of them. I met this woman earlier this season at the Spirit Weavers gathering when I took two of her herbal medicine classes. This woman is FULL of life, spirit, & emotion. She lives without internet, gardens most of the day, composes gorgeous books to teach others about herbalism, and spends time making her community supported herbalism boxes, amongst many other lovely handmade products. They are next level people! Vicky is setting the bar high and I am so honored to share her interview with you today. She is my hero.
Q+A with Vicky Salcido Cobbe of Grandmother's Medicine
Q: What is Grandmother’s medicine and what inspired you to create it?
A: Grandmother’s Medicine started out as a collaboration between my dear friend Deena and I. We were both just so in love with herbs and we wanted to share them with the world. Deena is now a rockin' Massage Therapist and Birth Worker in San Diego, and Grandmother’s Medicine is growing and morphing all of the time.
The main purpose for Grandmother’s Medicine is to empower. We believe that localized, community driven herbalism is so very important and critical for our times. We hope to inspire other businesses to make the switch and support local farmers.
Q: Tell us about your story in how you left one life and now lead a completely different one that one might say is more aligned with nature.
A: I'm going to give you the MAJOR Cliff's Notes version here. I lived in San Francisco and was on a pretty self-destructive path. Long story short, I made my way to Portland, where I got sick with a bad flu and visited a clinic. The doctor gave me a tincture bottle full of anti-viral herbs (I still have that bottle!) and I have been hooked ever since. After battling chronic stomach issues and bouts of mild depression and major anxiety, I finally felt like a natural, easy remedy was out there for me. So I decided to get educated.
I attended “Farm School” to learn about the food I was eating. I read and read and read and took online courses on herbalism. I joined Facebook groups. All of it was majorly empowering. My husband is also a man of the earth, so when the opportunity to move to a 160 acre Botanical Sanctuary and Women's Herbal School came up, we both just said “When do we leave?!” I found this special place we now call home by a dear friendship that was birthed at the 2nd annual Spirit Weaver's Gathering.
I will just finish by saying that where I am today came totally through a series of VERY trusting moments on our part. We said YES when our gut felt like it was the right decision. We have never regretted it.
Q: Walk us through a day in your life.
A: Because of how intimately tied we are to the seasons, every day really does vary. I'll share how we generally are by season:
In the early Spring we are just like the busy, blooming, buzzing creatures and plants around us. We are waking from our winter slumber, in awe of the sun and the fresh green growth that is plump with potential and full of hope. In the Spring months, much of our time is spent planting seeds, amending garden beds with fresh compost, weeding (so much weeding), and planning for the Summer garden. We harvest and eat tons of “juicy green herbs” such as Nettle, Chickweed, and Miner's Lettuce. We delight in Violets. We also try to bug Ayana (of Unlearn and Rewild and Call of the Forests) to help us find some wild, edible mushrooms. ;)
By late Spring, we are already eating from the garden, harvesting and making herbal extracts from flowering mints (like Catnip and Motherwort) and delighting in the tastiness of herbs like Lemon Balm and Dandelion. We are also harvesting flowers such as Hawthorn, Calendula, and Dandelion. We are constantly trying to keep up with the drying baskets full of herbs!
In the Summer, we are...hot. It can get all the way to the low hundreds here, so we try to stay cool by swimming in the pond and taking cold showers. My personal constitution has an affinity for cool weather, so I really slow down in the Summer (when there is so much to do!) I have a bad habit of sleeping in, complaining about the heat, and generally feeling overwhelmed. Cold herbal water, early morning work, and siestas are helping though, and I am learning how to best function in the heat. Plants don't get to take a siesta, so I have to be ready to help them if they need it! We harvest SO MUCH FOOD – the garden in the summertime is the perfect example of nature's abundance. We collect Passionflower for our Sleep Tight formula, Wild Milky Oats and St. John's Wort. We often work in the garden well into the night – like sometimes until close to 10PM!
In the Fall, we admire the beautiful shifting colors of the Poison Oak. Yes – poison oak! We are surrounded by mostly evergreen trees, so we take color shifts wherever we can get them. We feel the days get shorter, the cool nights give us hope. By August, our entire Fall garden has been planted, and we are just making sure they are watered and tended until the rains come. We harvest winter squash for storing. This is the time when we harvest some of my most beloved medicines: the roots and berries. We dig up Dandelion, Burdock, Echinicea, Elecampane and Oregon Grape Root. We harvest Elderberries, Hawthorne berries, and raspberries. The greenhouse is mostly empty. The woodpiles are stacked and ready to keep us warmin the Fall and Winter months.
Winter is truly the time for deep slumber here – sometimes. If the rains are rockin', we are oftentimes outside tending to the road. We live on a steep dirt road, so erosion is always on our minds here. We divert the water to the outside of the road and into creeks, we move fallen trees, rocks, and branches.
We have the wood stove rockin' most every day in Winter, so we place a big pot full of my famous Burdock Chai Tea on it and just drink away. We eat a lot more fat, so we also are sure to eat a lot of liver supporting herbs like Milk Thistle, Burdock, and Dandelion Roots. We are eating LOTS of soup, roasted vegetables, and breads – all totally loaded with immune-supporting herbs like rosemary, parsley, garlic, and thyme.
We are also catching up with friends, threshing seeds, weaving, listening to music, and reading A LOT. We plan for the Spring garden – which shows up before we know it.
Q: What are some of the lessons you have learned from growing food and making medicine?
A: Phew – that is a big question. My perspective on all of life shifted the moment I harvested my first batch of Calendulaflowers that I grew from seed. Mostly I have learned time and again about the beautiful balance of life and death. When you are in the garden, all of life is living, breathing, fighting, eating, sexing, and dying. It is wild and purposeful. That which dies can be turned into rich nutrients for that which is born. It is very profound. It's helped me look at mortality differently, but it's also served as a great metaphor for life situations. It's like George Harrison sang, “All things must pass... all things must pass away...”
I've also learned about commitment. In a very real sense, you get what you put into the garden. Some crops and herbs like beans, mints, and calendula don't need much at all and they provide you with so much. These kind of crops teach me that nature is oh so intelligent in her design! Other crops like tomatoes, root crops, and cannabis require more care such as pruning, feeding, tending, weeding, and thinning. Here I am reminded that modern day crops are different manifestations from their hardy wild ancestors. Most of the crops we grow nowadays co-evolved with us, so their design requires our care. Here I learn that commitment, devotion, and selflessness matter so much.
When I was in college for Journalism, my teacher, Brenda, shared a story that has earned permanent residence in my being:
Brenda was writing a story about a high-security prison which had implemented a garden program for their inmates. She toured the garden, met the prisoners, and interviewed the guards. When she felt complete in her research, she started to make her way out. On the way, she ran into an inmate (who was in prison for homicide) holding a tomato and looking at it in deep contemplation. Brenda asked the man what he was doing and after a deep breath he replied, “had I known how precious life was, I never would have taken one.”
Q: What plants are you growing right now?
A:It's late Summer right now, so a lot of the focus really is on the food. We are growing 8 types of tomatoes, 4 types of summer squash, 4 types of winter squash, turnips, radishes, beets, carrots, beans (green + dried), sprouting broccoli, tomatillos, and tons of lettuce, kale, chard, asian greens(such as tatsoi + bokchoy), mustard greens, and mache. Our plum and mulberry trees are winding down, but the apple, figs, and pears are just ripening. The raspberries are setting their second fruits.
Many of the medicinal herbs we grow really rock in spring-late summer, then we cut them back to a few inches off the ground so that they can come back again next year. What is left right now is Boneset, Echincea, Elecampane, Elderberries, Mullein, Burdock (going to seed), spilanthes, basil, cilantro (+some that we let go to seed to have coriander), parsley, comfrey, raspberries, fennel, and dill. We also have our kitchen herbs – thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc.
Q: Do you have hope for our future?
A:Yes, I have to. I really really have to. When you see the daffodils bloom in the Spring, unwavering in their commitment to live, you just have to. When you meet kids who are blown away that a redwood seed could produce such a massive and beautiful tree, you have to. When you hear about all of the wonderful people shifting their focus from consumption to soil, you have to.
I hope anyone reading this can understand that medicine, food, soil and water security is not the battle of a few hippies – it is the important work for people of all social and economic situations. It is the work of all religions. It is the work of all political parties. Not because “the Earth is our Mother and we should love her like one” (though I most certainly believe this is true), but because we are a species made up of organic elements that requires these things – clean water, food, soil, air – to SURVIVE. I can't think of another species who purposefully destroys that which they need to survive in exchange for something that provides absolutely nothing for them in terms of basic survival (money). Did you know that it's illegal to practice herbalism in the US? Time to get involved and make some changes.
Plant a seed. Grow soil. Meet your neighbor. Shut off your technology. The Earth is calling.
Q: What kinds of medicine do you make and how do you get it out into the world?
A: When I first began working with herbs, I didn't have a garden. I purchased everything from large, reputable companies in bulk. Then I went to Farm School at a great place in San Diego called Wild Willow Farm and I learned about two very important tings: localization + soil. Everything changed from there.
I started a garden and began to grow my herbs. As my company grew and I moved to Mendocino County, I decided to make the shift to 100% locally grown herbs. I have been amazing with how easy it was to make that shift. So my remedies are made from herbs grown by us, our local farmer friends, and the wild. We try to use as many local solvents (like olive oil and beeswax) as possible.
The main way I share my remedies nowadays is through our Community Supported Herbalism program. It's a subscription program based on the CSA model that small farms use, but we also include a teaching booklet in every box. The mission is to not only be another form of consumerism, but a form of empowerment. We also offer our teaching booklets for a sliding scale for those who are interested. Our main passion is to empower, empower, empower.
Q: What are your top 3 must read books?
A: Phew, another hard one! I'm going to focus on resources here, and pretend that fiction doesn't exist. There are a TON of great books out there that go into great detail about herbs, cultivation, and preparations. Because I have SO much to do all of the time, I tend to use books that are straightforward and clear. That's whyI wrote my booklet – The Basics of Folk Herbalism. I wanted to add to the easy reference books out there.
The book I recommend most for people interested in getting into herbs is Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide. It's her newest book, and it's really fantastic because it very simply lays out how to make herbal preparations such as herbal salves and tinctures. It also goes over 33 herbs, 9 of which are basic kitchen herbs that most everyone already has in their cupboard such as garlic, sage, and cinnamon. The other 24 are safe, effective, and easy to grow. I just love it because it is in full color, has lots of great recipes, and covers so much but never feels overwhelming. It's SUPER accessible!
My favorite book, hands down, for growing food is Frank Tozer's Vegetable Grower's Handbook. Again, I love it because of the simplicity of it. Crops are listed in alphabetical order, and he covers the basics of these crops from spacing, to timing, to pH needs, to harvesting. Each crop gets about 2-3 pages, and it is simple. A thorough reference book that doesn't feel overwhelming in the slightest. I joke that it's my gardening bible!
Lastly, I would recommend that as many people as possible read Stephen Harrod Buhner's The Lost Language of Plants.
Q: What makes for a super life?
A: Childlike joy and adoration for nature, and Sage-like reverence for all living things.