The Roots of Autumn 1

Autumnal Greetings from Central Otago, NZ.

March 25th, 2018

This week;

  • The first post on Autumnal Roots
  • My travels to North America and the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference
  • A link that did do quite a good coverage of what my ‘worldview’ is these days.
  • And a brief visit to a beautiful ‘Flower Power’ shop in Manhattan, NY.

The quote ‘Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ in his ‘To Autumn’ by John Keats must have taken root in my mind somehow and as the light changes so dramatically, some snow remaining on the higher mountain ranges after last weeks cold snap, mists that envelop, dissipate in the early morning warmth.  It is so beautiful.

This is indeed a time to investigate that which lies beneath, those roots that have taken hold somewhere. Roots that I am excited to be looking at and to be gathered again.

They are all so different;


The Arctium lappa, Burdock, with roots that penetrate deep within the Earth in a somewhat defined way (or should I say ‘purposeful’ way). One recent course participant saw Burdock as being the plant ‘Buddha’, solid, stable, present, commanding, all knowing, bringing insight’. I think now on reflection that it does exactly that when the ‘Healing Relationship’ is respected. It is not about how the plant can be used for this or that condition but more what it is about in its world that we can learn from.

That is a shift!

Burdock has a short life, 2 growing seasons depending when it germinates, if late in one it may extend into a third season, flower, spread abundant seeds and die. The roots however are best at the end of a full growing season, not when it develops its flowering head. And what nourishment they offer.

I make sure the ‘mother plant’ expresses herself fully, spreads abundant seeds and equally abundant new plants.   I also leave plenty to seed the next season.

Burdock is one of the plants I included in ‘The Biophilic Garden. Connecting People, Plants and Inscape’.

I made a delicious Burdock soup from young roots this year that germinated outside my door.

I slice and cook them in a little water with a diced potato.

In a separate pot, sauté onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, all in small pieces in a little olive oil until starting to brown. Cover well with hot water. Add the cooked Burdock, 1 tbsp of Tomato puree, salt and pepper and a chilli. If I have the rind of Parmesan I will add that as well.

 I add a chopped bunch of parsley, some dried Thyme and a few sprigs of Seaweed at this point – Nori types or in NZ ‘Karengo or Parengo’. This is such good ‘Food as Medicine’ not to mention delicious.

More roots next week.


♣ I will be teaching a 3 day ‘Plant Immersion, Incubation and Inspiration’ prior to the Mid-West Woman’s Herbal Conference at Camp Helen Blackman, Wisconsin.

♣ I will also be presenting a keynote at that Conference on ‘The Plant/Person Relationship’, (stories, experiences and insights), a couple of mornings engaging the plant world at sunrise and a slightly different take on Case note taking as a Practitioner.

I hope you can join what is an amazing Conference for women of all ages and stages.

♣ I was delighted to be interviewed by the Women’s Liberation Radio News as a part of the Conference.

That interview can be listened to here;
Flower Power A perfect name for a great shop in New York. I will be there briefly – exact time to be confirmed. Check with Lata

Lastly I would like to take this opportunity to say how much I am looking forward to ‘Tulsi Queen of Herbs’ by Tish Streeten and her team. Tish is the film biographer of the grand mother of many of us, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, called ‘Juliette of the Herbs’. This next film is of a different kind, of the Plant ‘Tulsi’ the sacred basil.


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Stunning Salvias


This week I had the pleasure of having an ½ hour ‘chat’ with Susun S. Weed on the Wise Woman Radio. You can listen to that on

The workshops I offer here in Central Otago, New Zealand, (at Viriditas Centre for Plant Directed learning, Herbal Resources and Gardens) are underway and full. I am taking expressions of interest for ‘The Traditions, Art and Science of Herbal Medicine’ beginning October 2019 and the 5 day ‘Plant Immersion Retreat’ in January 2020.

It will be a pleasure to have Linda Conroy of   USA, share this retreat with the group in 2019. A Wise and knowledgeable Herbalist, great cheesemaker, expert on vegetable ferments, and on responsible/ethical wild gathering of food and medicines.

I have added some new FREE downloads onto my website under ‘Resources’.

***Also new***

I am welcoming several new Salvias into my garden this Spring.


Salvia multiorrhiza Dan Shen

Salvia off ‘Grete Stolzle’  (From Cromwell Polytech)

Salvia divinorum Divine sage

These are being added to the already much respected

Salvia officinalis (local ssp) Green Sage. I call it the Miners Sage as it is said they brought it to Central Otago along with the Thyme.

Salvia off. purpurea Purple sage

Salvia sclarea  Large leafed Clary Sage

Salvia apiana White desert sage or sacred sage


I love these hardy, easily grown, pungent and beautiful plants.

A more generalised view of their ‘affinities’ (see below for an explanation), would be that they are all protective in some way.

From the mental/emotional/spiritual protection triggered by the Salvia divinorum and Salvia apiana to the antioxidant effects of  Salvia multiorrhiza, Salvia officinalis,

Salvia off. purpurea and the skin protection  offered by Salvia sclarea , they all have anti-microbial activity as well.

More specifically, there is not a system in the body that Salvia multiorrhiza doesn’t have some affect on including the reproductive system.

As with Salvia officinalis the S. multiorrhiza has been said to trigger oestrogen receptors. Could be useful for women going through Menopause although I have not read that specifically (its well documented use to reduce Blood Pressure and Palpitations, improve circulation to the brain and support liver function could also be useful here).

This is my plant to focus on this year, I watch it every day, draw it,  look forward to living with it, getting to know ‘who’ it is and what it is about. Getting to know its ‘wholeness’ its ‘affinities’ its ‘Mauri’.

Affinities…I am now using this term instead of actions. I believe that describing a plant’s actions is akin to how we see Pharmaceutical drugs and their effects, the ‘this plant does that…’ A plant is a hugely complex being, diverse in the way it works when we use as medicine. Affinities therefore, better describes its ‘wholeness’.

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Artemisia vulgaris

Today I cut back the Artemisia vulgaris, I have waited until the new growth is well established. Cutting out the old will give the new growth more space, more light – a good reminder to shed some of the old habits, the old ways of thinking, allowing for the expansion of the new. Gosh it must be Spring.



Sipping a cup of Artemisia vulgaris infusion later that day (1 tsp of chopped fresh leaves in a cup of near boiling water and covered for 5 mins), I reflect on the times it has powerfully affected  and influenced me, others, clinical patients and a whole workshop.

Many of those stories are yet to be told in another format but the following is one of them;

Many years ago Linda Conroy  and I spent the day in the Korean Women’s Health Spa in Seattle, USA. What an amazing place to spend a day.

From hot pools to icy cold waterfall, to wet sauna and dry sauna’s, to warm mud and sand rooms and clay rooms, a dipping pool, all are imbued with infusions of Artemisia ssp.

The body treatment was nothing like I had ever experienced. The Korean body scrubbers were exactly that. Those layers scrubbed off and the skin sloshed over with the infused Artemisia waters left me with an unusual openness to the world.

I like to make those infused waters with which to slosh over the body at the end of a shower. (Make it like a cup of infusion).

Artemisia, in my experience gives strength and direction to women and yet appears to ‘soften’ men.

One thing for sure is this plant should be treated with respect at all times. Or it is a reminder that ALL plants should be treated with respect at all times. Artemisia is just a little more up front about it and a reminder that actions have consequences. Even in the plant world!

My mind is also full with the next courses beginning here at ‘Viriditas’ in October/November. WE cover respectful, sustainable gathering and growing in practice.

There is a ‘wild crafting’ interest being promoted around the world and yes, this is in opposition I think, to the ‘Big Pharma’ infiltration into the marketing of Herbal Medicines and the huge profits being made at a plant’s expense.

BUT and this is a BIG BUT – unless we gather/grow sustainably to be able to gather with respect from wild populations, we will destroy those as well.

That will be the topic of my next Blog.

This is being posted on September 30th. The Artemisia has grown visibly over the last few days.


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Winter or Spring and the Women’s Garden

This week in Central Otago, NZ,  it was both. Beautiful vistas yet the blossoms that persisted through the cold days are also beautiful. I admired their fragility and stamina.

What I am drawn to though are the equally persistent tiny flowers of the winter medicinal plants; the Miner’s Lettuce, the Chickweed, the Rocket, the annual Nettle and the Fumitory.

This week, the Dandelions in the tunnel house are in full flower as is the land Cress in the courtyard, the next generation Burdock seedlings are emerging, the Horseradish and perennial Nettles growing daily. I have never had Rosemary’s both upright and prostrate, flower like they are this early spring. Many perennial species are also appearing – Golden Rod, Arnica, Yarrow – I see the greater Celandine is about to flower.


What excites me to get down to the garden each day is the ‘Women’s Garden’.  The early Pulsatilla (Pasque flower) is in full flower, Black Cohosh as I mentioned in the last post is looking robust, Peonies are budding, the Blood root is just emerging with its intricate enfolding of the young leaves as if to protect each other. A somewhat phallic shaped flower bud appears – apologies for it being blurred.


Violets find the winter harsh but start to grow again now. Autumn, a course participant from last year placed a beautiful ‘circle of women’ clay figurine here before she left. I remember well her and the group in that garden on their last day.


This is not only a garden of medicinal plants that have an affinity for women’s health (there is Vitex, Lavender, Ceonothus and Uva ursi as well as the plants included above) but also includes plants that remind me of (or have been given to me by) women in my life (Lily of the Valley – my mother, Cistus – my Aunty Eileen, Autumn Crocuses – given by my sister Elaine, flag irises – my friends Karen and Leonie, the Baptisia and Monkshood from Linda’s garden. I think of you all when I am with those flowers. It is this day that I am writing, that we celebrate the anniversary of women getting the vote in NZ, the first in the world, to celebrate that with a Women’s Garden seems appropriate somehow.

This is not a directly medicinal connection but a friend and colleague Kate, gave me a Phaleonopsis orchid several years ago, today it flowers for the fourth time  and gives me so much pleasure.

I am not particularly keen on the gifting of cut flowers. It cuts off their life, halts them in their way of being in the world, but the gifting of growing live plants – that is a different story.

That is the Women’s garden, for healing, for remembering and most of all for each plant’s astonishing beauty.

Look to the second volume of ‘A Treasure Chest….’ Free now on

I still have two spaces available for the 6 month, one weekend a month course that begins in mid October. The Retreat is full but people are expressing interest for 2020. Plant Immersion Two is also full and there are a couple of places left for anyone interested in participating in ROLAND PLAYLE’s workshop on ‘Collaborative Process in Clinical Practice’.

Please contact me if interested.








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Early Spring, Collaborative Process and an ABC of Herbal Medicine

The bees arrived in the much earlier than usual apricot blossoming this week. The first of the petticoat daffodils are out and an early plum opened its first flower to the world today. I am excited to see a robust Black Cohosh and Monkshood emerging and the first of the Paeonia shoots appear as though they are unfolding from the Earth itself.

There is a lot happening at ‘Viriditas’ on ground and on the website.

***Free Downloads***

I hear from people that they are enjoying the Superweeds, Superfoods and the ABC of Grassroots Herbal Medicine available on International College of Herbal Medicine – Resources 

This week I have loaded A Treasure Chest of Herbal Recipes Volume 1 for External Preparations. The Volume 2 will follow.

This treasure chest includes a range of innovative and unique ways of using plants as medicines. They were ideas from creative Herbal Medicine students over 10 years at the Waikato Centre for Herbal Studies, Cambridge, New Zealand. It is an invaluable resource.

Another invaluable offering is a workshop at ‘Viriditas’ on;

Collaborative process – Changing the healing relationship


What defines us as Natural health Practitioners? How can we work differently? Is it more ‘holistic’?

A Collaborative Process does change the relationship where the patient plays a more pro-active role. Currently most practitioners work across the ‘Paternalistic, Autonomous and/or Shared decision making ’ models. (See Chart below). The collaborative decision making model allows for a shift in both process and context.

Roland Playle and I have been co-facilitators of workshops in both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. We are now combining our skills and experience to apply this different way of working as a health practitioner.

Roland is a facilitator specializing in promoting whole-system approaches. His work focuses on stimulating ways of perceiving and thinking that combine detailed observation, intuition and imagination. He has a background in research into wild flowers and their relationship to humans (such as medicinal uses and folklore) and to their intricate participation in their landscapes.

This workshop will reconsider the role and practice of a ‘holistic’ practitioner and the patient-healer relationship. Participants will work to recognise the limitations of the standard diagnostic consultation approach of causality, and to consider how consultations can be organized to value the subtleties that honour the whole-person as well as the relationship between patient and healer.

If interested, participants could stay through Monday for wild gathering of the Central Otago Thyme for their own use. 

Clinical decision making models.

Model for Patient / Practitioner interaction

Practitioner’s Role

Patient’s Role

Knowledge flow





One-way knowledge transfer (practitioner to patient)

Compliance of patient to practitioner




One-way knowledge transfer (patient to practitioner)

Compliance of practitioner to patient

Shared decision making



Two-way knowledge exchange

Collaborative decision making



Knowledge building that goes beyond clinical issues (shared learning by information exchange)

A participatory process centred on patent’s health’ (involving patient and physician).

Cost to include lunches will be $460.00 incl GST.

Location; Viriditas Herbal Resource Centre and Gardens. (Central Otago)

For more information or to register for this workshop, Please contact;

Isla Burgess
Viriditas, Centre for Plant Directed Learning and Herbal Resource Centre
128A Willowbank Rd
Rd3 Cromwell 9383, New Zealand, 0210552400,

About Roland Playle MSc.

Roland Playle is a practitioner of Holistic Science. He has spent many years researching and working with participatory processes that aim to broaden perception.  Alan Kaplan  (Reading the nature of process from a process of nature- South Africa), and the late Dr Margaret Colquhoun, Scotland)  and Dr Craig Holdrege of the Nature Institute (US) have been some of his teachers. He is a tutor on the Schumacher College (UK) Holistic Science programme and currently lives and works in Scotland.

About Isla Burgess MSc Dip Tchg, Dip HM. FNZAMH. (Viriditas, Centre for Plant Directed Learning and Resource Centre)

I have been working on the idea of Collaborative Process in clinical practice for a while now. Roland is more skilled with the application of this process that is now finding its way through project development and even into mainstream medicine.
It is more than 40 years since I began my life long journey into the complex world of medicinal plants and an unopened packet of seeds stills thrills me with delight.
I also delight creating situations where others can experience this world.
Presentations include Conferences NZ, Australia, US, Canada
Documentaries: ‘Earth Whisperers Paptuanuku’ (New Zealand) and Numen (USA).

Books: ‘Weeds Heal. A Working Herbal’. ‘The Biophilic Garden. Connecting People, Plants and Inscape’.

Websites  Blog






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Viriditas in August con’t

It is August 20th, 2018

I am so grateful for all the Blogs I wrote, they are reminders of the perceiving and deepening reflections I have had over the last few years. Some re-appeared in The Biophilic Garden Connecting People, Plants and Inscape, a book published by ‘Viriditas’ last year, but on a re-read there is more, so much more. (The Biophilic Garden is available through my website

I realise that we perceive the world differently each year because we are different, so in a way I don’t want to read what I wrote last year or the year before but focus on what is happening today this moment this time, what I see NOW.

Today a quiet rain falls, it has a gentling energy on me and encourages me to re-visit a part of this land I seldom visit but wrote about it in ‘The Biophilic Garden’.

It is a rock garden, steep, south facing, even a little scary. I look into an abyss of rocks and Kanuka with an understory wild Comprosmas and Rosehips. There is so much more when we look more deeply into the Lichens but more amazingly how the wild nettles Urtica urens is finding its place on this land.

This post I am going to discuss the greens we find in winter.


This winter in Central Otago, while it has been cold and there have been a number of ‘inversion layer’ days, there hasn’t been the days of extreme hoar frost I experienced in my first winter here. Those frosts can be so damaging.  Greens, such as Rocket (Eruca sativa), Miners lettuce, (Claytonia perfoliata ), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum ??? ssp?), French sorrel (likely Rumex acetosa), Puha – Sow thistles, (Sonchus oleracea), Land cress (Barbarea verna) and even Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)  have survived well. Sheeps Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa –pastoris ), the latter in its early growth, can also be found.



In the vegetable garden, the cabbage tree Kale (Cavalo nero) is spectacular and the Silver beet – OK. I planted Spinach in the tunnel house and Sprouting Broccoli both in that and outside. The spinach is great, the Sprouting Broccoli, yet to sprout. I also tried a few Brussel Sprouts and while they are dwarf variety I have had a few meals.

The local Thyme, Sage and Rosemary add to this range to prepare a fine ‘Winter Green Pesto’. I don’t use Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) much in food but a couple of leaves are included here.

The Winter Green Pesto…

One small bunch each of  Puha leaves (Sonchus oleracea), Dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinalis), Rocket leaves (Eruca sativa) and  Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum).

For the following, the important thing is to use a few sprigs or leaves of each.

  • 2 Yarrow leaves (Achillea millefolium)
  • A few Shepherd’s Purse leaves (Capsella bursa pastoris)
  • A few leaves of Sheeps Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) or French Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
  • A small bunch of Chickweed (Stellaria media)
  • A couple of Silver beet or Kale leaves
  • A small amount of Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Rosemary (Rosemarinus off.) and Sage (Salvia off).
  • 1 clove of garlic.

To this I added approx ¼ cup each of organic apple cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and ½ cup lightly roasted sunflower seeds a little salt and pepper. Then process to a paste.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe above list can be added to or some of it can be left out. If you include another plant, taste it first. Start with a small amount.

This is a great addition to pasta dishes, to spreads, to crackers and cheese. No matter what I include I am always amazed at how it turns out.

The whole is not only more than the sum of its parts but each part (i.e. each taste) IS the whole”.

So I guess this is a holographic effect applied to taste.

It takes a long time to get to ‘know’ each of the above plants well. That is the focus of ‘The Traditions, Art and Science of Herbal Medicine’ course starting October. There are a couple of spaces left for this 6 month, one weekend a month course. For more info go to  and courses.

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Viriditas in August

The Centre for Plant Directed Learning

With Isla Burgess

It is beginning to feel like early Spring in this wild land, a Thrush sitting at the top of a tree sings a diverse range of different songs, the stream’s music is as diverse and I am enveloped by both.

The Miners lettuce in full flower draws me into itself and the abundant chickweed in the Tunnel House makes me smile. It is the Chickweed that is the focus of this post. The photo is below with Miners Lettuce underneath.

DSC_0266 (2)mms_img1222788409 (3)

I have uploaded a 36 page booklet called ‘Superfoods and Superweeds and the ABC of Greenroots Medicine’, it could also be called ‘Staying Healthy in a Changing World’ that I wrote sometime ago and you can access for free.

Superweeds, Superherbs, Superfoods and the ABC of Greenroots Medicine By Isla Burgess is a  small handbook, big on information and ideas including;

  • Edible common weeds
  • Food list for emergencies
  • Your herbal emergency kit
  • Health facts and fallacies
  • See below for how to access this.

At Viriditas

There are approx 150 medicinal plants growing on this land now and there is so much to know about each one.

Being a Participant in the The Traditions, Art and Science of Herbal Medicine’ Course run over one weekend a month for 6 months is an invaluable way to learn about some of the plants that grow well here.

It is …unique participatory, grass roots, immensely practical course that is a combination of knowledge and wisdom gained over 40 years exploration of the plants we use as medicine.

For details See

An excerpt on Chickweed from ‘Superfoods and Superweeds and the ABC of Greenroots Medicine

Stellaria media – About Chickweed

You cannot intimately study the plant world without being amazed by the sensual, sexual and extravagant nature of each plant. Wild plants have this and all that ‘wild energy’ adds to our health and wellbeing when we eat them.  Chickweed has this in excess with an abundance of vitamins, minerals and some sensual saponins. It is no ‘hot chick’, though, but cool and laidback.

Where to look for it? In damp, shady places, mostly growing in the cooler months.

Identifying features that distinguish it from similar looking plants:

♦ small, white flowers, deeply indented to look like 10 petals.

♦ a fine line of hairs along one side of each segment; it changes position on the next segment.

♦ the stems are brittle, but a break reveals a strong inner cord.

♦ leaves are moist and oval shaped.

Main Nutrients – The plant contains:

♦ Minerals – iron, copper, calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc.

♦Vitamins A, B complex, C (excellent source) and D.

Main Plant Chemicals (Phytochemicals)

Contains saponins, which are very important chemicals, with a range of actions, such as reducing inflammation and itch. It is invaluable for a range of skin conditions, (see the medicine section). Some folk references say that it is a male tonic, which is not surprising given its zinc content. In all hormone receptors, there is a ‘zinc finger’ at the core. It is important for both ovarian and testicular function.

Seeds – These are produced in abundance and would have some nutritional benefit.

The above is one facet of the plant’s wholeness, in this small plant their is so much to know.

 The whole booklet can be downloaded from;

Workshops at Viriditas

You will find all the other workshops for the 2018/19 season under

***Plant Immersion, Incubation and Inspiration a 5 day retreat in January

Practical, Participatory, Transformational, Experiential

***Therapeutic Issues in Women’s Health 1-3 A distance learning course in three separate parts.

The teenage experience, the menstruating mysteries, the menopausal mayhem and ageing challenges. What amazing depth and detail there is to discover about a woman’s life. That takes more time than most courses I have seen, offer.

***One off Event at Viriditas***

Collaborative process Inquiry – Changing the healing relationship With Roland Playle and Isla Burgess

This is a Participatory process. Workshop  date  November 17.18th 2018.




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Althaea officinalis, the Marshmallow con’t


More on Althaea officinalis, the Marshmallow.


I meant to write more on how to prepare a ‘Cold Water Infusion’. My last post on Marshmallow root didn’t cover this.


Cold water infusions are particularly useful for extracting Mucilage, the constituent that gives some plants a slimy feel. They are best made from fresh plants. If I need the extract quickly it is OK to grate the fresh root, cover with cold water and bring slowly to a simmer point then turn off the heat. Cold water infusions take a longer time – several hours, but best left overnight.


Cold water extract of Marshmallow root.


Grate 1 cupful of fresh root. Just cover with cold water and set aside overnight.


It is thought that we don’t digest this mucilage but it does act topically and can have an effect via nervous reflex. For example it acts topically to soothe the stomach lining and reflexly to soothe the lungs.


I also use the flowers and leaves in salads, they too have this soothing action.


Further opportunities

♣I will be at the ‘Flower Power Herbs and Roots’ shop at 406 East 9th Street in New York on June 6th at

WE will be ‘Thinking, Feeling, Sensing and Intuiting’ our way around the complex realm of the bitter plants. I hope a few of you can join me. I will also be signing books.


♣The Traditions, Art and Science of Herbal Medicine, a 6 month, one weekend a month course, here at Viriditas will begin again in October 2018. I am following on from that with a series of ‘Plant Immersions’ held over 4 weekends for those interested in deepening their relationship with Plants and Inscape. (Full for 2018)


It is cold here today, maybe even snow tonight, so my warm regards to you all.


Viriditas, Plant Directed Learning and Herbal Resource Centre



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