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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A new book and upcoming workshops


I am excited to launch this new book with Mary Allan as both Editor and Designer/Photographer. Mary has aded beauty and grace to the writing, it has been a pleasure to work with her 
This book is for
– The gardeners, plant lovers and plant medicine makers
– Those who offer plant focused teachings and workshops and those who attend them
– For those who wish to enhance their own health and that of their families
– For Women at all ages and stages
A knowledge basket is by its nature an offering for all
Publication date:
We should have it before Christmas, it is currently with the Printers.
Available from me at
Cost approx. $25.00 plus P&P
Also announcing a ‘Plant Immersion, Incubation and Inspiration’ Workshop in
Tasmania in February 22nd and 23rd. 2020

Held at Pindari Farm, Longford, Tasmania!

This two-day plant directed workshop is about relationship

the relationships the plants that grow around us have with us and we have with them. It is also about both our relationship with the planet. We set the scene so we can be a participant in those relationships and not just an observer.

Whether you are a gardener, plant lover, grower, herbal medicine practitioner or student. If you are interested in how to live in a wholistic relationship with the world around you. All say they are inspired and experience something they have not previously experienced?

It is Practical, Participatory, Transformational and Experiential!!

Cost #345.00 (includes onsite accommodation)

For further information or enquiries, contact Jayne on 0455379595 or

email: or via Community Apothecary FB page


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Sustainable Herbal Medicine

 Choosing plants as an option in health and healing is being ‘green’ isn’t it?

Well, actually, not in today’s world.

There is somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 medicinal plants at risk of extinction today largely due to human activities.

OTC’s (Over the Counter) Herbal Medicines are now BIG business globally but how often are the following questions asked?

  • How at risk of extinction are the plants we use – are you a small but contributory trigger for that?
  • Is growth in the whole Herbal Industry and the way it is occurring, sustainable?
  • Many of these medicines are tested on animals, should we support animal testing just to provide a mainstream reductionist ‘Evidence base’ to the plants we use? Does quoting these studies mean we support that testing?

 “I believe that knowing the plants that grow around you well, how they grow, what their requirements are, how gathering affects them, what their affinities are in the Plant/Person healing relationship, are  Conservation and Sustainable actions, much needed in today’s world”.

When we live among our local plants, watch daily their growth pattern and responses, we know just how much we can gather in the current year. We notice how different seasons affect their nature and over time how they are adapting to change.

The 4 C’s are worth remembering;

Consideration – with regard to what plants are used for medicine, where they come from and how they are gathered and prepared. Ask questions.

Choices – choosing the more locally common over what comes from elsewhere.

Care – when gathering from wild populations and how you do that.

Cultivation – wherever possible.1

WE have many local plants that are ‘Wild Crafted’ increasingly.


With an abundant plant such as Rosehips (Rosa canina), over harvesting is not really a concern. When we travel through Bannockburn, Central Otago, it is easy to think the same of the wild Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).




Last year though, I was horrified to see that harvesters had just cut out whole centres of the bush – a sure way to kill a plant. A Thyme plant should not look too different before and after gathering, a sustainable way is to thin it out.


Many come here for gathering the flowering tips of St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). If all in an area are gathered then don’t be surprised if the next year you come back to the same spot and they have disappeared. A sustainable guide is to leave the plants that are sparsely flowering – they will be stronger the next year and only to gather the full flowering tips.

Just now the gorgeous Hawthorns (Crataegus ssp) and Elders (Sambucus nigra), are in full flower. It would be difficult to imagine either becoming extinct especially as we gather flowers and berries. We do of course need to be mindful that the Elder berries are food for birds as well as us. I try to only gather flowers from higher up but leave enough for the birds later.

In your garden…

Annual herbs Gathering your own seed allows the plant to develop its own adapting qualities.

Always leave approximately 25% to seed.

Biennial We are usually gathering the roots of these plants at the end of the first growing season so leaving at least 50% to go to seed is important.

Perennial plants Depending on what part is used and how they are best propagated (either by root division or seed) will guide your gathering. Replant root crowns and rhizome pieces. 25% though is the minimum.

In the wild there are some golden rules;

♣ Don’t overharvest. Consider all beings who visit these areas.

♣ Leave an area as beautiful as you found it.

♣ Learn which plants not to gather, including endangered, overharvested and scarce plants.

♣ Teach/talk responsible wildcrafting ethics.

♣ Teach/Learn about the most prolific plants, especially the common weeds.

♣ Rescue plants from areas that are going to be developed or destroyed.

♣ Gather seeds and replant them.

♣ Encourage the use of locally common plants wisely as medicine.

♣ Wildcraft from organic gardens and farms. These places often have an abundance of medicinal plants such as dandelion, burdock, alfalfa, and red clover.

♣Leave some of the strongest and most lush plants from an area you are wildcrafting.

Adapted with thanks from;

Wildcrafting for the Practicing Herbalist

Northeast School of Botanical Medicine ,USA. by 7Song, Director

1The Biophilic Garden Connecting People, Plants and Inscape’ Viriditas Publishing. Available from

Isla runs Viriditas, Centre for Plant Directed Learning and Herbal Resource Centre and gardens, Central Otago, and offers workshops locally.

Her website has free downloads, books, workshop details and a link through to her Blog.

Documentaries: ‘Earth Whisperers Paptuanuku’ (New Zealand) and Numen (USA).

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





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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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