Before I had a chance to convey the latter half of my soulful weekend, another weekend was upon us, with equally upbeat activity. This past Saturday I happily joined the first of a two-day Michigan herb walk with Darryl Patton, a master herbalist and significant figure in the landscape of American plant medicine. Darryl is an amazing guide of the time-tested techniques and pharmacopeia of Appalachian folk remedies. He practices “a component of traditional folk medicine that embodies American self-reliance and creativity, which is still evolving today,” according to his book Mountain Medicine. This work honors his teacher Tommie Bass, one of the last of the old mountain herb doctors and an inspiration to a generation of young herbalists. "The ability of a bark, leaf, or root to transform the body in a positive manner,” says Darryl, “is a mystery that serves to daily rekindle my passion for the natural world."
Hunting, gathering and working with medicinal plants for the past 31 years on Lookout Mountain in the Southern Appalachians, Darryl made the thirteen-hour jaunt to Saugatuck with his wife Jane encouraged by his student, naturopathic doctor, and head of Ladyhawk Nutrition, our own Maggie Conklin. Maggie’s write-up for the weekend claimed our focus was on twelve herbs, six on Saturday and six on Sunday – Poke, Plantain, Mullein, Sumac, Chickweed, Yellow Dock, Squaw Vine, Bee Balm, Solomon Seal, Nettles, Joe Pye weed, and Sassafras. But once the walking encyclopedia Darryl opened up, it was a non-stop botanical schooling. We learned multiple uses for each herb, eating several and drinking herbal teas.
Part Southern gentlemen, part backwoods badass, Darryl sported a T-shirt claiming The First Rule of Gun Safety: Carry One. His pickup’s license plate read SECEDE, bordered with a Southern Cross. He taught us how to make a fire using nothing but a cotton ball and ashes, drawing from his experience as a primitive and wilderness survival expert. My Native American teacher Phil was what the Lakotas call a Wicasa Wakan, a Holy Man. But there’s another healer, the Pejuta Wicasa, the man whose expertise is in plant and herb medicine, Darryl definitely embodying the spirit of that class of Medicine Men. High class I might add, as no matter how big a deal people make of certain leaders and spiritual men, I always pay attention to how these guys treat their wives. Darryl passed my secret little test, being as sweet to Jane as a sprig of Angelica, taking her hand on each of the wooded walks. Reviewing my scrawl of endless notes – Service Berry flowers as a coolant for fevers, French Mulberry as effective a bug repellant as DEET, Bitter Herb containing more Vitamin C than a lemon, etc. etc. etc. – I’m in awe, awakened to a new awareness of the love and the medicines that surround us, as well as their ability to restore mankind to spiritual wholeness.