The International Herb Symposium is committed to creating a welcoming, engaging and inclusive gathering that represents and honors the diverse and varied traditions present in herbalism. We come together in honor of the plants and in the spirit of respect and reciprocity to share and learn from one another. By coming together in this way, we strive to create local and global communities dedicated to healing and caretaking the Earth and all beings.
As we collectively dream this new world into being, we must remember to include all aspects of creation in our dreams. Then we must hold that vision in sacred space, with gentleness and reverence, and slowly breathe life into it it, so that the coming generations can walk into that world and enjoy the same right to life that we have been given by our ancestors.— SHERRI MITCHELL
~ All people are welcome at the International Herb Symposium ~
People of all racial identities, national or ethnic origins, ancestries, ages, religions or religious creeds, abilities, sexual orientations, gender & non-gender conforming identities, skin colors, and body sizes are joyfully invited to this gathering.
Founded by Rosemary Gladstar in 1991, the IHS brings together plant lovers & herbalists from around the world, representing many traditions and aspects of herbalism: folkloric, scientific, community outreach & therapeutic applications, farming and gardening, ceremonial and plant spirit teachings and many others. Hosted biennially, the Symposium also places a special emphasis on medicinal plant conservation and is held as a benefit conference for United Plant Savers, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of medicinal plants. We believe that by gathering in the spirit of the green, we can expand our communities, both locally and globally, creating a “mycorrhizal network” that helps to increase individual and planetary healing.
Held on the on the lands of the Sovereign Wampanoag Nation, at a small college campus located near Boston, Massachusetts, Wheaton College has all the amenities of a large campus. Its rural setting and beautiful old buildings add a special charm, grace and an interesting touch of academia to the symposium.
It seems that as one begins to study herbs, the plant’s essence infuses one’s entire life with joy. People become happier, healthier, more in balance and in tune with their inner dreams. The beauty of the herbs work their gentle magic on the heart of the user.— ROSEMARY GLADSTAR
From Little Acorns: A History of United Plant Savers by Ann Armbrecht
UpS was founded with an 8 by 11 flier that said, “Join United Plant Savers, an organization dedicated to the preservation of native medicinal plants ” and was distributed at the 4th International Herb Symposium. “UpS wasn’t anything at the time,” Rosemary Gladstar said. “It was just a piece of paper. But I got a tremendous response and so I knew I had to do something.”
At that conference in 1994, Rosemary called together a group of individuals to talk about whether others were concerned about the health of native medicinal plant populations and, if so, what should be done. “It was really an eclectic group of people,” Rosemary remembered. “In fact, several people told me there was no way it would work because there was too much diversity. We had large manufacturers as well as small home businesses, wildcrafters and farmers, as well as people representing big industry. But the diversity worked. People came together in a very heartful way. They were all very committed. We found that people had been asking this question; they were already concerned. And with this concern, they brought this heartfulness and that was the key.”
“Whenever we got into areas that were more conflicted, around whether or not to oppose wildcrafting or the pros and cons of big business, we would always be able to come back to the point that our primary concern was the plants. As long as we kept that as our focus, we’d be guided. And that really has been our guiding focus.”
“As we went around at that first meeting it became very clear that this was a problem. Our discussion was very non-scientific. We got a lot of criticism from the scientific community, which is valid – we didn’t have scientific rigor. But what we did have was personal contact coming from lots of individuals and long-term contact, people who had been out there for thirty years noticing that plant communities were not as vital as they had been.”
A year later the group met again the day after the Green Nations gathering. Pam Montgomery remembered, “It was an exciting time. I can picture the whole scene, a sunny spot in the Catskill Mountains and I remember being very inspired by the idea that we could actually participate in doing something about conservation of plants before it got to be a real problem.”
“It often seems that concerns come in through the back door, only after you realize something is already gone, when it is already too late. Our idea was to look at this now when we really had a chance to do something and make an impact. It was really exciting to think that we were doing this in a way that might be new and different.”
The group decided that UpS should focus on educating people about plants and the pressures from loss of habitat,
over-harvesting, and market demand. They decided to look for ways to support the sustainable harvesting of herbs rather than call for a moratorium on wildcrafting.
“In the beginning when we made this announcement, there was a lot of nervousness about what we were doing. We were talking about how people made their livelihood and we had to make sure we weren’t perceived as a threat. Most people involved in the herbal world are there because of an interest in herbs, not necessarily because they are interested in conservation. And many people who had herb programs also sold herbs, so they didn’t really want to raise questions about conservation. So UpS had to be very thoughtful as we wanted to include people who were involved in all aspects of the herbal world, not just those interested in cultivating and conserving herbs.”
“We kept saying no, this isn’t about ‘not wildcrafting’, that’s one of our great arts as herbalists,” Rosemary continued. “We kept pointing out that there were several hundred species that weren’t on this list, that were tenacious weeds and that weren’t threatened. We did ask the herbal and manufacturing community to realize that it was very bad business practice to pull up the things you
herbalism and herbalism as we understand it in the world is really based on what the plants can do for us. We’re a very self-centered community/species because we are very young. You know with babies, it’s all about what they depend on for your business. But it’s deeper than just being bad business. It’s not ethical. That’s really the bottom line of it. So it wasn’t really about not wildcrafting, it was about identifying plants that were sensitive that we needed to be mindful of for their sake as much as our own.”
In bringing attention to the health of particular plants, UpS highlights the fact that the plants aren’t just here for humans. Rosemary said, “We talked about the need to preserve the plants for the plants’ sake because other species of plants needed them, other insects and animals needed them. I would say that American can get and what they can eat and the toys they can have. It takes a lot of maturity, a maturity that the human species is still working toward, to see that we’re here to give out as much as we receive.”
“And so I think that what’s happened is the herbal community has matured and is now considering what can we give back? And our first calling was to go to the plants directly.”
Rosemary paused and then continued, “I once had a dream of when the earth was forming, how it all came out of stardust in the cosmos, I could see the gardens actually being formed, watching these creatures evolve and how they became the gardeners and then over time how they always come back in force, whenever the gardens are in danger. And one of the things I see right now is that there is a strong plant community of herbalists and botanists and scientists and healers, from all over, shamans, native medicine people, who are all uniting right now. And I think it’s because the gardens are calling out, calling us back to life, maybe from the stars again or wherever it is that energy rests, calling us back to take care of what we love.”
“And in a way, we’ve kind of solidified that into United Plant Savers.”
Ann is a cultural anthropologist (Ph.D., Harvard 1995) and is currently on the faculty at Goddard College. She has written several books, including Settlements of Hope: An Account of Tibetan Refugees in Nepal, a book manuscript, Thin Places: An American Pilgrimage, and numerous articles for scholarly and more popular journals. A Sage Mountain herb studies graduate, Ann lives in Vermont with her young family.