Guest post: Harm reduction and the community herbalist


INTRO–Hi, readers! welcome to the first ever FWF guest post.-Traci

Harm Reduction and Herbalism

By Rippy, herbalist and owner of Riptide Herbs

*This is based on my experiences in the field. I would like to state that there are many methods and principles out there that work for folks; these are some that have resonated with me as a community herbalist*


The Principles of Harm Reduction are most often applied to folks who misuse substances.  However, these principles can also be applied to interfacing with folks in general. What brought me to this topic has been my own work with active drug users and folks who have misused drugs in the past.  Illicit drug use is commonly associated with drugs like heroin, meth and crack, but it’s important for us to think about drug misuse happening with prescription and non-prescription drugs as well. I think this is an important caveat as with the recent opioid epidemic and health crisis in New England (and other areas)– often times the misuse has started with prescription drugs. If you want to read more about this please check resources listed below.


The Principles of Harm Reduction as distilled from The Harm Reduction


“A set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences…Harm Reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies…to meet [folks]“where they’re at”. Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies are designed to reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction.”


The Harm Reduction Coalition has come up with these evolving principles:

Work to minimize harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them

  • Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being-as the criteria for successful interventions
  • Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people
  • Ensures that folks have a real voice in the creation of programs (protocols) designed to serve them
  • Affirms folks themselves as the primary agents, Seeks to empower folks to share information and support each other
  • Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other inequalities effect both people’s vulnerabilities to and capacity for effectively dealing with their health


How can these principles be applied to Herbalism?


  • Let us broaden our scopes, suggest that any momentum, movement, is good and implement a client-focused model.
  • Let us adhere to the notion that folks coming to us are knowledgeable about their bodies.
  • I often hear conversations about accessibility, especially when applied to the sliding scale model. Instead, I want to hear conversations about approachability. Let us ask ourselves, how do we as herbalists make herbs “approachable?”


My thinking is that most folks do not want to hear everything they have to cut out of their life; everything they have to give up and stop doing. Often I hear the rhetoric of “no alcohol, no sugar, no coffee, no grains, no wheat, no fun? Let us NOT draw a hard line. The first step to bridge the gap, rather, should be how to use food as medicine, and how to integrate herbs (especially with no contraindications) into a person’s CURRENT lifestyle.


I want to encourage herbalists to meet folks “where they’re at” while remaining aware of their own internal biases and dialogue and applying the principle of cultural humility. Cultural humility is the idea that one’s cultural lens and perspective is not superior to another’s, just different.  Cultural humility allows us to approach cross-cultural situations with a humble attitude and to have an openness to the reality of others.  Cultural humility is sometimes referred to as cultural competency. However, ‘competency’ has weight and gravity; that we are finished; that we have learned. It’s never learned as in complete/competent—it’s a lifelong learning process (Tervalon, Murray-Garcia, p 118).


A part of this process has been learning from the folks I interface with daily, in a polluted city, with limited resources. I work with folks who are living on the street, not sleeping, not eating, living with co-occurring infections, misusing substances and facing limited resources and socio economic barriers that include classism, racism, sexism etc.


Question: When folks are going through active withdrawal from opiates, will they listen to your opinion on what they should do and what they shouldn’t do? Will they listen to you if you tell them how to live their life?  Hell no!  Folks are attempting to manage their life in the best way they know how.


Instead, harm reduction can come in many forms. It can come in the form of a cup of tea, a sweetened cold brew, ramen noodles with some freeze dried shitake mushrooms, creams to help with track mark scars, ginger chew candies to help with nausea.  It’s important to offer options, a smorgasbord, and encourage folks to try different options and experiment.  Ultimately, it will be their choice to take it or leave it and I encourage folks to do so and experiment. I encourage herbalists to think about these principles and ideas and experiment with integrating it into their own practice.


Below is a list of resources that I have found helpful and inspiring:


  • The Harm Reduction webpage including the Guide to Getting off Right and Harm Reduction Newsletters specifically Witch’s Brew articles that feature herbal remedies
  • Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari
  • Chasing Heroin, Frontline Documentary, PBS
  • Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education by Tervalon, M, & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 9, 117-125.
  • Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa, Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating by Stephen Bratman
  • Donna Odierna, herbalists, MPH, Harm Reduction, Herbalism and Needle Exchange
  • Motivational Interviewing, read about it, go to trainings


Questions or comments? Please contact Rippy at:

What does sex-positive herbalism look like?

“To get mired in the dirt is to miss the exaltation.”-Jane and Michael Stern, Elvis World

“Maybe a little dirt, though.”-me

I’ve been thinking on sex in herbalism for years now, observing how we talk about it, and well, it’s an awkward subject that can be hard to discuss. But I think we have reached a moment, culturally, that is ready. We are experiencing the growing pains of a third wave of herbalism and it feels to me like a time of change.

I’d like us to ask, collectively and individually, what does sex-positivity look like within the world of herbalism? How will we participate in this change if we don’t know what it looks like? What are we doing to create and promote and maintain a culture that supports our own and others’ sexual wellness? How are we examining ourselves–  our attitudes  and our words to co-create something better than what came before us?


So, to get the conversation started, here are a few sparks:

–What does it mean to be a sex-positive herbalist?–

Body Positive: we can start by assuming that ALL bodies are potentially sexual bodies. Fat bodies, skinny bodies, old bodies, younger bodies, able bodies, less able bodies, ill bodies, well bodies, queer bodies, poor bodies, marginalized bodies all hold the seed of a sexual self. When we deny another’s sexuality, we deny their humanity

Consent: promote and support consent and the right to sexual agency for all persons.  Make a point to mention consent in the context of a class or discussion of sexuality-that we all have the right to give it, or not, and the responsibility to seek it. There are some areas where consent is a grey area, such as people experiencing certain physical or mental health challenges, such as dementia for example, and there is no reason to shy away from learning about the complex ethical discussions happening around this

Sexual Health IS health. It’s not a secret, and it doesn’t need to hide in dark places. We do not need to separate sexual health from a “normal” class, educational curriculum or a “regular” intake. Integrating discussions about sexuality and wellness, normalizing words that refer to stigmatized body parts and acts, and just generally acting like the world won’t end if we talk about sexual subjects are all ways to help create conversation

Masturbation IS sex. When we talk about sex, that can include all types of sex, and sex alone is just one of those types. It’s been linked to sin, hell, moral repugnance, inability to find a partner and “self-pollution”, all of which are total bullshit myths that need to die. Masturbation is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, a fantasy life is a valid human need, and there is no need to perpetuate shame around either

Shame. And while we are on the shame train, let’s let go of all sexual shaming. Don’t judge or shame others’ pleasure at all, unless it is causing harm to another

-As for harm, let’s try to understand sexual and physical trauma and the issues around that which can contribute to physical and emotional pain. Trauma-informed herbalism means, very basically, that we acknowledge that trauma is real and that we are open to listening/supporting around it. So you can just say that to people.

– Pay attention to power dynamics. Teacher/student, healer/client, expert/seeker, male/female, and so forth–there is a lot of potential within our community to misuse our position. It is important to be ethical in our boundaries and power dynamics.

Stop selling products that exploit sexual problems and body issues. Stop misunderstanding the mechanics of sexuality, and promoting so-called aphrodisiacs. Stop calling it a “men’s herb” or a “women’s herb”. Stop offering easy answers to complex social issues like romantic love, intimacy, body composition, the stress response, and rock-hard erections for 3 easy payments of 19.99. Please

Include, include, include. If our sex positive culture doesn’t include everyone, it’s crap. If it doesn’t include ALL bodies, it’s useless. My liberation is useless if it excludes you, and the opposite is also true.  Not all groups are treated equally by alternative health culture. For example, I’ve seen a streak of anti-trans “Activism” within the wider herbalist culture, and, let’s call it what it is: hate. We can all help to expose the limits of the gender binary and support the rights of ALL persons to gender identity, sexual self-definition and full-spectrum expression.

Reproductive rights exist. We need to support others’ choices to do what is best for themselves. That is all.

Harm-reduction approach. There are people who engage in sexual–or otherwise–practices that are known to be risky. There are dangers inherent in the sharing of bodily fluids and challenges involved in navigating intimate acts out in the world. And there are also rewards. But we can provide information in a straightforward way to promote safer sex and safer choices, that also lets people know that we respect their humanity, no matter how they choose to get off.

Drop the assumptions that others want what we want.  We aren’t the gatekeepers of sexuality, of desire, of womanhood or manhood, of what bodies should be or should like. I’ve noticed that some herb books/blogs/etc suggest that we ALL want sacred sex, soft music, “a clean body”, penis-vagina-only sex, straight sex, 4-hour-tantric-whatever, romance, monogamy, a giant erection, lots of cinnamon. Maybe we can actively challenge this paradigm when we are presenting our own classes/pieces of writing/advice around sex. Guess what, some people want a spanking.        IMG_0574

So let’s  make room in our views for other peoples’ lived experiences. Other peoples’ rich fantasy lives. Other peoples’ kinks and toys and means of expression.

It is OK for us to talk back to those who are sex-negative and body-negative, those who seek to shut sexuality down or tuck it away in a creepy little  box. It only enriches us all, over time, to create the space for exchange to happen around sexuality, to be an ally and an advocate for ALL of our  (consensual) sexy times.                                                                            And thanks to Sean Donahue for breaking the ice with his  recent blog post All Acts of Love and Pleasure:  He provided the WHY, and I’m suggesting the HOW.  And let’s keep it going! What else should we add to the list?

Co-create the conversation.

“Having a conversation is not a death sentence.”-Bishop Gwendolyn Philips Coates

home vbac–yes, vaginal birth after cesarean. at home.

on the joyous occasion of the 6-year anniversary of my home vbac i wish to share the story and to encourage all mamas that yes-it is possible and no-hell did not freeze over.

my story:

i was a young mama, pregnant with my first child at 21, had a shitty hospital birth: 23 hrs of labor, used pitocin, no pain meds, felt unsupported, wished i had been outside. couldn’t get outta there fast enough afterwards!

gave birth to second child 2 years later, started out in “alternative” birthing center, felt forced into an “emergency” cesarean. denied liquids, people held me down-yes, literally-and when  i said no to c-section screamed”YER BABY’S GONNA DIE!!” in my face. i got confused. i gave in.  i was in transition. they sewed me up crooked. i hated it. actual quote: “hmm, it looks like he was actually fine” yeah, he was fine and so was i and at9 cm dilation they should have just helped me stand up like i asked for. the  recovery was very hard.

when i became pregnant with #3 i went to the same midwife office. in response to myquestions about vbac,they said they would “allow” me to “try” for a vbac. honestly, i saw white lights of rage. after that last experience any trust i had in the system was gone.  my vagina is my own and i don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to do whatever the hell i want with it.

i found a homebirth midwife. the difference in care was astounding. just amazing. i gave birth naturally at home in an old fire station. ispent most of my labor in a big clawfoot tub that my wonderful husband sweated to install just days before. it was a great labor, i loved everything about it. honestly, it was fun. i felt loved, empowered, healed. yes, it hurt. the cord was wrapped and without panicking the midwife and i worked it out together.

having had 3 very different births has given me a unique perspective on how and why the birth experience matters.  i physcially healed very quickly. this empowerment has lead me further into my journey to be an herbalist.

and i must address the fact that it is dangerous. life is dangerous. babies die. mamas die. the hospital does not necessarily keep us from dying, and sometimes causes death and injury. life IS risk. we are all going to die. i hope for good outcomes in birth, illness, etc. but they are not guaranteed. ever. by anything.

this is nothing more than my personal story. i do not suggest that anyone do anything-i merely suggest that yes, it is possible.


essay on postpartum support printed in fireweed zine

i personally think you should go out and get fireweed zine. it is great. however, due to several requests i am making my essay on holistic postpartum support-printed in fireweed zine #2-  available here. -t

Holistic support for the new mama in a scrubbled-up world.

By traci picard

When a person becomes a mama for the first or 3rd or 9th time there is a special kind of change going on, and it’s intense, it’s never easy and most of the rituals we have relied on since the dawn of time are either gone or cheapened into oblivion. As many of you know it is difficult enough in our current addled society to keep yourself from lying in the road and waiting to be run over without the added burdens and joys of parenthood. However, the transition can be eased with a little bit of perspective, wonderful herbs and a few other healthy(groan…) life choices. I won’t lie, you won’t spin coal into gold but you may be able to work a lesser alchemy and manufacture a shiny nickel.

In the first few weeks your life has been turned upside down. Your identity is replaced, your body upheaved. But I am not going to address the many wonderful ways herbs can help the physical  healing process. I am more concerned with the moment all the excitement wears off and you are left with a big ol’ wtf that seems to stretch out in front of you for the next few years or so. The newness has worn off, your body is a new kinda normal and the world looks very very different…

The world can feel like a hostile place. The coping mechanisms you used to rely on may not work so well now. Many wonderful people succumb to depression, inertia, passing to fit in, constant tension and confusion. However! You are now part of the ancient cycle of mamas living  out the process. You’re doing it! And there ARE ways to increase your chance of making it through postpartum not just intact but stronger, awesomer, fiercer. Ok, maybe you won’t be intact-you may lose something in the process but you will gain too-you trade in your old heart for a bigger more beautiful one which just may need a little extra protection from the cruel world.

I have compiled a list of flexible suggestions to help you make it through the day, the week, the 18 plus years…

* daily movement: make it a priority to get some kind of physical activity. This is not a you’re-fat-lose-weight-guilt-inducer!! Moving about helps stave off the enemy of emotional wellness-stagnation. What this will look like varies greatly for different people. Some like a gentle walk, others hit the gym and yoga can be a nice option too. Try not to get hung up on your ideal-a tai chi video with a toddler “helping” or a walk with baby in the sling is way better for my morale than lying around remembering the fun stuff I did before mamahood. You have a new standard now, and Movement is great for your circulation and is a time to think, get centered, and burn off some of that nervous energy.

*nutrition-delicious nutritious foods help you recover physically and mentally. Especially when breastfeeding you can improve your energy level and stress load with a diet high in good protein and fiber and low in simple carbs and white sugar. Don’t beat yourself up over an occasional lunch of fried clams with a shot of whiskey but aim for good meals and snacks which make you feel awesome. processed foods can get out of the way to make room for a more nourishing approach. A good multi-vitamin can go a long way towards filling in the spaces in your culinary life and a daily dropperful of liquid vitamin B can literally work wonders on the brain!

* community-having a connection with others is especially important when going through this transition. All ages! This  includes other kids, elders, and everyone in between. Finding your community can be a lifelong process with ups and downs. But trusted people who have your back, and you have theirs, who can be called upon in times of need or times of joy are vital to life and sanity. Cultivate your relationships like a gilded garden.

* projects-a life’s mission may sound daunting right now. However, having projects which you love to do, work that is meaningful, education that works for you or any kind of life practice affirms your self worth. I understand that this is hard, especially for those of us without the luxury of a wage earning partner or reasonable cash flow. However, goals power the moment in a way that nothing else can.

* avoid triggers-got a questionable uncle? Fox news? Competitive and creepy  mommy and me clubs? Run! You don’t need to only hang with cheery fembots but those persons who make you feel like crap, question your parenting, put you down or make you feel defensive have no place in your postpartum life. and try not to spend much time facebooking with your childless semi- friends who don’t understand or respect the leaky boob, the family bed or just how bad you really need a nap.

* instincts- post partum is a fine time to admire the way we have still got a certain special something in this techno-peopled world that is kinda magical. Sure, parents magazine and the entire medical industry deny it but mama you’ve got  a crazy awesome instinct inside you that has burst out—make friends with yourself.

* sexuality-post parenthood sexuality is a loaded topic which deserves attention. Yes you can have great sex again-but it takes more. More planning, more lube, more of a sense of humor!  Of course sex may not mean intercourse-just taking time with yourself or a partner to explore your new body can help. Enjoying physical closeness with a trusted friend, self love, a little erotica can all remind you of what gets you sexually invigorated. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing people cannot be parents and sexual beings at the same time-and this is reinforced by society and the media. However you  acquire it an orgasm can be a great tool healing and connection for the body and mind. Allow me to recommend a great book! Check out The Mother’s Guide to Sex by Anne Semans and Cathy Winks. Lots of relevant info for the new mama and the old mama alike!

* process-the birth experience can be transformative and traumatic at the same time. Whether your birth was transcendent and awesome or painful and stressful-or a little of both-the benefits of talking about it, writing, using art, movement or sound to process and come through the whole experience can be very healing. Do it alone or with  a trusted person and start yourself towards understanding what the heck happened!

* nature-the plants are there for you. If you can get yourself out there the birds and soil and worms and water can be profoundly healing. To me, even a vacant lot of mugwort and pigeons restores my faith in the natural world. Look how the earth renews! And you will too. We can take the earth’s advice and grow where we’re planted. Tenacity, community, the cycles of life and a natural flow are all outside our door when we get out of the house and explore. A sense of stagnation creeps in all too easily when we spend too much time indoors. Inertia is a powerful force indeed, and a self-fulfilling kinda force.

* communication- you may not even know exactly what you need. But noone else does either! Now is the time to advocate for yourself. Speak up, communicate your needs and wants to others. Family, partner(s), coworkers, health professionals, random people on the bus….Practice now, as you will advocate for your child(ren) for years-and eventually need to teach them how to communicate!

* oh, yeah-what about herbs?!? Above all else, nourish. Give your body what it needs to heal, to work hard rebuilding, lactating, hauling that sweet little baby around and dealing with sleep deprivation.  Nettles, oatstraw, fennel seed, tulsi, raspberry leaf all work in an infusion. Digestion and assimilation can always use a little help-try burdock root and bitters.

Relaxation takes on a new importance- baths! With or without the baby you can steep your tired bones in lavendars and mints, roses, sage, cinnamon or vanilla– whatever moves you. Don’t have a tub? Footbath! Follow with a massage oil-infuse herbs in a carrier oil or add a tiny bit of essential oils. Don’t forget to give yourself a little of the mamalove you shower on your little one.

For tension and stress skullcap tincture soothes the edges of a crazy world. It is a very multi-purpose herb, gentle yet effective for tension headaches too. Sometimes you need to diffuse the sense of dread that creeps into your day. Also try any combination of passion flower, milky oats,  rose petals, catnip and chamomile in a child-safe tincture blend. Lemon balm helps to restore the sense of humor/levity when it’s been hijacked by life. For more severe tension a little bit of blue vervain can soothe jagged emotional edges well. Each person is different and an herbalist can help to come up with the right nervines for the individual.

The range of experiences we experience after becoming a mother is vast. Sometimes it feels like way too much! And that won’t go away-it will ease, it will fade, it will improve but your heart has a new chamber lady and you’re in for a hilly ride. A fabulous heartbreak. And you are definitely not alone.

apothecary tour and tincture delivery

just a little announcement! yes, i have over 100 plant tinctures in my apothecary. yes, i have many oils and salves. also, other things like infused honeys, elixirs, dried herbs and blends.  the apothecary can be viewed. please make an appointment. you can touch, taste, smell and otherwise engage with the plant medicine. also, the garden is in full bloom right now. i will happily give a plant id tour of the yard, the community garden or random plants in the neighborhood.

also, a reminder: all plant medicines can be available on a sliding scale if needed.

and-most items can be delivered or mailed.

herbal tinctures


yo, what’s the dose? tinctures, teas and more!

recently i have had a few lovely people who have ordered herbs ask me:

“what is the dosage?”

ah, the big and eternal question. as a seller of medicinal herb tinctures and tea blends i generally do not recommend a dosage when handing over the product-especially through mail order. why? because it is different for everyone. my assumption is that you came to purchase the herb after doing significant research and/or working with a holistic practitioner.

it depends on the person, the condition, the herb and the “magical extra”: the blending of all 3!

now i would be happy to help persons with a dosage guideline or range on inquiry, and of course i give dosage range to those i am working with as an herbalist. however, this explains why my herbal tinctures do not arrive at your house  with printed dosage. i hope this helps my wonderful customers to understand where i’m coming from, and thank you all so much for ordering from my little  herbal apothecary.

pressing goldenrod tincture