Wissahickon Creek  Photo by El Ha Gahn

By El Ha Gahn

I always get the question how I got into herbs. I always smile because as I think back I realize that more than two thirds of my life have been supported by herbs. I have used them as teas. I have also used them as skin washes and for other topical applications. They have been there for me to provide minerals and solid nutrition. The have enabled me to ward off sickness and disease. They have been able to season my food and to be my food. I have used them for fragrance and extracted essential oils from them. I have prepared herbal baths from them and used them to take away pain. Herbs are so much a part of my life I cannot imagine living a day without them in some capacity. I even use them many times as decorations or dried plant arrangements. Also interestingly enough herbs and the knowledge the of have contributed to my personal and family economics in a major way.

Often I get asked how did I get started learning about or how did I become interested in herbs. It actually started when I was seven years old. In seeing my parents grow flowers every year I wanted to grow something too. At that time they didn't offer me a space in the backyard to do so. I guess they figured I didn't know what I was doing. So in my determination to have my way I began to collect and transplant weeds to an area I selected in the outer yard. Then I began cutting small branches off of trees and sitting them in water until they sprouted roots and leaves. I would then transplant my baby trees elsewhere. Plants of all types were always fascinating to me. At the age of nine my next-door neighbor gave me some dried corn which I planted the next year along with some string beans seeds that my father got me because my class at school have each grown a been plant during the semester at the end of the semester each child took home one plant except myself as there were no more left when it was my turn. So with the corn and the string beans I grew a small crop in the backyard. I was very excited when I harvested them and there was enough to make a meal for the family. From this experience my interest level went higher. I determined that while my parents were growing flowers that I should grow food. So every year thereafter I grew corn , beans and tomatoes. This is also about the time my parents started sending me to summer camp and of course they introduced us to the natural wilds and taught us many things of nature. I began to realize that the whole of nature was part of a larger circle of life. My interest again increased. The concept of weeds as a survival support system was introduced to me. My camp experience led me to an interest in becoming a Boy Scout which gave me an opportunity to learn about edible wild plants. By then the stage was set and the foundation prepared for me to keep investigating plants and herbs for different purposes.

By the age of 18 undeveloped some chronic ailments that became a serious annoyance to me in that I always had to go to the hospital to get drugs to straighten out the problem. After several months I was told that I needed to have an operation because my body had gone beyond the amount of drugs that it could safely take. And that if I didn't have the operation it was possible I could die. This made me extremely angry so I realized I would have to find my own cure which I did. It was a lot easier than I thought and herbs played a big part in the cure. From that point on I started to study herbs was seriously. Reading every article I could and getting books on edible and medicinal wildflowers, trees, roots and barks increase my interest evermore. When I reached 22 I began to live in the woods. One of the local farmers took me under his wing and began to teach me a wide range of knowledge about planting, growing, farming etc. from that point I came into contact with many people who had different levels of experience in the field. By that time I was using herbs every day and particularly to support my health and the health of my family. As time went on I came in contact with different master teachers and Indian shamans each who added to my knowledge base. I also have gained a considerable collection of herbal books and have visited many botanical facilities around the world. I am extremely interested in the works of herbalists and healers from everywhere. I am still studying to this day and will continue to do so for time t come. I consider it a worthwhile pursuit. The knowledge of herbs and healing is something I would not want to do without.
El Ha Gahn