Sometimes life is a bit of a maze. The walls are high and you can rarely see anything except the path ahead and behind you. You have a map, but it doesn’t really tell you which way to go. There are junctions: decisions to make. It is important to reach the destination on the map, but it can feel impossible.
The Second Scottish Radical Herbal Gathering was held at Tombrek, nestled in the hills and overlooking the beautiful Loch Tay. In some ways, it was about creating steps to look over the walls of any sort of maze we might be in, so we could all see each other a bit better. Bringing insight into routes others are taking, a sense of perspective to our own. It was about creating a space where there were less of the everyday oppressions that abound in our patriarchal, capitalist, racist society, hopefully allowing everyone to touch closer into their own power and feel further into how we can create our future.
Our maps might look slightly different, but the Scottish Radical Herbal Network is working for a world where nobody is oppressed because of the colour of their skin, or their gender expression, or their class background, or sexuality, or disabilities, or anything else really. A world where the earth and sea are thriving, with plants and creatures coming back from the brink of extinction, where life is respected, and resources are used sustainably and equitably. A world where people can move freely and create their lives wherever they want to. A world where health is something explored in communities and through relationships with the plants around us: where people are celebrated and supported to bring their whole selves.
The programme for the Gathering reflected these ambitions, and wove around three themes: Radical Health and Herbalism; Sustainability, Social and Environmental Justice; and Scottish Health and Herbal Heritage
Within Radical Health and Herbalism, some workshops focused on practical skills such as making herbal medicines for the Herbal Unity clinic in Glasgow, and creating delicious wild fermentations. Others centred on learning about and experiencing herbal remedies, one focused on herbs for anxiety and stress, another on strengthening ourselves: bone, flesh and cartilage, and there were innovative plant study sessions too. Other workshops involved techniques for connecting with our own bodies’ resources, and the power in truly connecting with the world around us. There were discussions on what we mean by ‘mental health’, exploring the social context and the politics of this often individualised concept, as well as a facilitated space to reflect on and share our experiences around/and since someone’s death.
The Radical Health and Herbalism theme explored how our personal health is inextricably linked with the world we inhabit, with a focus on tools, resources and understanding to support our wellbeing and those around us. The Sustainability, Social and Environmental Justice theme begins from the same premise, none of us can be truly healthy while living in degraded societies and ecosystems. The workshops within this theme, however, were focused on looking outwards: increasing our understanding of the realities of others who may experience oppressions that we do not (and a space for solidarity in those we do), reflecting on how we constantly participate in the oppression of others, and being open to guidance and discussion on how we can disentangle ourselves from the prejudices that unconsciously influence us.
Workshops included training on trans health, focusing on respectful use of language and sensitivity around discussing health with trans, non-binary and inter-sex people. The UK class system, including exploring ways in which working class and poor communities are demonised, exploited and expendable, and requiring participants to actively reflect on their own class position. Responses to Patriarchy, a collective discussion about feminism and anti-sexism work. Alcohol, drugs and recovery, looking at community responses and solutions to substance use. Without Walls: thinking prison abolition, considering the prison industrial complex, imagining a world without prisons, and linking prison abolition with struggles against immigration detention. Race and health, examining how healthcare discriminates against people of colour, and different dimensions of racism within wider society and ‘activist’ circles. This theme also incorporated responses to ecological oppression, including a tour of Tombrek, the home of the gathering and a ScotLAND permaculture site, and ecological poetry, looking at how creative practice can connect us in to ecosystems.
Finally, Scottish health and herbal heritage was a theme intended to situate ourselves in place and history. Workshops included learning about Scotland’s native, medicinal fungi, herb walk skill shares, and herbal storytelling with folklore and traditional tales revealing how we connect with the land, eachother, and plants that heal us.
Amidst all of this, there were activities for children, chilly swims in the loch, ceilidh dancing, wonderful performances from musicians, documentaries and film screenings, and evening herbal explorations. How on earth did we pack so much in to a weekend? Well, it helped that we were fuelled by the amazing Cafe Roya, who cooked up a storm with organic, local food each lunch and dinner. Each day the food was exciting, colourful and absolutely delicious: exactly what we needed for navigating the challenges of social change, wellbeing, politics and health.