By Damaris Lasa The following is an interview with Peeka Trenkle, the lead teacher of the NY Open Center’s Green Medicine.
1) What is Western herbalism? Many people want to study Chinese Medicine or Ayurveda because there is a system to it. One thing I teach my students is that there is also a rich tradition in Western herbalism as well, but that it fell out of common usage over the course of history. We discuss some of the factors that led to this in our class on the history of Western herbalism. Herbal medicine is based on the common sense approach of having a right relationship to the environment and also right relationship with the body – as in the use of correct diet and tonic herbs. It is simple and applicable and it is also, ideally, local. I try to foster an understanding of bioregionalism and the idea that our foods and medicines ought to be generated in our local region. Instead of sending away to New Zealand for some special honey or to China for herbs, I encourage students to try to find things locally. The Green Medicine class focuses on herbs that grow in the Northeast. If we use herbs that are closer to where we live, they will be much more suitable to our needs.
2) Your training program includes a session called Seasonal Healing: Herbal Therapeutics and the Cycle of the year. Some Northeasterners are already grumbling about the season that shall not be named. What would you say to them? I teach one evening on the cycle of the seasons and how to work with the seasons in your healing process. Winter is an inward time. Many people dread winter for this reason. Winter is quiet, dark and cold – very yin – it can also feel isolating. But winter is also a time for more sleeping, more dreaming. It is a time for setting the seeds for the next year ahead and reflecting on the year gone by, slowing down. There are many helpful herbal practices that keep our juices flowing in the depths of winter.
3)What is your favorite thing about teaching herbalism? I began teaching this class at the NYOC in 1996. I have not grown tired of it in all this time. I always feel energized by helping to awaken an excitement about the natural world. Nature is always available to us, no matter where we live. Even in the most dire inner city situations, if your eyes are open, you will see that the natural world is always at play – in the plants that come up through the concrete, the animals, birds, insects that are present, the cycle of day and night, etc. The earth is always trying to reclaim a state of balance. Everything serves a purpose to that end. Nature itself is a pathway back to living in right relationship with the earth and with each other. All the lessons are there. Plants are especially important because they carry the sun’s energy and the earth’s energy and help to connect us back to our own state of balance.
4) What do you really want people to know about green medicine? I feel I am planting seeds for the future. Those of us who do this work and are alive today are not likely to see a great restoration of wholeness in our lifetime because there is so much that needs to happen – that will have to happen in the pace of nature itself. I imagine a future 100 or 200 years from now in which things are working in a much more harmonious way. I hold that vision and I teach about the herbs with that vision in mind. The changes we make today will affect the future and do affect the earth itself. Nature wants our participation and wants us to be involved.
5) What can students expect from your class? There have been many people over the years that have told me that Green Medicine changed their lives. They see things differently now. Their focus begins to shift from worries about pathology to faith in the process of healing. During the 4-month training we cover all the body’s systems and ways of working with herbs to increase well being and vitality as well as how to heal the body when something is wrong. We cover the history of herbal medicine and how we got to the state we are in now. There are guest teachers who add alternative perspectives. We go on a marvelous field trip together and also have a full day of making herbal products. But the main focus of the Green Medicine course is to restore confidence in the process of natural healing and how to help it along.
Herbalist and homeopath Peeka Trenkle has been teaching at the New York Open Center for nearly two decades.