I grew up in the midwest, where the combination of forest, prairie, suburban lawns, freshwater lakes, and large swaths of corn and soy informed my sense of place. It’s hard to say precisely what initially informed my enduring connection to wild plants and ecosystems, but memory traces it back to childhood visits to my grandparents’ home, whose forested valley of a backyard provided a stark contrast to the tidy lawns that stretched across my suburban neighborhood. The wildness of this place piqued my curiosity and drew me into its lush and verdant hills and stream beds, which became my sanctuary when I visited, and my daydream during the car ride home.
As early as my teens I became interested in herbal preparations (for, perhaps different reasons than why I’m currently interested): Batches of dandelion wine that I would clandestinely ferment with friends in our parents’ basements to later share floating down the DuPage river. Later, in college, I would make many attempts at homemade absinthe and amaro.
Although my experiments with various herbal preparations continued into adulthood, I felt that I was pursuing a path that did not feel like my own. I began to question the ways our culture pressures us to obtain success and stability and wondered at the environmental harm this engenders. So I started to read. About ecology, about food, about what people call ‘the environment’, and about herbalism. Seeking to understand the many misguided values of our culture, I earned my Master’s degree in Sociology, and became a teacher.
During this time, I would return to my sanctuary in the forests surrounding Chicago, learning about the mushrooms and plants I encountered and how they weave webs of reciprocity through the forest’s soil to support and sustain the whole. I learned deeply from the forest, and started to ask myself, what webs of reciprocity can I weave to support and sustain myself and my community?
From this alchemy of woodland wandering, teaching in the city, and bartending to make ends meet, my practice as an herbalist quietly unfolded in the background. All the while, I learned to gather plants with humility and respect, and to prepare them as food or make them into medicines to support my health and the health of my community.
This practice eventually evolved into what is now First Curve Apothecary, and continues to evolve into the herbal practice I now offer, grounded by the mission to reclaim the wild connection of body and self to the more-than-human world.
The name 'First Curve' originated as my first batch of bitters made years ago as gifts for friends and family. As First Curve's offerings continue to expand, the name continues to resonate because it reminds me of when I first deviated from the paved path of academia into the wild world of herbalism, foraging, and mycology. It reminds me to take risks, to not let myself become comfortable with the familiar, and to work in a medium that is alive. Now that I have immersed myself in that living medium, I'd love nothing more than to share it with you.
As a bioregional herbalist, I understand I am working with plants on unceded Potawatomi, Odawa, and Ojibwe land. The Great Lakes region was for millenia traversed, occupied, stewarded and sustained by these groups of people allied in the “Three Fires Confederacy,” which includes people from many other tribes as well. I believe it is my responsibility as an herbalist to do my work in deeply understanding and feeling through the history of the U.S. violently seizing this region over the course of several centuries, and work to repair the harm done in some way.
Aside from occupation, the values our culture holds continues to encourage the everyday reinforcement of racism, sexism, gender essentialism, classism, and ableism. With this in mind, I aim to to carve out a space of healing within the context of these toxic aspects of our culture to promote the health and resilience of the communities I serve. To practice in such a way requires an acknowledgement and awareness of these issues, and to move through them with compassion, respect, and care.
I am grateful that I am in a position to offer this healing work, and I feel a deep sense of responsibility to support environmental and social change within these contexts, and to make healing work more inclusive and accessible to all who are interested. One aspect of this work is to offer free and low-cost herbal remedies, consultations, and education through First Curve’s Community Apothecary and Free Clinic. Donations and proceeds from these efforts support covering the cost of these initiatives, while remaining proceeds are donated to local community organizations that address social, ecological, and environmental issues, as well as black-led organizations working within the larger movement of black liberation.
jim mcdonald - herbcraft
Erika Galentin, MNIMH, RH (AHG) - Sovereignty Herbs
Camille Freeman, LDN, RH (AHG) - Bloom & Grow
The Morton Arboretum - Natural Areas Conservation Training (N-ACT) Program
Tammi Sweet - Heartstone Herbal School
Peter McCoy - Mycologos
Paul Bergner - BotanicWise
Matthew Wood - Matthew Wood Institute of Herbalism
Christopher Hobbs - BotanicWise
Ember Peters, RHP (HANS) - Wild Current Herbalism
Kami McBride - Living Awareness
Photo Credits: (1) Cebe Loomis of Candid Fare, (2) Cam Sand