Christine Buckley is a community herbalist, writer, visual artist, and professional cook. She is motivated to gently help people reconnect with themselves, each other, plants and the planet. Her book Plant Magic: Herbalism in Real Life debuted this year with Roost Books. Plant Magic is an inviting and irreverent call to action: a hopeful and practical guide to pursuing individual and collective change and growth at home. She writes about plants and people for Healthyish, Kitchn, Mind Body Green, and Well + Good. She is currently based in rural Virginia where she is learning to grow food within the organic foods system.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you come to your work as an herbalist?
I didn’t have a very herby upbringing, though my parents’ favorite remedies were salt gargles and a warm washcloth, which in retrospect seem pretty crunchy considering I grew up in the age of bubblegum flavored prescription medicine. I found out about herbalism when I went to college and lived next door to Brigitte Mars, who kept a wildly weedy yard – it was magical to live next door to her and be surrounded by cultivated dandelions, nettles, and grape vine, plus way more. Even though, now that I think about it, I don’t think it was ever explicit that what she was doing was herbalism. To me it was just that she was living a little more intentionally, paying a little more attention to her environment. It was the early 2000s and I was super enthusiastic about raw food, so I bought her book Rawsome and made rawvioli and threw juice parties with my friends. I also was very lucky to work for Patty Limerick, a historian at CU. She’s really good at bringing together groups or people or ways of thinking that are traditionally or perceived as contentious. Her commitment to connection really impacted how I see herbalism and other forms of care working together. We can go to the doctor and drink infusions, it doesn’t have to be either or.
Herbalism always kind of trailed alongside whatever I was studying or doing to earn a living: it was there in my yard all through history and gender studies at the University of Colorado and when I moved to New York and started cooking professionally it was there in my refrigerator, at the farmer’s market, and growing wild through walls and on medians. And it’s been there as I’ve engaged with anti-oppression work, helping me to shed old patterns and build a sustaining commitment to a more liberated society. It’s been a funnel through which I could think about and do history, healing, social justice, and cooking.
Herbalism helps me maintain focus and find rest and rejuvenation. As I took classes and apprenticed I understood how herbalism could be integrated into my daily life to encourage change and growth and offer support where I needed it, without asking me to become a completely different person. Herbalism helped me look within myself for change without shame or pressure, instead of out at whatever was being held up as an ideal. It’s nice to be in a place where I can help other people do the same for themselves and the people they love.
Why Plant Magic? Can you tell us about the first time you experienced plant magic in your life?
The plant world is full of wonder! Plant magic for me was the moment when I understood that plants produce all our oxygen. All of it. It’s actually super scientific, but like, man, that’s a miracle. Like, these little, medium, and big green things make it possible for us to breathe, they provide our fuel, our homes, our food. Beyond that I can’t believe that there are plants that pull heavy metals from the ground, ease anxiety, give birds a place to nest, or make fruit like okra, apples, and tomatoes. Plants are delicious and amazing. They make it possible to have relationships with ourselves, each other, and any other organism we encounter.
If you could have tea with any person living or dead, who would it be and what tea would you prepare them?
Ooooo shit, only one?! I choose three: Toni Morrison, Grace Lee Boggs, and Mary Oliver. I’m very lucky to have had tea with Grace in real life, but I’d love to see these three minds together. They’re all so skilled at observing and imagining and communicating. I’d make them chamomile peppermint tea cause we could drink it forever and I wouldn’t want them to ever leave!
Do you have a favorite plant to work with right now?
I’m really leaning hard on gotu kola right now, as a nervine and a remedy for mental exhaustion. It simultaneously calms and invigorates me.
Where do you hope to see the herbalism world in the next five years?
I am really excited to see how herbalists my age and herbalists who are younger than me can shake shit up. I want to see a less white, more queer herbal space. I want to see more people doing herbalism in a way that helps us to build a more inclusive, equitable, and liberated society. I want to see herbalism being done in lots of different ways. There is no one way to be a human and there is no one way to do herbalism.
Thank you, Christine! Check out her book here!