Though we’re surrounded by nature in Rappahannock County, few of us can go for a walk in the woods and be able to give a name — other than “weed,” or “that thing with the spiky white flowers” — to the plants we will come across on that walk.
Even fewer of us will bring those plants back to our yurt — yes, yurt — and know what to do with them.
All of which makes Teresa Boardwine unusual, if not unique in the neighborhood. In the spacious, yurt-like structure perched on the hill below her house off Rock Mills Road, registered herbalist Boardwine has been teaching the medicinal qualities of plants, to groups and to individual clients, for close to two decades now.
And no, it’s not technically a yurt, since it would take some serious time to pull up the wood foundation and move on, the way Mongolian nomads have for centuries packed up their circular, lattice-and-post-frame, felt-and-canvas-covered homes, following the dictates of the seasons, their sheep and the Buddha.
But Boardwine, 53, isn’t planning to go anywhere soon. Besides, there’s a snug spot under the foundation favored by Lucky, one of the three dogs, a hutch full of rabbits and countless wild and cultivated native plants sharing Boardwine’s thickly wooded yard, which slopes down toward Rock Mills and its confluence of four rivers less than a mile away.
Boardwine sees her future in much more simple terms.
“I connect people to plants,” says Boardwine, who has been practicing herbal medicine since graduating from the California Center of Herbal Studies in 1991, later working for a few years at Smile Herb Shop in College Park, Md., teaching and running the herb department.
In 1995, she met former Rappahannock resident Kathleen Maier and together they founded Dreamtime Center for Herbal Studies which operated in Rappahannock for seven years until 2002, when Maier moved her practice to Charlottesville. Dreamtime, Boardwine says, “evolved into a place where students from all over the country could come for a holistic education in a place where most of the plants they studied were in the woods, along the streams or planted in the system of garden beds Dreamtime established.” Boardwine moved to Rappahannock full time in 1996.
Green Comfort, as Boardwine named her own practice, is a continuation of Dreamtime’s educational mission, as well as an apothecary where clients can find the formulas she first began learning and making back at Smile Herb Shop in Maryland.
Boardwine says she feels she was “called to study plant medicine and healing wisdom from indigenous cultures throughout the world, which still use plant medicines as their main remedies.”
Those cultures, she points out, in fact once included our own — and she heads to the bookshelf to retrieve a well-worn copy of the “National Formulary of Unofficial Preparations,” published in 1906 by the American Pharmaceutical Association.
The “Formulary,” first published by the APA in 1888 and meant to “embrace practically all preparations in established use for which no uniform or authoritative standards existed,” contains 200-plus pages of formulas for tinctures, salves and linaments, lotions and other applications made from every plant known at the time.
These include the plants growing in Boardwine’s yard — or which she’s known to pull over and harvest from nearby roadsides: coltsfoot, catnip, motherwort, mullein, teasel, burdock, poke, wild yam, wineberries, agrimony, yarrow and many others.
“We lost that knowledge,” Boardwine says, alluding to changes brought about in the 1940s when the American Medical Association (AMA) began to assert its influence, and pharmacology eventually became the province of licensed professionals in signature white lab coats.
“Plants went out of favor,” Boardwine says, “There was a resurgence in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when people started once again looking back to go forward.”
Nowadays, Boardwine says, she has a steady clientele and interest in her occasional Native Medicinal Plant workshops, and her 10-month, one-weekend-a-month programs where participants can study herbal medicine in depth, and “come away from the hands-on sessions, on Sundays, with five or six preparations to take home and use.”
Things being the way they are, due as much to the AMA’s continued influence as to more pressing influences of a slow economy, Boardwine also teaches social studies and related subjects at Belle Meade School in Sperryville — where, it happens, her daughter, Destiny, attends school.
“Life is funny,” she says. “When I first came here, Destiny was just an infant, and Kathy [Maier] and I were renting Belle Meade one weekend a month to do the Dreamtime program. Now I get to be back at Belle Meade, and with my daughter as a young woman.”
“Theresa Boardwine is truly an amazing master of the plant world,” says regular client Lisa Leftwich, who runs a pet-sitting/home concierge business from her home in Washington. “She has been a huge blessing in my healing journey and has a lovely, gentle manner of dealing with folks when listening to their needs. She is constantly updating her own education at conferences and holds many workshops throughout the year.”
“Herbalism,” Boardwine says, “can include everyone from you and I fixing tea, to the people who have founded growing businesses” to meet the growing demand for natural, inexpensive and non-synthetic remedies.
Green Comfort Herbal Apothecary and School of Herbal Medicine
PO Box 376
Washington, VA 22747
Teresa Boardwine, who offers classes and consultation at her Rock Mills yurt, can be reached at 540-937-4283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green Comfort’s next Native Medicinal Plant workshops is Aug. 13-15, and the next annual 10-month courses in medicinal herbalism and herbal apothecary begins Sept. 18-19 and meets the third weekend of the month through June 2011.