Northways

Northern Sky by Leah Wolfe.
Northern Sky by Leah Wolfe.

Northways came to me in 2019. After coming across a description of “folkways” I realized that was the name of the school I wanted to start. My mind’s eye saw people making skis and snowshoes, emergency structures to stay warm. I saw people using the herbs around them to spice their food. I saw people growing gardens and learning the ways specific to the NE corner of Ohio where I live.

After living here for more than 10 years, I’ve seen people do many of these things and more. I’ve practiced these ways while teaching a hands-on course called “Community Herbal Intensive” (returning in 2023!). I’ve also traveled across this nation several times, learning the plants of each area I passed through, marking the differences in folkways, and feeling dry cold wind of desert nights on my face, sweltering in 120 degrees in Southern California, and exploring the history of indigenous Native Americans.

I found that true sustainability is centered in place. The mark of folkways is that nearly everything the people need comes from a relatively small place. Many Native American ways were nomadic. They flowed through a region instead of being anchored in permanent houses.

Northways is an online exploration of the places that I lived and traveled through. I created the Northways Herbalism program around bioregionalism, which simply means organizing around an ecological region. I belong to North America. My indigenous roots are in Northern Europe, but my North American roots are in Appalachia reaching 10-13 generations back depending on which thread I trace.

Northways Herbalism is influenced by place and the desire to create a sustainable herbal practice that doesn’t rely on exotic plants or exploit unseen peoples and lands. Northways Herbalism focuses on plants and the layers of healing traditions from the northern hemisphere. Northways Herbalism is an online program with 12 monthly sessions to carry the principles of northern traditions through the seasons.

The first layer yields Native American knowledge of native plants and the ease in which they adopted the use of plants imported by early European settlers and the ways their plant people protect native species. I learn from Native sources, through their written and spoken words and many hours of in-person practice at Standing Rock with the Medic Healer Council.

Herb tent at Standing Rock.
Herb tent at Standing Rock.

Subsequent layers of knowledge I wish to share include the multitude of Northern Europeans that settled throughout North America, followed by Southern European influences and countless others. I’ve been especially interested in Northern European traditions that have been both passed down and forgotten by my ancestors and in this course I would also like to hear your stories. Did you have an ancestor to teach you? What early traditions persist in your home? Or perhaps you are like me, and only know one side of your family history, or know nothing at all about your ancestors except by looking in the mirror or the genetic knowledge residing deep in your cells.

Northways Herbalism primarily focuses on the common plants of the Great Lakes region, the Pacific Northwest, midwest, and the southwest. These are all of the places I’ve experienced. Other common plants of North America, weeds or native, will be discussed. Including a discussion on if, when, and how it is appropriate to use native plants.

Northways Herbalism is a series of twelve intensive online sessions in herbal education with four optional field trips for hands-on learning in the Great Lakes Region in 2023 (TBA). The program opens with the shift into the Dark Season in November to acknowledge the long history of humans celebrating ancestors. Long before the Roman calendar, this shift would have been an important time for turning inward and nourishing the spirit, mind, and body with the bounty of the harvest, gratitude for family, friends or tribe, and honor for those who came before us. That said, the online portion of Northways Herbalism can be started at any time after November 2022. For example, if you start in January you will get instant access to topics release in November and December, which you can return to next November and December or anytime thereafter.

 Leah's best friends, Elsie (front) and MalyBrat (back) in NE Ohio.
Leah’s best friends, Elsie (front) and MalyBrat (back) in NE Ohio.

The Sessions

First you’ll receive an introductory email with downloadable guides for herbal safety and ethical wildcrafting. Each monthly topic will include storytelling in both written or audio formats, practical ways to incorporate the concepts into everyday living, and a discussion board to ask questions, tell stories, and share recipes. Here are the topics:

All is One

Many words to describe Oneness get thrown around in various healing circles: holistic, homeostasis, ecological, interconnectedness, vitalism, and more. All is One will integrate these ideas into practical thought patterns and activities to remain mindful of the big picture when developing or enhancing a personal, community, or clinical herbal practice. Release date will be November 2, a time to reflect on those who came before us and preparation for the dark days of winter.

Fire and Ice

In the ancient far North, there were two major holidays: the transitions between the dark and the light. Being so far North changes culture, lifestyle, and relationship with the outdoors. Sleds, skis, and snowshoes are a few examples of human ingenuity that are peculiar to the Northern climate (and some high altitudes in the South). Fire and Ice will delve into the physical and cultural aspects of extreme temperatures and relationship with light and dark and translate that into practical ways to apply temperature and light, density and weight in herbalism and hydrotherapy. Release date is December 2022, a time to prepare for the winter holidays and to experience the longest nights of the year.

The Troika

Troika means “three” in Russian and it also applies to a certain method of harnessing three horses. The Troika goes beyond the three body types by addressing three levels of awareness and thought process, three principles of existence (spirit, mind and body), three stages of life, and the three aspects of time (past, present, future). Release date January 2023, often a time of reflection with the end of the calendar year, a time to take a look at where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going.

Lake Erie from the sharpest corner of Ohio.
Lake Erie from the sharpest corner of Ohio.

The Four Seasons and the Fifth Element

Much of the Northern hemisphere experiences four seasons and many healing traditions incorporate four healing principles into practice: humours, directions, elements. Herbs and other healing substances such as clay and salt are categorized according to these principles in these traditions. All of the organs and tissues and various conditions of the human body are also categorized this way. The Four Seasons and the Fifth Element begins the discussion of patterns vs. the current state of an individual, which will thread its way through the series. Release date February 2023, this is when I see a shift in the angle of the sunlight in the trees, a time to start looking forward and outward after the short days of winter.

Six Tissue States

Categorizing the state of a tissue is vital to understanding which herbal action to match to it. Some form of the six tissue states is used by many traditional herbalists. Patterns in the six tissue states often emerge in relation to environment and this session will demonstrate how to gather this information with the other dynamics to create a deeper understanding of what is happening in the spirit, mind and body as an organism embedded in ecology. Release date March 2023, a time to look to the Tall Standing People as their blood begins to rise and a time to study tree medicines and identification methods, the days and nights are more equal in length this close to Spring Equinox.

Seven Directions 

The Seven Directions is a discussion of how I developed a more complete way to think about movement in the body and how herbs can balance that movement. I learned about the seven directions from friends in the Lenape Nation and they have been immensely helpful for me to understand herbal actions and more successfully use herbs and other healing methods. Release date April 2023, a time of budding and moving outward.

Leah (kneeling) on a plant walk in Hocking Hills, Ohio.
Leah (kneeling) on a plant walk in Hocking Hills, Ohio.

Seven Colors

Color taps into the psychology of aesthetics and nitty gritty of herbal chemistry. Just as a colorful meal appeals to the appetite of the eye, colorful herbs increase the beauty and diversity of meals and herbal elixirs. And it turns out that this is where aroma often crosses over with related herbal chemicals have similar aromas. Release date May 2023, the flowering time begins, a good time for looking at the chemicals that color the world.

Nine Body Systems

Although All is One teaches that everything in the human body is interconnected and integrated, herbs tend to have direct relationships with the major body systems. This will not be a simplified version where herbs are put into satisfying little boxes, but will demonstrate how herbs often have overall body effects even while they have direct influence on an organ. Despite what an herb is “supposed to do,” it may not have that effect at all depending on individuals, their patterns, and their current state. Release date June 2023, midsummer brings us deep into the flowering time and June berries and the longest day of the year.

Ten Tastes

Cravings often point to patterns and deficiencies. Ten Tastes will start with the four tastes that correlate with the four elements of Southern Appalachian Folk Medicine that I learned from Phyllis Light and will end with the ten tastes promoted by David Winston. What a person craves, favorite foods, and taste aversions are useful to understand what the spirit, mind and body need. Taste is a useful tool for assessment and choosing herbs. This section will improve your herbal cooking skills along with learning to assess for individual formulations of teas and other concoctions. Release date July 2023, a time of flowers and fruit, heat, and remembering how to stay cool.

Leah sets up a mock makeshift clinic for a training at United Plant Savers.
Leah sets up a mock makeshift clinic for a training at United Plant Savers.

Twelve Combinations

The Four Elements in the Appalachian tradition also include whether a person tends to express the element in its truest form or has a tendency toward deficiency or excess in that element. This will help clarify the sense that a person has two elements, or even three elemental tendencies, and how to narrow it down to one of the Twelve Combinations for a simpler approach. Release date August 2023, moving into the last of the summer days with an eye turned to the actual or literal harvest. A time for gathering, preserving, and distilling our foods and our inner being.

Synthesis

Synthesis is a session where we put all of the pieces together. Combine these principles into a practical assessment tool for choosing herbal (and other strategies). Release date September 2023, again the days and the nights are similar in length as the Fall Equinox approaches. A good time to plan a return to roots, whether medicinal roots, ancestral roots, genetic roots, internal roots. Ground yourself and prepare for cooler days.

The Infinite Possibilities

Methods for using herbs (sometimes called methods of delivery) are infinite, but some work better than others depending on the need. Recipe combinations are infinite, but also require finesse and precision to provide appropriate and predictable effects. The Infinite Possibilities will provide strategies for choosing methods and formulating herbs to provide personalized effects whether in the kitchen or the apothecary. Release date October 2023, a time to gather yourself up and plan your herb plans for the winter. The end of the month marks the return to celebrating ancestors.

Registration opens October 1, 2022.

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Remember this is a perennial class that you can start at anytime. You will have long-term access.

Photo of Leah Wolfe at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
Leah at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

To learn more about Leah’s education, experience and philosophy, visit:

Leah’s herbal education and training.

Leah’s thoughts on Becoming a Master Herbalist.


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Begin your journey into Northways Herbalism now! Get full access to monthly content to explore herbalism in the traditions of the northern hemisphere with Leah Wolfe, an herbalist and folk artist who has been exploring North America and the traditions of herbal medicine for more than 20 years.