The 8th annual Florida Herbal Conference
On Location at Camp La Llanada in Lake Wales, Florida
By Jeanine Endsley & Shareshten Senior
The Florida Herbal Conference (FHC) was a weekend experience that The Shakti Journal staff will forever cherish and hope never to miss in the future. It was easily one of the most organized, educationally diverse and earth-friendly events we have ever attended.
Held on Tiger Lake in Lake Wales, Florida, this year’s FHC was a marvelous container for our hearts and bodies to grow more in tune with the earth’s wisdom and natural harmony. Being the eighth consecutive year that the Conference was held at the Camp La Llanda gathering center, the energy of the land was primed for our focus on ancestral and herbal healing.
Respect for nature as well as our brothers and sisters of all colors and tribes was the overpowering collective attitude we experienced. When I saw a gorgeous barred owl perched in a tree at one point during sunset on Saturday, it seemed like an emblem of the collective wisdom, healing and prayer that was present.
The Florida School of Holistic Living is the non-profit that brings us the annually growing FHC. The school was founded by the late George D’Arcy and Carolyn Whitford with the mission of cultivating sustainable community through empowering individuals with philosophy-in-practice education.
Executive Director Emily Ruff is so in line with the founders’ vision, you might think she founded the school herself. With great reverence to the founders she carries their original vision effortlessly, because it is hers too. As co-director of The Florida Herbal Conference, Emily has worked so hard to ensure that the past 8 years of the FHC have been curated well and made accessible to people of all incomes and ages.
Every year money is collected for scholarships that go directly to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the attendance cost. The Shakti Journal was a proud sponsor and we are so glad to know our resources went towards herbal education for others. The herbal conference is a very special cooperative effort woven together by herbalists, healers and educators who devote their lives to herbs and the soil, and we look forward to sponsoring again next year!
A Gathering Place for Family and Community
Being a new mother to my precious 5-month-old baby boy, it’s often been a challenge to find spaces where I feel fully comfortable to explore, experience and learn with a new child. But with families all over the conference, I felt incredibly thankful throughout the weekend for a space where I was welcomed and received, and able to connect with other mothers while introducing my son to a breathtaking plethora of healing medicine.
The FHC Youth Program is a testament to how family friendly this event is. Youth were separated into three age groups: ages 3-7, 8-12 and 13-17. This was the second year that the conference has featured a teen program. Madelyn ‘Maddie’ Sovern, who directs the Youth Program, brought a sense of creative wonder through her classes ‘Spirit of the Forest’ and ‘Herbal Sing-A-Long.’
Serenades Among the Spanish Moss and Live Oaks
The Shakti Journal’s favorite musical offering at the 2019 FHC was Beautiful Chorus. Having been an integral part of the Conference for the last 8 years, the four bright vocalists of Beautiful Chorus who opened up the weekend invited us to dive deeper into healing and to reside even more so in love.
Their meditative songs were a special blessings and the perfect soundtrack for the Conference. The energy and grace shared through their soundscapes were a truly touching fusion that served as a focal point to return to throughout the weekend. As the dripping Spanish moss swayed in the breeze and a beautiful circle of kin of all ages gathered on the forest floor, Beautiful Chorus’ poetic inspiration centered us back into our bodies, hearts, and Mother Earth.
Other artists that kept us grooving and in mantra were Mz Imani, Lobo Marino and Materia Musica. Each musical performance had its own balance of air, fire, water and earth that merged so perfectly with the fresh breeze to keep us in rhythm with mama Gaia.
The Wise Woman’s Way
The bright presence of Chonteau McElvin was a core part of the warmth and sacred invitation offered to attendees at the Florida Herbal Conference. Combining her traditional ‘Wise Woman Way’ approach to healing with a deeply pure heart, Chonteau invoked the elements and directions at the opening circle and touched every being with her tender nature.
I enjoyed both of her offerings – The Art of Herbal Bathing and The Four Healing Salves. Her first class, offered at Saw Palmetto next to the gorgeous lake of Camp La Llanda, was an inspirational class diving deep into the magic of creating a sacred bathtime ritual. Through the combinations of different herbs, medicines and natural sacred objects, Chonteau shared many of her different ways to receive the healing benefits of bathing.
I felt moved by her practical yet spiritual wisdom on herbal bathing and how simple it can truly be. I walked away from this class feeling excited and drawn to the ancient art of herbal bathing in a whole new way.
While attending her 4 Healing Salves workshop at Yaupon I was gently reminded of the different ways that we can move through our own personal healing, herbs aside. Without the authentic inner work, just taking herbs alone will not bring about true healing. Chonteau led us through our breath, reliving both positive and difficult experiences in a new light, and then moving our bodies and our energy through the emotions to reclaim them in a new way.
This class provided an authentic pathway for diving deeper into ourselves and exploring other ways we can grow through our challenges. Chonteau reminded us that real and lasting healing requires time and patience with our process. Her presence is healing in and of itself, and it was a true gift to hear her share her stories, tribulations and victories on the Wise Woman’s path of healing.
Walking & Eating the Weeds
A practical portion of the conference for attendees residing in Florida were the fun weed walks. Bob Linde and Renee Crozier, directors of Traditions School of Herbal Studies in Tampa, hosted a very informative walk & talk on the medicinal wild herbs that grow in the area.
Herbs of note we encountered were Chanca Piedra or “Stone-Breaker”, Plantago and Gotu Kola. Amidst the local sampling there were treatments for infection, inflammation, diabetes, blood pressure and pain. Two in particular are being considered for research – one for cancer and the other for HIV.
Green Deane, an avid forager, educator and author, led a walk discussing the edible flora around us. We tasted Smilax tendrils, Sorrel leaves for salad, and a local mustard weed that was nicely spicy. The Beauty Berry bush is not only edible, but is used to make a worthy insect repellent as well. Deane’s blog, eattheweeds.com, is loaded with information about the natural food and medicine that lives around us, as well as his upcoming events.
Crosslin Fields Smith: Revering Our Ancestors
We had the divine blessing of hearing spiritual leader and Keetoowah Elder Crosslin Fields Smith of the Cherokee Nation. Jody Noé gave thanks to Crosslin, her teacher, by inviting him onto the stage. The address Crosslin shared was a call to all conscious beings to tend the soil as the most sacred and important thing for all life and our future on this planet. As we listened to this great elder, we realized that he too has elders. He spoke of our connection to our ancestors and their wisdom and woes through the very soil which we will all become one day.
Sobande & The Quilts On Our Backs
Angelique ‘Sobande’ Greer walked on stage Friday night emanating a fierce and powerful presence. As the founder of the only African American School of Herbalism & Natural Health, Sobande is deeply in tune with her African roots and the Afro botany practices traditionally used in the African Diaspora.
Sobande led us in a humbling experience as we reconnected as Americans with our relationship towards people of color. She spoke fiery medicine about the quilts on her back – the weight that has been carried by generations and lineages over time in the unforgettable crimes against humanity during slavery in the United States.
Sobande drew me in with her humility and her way with words. She spoke a truth that struck the audience with great weight and a yearning for reconciliation. Her talk opened my heart more deeply to a greater awareness for all beings, and I felt compelled extend my hands and heart more to those who are still recovering the parts of themselves that were rejected by white society.
One of my favorite quotes was her final statement of the evening: “We have all come equipped with enough.” We all already have what we need to make a difference for humanity, and to honor the people of color that have been mistreated for hundreds of years. We have a responsibility not just to our planet, but to all people, and Sobande’s heartfelt delivery of a difficult truth could not be more needed in these trying times.
The Lively Dr. Jody E. Noé
Jody took the stage on Saturday evening with an audience expecting a deeply serious talk – at least those who didn’t already know her like me. But instead she livened up the crowd with jokes and dares to be bold, be real, and dive deep into our communion with the plants and each other. She challenged us that night to go up to someone who you wouldn’t normally speak to and ask to share a hug and a smile just to see what happens.
Jody seems to bring her joie de vivre, quick wit and prodding fun everywhere she goes and her keynote speech was no exception. She emphasized that we must dissolve illusions of separation and become one human tribe in tune with the plants, animals, and each other. Her book “The Endocrine System for the Herbalist” is now available in its second edition. When The Shakti Journal went to meet Jody at her vendor stand, we found her surrounded by her 3 sisters and best friend having a hoot of a time.
Plant Medicine for Transitions
Emily Ruff taught an incredible class at Spanish Needle about compassionate care at the end of life. She talked about various ways we can support those in the spiritual transition of death through plant allies and spiritual practices. Her workshop was an intuitive and tender teaching that we could each take home to our families and communities.
In just a few moments of being at her workshop, I was reminded of the herbs she taught me about in the trainings I took with her. Her words brought me back to my beginning days as an herbalist. It is plant activists like Emily that inspire every person they meet with their devotion to keeping the ancient traditions of herbalism alive.
A Living, Breathing Marketplace
We were pleased to see that many of the event’s keynote speakers were also vendors! What a joy to find the speakers on the ground with attendees, proudly introducing themselves, their books and offerings to the crowd.
The Reclaiming Roots stand was rowdy in a loving way, with keynote speaker Dr. Jody E. Noé cracking jokes like there may be no tomorrow while cheering on sales made by the neighboring stands, including that of Cherokee elder Crosslin Smith who was selling dresses, shirts and jewelry alongside his tribe members.
Angelique ‘Sobande’ Greer had her own booth where she offered specialized readings for individuals. Beautiful Chorus had a bounty of merchandise and music available as well as handmade jewelry created by the leader of the group, Alexandra Love.
The marketplace was practically a living and breathing apothecary with the plethora of herbal vendors including Leaves & Roots, Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine, Traditions School of Herbal Studies, Tree Amigos Growers, Frontier Herb Co-op, Beautyberry Apothecary, FL Herb Society & FL Herb Cooperative, Bone Flower Botanicals, Wild Routes Ireland, Red Moon Herbs, Village Living Skills (Lutra Village), Bear Alchemy, Spero Art, Ceramic Song, Cotton Blossom Press among others.
Next year we are definitely following Emily Ruff’s lead and saving up as much as we can to go “blow it at the marketplace.” We simply could not get enough of the books, artisanal jewelry, beautiful clothing, soaps, orgonites & minerals, native plants and of course all the amazing medicinal herbs and herbal products.
A Closing Circle To Remember
Our closing ceremony started with the Beautiful Chorus calling everyone to the Art Stage in the center of the Marketplace where it all began. The crowd was silent, meditative, with soft smiles and some eyes closed to take in the sounds more fully. Tibetan Prayer flags waved above our heads to remind us of the sacred impermanence of all things and the ancient wisdom that runs through all the cycles of birth, life and death.
Emily Ruff gave us the a graceful and fearless closing blessing and gave thanks once again to her teachers and all the participants. Further, she asked Cherokee medicine man Crosslin Smith to bless us with a special closing ceremony. Crosslin explained that there was a tub of blessed water from the water ceremony on Sunday morning and that we all should take some to bless plants, places, ourselves and others on our journey. He shared a special Cherokee blessing intended to unite and heal all the races of mother earth.
The blue people, yellow people, red people and black people were blessed by the four directions and the center of the cross where Crosslin stood represented all races joining together to create a healthy and happy earth and people. Silence ran deeply through the ground beneath us as we basked in the powerful prayer for unity and peace.
Honoring teachers was what this event was all about. A love for plants, health and knowledge is what all the attendees had in common. You will love this event if you want to be immersed in nature while building community and taking in a huge variety of herbal information that could take years to read. The resources provided to build on what you learn here are priceless. There is no amount you can pay for pure inspiration, but you will certainly find it at the 9th annual Florida Herbal Conference next year.
The dates have been set for 2020’s FHC and tickets for will go on sale on April 1st, 2019. Get yours while they’re at the lowest rate, and use our code SHAKTIJOURNAL for a special discount on your 2020 ticket! We at The Shakti Journal hope to see you at next year’s Florida Herbal Conference, Feb. 28th-Mar. 1st, 2020 in Lake Wales, Florida!