Herbal tinctures from Walker Farms line the shelves of Continuum Healing’s Remedy Room. Their remedies are based on the formulas handed down from generation-to-generation in documented folklore from a variety of cultures. These cultures, out of necessity, developed a very close relationship with their environment and learned a great deal about the medicinal value of plants.
Susan Yerigan, owner, grower and medicine maker, shared a little bit about herself and how Walker Farms came to be. Here’s her interview with naturopath Micah McLaughlin.
Micah: Tell us about when you first started working with plants as medicine in your own life?
Susan: The maker, the herbalist, the patient: we usually start in one of these categories, but we need to be all three for healing. It’s then that the plants truly shine.
I started as a patient—a scrappy, unaware, street urchin. I was extremely ill, and after two surgeries and a three-month coma, I was still facing a terminal disease once I was sent home. My neighbor suggested I go to an herb store for help. Herb store? What the heck is that? The owner along with herbalist (and then employee) Matthew Wood took it upon themselves to see me into good health. What happened was unexpected. It changed my life and allowed me to return to something deep down I had lost. But this wasn’t the end. Like all good stories of magic, plants had much more to teach me.
When was Walker Farms formed and how has it grown?
By 1995 I had already worked in medical research, manufacturing and city building inspection. All these occupations helped when starting a herbal business. I already had gardens with a large variety of herbs. It seemed like the natural order of things. Codes, regulations and a science lab background: it was an easy transition into the maker of medicines.
We have never advertised but have grown consistently for the last 20 years. Referrals from well-known herbalists and retail stores have been the biggest component to our success. Word of mouth is a great friend to Walker Farms.
How many varieties of plants are you currently growing or wild harvesting?
We make about 110 different tinctures here, some oils and flower essences.
What makes Walker Farms different than other companies on the market selling herbal tinctures?
There are several things. It’s how we treat the plants. We use brandy instead of grain alcohol. We make our tinctures from freshly picked herbs, not dried, which is a huge difference from other tinctures out there. Their strength is as strong as one could make a tincture. Our goal is to make the best, and we hold high standards. We are not swayed by greed, nor haste. Integrity is in every process. What is the point to life to do any less?
Who were your teachers along the way, and how has that affected your approach to medicine making?
They range from herbalists, medicine men and women, children to the plants themselves, students and patients. Some of my best teachers are found in everyday conversations—in the enlightenment of how we are all woven together. I learn from you, the reader, the believer, the skeptic.
How have society’s views on herbal medicine grown since you first started Walker Farms?
I remember giving testimony at a congressional hearing in 1996 or ‘97. The hearing was about the arresting of herbalists practicing herbal medicine with or without a license. It was very scary stuff for people who just pulled me out of death’s doors.
We have come a long way since then. People were extremely leery at first. We were a “bunch of hippies gone off the rails.” Western medicine could do all, couldn’t it? We have come into a time, however, where chemicals, prescription side-affects and antibiotics are losing favor in the public eye. Now, the FDA and state departments don’t blink an eye when granting approvals. A business like mine clearly sees a better tomorrow for our planet and its people.
When making herbal medicine, what traditions or rituals are part of the medicine making and why?
In the beginning I had been taught to give an offering of sacred tobacco in all things that I took from the earth—be it plant, animal or space for a garden. If we respect and are aware of all the intricacies of nature, how could we not? Plants are conscious beings. Some talk underground with their roots and want to be close; others communicate leaf to leaf. If we pay attention, we can have very happy plants. One has to take into account fairness. Plants need a purpose just like people do. They may be willing to jump into the bottle to be medicine, but they may scream no. Then, let’s make a deal that fits. I understand plants should be allowed to have offspring. When I ask for lots of children, they have yet to fail.
The maker of medicines has to be in a good place with discipline of mind and heart. If anything else, confusion would go into the medicine. If I want to experiment on different parts of the plants, I do it on my own time. We are honored to make medicines.
What is one of your favorite stories of a plant medicine helping someone heal?
When we first moved to Wisconsin, the new neighborhood consisted of 10 square miles of farmers that had been here for generations. Most of them were suffering from Lyme’s disease. Antibiotics were just not working. Weeds were their enemy. They thought I lived in a world that was tree hugging, skinny branch stuff, but they tried it. When Western medicine fails, it is an opportunity for plants to shine. I gave them Teasel and, from sickness to health, their understandings were totally altered. Now they tell their friends. They bring animals up for help. They tell me what plants are in their woods. They are EXCITED. This one medicine has changed thousands of lives.
What is your favorite part about crafting medicine from plants?
My soul is happy to be in cahoots with nature.
What is the most important lesson a plant has ever taught you?
I want to say “Be careful what you stick in your mouth,” but that is a reaction to a very bad particular mushroom. On the flip side, I believe plants gave me life on the deepest of levels. They taught me that I am a part of beautiful woven fabric. The fabric is alive. Sometimes I am the maker, sometimes I am the herbalist, I am always its patient.