by Kate Reynolds
Corinna Wood seems the quintessential earth mother. Tall and strong with a strawberry-blonde mane, her smile is warm, genuine. There is something luminous about her, a soft glow that makes your shoulders relax, that makes you feel, well, safe. She engages one completely, listens carefully to questions and responds with a teacher’s gentle rhythms.
"The Wise Woman tradition is somewhat invisible," she explains. It tends to be proactive rather than heroic. As such, the teaching encourages nourishing the body by consuming plants, herbal teas and infusions with beneficial properties. By supporting and tonifying the digestive, immune and hormonal systems, the body is better able to help itself when presented with health challenges such as infection, injury or stress. It is built on a trust in the body's innate wisdom.
Wood has traveled the Wise Woman path since developing a fascination with wild and beneficial plants in her late teens. A Connecticut native, she took a detour from the Ivy League track and followed her passion into forests and gardens, eventually finding her way to the Pacific Northwest and Evergreen State College, where she studied botany, biology, chemistry and nutrition.
Her academic degree provided the basis for a more profound practical learning experience with various renowned herbalists and authors. Wood studied with seminal figures in the field of alternative health, whose expertise in natural health and empowering perspective on women's health proved to be the inspiration that confirmed Wood's calling.
In 1994, Wood and fellow herbalist Jessica Godino founded Red Moon Herbs, an herbal hub dedicated to creating high quality tinctures, salves and herbal blends which utilize local and wildcrafted (foraged) plant materials. Despite the current focus on rare, exotic and endangered herbs imported from the rain forests or the orient, Red Moon mainly harvests the common, abundant plants that have formed the basis of folk health care for generations.
There are tremendous benefits to working with plants that grow where we live.
"They experience the same climate, physiologically and energetically, the same water, air and toxins," Wood says. "The plants that are thriving here are full of truth and beauty. They offer our bodies the ability to thrive in this bioregion as well."
The fields and woodlands of Western North Carolina are a virtual pharmacy for the astute forager, although most folks would consider many of the most powerful 'herbal allies' to be weeds. Among the all-stars: plantain, chickweed, dandelion, lamb's quarter and nettles.
Yes, nettles - the stinging kind that bring up welts on the shins of those unfortunates who wander into their midst. "Nettles are probably my all-time favorite," Wood notes. "They'll cure what ails ya. They're great for adrenals and kidneys, high in iron, support the hormonal and immune systems and help with hay fever."
In addition to their physical properties, plants possess certain energetic qualities. Living closely with them in their environment, the herbalist develops an intuitive sense when relating to the plants, a communication, if you will. This interaction helps the practitioner to perceive when a plant is at peak potency and invites its spirit into the preparations.
While the energetic aspects of the herbs are a key element, Red Moon's preparations are not homeopathic. "We don't make homeopathics or flower essences, both preparations that concentrate the energetic properties of the plant, but have very little of the physical left," Wood explains. Our approach is to have both and to honor the fact that sometimes, for example, the nettles’ iron is what's really needed to build the blood, along with the incredible health-affirming energy that the plant can bring.
After the plant material has been reverently harvested it is immediately drenched with Greek olive oil or a combination of 50% organic alcohol and 50% spring water and set to steep for a full six weeks. Working with fresh herbs and allowing a long brewing period ensures that the extracts will be high potency when they are decanted with an herb press.
The staff at Red Moon then crafts preparations in many forms to address issues ranging from sore muscles to rashes, insomnia to sore throats and fever, and even offer an herbal First Aid Kit. They are particularly dedicated to nurturing women's health, however, creating kits designed to support the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause, along with a wide selection of individual products geared towards women's concerns.
This focus is integral to the Wise Woman tradition, and has a natural offshoot in Wood's role as a teacher of natural health and fertility awareness. "Our mission," Wood says, "is to empower people to trust the wisdom and the cycles of the plants, the earth and their own bodies." She currently offers a wide selection of classes and workshops through the Earthaven Learning Center, an educational program of Earthaven Ecovillage.
Both Wood's family and Red Moon Herbs are housed at the Village Terraces, a cohousing neighborhood within Earthaven. At Earthaven, an Intentional Community on 325 acres of verdant mountain forest, some 60 hardy souls are creating "an evolving village-scale community dedicated to caring for people and the Earth." It is a vision that incorporates green building techniques, a low-impact, sustainable lifestyle, permaculture principles and a social philosophy of respect, responsibility and reverence.
In this atmosphere of mindful living, Red Moon and Wood's educational outreach are flourishing. This September, herbal luminaries will gather in Black Mountain for the first Southeast Women's Herbal Conference. "For many years other regions of the country have held these conferences," Wood notes, "so the time has come for our region to join in this powerful and vital tradition."
Scheduled to run from Friday, September 15 through Sunday, September 17, the conference program will focus on all phases of a woman's life and include topics of interest to both the experienced herbalist and the neophyte. "The conference is building momentum and there is an amazing amount of support from our broader community," says Wood. "I envision it becoming, over the years, a way of weaving women together and bringing a focus onto women's health with a very natural, nourishing approach."
A perfect time and place for searching out and embracing the Wise Woman within.
Originally published in Bold Life Magazine, July 2005