Re-Wild Series | Holly Poole-Kavana: Plant Powered

 photo by Lacey Walke

photo by Lacey Walke

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Holly Poole-Kavana, herbalist, doula, and founder of Little Red Bird Botanicals. I personally can vouch for her extensive knowledge and love of plants of all kinds, and I really enjoyed being a part of her 2016 herbal CSA.

I can't think of a better woman to feature on the first day of Spring. Read on for more insight into this wonderful woman's work in the world. 

What drew you to herbalism? When did this journey begin for you? 

Before I was interested in herbalism I was very keen on plants. Some of my earliest memories are of plants in the woods where I lived as a little kid: picking wild asparagus and blueberries, chewing on wintergreen, playing with mayapple fruits, forget-me-nots growing wild around the front door. They're more vivid than any of my other early memories. After moving to the suburbs I didn't pay as much attention to them, but during my second year of college (I was studying molecular genetics and was on course for a lifetime of lab work) I took a botany class and immediately KNEW that I needed to study plants. I switched schools to where there was a botany program. I think we went outside to look at plants once in that program-- most of the classes were chemistry, cell biology, plant physiology, etc. I was very science-minded and thought herbal medicine was BS because it didn't have a large body of scientific research to back it up. A few years later I became involved in a couple of community health projects, and almost as an afterthought I decided to take a class from a very experienced local herbalist (this was in California) just to see what it was all about. That was the second time I was struck with the knowledge that I needed to follow a path, and herbs have been in control of my life ever since!

What does "wild" mean to you? How do you allow yourself to re-wild and be wild in the middle of a busy life? 

Contrary to the connotations we have for the term "wild," most of the times I feel my wild self surface are very quiet. I feel wild when I spend an hour in silence watching creatures swim in a stream, when feeling the wind on my face and listening to that same wind rustle in the leaves of my favorite tree, when I allow myself to be surrounded by deer by staying perfectly still in the woods. There's a kind of frenetic motion associated with the word wild, but I connect most strongly with plants, which have a slow, steady, and quiet quality. I find that quiet moments are the perfect antidote to busy city life. I'm also lucky to have work that brings me outside the city-- I often spend my day in wide open spaces while many other people are in an office.  Sometimes being "busy" means I'm behind on other tasks because I spent hours harvesting plants in the sunshine!

Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for city-dwellers yearning for a bit more wilderness? Is there a way to still activate, acknowledge and honor mother earth in a concrete jungle? 

Yes! Plants are resilient, and they do not back down from the challenges of concrete and asphalt. Everywhere you look in the city they are making little pockets of life. Get to know the weeds that grow around your home, in the alleys, in the parks, and along the roads. Most people don't really see them, but once you start looking at, say, a square meter of grass in a city park you will find a diverse little ecosystem containing lots of plant species. Some of them are edible, some can be used for medicine. Some have tiny features that feel like magic when discovered. Use a magnifying glass to look at flowers if you want to have your mind blown! Watch insects and birds. I think that honoring the earth starts with attention to and gratitude for the little wild bits we can see every day.

What do you feel is the role of woman on the planet today?  How can we honor our feminine power at this time? 

One of our many roles is to blast open the narrow definition of "woman:" to revel in the array gender expressions it contains and to challenge the conventional belief that genitals define our gender and that there is only one way to be a woman. This kind of solidarity and celebration honors everyone's feminine power.

How do you give yourself permission to be free? 

As a person with class and race privilege I already have a lot of permission from society at large, so the act of giving myself permission is relatively easy. When I have doubts I try to remember that I am very lucky to do work that makes me feel free.

What do you want your legacy to be? 

I don't think of myself as someone who's striving to have a legacy-- I generally prefer to be in the background, even though I do a fair bit of public work and teaching. I hope when I look back on my life I can say that lots of people who I've crossed paths with appreciate and understand plants more than they did before, even if it's just a tiny bit.