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Gathering Together: Dara Saville Talks Wildcrafting, Restoration

Gathering Together: Dara Saville Talks Wildcrafting, Restoration

By Samantha Anne Carrillo

Albuquerque Herbalism Founder Dara Saville is in a longterm relationship with riparian restoration work and the replanting of native plants in the Bosque.

As a longtime volunteer with the Bosque Ecological Monitoring Program (BEMP) and an herbal studies instructor, Saville also served as catalyst for the formation of The Yerba Mansa Project. In partnership with the City Open Space Division, Albuquerque Herbalism is restoring these plants to the Bosque ecosystem while doing educational outreach about the Bosque’s ecological significance to New Mexico’s native plants and animals.

In addition to her own wellness practice and teaching regular classes at Albuquerque Herbalism, Saville leads an Edible and Medicinal Plants Walk for the city. In preview of her June 11 tour at Open Space Visitor Center (6500 Coors Blvd. NE), which runs from 9 to 11 a.m., Elbow Room reached out to Saville to discuss nature’s pharmacy, wildcrafting (thoughtfully gathering plants from their natural environment), and the future of the Bosque.

Let’s talk local plants. Based on your considerable experience, which edible and/or medicinal plants do you expect to see on the June 11 plant walk?

The walk at the Visitor Center Heritage Garden will include a variety of plants with historical importance to our local area, both weeds and native plants. We’ll talk about whatever we see there, including Monarda (a.k.a bee balm), plantain, Datura, roses, Amarantha and many others. Every plant’s life has value—whether to us, to animals, to the Earth, or simply for themselves.

You’ve been a volunteer with the Bosque Ecological Monitoring Program (BEMP) for quite a while now. The Ravenna Grass removal project is interesting. Y’all are literally replanting bare spaces with Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica, also known as Lizard Tail) plants, right? Talk about direct action for a cause!

Yes, I have volunteered for BEMP for many years with my kids. Our work there was part of the inspiration for The Yerba Mansa Project, in which we’re working to improve native plant habitat and increase biodiversity. A healthy balance between native and non-native plants should, in my opinion, be the goal for 21st century plant communities in the Bosque.

The idea that we are planting Yerba Mansa all over the Bosque is, however, a misconception. If Yerba Mansa could grow everywhere in the Bosque, it would already be doing that. Early botanical surveys tell us that Yerba Mansa once formed vast expanses of “turf”’ in the Bosque when it still had enough water to maintain wetlands. Today we have lost most of our wetlands, and there is simply not enough water in the system to nurture wetlands plants such as Yerba Mansa in most areas.

What we are doing through The Yerba Mansa Project is: planting Yerba Mansa in very specific locations where its habitat requirements are still being met; removing non-native highly invasive Ravenna Grass; and re-seeding a mixture of more resilient, less water-dependent native species. We are also creating and offering free educational programs for the community that focus on awareness and understanding of native plants in the Bosque.

As an herbalist who calls the high desert home, are there go-to remedies for region-specific complaints like dry skin or mucus membranes and juniper allergies?

Remedies for high-desert symptoms such as the dryness and allergies you mentioned are of course offered by the land. These situations need to be looked at individually for specific variations that people experience and of course, people will resonate with different plants. Matchmaking plants and people is similar to matchmaking people and people—not everyone jives together.

One of my favorites for the dry skin complaint is St. John’s Wort oil. It is very soothing to subcutaneous irritation. Yarrow-infused oil is a good one for nosebleeds, another common problem in the high desert. Allergies require much more individualized formulas but can certainly be dealt with by working with local plants. Globemallow (Sphaeralcea spp.), a very common wildflower in our state, is one of our best allies for reducing inflammation and balancing immune response.

For beginner herbal medicine enthusiasts, are there any particular books, publishers or authors that you enthusiastically recommend to newcomers?

As for books, yes, there are lots of great ones out there. Michael Moore is likely to be at the top of most people’s list. I also like Richo Cech and Rosemary Gladstar. Kiva Rose Hardin also has Plant Healer Magazine, a great website and newsletter that are filled with fantastic information.

In a perfect world, what would be done to protect the Bosque ecosystem?

In my perfect world, we would be making smarter decisions about water and land management that would keep a lot more water in the system and protect floodplains and other critical habitats. Moving water storage out of Elephant Butte to higher elevation reservoirs or keeping it in the aquifer, for example, would greatly reduce evaporative losses.

I also dream of people with power realizing that we are an integral part of the natural world—that our fate is inseparable from it, and that we can positively influence life on Earth through our existence here. I’d love to see us making better decisions to slow the warming of the Earth so that habitat-creating plants have time to evolve and migrate and people also have more time to adapt to this rapidly changing world.

Let’s recognize rivers as living beings and give them personhood rights so that we can protect the large number of species on this planet that depend on living rivers, including ourselves. We can do all of this, and we all need to fight for these things.

Why is community so important?

Empowered and organized communities are what changes the world for the better. Working together, we can help one another live better lives and make the changes we want to see in this world. Let’s do it!

To learn more about Saville’s nature walk, go to bit.ly/ABQPlantWalk. Visit albuquerqueherbalism.com to find out more about Saville and her wellness practice, as well as Albuquerque Herbalism classes.

Samantha Anne Carrillo is: a Burqueña; a freelance writer & editor; a social media consultant & brand strategist; and a fourth-wave feminist & devout situationist. Connect with her at facebook.com/samanthaannenm, samanthaannecarrillo.contently.com and twitter.com/SamAnneCarrillo.

Photos courtesy Albuquerque Herbalism.

Plants shown, in order:

Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)
Chamomile
Yarrow
Amaranth
Datura
Rosa rugosa
Rose hips