The first time Bonnie Rose Weaver came across herbal remedies she dismissed the notion. Now, she is releasing a book discussing the therapeutic herbs she has grown for years in San Francisco’s Medicine Garden. And all it took was some tea.
Eventually convinced to give herbs a shot, Weaver visited a natural remedies bookshop in Olympia, Wa., where she was living at the time, and learned how to formulate a tea to help alleviate symptoms of her asthma. After some three months of drinking the tea, her condition improved. She stopped using the inhaler and hasn’t looked back, instead pursuing her passion for herbs.
“I was so empowered by them. That barrier that I had been taught to believe was there…that was just gone,” Weaver said.
Upon her return to her native San Francisco, Weaver began an apprenticeship with at an urban farm. Later she became part of a group of mostly women who coaxed herbs out of the soil at the Medicine Garden, a plot of earth behind an apartment building on 18th and Guerrero streets. Eventually, Weaver began running the space.
“For a year, I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said. “But I would hang out there and spend extra cash on seeds.”
Eventually, she took over the operation and began to produce tinctures. Many plants in the traditional European herbalism Weaver practices need to be well established before they can be harvested, so the Medicine Garden needed time to grow before it could produce any actual medicine. Fortunately, having been handed from one urban herb farmer to the next for several years, when Weaver began her work in earnest she was able to draw from some of the herbs planted years prior by her predecessors.
In 2015 Weaver and writer-editor Mari Amend began working together, starting a community-supported-agriculture business (CSA) that provided subscribers with tinctures and short chapbooks giving some herbalistic guidance to city dwellers. The mission was education about and access to herbal medicine.
“Feeling like I was this ancient witch in techtopia, living in the internet, trying to invoke grandmothers in this age was strange, but at the same time I felt so passionate about it,” Weaver said.
She became what she calls an herb farmer, blending the niche practice of urban agriculture with another subculture, the cultivation of medicinal herbs. She’s not an herbalist per se – she doesn’t set out to treat people’s afflictions as a practitioner, but rather to provide them the tools to seek out natural healing on their own, even in an urban setting.
And with a stack of essays on urban herbalism under her belt, Weaver set out with Amend to write the book that would become “Deeply Rooted: Medicinal Plant Cultivation in Techtropolis.” It offers an overview of the history, politics, and context of the Medicine Garden that evolved at 18th and Guerrero streets, as well as an outline of 20 herbs that can be grown in San Francisco easily and their folklore, and their traditional and modern uses and dosages.
Weaver’s emphasis is on place. The plants discussed can be grown here, unlike the far-flung exotic herbs that tend to become popular among seekers of herbal remedies.
But history and politics also affect a place, an environment. The name “1849 Medicine Garden” refers to the year gold-seekers began flooding in to San Francisco, changing the landscape, the nature, and the course of history for ever and not always for the better. (Weaver steered away from the term “gold rush,” loath to idolize so destructive an era.)
Weaver and Amend are about to embark on a book tour, giving talks and leading workshops in cities up and down the Pacific coast. A book release party is scheduled for Sunday Sept 25 at Little City Gardens, 203 Cotter St, San Francisco, 3-6 p.m. Tour event dates and times will be announced on their website.