Aurora Lights Herbal Medic Chapter

Jan 19, 2018

The Aurora Lights Herbal Medic Chapter, with the help of herbalists from the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism, were able to provide 5 days of herbal clinics to the communities of Naoma and Whitesville, two small towns located in the heart of Coal River Valley in West Virginia. Aurora Lights, a non-profit organization based in West Virginia, supports locally-based projects that strengthen the connections within and between human communities and their natural environment by promoting environmental and social action. Ultimately, we hope to restore a sense of the sacred balance between the Earth and the human community that will promote sustainable and thoughtful land stewardship. Through our mission to build solidarity for a healthy Appalachia, we created the Aurora Lights Herbal Medic Chapter through Herbal Medics University and are currently their only chapter within Appalachia.

We practice herbal medicine as a sustainable part of Appalachian Heritage. This knowledge can be passed on so others may learn, do, and then teach. You don’t have to have a college degree to practice herbal medicine for your family’s health. These hills and hollers gift us with many medicinal plants, all to be used with love and good intentions. It is crucial to provide the alternative of herbal medicine to these communities; it is a system that is centered around local, independent action regarding personal health. This independence connects with Appalachia’s deep roots of nurturing the relationship between self and the land. Herbal medicine is empowering in the sense that it allows people to better understand their bodies and become proactive in establishing a healthier lifestyle.

Coal River Valley is nestled within the Clear and Marsh Forks of the Big Coal River in Raleigh and Boone counties of West Virginia. The Valley (as it is referred to) is lush and wild, with forests that are bursting with biodiversity. Coal River Valley is also heavily impacted by coal mining; both underground mines and surface mines (including Mountaintop Removal) are prevalent in the region. Aurora Lights co-created a participatory website entitled JourneyUpCoalRiver with in depth information about the history and current issues of the area.

Ground water near mountaintop removal mines has been tested to show elevated levels of sulfates, iron, aluminum, lead, selenium, and arsenic. Airborne particulate matter commonly found in mountaintop removal communities include ammonium nitrate, silica, benzene, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen dioxide. Because of groundwater contamination from MTR, many communities in the area are left without a clean source of drinking water. During our September 2016 clinic week, team members installed filtered rain catchment systems at the UMWA Union hall in Prenter and at the Stanley Heirs Park on Kayford Mountain. These catchment systems serve as an alternative water source in times of emergency need for water.

Our herbal clinics were held from July 25-28, 2017. Two days were spent in Naoma at the Judy Bonds Center and two days were spent in Whitesville at the Salamy Community Center. Community members participated in a consultation with our team members where we asked questions pertaining to general health, acute complaints, current medications, allergies, and how they hope to help with their bodies heal through herbal medicine. They also received advice on their lifestyle choices, usually including both diet and exercise. After the consultation, our team of herbalists blended together medicines based on clients’ ailments.

Our apothecary consists of dried plants, tinctures, infused oils, honey, and vinegars, and salves. From these bases, we were able to make tincture formulas, tea and infusion blends, smoking blends, liniments, honey pastes, and bitters. Most of the medicine bases were created by herbal medic chapter members prior to the clinic week. Our herbal preparations began more than six months prior to the clinic week. Once spring arrived and plants began to grow in the region, our members started to harvest and prepare the plants. Many plants were either wildcrafted or harvested from our established medicine gardens.

Moving forward, we anticipate another clinic week in 2018 where we will do follow-ups with past clients and invite new clients to join. We will continue to work closely with RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountains’ and People’s Survival) and Coal River Mountain Watch to increase herbal medicine knowledge and programming in the area.

Herbal medicine is part of the deep roots of Appalachian Heritage, part of the history of a rural and self-reliant people, for whom the struggle for health and well being is nothing new. Although it is less commonplace these days, there has been a resurgence of excitement and interest regarding plant medicine. The Aurora Lights Herbal Medic Chapter has only been in operation for a year and a half, but our alliances are both deeply rooted and newly growing, and together our impact has been great. We would like to thank Kindle Project for their generous grant. The financial support of Kindle made possible an amazing collaboration of work, time, medicine, herbs, alliances, health, and community.