How can… herbal medicine support victims of state violence? With Nicole Rose, Solidarity Apothecary

Nicole Rose (she/her) is an anarchist organiser and herbalist from the Solidarity Apothecary. She served a 3.5 year prison sentence at aged 21, and ever since has focused on supporting people experiencing state violence. She is the author of The Prisoner’s Herbal Guide and Overcoming Burnout. You can find all her work at www.solidarityapothecary.org

Learn more about Laura Hartley, workshops and courses:
Website: www.laurahartley.com
Instagram: @laura.h.hartley
Facebook: @laurahartley-publiclove
LinkedIn: @laura-hartley-

Learn more about Nicole Rose & Solidarity Apothecary:
Website: https://solidarityapothecary.org/
Instagram: @solidarity.apothecary

Check out this episode!

TRANSCRIPT: Please note this was auto-generated and has not been edited, and may contain errors or omissions.  

[00:00:39] I am so excited for today’s guest, Nicole Rose, who is an anarchist organiser and herbalist from Solidarity Apothecary. Some of you may know her. She served a three and a half year prison sentence, age 21, and ever since is focused on supporting people, experiencing state violence. She’s the author of the prisoners herbal guide and overcoming burnout.

[00:01:00] And before we dive in, you can check out all of her work at www.solidarityapothecary.org. She does amazing work. So please go check it out. Uh, and welcome to the public love project, Nicole.

[00:01:12] I am really excited to have you here for this conversation today because I love everything that solidarity apothecary is up to, and there’s so much I wanna talk to you about. But I really, I wanna start with this idea of herbal medicine and stress and burnout today because, you know, going back in time, grew up around herbal medicine.

[00:01:33] You know, my mother was a big advocate for it. It was a very natural thing to have in my household. But I’m curious what your first experience was. How did you first come into contact with herbal medicine and what also led you or inspired you to see it as resistance? You know, really as a different paradigm?

[00:01:50] Nicole Rose: Yeah, so I guess I had like a maybe unconventional journey into herbal medicine. I’d done some work with like autistic adults, kind of like low paid kind of care work in England while I was on bail for this kind of animal liberation campaign that I got sent to prison for. So I did like a three and a half year sentence when I was 21.

[00:02:15] And yeah, like I’d. , you know, like read some bits and bobs before I went to prison and I’d been like gardening with some of the guys that I worked with, but it was still like, you know, absolute like unknown territory. Like I didn’t have this kind of romantic grandmother figure, like pass me down this amazing tradition, like orally or anything like that.

[00:02:38] Like very kind of like colonized like approach of, you know, you know, more like corporate logos than you do plants. But when I was in prison, I had the experience of working in the prison gardens and working with like an older woman from Scotland who knew loads about plants, like various other older women and some women from like traveler backgrounds.

[00:03:02] And they kind of taught me like little bits and bobs and it was, yeah, it was that kind of. Little, you know, little things about herbs that really like, kind of sparked my interest. And I started, I got some funding and I did a distance learning course and in herbalism. And then, yeah, after that I was just like completely hooked.

[00:03:22] And when I got out of prison, I just, yeah, had this like huge. You know, it’s been over a decade now, like long learning journey of all about herbal medicine and different plant traditions and ecology and botany and yeah, and I’ve never looked back and it’s, yeah, it’s like the best part of my life for sure.

[00:03:43] Laura Hartley: What was it that you loved about it? You know, I, I love the way you said that, you know, you did the distance course and then you’re like, oh my God, I was hooked. Like what about it really spoke to you at that time?

[00:03:53] Nicole Rose: I think for me, Being in a very, like a very, very traumatic environment, like being locked in a room for like sometimes 23 hours a day, obviously less if I was unlocked to work.

[00:04:06] And yeah, seeing huge amounts of like, violence towards women and other people in prison and, you know, just like, sorry, content warning, like self-harm and suicide attempts and like, it just felt like, This big horror story and plants just felt like. like an antidote. Like they were alive and vibrant and they were like somehow resisting the prison because they were still growing.

[00:04:32] Even if the prison like staff tried to put weed killer on them, they’d still come back. And it was that like connection to something beyond, like beyond concrete that really kept me alive and it kept me connected to the land and it kept me connected to like a life outside of prison and to kind of learn about something that’s.

[00:04:53] You know, like focused on healing and it’s not just like fighting and fighting and resisting and resisting and injustice, and injustice and organizing and this like busy world. It’s like stillness and patience and tenderness and like plants having, you know, like offerings of medicine just because of who they are and how they’ve evolved and that they have offerings for us that are like, you know, beyond.

[00:05:20] you know, beyond medicine for humans, like it’s a super anthropocentric kind of human focused approach. Like plants also provide each other with medicines and other animals, and soil life with medicines. So, Yeah, for me it was just like feeling connected to something that was like alive and strong and that ultimately like was way more powerful than the prison system, than capitalism, than any kind of like human design society, like built on oppression.

[00:05:48] Like it really feels like plants to like ancestors and you know, kind of older than time and we’ve got a lot to learn from them. And yeah, that’s, sorry, , maybe that’s a bit esoteric. Yeah, that’s yeah, that’s kind of no why they inspired me for sure.

[00:06:05] Laura Hartley: I, I’m with you there. You know, I think I, you know, I’m a, I, I truly believe and, and know that plants offer medicine and offer so much to the world and.

[00:06:15] I, I think, you know, one of the things that you’re talking about there is it is this kind of reconnection to the natural world, which like so many of us have lost, you know, in everyday society through capitalism, through the, the structures that we live in and the paradigms that we live in. We kind of see ourselves as separate.

[00:06:31] And I think sometimes plants and plant medicine and herbal medicine can be that entry point for realizing that the world is, is living. [00:06:40] Right?

[00:06:41] Nicole Rose: Yeah. A hundred percent. A hundred.

[00:06:44] Laura Hartley: Yeah, I saw this, this quote by Dave Meers on your website, which was herbalist should go with the flow, embrace being on the wrong side of capitalism and the law, and put our energies towards establishing decentralized autonomous grassroots health networks that empower community self-reliance, provide care to those most in need, and reduce the need for people to access conventional.

[00:07:06] and you know, o you know, obviously you know it, conventional medicine has many benefits and I wanna establish that, you know, there. But I, I love this quote for, for many reasons, but herbal medicine is not always seen as being anti-capitalist, right? It’s not seen as radical system change. You know, a lot of the time it’s kind of seen as something a little bit fluffy or.

[00:07:30] You know, not really scientific and, you know, the, it’s kind of, there’s a, there’s a bit of an, an airy fairy edge to it sometimes in people’s perceptions. So what I’m curious about is this link, because I think, you know, you do this really well with solidarity aary. Like what is the link between herbal medicine and these incredible benefits that it offer?

[00:07:50] And, you know, being on the wrong side of capitalism, you know, increasing community self-reliance looking at community care, what is this link between them?

[00:08:01] Nicole Rose: Yeah, good question. I think, I mean, I kind of think like a lot of things aren’t like inherently political and that. It’s a kind of like, it’s a verb, like it’s a doing thing.

[00:08:12] Like I do think, you know, like plants obviously like inherently resist, like being suppressed or you know, like you’ll see them like. You know, reclaim land and stuff like this where there’s been developments you know, like ecological succession. But I do think they do . I do think for me, like it is like a, it’s like very intentional to kind of connect with plants in this way and to work with them with this kind of like worldview.

[00:08:42] And I guess for me, like I was like an anarchist and an anti-capitalist like much before I was a herbalist, so that, , you know, that was my worldview, like looking at power in society and how society’s structured and different forms of oppression and different forms of like struggling collaboration and you know, like.

[00:09:00] I wanted to politicize herbal medicine like I was, you know, I kind of grew up with a single mom who had very severe mental health issues, and that dramatically shaped me in my life, and I know that if she could have afforded to access, A herbalist or someone, you know, an alternative medicine practitioner that wasn’t just working within like a kind of biomedical framework, but could look at her holistically.

[00:09:26] So they could see, you know, her like poverty and her economic circumstances, but they could also maybe see her like hormonal imbalances or traumatic stress held in her body, which is, you know, affecting her mental health. So for me, it’s kind of like I’m really passionate about herbal medicine being accessible.

[00:09:45] and recognizing like who is excluded from it. And you know, that is like the majority of people when it’s like a kind of privatized like health service. And yeah, like I think. Capitalism in terms of like the kind of medical industrial complex, it’s like, yeah, no, like you said, like I also wanna say that I’m, you know, like biomedical medicine is like incredibly lifesaving.

[00:10:06] You know, I was in Cali this week, took someone to hospital for antibiotics. Like, I’m not like Anti pharmaceuticals per se. Like I’m obviously, you know, I like using herbal medicines cuz of their you know, they’re more ecological and we’ve like coevolved with plants and they have less side effects. But yeah, like plant medicines, you know, they can’t be standardized.

[00:10:28] Like they try really hard, like supplement companies try really hard to force a plant to become a pill, but really like, , you know, it’s still gonna have an unpredictable effect. It won’t work on one person cuz of their constitution. Maybe they don’t have the right gut bacteria, you know, emo, it might not emotionally connect with someone else.

[00:10:47] So it’s like there is this kind of like mix of like science and like traditional medicine. And I wouldn’t say magic, but like spirit somehow, you know, that is kind of like, Influencing, like how we are shaped by, by medicine or by plant medicines. And yeah, I think. , I think like seeing how we can capitalize on plants the same way that we could like standardize pharmaceuticals is, is kind of why like plant medicine offers this kind of like anti-capitalist toolkit.

[00:11:20] I also think things like building like health autonomy is really important. Like, you know, we have like a medical system where you only seek help once you’re kind of at an extreme end of the spectrum, like you have a heart attack and therefore you need to call an ambulance. Whereas like herbalism is focused on preventative medicine, on nutrition, on you know, like building, you know, reducing inflammation in the body or whatever.

[00:11:45] But, you know, heart attacks are also caused by people, you know, being traumatized and living in a culture where they’re constantly in fight or flight or pumping out stress hormones. So it’s like, The herbal medicine is amazing, but it’s also not ano alone, not enough on its own. So that’s why I like to integrate it with kind of.

[00:12:05] Different worldviews around how broader society shapes health particularly in like a capitalist system. Sorry, that was a real ramble.

[00:12:14] Laura Hartley: Not at all. I, I think that was a really powerful answer actually. You know, and, and we try so hard to, to control the natural world, you know, to kind of put it into a pill, to put it into a nice box to say, well, you know, you should do exactly this in every single circumstance, and then we can control it and tweak it and modify it.

[00:12:33] it’s a very, you know, it, it is that same framework that has led to the rise of capitalism. It’s the same framework of patriarchy, of supremacy culture, of one of like domination and one of control. And you, you mentioned something really interesting there at the end, you know, which was around, we’re kind of living in this fight or flight.

[00:12:53] Response. And I’m really passionate about this because, you know, obviously I have my own experiences with burnout. I, you know, do a lot of work in coaching and running courses on burnout, and I know that you’ve also written a book on it. So what role do, do herbs have? You know, what can they offer us with burnout?

[00:13:13] You know, do they offer us anything? What’s your experience here?

[00:13:16] Nicole Rose: Good question. So again, I think it’s, [00:13:20] I think it’s like mixed and nuanced. So yeah, for me, when I had a very serious kind of chronic illness and was in and out of hospital and healthcare appointments and everything else, like I did seek some support from herbalist and that didn’t necessarily help me recover.

[00:13:40] But I also. Sought support from other herbalists and you know, they were like more on point of what, identifying what was going on for me. So they did really support me. But I think it’s less about, okay, I’m sick, I’m gonna see a herbalist. And it’s more about. I’m gonna start learning about my body. I’m gonna start learning about what is stressing me out or what is traumatizing me.

[00:14:04] I’m gonna look at life experiences that have shaped my physiology. I’m gonna make connections between, you know, trauma and inflammation or, you know, there’s like such a massive field of research now, like we’re just at the tip of it. understanding how traumatic stress like shapes our bodies. And I think for people who are burnt out, like, and I’m just talking from like a kind of context of people who are maybe.

[00:14:30] Involved in like some sort of organizing or movement work. But you know, like it’s really stressful. Like it’s really hard like fighting power structures and working in dysfunctional groups and experiencing state repression and feeling like you’re failing and the world is burning. So it’s like organizers are like often really in this like frontline context and that has a lot of risks to our emotional health, to our physical health.

[00:14:58] And I think herbalism can kind of. Support with those. So like in terms of like, you know, practical things, like if someone is, for example, like living on a protest site, then having like immune tonics, having syrups that are like, you know, highly nutritious or great for their mucus membranes, like for cough and colds and things like, that’s gonna really help them.

[00:15:20] Kind of like survive that situation and not get sick, not develop like a worse chronic illness. Or someone who’s, you know, like in my context, like I’ve been doing prisoner support for like 18 years. That’s like pretty much like a weekly prison visit. At least like loads of, you know, horrible traumatic shit that I’ve witnessed or experienced to do with the prison system.

[00:15:43] And plants, like they really like support my nervous system. You know, they help, they help. And plants really support my nervous system. You know, they help me sleep. They help me move into this like parasympathetic nervous system state where I’m actually able to rest and digest my food and my muscles are able to be repaired.

[00:16:03] Like there’s all these functions that we need in this different nervous system state and plants can be tools to help us get there, especially. You know, like we need other beings to kind of like, there’s like trauma language, but to kind of co-regulate, like to calm down, to feel safe. And if you’re in a world where humans don’t feel very safe to you, then plants are incredible as a resource because.

[00:16:29] You know, they’re not gonna betray you or abuse you like humans will, like, they offer like a different kind of relationship. And I think for me it’s like I really don’t want people to just think, oh, I can take some tinctures or take some tablets and I’m gonna not burn out. Like for me it’s like, no, I’m building like a lifelong relationship with plants.

[00:16:49] Helped me feel less alone. That helped me calm down, that like, you know, give me support for my immune system, for my digestion that helped me do this work, like for the long haul, which is, you know, what we need from organizers. So, yeah, I think can, medicines can offer a lot.

[00:17:07] Laura Hartley: I appreciate that because I, I, you know, I think that’s, you know, a similar frame to, you know, sometimes they say, you know, we use meditation, mindfulness in a similar experience.

[00:17:16] Like, you know, that’s fine. I can just like meditate for 20 minutes a day and that means that, you know, I’ll be less stressed so I can keep doing exactly what I’m doing. and keep doing the things that are causing this level of stress in my life, as opposed to seeing it as a practice that can deepen our relationship to self, that can help redirect us to what is true for us to where we’re called to a life that maybe is a little bit different.

[00:17:40] And you know, there, there are these incredible modalities out there, herbs and plants being one of them. You know, meditation being another, but it’s so easy for how we use them to be co-op. To just kind of just keep us just pushing, just keep going in the same direction, you know, as opposed to a redirect.

[00:17:59] And Oh, definitely. One of the things, maybe this plays in a little bit as well, to collective care, which, you know, I know is kind of what you’re doing, but I wanna talk first about what Collective Care actually is, because, you know, we, you see everywhere now, right? Like self-care is like the epitome of what we’re supposed to offer ourselves.

[00:18:20] and, and self-care, you know, originated ad activist movements. There is a space for it. There is a need for it. Absolutely. And I think sometimes we struggle to imagine what collective care actually is. What are your thoughts on this and what is collective care to you?

[00:18:36] Nicole Rose: Whew. Yeah. Big question. I think. , I think it changes like in terms of context, like, so with the pandemic we saw this big rise, like kind of spontaneous rise of mutual aid groups.

[00:18:49] So collective care looked like, you know, getting masks to people, like bringing food to people who were shielding. It looked like staying at home or you know, or whatever. Like, I think that was like a good example of. The needs are like much bigger than the individual and that actually we need each other to get through this time.

[00:19:08] Whether it’s like an online support group or you know, a friendship group on WhatsApp or whatever. Like, I think it’s about like leaning into the kind of collectiveness and accepting that we need each other and that people need us and we also need people. And I think for organizer types, it’s, it’s like an interesting paradigm.

[00:19:31] In some ways we’re hugely collective, like collectively orientated. You know, we’re doing campaigns and organizing in groups and we believe in like social movements and power from below and all this stuff, but in other ways, like we’re often like real like individualistic organizers, you know, without much.

[00:19:50] Support who are taking it all on our shoulders, like as individuals. And, you know, often have like bad patterns of like self neglect and, you know Yeah. [00:20:00] Self-harm almost through organizing. Like, and that’s what I write about in overcoming burnout, like, , the reason I talk about this stuff is cuz like, I need this medicine.

[00:20:08] You know, like it’s a constant, it’s a constant struggle to, you know, like my best friend just died recently. Like he killed himself in prison. And it was just one of the worst like summers of my life and. Yeah, even me who like writes all these books about this shit, like, it was difficult to ask for support, you know?

[00:20:29] And I needed someone with me like at all times and I’m super independent as a person and I was just like, yeah, I don’t feel safe on my own. And so, you know, my friends and my partners had a bit of a rotor of like, okay, who’s gonna be with Nicole? Cuz she can’t. , she can’t do this right now alone. And I think there is like beauty in that vulnerability, if that makes sense.

[00:20:50] So yeah, it does make sense, those structures like, and you know, it’s like nice if we can like formalize them, but I also think loads of this stuff is like super informal. Like other friends I’ve had who’ve died, you know, we’ve had little rotors of who’s gonna stay with the person at what time or, you know, like rotors of who’s visiting friends in hospital.

[00:21:11] Like I think. Yeah, I don’t think like amicus invaded like community care, like I think it’s always been there in indigenous communities and different cultures, and I think it is this kind of like capitalist, white supremacy culture that, you know, pushes us to just care about ourselves as individuals and not about everyone else.

[00:21:31] Yeah, it,

[00:21:32] Laura Hartley: it’s that sense of solidarity I think is actually really what you’re describing there. And you’re right, it, we live in a hyper individualistic society that really says, you know, it’s about your success. You can do it alone. You don’t eat anybody else, and you should be strong enough to survive on your own.

[00:21:48] And all of these really toxic ideas, because we exist in community, we thrive in community. and, and that sense of solidarity that you’re describing beautifully there I, I think actually ties in really

[00:22:01] Nicole Rose: well

[00:22:02] Laura Hartley: with obviously solidarity, aary and what you guys do now. Would you, I’d love to hear a little bit about what you guys do the support that you’re offering, who you are working with and some of the projects that are coming up for you.

[00:22:19] Nicole Rose: Sure. So unfortunately it’s, it’s just too many things at once which I know many people will identify with in terms of projects. But yeah, the kind of main focus for me as a herbalist is supporting people experiencing state violence. So there’s different like layers to that. one of them is distributing a book called The Prisoner’s Herbal, which is like a book that I wrote based on my experiences of like experimenting with plants inside.

[00:22:46] It’s like 10 very detailed plant profiles and then like a big section on how to use things like salt and pepper and stuff medicinally that someone might have access to in prison and. Distribute it to like thousands of prisoners worldwide for free. And we do that by people buying the book on the outside.

[00:23:04] And yeah, and we also support prisoners to learn about plants through like the distance learning program. So that’s like one big aspect. And then another major project of mine is I go to C in Northern France with a project called the Mobile Herbal Clinic Call, which used to be called Herbalist Up Borders.

[00:23:25] We’ve just changed our name recently. So yeah, Callay is like this kind of border hotspot. Hotspot, like a. Place between France and England, like on the French side, and loads of refugees and asylum seekers try and cross the channel in boats and, and also in Lori’s it’s extremely dangerous, huge amounts of racism, like horrific living conditions.

[00:23:50] And yeah, we have like a mobile clinic. Where we serve kind of like 500 plus people a week with wound care and chest infections and coughs and colds and digestive issues. And yeah, any kind of acute medical issue you could think of, we respond to it. We drive people to hospital. We do a lot of ad advocacy.

[00:24:12] And the medicines are made by like a grassroots network of medicine makers in the uk. And then, yeah, finally there’s This Ukraine Herbal Solidarity Project, which is something that we started in in March. So yeah, we put a kind of call out for support and different people got involved and it’s mostly me and a Ukrainian herbalist working together quite closely.

[00:24:36] Lana. And she has been working at a kind of evacuation site in Poland where refugees are like crossing through the different borders and then they kind of converge at this like gas station and get a cup of tea and have a rest and the kids can like choose a teddy and it’s like super heartbreaking. But she worked there pretty much all summer.

[00:24:57] Distributing medicines to people. And these are medicines from Ukraine’s, like super vibrant herbal medicine traditions things like valerian and skullcap and elderberry syrup and things for covid. And we also distribute medicine in Ukraine, so I kind of make things and send it to Poland and Lana packages up and gets it to people at the front or different places in Poland sorry, in Ukraine.

[00:25:20] Yeah. And there’s, you know, there’s like a whole bunch of other things, but those are like the main, the main like, you know, big things that I focus on. I say we, but like, Solidarity is, is basically me, but I do like collaborate with like shitloads of people, like through these different projects.

[00:25:39] So yeah, it’s definitely a collective effort.

[00:25:43] Laura Hartley: And how can people support this? I mean, I know you mentioned with the the ERs Haas. Prisoner her book that people can buy it on the outside. Can people volunteer at, with any of these spaces in Cale or in Poland, can they support you directly? How can people get involved in supporting this work?

[00:26:01] Nicole Rose: Yeah, definitely. There’s like all sorts of opportunities. I think fundraising is like the biggest need. Everyone’s like, how can we support you? And I’m like, please help with fundraising. And then they just like never apply. And I’m like, Ugh, . But yeah, like money is just like, just the. Of my life of not having enough financial resources to make it all happen.

[00:26:22] So yeah, fundraising is massive and getting the books to people in prison, connecting with prisoner book projects. I have sent like a few parcels now and again over to Australia. I trying to remember what they’re called. Maybe Is it like Inside Out Network? I’m not sure, but yeah, like, I think. . [00:26:40] Yeah, I know I’ve had a few emails from people that have wanted to translate not translate to distribute the book in Australia, but it’s kind of not ever moved forward.

[00:26:49] So if anyone was interested in that, that would be amazing. Yeah. And then there’s all sorts of like medicine making opportunities in England to kind of contribute to all these different project. Yeah. Oh yeah. And I also have a podcast called the Frontline Herbalism podcast, which I recently started.

[00:27:05] So if folks wanna hear about these different things that’s online. And I also have like, kind of online courses which is like a way to sustain my livelihood cuz I also need to survive capitalism like everyone else. So if you wanna purchase a course and learn some medicine making skills that can support you and your community, definitely check out the website.

[00:27:26] Laura Hartley: Yeah. Okay. 100%. I think people, you know, if, if this work resonates, go learn about solidarity at Arthur Kerry. You can follow Nicole and her work online. I’ll have links to everything in the show notes below. I think this is a really powerful and unique response to the world and to oppression, to violence, to changing the, the paradigms that we live.

[00:27:50] Of really looking at what is grassroots support, what is collective care? What does it mean to look to plants as medicine and as support and as beings in their own right. So we really wanna say thank you for all that you do, and thank you for coming on the show and a big support for everything that you’re offering.

[00:28:09] If anybody has enjoyed listening to. Please give the show a rating, a review. Let me know what you think below. You can reach out to me on my website at laurahartley.com you can learn more about our courses that are on offer or follow me on Instagram, @laura.h.hartley. Please check out Nicole as well, and we’ll see you in a future episode.

[00:28:30] Nicole Rose: Thanks so much for the invitation. Thank

[00:28:35] Laura Hartley: you.

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