EP34: Prison plants

In this episode I talk with Nicole Rose from Solidarity Apothecary. Nicole did a three and half year prison sentence aged 21 amidst a decade of state repression against the campaign to close down Europe’s largest animal testing company.

In this interview we discuss her plant journey from prison to now supporting revolutionary struggles and communities with plant medicines.

There is a full transcript of the interview below.

Show Notes

About Nicole Rose

Nicole Rose (she/her) is an anarchist organiser and grassroots herbalist and living in England who has been active in struggles for human, animal and earth liberation for over 20 years.

Nicole did a 3.5-year prison sentence aged 21 amidst a decade of state repression against the campaign to close down Europe’s largest animal testing company. She’s been supporting loved ones in prison for over 15 years and founded the Solidarity Apothecary, a project supplying free plant medicines to people experiencing and recovering from state violence and repression.

The mission of the Solidarity Apothecary is to materially support revolutionary struggles and communities with plant medicines to strengthen collective autonomy, self-defence and resilience to climate change, capitalism and state violence.

Nicole is the author of The Prisoner’s Herbal and Overcoming Burnout. She also helped start the Prisoners Herbalism Collective which is supporting prisoners to learn about plant medicines inside.


Robin Harford: [00:00:00] Welcome everybody. My name is Robin Harford from eatweeds.co.uk. Welcome to another episode of the Eatweeds podcast. I’m here today with Nicole Rose, who runs the Solidarity Apothecary, and like all the shows rather than tell you about her. I’m going to ask Nicole to introduce herself. So welcome, Nicole. Good to have you on the show.  Tell us your story.

Nicole Rose: [00:00:24] I’m Nicole. I run a project called the Solidarity Apothecary and its mission is to materially support, practically support what I call revolutionary struggles.

And communities with plant medicines to strengthen collective autonomy self-defense and resilience to climate change, capitalism and state violence. What that looks like in practice is I support people experiencing state repression. So people that have campaigned on different issues and are experiencing repression as a result.

And I support them with plant medicines. I support people leaving prison. To recover from the effects of that kind of those kinds of traumatic experiences. And I also make medicine for different groups around the world. So one of the groups is Herbalists Without Borders who support refugees at different different places most, especially in Northern France.

Yeah, and I. I wrote a book called the Prisoner’s Herbal which I’m sure we’ll talk about. And so one of my main areas of work is getting that inside to people in prison. 

Robin Harford: [00:01:24] Okay. So why that, why the area of prisons, is that experiences that you’ve had yourself.

Nicole Rose: [00:01:30] Yeah. So when I was 21, I did a three and a half year prison sentence as part of a campaign to close down the animal testing company in England. And yeah, it was a big operation. Like 12 of us got sent down. The whole campaign was criminalised for this charge of conspiracy to blackmail and when I was in prison, like I worked as a listener with the Samaritans and supported women in there who, yeah, listening. Like I was listening to people’s stories, maybe 20, 30 hours a week of just like horrendous poverty and child abuse, rape, gang rape people that had been affected by drugs and alcohol and other issues.

And , it really transformed my worldview about prison and about who is in there and why. And I could really see those layers of like racism and class and poverty. And yeah, I when I got out, I was really dedicated to okay, how can I support like movements to build alternatives to prison and also keep providing like practical support to people inside.

And for me, like plants just change. Just change. Absolutely everything for me in my life. When I was in prison, I worked in the prison gardens and I did a distance learning course in herbalism, and I just found this whole new world of like meaning and connection. That has just taken me in so many amazing directions and given me such a sense of belonging to place and belonging, to communities of people that care about plants.

And  I don’t want prisoners to be excluded from that. There’s like loads of other areas around medical neglect and other issues in prison, but I think the main premise for me was like, Right now, like millions of people around the world are excluded from plants because of where they are.

But actually in prison, there are plants, there were dandelions pushing up through the concrete there’s  all sorts of weeds and connecting with them, I think can help people overcome that kind of isolation of imprisonment. 

Robin Harford: [00:03:34] Were you interested in plants before you went into prison or did it evolve while you were in prison?

 Nicole Rose: [00:03:41] Before I went to prison, I was interested in plants. I worked with I used to just do like care work and I worked with one autistic woman and she was like obsessed with gardening and buds and that kind of. Was what got me interested in plants. And I guess in ecology, but at the time, like doing a course, doing like a permacultural course or something, it felt like really inaccessible.

And it was only in prison that I was able to get some grant funding to cover the cost of studying and. Like I had I had the opportunity to study. If that makes sense. Like on the hour is quite hard, like doing low paid work and you’re working like 60, 70, 80 hours a week to just pay the rent and you don’t have much time to study.

So yeah, in prison it was like weirdly enabling of me to do some education. 

Robin Harford: [00:04:29] So I know the co the country’s very divided at the moment, so that I’m going to ask you the question anyway, but I’m sure. Some people who are listening to this will, will have a trigger response to say you broke the law you’re you got nicked for it. You did time. That’s it, isn’t it. Personally, that’s not a very compassionate way to view it. Sounds to me more like political prisoner rather than the criminal. What would be your response to people who have. A negative view of people who’ve been in prison and are in prison and say it’s your own fault.

Nicole Rose: [00:05:05] I think it’s challenging for people who have never interacted with anyone who’s gone to prison or who have never been in prison themselves. And I think it’s also particularly challenging for people that come from. Like wealth or privilege so that they don’t ever have to question, should I steal this thing? Otherwise I won’t eat tonight or whatever. There’s, so there’s those layers. But I think for me I like to differentiate things between like harm and like crime. There are a lot of people in prison that have harmed other people, like rape or abuse or violence.

But there’s also a lot of people that aren’t in prison that harm people, right through Wars or poverty, like state violence or whatever. But for me, like the act of criminalization is like a very specific tool that marginalized as certain groups of people. And punishes them for those, for that marginalization.

 For example, like looking at kind of drugs rich people that take drugs don’t go to prison, right? Like it doesn’t work like that. It’s people that use drugs who don’t have the money to sustain their drug habit that go to prison.  Think we need to differentiate like what What’s actually like causing harm and what’s quote unquote crimes.

And lots of, yeah. And recognizing that lots of people in prison have caused harm, but also recognizing that a lot of people in prison are like massive receivers of harm.  It’s really even just, I’m not going to quote the statistics accurately, but like huge numbers of people in prison have been abused as children.

And that’s led to. That’s led to  drug use to help manage their nervous systems or if there’s an accessibility to trauma support, then people are going to self-medicate or enact like harmful behaviors. So for example, when my experiences of being a Samaritan inside, it was like, yeah, you’re listening to like people that have survived, like really extreme. Abuse his children. And that I didn’t meet really anyone in prison that had a really messed up childhood.

And there’s like lots of public sympathy, for example, with child abuse, like Childline or whatever, probably get like millions of pounds, NSPCC get millions of pounds of donations, but yet we’re like, Treating like some of the most vulnerable oppressed people in our society with like more violence and punishment, rather than intervening in a way that like helps people recover, that it gives them like mental health support.

Like right now prison is basically just it’s just like one giant mental health institution, but we’ve no care or support or like therapeutic kind of. Like interventions available. People are just getting punished because they have like mental health issues. Yeah, so there’s like tons and tons of layers, but I think.

Yeah. I think if people can have a starting point of separating harm from like notions of crime. And if people can look at like structural factors and forms of injustice that contribute to who goes to prison and who doesn’t and who gets criminalized and who doesn’t, I think that’s a really good starting point for understanding like quite a complex issue.

Robin Harford: [00:08:09] Yeah, no, that’s a brilliant response. I’m a former drug addict, so I sit in recovery rooms and so many people in the recovery rooms have been doing time again and again, the statistics for drug addicts is trauma based. Liberals might say that, see that as a cop-out, but it’s not from where I sit.

And from when I, again, like you,  I’ve spent. I don’t know how many hundreds of hours hearing other people’s stories. And there’s a common thread. There’s a common thread, violence, abuse. Yeah. PTSD is pretty high out there for most drug addicts. So thank you for clarifying that because I know it’s a contentious one in our culture.

Some people are very compassionate towards prisoners. Others just go well. I just wanted that cleared and that’s really good. So in prison, I know from looking at your site and looking at Some other kinds of interviews that you’ve done that, as we just said, PTSD and trauma is massive, not only the trauma from our past, but as Derek Jensen says, we live in a culture, call it capitalists, but a culture that is an abusive culture.

And as a result, every citizen within this culture is traumatized at some level. And we’re all just trying to manage that. So prisons, an extreme kind of focus point for that. So I’m interested in with plants  I’m really interested in two things. One I heard you mentioned, I can’t remember where it was that you can’t, you don’t, you didn’t where because it was maximum security. You didn’t have access to things like a kettle for boiled water. Obviously there’s no alcohol available, oils were really hard. So firstly. What kind of plants did you start discovering in the prison you’re in? And secondly, our traditional herbal medicine uses water uses alcohol uses oils, or uses boiling water anyway, alcohol and oils. so how did you rejig your medicine making for the context of where you found yourself.

 Nicole Rose: [00:10:13] So the thing about people in prison is that they’re just like absolute light geniuses with adaptation. Like you wouldn’t believe all the different things you could do with a dish cloth, for example, like cutting holders, like toilet roll holder, like all this stuff. So I think. Working with plants inside was like an extension of that creativity.

I did have a kettle, like kind of two thirds of my sentence, which was good, but the first while I didn’t, but you can still get hot water in a flask before you get locked in. But yeah, eventually after the first couple of months, when I got their security clearance, I was able to work in the gardens and I say gardens, they’re like concrete patches of grass in each courtyard.

And then quite big central garden in the middle of the prison, which had like things like roses. But yeah, I mostly learned. About plant medicines from this really amazing woman called Helen, who was like older and Scottish, I think she was in her seventies. And she was like, ah, this is chickweed you can eat that full of minerals.

And I was like, Oh, awesome. And then Oh, this is dandelion. So yeah, it was mostly like things that you can find under the stub soil. So dandelions, plantain, yarrow, chickweed, mallow, some nettle. And kinda like wild camomile, like pineapple weed, selfheal, daisies and Rose. Like they’re all the plants that I’ve profiled in the prisoners herbal book.

Like before I went in, like I just thought that’s it, I’m not going to be able to like, connect with the land again, like while I’m inside. And that was like one of my biggest fears. Cause. Like before I went to prison, I lived in Cornwall. So it was like wild landscapes to like really like important to me.

But just like the first day I walked in, I remember like seeing these two crows, like on the fence and there was like magpies and there was like all these weeds and I was like, ah, shit like this. Like, why did I, why were they so arrogant to think they wouldn’t be like nature here, if  yeah, so you have to I would get searched every day from the gardens to check that we weren’t like smuggling drugs around the prison. So I’d have to stuff like greens into my bra or into my underwear, and then take it back to my cell. And I dry all the roots out on the pros and radiators, which in the winter would do blast out like tons of heat.

And I, yeah, I would mostly eat things raw or make cups of tea. Sometimes I might if I managed to scavenge a food box or something from the kitchen, I might do a foot bath. But generally it was like lots of eating and experimenting. I definitely couldn’t make any tinctures or lotions or potions, but I’m really glad that was my introduction to herbalism.

Cause I think. Like now I’m out or like such a gearhead. I’ve just got all the blenders and the glycerin or the vodka and like just this huge apothecary, like stuff. And I’m like, actually sometimes if I’m traveling and I just caught myself, I just looked down and there’s yarrow.

And I’m like, okay, I just need that, like back to basics relationship again. But yeah and I think other prisoners. Like around the world have different access. So some people might not be able to have anything. And so like in the book I included stuff about like other ways to connect with plants, like drawing them or reading about them or studying them or doing poetry or whatever.

And then other prisoners, again, might have even more access to there is quite long tradition of like horticulture with prisoners so they can access more plants like calendula or whatever.  Yeah. Hopefully the book is useful for people in like their different exp like their different situations, including people on the outside.

Robin Harford: [00:13:42] Absolutely. No, absolutely. But we’ll get into a bit more about the book where folks can get it for a bit later on. So you said you had to shove plants in your underwear, so were you not allowed to gather and take them inside? Was that the kind of a prohibition or green beings in yours.  

Nicole Rose: [00:14:03] Like I think the main gardens officer like kinda knew what I was up to and didn’t really care, but I think if we had someone, another officer searching us like a security department person, they would definitely take anything we had on us.

That was like, not our ID card or whatever. So I did have a few pouches of greens taken off me before, before I started doing the bra thing. But like in prison, like people think it’s this light, hot bed of discipline and rules, but actually like they just make it up. Like one rule you have is like one day, you’re not allowed to do this.

The next day you are. One day, you’re not allowed this book the next day it gets delivered to you. It’s just like complete mayhem. So you can just, you just have to chance it basically. But like I did get myself searched quite a lot, probably. I don’t know if it was because of like the political stuff or just, they knew like they knew I wouldn’t have drugs on me, for example.

Or I dunno if it’s I dunno, anyway, it’s meant to be random, but I would just predict every Sunday. Okay, great. I’m going to get my cell searched. And so I did try and hide things because they don’t know what they are. Like, one time there was like a bunch of lavender in the prison and like some of the girls started smoking it.

So then like the prison just dug up all the lavender plants. So it was if they didn’t know what it was, they’re like likely to take it off you, if that makes sense.  

Robin Harford: [00:15:19] When you didn’t have access to plants in the yard, Did you manage to use plants and like the kitchen?

Could you use spices and things? Yeah. That, could you Nick them and take them to your cell and make medicine with them? 

Nicole Rose: [00:15:35] So I couldn’t access things like spices, but other prisons you can. So I had a friend who actually got coronavirus in prison this year and him and some other people on his wing, half the wing got sick.

They were able to like order spices from their canteen, which is like the, kind of the UK version of like commissary in the U S so they could access things like turmeric and ginger. And cayenne. And so they like would boil up spices, like in milk. So you’d have like milk and then they’d add hot water and they’d stir up spices.

And that seemed to really help. So yeah, I think in some prisons it is possible to access, like in the back of the book I included ingenious uses of like other spices and herbs that you can get. So that if prisoners are in that situation, they, they can. They know what to take. Like I think in I think a lot of kind of middle-class people have like quite assumed self care knowledge of Oh, if you have constipation, you should eat this or you should eat more fruit.

But I think for people who have had like more chaotic childhoods or haven’t been like parented in the same way, there is like a real lack of that, like basic self care information of like how you treat a cold or yeah. How you treat constipation or,  and I think that’s what I wanted to include in the book at the back was just like more general, a little bit of general knowledge about nutrition, because that’s so missing in prison. Especially, but yeah, so just tick tips and tricks on using like spices and herbs that you can get. 

Robin Harford: [00:17:08] That really just brought up in when you said that I was on Twitter the other day and when the government refused free school meals during the holidays, The, some of the beggars belief some people’s kind of attitude was just like they, it’s the parents’ fault.

You should not go complaining to the state. Parents should be cooking the meals and this and that. And it’s like, how out of this world are you living? If that’s your answer, like. What it was just one of those bit of a brain wobble where just, yeah, a bit of a, I didn’t shout at the phone, but it felt like I wanted to, at this person, it was like, really God.

Yeah. Anyway, yeah, we can go into that. We’ll leave it for another time. So I’m really interested whether or not this involves prison or out of prison, but a lot of activists certainly. My self in the past. And some of my younger friends, there’s the serious burnout going down. So do you support activists now with kind of plant medicines?

And if so, what kind of plants are you using to help with that kind of burnout that comes from years, decades? 

Nicole Rose: [00:18:21] I think my main way that I’ve been trying to support organizers is through my overcoming burnout blogs, which then turned into a book, which was like a reflection of my own journey of getting like chronically ill  and then recovering.

Robin Harford: [00:18:34] Was that because of your activism, the burnout, or is that just life.

 Nicole Rose: [00:18:39] I think both. Definitely because of all, like I got politically active from when I was like 10 years old and grew up in a very active animal liberation movement and then had this 10 years of oppression and prison, then. Had a number of close friends die in succession. I had nine bereavements within like a couple of years.

And I just, yeah, I was I’d so learned this like workaholic pattern and didn’t know, I think a lot of people who, if they get into kind of organizing and they’ve had a kind of quote unquote, normal childhood, whatever that means that they’ve had. Less chronic stress. I think they’re more resilient. So then when they get involved in movements or the stress of being involved in movements loads of organizing loads of stress, repression, cops, physical, demanding environments, like I think they buffer that really well.

Whereas I think if you’ve grown up like on income support, so I was brought up by a single mum. Own income support with a lot of like procarity and moving around and abusive men and stuff. So I think I just like. I didn’t have the same headstart. So I just, once I got involved in organizing and had all this repression, I think my body was just like so screwed from my years of battering of stress that I developed, like chronic health issues.

But then again, that was like reignited my interest in herbalism and led me to do clinical training. And I’m like super fit. Now when not that I don’t think necessarily. It’s very ablest to think that you’re going to recover from a chronic illness. I don’t want to have that attitude, but I’m just saying herbalism has like really helped me personally.

But yeah, in terms of stuff now, like I try and focus on people experiencing state violence, but I also do support a lot of frontline organizers. So recently I packaged up a big box of 25 of each thing and sent them to a group who’ve been protesting the HS2 to And they’ve been like a tree protest and like trying to defend a space.

And they’ve had a lot of people getting arrested and a lot of them have been doing lots of legal campaigning for like years and years. So they’re absolutely exhausted. And I sent them some Rose petal glyceride, which is Rose is just like the most amazing plant for grief. And it just like cools the nervous system.

I send them elderberry syrup, I sent them fireside of vinegar and I sent them a copy of my book each. I can’t remember what else. Oh yeah. And some lavender oil. So I make this lavender oil with olive oil from Palestine. With lavender from a garden and it’s like really amazing. It’s like really fantastic for the nervous system.

And I think like sleep is so integral to health and if organisers that have such busy minds can just calm down in the evening and sleep well, then they’re just like so much more resilient for the days ahead.  Yeah. I have been trying to support people with plant medicines as well, who were organizers and yeah, during a lot of the uprisings in the summer in America and elsewhere, I was sending like packages of herbs for street medics and stuff like that.

Robin Harford: [00:21:38] So to fit that, to what I pick now is on street medics.  There’s a guy called 7Song in America, the herbalist who does street medics. So are there many street medics in the UK? Is it part of the culture or is it still very much on the fringe and not really taken seriously?

Nicole Rose: [00:21:57] I think it demos and I think like mobilizations against G8 or whatever, there was always like a well-being space and always people that were like responsible for first aid. And I think maybe now this kind of street medic term is a bit sexy. It’s a bit like. Oh, cool. Street medic. But actually it has been going on in a very invisible way for like decades and decades. And I think it’s like what people think of as like street medicine, if that makes sense. So I don’t have that much experience doing. Quote, unquote like street medic work on a demo, but I’ve got shitloads of experience supporting people who have been on a demo of got concussion or something or driving them to hospital or, looking after them, lots of TLC.

Unfortunately it’s still like very feminized labour. So that would often be like a role that I would do in a group. And then in terms of street medicine itself I guess my main experiences are going as a kind of a clinical student with more experienced herbalists in Calais and Northern France and volunteering there to go with our van and our mobile clinic and seeing people in these kind of like austere settings.

We saw three and a half thousand people over the last year who. Yeah, our kind of surviving state violence in their own way, like injuries from police and chest infections from being  in the water or cold van or just from living outside. Lots of wounds. Yeah, so that’s I guess my experience of like street medicine.

Robin Harford: [00:23:25] Am I right in thinking you were part of the collective for herbalists without borders or radical herbalism? Was it. 

Nicole Rose: [00:23:34] I worked with Becks and Anwen and Rashika in that. Yeah. Lisa, like we helped to, I helped organize the first two and then I stepped back because of the prisoner support demands I had.

But yeah, it was definitely a very interesting and empowering experience in lots of ways. Yeah, it was great. Okay. So I think you came in, did a few, what? 

Robin Harford: [00:23:57] I came to the first one. I can’t remember if I came to the second one. I was using back then, so it’s all a bit hazy. And to be honest, I know I definitely came to the first one in Glastonbury.

So I’m curious, you mentioned,  this conversation is real world boots on the ground. Concrete, as you can get. But you mentioned once about all the experience with plantain and a dream. And I wonder, how does that sit with the work you do now? Because for me some of that. More subtle.

Yeah. As the plants can go off the planet and become incredibly new age.  I’m really interested in, on the boots on the ground integration of that experience. Could you tell us about that? 

Nicole Rose: [00:24:46] Sure. Yeah, just to give a bit of context to listeners, one of the examples I’ve given my book is when I had this dream in prison about plantain and there was like a voice saying, Oh, it’s for wounded.

And I was just like, yeah, just dreaming about plantain and hearing that. And at the time, like I hadn’t studied plantain, I didn’t know about, it’s like vulnerary or wound healing properties. And then I looked up and I was like, Oh, awesome. And then as I’ve like the interesting thing about prison is you’re so separate from the internet and you’re so separate from subcultures and movements and Instagram or whatever.

So it was interesting getting out and then reading more about like indigenous herbalism and traditions and lineages around the world and how. Like dreams or kind of these experiences where like a very common way that people received information about plants and yeah. And I’ve still had like weird, I have like weird dreams every night, but I still have those sorts of dreams about plants regularly.

And yeah, and I think there’s a real, like biomedicalisation of herbalism and. Actually those practices of dreams and stuff like that, I do think are like really important and also like valuable, like I’m,  sit in both camps. If I’m in Calais. And I don’t want to give out some kind of like random flower essence for trauma or something that to someone that’s just like fleeing war zone.

And I want to know if I’m putting something on this wound that it’s actually going to really work and it’s going to have these like antibacterial properties. But at the same time, like I think. Part of D and I feel self-conscious saying decolonizing herbalism, cause I’ve heard different writers say that should be the language of people that have been colonised and reclaiming their knowledge and about time for people who are from like colonizing nations is like unsettling, but either way, I think like reclaiming herbalism, Is really important and recognizing these like alternative worldviews around it and yeah.

Having just having like relationship with plants,  don’t want to reduce a plant to its constituents, like an or it’s functioned for humans like that plant has autonomy and agency and yeah, for me, herbalism is just plants in general. It’s like when I was in prison, like plants are like my mates,  I’d see them regularly at hanging out next to them.

I’d sit next to them. And I think it’s really important for people to stay. Like you said, like boots to the ground, stay down to earth that like, yeah, that I don’t know that kind of, I w. It’s not that I want to see them as equals, but I just, I want to see them as like full beings in, and of themselves beyond what use they can give to humans, if that makes sense.

And that they have their own crews and community and everything else I love the fact that, like learning about like mycelium and stuff and how plants will share kind of chemicals and medicine with each other. Let alone with humans. And that they’ll also share that with animals.

Like whether it’s a little bird harvesting, a mint leaf and adding it to its nest, like that stuff is just Ugh, it’s so good to me. Like I just, yeah. And I think when I think about plants, I think it’s in the Robin, the other Robbins book, the breeding sweet grass. And it’s one of the translations of plants is like those that take care of us.

And I feel like people in prison So many people in prison haven’t been taken care of by family or the state or by communities they’ve just been excluded or marginalized or oppressed, or, like violently violated. And so to be connected with plants that take care of you is like really special.

Robin Harford: [00:28:30] I totally go with that. In my own journey, I found that there’s two parts of what you’ve just said. I want to feed back on. In my own journey I would be walking around and I’d suddenly have these flashes of like insight or intuition. And I would then discover the plant, go to the plant, look at it, pay attention to it.

I’d then take a piece of it away. And then I would use research to explore. Deeper the plant. And I found food plants that aren’t in any of the books through that process. So that sounds initially completely off the planet. So when I say boots on the ground, for me, it’s A lot of people who come on my courses, they said I have these experiences we plants.

And it’s  that’s really cool, but there could be two things going on one. You could just be bullshitting yourself, projecting which I think happens an awful lot personally. But if you want to take it boots on the ground, pay attention to those flashes of insights and then go and do research.

When you got the research that will more than likely validate your flash of insight, like you had with plantain. There’s another part of it that I wanted to feed off, which I’ve completely forgotten now, but it is, it’s an interesting one, this this interaction, this relationship that we have with plants and that was it was more like I wrote a I posted a thing up on social media yesterday on sustainable and ethical wild harvesting practices and giving guidelines on the, the amounts that people might want to consider when they’re gathering plants.

And it feels like within the plant communities, that there are those of us who understand and have an appreciation and. Certainly for me, a reverence for the relationship that humans have with plants and plants have with you humans. And then there are those within the plant community who are the, who see plants as just a resource.

So they are colonial in that sense, imperialist in that sense, in that they just say to plant, they see a later mushrooms and they want it all for them. And they just strip it and they take they takers and just takers and generally for profit or coins. And. Even people in my audience. I know because I know some of the comments that I got just yesterday that, we really have to engender as plant teachers for want of a better word.

What, I don’t really like, still sat uncomfortably with that word teacher. I really do encourage people to really just not. See everything non-human as yours. Yeah. Yeah. Anything you are it’s. Yeah, certainly we’re plans four hundred million years old. And then the modern human 200, 300,000 years, he’s been around a bit longer and he’s a little bit smarter, so yeah, I suppose it’s a bit more of a humbling process because in my community, in the foraging community, there’s. It’s becoming quite polarized between those that have the respect and foraging is a start of the journey. That little taste is just the beginning.

It’s not the end game. And those who, who are just pillages. And it needs to be said because oftentimes it’s not sad. So PTSD myself. Absolutely. You, lots of our friends and people in our community suffer from it.

It’s massive at the moment we’ve got COVID, doing its thing. What kind of advice would you give to someone who. Acknowledges that, they may be experiencing PTSD. And how can they look after themselves? What kind of plants? What guidelines would you share with them? 

Nicole Rose: [00:32:28] Wow, that’s a big question. I think for me, it was never going to be like a herb in brown bottle that was going to help with my recovery. And I think Western herbalism especially has this like real, wannabe doctor syndrome of Oh, you get your prescription in the bottle. And the herbalist has all the power and knowledge and everything else.

But I think for me, it was like, it’s the act of herbalism that is the recovery for me. So I even now, like I do tons of prisoner support and I get like regular phone calls from friends in prison who. Are experiencing things I saw or witnessed, like people getting, bent up by officers or, violence in the prison or whatever, or like extreme kind of solitary and I can take certain plants in the daytime.

Like maybe it’s like the Rose petal, or maybe it’s some sort of like nervous system mix with Milky oats or vervain or something like this, but actually like the best thing to sooth my nervous system and help me self-regulate is going outside. And I have the privilege of living with land.

I’m able to go outside and calm down. I have a very like hot PTSD that I get like real rage. And I get like really angry and like nightmares and intrusive thoughts like that. I’m quite lucky that I’ve not been prone to depression. So for me, like it’s like going outside that like really soothes and helps me drop down again and like parasympathetic yeah, I think that’s like the biggest remedy is like the land itself, but I definitely encourage people to go see herbalists, but.

You could be given something that you have no relationship with and it’s an it, yeah, it will, it will work on a biological level. It might help, with your nerve communication or your brain chemistry or something. But actually, yeah. That relationship is what’s healing.

So for me, like I’m taking a nervine mix at the moment. I’m actually taking some St John’s wort which obviously there’s like lots of cautions with, so I wouldn’t just take it Willy nilly, but like it has, contra-indications and reacts with all sorts of stuff, but like for me taking it is wonderful, but I remember being in the summer. In the sun, harvesting St. John’s wort from my garden and making that glycerite. And so that is the medicine for me is I have a relationship with that plant. And now that plant is supporting me through this like winter and this lockdown. So yes, definitely go to herbalists but actually like self-educating about plants.

And also joining in community, right? Like I’m sure you’ve taught the a million plant walks. It’s never Oh, this person’s learnt about this herb. And that’s really exciting. It’s that? Oh, they made a new friend today. They made a friend with the plant and they made a friend with the person on the course and that’s going to help them more with their depression, then that plant would in a Brown bottle.

I would really encourage people to find collective care from plants and from other humans. And try to recover collectively in a support network rather than like buying a bunch of stuff at Holland and Barrett and swinging it back and seeing if it will touch the sides. Yeah.

And I think for a lot of people. If like you haven’t known, if you haven’t known  safety, because like humans have been like incredibly untrustworthy to you. Like whether it’s parents or other people or prison officers it’s very hard to find trust in humans. And so I think that’s why people that connect with animals or with plants, like it’s so therapeutic because you can like trust the plan and if you’ve got like abandonment issues or something, then it’s like plants, aren’t going to abandon you either. Like that kind of, we think they’re stationary. They’re not actually that stationary, but yeah, I think people can build that trust and that like co-regulation with a plant and that will give them like a stronger foundation to then do like therapy or whatever, or take medication.

Robin Harford: [00:36:23] That’s really good. I got a bit plugged in there because my own journey for, towards the end of my addiction just before I go into recovery.  Humans I could not trust. I just hung out in the hedge because that was where I felt safe and secure and you, it may sound completely flaky to some people, when the human world, if you’re good at, if you’re a good drug addict yeah. And you’d lose the lot. And, but what you don’t lose is the earth and what you don’t lose in the plants and you absolutely nailed it. For those of us who’ve experienced that suffering. They are the safety zone and I it’s so important to not just, like you say, go to Holland and Barrett. And  joined Becks and  Anwen on their online course in foundation of herbal medicine that they did for COVID the start of COVID and yeah.

And I went out and I hadn’t gathered elderflower for quite a while, quite a couple of years. And it was coming in from Walgreens or nails yard or wherever I was getting it. And I went into a two week depression with COVID and it was at the same point as I was doing the course. And just the practice, forget, even making anything with it, just the practice of walking land, finding those communities.

And I know every elder tree in that hour that we were supposedly allowed out for in my local land area. And the power of that and really engaging all the senses with the approaching to the tree the shrub, the gathering of the flowers, the bringing it back to stopping and communicating with people that were going, Oh, what’s that you go in that basket deeply powerful, like really powerful.

I cannot stress how important as Nicole has just said. Going and gathering your medicine. And I did it with lime flower. You buy lime flour is gray, it’s got laser dried winging it. And I spent a whole afternoon gathering the most extraordinary lime flowers and just gathering the flowers. And you will never buy this.

Yeah, but that healing process part from the de-stress, just the relaxation response. Being around something like lime flower, which absolutely has the most exquisite smash scent and smell and you’re gathering and you’re getting the stickiness on your fingers. Yeah. It’s really important. So please, don’t just read, you can use elderberry or lime in a book and go buy it from the shop.

Obviously, if you don’t have it and yet that’s the default, but when the seasons come, it’s how we embed and become very intimate with our. Place where the place being, where we find our feet at any given time. So yeah, no I’m rambling. So yes, that was really good. So we’re coming up for about an hour, and I’d love you to in the show notes for anyone who’s listening in this, there will be all the resources linking to Nicole’s work.

Nicole Rose: [00:39:38] The Prisoner Handbook , the burnout book.  For people who might not go to the website, would you like to just point people to where they can find you online? Just give them your website addresses or social feeds or whatever. Sure. Yeah.  Don’t use social media loads. I just use Instagram.

So my Instagram is @solidarity.apothecary and my website is solidarityapothecary.org. Yeah, those are my two. Those are my two places. And the books, the Prisoners Herbal and Overcoming Burnout are both available online and shameless plug, but we also have these incredibly beautiful herbal bandanas with amazing illustrations of medicinal plants that. we’re selling to raise money for our mobile clinic in Calais with Herbalists Without Borderss. And also we’re about to meet a friend are about to publish a coloring book with medicinal plants and a little bit about their properties which will end the proceeds of that. We’ll pay for copies of the coloring books to go to prisoners as well.

So yeah, so that will hopefully be coming out at the end of the month. 

Robin Harford: [00:40:38] That’s really cool. I didn’t realize when I asked you To come on the show that I’d already got your book. I don’t know when I got them say that. And thank you very much for coming on. The stories of plants is the stories of humans and all aspects of humans  in whatever way they turn up in our lives and for you, they turned up in a prison.  And that’s quite extraordinary where they’ve led you. So thank you. 

Nicole Rose: [00:41:07] Thank you for having me.


  1. Well done Nicole Rose, you are a credit to the Human Race. God Bless You. And Robin Harford well done yourself, loving your little notebooks full of information, wished you lived nearer (Suffolk) and was my foraging buddie x

  2. What an incredible show. Thank you both, the subject matter was so pertinent, so real and profoundly important – abs brilliant. In the Shamanic tradition, our Mother, the Earth is calling us at this time to reconnect with her and I think Nicole, that you explained that relationship beautifully.

  3. Thank you so much, and especially for the transcript.

    I am autistic, like the woman Nicole mentioned, so I can’t always follow audio; I take in information best when it’s written. This story touched me on so many levels, about connection with the land being the healing element. I’ve had depression my whole adult life and when COVID isolation hit I was able to fully reconnect with the land, regain my foraging skills, take up that grounding again.

    Hearing someone else’s experience of incarceration, very different to mine, but connected, reminded me of being in a mental hospital, and those moments outdoors saving my sanity from the trauma inside. Thank you so much for sharing this story, and especially for what you are doing for the folk in the tunnels at Euston, that truly touched my heart. I’m so glad there are people like you out there. You restore my faith in humanity, that we have a chance to be present and whole within the world.

    Deep gratitude.

Leave a comment