Yukon’s herbalist honcho launches field guide

Aptly named, the Aroma Borealis on the corner of Main Street and 5th Avenue smells like a spa - what with the soothing scents of wild roses and fire weed wafting through the air from Whitehorse's go-to herbal shop.

Aptly named, the Aroma Borealis on the corner of Main Street and 5th Avenue smells like a spa – what with the soothing scents of wild roses and fire weed wafting through the air from Whitehorse’s go-to herbal shop.

It’s also the smell of success for Beverley Gray.

After almost two decades working as an herbalist, she’s still picking berries. She wrote what could be dubbed the North’s herb bible, The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North.

She sold over 15,000 copies worldwide and won six awards for the book she published two years ago.

Going beyond the boreal, in June, she launched a field guide about the medicinal values of common Canadian herbs.

Gray wears many hats. She’s an herbalist, aromatherapist, yoga teacher, journalist, writer, and mother of two. But she doesn’t look weathered at all.

“It’s the green water,” she said, chuckling, lifting a glass thermos filled with chlorophyll-tinged water.

Gray’s passion for herbs stems back to her childhood. As her father worked for NATO, her family lived all over Europe and Canada and she always found her way to the shrubs.

“You know, I picked mushrooms when I was a kid when I figured out, ‘Oh those are shaggy manes!’”

She believes there’s a resurgence of natural healing. “When you go to big box stores and buy a lotion or cream, it’s full of crap. It’s full of chemicals, when all lotion is is oil and water and an emulsifier like bee’s wax or coconut oil. So many people have allergies today. We’re much more health conscious than we were 20 years ago.”

In the winter, Harbour Publishing asked if she would write a miniature version of the book, but not one limited to the North’s flora and fauna. She agreed and chose 26 plants to feature, entitling it A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants of Canada.

“It was a big edit job,” she said of having to narrow down her choices, making sure to pick the most accessible ones. In the guide, she describes each plant’s medicinal uses, habitat, harvest and cooking instructions.

The laminated, pamphlet-sized guide was designed to take on a kayak, canoe or hiking trip. A lot of the plants, such as strawberry blite, shepherd’s purse, wild sage and wild onions are currently in bloom, Gray said.

The publisher approached her after the success of her book, from which she got a lot of mileage. She’s since travelled all over Canada, the U.S., Norway, and Ireland to give workshops about the 55 herbs featured in its 440 pages.

Although the book is available online, Gray said her sales spread through word of mouth. “It’s grown organically in that way,” she said.

In the spring, she visited the Burren region of Ireland’s east coast to give a workshop to the Irish Herbal Association. The landscape grows arctic plants similar to those found in the boreal forest.

Inspired by her trip, the 47-year-old revisited Ireland to learn traditional Irish drumming and to practice speaking Gaelic. That was Gray’s version of vacation.

“I’m a chronic learner. I’ll be learning stuff till the day I die. I have a big bucket list of the things I want to learn. It’s good to get this stuff out my head and on to paper and make room for all the things I want to learn in my life,” she said.

She also likes to pass on that knowledge. Since publishing her book, Gray has received several emails and phone calls from people who have made their own herbal remedies and launched small businesses.

Asked if she’s afraid of creating her own competition, she said, “That’s the goal, to make it really commonplace.”

She added, “I don’t worry about that, I live in abundance, not scarcity. And I’m always doing new and interesting things.”

Contact Krystle Alarcon at

krystlea@yukon-news.com

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